It’s Christmas and New Year’s. This is the season we all write each other wishing season’s greetings and hope for the New Year. We feel we should be upbeat, positive and assuring with tidings of great joy! Well…
I want not only to just “touch base” with you all with our newsletter. I always desire to encourage you with a good Word from the Lord, that we might share together not only what the Lord is doing in some far away place like Japan, but in that amazing space between us that connects us in Christ.
[ To the left is from a Christmas service we did ministry in for a local church we were invited to bring the music and the message. It's a mostly Japanese church and the people are wonderfully dear to our hearts.]
I write my words with mixed emotions. Although our emotions are real and it is impossible to ignore them, we can be selective as to which ones we give the most focus. It’s a fair question given the current state of things to ask God, “What are you trying to say to me and what are you trying to do in my life right now – in the middle of this sea of emotions and circumstances?”.
In such times as this, we have the God given right and even His power to choose to let our hearts be filled with worry, or to be filled afresh with His Holy Spirit. These are times where we must purpose to put into practice what we have learned through reading the Word and through that which we have experienced from the Lord.
At Christmas and New Year’s we have both a gift in His Son and a promise that comes with the reality of what God sending His Son means. I do not want to seem blind to the real struggles we face in the present climate of health challenges, political unrest, global pandemic and great division in our world to discern just how to cope with these things. People across the world are experiencing lock-downs, fear, uncertainty and doubt about their future.
As I write these words, a close friend in our local body texted us that she is in the process of miscarrying her baby. Belinda and I are very much aware that God has put this sweet family in our lives that we might have opportunity to bless them. It’s important to look at each event like this in our lives and consider, “Lord, is this why we are here at this time and this moment?” “Yes” He says. “This, and every moment, are part of my design for you. Just keep your eyes on me.”
It’s easy to feel conflicted about the Joy of the Lord being our strength, while the circumstances we are experiencing are not necessarily a source of joy at all. Our source of Joy is God Himself.
So, in Faith, “the substance of things hoped for and yet unseen”, we can focus – yes even meditate on God’s promise that He will never forsake us or leave us – even when things don’t fit our mind’s image of what happiness looks like.
Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
Even though we might feel held captive by our circumstances – even our government’s policies, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. The circumstances are real, the struggle to remain ‘connected’ and the desire to fellowship are real, yet they are often thwarted in the current situation in which we find ourselves.
Freedom from what then? “God, we are held captive by our situations and constantly invaded by all these things that can’t possibly be from you, can they?”
The feelings, struggles and emotions are very real, and I am not in any way trying to minimize that reality for anyone. What I am saying is we still have a choice, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to be selective as to what we focus upon. When we purpose in our hearts to focus on God, He becomes bigger and our circumstances become smaller, less powerful to dictate the emotions of our hearts.
The key here is what we choose to focus the “lens” of our hearts upon. This is not the power of positive thinking, but the ability we have innately as a gift from God, to magnify what is most important. In a sea of what might appear to be chaos, we can discover the heart and meaning sometimes hidden within it through this God given ability. As a person trained in the sciences, I believe this is the key to discovering the answers to our question, “What does this all mean?”
How do we focus our “heart lens” in order to “find the answers”?
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Like any discipline, this process takes practice. But what is so amazing is that this discipline doesn’t have to be in our own strength and ability. It’s just a choice to utilize what has already been provided for us by God.
What is so miraculous about our Lord coming to earth for us and our ability to “see” is that He has made the deciding effort. In the beginning, God has always wanted to walk with us and have a relationship with us. What I have been reminded of once again is that God, being outside of time and space, didn’t see our fall from His Grace in the garden so long ago and then say to Himself, “Oh my, now I have to go after them”. No, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. “I will always be for them and after them because my Love for them has no beginning or end.”
In His Son, He again comes for us making the deciding effort to be with us, not “again”, but rather reminding us He has never left. We need only to “Turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face. And things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Jesus walks across the sea in the midst of the storm, speaks into our lives and tells the sea to “be quiet”. We look and see Jesus coming for us and our hearts marvel that we are now in the midst of His Peace.
“Why did you doubt, you of little faith?” He is not chastising for the amount of faith – as if we can somehow manufacture faith, but because we need to exercise the faith we have.
His promise is to never forsake or leave us. He comes for us when we are powerless to come to Him. If we will just turn our eyes upon Him, focusing the lens of our hearts on who God truly is: the real reason, not only for this season, but for each day of our lives. He is the reason for the hope that lies within us, if we will simply focus on it.
Dear brothers and sisters. Be encouraged and as you focus your hearts on God, worshiping Him, and He will give - yes, fulfill the desires of your heart in His strength and power.
Let us encourage each other this season with these truths, so that we may stand strong together even if, for a short season, we must be more physically distant.
“You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
This year is, of course, different from the last and will be from the next, but God's Love for us does not change.
Let us stand together shoulder to shoulder in faith and exercise that faith as we pray for each other. It is God's love for us that leads us to repentance and His Son who paid for our iniquities. Remember God sent His Son not as an "afterthought", not with "conditional Love" like the world does. He Loves us from outside of time "now", and for Him, "now" does not change. He has done for us what we could never do for ourselves in that love.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[Above is one of the local military families we have been sharing God's Joy with during lockdown. We made gingerbread cookies 🙂 ]
Be encouraged and lets pray for each other - something that transcends any condition we might face because God Loves us. That is the heart of the Christmas Gift He brings all year 'round.