Plan for Joy

Do you know anyone who is happy-go-lucky?
Someone who is in a good mood all of the time?
An eternal optimist who always looks on the bright side?
A person who might say to you, “Let’s turn that frown upside down”?

Me neither.
If I did know someone like that,
I’d probably be annoyed.

Joy doesn’t come naturally.

Instead,
for believers in Christ,
joy comes supernaturally,
through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 and according to my Bible Reading Plan for 2023, a word study on JOY is coming up next.

Let’s start with a working definition:

“Biblical joy is more than a happy feeling. It’s a lasting emotion that comes from the choice to trust that God will fulfill His promises.” (bibleproject.com)

Here is my 12 week plan to study a few of the scriptures in the Bible that are about joy. You are welcome to join me! Let’s plan for some joy!

April 10-14 — Psalm 126
April 17-21 — John 16:20-24
April 24-28 — Philippians 1:3-6, 2:1-2
May 1-5 — Psalm 92:1-5, 12-15
May 8-12 — 1 Peter 1:3-9
May 15-19 — 1 Thessalonians 1:4-8
May 22-26 — 2 Corinthians 7:2-7
May 29-June 2 — 2 Corinthians 8:1-7
June 5-9 — Psalm 47
June 12-16 — 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10
June 19-23 — 3 John 1-4
June 26-30 — Psalm 98

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.
~Henry van Dyke~

The Undoing of Doers

PB often addresses the dynamic of faith + works by using the illustration of a man in a rowboat. One paddle is called “faith” the other paddle is called “works”. What happens when he uses only one paddle? He goes in circles, of course. The two oars must work in tandem to get anywhere.

There’s a danger in encouraging believers to start doing.
They might overdo it.
They might become undone.

There’s great temptation to jump into all manner of good activities, worthy causes, and virtuous projects. Because there are so many needs in this world, we have no shortage of options. Deserving programs and service organizations are longing for people to step up and contribute. So why do intentions that begin with enthusiasm and energy often fizzle out? Is it possible to have so many irons in the fire, that we’re putting out the fire?

Three questions come to mind as I read James’ exhortation to “be doers”.

  1. Every good idea is probably a good idea, but is every good idea a God idea? Am I concocting a noble list of good deeds and then sallying forth with the words, “Come along with me, God. I hope You can keep up!”?
  2. Is swinging like a pendulum between periods of great faith and seasons of good deeds effective? Am I just changing paddles and the direction of my circle? Is it possible to strike a balance of doing good deeds with great faith?
  3. Am I confusing the command to “be a doer of the Word” with “being a doer”? In the book of James alone, there are 54 imperatives, or commands. For example:
  • “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19) Am I being a doer of those words?
  • “Look after orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)
    Do I know any lonely children or widows I could help out?
  • “Don’t criticize and speak evil about each other.” (James 4:11)
    Are my words honoring my brothers and sisters in Christ?

I don’t need to join a club or create an Excel spreadsheet or work myself into a tizzy of activity. I need to listen for the voice of my Good Shepherd saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” And then walk in it.

So many questions. And here is one more from former U. S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall:

“I wonder what would happen if we all agreed to read one of the Gospels until we came to a place that told us to do something, then went out to do it, and only after we had done it, began reading again?”

Perhaps James is saying,
“Yes, let’s be doers.
Let’s just make sure
we’re doing
what God wants,
at God’s pace,
in God’s strength.”



Doers Get More Done

The management team at Home Depot must have read the book of James.
Their advertising slogan sounds downright Biblical.

James had a lot on his mind when he sat down to write a letter to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. Suddenly free from the burden of Mosaic law, the new Christian community still needed some guidance on how to live this redeemed life in Christ. Brother James put down into succinct words a handbook of sorts: “How to Live Like a Christian”. Or maybe he was preaching to himself.

James kicked off his letter with a section on unbelief and doubt, testing and trials, and temptation. Were these topics top-of-mind because he had firsthand experience with them? Did James struggle with anger, an uncontrolled tongue, selfish ambition? Was he a good religious Jewish boy who went through the motions, but found religion worthless?

These were the things on James’ mind as he composed his letter.
The remedy?

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22

Yes, we need to hear the Word, read the Word, sing the Word, pray the Word, preach the Word, memorize the Word, and meditate on the Word. But the way to inject real vitality into our spiritual lives is to be a doer of the Word.

Another James — James Moffat, Scottish Bible scholar — had something to say about this pithy, convicting verse.

When the sermon is done, it is not done;
something remains to be done by the hearers.

Perhaps this should be painted on the inside frame of our church doors, making it the last thing we see as we leave.

When the Word has been read,
and the sermon has been said,
and the songs have been sung,
the doing isn’t done, it’s begun.

Sweet Baby James

Back in 1970, James Taylor wanted to give his newborn nephew and namesake something special, so he wrote the babe a lullaby. That song, “Sweet Baby James” was the title track for the album that catapulted Taylor to fame and fortune. He still sings the song at the end of almost all his concerts. “Sweet Baby James” ended up being pretty sweet for Uncle James.

