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Newsletters

May Newsletter: Happiness

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

Joy not happiness!

I saw an interesting sign the other day, it said: Money can’t make you happy.  But, money can buy you a cow, a cow can give milk, you can make ice cream with milk.  Ice Cream can make you happy!

Just like everyone else’s, Jane’s and my life can be full of all kinds of stress and pressure that has to be dealt with.   I’m unaware of anyone’s life that’s completely isolated from trouble of some kind.   However, because of the Gospel of Christ, many of my newsletters seem to have a positive bent.  It’s just such Good News.  I can’t find anything to be sad or discouraged about when thinking about Him.  I hope this letter might explain our Gospel optimism a bit further.

Jane often makes the following expression when talking about the rehab after her paralysis a few years ago: ‘I’ll be happy just to get out of this wheelchair and use a walker.  I’ll be happy if I could just use a cane instead of this walker.  I would be happy if I could just hold on to the wall and walk down the hall and lay this cane down.’  Happy kept moving on her.  Actually, happy, it seems, is always out in front, just out of our reach.  It wasn’t until she began to walk again, drive again, that it dawned on her that happiness could be so fleeting.  Subsequently, she’s now much more comfortable contrasting happiness with Joy.  They’re not the same. There are times we’re happy, but three days later we’re yearning for something to make us happy again.  (I’m kind of like that after getting an Amazon package.)  However, there’re times we can be very unhappy and yet full of Joy at that very same time.  Joy is created by His Spirit and completely separate from what might make us happy.  We often confuse happiness with pleasure, but pleasure is at best an illusion, a shadow of God’s Joy, but not the real thing.  A person can live his whole life seeking after pleasure and never find satisfaction.  Jane and I have discovered you can’t find Joy in a momentary emotion.  People are the kind of creatures that, by our very nature, even being happy for a moment, would still find some excuse to be unhappy almost immediately.  I think the reason for that is we all have a deep (God given) yearning for His true Happiness, something that our little collection of ‘happy things’ can’t give.

People that are full of Joy, in some sense of that word, are happy everywhere; owning a beautiful home or simply renting a little flat.  They can be satisfied with a big bank account and not so big bank accounts; some whether they’re as healthy as a horse and some that might be sick as a dog.  The difference is that people full of Joy have discovered a fountain of happiness which is situated in their own heart.   As long as we haven’t found that fountain, what Jesus called a river of living water, nothing will give us a long-lasting happiness.  The Greek word Joy is closely associated with gladness, or to be pleased.  It’s not a gladness that celebrates any particular moment or event; it’s a gladness that simply stays in thanksgiving no matter the moment.  Scripture tells us to be full of thanks in all things (1Thes. 5:18, Eph. 5:20).   We can’t do that by our own design and effort.  That kind of Joy comes from knowing who you are in Christ and Who He is in you.  Fact: the Spirit of God truly has been established deep inside our hearts.  Fact: if recognized, our inner person shouldn’t always be responding to what’s going on outside our heart.  Because of Christ living in us, our inside is strong, stable, convinced and not moved away from truths of the Gospel.  This Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit and is part of the package delivered by the presence of God in us. (Gal. 5:22)

There’s a mystery the New Testament writers referred to quite often.  The secret for gladness is hidden behind a veil– that veil, the discovery of spiritual knowledge.  Spiritual knowledge is nothing but this:  a constant longing in the heart of man to have and know something of his beginning, his purpose.  It’s an inner longing to experience something of what it was like, what was true of Adam and Eve, before the fall.  That fall messed up our peace, it disturbed our understanding of our relationship with a God that prefers to be called Father.  It’s possible that kind of Joy can elude us all our lives.  We can wander aimlessly from ‘happy’ to ‘happy’, all the while being ignorant of the thing that matters most: acceptance and adoption into God’s Life.   That’s the true source of Joy. God already knows who we are and why we’re here.  Our struggle is not with Him, but that we haven’t discovered it for ourselves.

Recently, my 13 year old grandson said something Jane and I had to pause and think about.  It was something he could not have been taught by our family because none of us are wise enough to have suggested it to him.  The subject strangely was the sadness of people that separate themselves from God and choose to be eternally separated.  His comment was:  (I paraphrase) how sad it was that those people would live their lives, make that choice, and because of choosing that separation, ‘they’ll never know who they were supposed to be’.   That exactly describes the Joy of this letter.  To always be looking for something then dying without ever finding it is very, very sad for sure.  But that’s the whole of the Gospel.   Jesus came to give us a path to Joy.  He made it possible to find Joy in this life and in the Life hereafter.

Once the spiritual knowledge of the Love of God comes, people can see there’s something that will make them really happy and give them their heart’s desire. I have a note tucked away in one of my books and I don’t remember where it came from but it goes like this:  ‘Though there are many things in life which I need for the moment, and for which I shall certainly work, yet there is only that one thing, around which life centers, one thing that will satisfy me:  … the attainment of God.   Such a one has found the key to all happiness, and has found that all the things he needs will be reached because he has the key to all.’

