Choosing Joy over Happiness By Neeley

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The sky was the color of the sea, and I sat beside my Dad on the stone steps of a city building. Street vendors packed up for the day and a street band played their violins and sang, music floating through the streets as if thin fog. A weight was on my chest, wanting to burst from within me. It was a weight of extreme sorrow, yet I was not sad nor angry nor upset. It was a weight of intense contentment, yet not of fickle happiness.

We had traveled all this way to share the Gospel, yet in this foreign city so many that surrounded me were deprived of all ultimate truth. We would leave in the morning and most people would never know my voice or hear my story. Yet in the over welcoming waters, I saw a glistening above. My voice would not save them, no. There was something greater, that which left me an emotion I had not known before.

It was Joy, the purest of forms; it was a feeling of being completely surrendered to something other than my soul and I felt wrecked down to every ounce of blood pumped throughout me, yet it was of the most beautiful cleansing relief that anything could ever be more precious.

In that moment, all I previously longed for in vain seemed gone. The plans my hands had scribbled of future homes or of a life of contentment were so far out, washed away in the sea. I knew happiness, although perhaps precious, was not what I was called to long for in this life. No, this Joy was what I knew my heart had always meant to be one with, yet never seen face-to-face. On that mission trip, and on all the mission fields my feet would wander towards, I would never want to choose what I now see as happiness or selfish fulfillment. I could no longer simply want that.

God does not call us to be happy; he does not set us on this earth to find success and happiness in the eyes of men or to pursue missions out of the pursuit of oneself. A man very well may be happy and unaware that he is diving head-first into destruction. No, instead, God calls us to be Holy. He calls us to be like Him, grief-stricken, starving in the dessert, as our eyes are not blinded by city lights but open to see the country stars and know God and emotion as he intended. He calls us to be like Abraham, and to look to the stars to understand our promises, not our earthly circumstances. He calls us to be tired, worn to bits, voice-shaky, and messy, yet absolutely full of Joy.

Mission trips are my sweet soul-satisfying corner from the sweet anticipation and planning to the feeling of taking off in the plane, thinking to yourself, “Is this real?” to the first step in a new place to the sweet memories that pile quickly to the too-soon goodbyes and nostalgia. But what I didn’t understand when I was fifteen and before those city steps was that mission trips couldn’t be my happy spot, nor should I waste my time finding a happy spot on earth. Life was going to take so many different twists and turns, and call me to other countries and to tell other stories. Even recently, in preparing for a trip that I’ve had my heart set on for years, I’ve been wrecked with sorrow of one of my dear friend’s, who originally planned on also going, experiencing the news his Father isn’t going to live much longer. I don’t think it’s possible to convey in words what the particular family means to our Church family and how much sorrow our team is experiencing. Yet, I’ve never in my life seen God so clear, as his calling in leaving our city is difficult. Watching my friends go through this trial has given me things I will carry into eternity. Our Redeemer’s love is too complicated for a pen to tell and too wonderful in conquering past the depths of hell, and this love works in ways we cannot comprehend. His call is not always the way we plan, but the Lord is glorified in my friend and his family going through their suffering and the Lord is glorified in us leaving to complete the mission we are called to do. In the words of my friend, “Yet in all of this, God is Holy.” In preparing to leave for this trip, I am not only excited: I am humbled.

And above all, I am filled with Joy. For there is Joy in every crook and cranny of this life, from the death bed to the words and hearts that will change lives on the mission field. As spoken in Psalm 138:8, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” Wherever the mission field he might call me to, wrecked and reckless, for the rest of my days.

In upcoming times, I will sit on the steps of a city I know well and reflect on the Joy of the Lord in bringing me back to that country. In days I do not know yet, I will sit on the steps of buildings in cities I don’t yet know and reflect on the Joy of the Lord in opening my heart to mysteries that it doesn’t yet even guess. One day, I will be in the country of the Lord, knowing my story was told in full, and perhaps the sky of heaven will a look a bit like the color of the sea and I will be overwhelmed by every ounce of Joy beyond earthly imagination and I will think of being fifteen, feeling those precious thunders of my heart for the first time, completely and utterly lost in perfect Joy.

Neeley

Neeley Moore is a writer, photographer, and disciple.  Her heart is for the mission field and creating art to tell stories through her photos and writings. She is currently finishing up her first novel and studying English Literature at The University of Tennessee.

