In seasons of sadness, processing emotions can be complicated. As we declutter the soul, we sometimes stumble upon excess baggage, unmet expectations, even hidden motives we didn’t know where there; however, I also think part of the struggle concerns how we compartmentalize grief from its holy accompaniments.
For instance, many published works will tell you there’s joy to be found after sorrow, godly remorse, death, you name it. But filtered through the Scriptures, we find a different picture. More specifically, we don’t grieve to find joy but grieve with joy to find God and what He’s saying.
On the surface, this can seem like a paradox: How can a heart be at peace and rest in the midst of great pain?
Well, it depends on how your faith intersects its prepositions. If you believe you persevere to something good, be it a better outcome, a finish line, etc., chances are you’ll rush, perhaps force the virtue through coping mechanisms. Conversely, if you believe you persevere through something good, be it courage, humility, thanksgiving, and joy, chances are you’ll discover and uncover profound wisdoms once foreign.
When the Psalmist says “you have turned my mourning into dancing“, he’s not implying a complete substitution but embracing the two as co-existent. Per his next line – “You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness” – the implication is not an eradication of suffering but a reorientation to the Spirit of God upon Him. Accordingly, the man once burdened by his surroundings can now take delight amidst a lifting load given his focus in more vertical than horizontal.
This tells me two things:
Finding joy in grief starts by experiencing God on the road to recalibration.
Finding joy in grief allows us to walk in freedom and share what God is doing simultaneously.
Can grief be turned into joy (John 16:20)? Absolutely! However, rather than itemizing the two, consider the bridge of comfort in between as a path to the glory that is His and the victory that is yours. From there, keep the oil of jubilation (Isaiah 61:1-3) handy and distribute as needed. After all, even in death and turmoil, there’s a favorable year of the Lord to proclaim. Might as well keep dancing.
I’ll be honest: There’s a lot on my mind and chest right now.
Where to start, where to begin…
To be fair, I’m sure the same could be said about you. After the last year’s whirlwind, it makes sense to hope 2020 is true to its name: In focus and further distanced in the rear-view mirror.
Yet, as we embark on a fresh journey in this brave, new world, there’s one step we must take before the next. One step to fuel them all. That step…is to stop.
That’s right. Before we step into 2021, we must first stop and consider where we’ve been and where we’re…God is taking us. However, to do this in full, not only must we surrender our desire to change on our terms but be willing to pray for what we press into.
For instance, we can pray for wisdom and strength to be different, to be better…but unless we posture our hearts to receive from God, our expectations will not calibrate to His nature.
As such, I submit we enter into the hope of 2021 with the following three points in mind. Granted, there will be more we discuss in the coming months. For now, let’s start with this trio and see where our dialogue takes us.
Ready, set, let’s go…
Remember Your Aim
We are a people who tend to bite off more than we can chew. Our hearts may desire change but this doesn’t mean they desire what’s best and/or know the proper portions. Left to our own devices, we often crave the quickest road to recovery, reward, and large-scale transformation; however, as the Word attests, progress isn’t achieved by overcommitting to paths we plan but is accomplished through small steps we take with God each day (see Psalms 37:23, Proverbs 16:9; more on this in a moment).
As the Spirit confirmed in my heart last week, God’s best can’t always be measured by magnitude but can always be maximized by attitude. Accordingly, if you reframe your perspective to view change through this mindset, not only will you better scale your goals upfront but seize the strength to scale them when you confront.
Bottom line: Small and steady wins the race. Remember your aim is Jesus, not winning the world to Him. Consider your goals and invite the Lord to help you scale them. After all, you cannot grow if you do not yield and aim for purity in your maturity. As you pray into 2021, understand the road forward and onward is always one step at a time.
2. Delight in the Journey
In recent weeks, I’ve been reminded how central joy is to following Jesus. If we long to live as Christ, then we will take pleasure in what tethers us to His perfect will. In Scripture, we find several phrases that capture this reality…
“I know also, my God, that You test the heart and delight in uprightness and integrity. In the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things. So now with joy I have seen Your people who are present here, make their offerings willingly and freely to You.” ~ 1 Chronicles 29:17 (AMP)
“Finally, my fellow believers, continue to rejoice anddelight in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you. Therefore, my fellow believers, whom I love and long for, my delight and crown [my wreath of victory], in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” ~ Philippians 3:1; 4:1 (AMP)
“…nevertheless I am with you in spirit, delighted to see your good discipline [as you stand shoulder to shoulder and form a solid front] and to see the stability of your faith in Christ [your steadfast reliance on Him and your unwavering confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness].” ~ Colossians 2:5 (AMP)
…but perhaps the one that strikes me most candidly is: Delight in God’s journey.
