Sapphire Sky

May 17, 2020

Choosing Joy

Filed under: encouragement, Life!, love, marriage and family, praise — Christ Ranger @ 9:32 pm

Shout for Joy the Lord all the earth! Ps. 100

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Luke 2:10

I’ve always appreciated joyful people. They’re rare. People who regularly brighten a conversation, a room, a relationship. Joyful people are good to be around. We can all be joyful and encouraging at times, but I find it just as easy to be negative or simply apathetic or detached.  I don’t consider myself gloomy, but I also do not consider myself joyful.

God has been pricking my conscience the past year in this regard.  My lack of joy should bother me.

Is joy the most overlooked and underappreciated attribute and command of God? It’s so easy to turn God into a series of shall’s and shall nots, rules and ceremonies.  For me, it’s often easier to focus on the Passion of the Christ and His suffering than on the joy of His resurrection and what that portends for our future.  Really, though, it’s easier yet to focus on the things of this world which often grab the attentions of my heart.  The continual tyrannies of the moment seem designed to sap my strength and enthusiasm.  But when I think of what God wants from me, I think of communion with him, love, justice, grace, patience, charity, stewardship … .

But joy?  Over the years, I read the verses about joy, but not really.  My heart did not hear.

I never gave joy much thought, until the past six months.  In response to several specific prayer requests, God just kept bringing it up in my life, over and over again.  Multiple lessons in places far and wide. Even before the whole Covid19 debacle, God laid it on me repeatedly that joy is a choice, a choice God commands, like love. The Covid19 “events” have been an invitation to depression and anxiety. It is not a time for feeling joy.  These lessons in joy stand in contrast to circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Yet, First Century Rome was not a time or place for Christ followers to feel joy.  Prison, beatings, being human torches in Nero’s garden … .  And yet, there’s Paul voice, coming from a Roman prison in the midst of such misery, as he awaits his own execution: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.. Phil. 4:4.  In the midst of true hardship, real deprivation and facing imminent death – rejoice, again I encourage you – REJOICE!

Like love, joy is both a feeling and a choice.  Sometimes it comes naturally, but for most of us, myself included, joy is not a natural, regular feeling.  It’s not that I don’t like joy, it’s just I’m satisfied with far less than true joy.  Comfort, security and routine suit me just fine, thank you.  C.S. Lewis captured it well when he said, “We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.  We are far too easily pleased.”

Joy is more than an antidote to depression.  Joy should be more than an occasional experience.  Like love, however, joy must be chosen, pursued and cultivated.  I recently shared with a group of dear brothers what God has been teaching me in this regard over the past several months, and a brother asked me to reduce it to writing to share.  So, here’s where I am and what God has me working on.

First, big hat tip acknowledgment.  My brother Pastor Travis gave a sermon during the great quarantine/house arrest that we watched on Facebook.  In fact, it was the first sermon by Travis that I’d been able to watch for at least a year.  It was on how to choose joy, which was one more of many many not subtle lessons on this topic from God. Perhaps because we have genetically similar brains, I liked his organization of the topic. So, the first three points are slavishly taken from Travis, however, not necessarily the subpoints (I only wrote down the three sermon points in my notes!).

FIRST and FOREMOST: CHOOSE GOD

Brother Lawrence reminds us in Practicing His Presence, “Our only business is to love and delight ourselves in God.”

God is the foundation of existence, of truth, and of meaning.  Without Him, we are afloat in a meaningless practically infinite void of space – both physically and morally.  Without God, we are no more than our experiences, for better or worse. Curiously assembled molecules on a blue dot in the middle of an empty, cold expanse. As Jesus taught, without Him, our castles are built on shifting sand.

God is our hope for eternity.  God gives us grace, when our nature warrants judgment. God gives us himself, the Spirit, for power and the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Gal. 5:22.  God is love.  He is never changing.  He authored our lives, our salvation, and our sanctification.  And gives us all of this and more, for free, as His gift.  All of which should lead us to the second point.

SECOND as a result of choosing God: CHOOSE WORSHIP

“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Ps. 28:7

God revealed himself to us in time, and those revelations are recorded in Scripture.  As the last paragraph indicates, God warrants infinite worship.  He is truly Awesome. “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Heb. 12:28-29.

If you do nothing else all day to nourish your spirit, praise God.  Praise Him for who he is. Praise Him for what he’s done and what he’s promised to do.  Praise Him for the creation around you.  Praise Him for making you and putting breath in your lungs and thoughts in your head. Praise Him for the people he’s put in your life, even the ones you might not be fond of.