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Hands Held High

hands held high About a week into my classes this summer I was wondering why the information was flying past me faster than the words flying off the text book pages into my eye sockets. I hadn’t realized that summer classes at my school were now shortened to 4 weeks instead of 6 weeks. I now know this to be true and am unsure if even knowing this beforehand would have helped any. I mean I did alright and got better acquainted with the topics of business law and financial analysis but what I learned that could have helped me was not something from the class room or piles of notes. This substantially more important revelation was something completely unrelated to school but still could not have been experienced without the streams of information accelerating right past me.

As many of you may know, my girlfriend Johanna spent a few weeks in Alaska doing missions work recently, which also happened to be the time I was taking these courses. The separation made me more dependent upon prayer in our relationship since I couldn’t physically be present to listen or help her with whatever she might need. This combination of a dramatically increased work load and an equally dramatic increase of time in prayer really allowed God to show me so much more of how He intends for us to overcome our personal struggles and turn over our control to Him.

Before now, I had always thought of the idea of giving God control and trusting Him with everything as a very good excuse to do nothing and be lazy. That people just hoping for a miracle were doing themselves a disfavor by not doing their part in God’s work. This all changed for me when 2 weeks into the summer session I just started feeling hopeless with my studies and helpless in being there for Johanna. I kept trying to find ways of motivating myself and to be able to get things done. I didn’t realize it at the time but Johanna was going through some deep spiritual challenges on the missions field and I just finally broke down and felt like I had to pray. Pray for her safety, my sanity as well as my grades, along for deliverance from every temptation that was being thrown at me at the time.

Then it just happened, I had the vivid image of Moses standing on the hill as Israel battled with Amalek. In Exodus, it tells that he raised his hands and that while he did, Israel would be winning the battle. However, when he brought his hands down to rest Amalek would then gain the upper hand. This clear image told me everything of how I was to pursue God’s deliverance in my time of hardship.

God wanted me to give him my burdens and my struggles and all my needs but it wasn’t to be an easy or a lazy act in any way. I had to constantly be in a spirit of adoration and of giving of myself for there to be any change. Like a stretch which your body may be unable to perform but with a constant reach and a giving up of your strength by consciously relaxing you can attain the position. Just as in the New Testament when Jesus tells us to pick up our cross daily to follow Him. As simple as this thought may seem it is the greatest challenge in which to partake.

In the moment of this realization, I found myself desperately wanting to give up my own thoughts for His. I wanted to do away with my own thoughts of what I should be doing or what I could be doing better or even feeling bad for being tempted. I just wanted to put these thoughts aside and know that the moment was here and now and only what God had given to me in this moment was of any importance. I didn’t have to worry about the grade I was going to get or how I wish I could have done something differently. No, there was only Jesus and I and getting to experience His point of view of the moment.

Now all my problems didn’t just go away. I still had to put in all my hours of study time and I still had to clock in at work and do my job. The beauty of it all though was that I didn’t have to worry about rushing through my text book to get to the next page because I knew the page I was on was the most important. I didn’t have strong temptations to walk from God’s path because I was too busy enjoying the moment and not needing excitement in the next moment. I didn’t make the grades I really wanted and I still had to wait for Johanna to get back home but I didn’t need to worry about this anymore. It all still took a great deal of self-sacrifice and a giving up of myself in exchange for the mind of Christ but putting my arms down and resting from worship is definitely no way to win in the battle against my weakness.

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Of Truth, Travel, and Trust

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Travel is the best thing that has ever happened to me. And here’s where all my friends groan because they are probably sick of hearing me talk about it. It’s true! Once you get me started, I may never stop.

As I’m in the middle of planning a couple trips, it has me thinking on why exactly I am such a huge traveling advocate. The truth is, traveling has changed me in ways I never expected. As I have toured new places over the past couple years, I have been caught breathless, humbled, and challenged by everything I saw. And more importantly, traveling has truly defined my relationship with Jesus. Sound a little cheesy? Maybe, but keep reading.

Until 2014, I had never been out of the country, growing up in small town Oklahoma. My life was comfortable, easy, secure. I stayed safe within my bubble, keeping close to what was old and familiar. Then suddenly I found myself on an airplane, alone, flying across the ocean to spend three months in England with people I had never met. Along with the excitement and adrenaline, I was nervous. Everything was new. Everything was unknown. I had never traveled alone, much less never crossed the US border. My comfort zone was stripped away, leaving me vulnerable and slightly overwhelmed. I had no clue what I was doing. My family was not there for me to fall back on or look to for guidance and protection. It was just me.

