Why we should celebrate when the lost get found

Yesterday, I posted about my stupid cat Gremlin and her ridiculous idea to hide her two kittens (affectionately known as The Ponds” in reference to the companions from Doctor Who seasons 5, 6, and 7) in the gigantic, garbage-filled dumpster in my driveway. My dad and I despaired of ever getting them out because they were way way back in the back, buried under trash and broken furniture, and all sorts of old things.

Gremlin hid them there because she thought it would be safe, but what she didn’t know is that the dumpster is leaving for the landfill this morning. And if Dad and I couldn’t rescue the kittens, they’d be shipped off alone to the garbage dump.

So what did Dad do? He jumped into the dumpster, trash and all, and sifted and sorted and climbed around trying to get the kittens out. He tried a couple of times while I was at work, but he didn’t have any luck. We weren’t sure what to do.

I wanted to try one more time when I got home. So I got home, changed out of my work clothes, and Dad and I climbed back into the dumpster. And just being goofy for the sake of it, I called out: “Hello, Ponds!” (in true Doctor Who fashion). And what do you think happened?

You guessed it. They popped right out. Pond (just Pond) ran right up to me, and Rory got stuck (so much like his namesake) and I had to fish him out. But we got them both free, and they’re perfectly fine.

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

Today’s verses are Luke 15:4-7.
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

I actually told God on the way home from work that if He helped us get the kittens out, I’d post this passage. This is a story that Jesus tells, and it’s actually the first of a trilogy. The first is about a sheep. The second is about a coin. The third is about a son–the Prodigal Son. It’s all in this chapter, and it’s all about finding what you’ve lost and rejoicing about it.

Have you been there before? I mean, put yourself in that shepherd’s sandals for a moment. You’ve got 100 sheep, and one of them wanders off. Gets lost. Sheep tend to do that. Would you let it go? Would you ignore it?

If you aren’t a shepherd, you might. But if sheep are your livelihood, you aren’t going to let one wander off, even if you have 99 others. Not while you can do something about it.

Sort of like this deal with the kittens. I have two cats already, Barney and Gremlin. They’re both a ton of fun and provide hours of entertainment and companionship. So it shouldn’t matter if I leave two kittens to die, right? I have two others.

If you’ve got pets, you probably cringed. No way could I abandon two kittens in a garbage dumpster when I have the power to do something about it. Not even if I have two others. Because it’s not about the other two who are already safe. It’s about the two who aren’t safe.

Isn’t that how God sees Christians? He loves us. We’re His children. He gave His Son so we could have a relationship with Him. But not every Christian lives the kind of life they should. Some wander off and get lost in the world, and those of us who don’t–the ones who stay behind like good little sheep–sometimes write them off. But God doesn’t. And we shouldn’t either.

God is just as keen to seek out His children who wander off as He is to stay with His children who stick around. And as much as He rejoices when one of them comes home, we ought to rejoice just as much.

When’s the last time you truly rejoiced when a Christ-follower came home after a time of wandering? Did you actually rejoice? Or did you just look down your nose and judge them? Did you give them the cold shoulder? Did you hold their past over their heads and snub them?

That’s not how God treats them. God rejoices when they come home. God went out of His way to bring them home. So we ought to celebrate, because He sure isn’t being quiet about it.

He rejoices when the lost are found again. So we should too. If you can’t get happy about that, you’re focusing on the wrong thing.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Something to remember

What’s the big deal about rejoicing anyway? The Bible says over and over again that we need to rejoice, and Philippians is full of instances where Paul says to be joyful, be joyful, be joyful.

And I get that we need to be joyful because it will help our perspective. I get that we need to rejoice in difficult circumstances because it will help other people be encouraged. And deep down inside I understand that difficult circumstances come to help us grow and to remind us that this world isn’t home. But there are days when it still feels like an exercise in futility to continue rejoicing when nothing seems to go right.

So on those days when it’s difficult to find joy in anything, maybe we need to remember one important fact.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:4-5.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Maybe this doesn’t bring comfort to you like it does to me, but the idea that the Lord is coming soon is enough to make me jump for joy.