Turns out that worship is also FUN, especially when done with others and to music.  Indeed, even God sings! Zeph. 3:17.

Lift your face to the one, most high King of Creation, and sing praise. Your spirit will lift with your praises.

THIRD: CHOOSE GRATITUDE

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Ps. 107:1

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Phil. 4:6

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thes. 5:18

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col. 3:17

Before you ask God for anything, give him thanks.  If you are able to breath and form a thought, give thanks.  If you are able to lie your head down to sleep, give thanks. If you have water to drink, give thanks. Before you ask something from anyone, make sure you’ve expressed gratitude to and for them.

Make it a point to show those close to you appreciation every day. I’ve been married going on 27 years, and this past year, my wife and I made it a point to try and tell each other things we appreciated about each other. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference, particularly over time. After years of being together, it’s easy to forget to articulate the many things we like about those close to us.

A life founded on God and centered on regular and deliberate worship and regular and deliberate gratitude, produces a life of joy.

FOURTH: MAKE AN EFFORT TO BE A JOY TO BE AROUND

Work for joy!

“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” I Cor. 1:24. In this day of great concern over infections and social distancing, make it a goal to be a GOOD social infection: seek to bring joy, encourage worship and appreciation.

Foremost, choose the fellowship of believers. Give thanks and praise to God with other believers. Seek to surround yourself with people that put their faith in Christ and who also want to live lives of praise and gratitude. Historically, hermits are not known for being joyful spirits. Perhaps related, who you spend the most time with will be one of the biggest influences on who you become.

Of course, that works in reverse too. You can have a huge influence on who those closest to you become.

Be careful not to cop out of a relationship and say, “they’re just not joyful!”  Maybe you can help them turn it around.  Or maybe, consider whether you may have been part of the problem through commission or by omission?  Suffice it to say, I have been. As part of this journey of understanding the practice of joy, God laid it on my heart, what have you done to bring joy into your soul mate’s life? It was painful for me to realize, I was far too often part of the problem or by omission, i.e. missing in action regarding coming along my bride to encourage and help her. If you haven’t already, make it a point to pray, praise and give thanks with those closest to you and consider to what extent you are a source of encouragement and joy for them.

Choose to have fun with those close to you. If screens are a thing in your house, which is likely if you are in an American house with other people and even more likely if you are in a house by yourself, have screen-free times planned, scheduled and committed to during which you do something fun.  Play a game. Tell a story. Sing a song. Pop water balloons on each other’s heads. Whatever your people enjoy, do it.  Be deliberate.

Be deliberate in choosing God.  Nothing speaks to our priorities more than how we use our time. When you read the biographies of the great men and women of faith, you repeatedly see the same two things: they were ruthlessly committed to their time with God in scripture and to their time in prayer. And like Brother Lawrence, prayer need not be a formal, set aside time or place.  It is an ongoing, regular and real conversation with God.

This is where God has me now and as I am working on cultivating a spirit of joy.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you pursue and have a life filled with joy.  God bless!

 

 

 

March 18, 2016

4 things my little siblings have taught me

Filed under: adoption, Life!, love, marriage and family, Uncategorized — Christ Ranger @ 11:06 pm

Smelly shoes lined the floor. My bare feet stick to the dirty surface that hadn’t been swept since breakfast. As socks are always missing, they are a rare delicacy only to be enjoyed on speci…

Source: 4 things my little siblings have taught me

February 17, 2016

18 Months and Counting

Filed under: adoption, Life!, love, marriage and family — Christ Ranger @ 9:52 pm

Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore!

Ps. 113:2

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On a recent trip to visit the Ark Encounter (it opens July 7, please buy tickets!) and Answers in Genesis, my friend Tim Dudley asked me why I had not blogged in about a year about our adoption. When I explained how busy I’d been, he gave me his trademark eye-roll and “Really? Too busy to write 500 words?”  (At the time, I didn’t realize that Tim hasn’t updated his blog in five years!) As usual, Tim was correct.

IMG_0022When we were first considering adopting six children; we went to the authoritative source on all things important – the blogosphere, and found several blogs written by families who had adopted large sibling groups. The sites were typically profuse regarding the decision to adopt, fluent regarding the initial stage, but then the posts became fewer and fewer between. That fueled my adoption paranoia: they started happy and optimistic, but then it went bad so they stopped blogging – didn’t want to share the horrors and strife that ensued. Or so I imagined from the darker crevices of my mind.

