Count It All Joy Pt. 2: The Power of Testimony

[Revelation 12:10-11 NKJV] Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.

So what is really on the other side of trials? Waiting on the other side of every trial that we go through in life are victory, joy, and redemption. In short, you come out with a testimony, a story to tell that bears witness to the fact that you survived. And there are others who will go through similar valley experiences and will need to hear that it is possible to come out victorious and better for the experience. When you go through hard times, your testimony is your gift to others coming behind you. In the community of faith, it is through the sharing of our testimonies that we are able to encourage one another to find the strength to press through the valley and learn the lessons that need to be learned. Sometimes the very thing that we are meant to learn is hidden in the testimony of another member in the community who made it through the same situation. Nothing that happens in the journey of life is without purpose or plan. When you entrust your life to the sovereignty of God, everything that happens is filtered through the fingers of God’s grace. He knows exactly what you can handle, what lessons you need to learn, and just how much pressure is needed in order to produce the precious diamond in your life. And He loves you, and those around you, too much to allow anything to cause you permanent harm.

[Romans 8:28, 37-39 ESV] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. …  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.

People think that life following God is going to be all sunshine and rainbows, and that simply isn’t the truth. Jesus spoke plainly before His crucifixion and resurrection, confirming that we as His followers would encounter hard times, mostly because we live in a fallen and broken world. But He also promised that He had already overcome the world. Therefore, we have a testimony in the midst of the storm, and, once He brings us through, we have an even greater testimony that will help someone else along their own journey. Every single hard time we go through has the potential to teach us and grow us, along with encouraging someone else who is watching to stay the course. The way you handle your own valley experience is a testimony in and of itself to others who are watching. Through you, they will know whether God is real or not. Through you, they will see that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can keep God from loving them. Through you, they will come to a better understanding of how much they are loved by their Creator, and that, if you can make it through victorious, they can too.

[2 Corinthians 4:7-10 RSV] But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Essentially, we will get beat up in the journey of life, but we cannot be shaken, so long as we remember that Christ has already won the victory on the cross. At the same time, we are walking buried treasure. Consider this: In the days of pirates seeking booty, they would have to search the depths of the sea, looking far and wide. Maybe they were guided by a map. Maybe they would stumble upon someone’s booty by accident. Either way, they never missed an opportunity for gain through the discovery of treasure. (Stay with me LOL) We live in a world of spiritual pirates, people who are either intentionally or unintentionally searching for hope and light in a dark place. When they encounter us, those who follow Christ and could be going through a valley circumstance, they ought to discover buried treasure. Through our walk and our testimony, we house in our “earthen vessels” messages of light and hope that are the treasure that they are searching for. That is a part of the joy that comes when you encounter trials in life. It is not a moment to feel like you are being picked on, even though you are feeling the heat of the refiner’s fire and the pressure of the coal being made into a diamond. Instead, it is an opportunity to highlight the treasure that you carry, the hope that you possess that helps you press through the valley and come out on the other side shining bright like a diamond (don’t hate me – I couldn’t resist. Besides, how much does Rihanna REALLY know about shining like a diamond?) As the glory of God shines through your life and through your valley encounter, someone else will also reap the benefit of the lessons that you learn in the crucible of the valley. And, when they encounter you on the other side, while you are on the mountain and they are in the valley, they will be encouraged to keep going because they see the light on the other side. This is the joy that we have in trials. God promised us the victory has already been won, and others will see the treasure and keep the faith because they will see that there is hope. So, keep shining, keep pressing, keep sharing. You have a testimony that someone else needs to hear.

Count It All Joy

[James 1:2-4 NKJV] My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

I used to think that this was the craziest notion that God had ever thought of, joy in the midst of trying times. Peace, maybe, but joy was a bit of a stretch as far as I was concerned. How could anyone have joy when they were struggling?

There are numerous occasions throughout the Bible where God explains that trials have purpose in our lives. If we had no trying times, there would be no opportunities for grow and maturity. We would not have diamonds if coal did not undergo great amounts of pressure. We would not have pearls if clams did not endure the irritation of sand.  And note that, in both scenarios, the precious outcome requires both discomfort and a lapse of time. But I will address that in a minute.

