Joy

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy… (Gal 5:22)

JoyJoy is a word that I believe is easily misunderstood.  Let me give you an example. About eleven years ago, I adopted my little dog. I named her Joy because her personality radiates joy.

One day a young workman came to my house. After he finished the repairs in the kitchen he asked me, “You named your dog after soap?” He was referring to the bottle of Joy detergent that was on my kitchen counter. I explained that she was not named after soap, but I named her because she always acted so joyful. He did not seem to really understand, but I think that is not as unusual as it may seem.

Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably and people assume that they cannot have joy unless they feel happy. I disagree.

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Intercession and Repentance

Our nation’s continuing moral and economic decline, and the growing malaise of our increasingly dysfunctional churches, has caused a renewed focus on intercessory prayer.

Heavy Lifting

Intercession without Repentance Is Not Effective

But intercession without transformational repentance – which Biblically involves changing the way we act by changing the way we think – is seldom effective.

While desperately seeking to touch the heart of God through intercession, few seem willing to do the concurrent hard work of understanding the mind of God. The challenges facing our nation, and our churches, require both.

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Acceptance with Joy

My wife, Marianne, wrote this. Where I am vision and logic, she is feeling and heart. The Lord speaks to us in very different ways, and we have learned to passionately value those differences.

Anyway, I think this was for both of us, and maybe it will speak to you too as the first of hopefully many devotionals from her.

~ Jim


Marianne

As I was in the midst of an intense struggle over some situations in my life, the Lord spoke to my spirit: “Acceptance with joy.”

I responded, “Lord, I don’t even know what it is that I am to accept, but whatever it is, there certainly is no joy.”

For me, it became pray, pray, pray: I cried my heart out in hopes that somehow He would let me see what He wanted.

With me, the Lord speaks in pictures, and the picture He showed me was not encouraging.

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My Prayer

How long, Lord, will you continue to tolerate those leaders among us who bring shame on your name and prey on your people?

How long, Lord, will you tolerate those who enable such predators, thus allowing even more harm to your precious children?

For your name’s sake, bring righteousness and judgment.

Purify your Church, Lord, of those building their kingdoms and manipulating your people to advance self interests, rather than Your Kingdom.

Transparent

My spiritual DNA — the way God put me together — makes me instinctively encourage others to give away what God has given them. Sharing God’s blessings is a key component to spiritual growth, I’ve found.

I often teach and minister in a faith-based dorm at the local jail. Rather than me “leading” this Friday, however, I took a seat among them and let the men bless each other by sharing what God is showing them and doing in their lives.

Some rose to sing songs they wrote to the Lord, some read and commented on short passages of scripture that had become alive to them, while others gave testimony to how God is now healing and making them whole men.

One brother read a poem he wrote about dealing with the issues of his heart and finding healing through confession, repentance and forgiveness. I’ve seen tremendous peace and maturity emerge over the last couple of months as he’s been totally transparent with the Lord — even though it’s sometimes hard and painful to expose those secret and hidden places to Him.

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Following God’s Presence

Today in the jail, after two hours of powerful ministry between the men one to another, they stopped and said they decided earlier this week to do something for me. They then stood around me, laid hands on me, and prayed the most wonderful, tender prayers of blessing I’ve ever heard.

I cried as I realized what they were doing, because they’ve learned – maybe with some of them for the first time in their lives – to give rather than always take or receive.

After months of mentoring them on “being” the church (see my blog, The Church in D Pod), they heeded God’s gentle call to new pastures. As a result, they now “get” it and wonderful life is flowing between them and from them – even to me!

How many pastors – who so closely guard the microphone and the prerogatives of their front podium as they try to direct even God himself during their closely scripted and controlled Sunday services – have ever experienced the joy of being just one of many?

Do they realize they have no monopoly on the many spiritual gifts God wants us to give as acts of worship, to Him and in fellowship one with another?

If not, then they are missing the blessing of letting life and ministry flow under the prompting of the Holy Spirit – not simply from them, but to and around them.

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Sufficient Grace

Sufficient Grace

When did Christians start believing that God wants us to always be healthy, wealthy and free of adversity?

If asked directly, most believers would deny that’s what they think. But our actions say otherwise.

A Devastating Diagnosis

I started noticing this when I contracted a rare, degenerative autoimmune disease called systemic sclerosis (aka scleroderma). It took years to finally link my symptoms to a specific diagnosis, but when it came, it was devastating.

Although it initially hit me hard, it seemed to hit others even harder.

As family and friends learned of my condition, they often reacted with shock. Some simply deserted me – usually because they couldn’t deal with their own pain or awkwardness over my condition. Other times, they left because I couldn’t continue being the fount of money or financial security they had come to expect. I quickly learned who were my true friends, and my true family.

Praying At God

Among my remaining friends, many responded by asking to pray over me. Sometimes they’d say that God told them I’d be healed. Although God hadn’t told me that, I would be gracious, let them pray and listen to their assurances. I appreciated their concern, but what struck me most was how they were reacting more out of their own anxieties than anything else.

