Archive | June 2018

No Matter What

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I received an interesting Facebook message recently from a friend.  Her message wasn’t really a “message” but it was presented in the format of a question.

This question has been boiling in the crevices of my heart for nearly 3 weeks now and I am not sure that I have been able to answer it yet.

The friend who sent it is a deep thinker, a true disciple and is on a passionate journey to follow Jesus in all seasons of life. Although she is younger than I am, in many ways – I want to be like her.

This is the question that she posed to me –

What does it look like to follow Jesus no matter what?

To answer questions that seem to me to be humanly unanswerable – I always go to the Bible.  I always ask myself, “What does the Bible say about this?”

When I go digging for gold in the mines of the Bible, I always find the wisdom and the heart of God. And this time was no different …

“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

If my heart’s desire, this side of heaven, is to follow Jesus then there is a price that I must pay.

The price that I must pay is that I must deny myself and take up my cross daily in order to follow Him.

What in the world does that mean?! It doesn’t sound like much “fun” to me.

And – it sounds pretty expensive if you ask me.  I am not sure that I can afford the price that Jesus is asking me to pay.

If I choose willingly to deny myself does that mean that I will never go shopping again?  That I will never eat another piece of raspberry pie?  That I will never get to go to Hawaii?

And if I take up my cross daily does that imply that every day this side of heaven there is some sort of difficulty that I must carry?

What does it look like to follow Jesus no matter what?!

 

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I don’t believe that the cross that we are called to take up is exactly like the cross of Jesus Christ.  His cross was a literal one and ours is perhaps, more figurative … our cross is vividly symbolic of the cross of Christ.

Your cross may not look like my cross but we all have one … you can be sure of that.

I think that if I were to define – in general terms – what a modern day cross is … it might sound like this …

Our cross is that difficult thing that we choose to do simply because we belong to Him.

A cross is a choice and you can choose it or not.  It’s up to you.

Your cross may be seen in loving a difficult person … or it may be found in a place that you choose to go even though it is just so hard.

Your cross may be giving up a relationship that is not healthy or holy … or it may be seen in embracing a simpler lifestyle than you would prefer.

Your cross may be found in serving someone or a ministry for which you receive little or no recognition.

Your cross may be discovered in giving generously to Kingdom causes.

What does your cross look like?

Your cross may look like a nation … or a people group … or a lifestyle … or a person.

A cross may be a change in direction … a denial of creature comforts … or a determination to choose joy even in dark circumstances.

As you can imagine, ever since my friend sent me that simple yet profound question, it has been stirring around in the depths of my soul.

And as disturbing as that question has become to me – the follow-up question is even more unsettling …

Am I doing it?  Am I following Jesus no matter what?

For me personally, some of the ways that I have taken up my cross have been to live far away from my children and grandchildren.  They are pursuing God’s will for their lives and I am pursuing God’s will for my life.  We have, as yet, not landed in the same geographical location.

For me personally, it has meant changing my lifestyle in the wake of cancer so that I can live a long time and fulfill my destiny in Christ.  The lifestyle changes have been challenging but a joyful discipline, indeed.

For me personally, “taking up my cross” has meant embracing the socio-economic level that serving in full-time ministry requires.

For me, personally, “taking up my cross” has meant encouraging my husband to work full-time in missions and to spend long periods of time apart.

What does your cross look like?  Are you doing it?

 

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After my friend asked me that soul-piercing question, she went on to say –

“I was thinking about our mission trip and thought about how many of us had hesitations about going to the other side of the world to serve the people Jesus had called us to serve, and to spread his gospel.

Perhaps out of fear, or being out of our comfort zones, or missing our husbands or children, or taking time off work, or raising the funds to go etc. so many things can discourage the dreams God has given us to complete his purpose in our lives for the kingdom, if we give into the temptation to let discouragement settle upon us and cause us to doubt his plans for us.

However if we pursue him fervently, what blessing follows when we are obedient to his call on our lives. 

Will we be obedient to go wherever he calls us to?

Will be willing to leave our comforts, families, and friends for the sake of advancing the kingdom of heaven?

Will we listen to his still small voice as he calls us to get out of our comfort “boats” and watch as he parts the waters of the stormy seas before our eyes and reach out to the people in this broken and hurting world?

To truly follow Christ is a moment-by-moment decision requiring denial of self and of taking up one’s personal cross.

The blessing is found in the knowing that He is with us as we carry our cross … and He is helping us do it every step of the way.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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The Bucket List

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I have never made a bucket list, have you?  At least I don’t remember ever making one.

