Remain in My Joy

Today’s Bible Journaling is from John 15:11, “I have spoken these things to you, that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be made full.” (NLT) As I concluded this series on joy, the thought that struck me was, the secret to having joy is to remain in God’s joy and be obedient. How are we to do that? If we read the entire 15th chapter, Jesus starts by talking about remaining in the vine. He is the vine, we are the branches. (John 15:5) We are to get our nourishment from Him, and as we grow in Him, by following His commands, He in turn fill us with joy. We are to remain in His joy, and as we do that, we are full of His joy.

That joy comes by developing a close relationship with Jesus, reading His Word, and being obedient to His commands. As we grow in Him, we produce fruit (Galatians 5:22), the more Spiritual fruit we produce, the more joy. Contentment comes, peace reigns in our hearts and lives, and our outlook on life is one of deep, abiding joy. Jesus promises that if we remain in Him that His joy will overflow in our lives.

Growth comes not only from obedience and a close relationship with God, but also through difficult times that could be characterized as a pruning process. In order for plants and trees to grow properly, they need to go through a pruning so that old, dead parts of the plant are cut away to allow for new growth to come. The same is with our lives as Christians, those who are Christ-followers. Those difficult times we experience are times when the Father cuts away those things in our lives that are hindering our growth process. As much as we don’t want to go through the pruning process, it is a necessary part of growth in a Believer’s life. It is during those times that we find it difficult to exhibit much joy. Pruning is hard, but so necessary!

I can look back on my life and see times when God has done some extensive pruning, and it was not a pleasant experience. But, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because I learned so much, and I grew the most during those times. Sometimes those times are preparation time for what is to come next. We need to be strong for the next level. Pruning also helps make us strong to encounter whatever the next level has to throw at us. We also can take the things we learn from those growth spurts and use them to help someone else who is going through the same thing we did, and thereby we become instruments that God can use to help someone else to grow. There is no greater joy for me than to be used by God in that manner. It makes my heart happy when I see that someone has gained strength through something I shared, and that God has brought them so far, and they grow more in Christ!

This is one area in our lives that we can become intentional in pursuing joy in our lives. There are many ways to be filled with God’s joy. I’ve already mentioned studying His Word and being obedient to His commands. Other ways are singing or playing music as a means to worship and praise Him. For me, this is a really big thing. Music is such an important part of my life. I love nothing more than singing, playing my flute, and playing Christian music on my laptop or radio. Participating in the worship team at my church is where I find myself in a state of peace and contentment, and joy. Also, just being part of my church brings me joy. Being in the company of my fellow Believers in unity is the most awesome experience ever! I’m sure there are many more things that could be included, and I encourage my readers to seek out ways to be filled in God’s joy. You may just find that you are filled with a joy that you have never experienced before in your life.

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Don’t Worry Be Happy!

Ok, this is confession time…when it comes to being content, I am a long ways from getting to that point. The Bible says that we are to be content in all circumstances…well, sorry to say, I’m not there yet. Today’s Bible Journaling is from Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.” (NLT) I must admit, I tend to do the worrying part more than the praying part. I also do quite a bit of complaining. So, this verse is talking to me a lot!

The Apostle Paul was encouraging the Philippians to do the same thing…pray, don’t worry, thank God, BE HAPPY! Remember the popular song a few years ago, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? It’s a catchy little tune, and when things are going well, it’s easy to sing it. But when things are not going well, then it’s not so easy. When we were kids our parents used to tell us not to complain because there was always someone who was worse off then we were. For me, that didn’t help me in my situation. I couldn’t do anything about that person who was worse off than me, and I sure wasn’t happy about where I was…so what was the point of that little lesson? It has taken me a very long time to figure that one out. God has blessed me so much! I have no right to complain. I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and a wonderful husband to share my life with. Maybe I don’t have everything I want, but God never promised to meet all my WANTS, He promised to supply all my NEEDS according to His riches in glory! (Philippians 4:19)

This is where contentment comes in. Once we figure out that what we have is what we need, then we can be content in knowing God is watching over us and supplying everything we need, and the wants will come if it’s for our good. This is can be a hard lesson to learn, and for me, it’s a life-long learning experience. I wish I could say I am there, but I can’t. God and I have a lot of work to do for me to get to that point.