Again, I go back to Psalms 37:23: “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord who takes delight in His journey” which fittingly aligns with Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way but the LORD establishes his steps.”
This tells me two things:
How God directs is meant to prompt us to His presence.
What God establishes is meant to be a source of contagious joy and awe.
Consider this flashback from two years ago…
Written January 13, 2019
So today I’m walkin’ to work basking in the joy of winter feeling like winter when out of the corner of my ear, I hear ‘Joy to the World’ playing from a nearby corner street music station. At first, I’m like, ‘December is over. No more Christmas music!’ But almost instantly I hear that still, small voice whispering, ‘But Cam. Why not repeat the sounding joy?’
Of course, what can I say to that? Notes and lyrics that seem out of place by cultural timelines should always be in place by daily surrender. Better put, there’s a reason why certain Christmas songs like, ‘Deck the Halls’ and ‘Joy to the World’ are the only ones that can cure Everly’s nocturnal cries. Seriously, Caeden will start singing his ‘Fa, la, la, la’s’…and even if it’s a few minutes, all is calm and bright in the world.
As you walk with God, receive the practical, prudent reminders of His goodness, peace, and joy even they momentarily disagree with the senses.
Now, I know this may seem frivolous against the backdrop of recent political/social tension; however, we must not downplay delighting in the simple and spontaneous. For in this day, we may feel like we’re walking on eggshells more than sunshine…like we’re sinking in the decay around us. But this doesn’t mean we can’t take pleasure and hold of God’s best or stand in awe of what He has and continually gives.
Especially in seasons of turmoil and transition, our call is to participate in the divine and inspire likewise. While it’s okay to desire change, individually and corporately, don’t let this distract you from pointing people to Jesus as you work, as you wait, and as you champion appointed causes for such a time as this.
Bottom line: As you consider your 2021 riskolutions, make sure to take joy in God’s purposes and declare thanksgiving into places of doubt and uncertainty. Even in difficult situations, remember God only allows us to encounter what He allows (Hebrews 2:18, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Corinthians 10:11-13). Whatever we face this year, know it doesn’t surprise God (Jeremiah 33:3) and He will provide a way before, for, and through us.
3. Persevere with Patience
No question, 2020 compelled many to higher levels of dependence with endurance and perseverance atop of the list. Yet, before we contrast 2020 to 2021, we should note endurance and perseverance are not the same things.
For example, endurance is staying the course when you’re tempted to give up; perseverance is leveling up when you’re tempted to get down. As I told LEGACYouth back in the day, endurance says ‘yes’; perseverance says ‘more’, but it all comes back to who we adore.
Consequently, while 2020 may have been a year of endurance and exposure for the church, I submit the pathway for 2021 is as follows: Perseverance, patience, perspective, and presence.
In other words, as we patiently await for the seas to calm, let’s persevere into God’s presence to gain His perspective on matters of culture, politics, and benevolence without yielding to churchspeak and hearsay. As the doxology of Jude reminds us…
“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Jude 1:17-25 (ESV)
Bottom line: As you endure with expectation and persevere in joy, cultivate intimacy. Don’t just engage the ways of God; engage God! Reference Him in what you can and can’t understand…when the waves of doubt cloud your mind. Embrace discovery through seeking and pondering. And dare to seek His footsteps and follow them to clarity.
The last day of 2020. What a ride, what a roller coaster.
Earlier this week, I posted the following on my Facebook page after some healthy reflections over the Christmas break…
As I consider 2021, two words come to mind: “Get up.”
