Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development

Finding Peace Anywhere and Everywhere

Peace(1)

What image come to mind when you hear the word “peace”? I used to think peace was the absence of all conflict or trouble. I pictured a sailboat in the middle of a placid lake with little or no breeze. Today I visualize a completely different scene.

The biblical definition of peace has an element of the absence of trouble. However, it embraces other aspects, as well. Peace can mean “being in right relationship with another.” It also includes “completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.” It’s comforting to know that when situations and relationships are far from peaceful, I can still be at peace.

The Advent season is the perfect time to remember God’s gift of peace. The Prince of Peace arrived during a time of Roman oppression. In Bethlehem, while the little town was overcrowded by the great influx of people coming to register for the census, God visited in the form of a newborn. Born to the Virgin Mary and Joseph, His cries pierced the darkness. His divine life brought supernatural peace to human kind.

As followers of Christ, we enjoy peace on many levels.

We enjoy peace with God. The angel chorus announced it to the shepherds.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14).

We do not struggle under the load of sin. We are no longer separated from God. We are brought near to Him and are in right relationship with the Lord.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

We enjoy peace with ourselves. Long after I knew I had peace with God, I continued to be in conflict with myself. I had a long list of “shoulds” and could never measure up. I extended kindness and grace to others, but was a brutal task master to myself. I constantly strove to excel in every area of my life. Thankfully the Lord, in His great love and patience, established His peace in my soul. Now I have serenity with my weaknesses and deficiencies. I know I am deeply loved by the Lord regardless of my performance. Perhaps you can relate with being hostile toward yourself. Rely on the Lord to help you be in right relationship with yourself.

We enjoy peace in our circumstances. We live in a fallen world with broken people. Life can be so hard some times. We experience disappointment, heartache, setback, and trauma. We encounter illness, injustice, violence, and death. Sometimes things don’t make sense. However, no matter what we may encounter in the moment, it does not have the power to shake the well being of our souls. The wonderful message of Christmas is that we are never alone. Emmanuel—God with us—has come. We have completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Today when I think of peace, it looks like the eye of a storm. The winds of destruction may rage, but there is a place of calm in the center. Christ is our Center. We can face anything and everything, because God’s peace is with us.

Jesus Christ came to this earth and provided peace. We have peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace in the midst of our circumstances.

You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the Prince of Peace. Teach me to trust You and to walk in Your perfect peace. This holiday season, may I reflect on Your great gift of peace and learn to always keep You at the center of my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

 

Advertisements
Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Following the Way of Peace

amazing-beautiful-beauty-blue

The other day I overheard one of my volunteers talking about me. “Who wouldn’t get along with Joddi-Jay? Everyone likes her.” I smiled to myself with gratitude that I enjoy good relationships with my paid and volunteer staff members. I also smiled, because while I love people and work hard to foster positive connections, the reality is not everyone likes me. As hard as I try, there are still people who don’t get along with me, and it is deeply painful when my attempts for unity fall short. For some reason I believe that everyone should just get along and play together nicely.

We all know that’s not the way it works in the real world. People don’t always see eye to eye, whether it be with families, churches, or other organizations. So what are we supposed to do?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

The Lord expects His followers to pursue the way of peace. We are to practice kindness and humility, encourage others, promote understanding, and work toward reconciliation. We are to take the high road, even when it feels self-sacrificial or lonely. We live to please the Lord by being peacemakers.

However, the bottom line is this: You can only control your own actions. You cannot control the actions of others.

Despite your best efforts to live at peace with everyone, not everyone will choose the way of peace. They may continue to be angry and divisive. They may be deceptive and try to sabotage your work. Or, it may not be quite so dramatic. They may decide to cut off the relationship with no further communication. And then what?

One of my friends leads a large pregnancy center ministry in another state. A meeting that was intended to build collaboration among various life-affirming organizations in the area quickly turned nasty. My friend became the target, as one by one the other leaders railed against her. I asked her what she did. Her reply: “I simply sat and listened to what they had to say. And I prayed. Within two years, every one of them was gone — either fired or moved on — and others who truly wanted to work together took their place.”

