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God is sovereign. All is well.

Indestructible Joy ~ A Review

Indestructible Joy

It seems that, as the years go by, I see a disturbing trend in my soul in regards to Christmas. I like to blame it on the over-commercializing of the entire month of December, beginning in September. However, in reality, it is probably owing far more to my woefully cynical nature than any over-hype of the holiday aspect of Christmas.

Quite simply, I lose sight of the gift.

A few years ago, I came to the settled belief that Jesus truly was the Son of God. And that first Christmas, with that new/old truth secured, was an awe-inspiring experience. I was keenly aware of salvation wrapped in swaddling clothes. And I worshiped.

Steadily, though, that awe has dissipated a bit; life has gotten in the way. Cynicism has crept back in.

I think that is why I chose to read John Piper’s new devotional book this year(a review copy was given to me by Crossway publishers) , even though it is not even October. I want a fresh understanding of indestructible joy. And I found it not only in the words that Piper wrote, but in the scripture to which his words pointed.

All of scripture points to Christ. Therefore, we cannot isolate the events on the night of Jesus’ birth without examining them in light of the context in which they exist. Piper, as always, does an excellent job of this. He pulled from the passages that explain who God is, and why Jesus came, and what that means for us today, instead of just focusing on the details of that singular night. In his doing so, Piper challenges his readers to see all of God.

My only criticism is that each chapter was small-too small. I understand that the intent was to provide devotional type readings, to be read in small amounts of time daily through the month of December. However, it seemed that Piper would just barely open up a thought, and then it would be concluded to hurry on to the next day. I found myself longing for more words and more questions. Not necessarily a bad thing, because it forces me to have to seek answers to my questions myself, from scripture. Always a good thing. Yet I still would have liked to sit under Piper’s teaching a little longer on these passages.

Still and all, the premise of this book is solid, and the words are good and true. I suspect I will revisit this volume when we hit December 1 this year.

Is All Well?

sovereign

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across these words:

Before me, even as behind, God is, and all is well ~ John Greenleaf Whittier

These are not “nothing” words.  These are amazing words.  They are sound words.  They are true words.  They are words that point to the hope that we have in our God.

But they can also be hard words, because they are words that point to God’s sovereignty.  And that, my friends, can be a hard thing to grasp.  We can’t, really.  We can not wrap our finite, human minds around the truth that God is sovereign, or the truth that, because He is sovereign, all is well.  Even in the hard stuff.

Two weeks ago, I approached my birthday week with an arrogant, pride-filled mind-frame.  Somewhere, somehow, I had gotten this thought in my head “We (my crew and I) are doing well.  We have fought hard.  Life is good now.  We are good.”  And, all those things are truth.  There is nothing in those statements that is false, except for one small thing–the word “we”.  Because, it is not “we” who have come to this place.  No, we were completely incapable of coming to this place in and of our own accord.  Every inch we have crawled, we’ve only crawled based on God’s grace.

But, that’s easy to forget, when all truly is well according to this world’s standards.

A few short days after my “birthday week” began, my family-my crew-was hit with a blow that threatened to knock us to the ground.  Again.

And I was angry.  And scared.

You see, against all that I know to be truth, I had come to some ridiculous place in my mind that said “Ok.  We’ve done the hard.  The struggling.  The devastating.  It is now time for peace, for “happiness” (not to be confused with joy), and for settled-ness.  It is now time to start living again.”

But in the span of 30 minutes, all of that changed, and once again we were facing the hard.  The struggling.  And I wanted to stamp my feet like a spoiled two-year old and self-righteously, self-importantly proclaim “That’s not fair, God!  Don’t do this to my children!  Don’t do this to my family!  We’ve already walked this road.  Don’t you see how well we are doing now?”

And, in those initial moments, I forgot God is sovereign.  Over all.

But that is truth.   There is way too much evidence of God’s sovereignty to believe otherwise.  Both in history that I read about, and in this life that I am living.   Also, it doesn’t make sense to have a God who is sovereign only in the good times.  That is not the God of the gospel.  That is the god of Joel Osteen.  And I’ve seen too much of life to believe in that kind of god.  No, I need the only true God, who is not Santa Clause, but instead is the God who is just and good and sovereign beyond anything that I can understand and in any circumstance of life–the good and the very hard.  The “happiness” and the suffering.  The settled and the chaotic.

God sees and knows.  And is.