I’ve read this set of verses many times, and every time before I have split them up into two statements: An admonishment to rejoice always and instructions to be considerate because God will be coming back soon. But when I read it this morning, I read it differently.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so maybe it wasn’t intended this way. But what if it’s three statements on how to live instead of two? Rejoice. Be considerate. Remember.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

What if that little tag on the end of that verse isn’t a warning like I’ve always thought it was? I’ve always read it like Paul is saying we need to be considerate or else. Rejoice and put others first, or else God will get you when He comes back soon.

But this morning that’s not how it sounds.

Rejoice always. Making this choice is great for our focus and our perspective.

Be considerate. Making this choice is great for our relationships with others.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you don’t feel like rejoicing, you still have something to rejoice about. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you’re so bogged down with your own troubles that you can’t invest in others for a time, you still have something to look forward to.

With the pressures of daily life and the stress of just living, it’s so easy to forget that God is going to come back for us. It’s so easy to get buried in this life and think this is all there is. But this isn’t all there is. This world isn’t home. God is preparing a place for us that defies explanation, and we will get to live there with Him for all eternity, along with the others who have gone before us in Christ. No more sickness. No more pain. No more night. No more suffering. No more conflict or stress or tension.

That is our home. Not this broken, worn down shell of a world that we turned over to Satan thousands of years ago.

Yes. Rejoice always. That’s not an option. When everything goes wrong, rejoice. When everything goes right, rejoice. Choose to have an attitude that makes you unsinkable.

And be considerate of other people. Put others first. Help others succeed. Encourage others. Be there for others.

But above all else, remember, the Lord is coming soon. The world won’t go on like this forever, and when the ticking clock of Time itself finally winds down, all of us who know Christ will get to go on living with Him.

The little annoying troubles in life are just pebbles in our shoes as we’re walking home. Yeah, they’re irritating, but they’re just little things. And, yes, little things can add up until the sum of them feels like a big thing, but that’s perspective. Because even a mountain of pebbles is still insignificant compared to what God can do with faith the size of a mustard seed.

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Choosing to rejoice

Christians are called to rejoice. Did you know that? We’re supposed to rejoice. It’s all over Scripture. Over and over again. Rejoice in good times. Rejoice in bad times. Rejoice when we get what we want and when we don’t. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice … and again I say, rejoice!

It’s even in today’s verse!

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:12.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

But what is rejoicing? It’s not exactly one of those words we use a lot in our culture. For me, it usually only comes up when somebody is making fun of old-fashioned ways of speaking.

So, grammar and language nerd that I am, I decided to look it up on Dictionary.com. And this is what it had to say: 

Rejoice (verb used without object): 1. to be glad; take delight (often followed by in ): to rejoice in another’s happiness. (verb used with object) 2. to make joyful; gladden: a song to rejoice the heart.
 
Again, I love words. So this caught my eye. That rejoice can be both a transitive verb and an intransitive verb, meaning that it can be used with or without an object. Not all verbs are like that. Let me rephrase for the non-grammarians who I know are rolling my eyes at me right now:  
 
It means you rejoice because of something or it means that something makes you rejoice.
 
Maybe that sounds the same, but if you think about it, the context is completely different.
 
If something makes you rejoice, you don’t really choose it. It’s something so wonderful you just can’t help but be glad. But if you rejoice because of something, that doesn’t generally mean it’s something wonderful. That just means you choose to rejoice, and it can mean you choose to rejoice in spite of what has happened.
 
The verse says rejoice in our confident hope. I’ve blogged on this verse before and on the phrase confident hope, especially because there are other instances throughout Scripture where confident hope plays a big role in our walk. But at this point in my week of Mondays, I think I need to focus on rejoicing.
 
When I hear the phrase, “Rejoice in our confident hope,” my first reaction isn’t to think about hope. My first thought is an exclamation of how am I going to rejoice at all? In anything?
 
I’m exhausted. I’m stressed out. I’m worn down with waiting, and even though I’ve gotten some answers, they weren’t the answers I wanted. So how can I rejoice about all of that? Any rejoicing I do for any of that is likely to come off as half-hearted or sarcastic, and I don’t think God would appreciate that.
 
Remember the confusing discussion of transitive and intransitive verbs above? This use of rejoice is intransitive, meaning it doesn’t need an object. In my meager definition, it means you rejoice because of something. You choose it.
 
We can choose to rejoice in our confident hope, no matter what our circumstances are. Why? Because it’s confident hope.
 