My friend followed the way of peace and trusted the Lord to work on her behalf.

When your best efforts to live peacefully are rejected by others, there are two things to do.

Keep your eyes on the Lord. As hard as it may be, don’t allow other’s responses to distract you from what He has called you to do. Don’t carry the weight of their choices. Focus on the mission He has placed before you. Trust Him to work mightily in spite of and in the midst of any opposition you face.

Keep an open heart. Forgive, and keep forgiving. This doesn’t mean minimizing or excusing their behaviors. Instead release all your hurts to the Lord. Don’t speak negatively about others, but rather pray for the Lord to work in their lives. Assume the best and not the worst. Believe that, no matter what it looks like, change is possible.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the God of Peace. Help me to follow Your example and be a peacemaker. When others oppose me, empower me to stand strong and continue serving You. By Your Spirit, may my responses be gracious, kind, and loving. May I thrive in the midst of difficult circumstances. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Stop, Drop, and Roll: A Simple Strategy for Facing Life’s Challenges

stop_drop_and_roll

Two flat tires.

It all started as a fun family excursion on Memorial Day. We had piled into two vehicles to travel to the top of a remote hill in order to shoot some targets. For several minutes it was man against wilderness, as we battled steep, jagged inclines to get to our destination. Now, here we sat—six adults and a baby—in the middle of nowhere—and our Subaru had not one, but two flat tires.

In that moment, each one of us (besides my sweet grandson) was faced with a decision. How would we respond to this unfortunate turn of events? What was supposed to be an enjoyable bonding activity had quickly turned into a disaster.

I confess that my past is riddled with reactions of anger or mild (and sometimes not so mild) hysteria. Just ask my kids. They all have memories of their mother’s outbursts of tears and prolong ranting. I really like predictability, stability, and security. When that is disrupted…Watch out!

Thankfully over time the Lord in His abundant grace has taught me to practice a simple strategy when facing life’s unexpected twists and turns. It’s called “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” No, this isn’t a lesson on what to do if your clothing catches on fire. But, in the same way, our immediate response is critical to the outcome.

Stop.
Don’t do anything. Take a deep breath. The ability to think before you act is a marker of maturity. It requires creating a momentary pause to ensure that you don’t cause more damage by a rash response. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Drop.
It’s time to be humble and acknowledge your need for God. Fall to your knees (literally or figuratively) and pray. In my line of work, even with all my training and experience, I often encounter situations that are beyond my ability to address. I send up a silent prayer and ask for God’s wisdom, and He gives me what I need. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10).

Roll.
Let go of your need to be in control. Be flexible and roll with the punches. Remind yourself (as often as needed) that God is in charge. Creative and hopeful solutions come when you are open to functioning outside of your preconceived ideas. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Don’t allow circumstances to overwhelm you. Practicing the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” strategy will empower you to face unexpected situations as a victor rather than a victim. And that, my friend, is a topic for another time…

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your goodness. I confess that I get upset when situations don’t go my way. Help me to walk with You by faith, believing that You are working all things together for my good and Your glory. Teach me to “Stop, Drop, and Roll” when I encounter the fiery trials of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith, Servant Leadership

The God of Peace

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

The miracle of Christmas is that God came down to earth, a place designed for perfection, but, because of the fall, suffered under the weight of brokenness, sin, and death. The holy Child was born to walk among humanity, proclaiming the message of peace. Jesus Christ healed the sick, fed the hungry, eased suffering, delivered the oppressed, and calmed the storms. Ultimately the manger led to the cross and then His resurrection. The enemy of our souls was conquered by the Prince of Peace.

During this Week of Peace during Advent, let us reflect on God’s peace. It transcends every circumstance and permeates every relationship. The God of Peace gives us peace. As a result, we can enjoy…

Peace with God

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).

Our relationship with God is secure. Through faith in Jesus, we fear no judgment. There are no obstacles or barriers. We are loved and protected by our heavenly Father, facing each day with assurance.

Peace with others

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15).

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

Because we have peace with God, we become ambassadors of peace. We follow the example of the Prince of Peace among fellow believers and non-believers alike. It is our calling to forgive as we have been forgiven, to help the needy even if they oppose us, and to overcome evil with good.