Now – I have always had things that I wanted to accomplish in my life like …

Writing the books that change a generation …

… Speaking to tens of thousands and telling them about the hope that is found only in Jesus …

… Making a difference for Christ and His Kingdom at my moment in history …

… Raising my children to love the Lord with their whole hearts …

… Building not just a good marriage but a truly great marriage …

… Teaching the Word of God in a way that is powerful, practical and joyful every chance I get for as long as I live …

… Making hell smaller and heaven bigger!

The above list describes goals that I hope to accomplish in my life rather than just experiences that I hope to participate in.

“A generation goes and a generation comes but the earth remains forever.” – Ecclesiastes 1:4

However – a true bucket list of things I want to do and experience while I am still alive and kicking?  I don’t think that I have ever done that.

Have you?

When you look up the phrase “bucket list” in the dictionary – this is what it says:

A list of things a person wants to achieve or experience, as before reaching a certain age or dying.”

I especially liked the definition from the British Dictionary:

A list of experiences one wants to have before one dies.”

And so – I think that it is time.  It’s time to make the expected bucket list.

Will you jump on the bucket list wagon with me?

“I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God.” – Ecclesiastes 3:12 & 13

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Here goes – at last … at the age of 63 … a Bucket List!

1 – To go to Hawaii at least one time before I die and dig my toes in the hot sand. I am sure that I would love it!

2 – To walk where Jesus walked … and to be forever changed.

3 – To go to London and visit the haunts of the classic writers that I have read and loved since childhood. To see the Thames River and the Tower of London. To have a cup of tea where C. S. Lewis used to discuss theology with the great minds of his day.

4 – To take my daughters and daughters-in-law and granddaughters to Prince Edward Island and visit Green Gables.

5 – To teach my grandchildren how to catch fireflies on a summer evening.

6 – To go to a Boston Pops Christmas Concert.

7 – To plan a reunion with the girls of my childhood. To laugh with them over sweet memories, to cry over our girlhood broken hearts and to dream together once again as if we were young and wrinkle-free!

8 – To pray for someone who is ill and to see a physical miracle before my very eyes!

9 – To track down all of my teachers from high school and college.  To thank them for their labor of love and let them know that each one of them made a difference in me.

10 – To draw a chalk masterpiece in my driveway with the grandchildren.

Oh!  And that’s only 10!  Don’t think that I am done yet because I have only just begun!

11 – To go to Vermont and celebrate summer with my husband, my five children, their spouses and all of the grandchildren at least one time before heaven calls my name.

12 – To write a Christmas song that is memorable and instills a childlike joy in the hearts of those who hear it and sing it.

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13 – To plan a reunion with my girlfriends from college and go away for three days together.  To talk … to laugh … to cry … to theologize … to pray … to encourage … and to dream again.

14 – To laugh with my granddaughters until we wet our pants. (Everybody needs to do that at least once in a lifetime, right?!)

15 – To take my sons, my son-in-law and my grandsons to the Final Four!  Of course – my husband will be invited as well.

16 – To plant a honeysuckle bush by my bedroom window.

17 – To teach my grandchildren what a wonderful, Godly man my father was.

“A good name is better than good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” – Ecclesiastes 7:1

18 – To tell the truth every day.  All the time. Even when it’s hard.  Especially when it’s hard.

19 – To turn every day into Thanksgiving Day – minus the parades and calories, of course!

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His Name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” – Psalm 100:4-5

20 – To create a beautiful space called “home” for my husband and I to live in the rest of our days.  I’d like to fill it with fresh flowers, life-changing books, the pictures of those we know the best and love the most and, of course, timeless music. 

21 – To play a Chopin waltz so beautifully that it makes my heart hurt.

22 – To pray big, bold prayers that only God can answer.

I think that I will stop there for today.  I don’t want to risk making this all about me and my hopes and my plans and my experiences.

The purpose of this blog has always been about causing you to think … to dream … to pray … to experience … to sing … to remember … and to wring the joy out of an ordinary day.

The purpose of this blog has always been about encouraging you to carry on … to hope … to believe … to live with purpose.

So – I am not sure if that will require you to make a bucket list of your own or not … but honestly … why not?!  Just do it!

Make your own bucket list and determine today to decide what you want the rest of days of your life to look like.

I’d love to hear what’s on your bucket list … as a matter of fact … I dare you!

I dare you to make your own bucket list and then send it to me! I’ll be waiting to hear from you – carol@justjoyministries.com.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

Tug-of-War

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Have you ever been in a place in life where you felt you were in a tug-of-war with the God of the universe?!

Come on … surely I am not the only one who has ever felt this way!

