No Greater Joy

My heart is bursting with joy and gratitude today! We returned last night from Ft. Worth where our Rob married Rebeccah Gould. Rebeccah is a precious, beautiful, caring girl who loves Jesus and loves Rob! It just doesn’t get much better than that! They met in a home group of their church, The Village Church in Ft. Worth, so their friends got to watch their relationship from the start. While it was a  s l o w  start (Rob was slow to finally ask her out), things moved right along once he finally did!  Kris Samons, leader of their home group, participated in the service so that was extra special.

Rebeccah is a TCU graduate and a nurse at Cook Children’s Hospital. The way her family and friends honored her with words at the rehearsal dinner and reception was a dream come true for a Mama who has prayed for years for God’s perfect match for this boy of ours! Rob has never been happier or more content in his life, and for those of you who know his health history, we consider it an extra bonus from God that Rebeccah is a nurse. In the book/movie The Help an oft-quoted line is the one Abileen spoke to Mae Mobley numerous times, “You are kind; you are smart; you are important.” This new daughter in law of ours is all of that — genuinely kind, incredibly smart, and extremely important to many, now including all the Collingsworths! Rob and Rebeccah are a perfect match for each other ……. thank you God.

Weddings include lots of bonuses. Our closest family and friends gave the time and money and energy to come and celebrate with us. This weekend became a huge reunion! So many memories and happy stories were shared by the special people who have influenced our family’s life over so many years. I wanted to sit down with each person and have a long one-on-one visit, re-telling tales and laughing and remembering the good (as well as the not so good) times we have shared and survived over the years. John and Dawn Harris have been a huge part of our family’s lives since the day we moved to Orlando in 1989. They quickly became Uncle John and Auntie Dawn to our kids, even though the British accents clearly confirmed that the relationship was not through blood but love. When Rob was about 19 we were all at the beach and Rob gave Uncle John $1.00 and asked him to help with his wedding; the dollar was a retainer. So, here we are years later and there was Uncle John, officiating in the wedding ceremony.

For our family, the glue, the hub of the wheel, the protecter, sustainer, redeemer, and the one to whom we give credit for all these blessings is Jesus. He has held us, led us, kept us by His grace and mercy. This morning when I was catching up on my Bible reading, I read this verse, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant…” Gen. 32:10  This is the attitude of my heart today. God knows I am not worthy and I know it too. With that said, I am eternally grateful for all the friends and family who have encouraged Rob and impacted his life and development over the years. You know who you are; many of you came this weekend and celebrated his marriage with us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Life is a roller coaster and often a slippery slope. Everyone I know experiences things that are amazingly wonderful and also things that are devastating and sometimes heartbreaking. No one escapes hardship; it just comes in different ways and at different times to each person or each family. I know this fact because I am old (don’t tell JB I said that), and I have personally experienced the good as well as the bad. And so has everyone else I know. The good news is I have survived and that is due only to the grace of God (no pun intended).

Sometimes people wonder or occasionally ask, “so what difference does it make to be a Christian if God is not going to keep bad things from happening to you?” The answer is that God does not keep “life” from happening to us. However, He walks us through the tough stuff; He teaches us how to treat others through our own hardships; He uses us for His glory when we survive the things of life. He is God and He is enough for whatever life throws our way. His peace is sufficient on the hard days and His joy is indescribable on occasions like this weekend.

Years ago a friend gave me a beautiful frame with this scripture written in caligraphy – “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 1 John 1:4.  I have kept it close-by over the years and prayed for that to be the case with our children. This weekend of Rob and Rebeccah’s wedding is a sweet reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness. I pray this sweet couple starting out on their journey of marriage will continue to walk in the truth of God and His word.

Jesus Will be the Stability of Our Times

Christmas is here and I love this time of year. Like most of you I want to carve out time to sit and reflect and ponder the meaning of the season. Even if you can only take five minutes a day, please pause and meditate on the source of true joy. Look up the words of some Christmas hymns and worship songs and just read and think about the truths that are proclaimed in those words.

No matter what our culture may try to impose on us, the reason for the season is Jesus and the celebration of his arrival in human form on earth. Our world history is divided into B.C. and A.D. (Before Christ and Anno Domini – in the year of our Lord). The arrival of Christ on earth is the turning point in all of world history.

The arrival of Christ on earth is the turning point in all of world history.

Why is Christmas such a big deal? The coming of Jesus (God in human form) in our world was planned from the beginning of time. A traditional Christmas hymn proclaims the coming of the long-expected Jesus was reason to rejoice because he was “born to set his people free.” Another well-known Christmas carol, The First Noel, proclaims,

“Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord,  Who hath made heaven and earth of naught, and with His blood mankind hath bought.”

In the beginning ….. God created the world from naught (that means nothing). Think about that; it is much more logical and believable to accept that God created all the beauty and symmetry and order and detailed intricacies of our world than it is to assume that somehow on accident or boom or bang it just happened.

God created all that is, including us. When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s choices to disobey God, he even had a plan for that. Thus the world waited long for Jesus, the Messiah, and when he came to earth he provided freedom from sin to those who believed him. As the hymn above says, “with His blood mankind hath bought.”

The Messiah did not come as the people expected him to come, but he came as God designed, and he fulfilled all the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament during the centuries B.C. Jesus died on a cross to pay the price for our sins; if and when we accept his sacrifice, he frees us from the bondage of sin and fills us with purpose and joy and contentment and peace way beyond what things of the world can offer. He does not force his salvation on us but it is hard to believe that any would reject such a great gift.

I want to sing of this joy and encourage everyone I know to believe and receive. As one of the most well-known songs proclaims,

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.