In Scripture, we find good things happen when things that need to be put to rest…are put to rest. We see the phrase in Joshua 7 when God calls Joshua to consecrate His people to purge their idolatry and recalibrate their devotion. We see it during Paul’s conversion when God appoints him to serve as a minister (with authority) and leave his shame/deceptions behind. And we see it during healing testimonies like Mark 10:49 when a blind man takes heart, receives sight, and leaves his discouraging past behind. Even when Jesus is in Gethsemane, He charges His disciples with these words to help them pray and not fall into temptation. 🤔
In each case, a call to surrender, a call to faith, a call to action. Like the 12, you carry life-altering, disciple-making potential with the capacity to inspire change. But before you write off 2020 like a bad dream, dare to ask yourself, ‘Why am I sleeping?’ It may be uncomfortable (preaching to the choir here), but if freedom is an open door, repentance and faith-based endurance are the keys. All the more reason to seek God, lean into Jesus, and embrace movement¹ as you anticipate better things to come.
However, as I continue to ponder what’s ahead, I keep coming back to the same question: If we treat 2020 like a piñata (i.e. “I’m so glad this year is over”, “Worst year of my life”, “What a year to forget”, etc.), are we really setting ourselves to ‘level up’ in 2021?
Not to suggest people didn’t have it hard this past year. Surely some, if not most, of us lost loved ones, colleagues, jobs, even dreams once held dear.
My thought is: As we contend for ‘heaven on earth’ in 2021, let’s not discount the good of 2020 at the cost of confronting the bad (and ugly); rather, in our quests to move on, in our counters to revisionist history, let’s make sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. After all, it’s hard to be thankful for something you’re desperate to forget…
…which leads me to my key question for today: What’s your bottom line?
With respect to how you view 2020, how will you choose to remember it?
Exhausting, Chaotic. Disorienting?
If so, you’re not alone.
I know as a local Nashvillian, times have been particular rough the past ten months. From a devastating tornado ravaging our downtown to the COVID-19 pandemic to the Christmas Day bombing, 2020 has been a textbook year for social unrest and political unease.
No one in their right mind would draw up a year like this.
So what then? Do we continue hiding behind our false securities? Cursing to the wind how unholy our inconveniences are?
I mean…yes, there’s a right way to vent. As EMDR therapy has taught me this year, it’s wise to acknowledge raw emotions as opposed to instantly resisting them; however, what we do with them after we’ve come to terms makes all the difference. And I suppose that’s why I’m writing this: To make sure we are on the same page in our aerial processing of a year worthy of gratitude in how it’s made us corporately stronger.
Take it from a guy who onboards non-profits in their journey towards incorporation and IRS approval. As turbulent as this year has been, there’s been a rise in the versatility of charitable mission and benevolence such as the world has never seen. Can we just pause to thank God for blessing us with creativity, determination and the opportunity to work them through adversity in ways we never thought possible?
For as the Word says…
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12). After [he has] suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called him to his eternal glory in Christ, will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish [him] (1 Peter 5:10).” Therefore, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
As for my bottom line, my aim is to step into 2021 the same way I’m leaving 2020: Thankful, humble, faithful, and aware that despite the setbacks, we are a people reset, a body united, and a collection of diverse perspectives working together for greater goods.
No rose-colored lens. No wishful thinking. Simply hopeful expectations in my heart. Simply Jesus.
That’s all we can be and hope for as we press on in His name…together. Now and forever.
As for what tomorrow brings, all I know is for all the chaos and false doctrines, “…greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). I may not agree with you or even the leaders I voted for two months ago. But you better believe, these hands are going reach further next year than they ever have before. How that looks, I can’t say. But I do know if we do this together, the unity in community we crave will happen. One way or another. Why not dare to dream big and be faithful in the small in the days, weeks, and months ahead?
Even if the despair is stubborn, even if your sky is falling, know we’ll be here rooting for you every step of the way.
~ Cameron & Lyssah Fry
For many this will be in the form of discovery/recovery shaking. While there may be some aftershocks in 2021, eyes on the prize I believe the gains of strength through reconciliation and restoration will far outweigh (if not, accommodate) the pains.
Time to deck the halls, throw cares away, and shake up the hap…ahhh…who I am kidding. After a year like 2020, after the two years in one the past nine month have been, Christmas just doesn’t feel right. Not to suggest there’s anything wrong being excited about annual traditions happening virtually in more subdued fashion. It’s just that…outside of Elvis, Bono, and Frank Loesser, this December has been hard to appreciate. Call it the fear of being blue with or without you ’cause baby it’s covid outside.
