Joy-filled Worship

Standing in front of the congregation at church this morning, singing praise and worship to the Lord, there was joy in the room that I could not only feel, but also see. Most of the time I have a dual focus; 1) worshiping my Lord and Savior and 2) making sure I change the slides at the right time so the congregation can follow along :).  I do not often look at individuals in front of me because I feel awkward doing so, almost as if I’m an intruder in something that is very special to each person. This morning, though, I couldn’t help it. As we started service with “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” my eye was caught by one of my Sisters joyfully singing and moving to the music. I heard her separate from the rest of the congregation and no other word could better express her whole being than joy-filled. It was contagious and I could feel the smile broadening on my face and my spirit lifting as I sang praise to God. ‘This is what worship should feel like,’ I thought to myself as the song continued.

While acts of worship come in various forms (from singing and praying to giving and studying His Word), I have always been especially moved by worshiping through song. I sing at my church with the music team that can consist of 2-5 people on any given Sunday. I am not standing in front of the congregation to perform for them, but rather, I am standing and singing praise to my God, giving glory to Him, and encouraging others to do the same. Every now and again I am reminded of where my focus should be and last week it happened as I was watching TV.

Strange, you think. Well, I do, too, but let me explain. I was at a friend’s house indulgently watching her TV (I do not have cable at my house) and caught “Dancing with the Stars.” I remembered hearing that Candace Cameron Bure was on this season and wondered if she was still in the competition. To my delight, she was (and still is!). The remaining stars had meetings with someone they respected and looked up to and they showed a short conversation Candace had with Angela Thomas (Angela’s thoughts on taping the segment can be found here) who is a Bible teacher and author. I was thrilled when I heard them discussing the joy that is evident in Candace when she is dancing and that is because her joy is complete in Jesus Christ.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy.  – Psalm 16:11a

And then Candace spoke of how, while she does enjoy dancing in front of all the people, she is really performing for an audience of One. I was just so amazed by seeing her so strongly and solidly standing in her faith in an arena that very rarely shows appreciation for such convictions. You can watch it for yourself here. When I relayed that part of the show to a younger friend of mine she commented, “It kind of makes you think, ‘What am I doing?’ doesn’t it?” Had I been 12 as well, I might have thought the same thing. Instead I was able to explain to her that our faith is something we live out and is evident to the people around us. We have influence that reaches much further than we imagine and God uses it for His glory when we stand in and exhibit that faith, whether we are on national television or hanging out with our friends. What matters most is that audience of One. As long as it is Him we are serving, praising, worshiping; as long as He is our focus, nothing else really matters.

And that’s when I thought of myself, standing up in front of church, and wondered how often I really do focus on my audience of One and how often the words come out of my mouth but my mind and heart are elsewhere. When the latter happens, I know there is no joy there; how can there be when my focus is on how I’m going to get my finances in order or how I do so wish a guy would walk into my life and sweep me off my feet….yea, not so much where my focus should be. But when we focus on the One who gave it all on our behalf, taking our sin upon Himself that we might become His righteousness, then and there do we find our joy and rightfully worship the only One who is truly worthy of any of it. Then can we lift up our hands and give it all to our audience of One.

Praying you are able to find your joy complete in the only One who can complete us all,

Love & Blessings,

KJ

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All Things New

A year has come and gone and I’ve done what most of us have; reflected on what was accomplished in those 365 days and found areas that could still use some improvement.

One big goal I have accomplished this past year is losing weight & actually keeping it off. Every year for at least the past 10 I have said I would do this when it’s time for making resolutions, but the resolve was just never there. In 2013 I started running, and I have a spectacular running buddy (though we are on a kind of hiatus for these really cold winter months), and, by the grace of God, we are getting fit and feeling good. Which does beat out losing weight (though it is nice to start buying smaller sizes). In this year, my goal in the fitness department is to keep going. It’s actually kicking off tomorrow with a trip to the gym before work in the morning. I’m going to keep running, getting fit, losing weight, and ultimately train for a half marathon that will take place in 2016. My friend, Johanna, had this crazy idea for us to do the Disney Princess Half Marathon when she gets out of the Peace Corps. I ran two 5ks last year; surely, by 2016, I can work my way up to 13 miles…And what better way to do it than to have Disney cast members cheering you on? It’s hard to see it actually happening, but if you would have told me a year ago that I would be able to run a 5k, it would have been just as unbelievable. 