He is King, whether we accept him or not, and the Bible assures us that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord….” (Phil. 2:10-11)

At church yesterday our pastor reminded us that we belong to the largest organization in the world and that is the church. Followers of Jesus Christ in our world are literally the largest group that exists. Currently, in many countries of the world people are receiving the gospel and accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation as never before! Those of us in the USA may feel more and more under attack because we are Christians. Pressure to water down God’s word and to be tolerant as the culture defines tolerant is prevalent and even creeping into the church. But the power of the gospel is stronger; let’s don’t forget that!

Here at Christmas as we remember and celebrate the plan of God, I want to encourage you to trust God, obey his word, resist temptation to conform, and rejoice that Christ came. He did not have to die, but he willingly sacrificed his life for you and me. That is worth celebrating and Christmas is a great time to accept or renew commitment to him.

Love as Jesus loved; consider the needs and feelings of others; reach out and share kindness with someone you know who is struggling or is lonely. The joy that comes from Jesus living in your heart gives strength for hard circumstances and hope that is eternal. Share that strength and hope with the people God puts in your life.

In my Bible reading this week I came across this passage in Isaiah and it keeps resonating in my heart and mind. God’s word is relevant and alive and active. Hear this word from God: “The Lord is exalted for he dwells on high . . . and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge . . . .” Isaiah 33: 5-7

he will be the stability of your times

A great deal of my peace and contentment comes from knowing that it is in him we will find stability in this crazy old world!

In closing, read afresh the timeless words of truth from the hymn, He Lives:

“I serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say.

I see his hand of mercy; I hear his voice of cheer. And just the time I need him he’s always near.

He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today.

He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, he lives, salvation to impart (aka give/provide).

You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”

Amen, Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!

Life is Tough . . . but God is Good

My sister-in-law has Alzheimer’s. It is awful. I hate it. She does not deserve it. She was diagnosed in her early 60’s – too young, way too young; but then, who is ever ready for this dreadful disease? Jean is one of the sweetest people I have ever known. She welcomed me into JB’s family with open arms and, even now, her favorite thing to do is to hug everyone.

When our kids were little Jean and Ronnie took them home to north Louisiana for a week most summers. JB and I would drive from Orlando and meet them in Pensacola where we made the exchange. The two of us drove home in a quiet van to a week of re-discovering what we enjoyed and had in common when the kids were not the center of attention. Our children made great memories with Aunt Jean and Uncle Ronnie and those two drove them all the way back to Orlando to bring them home. (Don’t get Ronnie worked up telling how many times he had to listen to Adventures in Odyssey cassette tapes with our kids in his Suburban!) We all were blessed by this sweet annual tradition. Jean and Ronnie have always showed up for us. With three kids that’s lots of graduations – high school and college, scattered all over the map. But Jean and Ronnie have always come.

So, why, why, why? Why does someone like Jean get “the big A”? The answer is “I do not know.” This I do know:  Life is Tough; if it is not Alzheimer’s it will be something else. Everybody has hardship at one time or another; sometimes it seems like an avalanche. But this too I know:  God is Good. God is not the cause of our hardships; rather, he is the one who helps us survive them. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” I know this to be true and you can too.

In the world you will have tribulation.

I probably don’t have to convince you that Jesus was right when He said, “in the world you will have tribulation.” You can fill in the blank with the tragedy or hardship or hurtful situation you are facing. But perhaps you struggle with Jesus’ promise, “in me you may have peace.” Here are a few tips I have learned about finding his peace in the midst of something that stinks:

in me you may have peace.

  • Count your blessings; even when things are awful you can find much for which to be grateful. I am so thankful Jean has Ronnie; he cares for her with strength and grace and patience that he does not have on his own! It is amazing to see how God equips us with what we need when we need it, never early. I am grateful for her sitters who care for her so lovingly and make daily life easier for her and for Ronnie.
  • Don’t gripe; that is wasting good time. Your mama was right when she said, “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” You may be amazed that the less you gripe, the more joy you are able to recognize all around you.
  • God is in control; not me or you. When you finally give up trying to fix everything yourself and realize you are not in control, down deep inside, great freedom and peace await you. God has been in control since he created the world, but sin brought heartache and trouble. Tribulations are real, but God is always for us and working for our good and his glory. He wants to redeem all people to himself. Everyone else may fail and disappoint but God is forever faithful.
  • Hope comes from God and his peace is available to each of us. One of my very favorite scripture passages is Lamentations 3:21-23 “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Knowing these things about God and experiencing his peace in the midst of storms does not change the fact that life is tough. But it makes all the difference in how we cope.

Jean and Ronnie and two sweet sitters came to visit us last week. While Jean knows us and hugs us (a lot!) and occasionally cries on our shoulders, she does not talk much. Her sparky personality is not so sparky anymore. But she is still our Jean and we love her dearly. We tell old stories and remind her how much she has meant to our family. She may pace the house and change chairs in the living room repeatedly but she is still our Jean. We are grateful she is not in pain and she is still very kind toward everyone. Even in our sadness we feel blessed.

We feel blessed.

Walking this hard road has brought out good in all of us. We pause and smell the roses; we tell each other what we love about each other; we thank each other for things said, things done, memories secured.

Back to the last line of that passage in John 16, Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” Yes He has, and I am so glad to know that this world is not my permanent home.The troubles of our world may be hard, but Jesus has indeed overcome the world and those who know Him personally have the promise of eternal life in heaven F.O.R.E.V.E.R.  No more war, no more disease, no more elections, no more chains that tie us down. Eternity is real – either with Jesus in heaven, or in hell, forever separated from God, a place of fire and destruction. Praise God for Jesus and for the eternal home he has prepared for all who believe and receive him.

If your focus has been on the reality that Life is Tough, try looking up and around and recognize that, even so, God is Good.

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