Peace with self

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

I know too many people who are kind to others, but are cruel to themselves. They are burdened by self-condemnation or tormented by anxiety. We need to declare, “God’s grace extends to me just as much as to everyone else. I am NOT an exception to His promises of peace.” As we trust Jesus, He surrounds our hearts and minds with peace.

Peace be with you.

PRAYER:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying [to ourselves] that we are born to eternal life.” –St. Francis of Assisi

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Finding a Place of Rest

I have been engaged in an intensely busy season. Full time work, transitioning from church ministry, and preparing to move into a different home have demanded my attention and energy. I am tired. Yet I am acutely aware of the presence of Jesus carrying me through a full schedule. I don’t practice this perfectly, but I have learned that connecting with Jesus daily is crucial to thrive when life is hectic.

Finding that sweet spot with Jesus every day must be a priority. As a personal reminder to myself and to encourage you, I share an allegory about resting in Jesus that I posted previously.

**************************************************************************************************

The Ivory Tower—An Allegory of Rest

I live in an ivory tower. I love it here. It is peaceful. It is quiet, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are no people rushing to and fro, no racing the clock to accomplish as much as possible before the day ends, no horns, sirens, and shouting piercing the air. I am safe from the slave driver, mercilessly demanding his servants to put in one more hour, earn one more dollar, exacting productivity at any cost.

It is beautiful in this ivory tower. The soft breeze enters through my open window and dances gracefully through the chamber. The sun smiles, inviting me to sit in golden radiance. Most glorious of all is the voice of my King. I can always hear him.  Sometimes he commands his troops; other times he calms a storm. Sometimes he  rejoices in song, and other times he gently whispers my name. No matter what he speaks, my King imparts his love, his strength, his acceptance, his confidence deep within my soul. You see, he is so much more than my Sovereign. He is my Friend, my Comforter, my Beloved, my Life. He fashioned the ivory tower for me. Then, he beckoned me to join him there, just the two of us. Of course, I accepted.

And yet when I first accepted his invitation, it was not with joy. I liked the city. I thrived on the rush of adrenaline from schedules and deadlines. I was strangely comforted by the demands of the slave driver and derived some sort of pleasure from striving to surpass his goals. But because I was acquainted enough with my King to know that his plans are best, I assented, somewhat unwillingly, to his invitation.

The ivory tower is not at all where I envisioned I would live. I imagined a palace of excitement and lavish living. I would host extravagant parties and entertain people of importance. I would open my palace to the poor, needy, and hurting, offering them food, drink, healing, and hope, and then sending them on their way. It would be the hub of activity, all done in the name of the King. And I would be at the center of it. In my home, I would embody the pinnacle of achievement, success, and generosity in service to the King.

The highlight of festivities in my home would no doubt be when the King would come visit. He would always be welcome, and I would hope he would come often. There would be a special guest room just for him with a secluded parlor so we could visit together, away from the clamor of my company. My mansion would be perfect.

But I never got a mansion. The King found me in the city. I was tired and broken, spent from the endless pursuit of significance. He sat with me, speaking words of life, pouring strength into my weary soul. Then he entreated me to come to his tower, where I would be close to him. Everything I could ever need would be there, and no matter where his travels may take him, I would always hear his voice. My heart was drawn by his tenderness. I was torn between the King and my intense desire that my dwelling, at the very least, be located near the city. That was the life I had known. The sincerity and earnestness of the King’s request captured my attention. I followed him.

The ivory tower was everything the King had said, and even more. I was awestruck by the elegant simplicity of the design. The surrounding gardens were impeccably manicured. It was what the King said, though, that won my affection. “I created this place for you, and I created you for this place.” That was the day when the King truly became my King.

I can leave the ivory tower whenever I please. It is my dwelling place, not a prison. I often visit the residents nearby and invite them to enjoy my King’s presence. But I have learned that I can never journey far from home. I depend on the rest and peace my King provides.