Perhaps after weeks of desperate prayer, you are just sure that you are pulling God your way in prayer … but your circumstances never seem to cooperate with your passionate prayer life.

Then – you try something else.  Private prayer hasn’t worked so you will take your case public.

What you do next is go to church. Your worship your heart out and even spend time at the altar. You might feel that at long last you have experienced that infamous break-through and … finally … that little flag on the middle of the massive tug-of-war rope has finally landed on God’s side.  Whew!  God won!

Except on Monday morning … you sneakily inch it back your way.

All week long you find yourself talking to God until you are completely hoarse trying to convince Him why your way is the best way and why it makes the most sense … but it seems like heaven is not listening.

You feel that heaven is not interested in your opinions … your desires … your pain … your preferences … your goals … your hopes … your dreams.

You dramatically beg God to do it your way … but heaven is quiet.

Did I just describe your life?  It’s called … a tug-of-war with God.

Your will vs. His will.

Your plans vs. His plans.

Your hopes vs. His destiny.

Your desires vs. His perfection.

Can I just help you out here? It’s no fun to win when you are in a tug-of-war with God.

No fun at all.

In fact … it rather stinks in the long run of life.

And while you are listening to me … let me give you one more tip and then maybe I’ll be quiet …

You actually shouldn’t be in a tug-of-war with God at all.

O.K. … I’m not going to be quiet yet.  Hang with me for just a few more thoughts.

Every believer must decide whether they are going to enter a tug-of-war with God or not. 

Every believer.

 

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It’s inevitable … there comes a moment in life when you have to determine if it is worth it or not.

Abraham had to decide … and God won.

David had to decide … and God won.

Samson had to decide … and God won.

Peter had to decide … and God won.

The odds are on God’s side. If I were a betting woman (and I am not) my money would be on God and not on you.

I have been studying the Book of Job for the past month as I prepare for the next book that I am writing.

Everybody knows who Job is but no one wants to study his life.  We are afraid that what he had might be contagious or something.

What I am discovering is that the Book of Job is a neglected treasure of the Christian life.

Job was in an appalling, hideous, detestable tug-of-war with God.

Job had been an extremely successful man in business and in agriculture.  Not only had he achieved significance in the world’s opinion but even more importantly Job loved God. 

The Bible calls him, “righteous” and “blameless”.

Even so – Job had lost his entire family except his difficult wife was still around to torment him.

Everything that he had worked for his entire life was gone in the blink of an eye.

Everything.

And then – boils appeared all over his body.  Crusty, ugly, oozing, painful boils covered Job from head to toe.

The physical pain was excruciating and the emotional pain was unbearable.

But the worst pain of all was the spiritual pain.

Where was God?!

Where was He?!

Did God even care about Job?

And the tug-of-war between Job and God began in earnest.

Job’s friends were absolutely no help at all – they blamed God and they blamed Job. They were the three stooges of the Old Testament.

Job was desperate to hear from God and to figure out what had happened that made his life implode.

For 39 of the 42 chapters of the Book of Job the tug of war goes on … and on … and on.

But finally – the Lord wins the violent tug-of-war (as He always will) and this is what happened next.

(Let me just give you some inside information here:  You are getting a very small sliver of my next book that is coming out in April of 2019. The next words are taken from the rough draft.  It’s so early in the process that the book doesn’t even have a title yet!)

“I can picture Job sitting there, in the ruins of his life, with his three despicable companions inching away from him. God has spoken and the earth, and all that live therein, are now silent.  Perhaps the silence was awkward for a minute or two but then Job lifted up his head and responded to the call of heaven. Job’s beautiful reply is so poignant and lovely that it is almost painful:

“Then Job answered the Lord and said,

            ‘I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

            Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

            Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.

            I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You;

            Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” – Job 42:1-6

 

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The refining work was completed in the life of Job! He retracted all that he had spoken out of pain, out of selfish questions and out of understandable human emotions. Job came out of the fire as pure gold because God had completed a work so vast in his heart that he was able to retract and repent. Job spoke plainly and powerfully to the One whom he served and when Job said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted,” what he was actually stating was, “Not my will, Father, but Your will be done in my life.” Job had laid his earthly agenda down and was ready to partner with His Father in heaven for the rest of his remaining days.”

Do you need to retract your case?  Do you need to repent with Job?

I certainly do … I need to lay my will down at His nail-scarred feet again today.

Not my will, Father, but Your will be done in my life.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

The Circle of Life

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In case you have forgotten this important piece of information about my life or have somehow missed it – my daily walks are nothing if not legendary.

I have had numerous divine appointments with needy, hurting people as I saunter along my 3-mile route in the country.

