Finding Joy (no matter what!)

October 18, 2016

“…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:11-13)

In this epistle of joy, the epistle to the Philippians, Paul exhorts us, “Delight in Jesus. Learn to derive your joy from knowing Him.” He uses the word ‘joy’ again and again and again. And what he’s really saying to us when he uses the word joy in the conditions in which he’s living is simply this, “Learn to derive your joy from your relationship to Jesus Christ. Learn to delight in Him.”

What is the source of your happiness? In what do you delight? Now again, if you delight in your health, well, you’re on thin ice. What would you do if you lost your health? If you delight in money, what would you do if you had a big crash and you lost everything? If you delight in your loved ones, and many, many people do, what are you going to do when you lose them?

It’s because God loves us that God tells us things like this, “Delight in Me. Learn to derive your joy from knowing Me.” That’s the source of joy. And so that should be our delight. That’s the reason Paul could have peace, even in the dungeon, even when he was in prison, no matter what the circumstances were, the reason he could say, “I’m ready for anything. I have learned how to live when everything’s good, I have learned how to live when everything’s bad.”  Here is one of the big keys: Paul’s delight was the Lord, and the Lord was the Source of his happiness.

Not what he had or didn’t have.

Dick Woodward, (Ben Lippen Retreat, 1979)

Triumphant Faith

October 14, 2016

“…whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance… If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting.”   James 1:2-6

When you encounter a storm in your life, that trial will often bring you to the place where you just don’t know what to do.  You realize you need more wisdom than you have.  James writes that we must let the test of faith lead us to the trust of faith.  When we lack wisdom, we must ask God, Who will be delighted to share God’s wisdom with us.  In the Old Testament when the people of God were fighting against overwhelming numbers, their frantic prayer of faith was, “nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You!” (2 Chronicles 20:12)  Ask God for the wisdom we do not have, and believe our loving Heavenly Father wants to give us that wisdom.

The J.B. Phillips translation writes that we should not treat our trials as intruders but welcome them as friends. The process of working through our trials will teach us the test of faith, which leads to the trust of faith, and brings us to the triumph of faith.  I have been in a wheelchair since 1984 and a bedfast quadriplegic since the late 1990’s.  I have, therefore, thought much about the suffering of disciples.  God is not in denial about the hard reality His people suffer.

In the Bible we are warned that God does not think as we think, nor does God do as we do. (Isaiah 55)  If the desire of my heart is to know God’s will and to live my life in alignment with the will and ways of God, wouldn’t it logically follow that I should not always expect to understand the way I’m going?  Obviously, that includes our suffering.

…Where did we ever get the idea we should expect to understand everything that happens to us? If God gave us an explanation for everything and the answers to all of our why questions, the very essence of faith, the need for faith, would be eliminated.

Almighty God has willed that without faith, we cannot please Him or come to Him (Hebrews 1:6.)  God is pleased when we come to Him in our crucibles of suffering and cry, “if you heal me, that’s all right.  But, if You don’t heal me, that’s all right too, because YOU are all right!”

Dick Woodward, Marketplace Disciples (p.278-281)

Perfect Peace: Christ in You

October 6, 2016

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Isaiah wrote of a state of perfect peace in which God can keep us, continuously. However, he also wrote that this state of continuous serenity is based on two very important conditions: we must keep our minds centered on God, and we must trust God. This peace is supernatural because it’s a peace we can have even when the circumstances of our lives are chaotic.

Jesus promised that He would give His followers a peace the world would never understand because it comes from Him and can be ours even in the middle of our storms of life. The early followers of Christ were persecuted. While suffering unimaginable cruelty at the hands of their persecutors many died at peace because they had this kind of supernatural peace.

The Apostle Paul believed in this peace. In just one chapter of one of his letters he listed twelve conditions on which this peace is based. In another letter Paul described this peace as fruit – the expression of the reality that the Holy Spirit lives in authentic disciples of Jesus. We might therefore conclude that the basic condition for this peace is that the Holy Spirit lives in us.

“Christ in you” is the foundation on which all the conditions of this peace are to be built (Colossians 1:27 LB).  I have a question I want to ask you. There is obviously something to believe and Someone to receive when you become a follower of Jesus Christ. My question is: have you received Him?

Dick Woodward, 15 May 2009

Dying Grace, Patience… and Peace

October 4, 2016

“Delight yourselves in the Lord. Yes, find your joy in Him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord. Don’t worry over anything whatever, but tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer. And the peace of God which transcends human understanding will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:4-7, J.B. Phillips)

When I was ill with an operation on my colon, my pastor, Dr. John Dunlap, came to visit me.  I had an infection. I was in the hospital 21 days just for that one procedure. I said to him, “John, if you’re here to tell me I have a malignancy, I can’t handle that today.”

He laughed and said, “Reverend, you’re not dying. And so you don’t need dying grace. If you needed dying grace, God would give you dying grace.”