I’ve been humming that song because my Bible Reading Plan for 2023 kicked off with a stroll through the book of James. Before diving into the first chapter, I had to stop and think about the writer of this letter. Who was he? Why did he write it? To whom did he write?

The book of James was written by Jesus’ half-brother. No other book of the Bible was written by someone who knew Jesus as a child or who lived in the same house as teenagers.* The two boys grew up together, played together, did chores together. They probably shared a bedroom, or bed, or mat. Three more brothers were added to the family and at least two sisters. (Mark 6:3) That had to have been one lively household.

We are not given a peek into the early home life of Joseph and Mary’s family, so we are left with conjecture and holy imagination. However, it couldn’t have been easy for James to follow Jesus, the Son of God, in birth order. Having the sinless one as an older brother might have been challenging.

None of Jesus’ younger half-siblings were part of His earthly ministry. They are rarely mentioned in the gospels and when they are, it isn’t in the best light. “When his (Jesus’) family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” (Mark 3:21)

It appears that not one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters were at the execution of their oldest sibling. From the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother Mary into the care of John, the disciple.

Then, in Acts 1:14, there’s a breakthrough. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” His brothers! James even got a one-on-one encounter with his brother after the resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:7)

By the time James wrote his handbook on how to live like a Christian, he had fully accepted Jesus’ Messiahship, calling Him “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1) . Not once did James portray Jesus as anything less than Lord. There were no old childhood memories dredged up. The division in the family over Jesus’ ministry was not mentioned. The words “Mom always loved you best,” were never recorded. James saw the glory and he became a believer and leader of the early church.

James’ death is not recorded in the New Testament, but historians believe he was either stoned to death or beaten to death with a club. All for love of his Brother, the Savior.

Are you reading along with me?
What has James been teaching you?

*I stand corrected. James is not the only book of the Bible that was written by someone who knew Jesus as a child or who lived in the same house as teenagers. The short book of Jude was also penned by a half-brother of Jesus. I’m so grateful for someone who not only reads, but also checks up on me! Thanks, friend!

Regular Church

There are over 45,000 church denominations worldwide.*
Here in America, we have 33,000.*
Within the denomination of my childhood,
there are 44 different branches.
I have no idea why we got chopped up into
so
many
pieces.

When I was a kid, I went to a little Methodist church in a small midwestern town. It wasn’t a mega-church, or a seeker-friendly church, or a church with a cool name. The pastor wasn’t exactly dynamic. We sang hymns and prayed The Lord’s Prayer together. Nobody was concerned with cultural trends or the latest technology or staying relevant. We were as common as they come.

All I knew was that I loved going to Sunday school, where I put a sticker on the attendance chart every week. I enjoyed singing while Mrs. B exuberantly pounded out “The B-I-B-L-E” on the old upright piano. I adored Blondie, my teacher, who always gave out Juicy Fruit gum. I liked sitting with my parents on the red padded pews in the sanctuary. I drew pictures on the bulletin, played with the veins in mom’s hands, and elbowed dad when he started to nod off. Somehow, despite the ordinariness of that quotidian congregation, I learned to love Jesus and my Bible.

While PB and I were driving through North Carolina last month, something caught my eye. It made me laugh out loud and I told PB to turn around. Then I felt a little longing rise up inside.

Sometimes I just want an old, regular church that leads me to Canaan’s Shore. Yep, give me an old, regular church with humble worship and good ol’ gospel preaching.

Oh, and services streaming on Facebook.

(*According to Wikipedia)

PB and Andy

My mother used to say that February wasn’t good for anything but reading a good long book. I’ve adopted her philosophy with a twist. February isn’t good for anything but reading a good long book on a beach.

PB and I headed south for a couple weeks and came home when February was just about over. We enjoyed sunny skies and warm sand in our toes. We saw some sights and spent time with some lovely people along the way.

Our last stop was Mount Airy, North Carolina, the hometown of Andy Griffith, and the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry.

During the early days of the pandemic, everybody had an opinion they were happy to share. Those in a leadership position of any kind during that time know how stressful it was to maintain peace and harmony. In the midst of chaos and criticism, uncertainty and unpleasantness, PB and I escaped to Mayberry every night after supper.

A half hour with Andy, Barney, Aunt Bee and Goober lowered our blood pressure. We laughed a little, we learned a lesson, and we whistled the theme song. For a few moments, we harkened back to our own childhoods (like Opie’s) in small towns (like Mayberry). The TV show provided a sacred thirty minutes of simple joy and warm community, things that were sadly lacking in the world at the time.