Yeah, yeah…I know that was bad. But in all seriously, it’s true. If it’s the most wonderful time of the year, why does the wonder feel so far off? Is it the fatigue factor, the mountain of forgetful memories in the back of our minds? Maybe the hesitancy to hope for holy nights to invade?
Whatever, wherever, however, the struggle, truth is there’s still plenty of reason to believe in this season. And while one post can only go so far, my hope is these three advent insights will encourage you in your anticipation for Christmas and the new year to come.
As always, let’s dive in…
After rewatching ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ with my kids a few days ago, I find it interesting how Lucy, Charlie Brown’s nemesis, is the one who invites him to direct the school’s Christmas play. For most, the climax of the episode is Linus’s telling of the Christmas story (released blanket and all); however, it’s his sister, one of the most iconic animated bullies of all-time, who allows Charlie Brown to set the stage for this happen. Because Charlie Brown said ‘yes’ to Lucy’s invitation (and ‘no’ to fear by default), not only did he position himself to wrestle through weakness but aligned himself to ask one of the most important questions this side of heaven: “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?“
As the story goes, Charlie Brown ends up discovering the true meaning of Christmas thanks to the tag-teaming efforts of Linus and Lucy; however, it still took a community of friends to help him arrive.
Accordingly, if you’re feeling alone, perhaps intimidated by a specific person/situation or overwhelmed by a bombardment of anxieties, consider God’s invitation for growth and discovery this season may very well come from someone you least expect. You don’t have to understand the timeline or the characters involved. You don’t have to make sense of your surroundings. Just lean into Jesus as you love unconditionally and give additionally. After all, to piggy-back off Linus, that’s what Christmas is all about.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” ~ Galatians 4:4-7
2. As Galatians 4 states, Jesus was born under the law to establish the freedom we were to enter into. The essence of Immanuel is rooted in this reality. Through the Incarnation, Jesus matured in holiness under the law so we could mature in His likeness within our new creation identity. Had Jesus not been born under the law, the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5) would have been compromised given Christ had to model the same identity through the fullness of time required for salvation, justification, and sanctification. Additionally, Jesus could not have paid our price, set the captives free on Holy Saturday, and secured our sonship if His entry point was above the law.
Think of this way: Jesus being born under the law laid a foundation for our salvation, freedom, and accordingly our ability to delight in suffering. Because Jesus faithfully endured AND delighted in suffering from ministry to Cross, we can likewise embrace the thorns in our own lives as we lean on Him. As we will discuss in future posts, there’s powerful symbolism and symmetry to how this relates to our new creation identity (i.e. being daily raised with Christ) and how it applies to the marketplace. For now, consider this a teaser for future January/February content.
3. Jesus being born under the law not only helps us grasp its necessity but reminds us to humbly honor appointed authorities, even ones we don’t agree with. Like today, political chaos and social unrest were backdrop realities Christ entered into; still God’s hand was steady and ever moving. This brings the idea of delighting in suffering full circle as we trust God through the temptation of fear into postures of holy expectation. Especially in this season, if we’re to celebrate our redemption as children of God, we must first acknowledge our helplessness in light of Christ’s sacrifice and desire to be forever Immanuel to us. Only then we can fathom the manger through the crown and cross He bore.
Think of this way: While some would say Bethlehem didn’t make sense as a landing spot for a Lord, it made perfect sense for a Savior surrendered to His Father’s will…born under the law. Through weakness Christ entered the world but this was not detached from yieldedness and surrender.
For instance, one can only imagine the pain Mary felt as she labored through greater discomfort and uncertainty. Trudging along in desperation, she likely expressed frustration, perhaps vented her doubts. Still, her soul kept magnifying the Lord. Even when the habitation of our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) was unknown, Mary kept it simple:
Bottom line: Just as the stars aligned for salvation’s conception, so too can you align to Christ this Christmas through fearless intimacy knowing ‘Abba Father’ is on your side.
‘Til next time, may you know the hope that is yours and the breakthrough that will be yours this Christmas season.
After discussing two ways we can vocationally abide in Christ in my last post, I want to conclude with one final thought…
…because we are in Christ, we have the mind of Christ and with it, we can see the Cross as an opportunity to go weak into Jesus.
