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JUGGLING

Robbie never ceases to make me laugh. He can’t talk, but I can read the expressions on his face like a book (most of the time)—and he has a very expressive face.
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It’s been over three years, I think, since Robbie began his love affair with apples. He can’t eat them, but he loves to hold them. He is rarely without an apple in his hand during his waking hours, and I frequently have to try to sneak his apple away when he is asleep. I say try because his fingers clamp down like a vise if he senses someone is trying to steal his apples. He plays a mean game of Keep-Away with his apple, too, during playtime.
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Last fall I bought him one of those tiny pumpkins that are about the size of an apple. I wondered if he would accept it in place of his apple. Oh yes, he accepted it—in addition to his apple. There was no way he was giving up his beloved apple!
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Well, it’s that time of year again. Bob came home from one of his trips this week with a surprise for Robbie. “Robbie! Daddy has a present for you!” he sang as he shook a bag in the air. Robbie got so excited! He leaned forward eagerly and held his arms out. Bob gave him the bag and held it open so Robbie could reach inside. He pulled out a tiny pumpkin! Whoo-Hoo! Then he reached inside and pulled out something else—a small orange and yellow striped, pear-shaped gourd! Robbie was thrilled!
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There was just one problem. He had the pumpkin in one hand and the gourd in the other. His apple was in his lap. Three treasures. Two hands. What to do? He put down the pumpkin and picked up the apple. Ooo-but he really wanted that pumpkin! He set down the gourd and picked up the pumpkin. Wait a minute! I want that gourd, too! his face said. This went on for several minutes as Robbie tried to figure out how to hold three precious playthings in only two hands.
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Bob and I were cracking up. His eyebrows were going up and down. He was grinning and frowning all at the same time. We could just see the little wheels turning inside his head. And then Mama had to throw something else in the mix. “Robbie,” I said eagerly, “Mama’s going to buy you some more pretty gourds—all shapes and colors and textures—and another pumpkin, too, and you can have a whole basketful of fun things to play with!” (Can’t let Bob outdo me when it comes to pleasing our boy!)
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I’m not sure how much of that he really understood, but he turned and looked at me with such a look of dismay! “Mom!” his face seemed to say, “Can’t you see I only have two hands?”
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I laughed a few days later when I was sharing that with my ten-year-old granddaughter Melissa. Her response was, “So you’ve got Robbie juggling now! Maybe instead of more gourds, you should buy him more hands!” That tickled me. Robbie—juggling?
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Robbie could never juggle, but we’ve certainly all been there, haven’t we? Our hands are full, but we need to fit something else in somehow. We feel like we are doing a juggling act and something is going to fall at any moment—or maybe the whole thing will come crashing down! We are stressed out, dashing back and forth, trying to keep our eyes on the ball and everything going smoothly. We’re overwhelmed and crying out, “But I only have two hands!”
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I don’t know how some of the women I know do it. They are working jobs, taking care of children or grandchildren, cleaning house, cooking, doing ministries outside the home, home-schooling, being a help to their husbands, and on and on. I live an easy life here at home compared to them, but it never really stops around here, either, with Robbie to care for, writing deadlines to meet, projects to do for our pastor and church, as well as caring for home and hubby. It is a fact of life in our modern American lives. We are too busy, too stressed, too exhausted.
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Let’s face it—juggling not only saps our strength, it also saps our joy. Our most precious treasures become liabilities; demands on us that wear us down and wear us out. Instead of enjoying our children to the fullest, we snap at them or push them away with, “Not right now! Mommy is busy!” Our husbands often get put on the back burner, the last to get our attention. And remember the old chorus, There is Joy in Serving Jesus? Where’s the joy when our ministry for the Lord turns into just one more duty I am obligated to perform?
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I think sometimes at the end of the day when we fall into bed exhausted, that we feel as Solomon did in Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” Well, I got through this day. Tomorrow it starts all over again.
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You may remember the old commercial, “Calgon—take me away!” David, in Psalm 55:6, said it like this—“Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” Well, we don’t have wings to carry us away, and a Calgon bath will help for only a few minutes. What is the answer then?
