Posts tagged ‘joy’

Set Me Free!

In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.  Psalm 118:5

When I was 10 years old, I yearned for the day I would be free. I suspect this thinking has been pretty common among kids since Adam & Eve were expelled from the Garden. As a child, parents make rules that seem to restrict freedom. That was certainly true for me. When I wanted to play, my parents had chores for me to do. When I wanted to stay up late at night to watch TV, I was told to go to bed. When I didn’t want to eat liver and onions, I was told that I had to because liver was good for me. (Not everything parents tell their children is in their best interest! But that is another topic for another day.) And so I yearned for the day when I could be free to make my own decisions. 

Well, that day came all too quickly. Before I knew it, I was an adult with the ability to choose how and where I spend my time, and in what activities. Sometimes those activities were uplifting. And sometimes they were self-destructive. As I look back at my own life and the decisions I have made, both good and bad, I find that I make them in the pursuit of freedom. I want to be my own person. I want to do and think and be what makes me happy, what I want to do, without any encumbrances from outside influences. In other words, I want to make my own rules. Perhaps this is the human condition, the pursuit of freedom that we think can only come if we make the rules and disregard any other rules. 

It is my observation that addictive behavior comes from a disregard of God’s rules in favor of my own rules in the pursuit of freedom. One reason it doesn’t work to make our own rules is that they often come out of our deepest fears and greatest dysfunctions. The fear of rejection, the need for approval, the desire for success can cause me, and I’m sure many others, to write some crazy rules. Work can become an addiction as I forever seek one more accolade, one more “atta boy”, and one more impossible task made possible.

But true freedom does not come from our fears. True freedom is not in doing more things to make us feel better about ourselves. True freedom does not come from attempting to rewrite the laws of nature, as if we could. True freedom comes from living within the rule of love that brings life, happiness, joy, and peace. Said another way, when love rules, freedom reigns.

King David knew something about writing his own rules for life that brought heartache rather than peace, bondage rather than freedom. And so he wrote Psalm 118 as a hymn to be sung on the way to a festival of worship. It is an anthem to be sung when we go to worship God. And part of this anthem is an acknowledgement that freedom emanates from God, not us. The circumstances of life that are outside of us and the demons of life that are within us can make us feel like we need to rewrite the rules of life in order to experience freedom. But this is a lie from the devil, himself.

The truth about freedom is that it is given to us every time we call out to God in distress. When we reach out to God, spend time with Him, talk with Him, and clear some space in our heads to be with Him, we experience freedom. He will replace our misguided thoughts about ourselves and our self-destructive beliefs about life that enslave us with thoughts of unconditional love and abiding acceptance that will set us free. True freedom allows us to live in joy and peace as we are motivated by faith, hope, and love. These are the eternal rules of the universe that bring everlasting freedom. May we live by His rules. May we lift one another up in our pursuit of freedom. May we never again write our own rules, but rather submit to the rule of our all powerful, all loving, indwelling God.

The Call

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”   Genesis 12:1

The word “leave” evokes anxiety in me. I had two older sisters who would leave me to go to a boarding high school every year. I have fond memories of spending summers with my grandfather on the farm when I was a kid, but leaving was always difficult. My first airplane flight was to Atlanta when I was 16 years old to see my sister and her newborn son. I will never forget the sadness of leaving them the day it was time for me to go home. And then there was the day when it was time to leave home for college. It was a scary place. I had never lived apart from my parents, and now I was in another state – all alone. When I arrived at college I discovered my roommate didn’t want to room with me. And so there I was, in a new place, feeling rejected and all alone as my parents had to leave for home. 

And yet, with every “leave” is a new horizon. I would leave my grandparents to enjoy my friends at home. When it was time to leave my sister and nephew, I found myself back in high school. When it was time to leave home for college, I found a roommate who has been a friend for life. But even experiencing the gain that can come from leaving, I still find it very difficult.

As I consider how God calls us, I find it interesting that His call often begins with the word “leave.” We see it in Genesis 12:1. And every call from God that I have experienced has began with the same word, “leave.” God told me to leave my dream of being a doctor behind as I went to Andrews University to study theology. He then gave me permission to leave the pursuit of pastoral ministry in favor of medical school. But then He clearly called me to leave my medical practice many years later. I was in the wilderness of uncertainty about my future for over 7 months when I received a call from the Richland Adventist Church to be their pastor. Perhaps the most difficult call from God for me to hear and process was the call to leave this very church. But it wasn’t until I could clearly identify the fact that God was calling me to leave Richland that I could grasp where to go with any clarity. 

And so before I was ever called to Denver, I was called to leave Richland. When you are in a place you love, leaving is sad. When you are with people you love, leaving brings anxiety. But when God calls, He also supplies the courage, strength, wisdom, and gifts necessary for the way forward. He also gives peace in the journey. Following God’s call ultimately brings peace that covers any anxiety, and gives joy that alleviates any sadness. It is this peace and joy that ultimately confirms the call, and for me, the very existence of God in my life.

