Friday, December 30, 2016

Joy and Gratitude Begin Today

Joy and gratitude: which comes first?

If I am intent on joy with all people and in all circumstances, then I will look for and observe—in essence learn—what I am grateful for.

If I am intent on gratitude, using every opportunity to be thankful instead of its opposite, joy will result.

I don’t honestly know which comes first. They are interchangeable, perhaps inseparable.

Both joy and gratefulness require a paradigm shift off of ourselves so that we can actually listen to, hear, and see those around us and their circumstances and perspective.

We can stop focusing on “what have you done for me lately” to “look at what you’ve done for me in the past” or “look at what you actually are doing for me lately but I failed to notice because I was fixated on a void that I was expecting you to fill.”

Gratitude and joy complete life's picture and once we see it in its entirety, we can repent that we didn’t see it in its wholeness before: that it was tainted by our own selfishness and regard for our self.

After we have reconciled this warped view on our part, we are able to live in reconciliation with others. 

We live reconciled when we abide in a joy-gratitude attitude that keeps our conscious clear with God, regardless of how (or if) our joy and gratitude is received or accepted by others.

We keep-on keepin-on in joy and gratitude because that is what breeds more joy and gratitude, and it’s what, in the end, pleases God.

Now, I’m not talking about a manufactured fake "look-at-me" act. I’m not talking about false flattery, which Scripture does not condone. I’m talking about a humble, genuine, sincere projection of honest gratitude born out of seeking God’s perspective and guidance.

I’m also not advocating hiding pain or sorrow, or avoiding hard discussions when they are called for. Because, as Scripture points out, we can have joy even in the difficulties of life. But knowing that we are to have joy even in those times will enable us to get through them and to perhaps one day be grateful for what came out of the trial.

I do believe that this living out of joy and gratitude has the potential to elicit deeper discussions with others and within ourselves as we let go of resentment, freeing ourselves into more loving relationships.

Now, as with any initial modification in our person, people may look at us funny; we may feel sheepish.
“Where have these words and actions of gratitude come from?” they might ask.
Why is this person so at peace, and filled with such quiet, and sometimes exuberant, joy?”

Just stay the course.

I believe each new day is the beginning: so I don’t put much stock in the commencing of the New Year as being anything particularly special, other than a symbolic “starting over.” However, adding joy and gratitude does not require “starting over.” It simply means we continue on in the increasing integrity that God has been building in us since the day He adopted us.

We either intentionally incorporate these two elements into our lives as part of a continual spiritual, mental and emotional maturing process, or we don’t. It’s simply the next step in the ongoing journey: joy and gratitude are attributes we choose to pick up and own as we walk with God, as He teaches us to do so.

We may kick our selves and wonder why we didn’t, or couldn’t, do it sooner. But the main thing is to be thankful and joyful that we are doing it now. And a day will come when we won’t be able to comprehend how we ever got through life without them.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Joy

The joy in acknowledging, owning up to and being forgiven of my sin.

The joy in being free of the past because of the above.

The joy of regeneration because of the above.

The joy in knowing that there are consequences to sin, but the sin that caused those consequences no longer holds sway.

The joy in knowing I can handle the consequences because God handles them with me.

The joy that God can redeem what has been lost to sin.

The joy in knowing that all I can do is love others—not make them love me—and that is enough.

The joy in knowing that not everyone can, or will, love, and to have empathy for them, being grateful for those who do, along with God.

The joy of God’s peace regarding any one person so I don’t hold their inability to love or relate against them.

The joy of being able to process all the points of my journey, humbly rejoicing in how far I’ve come, understanding that many others are at one of those same points in their journey, so as to have patience.

The joy of God’s teaching compassion that I was incapable of, love that I didn't feel or understand, forgiveness that I could not begin to fathom, and patience that I am only now putting into practice.

The joy of daily conversations with the Father.

The joy of God’s affirmation as His child, loved always.

The joy of dying to self so that I can enjoy others, including myself.

The joy of Christ, who, when He took all the damage collected by me and the damage I’ve generated, upon Himself, freed me to go forth in a process of maturing renewal and rebirth.

The joy of waking up each day, first thanking God while my head is still upon the pillow that I am alive, and then rising to meet the circumstances of life in the company of the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The joy of it all: this indescribable, unfathomable and wondrous life in Christ.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:2-5

“Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—” Psalm 103:1-2

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Joy

"The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the distress of the cross; therefore it is invincible and irrefutable." 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger

"Somehow, not only for Christmas, 
But all the long year through, 
The joy that you give to others, 
Is the joy that comes back to you."
John Greenleaf Whittier, from the poem, Somehow, Not Only for Christmas

"But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of Light
His reign of peace upon the earth began.
The winds, with wonder whist, 
Smoothly the waters kissed,
Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave.
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave."
John Milton, from the poem On the Morning of Christ's Nativity

"Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing..."
Isaac Watts

"Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing, 
with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn--
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the earth in righteousness
and the peoples with equity." 
Psalm 98:4-9

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This Too, Is Joy

"Then Job replied to the LORD:"

"I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know."

"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you;
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes." 
                                               Job 42:1-6

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." Psalm 51:12

"Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you." Psalm 86:4

"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy." Psalm 94:19

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness." 
                                             Lamentations 3:22-23

Monday, December 19, 2016

Psalm 16:11

From the Psalms:

"You will make known to me the path of life;
In your presence is fullness of joy;
In your right hand there are pleasures forever." 
Psalm 16:11

Sunday, December 18, 2016

John 15:9-11


"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." John 15:9-11

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

What to Bring to the Christmas Party? How About Grace?