Today I had the privilege and honor to sing the song “Though He Slay Me” (as sung by Shane and Shane) with two dear friends of mine.  It was a gift to do so, because I know the words of Job need to be the words that echo in my own mind and soul, even more so today.  And in your soul as well.

The lyrics of the song proclaim that one of the ways in which we know God, is through His suffering.  That there is coming a day in which we will see Him face to face.  And, He is all we need.  He is all that I need.  The words find their foundation in Job 13:15, in which Job says “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face.”  And, if there is one that knew suffering, it is Job.

Scripture is truth.  And, though I momentarily lose sight of that truth in the heat of the battle, it doesn’t change the fact that it remains truth, whether I believe it at any particular moment or not.  Truth does not alter.

Many asked me today where the sermon excerpt came from that we played in the midst of the song.  I meant to mention that before we sang, but I forgot.  It is an excerpt from a sermon by John Piper on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[a] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We do not lose heart.  God is sovereign. God is.   And so we look not to the things that can be seen, but to the things that are unseen.  We look to the eternal.

Before me, even as behind, God is, and all is well.

**You can either watch or read John Piper’s sermon by clicking HERE.  Listen to it, but fair warning–these are not easy words.  But, sometimes, it is the hard words that we need.

**Also, a huge thank-you to my friend Allen Walker, who designed the graphic above for me to use at this site.  What a gift.  I am so grateful.

 

 

What is Family?

I am exhausted.  Dead dog tired.  My back hurts, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, my head hurts.  I have absolutely poured sweat today, seasoned fish for the first time in my life, run around in the pouring rain, and have eaten zucchini pie.

It’s been a great day.

Today we had a picnic with our sister church, Rising Sun Baptist Church.  Our church, Seaford Baptist, was invited by Rising Sun Baptist to join them in their annual church picnic.  Last spring, I was asked to join two other friends from my church to join their committee to help plan this event.

I love my church.  And I love the people of Rising Sun.  And I love it when our churches come together.

But, I will admit that when I think of picnic, I picture a 2 hour event, 3 hours tops.  Eat some hot dogs, some hamburgers, some delicious desserts and go home.  How hard could that be?

Well, friends, what I found out during our first planning meeting was that Rising Sun does not have an annual church picnic.  They have an annual church PICNIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Meaning…….

Set up starts at 8:00 am.  Picnic starts at noon and goes to 6pm.  And, this isn’t just hamburgers and hotdogs.  No, we are talking that plus chicken, crabs, fish, wings, and more sides and desserts then you can even begin to fathom.  Plus an amazing D.J., music, tug-of-war (be sure to check out the video above!), Bounce Houses, give-aways, decorations, games, face-painting, kettle corn, and I seriously can’t think of all the rest of the list at the moment.

It’s been a great day.

Sure, it was hot and sticky, then wet and rainy.  But who cares?

Because we were with family.

At one point, I paused long enough to take in what was going on around me, and I was amazed.  I shouldn’t be, though.  Because what I was observing was family.  It was brothers and sisters, in Christ, working together, playing together, laughing together, and doing life together.

It was Romans 12:5, put into action:  So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

One body.  In Christ.  Brothers.  Sisters.  Family

I saw this clearly worked out my own, little family’s life this week, up close.  My oldest son has wanted to enlist in the Navy after high school from the moment he joined JROTC his freshman year.  After 4 years of this dream, it became a reality for him yesterday, when he traveled to Fort Lee, VA and was processed into the military.

When we first started down this road seriously, it was a bumpy ride.  Not knowing anything about the process or what was involved, I was of absolutely no help to my boy.  I drove him one day after school to the recruiter’s office.  Tim was so nervous.  He wore his JROTC uniform and was a wreck.  And it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  In fact, it was downright discouraging.

I was at a loss as to how to help my son achieve his dream and goal.

In stepped a Navy Master Sergeant from our church family.  This man not only advised us on what to do, he got involved, walking Tim through every step of the process.  We learned so much from him that we would have never known.  And, after Tim scored extremely well on his ASVAB test at school, this MSgt. accompanied Tim back to the recruiter’s office.  When we ran into a medical bump alone the way, he explained the reason behind it and encouraged Tim to keep going.  Once Tim was medically cleared and his date for processing was set, this gentleman took an entire day off of work, drove up to Richmond to the processing center early in the morning and patiently waited for Tim.  I couldn’t be there because of work; but I wouldn’t have been any use to Tim any way.  Tim’s mentor was able to advise Tim throughout the job assigning stage, he was able to ask questions that I wouldn’t have even known to ask, and he was able to see Tim all the way through to his ceremonial swearing-in.