A year later my dear pastor John had a malignancy. He said to me right away (I was there the day he found out), “Pray for me.” He was a big guy, but a big baby when it came to toothaches or anything like that. He had one of the worst malignancies the oncologist had ever seen, but all of us, we never saw such an example of dying grace as God gave our dear pastor. Dying grace. God will give you dying grace when you need it.  And dying grace, really, is a supernatural anointing of the Lord that makes it possible for us to accept it.  That’s what it is, really. An acceptance. That’s what Paul means by gentleness.

It’s like saying in another way, “Be patient.”  Patience, when you think vertically, is faith waiting. And there are many times in our walk with God where God gives us the fruit of the Spirit, patience, which is faith waiting.  God’s got to get you out before God can bring you in.  You’ve got to keep on going, so you can get through.  You’ve got to get right, so you can settle down.

… The Apostle Paul says, “Never forget the nearness of the Lord.” Think of what that meant to him in prison. When it became dangerous to be identified with him, he said in his very last letter, “No one stood with me.”  And yet, he adds, “Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me. The Lord is always with me.”

Dick Woodward, (Ben Lippen Retreat, 1979)

A Message for Control Freaks

September 30, 2016

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer …let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Have you ever heard someone confess, “I’m a control freak?” My response is: “Welcome to the human family!” The truth is we’re all control freaks.  Both Jesus and Paul taught that we should not be anxious.  What they meant was don’t worry.  They also taught us not to worry about the things we cannot control – like the height of our body.

Speaking as one control freak to another, the thing that really freaks us out is what we cannot control.  In what Alcoholics Anonymous calls the “Big Book,” there is an illustration with which all of us control freaks can resonate.  We think that life is a stage on which we are directing a play.  The people in our life are characters in that play.  As the play director we give them their scripts and their cues, but when they don’t respond to our direction, our frustration drives us into a bottle or some other addiction.

When I was a student I had a mentor who wrote a poem with these lines: “You can’t control the weather or rainy days, but you can control the emotional climate that surrounds you.  You can’t control the height your head will be from the sidewalk, but you can control the height of the contents of your head.”

After quite a few of those his punch line was, “Why worry about the things you cannot control? Accept the responsibility for the things that do depend on you.”

Follow the advice of Jesus and Paul and don’t worry about what you can’t control.

Dick Woodward, 20 February 2011

Sacred Individuality

September 27, 2016

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father…”  (Luke 16:17-18)

The dictionary defines self as “the uniqueness, the individuality of any given person, which makes them distinct from every other living person.” In all its forms “self” emphasizes the sacred individuality God intended for every human being.

Robert Lewis Stephenson wrote: “Soon or late, every person must sit down to a banquet of consequences.” In the parable of the prodigal son, the banquet of consequences the lost son sat down to was the slop he was feeding hogs in a hog pen owned by a Gentile. That was just about as low as a Jewish boy could sink in this life. (Luke 15:11-24)

In the hog pen the prodigal son made the decisions many people make while they are living in the hog pens of this world.  He decided that he was not a hog.  He may be in a hog pen. He may look, and even smell, like the hogs. He may wish he could eat the slop he was feeding the hogs. But he was not a hog. He was a son and he did not belong in a hog pen. He belonged in his father’s house. He therefore made the deliberate decision to leave the hog pen and return to his father’s house and his father’s love.

Jesus described the decision of the prodigal son this way: “when he came to himself…” He came back to his self when he decided to return to his father’s house and love where he could be in the process of perceiving, believing and becoming the person his father wanted him to be. He came to his self when he decided to reclaim the unique person his father wanted him to be that would make him distinct from every other living person.

Dick Woodward, from A Prescription for Your Self


Redeemed & Willing To Say So!

September 23, 2016

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy…” (Psalm 107:1-2)

Redemption means to get something back that has been lost.  It is similar in meaning to the word “rehabilitation” which essentially means “to invest again with dignity.”  Psalm 107 is a marvelous hymn of redemption.  Repeated at the end of each of the five stanzas is a refrain that those who have been redeemed by the Lord should step up and say so – gratefully giving thanks for the various ways in which we have been redeemed.

The psalmist profiles dimensions of redemption, ending each description with the charge that we thank the Lord for God’s goodness in redeeming us in this way.  God redeems us from our chaos when God finds us.  God then redeems us from our chains when God sets us free from our sins.

This is followed by the way God redeems us from our foolish and sinful choices.  The psalmist emphasizes our responsibility for bringing on the consequences of our sins.

The psalmist then describes the way God redeems us from our complacency by meeting us in our crises from which God redeems us when we are at our wits end and don’t know what to do.

Meditate on these levels of redemption.  Ask God to continuously redeem you in all these ways.  As you reflect on each individual dimension of redemption step up and join the redeemed of the Lord in grateful worship.

And say so…

Dick Woodward, 27 June 2012