[Romans 5:3-5 NKJV] And not only [that], but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Hope is such an important piece of the human experience. There are so many walking the earth, searching for hope, and others who have given up on having hope. Hope is huge. But the truth is that hope is found in the moments when you realize that you survived something that you didn’t believe you would– that situation that you didn’t think you would make it out of, the relationship that you thought would rob you of all your life force and motivation to move forward, that job situation that you thought that you would be stuck in forever, etc. You know that situation or circumstance or life-altering tragedy that you never thought you would come out of the other side, but you did, by the grace of God. I guarantee that, if you think about it for a moment, you will discover that it created a renewed sense of hope and you were able to look again toward the future. I know that “glorying in tribulation” sounds crazy, because I have been through some situations I was convinced that I would never be able to “glory” in, but now I realize that the glory that I found in the press of the moment was the growth that was achieved as a result of going through that particular trial. Some boundaries had to be tested, some preconceived notions deconstructed, and some walls had to be torn down. I am better for the hard and dark times that God had to allow to happen in my life journey.

Paul relays an encounter with God where he was intentionally afflicted in order to keep him humble. And when he asked the Lord to remove this “annoyance”, if you will, God’s answer was simple – “My grace is sufficient.”

[2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV] So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Sometimes, the point of a trying season is to keep you humble. We have times where we get comfortable where we are, and we get complacent and we begin to believe, as William Ernest Henley writes in Invictus, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” But nothing could be further from the truth. It sounds wonderful – empowering, bold, and courageous. But it is simply not true. And, for those of us who “love the Lord and are called according to His purpose” (see Romans 8:28), we know that our Creator is really the one who is Master and Commander. So, when we get full of ourselves and forget the grace and goodness of our Savior, we ought to expect that something is going to happen to remind us just how much we are not in charge. Just like the child who talks out of turn to their parent, we are gently (or not so gently) reminded of who is in charge and we are humbled.

Now, growth is the other outcome of trials that can ultimately bring us joy. But growth takes time. Acorns don’t grow into mighty oak trees overnight. Clams do not produce pearls instantaneously, nor does a lump of coal spontaneously become a diamond. Such things take time and effort and endurance. We are often mistaken when we think that the precious character traits that make us mature adults and mature believers are manifested instantly. The most misunderstood concept in the human experience is the valley experience. We always want to be delivered from the hard times in our lives, instead of asking for the strength to get through them. We miss the purpose of the valley experience. There can be no mountain encounters without the valleys leading up to them. In the same way, there can be no achievement of growth unless we patiently endure the hard times that will produce said growth. This is a hard pill to swallow for many, because we dislike discomfort. I’m not really sure that there are many people to genuinely enjoy being uncomfortable, but enduring discomfort is the key to achieving growth. The hardest thing to do when we are being pressed is to choose to seek the lesson instead of simply asking the knee-jerk question: “Why me?” I can hear God replying, “Why not you?” Once you accept an embrace the fact that every hard encounter bears the opportunity to learn and grow, each experience becomes a little less uncomfortable. I am not suggesting that you will no longer experience pain and heartache in those valley experiences. What I am postulating is that, instead of fighting against the learning opportunity and creating more pain and heartache for yourself, it can become a slightly more bearable encounter because you have chosen to accept the lesson that is being taught. Being teachable makes for an incredible life journey. It makes life an adventure!

So take some time this holiday season to find joy in the experiences in your past that have made you grow. And, if you cannot find joy, find the lesson that you didn’t learn and do your best to learn and grow so that it can become a source of joy and hope and encouragement for the journey, instead of a thorn in your side that causes you pain every time you think about it or reminded of it.  Love and blessings to all!

He Sees You

We all have moments when we feel invisible, when we feel like all we want is for someone to “see” us and to acknowledge that we exist. We even have moments when we are so wrapped up in ourselves, in what we are struggling with, that we are blinded to the needs and feelings of those around us. I have a few of those moments this week. I struggled with fighting not to lose my physical voice this week. I would wake up in the morning with a scratchy throat and as hoarse as ever. This right after I had signed up to participate in the Christmas choir at my church in two weeks. For three mornings, I woke up hoarse and frustrated. I drank lots of tea and water, trying to coax my voice back to normal. I even tried whiskey in my tea one night (side note: that was one of the nastiest things I have ever tasted! Talk about desperate.) Anyway, by the third day, I was tired of being hoarse, and fighting to get my voice. I couldn’t sing in the car on the way to work because my voice was gone. I had trouble talking to my patients at work because I spoke too loud, I would strain my voice. I was over it. But in the midst of it all, God kept reminding me that He saw me and He had me covered. Well, on the morning of day three, I went to the Starbucks drive thru for tea, and they were out of the flavor that I wanted. I am slightly ashamed to say that I threw a mini-tantrum in my car. So I ordered tea, but not the one I wanted, and I fussed in my hoarse voice in my car through the drive thru, and out of the drive thru, and pretty much the rest of the way to work. I was tired and frustrated and that was just too much for me. And then I received a text message from a dear friend who had just hosted a seminar on soul care the weekend prior. Attached was a YouTube video of a performance of a simple song that we sang during our time of worship at the seminar. The words simply said:

