by Joanne Thompson
Joanne reflects on the Amazing Joy we experience when we choose to follow Jesus!
“Do we or don’t we?” That question danced around the edges of my mind for weeks. I so wanted to celebrate our grandson Noah’s High School graduation in Texas. Though we knew attending the ceremony wasn’t an option (restricted tickets because of Covid ), my compelling desire was to be with the family. So YES, I pushed through my fears to make reservations.
Our daughter’s white Suburban pulled up to the airport’s arrival lane with only seven-year-old Ellie. (So typical! Teenagers are done with airport trips for grandparents.) I scooted close to Ellie in the back seat and with the sweetest dimpled grin she said, “This is so much better than Facetime!” Oh, that girl’s words melted my heart! Not only was she revealing her desire. (She wanted me!) She was describing my desire for that deep joy of face-to-face time together.
All image-bearers (from little girls to grandmas) crave the connection of the joyful presence of another. For sure, I was chasing joy when I got on that airplane.
Our faith walk with Jesus is a path that leads to outrageous joy in the presence of Christ, eternally! Though our 2020 world is filled with trials and struggles, Jesus clearly doesn’t want us to be devoid of joy now. He isn’t asking us to hold our breath ‘til heaven! But we need to pay attention to the path that provides that here-and-now-joy. Listen to Jesus: “I have told you these things so that MY JOY maybe in you and YOUR JOY may be complete.” What are these things?
The “these things” Jesus refers to is REMAINING in his LOVE. Jesus talks about it over and over. (Read John 15.) The LORD’S divine design goes like this: His love produces our joy. Our job is one thing: REMAIN! In the midst of frustration, fatigue, fear and anger that storm our hearts, we need to choose mindfulness that there is more love coming our way today from Jesus. Look for it. Receive it. Remain in it. Choose this practice daily. But how? Here is where Jesus goes “counter-cultural” with the world’s thinking.
He said, “If you obey my commands, you remain in my love.”
Don’t let the enemy deceive you into thinking that obeying Jesus is dutiful drudgery with no reward.
Don’t let the enemy accuse you with inevitable daily failures.
Reframe each day with wisdom: Obeying Jesus is chasing joy! The “have to” transforms into a “want to” as we learn to respond to the faithful, whispered prompts of the Holy Spirit. My prayer for all of us is that as we pay attention to those “little prompts” we will notice our joy grow.
As the Psalmist wrote: “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32).
By Naomi Bosch
May this encourage you to be a blessing wherever you are.
I was born in Germany, grew up in Croatia, then recently moved back to Germany for my studies. I moved 7 times in 21 years, with several shorter stations in between. And I tell you: I know the feeling of homelessness very well. And even when I moved to Rostock it was quite clear from the beginning that I would only stay here for 3 years and I wondered if it’s even worth settling down and investing myself.
One day I read a story in the Bible that completely changed my attitude. There the Jewish people were in a situation that was not entirely different from mine. Far away from their beloved land, they lived in the city of Babylon, which was foreign to them. Then the prophet Jeremiah writes the following letter to the Jewish people living in exile:
“Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”
There is no talk of “Pray that you will get out of this terrible place as soon as possible!” No, “settle down and be a blessing to this city,” God directs to his people. So, I gradually let God change my point of view – and experienced some amazing things!
Last summer, I had a crazy thought: “Why not take the Bible literally and actually plant a garden?” And the simple act of gardening became a new spiritual attitude: I am here where God has just planted me and I’m a blessing to others wherever I can.
So I decided, even in this short time I had left, to become a permanent member in a local church. I became part of a local scout’s group, even if it was “only” three years I would invest there. I made my room the most enjoyable and bright place in the world and invited people to it. I read about the history of the city. I got to know the people here. And suddenly, I am happy to be living in Rostock!
Interestingly, Jesus also had almost exactly three years for his world-changing mission in Israel. I’ll leave the part of saving the world to Jesus. But I can imitate him in the way he lived on earth. Jesus was not busy all day preaching and healing people. He spent many hours a day just talking to God, like to a friend. We often see him eating with friends or partying (the very beginning of his mission was a wedding on which he made sure they wouldn’t run out of good wine!). Wherever he went, he left traces of blessing for everyone around him.
Sometimes we act like tourists. We don’t like to make commitments. Why invest in “worldly things” when God will one day bring us to Heaven anyway? Is it worth “wasting” my time on relationships?
Leviticus 25:23 puts things back into perspective. There God says to the Israelites “… the land belongs to God, and you are like foreigners who are allowed to make use of it.”