And that’s when I truly realized for the first time it wasn’t just me. It had never been just me. Even though I had been a Christian for many years, the Lord used that daunting experience to show me what fully trusting Him really looked like. That was the first time I put my everything into His hands, trusting Him alone to protect and guide me. I did not lean on my strength, but His, and it was the most freedom and joy I had ever felt.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of my trip was a whirlwind of learning and growing as a follower of Christ. With my familiar taken away from me, everything was new and raw and fresh, like I was starting over and experiencing God for the first time. I had never before questioned what I believed or why I believed it, but I was diving deep into God’s word and in prayer, hungry to know Him. Throughout those three months, I grew closer and closer to Jesus, learning exactly why I believed in Him and why I loved Him. I used to be a follower, going along with whatever people said, too conscious of what they thought of me to voice my opinion. Not anymore. I wanted to know Jesus for myself. I wanted to know why I called Him Lord. I wanted to own what I claimed.

Every traveling experience since my first trip has been a beautiful continuation of the work God began in my heart. With every new city I see, every new person I meet, every new culture I live in, I am learning more about the world, about people, and about God. As I walk through ancient churches and stand on mountaintops and overlook the sea, there are moments I am truly struck breathless by the beauty before me. The greatness of my God is clear and staggering. Traveling is how Jesus teaches me, humbles me, and emboldens me.

Traveling is the best thing I’ve ever done, and I will keep exploring the rest of my life. But the reason I love it so much is because of how the Lord uses it to change me. He can use anything to change us and draw us to Himself. For me, it was traveling. But for you? Maybe your journey of knowing Jesus looks completely different. I will always encourage people to travel, because I can’t help but think God will use it to profoundly affect them as much as He did me. But however the Lord chooses to reach you and change your life, don’t resist. Don’t turn back just because it looks scary. Don’t shy away from trusting Him. Learn. Grow. Listen to what He has to teach you. Be amazed, be breathless, and be changed.

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The Wilderness Road

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His name is Thomas.

He is a simple, first-century Jew. Dark-skinned, bearded, probably poor like the other eleven followers of this Teacher named Jesus. And his Teacher is dead. Executed on a cross, buried in a tomb three days ago. He’s gone.

Except Thomas’s best friends, the men he’s lived with for three years, are swearing Jesus is alive, that somehow even death can’t kill Him. “We’ve SEEN Him!” they say.

And Thomas wants to believe it, more than anything he’s ever wanted in his life. But he can’t. The questions are too many and too loud, and it’s too good to be true, like a heat-mirage of a lake appearing to someone lost in the desert. So Thomas insists, no, no, he won’t—can’t–believe unless Jesus shows up, real enough for Thomas to touch His scars.

A few days pass and the disciples gather for a meal in their locked hideout. No one sees it happen, but one moment they’re alone, and the next moment Jesus is there, fixing His eyes on Thomas. Holding out two living, scarred hands, He says, “Put your finger here…reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

And Thomas, falling to his knees, believes.

However, he’s known to history as Doubting Thomas—a negative title, like Lazy Thomas or Cheating Thomas—when a better name, really, would be Human Thomas.  Few things are more universal to the Christian (and human) experience than doubt. But most of us are uncomfortable with doubting. In a sad irony, the church today is sometimes friendlier to pride, selfishness, materialism, hypocrisy and twisted doctrine than it is to doubt.

We run away from admitting serious questions: about God’s character, about the way our salvation works, about the questions the Bible doesn’t answer. Why? Are we afraid of the answers? Are we afraid that there aren’t answers? Do we just not want to admit to being “weak”?

I don’t know the answer, but there’s an interesting connection the Bible seems to make between times of doubt and being in a wilderness (literal and figurative). Which makes sense, because the wilderness is bleak and empty. It’s a place that feels like exile. Like you’re removed from the rest of humanity and green hills and blue skies are just a dream too good to be true.

And yet the wilderness can be an incredible opportunity for learning and growth. Every life spent walking towards Jesus will have to take the road through doubt and questions, again and again. So a few things to hang onto when you find yourself walking that road:

Be honest about doubting.

It’s crucial to be open about doubts, both on our own and with the family of believers, because bringing things into the light weakens the Enemy’s power. Satan is at his best when our struggles are kept secret in the dark.