Grace is when God drives our words, actions and responses, not the hurt, pre-occupation or irritation one may be experiencing at the moment.

I recently cut myself off from this grace when I spoke from a place of hurt to a person I had no business sharing my hurt with. I realized a week later that I had not kept a “tight rein” on my tongue (James 1:26), and thus missed God’s call to exhibit grace.

We can wait forever for hurts and slights to heal and go away, deciding only then to respond as God would have us; or we can respond as God would have us no matter what we are feeling.

Going into this season of many-faceted social gatherings—often involving alcohol—many words will be exchanged, innuendoes let loose, and misunderstandings birthed. We Christians must remember that the world without Christ (even though they celebrate the holiday that is His alone), will not act as a Christian.

So that leaves it up to us, who have been born again in Christ, to live and speak as He would have us. Which means to respond His way in all situations, and with all people. In His grace people cannot turn us into doormats; instead we become welcome mats to Him by His grace in us.

His grace replaces the frustration we feel toward others with His compassion, and our perspective with His perspective.

All the affirmation and love we’ve sought or thought we needed from certain other people is supplied by the Triune God of our Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That frees us from all offense, real or imagined. And it frees us to love others in God's power, not ours. Now that is living in joy!

In the knowledge of the marvelous truth of His acceptance of us as His children, we can confidently go forth into a crowded room of people. Already filled to the brim with God-sourced love, we have no space left—nor do we make way for—insults, slights, political and ideological differences, past histories, and future—often unrealistic—hopes for relationships.

Instead, schooled by God, we choose to acknowledge, in the midst of other people, that much of what is said in conversations can be taken or heard out of context, spoken without thinking, or is derived from a place of another person’s deep pain and anger.

We do well to admit that what we often hear is not what the other person said or meant.

And when we do hear what is actually said, and it is meant to be mean-spirited, and verbal insults directly or indirectly dished-out do pierce, we continue to respond or remain silent in grace (but rightly place graceful boundaries around all future encounters with this person).

Which means we don’t enable their sin, participate in it or condone it, whether it is directed at us or someone else. We remain calmly steadfast in our obedience to God, not man or self, in how we respond and think about it later.

Christmas seems to be an especially trying time due to its specificity. We clearly remember Christmases of the past, good and bad, and what or who made them good and bad.

We might be pining for a person no longer in our life. We might be dreading the obligation to visit yet again with someone who has managed to be the fly in the ointment of many past Christmases. We might despise the artificiality of trying to be a close-knit bunch. We might loathe a corporate event where most people are just bent on getting drunk.

Whatever it is, grace can overcome. It starts with an attitude of trust and commitment to God. And as we adopt His way, we find we actually enjoy ourselves. As we jettison a worldly, self-centered view, we enter that gathering of people filled only with the good promises and presence of God in us.

That is enough. That is freedom. That is what makes merry. That is joy.

 copyright Barb Harwood

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:12-25

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Joy of Crying a River and Then Crossing God's Bridge Over It

I was in a coffee shop yesterday, and saw a sign on the wall that said, 
“Cry a river, build a bridge and get over it.”

It was one of those Linus-plays-Jingle-Bells-the Right-Way-for-Lucy moments!

Yet in reality, what happens for some people when it comes to serious issues is that they attempt the bridge-crossing without crying first.

Or, they cry and stew and fester on the shoreline of life, never overcoming anything.

Or, they skip directly to “get over it,” without even stopping to collect Monopoly money! (and paying the price later when unresolved flies in the ointment begin flying again).

These three extremes are debilitating in that they stunt, delay, impede and generally obliterate emotional and spiritual maturity and joy.

We live in an interesting dichotomy: either we over-nurture—coddle every whimper— or hard-line even real tragedies with a husky “just get over it.”

And certainly, not everything needs soul searching! 

Shallow, surface inconveniences and irritations do not warrant “stopping the presses!” Disagreements and opposing viewpoints do not constitute the need for a cry room. Opinions are a part of someone just as their hair color: each person is entitled to have them. We all have been tired, frustrated and snippy at times. We weren't perfect parents or children, so we need to cut some slack when we see other parents sincerely struggling to quiet their children in grocery stores and on airplanes. 

Facts of life such as these must be “gotten over,” and the sooner the better.

What does require our sincere time and attention is the heavy emotional baggage that we like to think we’ve jettisoned and are no longer lugging around. Ironically, our becoming so easily perturbed at lesser things is usually the residue from these unpacked bags.

So here’s the sad and slightly embarrassing truth: I’ve been crying a river over a few very specific issues for many years. At times they’ve faded into the background, or seemed like they could be successfully ignored. Often I did tell myself to simply “get over it.” But then life circumstances would dredge them up once again.

Bono, of the rock group U2, croons with insight when he sings,

“You’ve got to get yourself together;
 you’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it.”

And getting out of it requires the bridge, and then going across.

The entire process, beginning to end, naturally requires God. He will not abandon us to cry alone, nor force us to navigate over shark-infested waters ourselves.

The main thing that will happen on the bridge is the transition from our perspective of our self and others to God’s perspective. 

This de-programming, if you will, might necessitate spending differing lengths of time on various segments of the bridge. A first bridge crossing might take longer than a second. A second might take longer than the first due to the trauma involved. But we stay the course until we attain God’s peace and can say, in all sincerity, that we truly are “over it.”

This isn’t to say we won’t feel a tinge of residual tension from the old issue. We may always remember the lamenting and the battle to traverse the bridge. 

But we go forth living in the victory, as the apostle Paul himself models in Philippians 3 when he says, 

“...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

This is yet another form of joy.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:2-6