We are guests in God’s beautiful world. We can enjoy its wealth and goodness. But God also gave us the responsibility to “maintain and protect the garden” (see Genesis 2:15). God “planted” us in a certain place so that we can be a blessing where we are, in every area of life.
Here, too, Jesus is a wonderful example to us. (see Matthew 14:13-21) He had deep compassion for the people around him.
At the same time, he also knew when it was time to withdraw and to spend time with God in solitude. He knew the culture around him and was deeply rooted in it. He read the scriptures and liked to discuss them with the Jewish law teachers, but also clearly distinguished himself on contentious issues.
Jesus had good friends with whom he spent a lot of time (such as Mary, Marta, and Lazarus). He could celebrate and gratefully enjoy God’s good gifts. But he wasted none of it. With his life, Jesus shows what it means to live in a deeply rooted way, and at the same time to see things in eternity’s perspective.
We are citizens of the heaven, but we are also all citizens of the earth. Through deep, local relationships, through care for God’s creation, through a grounded trust in God, and through passing on blessings in the very place we are in, we bring a piece of heaven to earth.
And if God should replant me, I will just grow new, deep roots. Because I know that the groundwater – God’s presence – is the same at every point of the earth. Then, as the Psalmist so beautifully says, we are “like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”
By Steve Meeker
Praying you will know Jesus' rest in the midst of the coronavirus crisis and learn to trust Him more.
In the current worldwide crisis, how do we keep going as wave one gives way to a second wave of a pandemic? What may have looked far off to us at the beginning of the year now has impacted those we personally know. Worldwide, life has been altered and coronavirus has squeezed us like a tube of toothpaste as the months drag on in 2020.
Stuck at home, minds wander to, “Will this ever end? When I wake up, where can I go or should I go as I might catch COVID-19? If I catch it, will I spread it to the ones I love? What do I hold onto as our world is shaken?”
My emotions might cry out to running away or fighting for my rights in the midst of the anxiety, frustration or even fear; however, my heart calls me back to words of comfort in crisis.
Walking down to a river and hearing a chorus of birds these life-giving words calm my soul, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight,” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB).
Awakening a renewed perspective, the weight of the crisis begins to fall from my shoulders as I lift my voice up to God in delight that He knows, He sees, and He guides. This crisis is not bigger than Jesus who loves me. What does He want me to learn?
My meditation on these verses leads me to the answer, “TRUST GOD!”
Meandering further down this river trail, I sit down gazing into the water and another passage fills my mind, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart,” (Psalm 37:4 NASB).
Lord, how do I delight in You in a world struggling with fear? Walking in our community, behind the masks I see it in their eyes. Teach me to delight in You. Help me to not forget what it means to draw close to you no matter what life brings.
A twitch of a fin catches my eye as I spy a trout resting behind a stone protected from the current. Then in an instant it happens, nourishment floats into its view and with a snap of its tail it propels forward and is satisfied resting back in place behind the rock.
Again, I raise my voice and praise God for this picture in His creation. God takes care of even the fish and how much more He loves and takes care of His children. In waiting through today’s turmoil, He calls us to meet Him in a safe place and to learn to delight in Him.
Do I trust You Lord?
Lead me into those quiet places where I am satisfied only in You. Teach me to walk in faith day by day and to focus on the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Remind us that these passing circumstances give way to opportunity to grow our trust as we learn to wait on You.
Although we don’t understand the why behind our worldwide crisis, may this encourage you to find time to get away and wait on the One who knows, sees and provides as we take time to delight in Him. Lord Jesus, align our hearts with Your will, comfort those who are hurting and fill us with Your peace.
Teach us to rest and trust You more!
“In whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit”- Ephesians 2:22
by Amy Kellogg
Amy (TRANSFORM 2014) is one of LLI's first alumni writes, "There are so many lessons that I still use from LLI. Two of the biggest are how to continue to use my gifts as an encourager on a team. Even when encouragement seems forced, it can still change the dynamic of a team or group of people! Thank you LLI for encouraging me in that gift. I also view multicultural teams as so beneficial now as well. I would not have learned how to work with people from other cultures if it wasn't for LLI. Such a gift!"
As believers in Jesus Christ, it can feel as if we are constantly being squeezed dry by the pressures of the world. Take a second to think about the people you felt pressure from today, people that may have made you feel less than or ashamed. Did you disappoint someone? How did you feel about yourself afterwards?
The lie we often tell ourselves is, “I disappointed someone, therefore I am a disappointing person”.