Well, having ten kids, six of whom we were given custody of 18 months ago as part of the adoption process, I’ve become one of “them”: after an iIMG_8121nitial flurry of blogs, I recall blogging once in the past 18 months about our return from the airport from Latvia. Now I know what I had before only suspected – it isn’t a desire to hide the horrors of our situation. To the contrary, the Lord has more than answered our prayers and richly blessed our family, as I’ll explain more below. No, it’s just that 24 hours has become much shorter. On the rare events we have any available, uncommitted time at the end of a day – I like to spend it in some form of a semi-vegetative state.

So for those few and far in between who might be considering large group adoption from Latvia, I offer some observations in no particular order from our experience thus far, a few of which may translate to adoptions from orphanages in general:

  1. Our Latvian children loved Ketchup® and sour cream, on EVERYTHING. Now, after 18 months, they simply really like those on most things.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff and they’re all small.karate
  3. Make sure you like your dentist.  Lesley was there at least weekly for about six months.
  4. Karyn Purvis is a huge blessing and resource. Watch her videos and absolutely first thing read her book The Connected Child.
  5. Kids flourish quickly and learn English even faster.
  6. Sanctification.  I wrote previously about how adoption further personalized the Gospel for us.  As I explain further below, in the past year I’ve learned how it also furthers my sanctification.
  7. Everyone has their eyes on the stress of the new kids.  The stress from the changed family dynamics can be more difficult on your biological kids, particularly where the “new” kids outnumber the original kids.  The process was at least equally disruptive to both sets of kids, but nearly all the focus naturally goes to the new kids.
  8. Structure is king a.k.a. we’ve made rules for EVERYTHING! It started about day 3 when we were consuming more than a gallon of milk a day. First new rule: limits on milk consumption.soccer
  9. The common guidance we received was to cocoon our family for most of the first year.  We didn’t do that.  Instead, we signed the new kids up for the same sports our bio kids were doing, which meant a lot of soccer teams, year round swimming, gymnastics, music and martial arts.  It’s worked for us.  With seven boys under one roof and many kids 10 and under (then), the activities gave added structure and plenty of positive outlets for energy.
  10. Our kids have become good friends with each other.
  11. You quickly realize how much you taught your children from the youngest years when contrasted with a child who hasn’t had the same, consistent level of parental involvement.
  12. The second law of sockdynamics: socks trend towards total disappearance. If you think your socks don’t match now, just wait.  Our kids have turned a fashion into mismatched socks.  I also try to only buy black sports socks for my boys since they can be worn with everything and for all occasions and all fairly closely match each other. Lesley also bought laundry bags for each kid to put their socks into, zip shut and keep socks together through the wash dry cycle.  The bags quickly went the way of half the socks: disappeared.
  13. Life is loud at our house.  We live the definition of boys: noise that moves.
  14. All meat is “chicken.”
  15. There are a lot of cool people in the adoption community.Gremlin
  16. Americans are friendly. (Our new kids tell us this.)
  17. Feeding candy to our little new kids was like feeding Gremlins after midnight. For the first year, we purged high fructose corn syrup from our house and greatly limited candy and processed sugar consumption. We also fed them a lot of Omega 3.
  18. Everyone likes Nutella and it makes everything edible and makes anything a dessert.
  19. Christ has cared for us in so many ways through his church.
  20. There are so many special memories.

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So many special memories.

One of our children on their first day in a new Bible study class at church – each child had to tell the class something special about themselves.  Our child proudly told the class he had a Mom and Dad.  The teacher, not familiar with us, looked puzzled.

That same child, soon after arriving with us back to the States, now our child being adopted, was puzzled and perplexed one night at dinner.  He asked earnestly, “Why when we were hosted was everyone nice to us but now they’re not?” I asked him what he meant. He explained that when we hosted them, our biological son Sean of about the same age shared everything with him and was alway pleasant, but now he does not share as much and they sometimes fight when they play.  “Do you fight with Joshua and David [his biological brothers]?” I asked.  “Yes,” he answered, which I knew having seen it often.  “Well,” I explained, “when we hosted, you were a guest in our home.  We are pleasant and tolerant to guests because we know that at some point they are going to leave. That is what it means to be a guest. But you are no longer a guest here.  You are family and Sean is now your brother. Do you see the difference? You are no longer a guest; this is your home and you are family.”  You could see the lightbulb turn on in his young mind as his face  lit up.  He smiled and looked down at his plate so his brothers didn’t see the tears streaming down his cheeks.IMG_8617.JPG

More hugs and kisses now when I come home from work.

One child often voluntarily gets up early and make me an egg sandwich, exactly the way I like it, before I leave for work.