I find that I’m safe and warm in Your loving arms

I find that I’m safe and warm in Your loving arms

You see me, You know me, You love me

Through and through

You see me, You know me, You love me

Through and through

 

That’s right – He saw me. He saw me, frustrated, tired, fussing like a five-year-old about my tea that I didn’t get, and He still loved me, through and through. She had no idea what life she was speaking into my space in that moment. I had been fighting not just with my physical person, but with my emotional person throughout the week. And, every time I brought my crazy emotions and laid them at His feet so that He could shed His light and truth on them, I was gently reminded that He sees me, He knows me, and He loves me through and through. And, in that moment when I was having my own personal meltdown, He tapped me on my shoulder to tell me that it was going to be okay because He sees me, He knows me, and He loves me – wholly, completely, deeply. Through and through. As soon as I heard that, all the uproar and upset and frustration that I felt just melted away. I was safe in His arms, and He loved me, with all my shortcomings and weaknesses. Beloved, that is the message that I pray with all my heart that you grab on to. No matter what is going on in your life right now, whatever is stressing you out or causing you heartache, please hear and know that you, too, can find that you are safe and warm in the loving arms of your Creator. Why? Because He sees you and He knows you and He loves you THROUGH AND THROUGH. That means that nothing about you is hidden from Him, and He still loves you wholly, completely, and unconditionally. I want to speak that life into your souls today. Nothing can separate you from His loving arms, absolutely nothing. Nothing you can say, nothing you can do, no mistakes that you have made, nothing that you have not done, NOTHING. His love is unconditional, because His very nature is Love. Walk through this week knowing and embracing the fact that, no matter what you may face or encounter this week, you are safe and warm in the loving arms of a loving Creator who sees, knows, and loves you, through and through.

 

[Rom 8:35-39 NLT]

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

**Take time to watch this and I pray that it blesses and encourages you.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/5Y7h6K13z0I” target=”_blank”>Through and Through — Song

The Beauty of Christmas

Today I was asked to participate in giving communion at my church, and, while it is something that I have been asked to do on more than one occasion, there was something different this time. The original reason I was drawn to this particular community of believers was the incredible amount of diversity in the congregation. A large variety of races and ethnic groups are represented in this one portion of the Body of Christ, and it is something that I find to feel very much representative of the way God sees His Bride. Anyway, there was something different about today. After participating in a prayer breakfast yesterday about soul care and being intentional about seeing people from the “inside out”, I found myself challenged to really look at the people I was serving in that moment. A dear friend, and coincidentally the woman who led the breakfast, shared about her encounter when she participated in serving communion at my church. And I began to understand what she was talking about when she described her experience.

So, here I was, with the bread (the Body of Christ), and, as each person approached to receive, I spoke the words, “The Body of Christ broken for you.” It’s amazing how much you begin to really hear what you are saying when you have to repeat it a few dozen times. But it was just that I was professing and proclaiming, in this season of Advent, that God loved each and every person that I met with the bread that He gave His only Son for the chance to be back in relationship with them. No, that wasn’t it. It was that I was proclaiming and professing that very thing to the Nations. You see, every time I looked up from that piece of bread that represented the incredible sacrifice that my Creator made to bridge the gap created by sin, I was speaking that life to a new and different face, not monochromatic, but completely different in every way. I proclaiming that word of life to every race, every continent, every walk of life. It was one of the most profound moments I have encountered in a long time. And it reminded me of the first time I really experienced the beautiful tapestry that is meant to be the Body of Christ.

In 2004, I was able to attend a multicultural student leadership conference in Seattle, Washington. It was hosted by Seattle Pacific University, a Christian college on the west coast. On the first night of the conference, as we all gathered together for worship, one of the conference leaders led us in an exercise. He invited us to say the phrase “Praise the Lord” in our native language. Being a multicultural conference, there were a lot of ethnic groups present in that chapel. And as they were led, people spoke aloud for all of us to hear “Praise the Lord” in their own language. That was one of the single most profound moments for me in my walk with God, because, in that moment, Pentecost came to life for me. Right then and there, I was transported back to that scene described in Acts 2, where the disciples spoke the Gospel to the crowd that had gathered, in languages they had never spoken, as the Spirit filled them. That’s when I understood deeply that embracing our differences is what makes the Body of Christ such a beautiful experience. God had a reason for making us as unique as the snowflakes that fall in the winter, no two are exactly alike, not even identical twins. We are all different, made in the perfect image of God, and it is our responsibility to honor that.