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There are some things we simply must juggle—family, home, serving the Lord. Some of us simply have to work outside the home—not for the little extras, but just to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. Some things, like home schooling, are a conviction, and we know that it may not be right for all families, but it is God’s will for ours. All of these things are important; many of them are precious treasures. How do we juggle them and at the end of the day end up tired, maybe, but still joyful?
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There are four principles, I think, that can help us be successful, joyful jugglers! The first is so simple, and yet so hard to remember sometimes: Start the day, and continue all the way through, with the right attitude. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” God gave us these treasures to be blessings in our lives, not burdens! Rejoice in the little ones clinging to your leg when you are trying to cook dinner; in the teenagers wanting a ride to the youth group activity; in the husband wanting his share of attention, too! Think how empty your life would be without them! Praise God for the home that has to be cleaned, the food that has to be cooked, the job you have to go to. Think how many millions of people in this world go without those very basic things. Thank the Lord for the opportunities you have to serve him with a heart of love and gratefulness for all that He has done for you. He gave you a new day! Praise Him for it! And keep the gratitude going all day long.
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The second principle goes along with the first: Do whatever it is that you have to do in God’s strength, not your own. I say it goes along with the first principle because both should be a matter of prayer before we hit the floor running. Colossians 1:10, 11 says, “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” So many times I have failed when I have tried to take on something in my own strength! When we pause to read a portion of God’s word—even if it is only a verse or two—we are “increased in the knowledge of God.” When we first praise and thank Him, and then ask for His power to get through the day with patience and endurance and strength, He gives it to us and we come out at the other end of the day with joy at all that the Lord has given to us and done in us and through us.
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The third principle is this: Don’t try to be a Super-Woman! Wait a minute! you might be saying right now. What about the Proverbs 31 Virtuous Woman? She certainly had a lot on her plate to juggle! Look at this: “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple…She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant… She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness…Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
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Wow! Super-Woman? Maybe, but I think there are a few sub-principles that she can teach us. First: Don’t try to do it all alone—Delegate! It seems the woman of Proverbs 31 had maidens to help her. (vs. 15) Sure, the responsibility rested on her, and she jumped right in there with her own two hands and did her share, working from before dawn on into the night, but she had help. Second: Don’t try to do it all at once. I believe there are seasons to a woman’s life. When our children are young, they need us and we may have to postpone for a few years things that we would like to do in order to care for their needs. When we are old, we may not have the strength or physical capabilities that we once had, and we may have to give up things we once enjoyed. I cannot say for sure, but I doubt that the Virtuous Woman did all of this at the same time. She cared for her children when they were young, providing food and clothes for them. When they were older, perhaps, she entered the marketplace and helped the needy. Third: Whatever you do, do with strength and honor, wisdom and kindness, trusting and obeying the Lord. Verses 25-26, 30 say, “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.” When our hearts are right with God, no matter what He has called us to do, we will rejoice in time to come.
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The fourth and last principle I want to mention is this: Be content with less. Ecclesiastes 4:6 says, “Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.” Part of our problem as modern American women is that we think we have to have more and better—a vacation or two every year, far more clothes than we could ever wear, a big nicely furnished and decorated house and so on and so on. We think we have to do more—run the kids to every activity imaginable, take on this project and that, have the perfect home and family. We add so much to our plate that it is no wonder we can’t keep up. If we could only realize that we can get along with far less, relax a little more when we demand less of ourselves—think what a burden that would lift!
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Psalm 90:17 says, “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” Our hands are filled with treasures. We have to juggle sometimes, but we can do it with joy when we do it in the Lord—with praise and thankfulness, with contentment and in His strength.
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Oh, I’m still going to get Robbie that basketful of gourds, little pumpkins and apples, but I think I’ll give them to him just one or two at a time!