Perhaps, just perhaps, God calls us to leave what we are doing to follow Him in new adventures because He is calling all of us to leave this world for His Kingdom. On that glorious day when Jesus returns to gather those who have responded to His call home, we will have to first leave this home. Are you ready to leave? Are you listening for His call?

 

What is Your Source of Strength?

And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”  Nehemiah 8:10

I have often been asked why I chose obstetrics and gynecology over such specialties as general surgery, family practice, or any one of a dozen other options. I usually tell people that I love surgery and primary care, which are both present in obstetrics and gynecology. But perhaps the underlying reason is that after 8 weeks of intense study in this specialty as a junior medical student, I took the final exam which was not a written exam, but an oral one. There was something about this specialty that made learning fun and exciting. I read the textbooks with interest and understanding. I attended the surgeries and births with joy and excitement  And when I walked out of that oral test that October day, I felt as if I were walking in the clouds. I was overjoyed. I was ecstatic. And I wanted to celebrate. The joy I received from knowing and understanding the medical principles of that specialty propelled me into an amazing career as an OBGYN physician.

This is exactly how the Israelites felt after returning to Jerusalem from 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem before even rebuilding their own homes. Once the wall was rebuilt they asked Ezra the scribe to read the Book of the Law of Moses as they gathered at the town square. We are told they listened closely and were excited by what they heard. In fact, they were overjoyed. They couldn’t get enough of God’s Word. It was music to their ears and lit a fire in their bellies. They digested every word as they got a fresh glimpse of God’s love, concern, and power for them. No wonder Nehemiah told them to go and celebrate. Why? Because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” 

I must admit that I have overlooked this source of spiritual strength. I haven’t thought of my emotions as being a source of anything other than perhaps understanding my thoughts and behaviors. But it makes sense. When I am filled with joy, I am ready to take on any task, overcome any obstacle, tackle any problem. But when I am filled with sadness, I am not ready for much other than avoid tasks, turning away from obstacles, and succumbing to my problems. Of course Nehemiah is not talking about just any joy. He is talking about the joy of the Lord! The source of our joy makes all the difference in the world. The joy of the Lord grounded in His Word has the power to transform our lives. 

You have heard that knowledge is power. Well, it’s true. The person with the most knowledge can answer the tough questions and solve the impossible problems, which motivates people to follow her. When we understand God’s Word as it applies in our personal lives to answer our questions and solve our problems, we are overcome with joy. When we understand God’s love and grace and how He is present with us in every situation, our joy becomes our strength. Perhaps if we celebrated God’s Word in our lives, threw a party rejoicing over His Law, ate rich foods and sweet drinks as they did at Nehemiah’s request, we just might have enough joy and strength to change the world. At the very least, we would spread cheer and happiness to everyone we would meet. 

What is your source of strength? Do you have joy? 

Do You Refuse to Admit It?

You have heard my predictions and seen them fulfilled, but you refuse to admit it. Now I will tell you new things, secrets you have not yet heard.  Isaiah 48:6

I went to Denver in February 2014 to present at a pastor retreat four days after the Seattle Seahawks had defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Most of the sporting world had predicted a Broncos victory though there were those in Seattle who fervently predicted the opposite. Those who predicted a Seahawks victory were correct! But I discovered very quickly that the fans in Denver were reluctant to admit anything about a Seahawks victory other than it was some kind of fluke that could not be explained and should be ignored. 

This is actually a common tactic we all employ from time to time when God tells us there are consequences to actions we insist on doing anyway. God cares enough about us to give us 10 commandments to follow for a happy life. He gives us principles upon which to base our lives throughout Scripture. He sends His Spirit to talk with us daily and guide us into His path. I have found His Word to be not only true but transformative in my life. I have personally found God to be trustworthy and faithful in my life as He has always been right. And yet there are still times I refuse to admit it!

When I had recurrent chest pain less than two years after bypass surgery, my initial reaction was to ignore the direction God had been leading me for the past 15 years. I knew His way was right for me. I knew I had not always followed His guidelines and that my “small vessel disease” demanded that I be particularly fastidious in my dietary habits. But when symptoms recurred I refused to admit that God’s predictions were true. I decided it didn’t matter what I ate or how much I exercised anymore. And to my dismay, ignoring His guidelines only resulted in what He predicted. Now that I have decided to listen and trust in Him completely, I already have felt the benefits.

God will tell us the secrets of our life if we will take the time to know His Word and listen to His Spirit. We are complex beings. We often don’t know why we do the things we do. But we have a God who does know and care. And He speaks to us through His Word, His Spirit, other people, and the circumstances around us. He will search your heart. He will tell you the secrets for your life that will bring peace and joy to you. So the question is, Will you admit that He is right? 

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