As mentioned in ‘part 1‘, the Cross not only captures total weakness but is a way of life we approach God and minister to others. By daily recognizing our helplessness in light of Christ’s sufficiency, we engage our ‘new creation’ identity (2 Corinthians 5:17) and salvation through surrender (i.e. going weak into Jesus with delight and humility).
Unfortunately, remembering our ‘new creation’ identity in the heat of hustle isn’t always easy. While some may struggle to understand daily dying and rising with Christ, for most of us, the crux comes down to self-effort and independent thinking.
For instance, when we make a mistake at work, the temptation is to fix the problem before we invite God into the situation. Granted, reconciling errors is an important part of any job; however, as marketplace ministers, we must understand there’s a divine order for our faith and reliance to follow.
If our heart is to serve the Lord, then we can know the way to best serve our colleagues and clients is to focus on Jesus as we embrace our weakness. In doing this, we accept the fact we are loved by God as new creations with a purpose beyond perfection. Again, conflicts and miscues come and go but the source of faith is eternal.
Think of it this way: The Cross, as a picture of total weakness, was the plan from the beginning. Accordingly, we can find peace knowing God designed dependence to be a lifeline in our relational pursuit of Him. To the secular world, dependence is weakness, the sign of our frailty, but in God’s eyes, dependence is a highway of intimacy and discovery.
Practically, this can manifest several ways at work. A classic example involves our response to fear and anxiety. When we encounter gossip, false accusation and/or neglect, our default is often centered in retaliation or withdrawal as opposed to yielding in surrender with praise and petition. Yet, as our faith compels us, anytime we feel overwhelmed, we can see the pain and discomfort as opportunities to press into Jesus.
When we feel angry about subordinates or teammates not committing their all, we commit the frustration to Jesus and the need for immediate resolution. Remember peace is not simply an overflow of wisdom but the way we trust God when we’re struggling to connect, relate, or understand.
If it helps, consider how Paul relished the thorn. In the same way the thorn became his icon of dependence, so too it can be our symbol of savor for Jesus as we yield and surrender. As for how we do this at work, I submit we follow a similar pathway:
As we depend on God by yielding to the Spirit and acknowledging our helplessness, we can…
Surrender our struggle by receiving grace in place of fear and our entitlement to make sense of our surroundings.
Remember the battles we fight are not against flesh and blood but of principalities of darkness (Ephesians 6:12).
Approach suffering not only as a way we engage God’s Kingdom but as the core to our vocational identity (Hebrews 5:8).
Enter into His courts with praise/gratitude knowing we’re called as faithful stewards and partakers of God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
Respond to Jesus in weakness through prayer, petition, obedience.
Walk in humility knowing Christ lives His dependence to the Spirit through us (Isaiah 11:1-5).
Tackle conflicts with confidence knowing it’s not on us to overcome.
Abide in intimacy through daily dying/rising with Christ (i.e. calibrating to the Cross).
View dependence as a way we trust God for healthy working relationships and perpetuate peace even when we don’t feel it.
Perceive the future with expectancy knowing God will transform our hearts through the renewing of our minds.
Obey with joy knowing as we worship through weakness, our attitudes are shaped in peace by the same power that renews/transforms the minds of Christ we already have.
As Paul declared in Galatians 2:20, we don’t rely in our strength but yield to Christ who lives in us. Therefore, when the work gets tough, when the times get rough, dare to see your inward groans as worship unto Jesus. If suffering is the catalyst to embracing weakness and embracing weakness the key to pressing into God, then it makes sense why we can boast in God’s sufficiency. To live as Kingdom influencers at work, we must remember our success is not about what we accomplish each week but what we gain going weak into Jesus.
Bottom line: Since we have the mind of Christ, we can experience breakthrough at work by the way we depend on Him. In times of strength, we honor God by acknowledging the good we contribute is because of Him; in times of weakness, we honor God by delighting in what we can’t do apart from Him. After all, when we work with the mind of Christ applied, not only can we taste communion with Jesus in challenging circumstances but embrace weakness as both the way we surrender to the Cross and the way we relate and endure as new creations.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I encourage you, friends, to let your thorn be a boost to Jesus. Don’t just press through at work but press in. Don’t just surrender on the go, but draw near and be still. After all, teachable hearts make preachable moments and you, brothers, are testaments to this truth.
Cover photo creds: Kirkland Baptist Church; videos courtesy of Steve Fry‘s Reset series @ The Gate