The Kingdom of God is righteousness (from God), Peace (from God) and Joy (from God).  All are found in His manifestation on earth: the Holy Spirit of God. (Rom. 14:17)   Jesus endured the cross for the Joy set before him. (Heb. 12:2)  I might paraphrase that scripture like this:  Look at Christ, look at Him intently, perceive and understand that He carried our pain, misfortune, hardship, our afflictions, and though despising the anger of mankind and its injustice, yet He endured that because of the Joy set before Him, because of the salvation of believers made possible by the world’s punishment placed on the Son of God.

Is it realistic to think that we can be full of Joy in harsh, tough situations?  I believe we can.  Jane and I have experienced that and have seen that in others.   Peace is the spiritual blessing of knowing the Father’s character and nature and incorporating that into our hearts.  It’s not what we think with our logical brains or even what others have said about Him, but knowing Him because of an encounter with Him.  That personal knowing Him pushes away fear, discouragement, and anger.  In difficult times we’re not challenged to guess the whys because we know Who.  Why did we ever need the Gospel of John to tell us about a Comforter if we would never need one? (John 16:7)   And why a Comforter unless in the heart of God it was intended for us to be Comforted?  Sometimes I overhear Jane’s phone calls.  The essence of what I usually hear her saying is: In this world you will run smack dab into trouble, that’s guaranteed for all of us, but be of good cheer.  That cheer is best described from a Greek word that means to be of good courage.  That courage is based on His courage and having been that victorious for us.  For Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him, so have we.

Yes, ice cream can make us happy, but for how long?  Things can do that momentarily, but day-in day-out we’ll need more than that to become stable and be ‘the same in little and in much’.  The Good News of this Gospel is just that– Good News.  It’s not necessary to balance God’s Good News statement with a ‘but’ following it.  It’s always good news and it’s Good News in all situations.   Truly, the Good News applies in all our situations.  Jesus has sent His Spirit to encourage us that no matter what we find ourselves having to face, take courage and let the Comforter comfort.  He sent the Spirit to be a Helper to us, to rescue us when we need rescued and to ‘in-Joy’ the Life available in Christ.  He did this so that, right now, in the middle of the calamity and the world’s pressure, we can still be full of Gladness.  Not just the emoji type but the deep in our heart type. 

April Newsletter Salvation

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

While I was a student I worked at one of the early chain department stores.  I was responsible for the shoe/men’s wear department.  Neighboring those was the sewing department which was overseen by Ruth Dunn.  When Ruth wasn’t there I covered for her.  She taught me an important thing to keep the ladies happy– always tear the material, never scissor cut the material.  The customers wanted me to snip and rip.  At first, that was uncomfortable for me.  It seemed to be the least caring way to separate the material. But as I learned quickly, it was the right way to do it.  Doing it that way, the cloth always tore along the true thread line and in sewing that seemed to be important to ladies that knew what they were doing.  So in reality, what felt uncomfortable at first turned out to be a good thing in the end.

 

‘I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat of peace on earth good will to men…
And in despair I bowed my head, There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men …’

 

That’s a song we play each Christmas and a song that catches my attention each time we play it.  The song is Dianne Michelle’s and it’s a bit different than much of the music we rotate at Christmas. I always listen to that lyric because of the contrast between Peace on earth and ‘there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song…’  Truly, as Christians our words of Peace and the reality of the world in which we live don’t seem to echo the voice of the angels heard at Christ’s birth.

 

It reminds me of the contrast between our stance and our experience, the world lost and the world saved.  This month’s letter tweaks our thinking a bit about our Salvation and that reality in which we find ourselves.  The tweak is: our Salvation is not just eternal but practical.  Or, put another way, Salvation is not just about Heaven, not just about the future, but equally, about Life in this broken world now.  Our teaching and preaching shouldn’t only be about avoiding torment but also about what can make us more comfortable and functional in this broken world.  With this Salvation, we enter into His Life (that’s a life mixed with ours and His) experienced now and in the future.  This Salvation can empower us for whatever the world throws at us now.  The Gospel of Christ doesn’t simply place us at a train station waiting on an arrival for our final trip, but engages us in the daily Life that Christ has prepared for us both here and in our future.  This Salvation is the vehicle that delivers us to Freedom right here, right now, in the middle of this world’s crisis and stress.