Another area that I have grown greatly is in my faith. This is, by far, the most awesome thing. Words cannot describe it accurately except to say that I feel so much more secure in who I am in Christ. A new creation. A joint heir. God’s workmanship. It is truly amazing to think about & one thing I am going to do better this year is make the time to think about this, to talk with and praise God for this, and not get so caught up in the day to day junk that I completely dismiss the One who gets me through each day whether I acknowledge Him or not.

The message in church this morning spoke, so loudly, to this rekindled faith of mine that I cannot help but share it. Pastor just showed the title of it on the screen and I knew I was in for it. I made up my mind that I didn’t want to hear it and it would be too hard. Maybe someone else in the room would hear what he was saying and think of deep desires I had shared and think of how pathetic it all sounds. His title, you ask? A Love Worth Longing For.

If you know me, or have read my blog from the start, you know there is one thing I struggle with above everything else in this life; the fact that I am still “on my own” in a world where my sisters, friends, cousins, coworkers; everyone else but me, it seems; has gotten married and are happily starting their families. While this is not a thought in my mind every second of every day, it is something that I think about and is definitely a button of mine the Devil likes to push as he roams this world. I would be lying if I said I have never looked on these relationships of my friends & family with envy. It is something I long for, a kind of love I long for, and so when Pastor began his sermon asking about the kinds of relationship people might envy, I did not really want to hear anything that was coming next.

But I’m glad I did.

The message focused on John 17:20-26, the end of Jesus’ high priestly prayer right before He was arrested. I’m sure I have read through this section before, but new things were brought to my attention this time around. the first being in verse 20:

“My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,

Do you see that? “Those who will believe in me.” Jesus prayed for all of us who come to believe in Him through the message of the Gospel. How amazing is that to know that the Lord of all creation has prayed for you!

Jesus goes on to pray that the disciples, and indeed all believers, would be unified as one, so they/we might show the world the love of God, knowing that God’s love for us is the same as His love for Jesus.

Through this walk of faith of mine, I have not much doubted God’s love. It’s what first drew me in, finding out there was One who loved me so completely. And while I think of it time to time, especially when I think of the great ways He has blessed me and how much He must love me to do so; or how about the fact that He sent His Son to die for me? Yes, I know God loves me, but what was said today about it all makes me see it differently.

So while I have been fighting with being envious of my friends and family who have these amazing relationships; who have found their “perfect match,” that perspective was turned on its head a little today – I realized that a relationship I have, am a part of, is worthy of longing for as well. I actually have something others look longingly for, usually not knowing what it is. I possess something that good – the love of Christ and my relationship with Him. I’m not sure I will ever look at this the same again, or ever be so quick to be envious of a relationship that I don’t have – I have something amazingly better. It’s hard to keep in the forefront of my mind because there is no physical person always by my side, who shares my home, my life, my bed; but this relationship will never fade away. No matter how I might want to run from it or decide I’m unworthy of it – because I am – He finds me, His grace finds me and He delights in me. I am His and He is mine, and nothing can change that. Ever.

And I feel made new all over again. I have a Love worth longing for. I pray you do as well.

Love & Blessings,

KJ

Christmas, in Retrospect

I hope you all have enjoyed a wonder-filled Christmas season! For me, it was the first time I was not traveling at Christmastime since I as living at home with my folks some 13 years ago. I had spent most of my vacation time with family earlier in the year and I was a little relieved that I wouldn’t have to fight the holiday traffic & craziness at the airports. I love my family, don’t get me wrong (you hear that, Ma – I love you!), but have also been blessed immensely with friends here who might as well be family too.