And, he has assured Tim that he will follow-up with the recruiter to make sure things keep moving forward.  He helped my boy achieve his dream–his calling.

That, my friends, is what church family does.   When there is a need that can be met, they step up to the plate.  When there is someone hurting, they are cared for.  When there is something to rejoice over, they join in that rejoicing.

And when there is good food to eat, they do that together, too.

Seaford Baptist has been family to my family.  Rising Sun Baptist Church has been family to my family.  Zion United Methodist Church has been family to my family (we live in their parsonage).  And Yorkminster Presbyterian Church has been family to my family.  And other churches, too.  And I pray that I and my crew have been family to them as well.

And Christ has been the foundation of it all.

And not just the foundation, but the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-20:  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The whole structure….being joined together….growing into a holy temple in the Lord.  A dwelling place for God.

That is family.

Together We Point to Christ.

The Missing Out: Who is Enough? (Plus a Fall Update on the Duffer Crew)

Mark soccer

Wow.

I don’t know about you guys, but September has hit our house with the force of a Cat 5 hurricane.  No joke.

School for my smalls and oldest girl, School supply lists, Work contracts, Fall Soccer Season, New classes at church, Christmas Musical rehearsals, Church Picnic, MEPs and Navy Enlistment for Tim, writing deadlines, Bridal Showers, Board Meeting work—and a zillion other things, from now through the end of the year.  It looks like someone has bled all over our calendar.

In spite of the busyness, the Duffer crew seems to be off to a good start to this new school year.  My college girl’s entire semester was paid for by a Pell Grant, including her books.  Which is great, because she is working full-time, stuffing in as many hours of school that she can this semester, and starting to talk about the “future”.  :)

My biggest boy goes to MEPs (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Richmond, VA this week to get his eyes checked and to walk like a duck (not kidding).  If he passes that process, he will unofficially “Swear-In” to the Navy Thursday and get his dates for shipping out to Boot Camp.  Yep.  Proud.

My Sophomore is off to a good start for the school year–seems to like his classes so far, especially AP Psych (kinda like his momma).  He has told me that he is smarter than everyone else in his World History class.  I have dutifully told him that he is full of himself and that God does not appreciate pride or gloating.  He, being 15, didn’t hear a word I said I don’t think, because he still thinks he is the smartest (which I plan to hold over his head when he brings home his first B or C in that class).  He started Fall Soccer today in 1,000 degree heat, and I also took him to practice driving today for the first time.

Um, yeah, about that:  It took both of us approximately 10 minutes to figure out that his foot needed to be pressing the brake pedal in order to put the car in drive.  Nice.

My baby had a rough couple of first days, but the end of the week seemed to go better.  She’s adjusting to life as a freshman, and has declared most of her classes as “boring”.  I’m sure she will survive.  Chorus is definitely her passion and highlight of the school day.  She pours hours into her music.  She’s so funny, though—she refuses to ride her brother’s bus, which picks him up right here in front of our house.  She says it’s not because of her brother, but because of her brother’s friends, which makes me want to chuckle.   Is she  supposed to ride that bus that picks kids up several blocks away from our house?  No.  But, hey, if it gets her to the high school and the bus driver doesn’t notice and I don’t have to take her, then all is well in the Duffer household.

We are well.  God is merciful.

Like you read above, though, Fall Soccer started today.  I am determined to use my time wisely during soccer practices to exercise instead of sitting and watching, bored (did I just say that?  Why yes, I did.  I love watching my boy play the game, but drills?  Not so much).  I took off walking in the miserable heat, around the fields that the smalls were playing on.  I rounded the line of fields, now walking on the back sides of the fields.  4 fields down, I approached my boys field.

He was standing there in his green t-shirt, tall, lanky, intently listening to his coach introduce himself and his passion for soccer.  I could see my boy was hanging on every word.  And, briefly, I lost my breath in a moment of intense grief.