So if you’ve had a great week and everything is going right in your life, that’s something that will make you rejoice.
 
But if you’re like me and have had a frustrating string of days where nothing goes as planned and you don’t get what you want and all you really want to do is stay in bed, choose to rejoice anyway.
 
If your hope is in Christ, it’s confident. Even if you don’t feel like it’s confident, it is. Because Christ is trustworthy. And He knows what you need. And He’s working everything out. And He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises. Your hope is confident, even if you don’t feel like it is. And that means, you can choose to rejoice.
 
Try it. It makes all the difference in the world. And after a few days of choosing to rejoice, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to rejoice without thinking about it.

The importance of focus in balance

No, you’re not imagining it. The photo I picked today is blurry. But I was clinging to the back of a horse with no saddle, and it was difficult enough to get my camera out of my pack and hold it straight forward without losing my grip, let alone try to get it out of manual mode and into automatic. So … the image is blurry.

But this is the “road” to Esfuerzo II, one of the Kekchi villages I visited on my last trip to Guatemala. You can kind of see one of the buildings at the top of the hill.

On the road to Esfuerzo II - Peten, Guatemala

On the road to Esfuerzo II – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:13.

A glad heart makes a happy face; a broken heart crushes the spirit.

I’m talking about perspective again this morning. I know I talked about it yesterday, but yesterday was more about focusing on the solution instead of the problem.

This morning, I got to wondering about how exactly you’re supposed to find the solution to think about in the first place. How can you be cheerful when nothing is going the way you think it ought to be?

Well, much like choosing the settings on your camera before you take a picture, you have to choose what parts of your life you’re going to focus on before you make a decision to be grumpy or glad.

I had an exciting experience yesterday that taught me a lot about focus. I woke up at my usual time 5:45 a.m. and rolled out of bed, but as I rolled over and sat up, the room kept rolling. It was truly the most disorienting sensation I’ve ever experienced. The room just kept spinning and spinning. Finally I got into a position where it stopped, but I still felt light-headed and weird. So I made it downstairs and sat down, but the moment I leaned back in a chair, it flared up again. So I leaned forward instead, and that made it worse! I was pretty sure I was going to throw up.

So I did what any self-respecting, independent woman with a high-profile corporate job would do. I called my mom. =)

So mom came out and got me, and she took me to the doctor. And it turns out I managed to catch a virus that attacks the fluid levels in my inner ear, which is what controls my balance. So I got a great big steroid shot (yay) and some motion sickness meds, and I feel much better today.

But while the world was spinning, there was only one thing I could do to get it to stop. I had to focus on a point straight ahead of me and keep my head level. That was it. Nothing else would stop it. No other movement or position would allow me to walk straight. I just had to focus on one point and not move from it.

I’m sure you probably see where this is going.

Our world is spinning out of control. No politician or political party can stop it. No congressional initiative can stop it. No educational grants or school loans can stop it. We’re all walking around in a culture that’s circling the drain, and we lose a little more of our future every day. And it’s no wonder we’re all grumpy and sad and bitter. Because we keep focusing on things that change.

When I was in the middle of these dizzy spells, if I tried to focus on something that was moving, it just made the dizziness worse. When I was clinging to the back of that Guatemalan-sized horse, if I tried to focus on the destination, I wouldn’t have been ready for the road under the horse’s feet, which was rocky and uneven and threatened to dump me off if I weren’t paying attention.

You have to focus on what you know isn’t going to change. You have to focus on the person who is going to figure it out.

In these instances, I had to focus on the butt-ugly wallpaper in my living room. And in Guatemala, I had to focus on the horse, when he gathered his muscles, when he relaxed, when he climbed, when he descended.

It’s the same way in our lives.

When everything is falling apart, focus on what the Bible says about God. That’s He’s good. That He has good plans for us. That He knows what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises. He doesn’t change, and He will be the one to figure it all out.

That’s what you focus on. And when you can focus on that, the gladness will soon follow. You’ll be glad because you don’t have to worry about taking care of everything. You won’t have to worry about things you can’t control anyway, and that’s a tremendous weight off your shoulders. And when you’re glad in your spirit, it won’t be long before the rest of you is glad too.