Christmas Eve at work included a surprise visit from Santa (who was supposed to visit the local hospital but there were no kids there; a Christmas blessing, indeed), lunch with friends, and me playing various Christmas CDs on my computer (including the soundtrack to The Muppets’ Christmas Carol). After work I got home in time to pack my overnight bag, gather some goodies for the evening, make a couple last minute gifts (more info on those Friday), throw everything in the car, and head to church for music practice before the service started. After service my friends, Michael & Robin, hosted an open house. This time was full of friends, food, & fun. I spent the night there so I could celebrate Christmas morning with them and their family. It was a nice, quiet, and relaxing day that ended with some more friends coming over to have a lovely Christmas dinner of Chinese take-out. It was a wonderful couple of days; I was able to talk with my family & even video chat with some. There was much to enjoy, but I feel as if I’ve left something out. Let’s rewind (you do know what that means, right?) a bit; back to church on Christmas Eve.

This was also very special to me – being able to be a part of our Christmas Eve service. Always traveling, I had never been able to attend. Words cannot adequately express what it is like to be in a darkened chapel with 60-75 people all holding candles, singing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” It is beautiful, awesome, and powerful; realizing some 2,000 years ago the Son of God, the One who was with God in the beginning, the One who is God, humbled Himself & put aside His glory, to be born, of a virgin, as a human. He was born, as all babies are, completely vulnerable and dependent upon His earthly parents. The Lord of all creation came to us, a mere baby, because He loved us so and wanted to make things right between us and our Father again, once for all. He did not stay a baby, of course not. All babies grow up into children, and those children into men and women. This baby, this Jesus, grew into a man; a man who worked many miracles, taught many truths, and saved many lives. In fact, He’s still doing that today. This humble babe, born in a manger, grew to a man, knowing one day He would die for many; for as many as would believe in Him and call upon His name. He lived a sinless life, and when the time came, He gave up that life; no one took it from Him; He gave it up freely as a perfect sacrifice, the only sacrifice that could ever reconcile the sinful heart of man with the God who created him. Of course, we know, it doesn’t stop there. Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection, proof that He has overcome death and the grave. And that, my friends, is what gives us hope. If He is indeed our Lord & Savior, we have the greatest hope; that we will, one day, be reunited with Him. And that, truly, is the best Christmas Gift.

I pray your Christmas was not only merry and bright, but also that you had time to reflect on what it really means and the great Gift we were all given, those many years ago, as a star shone brightly over a baby asleep on the hay.

Love & Blessings,

KJ

My Way? Or the High Way?

I was in an amazing place last Wednesday (you can read about it here). A place where I finally felt content with all that is going on, though I am far from understanding any of it. In the few days that followed a couple things happened that made me second-guess my stance on it all & my resolve to let God have control over it all (really, we are just kidding ourselves when we think the control is totally in our hands). I have been thinking on it, praying on it, but of course I cannot deal with this all on my own. Not when temptation to pick that burden back up and try to carry it myself is so strong. I know it is better left at the foot of the cross, but I was at a loss.

Then, yesterday morning, I read the entry for the day in devotional book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young and came across these verses:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8 & 9

Yes, that is right. His thoughts are higher than mine. As much as I like to think I know what I’m doing or that I have the best ideas, I know that’s not true, deep down. Ultimately He knows what He’s doing and He has the best ideas. And in the end, who am I to go up against the Creator of it all?

So, it is now my attempt to continue to be focused on Jesus, to fully put Him on the throne of my heart, and not shove Him off because a guy says “Hi” and I think I know the best way to handle the situation. No; I am going to keep Him there where He belongs, at the center of my very being, and listen for His Spirit to lead me along. To be honest, I tried it my way, and ultimately, it ended with me in tears. I’m all for trying it His way now; come what may.

May you, too, be able to keep Him on the throne in the days ahead, come what may.

Love & Blessings,

KJ