You see, soccer has ALWAYS been a part of our life.  Always.  As young, new parents, we couldn’t wait to place our oldest in rec soccer as soon as she hit 3 or 4, or whatever the age was.  Signed her up the very first day.  Put her pink AYSO jersey on her, which was WAY to big.  We were sure we had our first soccer star.  Actually, she took to it like a fish takes to land.  She spent the majority of her first game sitting down in front of the goal with her new “best friend”, picking clover.  Not her sport.  Bring on gymnastics and swim team.

Our second, a son–surely he would be our soccer lover!  But, alas, it was not to be.  Tee-ball, yes.  Soccer, no.  Exercise-induced Asthma meant miserable practices and games.

But their father, who has a passion for soccer, (played, coached, and refereed throughout high school and college), was always their coach.  Always.  No matter what.  Actually–for all their teams (except gymnastics and a brief Upward Basketball Cheer-leading foray for my oldest).  Soccer, Tee-ball, Upwards Basketball, even assisting in Volleyball–he was always there for them.  Instructing, coaching, cheering, pushing, teaching.

And then the third child came along.  A boy.  And yes, he was given a soccer ball before we even left the hospital.

The difference is, soccer took with him.  Really took.  He loved AYSO.  He loved pick-up games with his friends.  He loves Youth Rec Soccer.  He loves kicking the ball outside up against the church wall or over our house, all by himself.

But, he misses his coach.

So, when I approached his field today and saw him listening to his latest coach, there was fresh grief.  Grief for what will never be.  For what he is missing out in the world of Father/Son experiences.  He’s had great coaches.  Amazing coaches, over the past 5 years since his father was incarcerated.  His first coach following that event was incredible, and we are still in touch with that family.  They met a huge need in his life at that time.  As have all his other coaches.

But he still misses his dad.  Coaching him.  Teaching him.  To dribble, to shoot, to do Algebra, to drive.  All those things that are not possible, because of sin.  Because of crime.

And I hurt for my boy.  And, in a strange way, for his father as well.

But you know what?  That grief is greatly overshadowed by real joy.  It’s true.  Joy in knowing that my boy could have said “I give up.  I want nothing to do with soccer.  Nothing to do with disciplining my body and perfecting my defense.”  He didn’t say that.  Yes, we had some HARD conversations over his deep sadness over not having his dad as his coach, and whether he was going to continue playing the game, in those early seasons.  But he chose NOT to give up the game he loves.

Just because life isn’t the way it should be or the way you want it to be, you have to keep moving.  My boy taught me that–something I needed to learn desperately.  He taught me perseverance.  And I am better because of the example that he has been, to me, in his passion for soccer.

But, even more than that, I find real joy in knowing my son is not alone.  He knows God.  And God knows him.  How many times have I prayed Psalm 68:5 for my crew over the past 5 years?

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.

Mark has a heavenly Father who will never abandon nor forsake him.  Ever.  That’s not nothing.  And, God provides through men like his soccer coaches, who give him rides,  who push him to give his very best.  And men like our landlord from the church we rent from, who teaches Mark about mechanical things and has him go with him to mow senior adult’s yards.  And men like our student pastor at church, who randomly invites him to hang out with him and some college guys at Cook-Out after a church event.  Or men like my oldest son’s military mentor, who has walked with him every step of this enlistment process, and will be taking a day off of work this week to go with him to MEPs for his processing procedure.

That, my friends, makes the difference in a young man’s life.  Particularly when that young man is among the fatherless.  And there are so many who do not have that in their lives, who need it.  Desperately.  They are your neighbors.  Your friend’s friends.  Youth in your church.  Kids on the team you coach.  A “Good job!” or an invitation to mow a yard or hang-out at Quaker State goes a long way.

So, once again, I am in awe tonight.  In awe of God’s provision of grace for my crew and I.  For the way that He has not abandoned us, even in our darkest times.  Even in the nights that my children have asked heartbreaking questions for which I have no answer except for God.  And even though, at the time I know that’s not necessarily the answer they want to hear, in the long run, it is the answer they need more than anything.  Because He is who they need more than anything.  He is who I need, more than anything.

Jared Wilson, in “The Wonder-Working God” writes this:  “The miracles show us that Jesus is enough.”  Yes, true.  But I’d go one step further to say this:

Everyday, even the ordinary, dark, joyful, grief-ridden, exhausting, or exuberant days show us that Jesus is enough.

Matthew 16:15 reads: He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

I, and my crew, are learning to answer “You are enough.  That’s who you are, Jesus.”