Keep on keeping on

Perseverance. Dictionary.com identifies it as “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

I’d like to think that I’m good at persevering. I think a lot of people would like to believe that about themselves. Perseverance is one of those character qualities that everyone knows is good to have. Unfortunately, it’s one that’s a real struggle to keep hold of.

By its very definition, having perseverance means you’re going to run into trouble. I mean, sure, you can persevere without trouble, but if can you really say someone is persevering if they don’t encounter trouble or danger or discouragement? Can you persevere through good times? Sure. But it doesn’t feel like persevering.

I thought of this word when I read the verse this morning, Romans 12:12.

12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

 It’s a very simple verse. Nothing fancy. No frills. But when you get right down to it, it makes no sense at all. Talk about a non sequitur! It goes from rejoicing in the hope we have to exhorting us to be patient in trouble. That doesn’t really flow. If I had been writing, I would have said to rejoice in our hope and then I’d go on to talk about something happy. But I didn’t write this. God did. And He knows what He’s talking about.

Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

I kind of talked about this yesterday, but have you ever not gotten something you asked God for? Have you spent your entire life serving God and you feel like all He ever seems to give you are trials and tribulations and tests? I know people like that. I know people who have encountered ridiculous things in their lives for no reason I can see. They don’t deserve it. They’ve never done anything to deserve it. Yet God seems intent on allowing every possible bad thing on Earth to happen to them. But some of these folks never give up. They are able to look past the awful circumstances in their lives and see that God is still working and that He has a plan. And on days where I would be crushed underneath a weight of gloom and doom, they’re rejoicing. That is true perseverance.

I was curious this morning about the phrase “confident hope.” I have blogged on it before, but I’ve never searched for it. So I did a Biblegateway.com search and the exact phrase “confident hope” appears five times in the New Living Translation of the Bible. Three of those times is in Romans.

Just glancing through these verses, the confident hope Paul (through God) is talking about is our salvation. And not just our faith in Christ, but our lives down here as well (part of our salvation is living out our life on Earth). Because of what Jesus did for us, because of His sacrifice on the cross, we have hope. And not just hope but confident hope that God knows what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises. And because we have that confident hope, we can rejoice in it and in what God is doing in our lives.

By rejoicing in that confident hope, it’s a lot easier to have patience when trouble comes my way. I’m know if I’m focused on what God has done in my life and what He is currently doing, it’s a lot more natural for me to keep rejoicing when everything crumbles around me. And if I’m still in that frame of mind to rejoice even when the world is falling apart around me, prayer becomes an instantaneous response as well when I don’t know what to do — or even if I do know what to do.

I have to mention that the verse does say “keep on praying” which indicates to me that it’s something I have to repeat. Paul here is assuming that I’m already praying and that I need to continue, persistently. I need to persevere, which means I need to continue in spite of the discouragements, the disappointments, the sadness or the trouble that weighs me down.

It’s not easy. But if it were easy, it wouldn’t be perseverance. It it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Short and sweet

I’m keeping it brief this morning. But the verse is so amazing, there isn’t much else to add.

Philippians 3:1

1 Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters,[a] rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Whatever happens rejoice in the Lord.

Whatever means whatever. It means good times. It means bad times. It means times of plenty and times when there isn’t enough.

So if you have a good day, rejoice in the Lord.

If you have a bad day, rejoice in the Lord.

If something you were hoping would happen didn’t happen, rejoice in the Lord.

If you’ve had to work so much overtime you can’t concentrate on anything else and there doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight, rejoice in the Lord.

If you’re sick, rejoice in the Lord.

If you’re healthy, rejoice in the Lord.

If you’re in a job you love, rejoice in the Lord.

If you’re in a job you don’t like anymore, rejoice in the Lord.

And if you’re downhearted and sad for no apparent reason, rejoice in the Lord, even if you don’t feel like it. Because He is worthy of praise whether you feel like praising Him or not. And even if the stuff that’s going on in your life right now stinks, hold on becuase it won’t stay that way forever. Rejoice. Praise God for it. And once you can praise God for it, you’ll be able to get through it.

That’s faith. Believing that there’s light at the end of the tunnel even when you can’t see it. Believing that eventually someday you’ll get to the place where you can make a difference, where you can see your dreams come true, even though there’s no hope of it right now.

Rejoice in difficulty, no matter what your circumstances, and you’ll make it through.

Whatever happens, rejoice in the Lord.