John 16: From Sorrow To Joy

PEY CHU|GUEST I am a huge fan of modern medicine. My first three children were born in North Carolina with the marvelously numbing help of an epidural. Sure, I felt uncomfortable but I did not feel the excruciating agony of childbirth. This was not the case for baby number four. He was born in East Asia where the epidural was not often administered and so, it did not take. I did not know that birthing a baby was actually supposed to be so painful. At one point, I was so convinced that I was dying in childbirth that I tearfully looked into my husband’s eyes and apologized for dying and leaving him a widower to care for three, possibly four, children. From Sorrow to Joy In his farewell address to his disciples, Jesus compares his impending earthly departure with a woman’s sorrow in labor. This metaphor would not have been a new one to those listening to Jesus. It was used in Old Testament biblical literature to allude to “the birth pains of the Messiah refer[ing] to a period of terrible trouble that must precede the consummation.”Jesus uses this imagery to show his disciples that they were at that point. The misery of Christ’s death would be countered with the bliss of Christ’s resurrection. In the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what was about to come. As he looked ahead to his own death, Jesus tells them in John 16 that soon they would not see him. Their sorrow at his departure would be like the pains of childbirth. But their sorrow would not be the end; their sorrow would turn to joy. The intense agony of labor (and their sorrow) would be followed by inexpressible joy just as a woman “no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21). Jesus follows with, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:23).

John 16: From Sorrow To Joy2022-05-04T00:26:24+00:00

Flourishing in Christ

MEAGHAN MAY | GUEST She was simply selling magazines door to door. I never caught her name, but she asked me a question that left an impression. She asked why I would buy a magazine from her, and thinking a visual image may stick, the word “flourishing” fell from my lips. Flourishing in Relationship with Christ In Mark 10 we read the story of a man who by most standards was a success. He ran up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus engages him with a question, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Asking the man if he recalls the Commandments, the man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Like this rich young man, we spend a lot of energy trying to succeed on our own. Instead of sending him away in frustration, Jesus invites the young man into deeper fellowship.

Flourishing in Christ2022-05-04T00:30:04+00:00

The Presence of Joy, Even in the Midst of Tears

KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR I lost my dad to cancer when I was twenty-three years old. We were close, and my dad was, in many ways, an anchor in my life, so I struggled immensely in the months following his death. One of the cards we received during this time had Nehemiah 8:10 printed on it: “The Joy of the Lord is my strength.” I remember staring at the words longing to understand what it meant to have joy in the midst of my pain. A few years later I sat in my sister’s living room while she battled the side effects of treatment for breast cancer. The world felt weighty. I pushed back tears as I looked through her music, hoping to find something uplifting, joyful. I saw a song entitled, “Joy,” so I played the music anticipating a fun and light tune. What filled the room were the words of the familiar childhood song: I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart… But the singer sounded…sad. It was almost as if she was crying as she sang the heartfelt words. I dropped to my knees and prayed. Is this what it means to have joy in you, Lord? Can I cry while remaining joyful?

The Presence of Joy, Even in the Midst of Tears2022-05-04T00:30:38+00:00

A Time to Mourn

JESSICA ROAN | GUEST She really was extraordinary—funny, loving, and firm when she needed to be. If a perfect teacher exists, she would be at the top of the list, in our house anyway. Thankfully for us, our younger son was in her class, not once, but twice. When we found out he would have his kindergarten teacher again for 5th grade, we were elated. The unpredictability of 2020 was especially difficult for him. While we couldn’t be sure which activities, even school itself, would go on, we could be sure about one thing: Mrs. W. And she delivered—suddenly breaking into song, encouraging dance-offs, dressing up in wild costumes. If there was anything an 11-year-old would love, she did it. Now that life has resumed some normalcy, we have tried to embrace change. My boys started new schools this year. While they were excited to move on to new adventures, the subtle dread of leaving this enjoyable relationship behind haunted us all. My son periodically says, “I miss Mrs. W.” After six great years under her tutelage, we all miss her. We mourn this transition in our lives. Mourning comes in all shapes and sizes. Not only has our family mourned transitions, we’ve mourned broken relationships, and the passing of dear family members. Life is filled with losses and each one brings us great grief.