This cycle becomes a search to make others happy through our behaviors so that we become a “good” person. It’s easy to fall into a dangerous cycle of people pleasing in order to make others happy. We can often justify this harmful behavior by calling it humility, or self-sacrifice, when in reality we are searching for our identity apart from Christ. This pattern will always lead to exhaustion and a desire to quit.
We can also put negative pressure on ourselves, and easily get wrapped up in a continuous cycle of trying to work hard, and please God through our actions. God calls us to a life of holiness (1st Peter 1:16), but we cannot live that life without Him. He has promised His Spirit to guide us. He tells us that He will use our trials in order to build perseverance in us.
We will make mistakes, and we will face trials from the world. However, we can trust that God is using these things to build us together. If our identity and self-worth is based on our circumstances, we will always be disappointed. Pressure will come, and we persevere when we believe that our identity is built into Jesus Christ and not our circumstances.
Pressures from this life will come, Jesus promises that in this world we will face trouble, but then He tells us how to persevere when he says, “Take heart for I have overcome the world” (1st John 16:33).
How do you take heart? We have to know what God says about us. Take some time to go through your Bible, look at verses that talk about who you are in Jesus. Romans 5:10 says we were enemies with God, but through Jesus’ sacrifice we have been reconciled to Him.
We also have to take time away from our busyness to spend time with God. We must allow God to care for our souls in order to stand up against the pressures we face. We saw Jesus do this throughout the Gospels.
Find the ways you connect with the one whose burden is light, whether through prayer, music, worship, nature, art, studying theology, journaling, or another form. Try different activities that are relaxing for you and connect you to your heavenly Father. Daily, make time to study the Word and learn more about your identity as a child of God.
By Brianna Yingling
Brianna grew up as an MK in Mexico where she lived for seventeen years. Brianna writes, "As a missionary kid, God has given me a passion for missions, making Christ known in places where people have not heard His name. I am also passionate about discipleship ministry and helping believers grow in their walk with the Lord."
What do you do when life doesn’t turn out the way you knew it would? When you’re staring at an uncertain future and can’t even imagine what you will be doing this time next year? When I graduated from high school I pictured going to Bible school, graduating, getting married, moving overseas to the mission field, and serving there long term. Life hasn’t turned out that way for me. Now, graduation is around the corner and I’m left wondering, what in the world is next?
A new season of life approaches with pressures and questions. “How will I find the right job and ministry? Where can I be most useful to the Lord? How will I know I got it right? Will I be able to make it financially?” It’s comforting to know that God ALREADY has a plan. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) God's not looking at my experience, gifts, and training and thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder where I might be able to use her? Where might she be able to fit?” No, He has planned to use me in specific locations, jobs, ministries, and relationships.
I do find peace for my troubled, uncertain, questioning heart in saying, “God wherever I can be the most use to you, whatever I can do to bring the most glory to you, that’s what I want to do.” When I am surrendered and available for his plans, I don’t feel the pressure to find that perfect job or ministry or future for myself. I am His and open to however he wants to use me and lead me. But it can still be a struggle, each day, to trust and follow God’s plans. There is still a temptation to worry about the future. I can still be distracted by the daily challenges of life. Surrendering to God’s plans is not a one time thing. I need to surrender my life, my will, my hopes, and my plans to Him daily. My heart needs to be recalibrated toward Christ and His ways regularly.
God already has a good plan for my life. I don’t know what it looks like. So far it doesn’t look like the plan I had imagined. But I know it will involve doing good things that he has prepared especially for me to do. They will fit my skills, gifts and training. Like a good gift prepared for a loved one, how it must delight Him to watch me discover His plan for me. Maybe he can’t wait until I unwrap this next chapter to see what a perfect thing he has prepared for me!
By Jim Feiker & Steve Meeker
Jim, one of my mentors, lived out interceding for those he mentored. The original article was written by Jim and I am blessed with the privilege of adapting these articles for the LLI Blog ministry. Original Article Title "Intercession the Indispensable Priority in Coaching"
INTERCESSION — The Indispensable Priority of Relational Disciplers
“There is no more significant involvement in another’s life than prevailing, consistent prayer. It is more helpful than the gift of money, more encouraging than a strong sermon, more effective than a compliment, more reassuring than a physical embrace.” – Chuck Swindoll
Disciple making begins with intercession for those we have the privilege to step alongside. To understand prayer’s importance in discipleship, let’s look at examples from the prayer lives of Moses and Jesus.
Moses believed in intercession and modeled it for Joshua – Exodus 17:8-15
In the face of battle with the Amalekites, Moses appointed Joshua as the military commander to lead Israel in a counterattack. This was Joshua’s first act in battle as a leader and was foundational in preparing him for his future leadership role. Israel also lacked experience and now was the time for Joshua and the newly delivered nation to learn first-hand to trust God in the face of opposition.