Paul said that he had learned to be content no matter what circumstance he was in. For me, that’s hard to understand. I mean, he was imprisoned, ship-wrecked, beaten, left for dead, persecuted…you name it, he was abused in so many ways. Yet, he could say that he was content. So, from where does this contentment come? From Jesus Christ. He is the One who gives us contentment. He is the One who knows and understands all the things we encounter in our lives. He has taught us by His life how to be content. The Bible says that Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay His head! So, He understands being homeless! He was betrayed, He understands when we are betrayed by those we had trusted. He endured so much persecution, even to the point of death, He understands when we are persecuted for our faith. Everything we go through in life, He also had to endure. His life, and how He reacted to each situation, is an example for us. We are to be imitators of Jesus.

Will we do it perfectly? No, but then we aren’t perfect creatures. Only Jesus was perfect, and He was able to be the perfect example for us. We are, to the best of our ability, to imitate Him, learn to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves. With that contentment comes joy. Philippians 4:4 says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!” (NLT) Contentment and joy are attitudes that we are to incorporate into the very fabric of our being. So, I hope this encourages you. For me, it’s a good kick in the seat to get me to that point of being content in every situation.

Great Are You Lord

Once in a while God wakes me with a song. This morning He woke me up with a song our church has been singing for a little while now. The song is called “Great are You Lord”. I did some background checking on the Internet to see what Scripture it was based on and I found an article of an interview with the writers of the song. They talked about the passage in Ezekiel 37 where God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones in the field and God breathed life into them and they rose up to be a great army. The part of the song that keeps running through my mind is, “All the earth will shout Your praise, our hearts are stirred, these bones will sing, Great are You Lord.”

This song has been running through my head all week, and when I got to this part of the song, I wasn’t sure I was singing it right, because bones singing just didn’t make sense to me and I thought I was remembering it incorrectly. Then as I actually looked at the words of the song and found that the song says that, that’s what caused me to look into what the composers were thinking when they wrote that lyric.

As I read the article, the composers spoke about a message they heard where the pastor stated that, “Worship is when we give God His breath back.” The song says, “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.” Then as I read Ezekiel 37, it says that God breathed into the bones. Can you imagine being a great army that had been killed in battle, and then all of a sudden being made flesh and blood and breathing! I bet those bones were praising God with all their might!

Then I began to think about our Spiritual life…. sometimes we need a little breath breathed into us! Sometimes we become like dead men walking, there is no life in our walk with the Lord, for whatever reason. Worship and praise to God helps revive that life, we are giving God His breath back and He in turn breathes back into us to revive us.

Worship is our love song to Jesus. It has many benefits. The Bible says that God inhabits the praise of His people. (Psalm 22:3 KJV) When we lift our voices in praise to God, He is present, right there with us! So, as we lift our voices He draws near to us, we can feel His presence, and especially in dark times, His presence gives us strength. We find that we are more able to fight the battles, and we are encouraged. Life begins to swell in us and grow, making us stronger in the Lord.

I love how the song begins. It says, “You are life, You are love, You bring light to the darkness!” We are given life when He breathes into us physically, and Spiritually! He is the source of life! We praise Him for giving us life, love, and light to our spirit!

The past few weeks our church has gone to a whole new level in worship! God has really made His presence known. As I stand on the platform with the Worship Team, I look out over the congregation, and I see people praising God with tears streaming down their faces, there are shouts of praise, people walking the aisle with their hands raised, it’s the most phenomenal thing to see! There have been times when, while I’m playing my flute, I find it difficult to play because I’m on the verge of tears. God’s presence is so heavy on the platform, that it’s almost hard to breathe. It’s His breath in our lungs that gives us life, and we praise Him clear to our bones!

Wonderful Peace

A couple of weeks ago I was awakened in the middle of the night as sometimes happens, by God, Who wanted to talk to me. He often does this as I think I tend to be so full of whatever is going on during the day that He can’t get through to me, so He catches me when I’m asleep and He can speak and I’m more able to listen. He woke me with a memory and a song. A few years ago, a dear lady in our church passed away during the church service. She had many medical issues, one of which was a heart condition. In fact, her medical problems were so many that she had many medical alert ID bracelets and necklaces on her in case of emergency. She didn’t drive, and she asked me to pick her up for church and take her home, which I was happy to do.