Homeschooling ten children has been quite a challenge, particularly when six of them barely spoke English. Our three youngest had not learned to read at all (even in Latvian) while in Latvia.   To help with the workload, we incentivized the big kids, particularly with teaching the little ones to read.  We had small rewards for different milestones, culminating with our grand prize: a trip to Disney when we felt they had mastered beginner reading by reading through the dozens of early reader Bob books.  All of the kids did a great job and they all learned to read far more quickly than we anticipated.

IMG_5389.JPGThe trip to Disney was magical (and exhausting)!  We were thankful to have our good friends (and personal Disney experts), the Josephsons, with us.

Most importantly, the adoption of our children has brought us closer to our Father in heaven. We find God most when we come to the ends of ourselves.  Adoption brings me further outside myself and my natural limits, and thankfully beyond my abilities I find more of Christ and far less of me.  When I married my beautiful bride LesleIMG_4745.JPGy, there was a paradigm shift – living with and for someone beyond just myself.  I was not a Christian when I met Lesley so it was a paradigm shift.  Having children was another paradigm shift.  Not only did it deepen my comprehension of a deeper love (and a better understanding of the Gospel – the intimate, painful nature of a father sacrificing his son), but it also brought me into regular contact with my weaknesses and failings.  Parenting is good at that in my experience.  Adoption even more so.  I have found it somewhat ironic that “outsiders” sometimes tell us they see us as special servants because we adopted a group of kids.  Maybe that’s so, however, having ten kids has caused me to realize what a wretch I am in the flesh and how I am in need of a savior and in need of the strength of Christ in my daily walk.  It has been humbling.  Which is a good thing.PIX

If you are interested in hosting, see here, here (play the video!), and here. There are a lot of children out there yearning for a family, for a mother and father to love and protect them. If interested in adoption, see here. I encourage you login into these sites and view the pictures of the many children and read their stories.  If you are considering hosting or adoption, pray hard and trust God. It will not be easy, but you will be glad you did. He will provide.

God is great.

 

April 24, 2014

What a difference a month makes!

Filed under: adoption, Life!, marriage and family — Christ Ranger @ 10:18 am

Long time Christian friends, fellow triathlete and former Army tell of their first month with adoptive daughter … the pictures show it all … click over to original to see the last picture!

August 29, 2012

Re: The Gift of Life

Filed under: culture, Life!, video — Christ Ranger @ 12:50 pm

I agree with Travis’ highlighting how a culture that trashes life contrasts so much with the nature and character of the God of all Creation.  Of course, the trashing of human life is not just a metaphor, as Melissa Ohden’s powerful testimony explains:

The Susan B. Anthony List produced Ms. Ohden’s story, which story is tragically under reported.  SBA explains:

“In light of the recent national discussion over abortion, it’s important Americans know the President’s best-kept secret: his extreme record on abortion. Melissa Ohden’s powerful story draws a stark contrast to his unbending support of abortion and the abortion industry and reveals the human face to this debate.” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “President Obama’s appalling record on abortion is not just limited to his four votes to deny rights to abortion survivors but spans to his recent heartless refusal to support bans on sex-selection and late-term abortions. These actions fly in the face of mainstream American views and run counter to the President’s first term pre-election talk of finding common ground. Recent polling reveals the majority of Americans support bans on these horrific practices.”

Related, the President is reportedly funneling more than $400,000 of federal money to Planned Parenthood in North Carolina in response to the N.C. General Assembly voting to discontinue $340,000 of N.C. taxpayer money being paid to Planned Parenthood.  the NCGA felt it was inappropriate to use NC taxpayer money to underwrite the operations of the world’s leading abortion mill.  See here.

July 13, 2012

A Pleasurably Way to Pursue a Successful Family

Filed under: food & stuff, Life!, marriage and family — Christ Ranger @ 5:15 pm

The best things in life are always blessings from God, and so many of God’s best blessings are the simple things in life, the ones we easily overlook and take for granted — blessings like life, love, fellowship, laughter, good food, and interesting conversation.  Some people seem particularly adept at recognizing and enjoying and celebrating such blessings.  One such person is the Triangle’s celebrity chef Elise Johnson, whose persona and culinary expertise (and recipes) are known to many throughout this area through her TV cooking segments “Cooking With Elise”, her blogging at www.CookingWithElise.com and through her service as Chef Spokesperson for BJ’s Wholesale Club.  Chef Elise recently published the following article and graciously consented to my re-posting it here. Bon appetit!

The Importance of Your Family Table
by Elise Johnson

I have been so happy and honored to welcome so many of you into my home for adult and children’s cooking classes over the years. I have been honored that you have entrusted your children in my care. I hope I have encouraged your family in some way and made a difference in your lives. I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful families over the years.