After choosing a select band of warriors and discerning the best plan of attack, Joshua was assured by Moses all the resources he needed would be provided and Joshua would be victorious in battle. How would Moses support this young leader? He knew the most effective way to back his successor was to engage in intercession.
Moses experience with God gave him confidence that victory in battle was not achieved by numbers, past accomplishments, knowledge about God or even giftedness and skills in battle. He knew Joshua needed to learn victory in battle is God’s responsibility and it is won through intercession. Moses, Hur and Aaron journeyed to the top of a hill overlooking the battleground and focused their energies on intercession. It was a joint partnership in conflict, with each member playing an important role. However, the ultimate battle was not won on the field; it was won on the hill in prayer. God enabled them to triumph over their enemies!
Jesus believed in intercession and modeled it to Peter (Luke 22:31), and to the Twelve
Jesus told Peter that Satan had desired to sift him as wheat. “But I have prayed for you, that your faith would not fail,” (Luke 22:32).
Another battle had ensued, this time in Peter’s life. Jesus knowing His follower completely was keenly aware Satan wanted Peter’s faith to fail. Young potential leaders are always high on Satan’s radar to knock them out of the race and in this conflict Jesus knew the coming assault would lead to Peter’s failure; yet, His intercession protected the faith of His follower. Peter denied knowing His Lord marking his life with brokenness and failure, but the experience was tailored by God in His love to reshape Peter’s heart and prepare Him to be a humble leader.
Prayer was not only a part of Jesus’ life and what He modeled, it was His life! Victory for Peter was won because Jesus knows how heaven works and He engaged in what was most important – intercession for the faith of His beloved disciple.
When entering into a discipleship relationship it is paramount for us to remember to pray. Teach us to pray Jesus so we may step alongside those you bring into our spheres of influence as we obey your commands to love others as you have loved us.
By Roger Thompson
Roger has a passion for seeing men discipled in the church and has invested his life into young leaders for several decades as a pastor. Currently, he serves as the Area Director for Man in the Mirror in the Twin Cities.
Antony Edge was studying for his Master’s degree in business at a university in Atlanta, Georgia. On a beautiful Spring day, he decided to change his study routine from the library to the scenic environment of a nearby state park, where thousands of acres of forest surround a huge, exposed mass of granite aptly named Stone Mountain.
Antony told his wife where he would be, and invited her to join him later in the day. He was not to be seen alive again. Tragically, his body was discovered the next day, having plunged six hundred feet (183 m) to his death. Yes, ultimately it was an accident, but only after repeated warnings had been ignored. Antony had to deliberately ignore a four-foot-high warning fence around the top of the mountain with signs that say: “Danger: Do not go beyond this point.” But, wanting to see more, and experience more, he had knowingly climbed over the fence to his own demise.
Now, the question that makes this relevant for us is this: Was this fence on Stone Mountain erected out of legalism or love? Was it placed there as a barrier to Antony’s enjoyment of life? Or, was it a life-preserving boundary to keep him safe from harm?
There is probably no fence more needed, or ignored, in our busy, multi-tasking lives than the fourth commandment: “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8). Those of us in the media-saturated, technological, Western world almost universally view it as a barrier to our freedom; a fence to prevent us from enjoying all the experiences we can grab. Seldom do we embrace it as a boundary to enhance healthy living, deeper worship, and more intimate community.
The Sabbath is modeled on God’s own behavior. Labor six days; then rest and reflect on your work. Here are three principles, stated negatively, that highlight the positive gift of rest, health, and worship that God intended for His Sabbath:
SABBATH IS NOT JUST A GOOD IDEA:
But that’s the problem. We too often put it in the category of just another good idea, kind of like organizing our closet, writing those thank-you notes, or visiting that ailing aunt in the nursing home. But this is God’s timeless moral rhythm built into the universe. We ignore it to our peril. Our calendars, stress-related illnesses, and lack of deep relationships bear evidence that we frequently climb over this fence seeking more excitement, but find only emptiness.
Don’t overly focused on the Sabbath day. Take the principle seriously. The core of this counsel is that we recognize who is God and who is not. The Sabbath principle is about ceasing and resting, not just for health, but because it is a “to the Lord your God.” We stop. We put down our tools, our competencies, or accomplishments, our busyness. We remember our Creator and our Master. It’s the best idea ever for practicing humility.