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!

I wanted so badly last weekend to write a blog called “I Know a Secret!” or better yet, since it was the Fourth of July, “Red, White and…Pink or Blue?” Yep, that’s right—(sing-song) somebody’s having a baby! I’m free to tell it this week (they can’t keep a secret any better than I can!)

You could have knocked me over with a feather! Laurie and I were talking on the phone last Saturday and discussing their plans to celebrate this most American of all holidays down there in Ecuador with Fernando’s family. They were having a cookout, complete with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, s’mores and apple pie among other yummy treats. We talked about favorite family recipes she’d be using— Grandma’s potato salad and apple pie, my beans, her aunts’ pretzel salad—and then she casually said, “We’re not going to get the kids any sparklers or fireworks, though. We’ll have our fireworks in February.”

Huh? “Fireworks in February?” I was confused. “What are you talking—What?! No! You’re not saying what I think you’re saying, are you, Laurie? You’re not—you are! You’re pregnant!” I stammered. For a moment I was speechless. Laurie was laughing, and then I realized she had put me on speaker-phone because in the background I could hear the kids all laughing, too. “You’re having a baby?”

I hardly knew what to say at first. My first thought was concern for my daughter. This was baby number six, and she would be forty years old when it came. I’ve always been thrilled to welcome new grandbabies into the world, but I have to admit, I get scared for my daughters when it comes time for the delivery. And how would she handle six children now with all that she has to do—especially the home-schooling? It was already stressful. These thoughts raced through my head, but within moments I set them aside and said, “Well, praise the Lord! Babies are such a blessing!”

“Thanks, Mom,” I heard Fernando say quietly. “Thanks for saying that.”

I knew what he and Laurie were thinking. There would be criticism from some folks at this news. Large families are not in style—even in Ecuador–anymore. They’re expensive. How could a missionary family afford to have so many children? Why couldn’t they be satisfied with the children they already have and just stop?

I must confess—I had been less than enthusiastic with the news that babies number four and five were on the way. I had quickly seen, though, that Katie and Matthew were such special, precious, wonderful little gifts and had blessed our lives immeasurably. I could not imagine the pure joy we would have missed out on if they had not been sent by God to our family. Laurie and Fernando were just as surprised as we were that God had chosen to bless them again with another child. If He saw fit to bless this world with another precious little Naranjo, then who were we to question His wisdom? He has a special plan for that life! And you have to admit—He certainly makes beautiful little Naranjos, inside and out!

This time I would not question. I’d learned my lesson. The news of a new grandbaby deserves to be met with joy and excitement—and it was. Oh, I’m still concerned for Laurie, but I have to place those fears in the Lord’s hands for He knows what He is doing.

Of course, I was full of questions. When did you find out? How far along are you? Have you figured out the due date? Which would you rather have—a boy or a girl? Have you thought about names yet? And then, of course, I could not resist teasing Laurie and Fernando about having a baby in their old age—just like Abraham and Sarah! “Just think, Laurie—you’ll be almost as old as I was when I became a grandma!” I joked. By the time we were Fernando’s age, we had three grandchildren!

She laughed. “Don’t remind me! We’ve already been calling ourselves Abraham and Sarah!”

It was just by coincidence (???) that I happened to read the account of Abraham and Sarah this week in my Bible-reading. I’ve been reading in Genesis and I came to chapters 17 through 21 where it recounts the story of the announcement by the Lord that He would bless them with a son, despite their old age, and make of them a great nation and nations. The passage goes on to tell of the birth of Isaac and the fulfillment of God’s promise—and their reactions to it.

Genesis 17:1, 5, 6, 15-17, 19; 18:12-15; 21:6 tells the story: And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him…Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. …And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.

Their reactions to this unexpected announcement and the miraculous birth of their baby boy? They laughed! But there is laughter—and then there is laughter. Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s promise to him seemed to be one of wonderment! He was ninety-nine years old, but he would father this miraculous son! The Lord Himself had made the announcement to him—how could he doubt it?

Sarah, on the other hand, did doubt. For many years it had been her all-consuming desire to have a child until finally her body had gone through menopause and she knew with a bitter finality that it was not to be. She was old. When she laughed, it was in disbelief and bitterness. Then, to make matters worse, when the Lord asked why she had laughed, she denied it. She tried to lie to the Lord—the One who knew her heart better than she did herself. He, in his forgiveness and grace, however, kept His promise and a year later Sarah bore a son, despite her age and the fact that her body was long-past the capability of conceiving a child.

Sarah laughed again—this time in joy at the birth of her little miracle son. And she named him the name that God Himself had chosen—Isaac—“He will laugh.”

Reading the story all over again reminded me that God has a purpose for each life that He brings into this world, and that the birth of a baby is a blessing and a gift from God and should be met with rejoicing and wonder and thanksgiving—and yes, laughter!