Many people do not realize (because I have made up for it over the years.smile) that I did not speak with ease until I was about seventeen years old. A terrible speech impediment (stuttering) caused me great anxiety and made even saying my own name nearly impossible. It was in my grandmother’s kitchen that I found a safe haven. This is one reason why I am so passionate about cooking with family and friends. As many of you know, my mission has always been to inspire families to connect in their kitchens and around their tables. In my own experience, cooking and eating together strengthens and nurtures relationships quicker and stronger than any other way.

Please consider the following:

Family Meals 5 or more times per week spells S-U-C-C-E-S-S.   80% of families value family mealtime, but only 1 in 3 achieve success

S = Safe, secure place to belong

U= Unlikely to smoke, drink, do drugs, and engage in premarital sex.  Psychologists compare the family meal to a vaccination protecting kids from harm.  Children who eat with their families 5 or more days a week also avoid fights, and are less likely to be depressed and contemplate suicide.

C= Courteous and Conversational. The family table is a natural training ground.  Children learn social skills and manners.  Children learn how to have pleasant conversations and how to talk things through.  Children learn a better vocabulary. Learn to behave properly, learn how to not interrupt, take turns, learn how to share, and how be polite. Children learn how to listen.  Children learn how to entertain guests which is a great lesson for life.  Children who are nurtured learn how to care for others.

C= Connected and Committed.  Stronger family ties.  Place to belong – a place of refuge.  Greater sense of identity.  Children learn how to commit and keep a schedule.

E- Eat Better.   Children who eat as family 4 to 5 days per week do better in school; get better grades.  Test higher than children who eat only 1 to 2 times a week.  Eat better.  Eat more fresh fruits , vegetables, grains, protein, iron and fiber; less intake of soft drinks and sugar.  Are less likely to suffer from eating disorders; have better weight control

S= Self Esteem.  Mealtime conversation brings the family together, promotes positive self-esteem in children and starts a lasting and positive relationship with food and family.  Families learn how to share the responsibilities of preparing and cleaning up meals before, during and after the meal.

S= Success in School.  Children who eat 4 to 5 times a week together as a family do much better in school. They receive better grades, achieve higher achievement test scores ; have improved vocabulary and reading skills.

We recently welcomed my literary agent, David, from Oregon to our home. He told our family of his time at a homeschooling convention. The speaker from Focus on the Family asked the hundreds of families present to raise their hands if they cook and eat together at their family table more than three times a week. David was shocked to see only a few hands raise. It is stories like these that made me write my new cookbook, YOU NEVER COOK ALONE. You Never Cook Alone is much more than a cookbook however. This is one review on Amazon:

“”You Never Cook Alone” is not your average, “cookie-cutter” cookbook. Elise Johnson has written a cookbook that is true to its subtitle, “Stirring Memories, Feeding Souls and Building Legacies”. The pages are not only filled with delicious, mouth-watering recipes, cooking tips, and activity suggestions, but they are also overflowing with stories that will warm your heart with joy and laughter, and may even bring a tear to your eye.” You can read the book description and editorial review here.

My family has had the blessing of traveling the country this summer on a book tour. On my tour I have been interviewed by television stations, newspapers and national radio. I always speak about the importance of the family table, how families connect in the kitchen and if spending time in the kitchen and around the table with my family helped me speak, imagine what it can do for other families!

On Sunday, July 15th at 3:00 pm, I will be signing books at Quail Ridge Books & Music. Enjoy a Sunday afternoon book signing and taste samples of the recipes in my book, meet our family and be encouraged! I’d love the opportunity to share my story with you! You Never Cook Alone is also written from a Christian perspective! I have been thrilled to share my faith on national platforms. If you are unable to join our family, you can purchase my book on Amazon. It is also available at some Barnes and Nobles and of course at Quail Ridge Books. Even more important than purchasing my book, please pray for our family and all the people who pick up my book. It is my deepest desire to glorify God in all I do!

Enjoy your summer! May you make many memories in the kitchen and around the table together!

May 28, 2012

“Beyond Human Comprehension …”

Filed under: encouragement, Life!, praise — Christ Ranger @ 7:05 pm

We remember those that served and gave their lives for our country, or served with the promise to do so if called.  We remember because we know the utter miracle and incredible value of each life.  Each life, each one of us, is a remarkable temple — a miracle — testifying to the power and beauty of the living God.  There is no greater sacrifice for one to give to another or to a country.

In this video courtesy of TED.com, artist-mathematician-computer scientists Alexander Tsiaras provides a brief but visually stunning review of our origins:

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