When we made plans to take off this February and visit family in North Carolina, it was a no-brainer. PB booked a night in Andy Griffith’s boyhood home and one of the kids set us up with a ride in Barney’s squad car. We went to the Andy Griffith Museum, had lunch at Snappy Diner, and stopped in at Floyd’s Barbershop. We sat in the sheriff’s chair at the courthouse and bought a souvenir at Wally’s service station. It was a walk back in time.

Watching the Andy Griffith Show
(even if you’ve seen all 249 episodes)
while sitting in Andy’s living room
would make you smile, too.

Clusters

I have a confession to make. I sample the grapes in the grocery store before I buy them. I usually swipe just one, to make sure they aren’t sour or soft. I suppose that counts as stealing, but I did the math — at $1.49 per pound (Aldi price this week), one grape costs 3/10th of 1 cent. It’s ok, right?

PB pruned our little row of grapevines this week, so I’ve been thinking about grapes a lot lately. Grapevines, vineyards, vines and branches are a big theme in the Bible. Jesus talked about them frequently. He told several stories about vineyards and on the night of His arrest, Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

I have another confession to make. Sometimes I dump out all the grapes at the bottom of the bag — the ones that didn’t hang on to the vine — and put the nice tight bunches back in the bag. Certainly the store figures in the inevitable loss of a handful of grapes. That’s ok, right?

Here’s the thing.
I’ve never gone into a grocery store to buy one grape.
They come in bunches.

And PB didn’t plant one solitary vine.
There is a whole row of vines that twist around each other.
They grow together, supporting each other.

One single grape
won’t make more than a few drops of juice.
A healthy vineyard
can produce barrels of wine.

What is the lesson here?

I think we are meant to be people who are twisted up and entangled with each other’s lives. It seems we’re supposed to bump up against each other and encourage each other to hold on to the vine. Certainly, we are intended to be an offering, poured out and fragrant to a world longing for a taste of goodness.

Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Apart from each other, we can do very little.
Find yourself a cluster and hang on.

Teenager

I’m throwing a little celebration here on “small drop” today! 

Thirteen years ago, on February 2nd, this little experiment began and I had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing, or if I’m doing it right, or if it’s even worth doing! I do know my little blog isn’t fancy-schmancy or in a league with the big-girl bloggers out there. But I’m content with a small space to articulate my small thoughts to my small audience! So, happy birthday, “small drop”! 

As I hit this milestone, some thanks are in order. 

Thanks to my son-in-law, Noah, who said to me one January day, “You should have a blog.” Within a few seconds and a few clickety-clacks on my laptop, a new babe was born! I was extremely intimidated and it took me a month to get enough nerve to publish my first post.

Thanks to my two girls, who encouraged me by saying that I did, indeed, have something to say, and then told their girlfriends to read their mom’s blog. However, if my daughters were the only ones who ever read this, it would be enough for me. 

Thanks to my sons, who let me use their experiences to demonstrate grace.

Thanks to my grandchildren, who garner more “likes” than any other type of post.

Thanks to PB, who doesn’t mind when I sit him down and plop the computer in his lap and say, “Want to read my blog?” To which he responds, “Did you write about me?”

Thanks to my friends who intentionally stop by, as well as readers who drop in by accident. You have no idea how it thrills my heart to know you’ve been by for a visit!

One more: Thanks be to God, who was the original Word that became flesh and lived among us for awhile. And continues to live among us. Amen!

Advent All Year

Another Christmas season has come and gone.
Advent is over.

We prayed, “O come, O come, Emanuel.”
We waited through dark midwinter days.
We let our hearts prepare Him room.
We listened for the angels’ song — Gloria!
We received the wondrous gift of the little Lord Jesus,
asleep on the hay.

Advent is over.
Or is it?

If Advent is the season of reflective preparation for the coming of Christ, then it’s still Advent! The weeks that lead up to Christmas are a yearly reminder for us to get ready for round two. We get a practice run every 12 months, a rehearsal, a warm up lap.

The Big Advent event is still on the horizon.

We are still praying, “Come Lord Jesus.”
We are still waiting for the Day of the Lord.
We are still preparing our hearts and making room.
We are still listening for a glorious trumpet blast.
We are anticipating the mighty shout of a conquering King.
We better not be asleep on the hay.

So keep singing “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel shall come to thee!”
And keep waiting and watching, with joyful anticipation.
Continue to make room in your heart and home and calendar.
Listen every day for the whisper of the Holy Spirit.
Be generous givers and grateful receivers.
Stay awake!

It’s Advent all year.

New Year’s Prayer

I like old prayers. Those Puritan preachers had a way with words. The Valley of Vision is a book of prayers that is never far from my reach.

One of my favorite old dead guys is John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. He was a man of prayer who wrote a special liturgy just for New Year’s Day in 1755. But we can pray it all year long, if we dare.

I am no longer my own but Yours.
Put me to what You will,
rank me with whom You will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for You,
or laid aside for You,
exalted for You,
or brought low for You;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am Yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
Let it be confirmed in heaven.
Amen.

Borrowing Prayers from John Baillie
Praying Up With John Baillie