I was reminded also of another truth—nothing is too hard for the Lord! Sarah had become discouraged and bitter and hopeless as the years went by and her greatest desire and prayer was not granted by the Lord. She could not see that the greater miracle was about to happen, not only in the fact that she would miraculously conceive, but also in the fact that through this son, all the world would someday be blessed, for Jesus’ humanity would come through the line of Abraham and Isaac and their descendents.

God’s timetable is not always what we would desire. He does not always work in our lives in the way that we would choose or expect, but never doubt that He is at work! I must not be discouraged when time slips away and it seems that God does not hear my prayers. I should never lose hope, even when things seem impossible in my finite, human wisdom. He is still the God of miracles, and when I trust Him, He brings unexpected joy and laughter into my life! Is anything too hard for the Lord?

I was sharing these thoughts with my other daughter Julie later that day. As I recognized the discouragement and hopelessness in Sarah over the years as she had begged God for a child, I could not help think of Julie and David’s long journey on the road to adoption. It was easy to get discouraged. At times it seemed hopeless—that it was never going to really happen. I wanted to encourage her. “Look at Sarah! After her despair and hopelessness, God worked a miracle and brought joy and laughter! “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

“Mom, I read the exact same message this morning in my devotions! ” she exclaimed That must be our word from the Lord today—is anything too hard for God?

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They are good words to remember. When things seem hopeless; when the desires of our hearts seem to go unfulfilled; when the years have slipped by and it does not seem that God hears or cares—He is working in our lives. The miracle may yet come—but if it does not, He can change the desires of our heart to be in line with His will. Be open to His timing and working in your life. Regardless of how He works, you just may be surprised with unexpected joy and laughter!

OUR HUMBLE HOME

This has been a week of little unexpected blessings for me. I haven’t done anything special, or gone anywhere, but it makes me happy and grateful when the Lord just drops little joy-fillers into our lives to uplift and bless us.

The series of messages I told you about a few weeks ago by Dr. David Jeremiah on the book of Revelations continues to encourage and exhort as I’ve delved into the study each day. You wouldn’t think that a book on prophecy would have so much practical and personal application for our lives here and now, but I have gleaned so much already that has drawn me closer to the Lord and made me love and praise Him all the more, and made me want to serve Him better.

I have been excited, too, as Bob put in some new flowers and plants in front of our house, and have enjoyed the color and variety as they began to flourish – a sure sign that despite the chilly weather we’ve been experiencing, spring is here! We put out a new American flag (we usually swap out the old one every year or two when they start to look a little grubby) and it was then that I noticed the colors of our new flowers were the red, white and blue of the flag. The colors really popped against one another! Just looking at them gives me a happy heart!

Then there are the DVDs I borrowed from my mother last week. The sound of old-time Southern Gospel music has filled our home this week as Robbie and I, and Bob when he is around, have listened over and over to five or six Gaither Homecoming DVDs. The music is sometimes energetic and catchy, sometimes quiet and peaceful, but always uplifting and glorifying to the Lord and a blessing to me.

The true highlight of our week turned out to be something very different, however. We don’t have company very often, and when we do, it is usually family or people who know us, and the way we live, very well. Where for many years our home was a busy hub of activity and we had large groups of people in weekly, since Robbie’s illness we have grown accustomed to living quietly and to ourselves. This week, though, Bob’s boss and his wife were coming to visit – and I have to admit, the thought made me a little nervous.

I had met Ray and April briefly several years ago in Canada, but to tell the truth, I was rather nervous then, too – probably more because I was out of my element then. I knew they were very nice people and had done a great deal already for Bob as he has worked for them, but as I prepared for their visit I kept wondering what they would think of our home and Robbie – and me. Bob told me several times, “Cindy, quit worrying about it! Ray and April are very kind, down-to-earth people. It will be fine!”

I hoped most of all they would like and appreciate Robbie, looking beyond the disabilities and drool and seeing him for the very special, sweet person he is. We see him through eyes of love and know all the funny, loving, gentle qualities of his personality, but others just meeting him might not recognize the special gift that Robbie is. Anyone who knows us knows how much we cherish that boy, and they had certainly heard enough about Robbie from Bob. Now I hoped as they met him in person for the first time, they would understand why we love him so much and why we thank God for blessing our lives with him.