Salvation isn’t a magic wand that makes our difficulties disappear.  Even the most sincere, fervent prayers sometimes don’t deliver exactly the outcomes we’ve prayed for. If we’re willing to admit it, you’ve experienced that in your own life, and you’ve probably known countless people that have experienced the same passion for God and simultaneously experienced stress and crisis in their lives. Yes, our Salvation does bring a promise of tomorrow, and just as importantly, a promise of Father, Son and Spirit being with us in our today.  This Salvation has the effect of moving us away from being focused so much on our purposes, into a new and broader focus of God’s purpose.  He does that from the inside, not necessarily from the outside.  God not only saved us from a wrong destination tomorrow, on a track away from Heaven, but also saved us to Peace, Joy and Wisdom in this world.  Saved us to relationship with Himself, our family, friends and others, rescuing us out of the isolation of the world and its self-centeredness.  With this Salvation God has moved ever closer to us, has moved from ‘out there’ to standing right inside us to meet this day’s circumstances.

This Salvation, applied to this present time, manifests itself as we follow Him.  According to Jesus, The Kingdom of God has come, is present now, not just in some future time.  It can, if permitted, rule in your Life now.  There’re no short cuts for that.  Instead, it’s found in encouraging others, in believing He is good, and trusting Him in bad and good times.  Following Him is more than a library full of books, videos and a collection of conference registrations.  It’s more than memorization of a favorite Scripture.  While those are all good things, they’re not simply what we turn to in times of trouble.  Following is inside us.  It must be more than images on our walls.  This Salvation is more real than what we see, what we feel.  When Jesus was on the cross he had stepped into a place that didn’t, at the time, depend on feeling God or seeing Him; it was a place where all he possessed of the Father was trusting in Him.  There’s a Truth more real than our imaginations, more than what we see or feel.  Following will not only get you through tough times but will change you along the way.  The contrast between Heavenly and earthly, between flesh and Spirit, the difference in foolishness and Wisdom comes in those moments and gives us a clear definition of what is True: He is Truth.
For sure, the world’s broken.  It’s always been broken, broken since the Garden of Eden incident.  If it were going to be changed into Paradise easily, it probably would have happened when the Son of God came the first time.  Rather, the world we have, the poverty, the sickness, the drugs, the hateful, the damaged, the confused, the unbelief, corruption, unfairness, the bullies, sadness, war, and many more did not and does not go away with this Salvation.  According to Christ, there’s a way to Live that creates Believers that are day by day walking in the middle of all that stuff.   Yet they’re successfully finding a Peace and a Joy that’s penetrating their lives.  Emotionally, we obviously are stunned occasionally into feeling the pressure of this place, but He has saved us and given us the ability to take a deep breath and respond with a Faith.  This Salvation is the rescue not simply from, but through trouble.

Tearing that cloth, in the long term, was exactly what needed to be done.  By tearing the cloth, patterns laid out straight on the material and the colors matched for the pockets and sleeves, well, they matched perfectly.  In the Wisdom of God, in the time between Christ’s tomb and now, the experiences of this world somehow play a purpose we don’t fully understand.  Certainly they make us uncomfortable much of the time.  I’m pretty sure that you, like me, get weary of the pressure of ‘in this world there will be tribulation.’  Those words of Jesus echo the actions of Adam and Eve, who had inherited a perfect world but left us with one of confusion and emptiness. Yet, just the same there’s a Peace that passes our understanding.  It’s not necessarily the peace that the world gives but one much more fulfilling.

 

There had to be a ‘heavenly Wisdom’ to why Jesus didn’t just roll everything up at his first coming but instead, settled on rolling it all up in His next. We know He had that kind of power, that it was possible for Him to have done that.  With just the words ‘I Am’ the Roman military of approximately 600 armed men, plus the temple police and the Jewish leaders and Judas fell to their knees in the garden where they had come looking for the Nazarene. (John 18:4-6)  Simply with Jesus’ words everything could have been changed in that moment.  Obviously, that’s not what he did– it’s not what was desired.  There must be a heavenly reason for what, to us, sometimes feels like the insurmountable.  There’s a reason to hope that even when this gets uncomfortable, just doing the right thing, the Jesus thing, is the only thing left to do.  The trouble stuff, it’s unavoidable; however, He’s overcome the world and He can Live that victory through us for whosoever will permit that to take place.

‘The Lord is my light and my salvation…the strength of my Life… I will not fear.’ (Psalm 27:1) was written about David’s now, not just his future.  Our salvation is simply hearing, believing and acting upon the Father saying: ‘I agape you and I will always be with you’.

March Newsletter-John 17

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

I celebrate a birthday in April.  I won’t tell you which one but it’s a few dozen.  Having another, a big number, birthday got me to thinking about my life a little more reflectively than perhaps I usually do.  Oh, I say pretty much the same things that most people say about their life when thinking backwards a bit, ‘it’s been a good life’, ‘I don’t know if I’d change a thing’ etc.  In my case, and I’m sure many others, it’s actually been much more than good, it’s been precious actually.  Recently listening to my wife Jane and hearing about some of the things she was dealing with brought my favorite scripture in all the New Testament to mind.  Actually, there are many single or short scriptures that might be considered my favorite scripture.  I guess it’s more accurate to say these scriptures are more like my favorite Chapter in the New Testament.  John Chapter 17 has always caught my attention because it does one thing better than any other chapter- reveals the inner workings, the heart and purpose of God in our lives.