The message of Christmas is that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus in human form and likeness, to share in the human experience, and ultimately to allow His body to be broken for you and me, so that we can once again experience a deeply fulfilling relationship with our Creator. And He didn’t just do it for one people group or race; He died for ALL THE NATIONS. So, as I served communion this morning, I was not only affirming that Christmas is sacred and blessed because it is the ultimate sacrifice of love, but I was also reaffirming that Christ came for all, died for all, and now intercedes for all. When Love came down, it wasn’t exclusive or conditional. It was, and is, and will always be, all-encompassing, unconditional, and limitless Love, for all who accept it for the gift that it is and can be. This is the miracle of Christmas.

Honoring the woman within

Let’s be honest: The average person is terrible about self-care. And, as women, we are the worst at it. We, by God’s divine creation, are nurturers. We care passionately and deeply about others in a way that is profound and unique to us as women. We care to our own detriment at times, and it is often difficult to draw boundaries with ones that we care for most that continue to show them how much we care for and about them, while preserving ourselves and giving ourselves time to refresh and restore the reserves from which we draw. The unfortunate part about us as women is that we often have people in our lives who, for one reason or another, are not capable to giving back to us with the same fervor and energy that we expend on them. Our children are a great example of that. Until they are of a certain age, children are sponges, and our job as parents and nurturers is to pour information and experiences into their lives that will help them learn and grow into well-rounded, grounded people capable to contributing to society and the lives of others. Some of our professions are the same way. We are in positions as caregivers, caretakers, in some capacity of service that requires us to be compassionate and empathetic on a regular basis. Nurses, teachers, social workers, therapists, and the like, all run the risk of developing what some call compassion fatigue. It’s another way of describing the emotional burnout that we experience from persistently taking care of others, without taking the time to take care of ourselves. And it is no easy feat to balance out the things that we love so much and are passionate about, with the reality and notion that, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to care for others with the effort and attention that they deserve in the moment that they come to you. Plain and simple. Compassion must first be extended to yourself before you can truly extend it to others.

I learned this lesson the hard way. There are people in life who will take advantage of the fact that you are so caring and compassionate, to the point where they don’t care to try to reciprocate the efforts that you put forth. You see, sometimes self-care is about self-preservation. There are emotional parasites who exist only to suck the life out of you, and will abandon you when you no longer serve their purposes, when they have gotten all they can from you. Then they move on to the next person. We feel just as deeply for them, but it should not cost us everything we can give them in order for them to see our value in their lives. Self-care often looks and sounds like self-love, because that is where it stems from. Within yourself, you must be convinced that you are worthy of investment. No one will invest time in you if you don’t do it yourself first. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or call you selfish for taking time to invest in yourself and your mental and emotional health. If they try to make to you feel guilty, then you know that you have one of those emotional parasites on your hands, and that it is time for you to set some new boundaries. Don’t so afraid of people walking away from you that you become their emotional prisoner. The worst thing anyone can try to do to you is emotionally manipulate or blackmail you. This is why self-care and self-love are so important, because they allow you to see yourself clearly and take the time to renew and rejuvenate what has been depleted.

So, whatever it is that makes you feel amazing and refreshed, I dare you to make time to do it, and do it on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter what it is – going to the nail salon and getting a manicure; soaking in a bubble bath with wine and candles and music; going to a movie that you have been wanting to see by yourself; reading a book that you don’t think you have the time to read; a weekend away; getting a massage – whatever it is, just do it. You will thank yourself later. And don’t be afraid of spending time by yourself. Sometimes we are guilty of hiding from ourselves behind the guise of “being busy” and helping other people. Take some time to reconnect to yourself, to your sense of being, and embrace her. Encourage her. Take the time to speak life to your own soul, because your inner voice is the one that you hear the most and the loudest. Take the time to listen to the self-talk that you engage in on a daily basis, and correct the things that need to be changed. You are more than worthy of taking the time to invest and care for the beautiful soul of a woman that you possess. She is a gift – don’t take her for granted, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.