A Time to Mourn2022-05-04T00:44:54+00:00

The Wonder and Joy of Advent

BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR The anticipation of Christmas begins building earlier and earlier these days, doesn’t it? The past couple of years have been especially hard on us all, with the common hardships and losses of the pandemic combined with stridently divisive voices shouting at us from every source of media. Our fears and isolation magnified until we are numb. It’s no mystery why we start looking forward to the Christmas season even before the first leaf falls in autumn. Amid all the tumult and strife of our weary world, we long for peace. Bombarded by cynicism and sarcasm we seek for simple, childlike wonder. Drowning in heartache and pain, we hope, however faintly, for joy. Peace is the great need of mankind, but it won’t be found in the traditions and celebrations of a mid-winter holiday. Wonder doesn’t come wrapped in shiny paper and bows, and joy can’t be manufactured and ordered with one-day shipping. The Peace We Need Most The peace we need is a person—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need Jesus because the root of all our tumult and strife isn’t the wars that rage between peoples and nations, between political parties and factions, or even the strife between family members which drives loved ones apart. The source of our unrest is that we were born at war with God—enemies with our Creator. Because of the sin resident within our hearts, we cannot make peace on our own. We need the peacemaker. We need Jesus. During this Advent season, we anticipate the celebration of his birth, which was foretold by the prophets of old: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days… And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 4–5a) True wonder wells up in us as we learn who this child is, born to Mary, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in the manger: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6–7) Very God of Very God Isaiah drew a strong prophetic sketch of the child who is Mighty God, the Everlasting One who will establish David’s throne and rule his kingdom of peace forevermore. The apostle Paul filled in the sketch with blazing colors: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20) This is the child who is born to us, the Son given to us. He is, as the creed so boldly declares: “very God of very God.” Our Creator humbled himself to be born of a virgin in order to reconcile to himself all things. The Son of God, born to bring peace by his death on the cross...

The Wonder and Joy of Advent2022-05-04T23:30:24+00:00

Stewarding the Struggle

KAREN GRANT|GUEST The rough concrete scratched my toes as I focused on keeping my nose above water at the Fun in the Sun Club pool in Arlington, Texas. My goal that day was to touch the bottom. Water pooled in my ears and my hair swayed like seaweed in my eyes as I learned to hold and release my breath while flipping upside down to touch the bottom. Then I could swim toward the light. My parents applauded as I ventured into deeper and deeper water, opening my eyes to churning legs and feet, and watching my breath in measured bubbles. Discovering that less and less effort was required to break the surface, I began to trust air and water to do what they do. Where were you in the murky pool called the pandemic—that time of uncertainty, fear, and crisis? Were you upside down, attempting to avoid the churning chaos, swimming for the light before you ran out of breath, looking for cheer from someone, anyone out there? To gain perspective, we must somehow step outside of our own view. I believe the only healthy way to do that is to open God’s word to a relevant passage, engage with it, wring it out, cry into it, and ask questions until we get to the bottom. We submerge ourselves and trust Christ to do what He does when we engage with the living and active breath of God. We burst through the surface into His world, His thoughts, His reality, and it does what He does: it reveals areas where we must repent, restrains us from wrong, and sheds enough light for at least the next step. Stewarding Our Sorrows I remember the image of my pastor many years ago as he related the death of over ten friends or family within the span of a year. He and his wife were left empty; they could only be still and listen. They realized that stewardship is not only for money, gifts, and time, but also includes stewarding our sorrows. He held his hands out in the shape of a bowl before the congregation and told us that all he had to offer the Lord was ashes. This image continues to guide me as I’ve come to Jesus with my own offerings of ashes due to losses, severed relationships, and broken dreams, laying them at His feet and trusting Him to make them beautiful in His time. My question to Jesus in 2020-21 then became, “How can I steward this unto Your glory? Would you use me, and re-form me to bring comfort and encouragement to others?” He took me to Isaiah 12, and I was stunned. The truths in this chapter are clear for both its original and prophetic audiences, the covenant people of God. Gratitude, Opportunity, and Joy This is what I found: Our stewardship comes through gratitude, opportunity, and joy. Look at verses 1 and 2...

Stewarding the Struggle2022-05-04T23:27:23+00:00

Covenant With a Cranky Woman

SUSAN TYNER|CONTRIBUTOR Do you tend to avoid cranky people? Go out of your way to avoid the teen who just got grounded or an exhausted coworker who started her day by stepping on a Lego? But what if I am the cranky one? I can’t escape me. Sure, I have tricks up my sleeve to stuff my frustrations so I can function at work. I can fix a smile during lunches with friends so I do not hint at the dark musings of my heart. However, my guard drops back at home and my crankiness is more obvious as I bang dinner dishes, yell “shut up” to the dogs, or give the silent treatment to my family. I see them avoid me, and I wish I could escape from my cranky self, too. I wonder if Naomi felt the same way. In the Book of Ruth we see Naomi’s story unfold. Her family left Bethlehem and went to Moab in search of bread, and though they found actual bread, they did not find what they really went for: health and life. Ten years later, Naomi’s husband and boys are dead, and she is left alone except for her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. A widow without male protection doesn’t have many options. She hears the famine back home is over and returns, her daughter-in-law Ruth in tow. They arrive back in Bethlehem, and Naomi tells her hometown friends, “I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Don’t call me by my old name, Naomi (“pleasant”) but call me Mara (“bitter”).” Empty. Bitter. Maybe even a little cranky? In chapter 2, Naomi comes across almost numb and depressed when Ruth goes to find work in the fields. Only when Ruth mentions the name Boaz do we see a spark as Naomi responds, “blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead” (Ruth 2:20). By the end of the story, we see Boaz taking both widows into his family and Naomi holding a grandbaby. But even though the writer does not explicitly say it, the real hero is God, not Boaz. We as the audience see what was happening all along. God was sticking close to Naomi because she was part of His family. Another way to describe His loving-kindness is with the term covenant, a solemn promise that God would never leave His children, His sheep. Covenant even with the cranky. In the flock of God, Naomi was a cranky sheep and God kept His covenant with her anyway. Sometimes you and I are cranky sheep, too. Perhaps our losses of dreams, expectations, or loved ones leave us dry and brittle. Or maybe we look up one day, and we are far from the community of God’s people and don’t like how our cynicism compares with their contentment. We wonder if God wants to avoid us because we are really not that fun to be around. Thankfully, God doesn’t keep His covenant promises only to the happy faces, the productive hands, and the hearts that sing with VBS vigor, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.”  He sticks with cranky women too—the women out of energy to pray; women bitter from hard work and empty bank accounts; and women haunted by mistakes that can’t be undone. Where do I go if I’m cranky?...