As we were in church we were in the worship and praise portion of our service, and the congregation was singing the song, “Wonderful Peace”, when in the middle of the song we heard a commotion toward the back of the sanctuary. Several of the nurses in our church rushed over to this dear lady to help her, and one came and spoke to my girlfriend, who happened to be diabetic and asked for some test strips, as this woman also had diabetes. She went over to help, and I continued to stay in my place singing. But the longer things transpired in the back, I grew increasingly concerned and went over to see if there was anything I could do to help. By this time the ambulance had arrived, and the paramedics were trying to assist her. She was completely unresponsive, and they were eventually able to get her onto a gurney and transport her to the hospital. While all this was going on in the back, the church was continuing to sing this old hymn. “Peace, Peace, Wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above, Sweep over my spirit forever I pray, in fathomless billows of love.” We were to learn later that this dear Saint had passed away. We knew that she had died in church, hearing the words of this old hymn, instead of at the hospital, which is what the medical team stated. She went from singing about God’s peace to experiencing it first hand as she saw the face of Jesus for the first time.

The interesting thing about all of this is, as I was talking to one of the nurses to who knew this lady’s medical history quite well, and was a good friend of hers, she made a curious statement. She said, our friend had once told her that when it was her time to go, God would let her know, and she was ready. On that very day, our friend came to church not wearing any of her medical alert identification. I began to think about when I had picked this friend up at her apartment. She was unusually quiet that morning, but I didn’t really think anything about it until later.

The words of the old hymn resonated in my heart on this early morning when God awoke me. I began to think of how awesome that must have been for her, not only to be singing about God’s peace, but experiencing it in it’s totality. She quietly slipped from here to glory in the middle of singing about her Lord. I knew God wanted me to Bible Journal on this song. I wasn’t particularly anxious about anything. We have been on vacation and have been having a wonderful time, so there was nothing that was worrying me or bothering me. But I began to look for the song in one of the many hymnals I have and pulled out the page from the hymn book and began to search for a Scripture to put with it. I came upon the verse, Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you.” (NLT) As I did my journaling on this verse and hymn, I thought back to how peacefully my friend had gone to see Jesus. Those who were assisting her were not in a state of peace as they tried to help her, but the look on her face was not one of pain or concern. As the nurses and technicians were trying to help her, I remember thinking, “What a perfect song to be singing right now.”

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get this finished, not because it is such a large task, but because we have been traveling quite a bit and visiting family, and I haven’t had the time to get it done until now. Again, I am up in the middle of the night, not because God woke me, or maybe He did, I don’t know. I’m in a little pain this morning, making it hard to sleep, but the desire to finish this page kind of haunted me, and I still am not sure what is so pressing about getting it done and this blog posted. All I know is, the memory of my friend hearing and singing this song as she stepped through the gates of Heaven, is a warm source of joy to my heart. She has been missed, but we wouldn’t want her to trade her mansion to come back here.

I don’t know if this blog is meant for someone who is going through a struggle right now, but I just want you to know, that God gives perfect peace in the midst of struggle when we put our full trust in Him. Whatever the problem, He has everything under control, He walks with you, He holds you, He loves you, and He can be trusted with your situation. You will find perfect peace in Jesus, just run to Him and let Him give you that “Wonderful Peace.”

Whatever it Takes

It’s early morning and I’ve been up since 3:30.  I’ve been awakened by a song, Damaris Carbaugh sings called, “Whatever it Takes”.  Sometimes God wakes me in the middle of the night because He wants to talk to me.  This song is running in my mind over and over.  The words are so haunting, and it causes me to stop and re-evaluate my relationship with Jesus.

There’s a voice calling me from an old rugged tree
And it whispers, “Draw closer to Me;
Leave this world far behind, there are new heights to climb,
And a new place in Me you will find.”

CHORUS: For whatever it takes to draw closer to You, Lord,
That’s what I’ll be willing to do;
For whatever it takes to be more like You,
That’s what I’ll be willing to do.

Take the dearest things to me, if that’s how it must be
To draw me closer to You;
Let the disappointments come, lonely days without the sun,
If through sorrow more like You I’ll become.

Take my houses and lands, change my dreams and my plans,
For I’m placing my whole life in Your hands;
And if You call me today to a land far away,
Lord, I’ll go and Your will obey.

I can hear Damaris singing, with her deep, rich, alto voice resonating in my mind, and my heart is stirred within me.

I used to sing this song, without much thought to what it really was saying, not really applying it to my life.  But, one day my first husband asked me if I really meant what I was singing. Then he said, “You’d better be sure, because you don’t know what the future holds or if God will hold you to the words you sing.  Do you really mean, “Whatever it takes”? His statement and question caught me off guard.  I hadn’t really considered the fact that what I was singing, God may some day require me to prove my words.  Shortly after that my husband and I went through a very long trial. He had two strokes and became an invalid and I had to put him into a nursing home.  I had to carry a full-time job, try to manage all the things he had always taken care of, take care of him, and try to keep my head above water financially.  After a very long illness of seven years, God took him Home.  Then I spent six years alone before meeting my second husband.