Two lies that Satan likes to use against us are firstly, that we’re alone in our doubts. After all, “good” Christians are rock-solid in their faith at all times and we are the only believer in 2000 years who just can’t get it together, right? Nope. Jude 1:22 says “have mercy on those who doubt,” and it turns out, that’s all of us.  Ask your friends, your parents, your pastors.  Google “Christians who doubted” and watch the long list of impressive names like Mother Teresa, Augustine, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon pop up. The Christian road will lead you to the wilderness at some point. We’re a community of doubters whether we admit it or not, so why not admit and help each other?

The second lie is that doubt is a failure of faith. This is where it’s important to understand the difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt questions God. Unbelief rejects Him.  In a lovely paradox, honest doubt is actually an expression of faith, because if we bring our doubts fearlessly to God, we are trusting that He is enough to answer them.

Put in the time and effort to work through your doubts.

Throughout the Bible, God uses the wilderness as a place of refining for His children, something like a spiritual power wash where you shed the dirt and grime in your soul.  The goal is to come out cleaner and stronger. So doubt is a problem only if we decide to stay there.

Tim Keller writes, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”

Just as honest doubt is an expression of faith, honest doubt is also an opportunity to build our faith. So put in the hard work. Soak yourself in Scripture and prayer. Study theology, science, archaeology, ethics. Find wise Christians—whether it’s your nextdoor neighbor or an early church father—and learn from them. Use all your God-given intellect to think and search for truth. Build your house of faith, strong enough that you can both withstand the storms and invite the skeptics inside.

And most importantly, understand that often the Answer we need isn’t the answer we ask for.

Along with the biblical pattern of people walking through the wilderness is a pattern of God’s response to their doubt. And His response, over and over, is that He comes to meet them.

Moses wanders the Sinai desert for decades until one day a flaming bush appears in his path. Jacob spends all night wrestling with an “angel” until the sun rises and he realizes Who he’s been tussling with. Job demands an answer for his suffering and “out of a whirlwind” God addresses him directly (for four chapters!). Elijah, running for his life with his country falling apart, is told by God to wait on a mountaintop for Him—and He comes in a whisper.

There must’ve been so many things they wanted to ask. And I can only imagine the questions buzzing in Thomas’s brain. “How did You rise from the dead? What does this mean? What about that giant stone that was blocking the tomb? Did You just walk THROUGH the wall, Lord!?”

And Jesus holds out His scarred hands and provides no answers, only Himself.

Often, that is the answer.

When a little kid wonders if they’re safe, if there’s a monster outside, and their parents cuddle them tight, that doesn’t answer the question. The kid still doesn’t know whether the monster’s outside or not. But the presence of Mom or Dad is enough to make their child feel safe.

After all, ultimately our doubts aren’t really uncertainties about how or why God does things but who He is. At the root of those questions is a burning need to know that He is real, He is loving, He is just, He is all-powerful. Because we live in an ugly world, and we’re scared that either He’s too good to be true, or He isn’t actually good at all.

So Moses says “How do I do this?” and the burning bush answers “I am.”  Job screams “why?” at the sky. And the sky opens and a voice says “Who are you, and who am I?” Elijah stands with his grief and fear on the mountain, and hears that still small voice.

One of my all-time favorite books is C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, about a woman named Orual who fights a lifelong battle against the God of her world and His perceived injustices against her.  At the end of her life, Orual writes: “I ended my first book with the words ‘no answer.’ I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”

Thomas says it more simply, “My Lord and my God!”

We can trust absolutely that our doubts and questions will never truly go unanswered. Because if we search, we’ll find Him, the Answer beyond words.

So be Elijah and climb the mountain wanting to hear what He sounds like. Be Jacob and wrestle with God till the daylight comes.  Be Moses, stuttering questions in the desert. Be Thomas, asking to see his Lord. Walk your wilderness road of doubt bravely and with an open heart, knowing that one day a bush will catch fire, a whisper will come through the wind, and He will be there.