God has spoken to me through clouds … and through geese … and through the change of seasons … and through my aging body as I trudge along!

My daily walks are the stuff of which dreams are created … prayers are prayed … philosophies are born … and tears are shed.

During the harsh, cold days of winter, I am forced to walk inside my house … basically because I am a wimp and I despise breathing in cold air.

However, as soon as the temperature creeps above 45 degrees or so … you will find me all bundled up and ready to take on my little corner of this great and glorious world!

“How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.” – Psalm 89:15

On one of my first walks of the season this year it was almost as if I was traveling through time! I was viewing the circle of life from so many different vantage points that I began to giggle at the timing and the creativity of my God.

The first people group that I saw on this particular walk was a young couple pushing a baby in a stroller. 

They were smiling and chatting as the daddy pushed his baby girl around my walking trail.  The baby was just old enough to have discovered her toes; all I saw were two small pink socks gleefully kicking around from the depths of the old-fashioned baby buggy.

All that I heard was joy … pure joy!

The voices of the mommy and daddy were laced with a sweet mixture of contentment and possibility … while the baby chortled at her brilliant pink toes!

I could only imagine what the hopes and dreams of these two parents were for their little girl … and I gave them a wave as we passed by each other from different seasons and different perspectives in life.

If they had asked me for my wisdom … I would have told them how quickly life passes by … and to wring the joy out of an ordinary day … and to read books and sing songs and play games with their little bundle of femininity.

I wanted to tell them to rock her … and to turn off their smart phones … and not to sweat the small stuff.

Oh!  How I ached to be them!

 

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My heart had just barely gotten over the delight of seeing the young mom and dad when barreling around the next corner came a pig-tailed girl of about 8 or 10.

She was on her purple bike and was practicing riding with no hands. She had freckles dancing across her nose and determination written all over her face.

I wanted to tell this medium-sized bundle of energy to stay innocent as long as possible.

I wanted to encourage her just to be content playing with dolls and sitting on her daddy’s lap.

I wanted to explain to her that there is a singular magic about childhood and that it never comes again.

I wanted to tell her to pick daisies … and to catch fireflies … and to dance in the rain with her sister.

Oh! How I ached to be her!

And then – believe it or not – the next person who came into my view was a teen-age girl with earbuds in and … let me tell you … this girl was jogging hard!  She had worked up a mighty sweat and was intent on one thing … going fast and finishing strong!

I wonder if she had the Olympics in her heart –

This teen-ager was a lean, mean running machine and I quickly stepped to the side so that she could fly right by me.

I almost turned around and tapped her on the shoulder so that I could tell her to choose her friends wisely … to dream gargantuan dreams … and to save herself for marriage.

I wanted to see if she would meet me for coffee so that I could listen to her heart and then sweetly coach her to be kind to her parents … to read great books … and to reach out to someone at her school who was struggling.

This girl was gorgeous … skinny … and motivated.

And I wanted to tell her that “having it all” doesn’t meant that you’ve got what it takes to build a meaningful life.

A meaningful and significant life comes from generosity … from diligence … and from gratitude.

But she flew by me and never even attempted to make eye contact with me.

Oh! How I ached to be her!

 

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And finally … on this early Spring walk that had just about drained every bit of emotional stamina out of my heart … I saw him.

I had seen him last year on my walks and, frankly, I wondered if he was still alive.

He was an elderly gentleman and one side of his body was obviously weakened.  He held his left arm at a strange angle and dragged his left foot as he walked.

He was never alone but always had someone with him.  His companion often changed … sometimes I wondered if it was his daughter … other times I assumed that perhaps it was a nurse or an aide.

My walking trail of choice has benches interspersed along the way and this kindly and persevering man stopped at every one – just to catch his breath it seemed.

Perhaps he stopped to enjoy the sound of the geese squawking and the birds’ singing.

Perhaps he wanted to drink it all in – this treasure of life that has been so grandly bestowed upon us, the created.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” – Psalm 24:1

We made eye contact that early spring day and paused for a minute to exchange pleasantries,

My first question to him just sort of popped out, “How was your winter?”

(Now mind you, I don’t even know his name!)

“It was long and cold,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye.  I could imagine that he had been quite the handful as a young boy!

I continued my conversation by asking the all-inclusive, all-convenient question of,

“Well … How are you doing?”

He responded in his weakened voice, “Not too bad for an old guy …”

I could sense at this point that his companion wanted to move on along so I ended our short conversation by simply saying, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

And as he started to walk away from me, he barely turned his head and whispered just loud enough for me to hear, “Everyday is a beautiful day!”

Oh!  How I ached to live well!

“Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” – Genesis 25:8

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!