Because their theology couldn’t explain why God allowed this to happen to me, they needed to vigorously pray at God and at me in order to drown out their own uncertainties and insecurities. They knew that if this could happen to me, then it could happen to them or their loved ones. That’s not what they signed up for when they became Christians!

Rather than “hearing” from God about my situation, they were telling God what He needed to do or what they thought He should do. After all, if He’s God and all powerful, loving and just, then they couldn’t understand why bad things happen to good Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate prayers! But prayers motivated by anxiety over God’s seeming failings, and by our own fears over sickness and adversities, quickly become tiring to the purported beneficiary.

I have one very close friend who’s an associate pastor. He has cancer and would duck out of church several minutes early to avoid all of the “words from God” and anxiety-filled prayers that otherwise descended on him at the end of each service. I could relate (although things have since cooled down for me, and, I understand, for him too).

Touching God’s Heart

When I was first diagnosed, maybe one out of twenty-five of my remaining friends and acquaintances, at most, would actually come and pray for me in the security of God’s sovereignty and could then truly touch God’s heart regarding my condition. And God’s heart was to simply say He was with me. By ministering from that place of peace which only comes from total surrender to God’s will – without presumption or expectation of outcome – their prayers were like cool drinks in a barren land.

Those ministering out of anxiety, however, couldn’t understand why God would let this happen. Implicit was the assumption that God owed me, and Christians in general, a free pass when it comes to the realities of our fallen world and imperfect mortal bodies.

But there’s no such promise in Scripture. Rather, God simply assures us that His grace is sufficient for all that may befall us.

Peace Despite an Uncertain Fate

I have several very close friends who also have faced a life threatening issue or other major crisis. Once they were able to accept God’s grace in their situations, and surrender to His will without precondition or expectation of outcome, a depth of fellowship and understanding developed that’s hard to describe. To a person, we would not trade that grace for anything – including health and healing.

I’m no saint, and I have my down days. I want to be a good steward and so I struggle at times with my future and with what, if any, plans and decisions I can make given my uncertain fate. But generally, the high price of admission has been worth the grace gained as God embraced my infirmities.

Unless you too have been there, I suspect this is hard to understand.

It’s not fatalism – far from it. It’s life from brokenness. It’s peace and calm from being able to finally surrender to God’s perfect will, even with no idea what His will may be, because you finally understand – both at the logical and also at the emotional level – that life only has significance and fulfillment in him. He created us, so who knows better what to do with our lives?

It’s not premised on any assumption of outcome, other than knowing that your life never belonged to you anyway and it’s God’s to do with as He pleases – even to the point of death.

Becoming Whole Despite Infirmities

I’m in God’s hands. If His will is to call me home, that’s OK. If His will is healing, that’s OK too. If it’s something in between, then there is peace in the promise of His grace for the journey.

It is, more than anything else, being with Jesus in the garden on the night He was betrayed. He was all too human as He cried out for deliverance from His impending cross. After getting past His initial deep, deep anguish, Jesus found assurance only when He could truly say to the Father “not my will, but thy will be done.” He could then endure the cross because of the resulting peace that comes from trust and obedience.

To my healthy friends, think about this. If everyone who made Jesus their Lord suddenly experienced perfect health, perfect wealth, and no adversity or pain, then who would come to Jesus for Jesus’ sake? No one, that’s who! We would all flock to him for what He can do for us, rather than for what He wants of us.

And what does He want? Simply everything, including our will and our very lives. He then uses our total commitment to redeem His creation, despite its fallenness

… and to reconcile people to Himself, despite our brokenness.

In His wisdom, God normally doesn’t exempt us from our frailties or the consequences of a fallen world. Rather, He makes us complete in our weakness. Our lives then demonstrate that His grace is sufficient, despite the consequences of humanity’s rebellion, and that it is only through Him that we become whole, despite our infirmities.

I truly don’t know what God intends for me. I only know that I need to walk in His grace and abide in His will day-by-day as I trust my future to Him – without any presumption of outcome.

When He’s done with this life, He’ll take me home. Until then, my life is His and my imperfect desire is to serve Him with all I have, and all I am, as He gives me grace for the journey ahead.

(c) Copyright 2009, Fulcrum Ministries. All Rights Reserved.


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Soon after writing this in early 2009, my systemic sclerosis began to slowly and miraculously retreat and by the end of 2009 had gone into low level remission – to the astonishment of my doctors. Needless to say, however, the experience of dealing with the implications and initial health effects from the disease changed me deeply.

In late 2011, my symptoms started re-surging, and in early 2012 a pulmonary function test indicated that the disease had entered my lungs, which is not good.

Although I don’t know what the future holds, I nonetheless remain eternally grateful to have found sufficient grace. Or, to put it more accurately, that Sufficient Grace found me. 

Been Hearing God Lately?

Been Hearing God Lately?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how God fellowshipped with Adam. It was in the garden, where the two of them walked side by side and talked face to face in the cool of the evening. God met Adam in his full humanity, where life sprang forth both in and around Adam.

It took me a long time to learn that it’s OK to be human and that God wanted to meet me too in my full humanity.

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