I learned what those words meant! My second husband calls it my Job’s Trial. They were very dark days, but as I wandered through that haze of feeling nothing, I found out something. I found out that deep down inside, I really did mean those words.

It was so hard, but God showed me how I could trust Him with everything. I found that I had no one else to turn to, not in the way that I needed. Yes, God brought people into my pathway to help me, but they couldn’t be the Rock I needed to keep me standing.

So, as I listen to this song in my mind, I question, why is this song running through my mind now? It’s been a very long time since I’ve played the CD on which it is listed. God, what are You trying to tell me? I searched for Scriptures where Jesus is asking us to draw closer to Him and I found Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” (NASB) Then the thought crossed my mind, “Am I about to go through a trial?” I don’t have to fear, because God has already proved Himself strong, and I know that whatever He asks me to do, I will be able to accomplish with Him by my side.

The verse talks about taking up our cross. Crosses are heavy. They are burdens we carry and can be almost anything that drags us down or brings us to a point of desperation. Do we try to carry them ourselves, or do we go to the One who says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 NASB) Rest, that’s what we find when we draw closer to Jesus. Peace floods our soul as we lean upon Him to carry those things that overwhelm us. The closer we get to Jesus, the easier it is to carry the burden, because we are not carrying it alone, He is taking the brunt of the weight. It is much like oxen who are tied together in a yoke, they each carry a portion of the weight as they pull the plow across the field. The burden is lighter.

So, as I think about the words to this song, I can say, “Yes, Lord, whatever it takes, because You have already proven to me that You are faithful, and I have nothing to fear.”

The Cross

 

Today I read a post on social media from a friend of mine. She and her husband, pastor a church in a suburb of a large city. Her post dealt with something God impressed upon her husband to do, carry the cross around the perimeter of the city in which he pastors. As he was walking with the cross upon his back, she was at home enjoying the day in her back yard. As she was sitting in her yard, she began to think about what it was her husband was doing and the reaction that others may have about him walking with a cross out in public. As he would check in with her by text, her thoughts began with wondering if the people of their church really wanted him to do this. What would people say? As she continued pondering this, she began to think of why churches now seem to diminish the meaning and significance of the cross. Then her thoughts turned to why the Cross is so important in the life of a Christian.

As I was reading, I began to think of things my pastor has said regarding certain denominations beginning to lessen the meaning of the cross in their services. Some not wanting to emphasize the blood, others seeing the Cross as a dirty, bloody instrument of torture and death upon which we should not put too much focus. Some have taken hymns about the Cross out of their line up of worship music, some have not spoken about how important the Cross is, from the pulpit.

My mind began to think about how the whole purpose of our faith is buried deep in the significance of the Cross. Yes, it’s a dirty, bloody instrument of death, and yes it was a tortuous way for Jesus to die, but it was so necessary! Without the Cross, our faith is meaningless! As I was thinking about this, God impressed upon me the need to do a Bible Journaling page with a page from a hymn book. As I was trying to choose the right song to use, I had a hard time deciding because there are so many songs that feature the Cross. I finally decided to use the song, “The Old Rugged Cross”, after my husband offered it as a suggestion.

As I was working on the page, I began to think about how in many churches today, the focus seems to be on aesthetics…music, lighting, sound, almost a theatrical appearance. The message from the pulpit is desensitized, if you will, so that no one will be offended by the gruesomeness of the Cross. Our churches have lost the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit today.

A friend of my first husband and mine used to say that where there is no peace, the Holy Spirit can not abide. People are in turmoil today, and pulpits are not giving them the answer to resolve that turmoil, hence, no peace. Churches do not focus on allowing God to work in their services because everything is a performance, not a worship service.

Back when I was a little girl, I remember going to church at my Grandparent’s church in the summer when we visited, and I heard plenty of Hell-fire and brimstone messages from the pulpit. Sin was a topic in almost every sermon. Now, pastors don’t mention sin so much for fear of insulting or offending someone in the congregation.

The Cross is the centerpiece of our faith because without it, we are lost in our sin. God provided a means for us to be forgiven, through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ gave up His life willingly so that we could escape the death penalty for sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (NLT) Notice, not one person is without sin. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (NLT) Jesus was the perfect sacrifice because He was God and Man, lived on this earth, was tempted as we are, yet did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) Therefore, He was the Only One qualified to take the punishment for our sin.