As odd as it sounds, sometimes, even now, I get restless in the ivory tower. Yes, even in the presence of my King. My former dream of palace life comes back to haunt me. Or the old lure of the city demands my attention. The voice of my King blends into the background and, I confess, I get easily sidetracked. Dissatisfaction sets in, and I envy the others that live where I used to be. I even toy with the idea of moving back. But only for a moment. My King silences the clamor and lovingly reminds me where he found me before bringing me here. I come back to my senses and rejoice in the knowledge that the ivory tower was created for me and that I was created for the ivory tower. This is my King’s gift to me, and I am a gift to my King.

I live in an ivory tower. I love it here, because this is where my King and I call home.

**************************************************************************************************

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, it is all too easy to get busy and distracted by life. I come to you, the Source of Life. Fill me with Your presence, and pour out Your peace on my heart and mind. Thank You that as I walk with You throughout the day, You carry my burdens and concerns. Help me know that You are near in each and every situation. In Jesus’ name.

Posted in Character, Faith

Keep Christmas Simple

Few things are needed—or indeed only one…It will not be taken away…(Luke 10:42)

My greatest desire is to keep Jesus at the center of my life, to honor Him in everything I do. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, He is the One I need. Nevertheless, every year during the Christmas season, I am challenged by distraction. As I make this struggle a matter of prayer, He gently speaks to my heart, “Keep it simple.”

How do I keep it simple? Here are some things that work for me.

Know myself. There are lots of ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. What is meaningful to me? I love Christmas music. Listening to carols fills my heart. I play Christmas carols while I work on projects to keep myself in tune. How do I connect best with the Lord? I hear from Him while reading His Word, so I start and end my days with devotional and prayer time. When I know myself I can intentionally include nourishing elements in my life.

Adjust expectations. I don’t have to accept every invitation. For years I felt pressure to say “yes” to everything. It’s okay to set priorities. When I’m not sure, I ask the Lord for wisdom. I used to send almost 200 Christmas cards to my personal contact list, in addition to cards to business associates. I didn’t mind doing it, but I felt that I was supposed to. One year, while I was feeling stress, I sensed the Lord encourage me to let the cards go. I haven’t sent them since, and it is very freeing. I have found other ways to express my care to loved ones.

Schedule down time. Taking time to relax is important during the holidays. Rest and refreshing don’t happen by accident. Placing down time on my calendar creates space to breathe and commune with the Lord. Then I can enjoy the other activities of the season.

I love keeping the Christmas season simple with Jesus Christ as the focus. It is truly life-giving to worship my Savior throughout the holidays.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

So Much to Smile About

Have you heard of the frown-smile? I hadn’t until I had teenagers at home. One of them excitedly shared the discovery. First, you frown. Make sure you have a scowl on your face. Then, smile with your lips only, while keeping the frown expression in tact. We spent some hilarious moments as a family practicing this new-found skill, and spread the joy when visiting friends. Amid the laughter we learned you simply can’t keep a frown when your lips are smiling. Somehow your lips take over, and the smile spreads across your face. A couple of my kids managed to master the frown-smile without laughing, but there was no way to take their frowns seriously.

If you’re around me much, you know that I like to smile. I don’t smile when I’m in deep thought or concentrating. But when others are around me, I try to smile. I have even taken to smiling when I’m alone and I don’t feel like it at first. It’s not that I’m trying to be fake. Smiling is contagious, and I believe it positively influences my attitude and outlook. When I’m tired or feeling down, I smile. Very quickly, the rest of me follows suit. I can actually feel the change inside me.

When I meet new people or encounter situations that are uncomfortable, I bring a smile. It helps to dispel awkwardness and creates a friendly environment. A smile can communicate confidence and warmth during times of uncertainty or anxiety.

This month my husband has been preaching a series on being thankful at our church. He said that Christ-followers should be the most optimistic people on the planet. I agree with him. Even when walking through difficult circumstances, we serve the God of all hope (Romans 15:13). His peace guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7). He gives us joy, and everything else we need (Galatians 5:22-23). This hope and peace and joy must not stay bottled up inside. It should show on our countenance, and burst forth in the form of a smile.

With the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, it’s a great reminder to keep gratitude in focus. It’s a great reminder that we have so much to smile about.