Covenant With a Cranky Woman2022-05-04T22:59:31+00:00

Union with Christ in the Storms of Singleness

Recently I traveled alone between my two worlds: Philadelphia, my home and vocational base and the Midwest where I have decades-long friendships. Somewhere over Ohio I realized afresh that no one but the Lord really knew me in both worlds. Only Jesus had journeyed with me emotionally, relationally, and spiritually 24/7 in both places. I’ve had many of these heart-pang moments and yet realize that even if I had a traveling companion (friend or husband) who stood by my side, that person wouldn’t know me fully. There is only One who can: Jesus, the one in whom I am hidden in the intimate and unique home that I share with him alone. Our union with Christ is an important truth of the gospel, and therefore our identity as Christians. Whether if single or married, or if you face storms or sweet joys in your life station (most of us experience a combination of both!), the eternal fact of being united to Christ needs to be a primary lens through which we interpret and respond to our circumstances. Including when you’re thirty thousand feet above ground, feeling sad and unknown, and inching towards the downward slide of melancholy. What Union With Jesus Means Jesus helped his friends understand the idea of union with him through a metaphor of a vine and branches. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5) Paul talked about this spiritual concept in his pastoral letters. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:3) “Abiding” (or remaining, having a home) in Jesus, Christ “in us,” and our lives being “hidden” in him all speak to the spiritual reality of our connection to Jesus through faith in his accomplished work on the cross and resurrection. All that was ours (sin and eternal spiritual death) and all that is his (holiness, eternal life, a spiritual nature, identity as the beloved Son) are exchanged. At the cross, he united himself to our hopeless human state and opened the door for us to be grafted into him, gaining access to the riches of heaven!...

Union with Christ in the Storms of Singleness2022-05-07T22:43:15+00:00

Finding Joy in January

I don’t want to be contrary but talk about the new year never sits well with me. Yes, it’s a new year, I get it. One day it’s 2019 and the next day—and perhaps a few noise makers later—it’s 2020. The media likes to turn this into some giant significant occurrence as if flipping the calendar page changes anything. But do you know what the new year actually brings? January. And the reality is that for most of us, January is squarely in the middle of our year. Nothing is new. We are doing the same things we did a week ago and will continue to do for the foreseeable future. If you had a child in fifth grade in December, they are still in fifth grade in January. If you had a long commute to your job in December, you’re still commuting in January. Oh, here’s one I especially love in Boston, if the climate you live in is cold in December, guess what? It’s still cold, probably colder, in January.For many of us, January can be a struggle exactly because we are in the middle, and all the talk of new beginnings makes us feel inadequate and tired. What we need in January is not a contrived fresh start but a real and faithful walk on the road we are already on, following the One who always goes before us, year-round. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a chapter about the work and power of the resurrection of Christ. Unlike flipping a calendar page, when you believe in Jesus and all that His life and resurrection means, then everything really does change....

Finding Joy in January2022-05-07T22:44:43+00:00

When Christmas is Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,  It's the Hap-happiest season of all… Except....when it's not. In the days leading up to our first Christmas without our youngest child, sixteen-year-old Mark, Harry Connick Jr.'s merry lyrics sharply contrasted with the tears and unending ache in my chest accompanying me every minute of every day. Even the night of his death, Christmas was on our minds. On our way home from the hospital that hot July night, stunned to be leaving without our child, Chuck grabbed my hand and whispered, "Christmas, what will we do about Christmas?" Over twenty years later, I experience joy in this "most wonderful time of the year" but not because it's the hap-happiest season of all. Because it's not. About two weeks before Thanksgiving I begin to feel disorganized, disconnected, and emotionally edgy. Anger and impatience vie for top billing in situations that don't normally rattle me.  And every year Chuck reminds me that my root problem is grief. I miss Mark. The freight train of sorrow still surprises me with its ferocity and power. One reason the holiday season is so difficult for grieving Americans is because marketing gurus tap deep into our core need for community and family. Thanksgiving and Christmas are ready made opportunities for stirring up our God-given hunger for peace and whole families. The most effective ads are those that imply their product will produce healthy, conflict-free relationships. Divorce, broken relationships, childlessness, loss of a loved one, financial disaster, singleness, conflict-filled marriage—none of these fit the "hap-happiest time of the year" template. The ads only serve to magnify the holes in our own broken lives. 10 Tips for Christmas Grief Relief...

When Christmas is Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year2022-05-07T22:50:24+00:00
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