I worried most of all, though, about what they would think of our house and the way we live. I knew they have a summer home in Canada and a winter home in Florida, and a motor home, as well. Our house is old and in a transitioning neighborhood. It is clean and neat, but there’s nothing fancy or updated about it. Our list of to-do’s (paint the living and dining rooms and hall, put in new flooring and cabinets in the kitchen, refinish some of the interior doors, redo the bathroom downstairs, etc) is long, but somehow we never seem to have the time or money at the same time to get these jobs done. Robbie’s bed is in the middle of our living room. Despite all the HGTV I watch, our favorite décor is comfort over fashion, and family photos over current trends.

Bob was absolutely right! I wasted a lot of worry over what Ray and April would think. They were lovely, kind people and I enjoyed having them here immensely. “Down-to-earth” was the right term to describe them. They seemed to really like Robbie, and of course, he was smitten with them! They actually seemed to love our house, and even our neighborhood, as well! It turns out, they are renovating an old farmhouse in Canada that was built in the 1800’s, and then added to in 1932. (Our house was built in 1928.) They could appreciate the age and character of our house, and the fact that it wasn’t updated.

The thing I had worried about all week turned out to be a wonderful blessing. I think we all enjoyed a good time of fellowship, and a strengthening of our relationship and friendship. What’s more, the Lord used these two sweet people to remind me once again of lessons I thought I had learned long ago:

When will I ever learn to focus on the more important, spiritual things, rather than on the earthly, temporal concerns of this life? Rather than worrying about how people might judge our house, I ought to be more concerned with how they see our home. I get caught up with cleaning, rearranging, putting out the best dishes and candles on the table, serving a delicious meal – all to make a good impression. It is nice when guests appreciate our house and the meal, but am I as concerned that their spirits are nurtured and fed, as well, when they enter our home? The focus ought not to be on the impression I make of myself or my home, but on them and how we can minister to them.

Does love live here? When people enter our home will they feel the love of Christ and the love we have for one another? Will they know that we love them, too? There is no fireplace in this house, but will they feel the warmth of our love? I Corinthians 13 tells us that love is self-sacrificing, patient, kind, truthful, pure, unfailing…”Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:…And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13) The Bible also says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (I John 4:7, 8) Our love is a testimony to others that He lives within us.
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Can they feel the joy of the Lord? The walls may be drab and need a coat or two of paint, but may the joy of the Lord color our home! Do others see joy in our faces and hear rejoicing in our words when they come into our home? Do they receive a warm welcome and feel that we are truly glad to have them here? The Bible tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), our light (Psalm 89:15), our prosperity (Psalm 35:27) and a crown (I Thessalonians 2:19.) “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:11) What a testimony when we can rejoice in adversity; when we can glorify God for victories and praise Him in all things!

Can they feel the peace of God? Is our home tension-filled – a place of strife and anger, or do others feel comfort and peace when they enter? When we live at peace with one another, when we are patient, when we live harmoniously and in unity, it shows. The décor of my house may not always be harmonious (Bob’s mounted trophy deer hangs just above my palm trees and sea shells) but I hope our lives are, and that they are a testimony to the peace that passes all understanding when others come into our home. Ephesians 4:2-3, 31-32 says, “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Do they sense that Christ is the center of our home? Do they feel His presence here? Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) If our home is filled with His love, joy, and peace they will know that He is present in our home. There is a plaque by our front door that reads, “…Choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) We have chosen to follow the Lord and make Him the head of our home. There is an old saying that goes, “Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.” I pray that our conduct and our conversation, our lifestyle and our lives will be a steadfast testimony always that Christ dwells here in our hearts and in our home.

I’ve been praising God for the little unexpected blessings He’s sent me this week, including the blessing of having guests here this week. I hope their visit here was a blessing to them, too!

WHOO-HOO!!! — The Secret of Christian Joy

I’ve had a couple of WHOO-HOO, jumping-for-joy moments this week! Nothing big, really, but they sure made me happy! The first was that my sister invited me to go to Bell Buckle, Tennessee with her and Mom for the Moon Pie and RC Festival in June. Now, I have to tell you—Moon Pies and RC would be about the last things that I would normally celebrate! I am totally excited, though, to get away for a weekend, to spend time with my mother and sister, and to see Aunt Bonnie and my cousins—WHOO-HOO! Of course, I know it may not actually happen. There are a lot of circumstances that could change my plans (Robbie’s health, Bob’s job, etc.), but just having something fun to look forward to for the next couple months is wonderful!