Most of you know that in March, 2012, Jane was suddenly and critically immersed in a health crisis that placed her in the hospital paralyzed head to toe and on life support.  I’ve written about that a lot, discussed it on the radio and privately among friends.  Needless to say, something happened and something was revealed during that incident that stopped me in my tracks.  Startling might be a good adjective.  Her vision and version of that incident was totally different than what I was physically seeing.  I looked at an eighty-eight pound person, someone that could not talk, eat, breathe, none of her organs was functioning, yet she assuredly confirmed and made clear that her spirit, married to the Spirit, was completely and fully healthy and alive.  Everything I was seeing with my eyes was conflicted with what I was seeing with my heart.  Jane had, in some sense of the word, a unique, let’s call it a light.  Something that she possessed and yet something that she seemed to not own but more correctly carried.  It was a beyond understanding light that pulled us all—doctors, nurses, friends, family and me closer to her.  What we were seeing simply did not match what we were feeling and observing in our hearts.  Something about being in the middle of that misery, the terror of that moment still had an intangible Hope in it.  Something about who Jane was overshadowed what she was going through and left all around her with a vision of a knowing and comfort that there was more than what met the eye going on there.  That’s my jumping off spot to quote John 17:

These words Jesus spoke, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:  As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.   And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.  I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gave me to do.   And now, O Father, glorify thou me with your own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.   I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gave me out of the world: Yours they were, and thou gave them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are Yours.

And all mine are Yours, and Yours are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through Your own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou should take them out of the world, but that thou should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 

 

Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

 

Jesus came to uniquely show us the Father, show us 100% of the Father.  He was again in these verses revealing even more of the Father’s heart and character with this prayer.  Did everything that was prayed in this prayer line up with His earthly experience?  Did everything that was prayed look like what He had seen with his eyes from believers?  Did what He was saying measure up to what even His own disciples had done?  Hardly!  This prayer is the essence of God’s heart toward us, His Hope for us, His Patience with us!  Jesus was expressing God’s Wisdom and words shared with us again by Paul: the just do not live by sight but by Faith. (2Cor. 5-7)  What I saw in the hospital in Chicago was real.  There was no room for denial.  Jane was very near death, the only thing healthy was her spirit.

What we see with our eyes is real; it’s just that it’s not the whole Truth.  He is the whole Truth.  If you believe the prophesies of MSNBC or Fox News then you’re only seeing the drama around us but not getting the whole picture of what’s going  on in addition to the drama.  There’s more than the knowledge of our failures, our hard-heartedness, and our ill bodies than meets the eye.  As Christians, we live in a better place than the world has to sell us.  It may take courage and a barrow of Faith but we can be in the middle of a storm and have no fear.  The reason for that is that inner light that I saw in Jane is in you also.  Hers was revealed in the middle of the stress.  Sometimes ours gets hidden as under a bushel.  Left with nothing but her spirit, hers was a reflection of Him inside her; most of the time we reflect only ourselves.

It fascinates me how people can be very close to us and still not know exactly who we really are.  Jane, being my wife, has revealed herself to me in a way that’s only been revealed to me and me alone.  It’s personal.  I know her completely in a different way than anyone else knows her.  I’m the only one that can tell you about her in a way that no one else can.  Jane and I have had the privilege of knowing she and I are one.  One unlike we could be one with any other two people.  Her parents, her brother and sisters, her daughters, her friends, her community, none of those know the Jane Ann I know.  That’s the knowing that Jesus knows about the Father.   Jesus came to reveal the Father to us and how He thinks, how He hopes and how much He desires to seek us out and personalize His offer of Grace and Peace.  Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father are One, and their desire is to invite us into knowing them in a way that only they and you can know each other.

Let me paraphrase chapter 17: Jesus has been given power over all, he came that we might know the Father, Jesus finished a work by Him for us, all that is of Christ is the Father’s as well, all that is the Father’s belongs to Jesus as well, Their Hope is that we will be one with Them, and as such we would have Their Joy, set us apart from the world because of the Truth we possess, Jesus is in the Father, the Father is in Christ and we are in Jesus as well, know that the Father sent Jesus and loved Him and loves you in same manner, know that love began before Adam, before the world even existed and I, Jesus have known the Father in a way that no other has known Him and Jesus has been sent and has eagerly come to share that with whosoever will and Jesus will be with believers always.  That’s a revealing, an expression of the Love of God toward us.  All that’s left for us to experience that, to know that, is to say and know in our hearts:   ‘Amen!’