 

 

 

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Prepare To Die

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Do you know what it feels like to have no way to describe how happy you are as you face challenges? Have you ever been so in love with something that suddenly the work, lack of sleep, and bending over backwards to make things possible are all things that you no longer even give thought to because you are THAT passionate about it? As you trade sleep for pure exhaustion and set the alarm earlier then ever in the morning it draws a surprising smile upon waking. Nothing but peace remains when you think about being thrown a curve ball in your endeavor. Anything could happen. Finances could fall apart, the people working / adventuring with you could run with you all the way, or they could leave you to do the work alone demanding you work harder then you have ever worked. Your timelines could be completely destroyed by unexpected events. But when you think about these things it riles determination! You can feel it in your chest! No fear. Why? Because this is God given. Some may say its a “calling”. But what you know is it owns your heart and plants an indescribable restfulness in the pit of your stomach. Patience becomes abundant. Your peace becomes unbreakable. Again you may be asking why? Because for this thing you are ready to give your lifetime and for this thing you are passionately prepared to die. . .
How deep does your passion flow in your veins? How far are you willing to go for it? When I work for the cause of orphans there is nothing that can discourage me from it. And I mean NOTHING. It’s not normal. By most human standards I should have given up by now. When my sister trains horses there is nothing that can do justice to describe all that this encircles and encompasses for her. No amount of difficulty can make her abandon this instinctual and spiritual post. It’s a God passion. As we hold nothing back it produces a purpose that is truly everything we need. Even more then life itself. . . for it is more life to live with everything you’ve got through a thousand storms then to live with timidity and keep safe from the lightening. I pray we all prepare with a smile to dance in the rain in the midst of the lightening strikes. Is not the creator of each strike the love of our lives? That is the root of my passion’s confidence.
In life we face things everyday. Things that break our hearts, make us angry, make us laugh ever so hard. Things that make us want to never forget and sometimes even things that make us go back and double check our own thoughts . There is no way to stop being human. As we run after our passions we have to allow ourselves feel and know that passion will bring many things to the plate. Knowing who you are and what you were born for will not make you superman or invincible but I think what happens is something much better. It is the realization that you are going to fall and have to drag yourself back up, you are going to have seasons of invigorating success and you are also going to have seasons of scraping the bottom of the barrel barely making it and THAT isn’t scary anymore. There is a bravery born within the acceptance of great sacrifice. But its not just acceptance, it goes farther than that, you have to actually EXPECT and WELCOME difficulties.
When you only except something it becomes easy get very complacent about that thing or you might find yourself thinking “I don’t have any other option so I’m just excepting this thing because of that…”. How much are we hurting our own passion when we do that? What we should really be doing is looking at everything that is going to be produced by that difficulty. How are you going to be made better by it? Difficulty that comes your way is not only going to prepare you for greater and more challenging things in your future but it is also asking you a very important question. Is it all worth it? If you are in your God given passion then the answer is absolutely yes! The Bible says weeping may endure in the night but joy comes in the morning. When you are living your God passion then just the knowledge of that joy that’s on its way can bring you rest, patience, and peace within the moment of pain. It sounds crazy but you can truly be in the very middle of chaos or weeping and still feel a flicker of joy deep down within that will not be put out because you know something very important: difficulties are your friend making you better and they are followed by joy.

Can we redefine what is good? Can we look at pain and hardship and sacrifice as something to smile at each other about?, Celebrate?, and Welcome? Because for what drives us, we are prepared to fight for it with no reserve and die for it. Let me re-assure you I haven’t lost my mind! . . .You see when I look at most people around me, especially in the church I watch them come to each other with difficulties and prayer requests and the first reaction is almost always that the person being told about the issue shows sympathy for the person facing the issue. I am actually surprised that this has become the norm and that this is what we expect and want from each other.

As followers of Christ the person we have to look up to for an example was a crisis magnet!(Jesus) and those around him(disciples) did not feel bad for him, but rather they were all prepared and waiting to address such things with brave hearts, fearlessness and teachable spirits. This is what they were made for!, it was their driving passion. They were willing to die for it. I personally imagine them to always have been on the edge of there seats awaiting the beckoning call of challenges being brought to Jesus as well as each other. Rather then wanting to give and receive sympathy upon these things arising I can see them instead smiling because they knew this was the very reason they were placed on this earth. This is the first picture of the beauty of being ready for anything that I ever found myself recognizing. If our passion is of God we must prepare to die for it. When you are prepared to die for something it suddenly becomes nearly impossible for anything to discourage you. Arise smiling in the face of an uphill fight! You can be a fire that cannot be put out. Like the Greek fire that grows larger with every attempt of water dousing it. Like a growing plant that reaps nutrition every time dirt is thrown on it. With confident passion go everywhere knowing all your steps are always going to be God’s territory no matter what happens.

Great and mighty things come from the knowledge that death has lost its sting.
Great things come when you passionately prepare to die for your purpose.

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