The second thing that literally brought out a big WHOO-HOO! from me was just getting back into writing the book I’d started a couple months ago. I’ve been so busy lately working on my blogs and my website, and doing writing projects for other people that I had set it aside for a while. When I determined this week to get back to work on it and wrote that first paragraph, it felt so great and I was just bubbling over with happiness. I actually shouted WHOO-HOO! Robbie opened one eye and looked at me like Mom’s finally lost her mind, and the least she could do is be quiet about it! I enjoy writing of any kind, but writing fiction is such fun and so creative that I felt like a kid let out for summer vacation!
One more thing that had me shouting for joy: We had a couple beautiful days this week when the temperature made it into the seventies and the sun was shining. I opened the doors and windows, and while Robbie was sleeping, I went out onto the sun porch with my laptop for the first time this year and settled into the recliner out there. It felt soooo good after being cooped up in the house all through a long, very hard winter. Spring is on the way! Actually, spring is officially here, and soon the spring weather will be here to stay, too! WHOO-HOO!
Just little things, really, as I said, but they brought a great big smile to my face. My husband is a very fortunate man—it doesn’t take much to make me happy! Thinking about those moments this week made me reflect on what the Bible has to say about joy, so I went to the book of Philippians and took a look.
Philippians is called the “Joy-Book.” Nineteen times the apostle Paul mentioned joy, rejoicing or gladness. This may not seem unusual except that Paul’s circumstances were anything but joyful. At the time Paul penned this epistle to the church in Philippi, he was being held prisoner by Nero the Emperor of Rome. He was chained to a guard and not allowed to preach in public. He had no idea what was going to happen to him. He might be acquitted, but then again he might be beheaded! Even some of the believers at that time were against him.
In spite of the danger and discomfort in which he found himself, Paul overflowed with joy. The secret to that joy is found in another key word in Philippians—mind. Paul uses the words mind, think and remember sixteen times. I actually used the words happiness and joy rather interchangeably when I spoke of my week earlier, but there is a difference between the two. Where happiness relies heavily upon outward circumstances, people, and events, etc, joy comes from within. The secret of Christian joy is found in the way the believer thinks; his attitudes. No, I’m not speaking of the “positive-thinking” approach, that is so popular these days. Before we get into the attitudes I am thinking of, though, let’s take a look at some of the things that can rob us of our joy.
I call them Joy-Snatchers. When things are going our way, we feel happy and we’re easier to live with. Few of the circumstances of our life, however, are under our control, and when those circumstances go wrong we’re unhappy. The weather spoils our plans. The traffic jam frustrates us. We’re disappointed when we don’t get the job we want. We’re frightened when the economy goes bust. The person who relies on circumstances will be miserable much of the time! Paul, who was in worse circumstances than you or I will ever know, wrote a letter, however, abounding in joy! “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
Sometimes we lose our joy because of other people. We are hurt because of something our spouse has said. We are disappointed in what our children do. Our boss drives us crazy, and we let the neighbors’ thoughtlessness get to us. We must live with other people. We cannot be isolated and still bring glory to God. Jesus says we are to be light unto the world, but sometimes that light is dimmed because of how we react to other people. He calls us to be the salt of the earth, but that salt is bitter when our testimony is marred by ruined relationships with others. (Matthew 5:13-16)
Most people today think that joy comes from the things they own. They want to live the “American Dream.” They want the home, the new cars, the vacations, all the newest technology, designer clothes, and on and on and on… In reality, things can rob us of joy. That new car gets wrecked. Our home is robbed. We get sick on vacation. We spill tomato sauce down the front of our new dress. And we can’t take it with us. Jesus warned us in Luke 12:15, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
The fourth joy-snatcher is worry. Worry will rob us not only of joy but of peace and faith, as well. It affects us physically, too, affecting every system in our bodies—hearts, stomachs, brains, intestines, muscles, skin, and immune system. Paul had plenty to worry about, but he didn’t worry. Instead he wrote a letter of joy telling us not to be anxious. He wrote the cure for worry: “Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:6-8)
I’ve mentioned four Joy-Snatchers; now I would like to suggest four Joy-Sustainers. These are four attitudes, or four mind-sets that we see in the book of Philippians that will help us defeat the circumstances, people problems, things and worry that steal our joy away.