John 3:16 says, “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (NLT) Death on the Cross was the most horrendous means to die that was ever conceived. The Cross was not made of smoothed out wood. It was not something beautiful, as some cross jewelry is today. It was rough, and rugged. To add to that pain, nails were pounded into the hands and feet of the person being hung on it. It was the most excruciating, painful means of punishment that was given. As if that was not enough, Jesus was also beaten, almost to the point of death, with leather straps that had bits of bone and glass at the end of each strap, before He was hung on the Cross. The punishment of Jesus was so horrific, that the Bible says He was almost unrecognizable.

Jesus shed His blood on the Cross for us, so that we might be made free. He took our punishment upon Himself. Why? Because He loves us so much! II Peter 3:9 says that God “was not willing that any should perish”! (KJV) His love for us is so strong, that He had a plan set up from the very beginning of creation to save us from sin.

What is sin, you ask? Sin is anything that goes against God’s standard. A look at the Ten Commandments gives us a look at what God’s standard is. So, since no one is perfect, and all have sinned, no one has ever kept the Commandments perfectly. Jesus’ death on the Cross pays for our sins.

How? God made the process so simple even a small child can do it. We must surrender our hearts and our lives to Him. By admitting we are sinners, accepting His death on the cross as the punishment for our sin, promising to live in total obedience to Him and His will, and asking for His forgiveness, we can experience eternal life. We must make Him the Lord and Master of our lives. When we do that, we begin a relationship with Him that transcends any human bond we can experience.

My hope and prayer is that you, dear reader, come to know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, that you will accept His free gift of salvation, and that the Cross becomes the standard which you can cling to and be released from the punishment of sin. Then you can say with the old hymn, “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross.”

Waymaker

 

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, and especially in Pentecostal churches, there is always a focus on the work of the Holy Spirit. Our First Lady (pastor’s wife for those not familiar with that term) is also our worship leader and she brought a new song to us. The song is called, Waymaker, and the congregation just soaked that song in! It has been running through my mind since yesterday, and I’m letting it sink deep into my soul.

I’ve included a link to a You Tube video on this song, and if you’re not used to Pentecostal services, it could be a little overwhelming, but don’t let it scare you because God will touch your soul deeply!  https://youtu.be/KeXcHAurv5A

Isaiah 43:19 says, “Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.” (NASB) God has promised to make a way for us in whatever situation we find ourselves. We can have confidence in knowing that whatever is going on in our lives is not unnoticed by God. He knows, and He cares. We have several people in our congregation that are currently going through some pretty devastating illnesses. Some are going through difficult circumstances in their lives, but all of these people have strong faith that God will see them through. One of my friend’s is right now battling leukemia and praising God for a Christian doctor who prays with her. God is working a miracle in her life. She has a form of leukemia that, as far as I know, has no cure, BUT GOD, is healing her! The last report she gave us was that the chemo is working and the tests on her blood shows great improvement. We all are believing God that she will beat the predictions of the doctors and that God will heal her completely!

Each of us has gone through some devastating things, financial crisis, marriage difficulties, loss of loved ones, horrible illnesses, situations that seem unsurmountable! But God has promised that He is doing a new thing in our lives, He’s making a way, a new path, creating circumstances to be placed in our lives to bring about a greater faith in Him and for our good! I love the part of the song that says, “Even when I don’t feel it, You’re still working! You never stop, never stop working!” That is such a powerful phrase that we can lean upon. We can trust that He will keep us in His hand, He will guide us, He will make new paths for us to travel and new ways for us to trust Him.

Pastor’s sermon was called, “Infusion”, and he talked about allowing the Holy Spirit to be infused into our hearts and into our lives so that others may see Jesus in us, and that we receive power from the Holy Spirit to reach others for Him. Our purpose as Believers is to witness. That can take various forms, one on one speaking to someone about God, living in a manner that reflects God in our lives, through music, through the spoken word on radio and television stations, and even in the written word through books, devotionals, websites, and blogs. Whatever way we witness, it is our “job” if you will, to reach others for Christ. Jesus’ last words to His disciples was to “Go into all the world and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19)

So, as I think about infusing the Holy Spirit into my life, I also am allowing the song to be infused into my heart. It’s a mantra of praise, worship, encouragement, and declaration that God is in control, He knows everything I’m going through, and I don’t have to worry or be afraid, because I know He is a Waymaker and He has me in the palm of His hand!