SABBATH IS NOT “GOING TO CHURCH:”
It may include corporate gathering, worship, and instruction. But this is not about checking a box. Cease working, whatever that means for you. For some, it will require going off-line, or shutting off the cell phone. For some, it will mean taking a nap or sitting under a tree with your favorite book. For others, it will include enjoyable physical movement, exploration, or creative projects. True rest is relaxing and recreating in ways that do not require extensive organization, deadlines, and production. Cease competing. Confess your worry. Put away anger and striving. Stop trying to accomplish. Play. Receive. Give thanks. Where are the spaces of time and place that create this rhythm for you?
SABBATH IS NOT NORMAL!
It is against our fallen and fleshly nature to let God be God. Rest is alien to self-sufficient humanity. Joy, rest, and play is what God gives, not what I manufacture. I have to trust Him and simply, humbly receive. But this is a cultural heresy. Sitting still, reading for leisure, lingering over a meal, or napping in a hammock appears to our frantic friends as wasting time. We will seem to be good for nothing if we aren’t producing, multi-tasking, and squeezing every drop of excitement from each milli-second. But we will be allowing God to take us away from our self-sufficiency and unbounded ambition back into His quiet, immense goodness where we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
The Sabbath is for shutting off the kingdom of noise, comparison, measurement, requirement, and hurry, and rediscovering what really brings us joy. Your Father knows what that is. It is found in being home with Him in the warmth of worship. It is savoring the ceasing and resting which declares Him to be the Master and I the recipient. It is slipping back into the healthful rhythm of creation, stepping back from the precipice of demands. The Sabbath is a time to actually enjoy, and be thankful for the fruits of our labor. It is looking at all we have not accomplished and recognizing that our frenzied efforts will never satisfy all our desires. So instead of pressing the accelerator, we park. We rest. Trust God that He has given us enough time within the boundaries of health and wholeness to accomplish all that is necessary. And, ultimately, we will enjoy more of the life, and savor more of the beauty, in the time God has given.
By Melody J. Wachsmuth
Melody is a writer and researcher, based in Croatia, who is curious about people’s lives, spirituality, and how the two intersect in their present context. Consequently, she loves to collect and write people’s stories.
Recently I found myself sitting in my car, feeling very sorry for myself as it was being towed down the highway. Lately, a lot of things had been breaking down, and this particular day seemed to be going from bad to worse. As I thought back over the previous two days, however, I had the sudden realization that there could have been another outcome. There were, in fact, a few warning signs, or at least opportunities for other choices that would have helped me avoid the expensive towing, if not an overpriced Sunday mechanic.
The red battery light had been on for a day before we needed to start our 250 km journey. Shortly after we began, the car died on the side of the highway, only to restart again after 20 minutes. This miraculously allowed us to coast into the next gas station before dying again. There, friendly police officers made some calls to the next town over to find a mechanic, but as the car seemed to be driving again, we felt confident that we could slowly make our way back and so sped right by that exit. However, it died again shortly thereafter, but somehow we made it to the next gas station. It was at this gas station that an empty tow truck just happened to be fueling up, and I finally gave up the plan of making it to our destination.
As I sat perched high up on the tow truck, I realized there were really two different ways of telling this story. In fact, I had been putting the events in the wrong narrative structure. This wasn’t actually a “woe is me” story where everything difficult was happening in one day. Instead, it was a story about me being flippant about warnings, a story of me discarding the offers of help and provision. This was a story about me forging ahead in my own way, ignoring the subtle invitations to make wiser decisions, instead playing on chance to save a few bucks.
In Proverbs, Wisdom personified calls to those who will listen to her, and predicts calamity for those who ignore her counsel and reproof. Solomon urges his son to seek wisdom with intention: “…making your ear attentive to wisdom, and inclining your heart to understanding, if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures...” (2: 2-4)
These are complicated times in our world. It can often be difficult to make wise decisions that will help us to live, as described by the prophet Micah, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. What does this look like in the day-to-day decisions and uncertainty that we often face? Being attentive to the stories we are telling ourselves is vitally important as we seek to understand God’s ways and will in our world. When I reframed my story from one of me as the hapless victim to one depicting me as ignoring God’s continued invitation into his provision, I gained the wisdom to understand the interaction between God and myself that had been transpiring all day.
Ultimately, Solomon notes, God is the giver of wisdom, and this will ensure that “we will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path.”
As it turned out, acquiescing to that tow truck mysteriously waiting for us at the gas station was not about a broken down car at all—but a lesson in listening and paying attention, in repentance and acknowledgement of foolishness, and most importantly, accepting God’s extravagant provision and grace.