The first of these is the Single Mind. This is the attitude we find in the first chapter of Philippians that helps us rise above our circumstances. It is an attitude of single-hearted devotion to Christ. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (vs. 21) Paul faced difficult circumstances with joy because he was not living to enjoy his circumstances, but rather he was living to serve Christ. He did not look at his circumstances in themselves, but in relationship to Christ. He was not a “prisoner of Rome” but a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 3:1) His chains were “my bonds in Christ.” (Philippians 1:3) He was not facing a civil trial but “set for the defense of the gospel.” (vs. 17) Paul did not look at Christ through his circumstances—he looked at his circumstances through Christ, and that changed his whole perspective.
Paul rejoiced in his difficult circumstances because they helped strengthen his fellowship with other believers. He called it the fellowship of the Gospel. (vs. 1-11) The circumstances in which he found himself gave him the opportunity to lead others to Christ for the furtherance of the Gospel (vs. 12-26), and enabled him to defend the Gospel before the courts of Rome which he called the faith of the Gospel. (vs. 27-30) Paul proved that when we are single-minded in serving Christ our circumstances can work for us and not against us, and we will find great joy in that!
The second chapter of Philippians tells us of the Submissive Mind. The third verse is the key, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” Where the first chapter focused on Christ, the second chapter focuses on people. The Christian with a submissive mind does not expect others to serve him. He serves others. The good of others is more important to him than his own plans and desires. There are four examples in chapter two of the submissive mind. Paul himself is one example to us: “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.” (vs.17) He also gave Timothy (vs. 19-23) and Epaphroditus (vs. 25-30) as examples of men with true servant’s hearts.
The first and foremost example to us, though, is Jesus Christ. He thought of others and not Himself. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who…took upon him the form of a servant…” (vs. 5-8) The mind of Christ, or the attitude of Christ was that he would set aside His glory—all His rights and privileges as the Son of God—and humble Himself.
He served others, as well. It is not enough to merely think of others, we must be willing to actually serve. Jesus humbled himself and became a servant. He served fishermen, harlots, tax collectors, the sick and sorrowing. He washed the disciples feet. Matthew 20:28 says, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
He sacrificed Himself (vs. 8.) He was willing to pay the price to serve. Sacrifice and service go together if service is to be a true Christian ministry. The more we give, the more we receive; the more we sacrifice, the more God blesses. This leads to joy as we become more Christ-like. We share in His joy as we share in His sufferings.
He glorified God the Father. “Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him…that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (vs. 9-11.) The whole purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glory of God. As he faced the cross, the glory of His Father was uppermost in His mind. “…Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.” (John 17:1b) The believer with a submissive mind must expect service and sacrifice, but in the end it will lead to joy and glory.
Paul emphasizes the Spiritual Mind in the third chapter of Philippians. The word thing(s) is found nine times in this chapter. Most people “mind earthly things,” but the spiritually-minded Christian is more concerned about heavenly things and looks at the things of this world from Heaven’s point of view. “For our citizenship is in heaven…” (vs. 20) The quest for things robs people of joy when they can’t have what they want when they want it. They want to possess things and then find that their things possess them. The spiritually-minded believer will be an accountant with the right values: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord…” (vs.7-8a.) Paul also says the spiritually-minded Christian will be as an athlete with the right vigor: “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (vs. 13b-14.) Spiritually-minded Christians are also aliens with the right vision: “For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (vs. 20.)
Our fourth Joy-Sustainer is the Secure Mind. A secure mind is the antidote to worry, which was our fourth joy-snatcher. Worry is wrong thinking (of the mind) and wrong feeling (of the heart) about people, circumstances and things. If we are single-minded, if we have a submissive mind and are spiritually-minded, we shouldn’t have much trouble with worry. We need to learn to guard our hearts and minds so that worry cannot enter. Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The word keep means to stand guard or make secure.
Chapter Four, one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament, describes the resources a Christian has in order to have a secure mind and guard against worry. Verses six through nine especially speak of God’s peace: “Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” The resource of God’s power is seen in verse thirteen: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” God’s provision is seen in verse nineteen: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” When we have God’s peace, His power and His provision—why worry?
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice! Whoo-Hoo!!!