The Essence of Joy

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The moment my first child, our son Ben, was born and placed in my arms I experienced something profoundly new in my soul.

To say that I was happy, delighted, elated, thrilled, enraptured … doesn’t adequately describe what I experienced in that moment. A door somewhere in my soul had opened and I had been ushered into something infinite and holy, something deeply satisfying and bursting with possibility and grandeur.

I believe it was in this moment that Joy made a defining entrance into my life.

I’m sure there have been other instances throughout my life when joy fluttered in and touched my soul, but this moment, when Ben was born, was the moment Joy ‘came of age’, came to reside, and came to lead me into new territory.

This was the first time that I truly understood the union the Holy Spirit and I have. This was the time when He and I together created a life. For nine months the Holy Spirit had been breathing upon this little human form while my body fashioned its physical being. And then, suddenly, here he was – Benjamin, the fruit of our partnership – the image of God birthed into the world! I had tapped into the Holy Spirit expressing His Joy in that moment and rejoiced right along with Him!

The Bible credits Joy as being the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Joy is the nature of the Holy Spirit, an expression of God’s personhood. Joy is the fruit that permeates my life as the Holy Spirit expresses himself in our relationship. This was the Joy I experienced when my son was born and it transcended the realm of human emotion.

One of my favourite scenes in the Bible describes Jesus being “full of joy through the Holy Spirit ..” (Luke 10:21)

Seventy-two disciples had just returned from an assignment, and they too were full of Joy as they reported to Jesus how it all transpired : “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!” they triumphantly declare.

Jesus was pleased with their report and celebrated with them. I can imagine Jesus and his friends laughing and dancing around and ‘high-fiving’! But I believe Jesus’ response went deeper than simply being emotionally pleased with his disciples’ ministry success.

The Message translation puts it this way:

“At that time, Jesus rejoiced, exuberant in the Holy Spirit. ‘I thank you, Father, Master of Heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.’”

Jesus explained to His disciples that the Joy they were experiencing at that time was not due to the fact that they had power over demons. Rather, the source of their Joy was their union with God – “your names are written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20). God was delighting in seeing “Satan fall like lightning from heaven…” (Luke 10:18), from seeing people set free from bondage, and the disciples’ spiritual union with the Father meant they were conduits of that Joy themselves.

Over the years Joy has become my familiar safe place.

It is the anchor that exists well below the waterline of my emotions. It is something rooted deep within my spirit that is not subject to the ebb and flow of circumstances that sway my world to and fro. Whether conditions are blustery or calm, whether the sun is rising or setting, whether the destination is in sight or I’m bobbing around in limbo, my life stays the course because it is anchored by Joy.

Joy is multi-coloured. It is saturated with hope, with contentment, with assurance, and with strength. Joy cannot always be explained. It by-passes human reasoning and taps into something eternal and spiritual. Joy is a deep knowing that despite the reality of the circumstances in my life, all is well with my soul. I have found that Joy may express itself through happiness, through singing and dancing, through exuberant triumph – or through peace and serenity. And, for the one who has committed their life completely into God’s hands, Joy can even express itself in the midst of sorrow (Job 6:10).

Humanity thinks a lot about Joy around this time of year. We see it written on cards, displayed in decorations, sung in songs.  Christmas gives voice to the source of all true Joy.

That first Christmas, an angel came to some terrified shepherds on a Judean hillside and declared, “I bring you good news of great Joy that will be for all people … a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)

That Good News was God’s Joy spilling out over the earth as His redemptive plan for his much-loved humanity began to unfold. He was issuing an invitation to all of us to come into a personal relationship with Him through the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I pray that all who sing ‘Joy to the World’ this Christmas will truly enter into that deep spiritual union with Jesus.

May we all experience the profound essence of Joy that will paint each season of life in the richest of colours, and be that anchor of hope whatever the circumstance.

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Margins: Limitation or Possibility?

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I’ve discovered there are two ways to look at a margin.

A margin can be a boundary – fringe, sideline, edge, or it can be a surplus – room, scope, profit. One definition speaks of limitation, the other of possibility.

After mulling over these definitions for a couple of days I saw something beautiful emerge.

I saw how Jesus transitioned people from one margin to the other, from the fringe of Insignificance to the place of discovering the surplus of Potential within themselves.

Jesus always gravitated to the marginalized. One moment He is preaching to thousands on a hillside, the next, He’s crossing treacherous waters in a small fishing boat in search of a madman in a cemetery.

A read through the Gospels exposes Jesus constantly searching for the Overlooked, the Unnoticed on the fringes of communities he travelled through – the lepers, the sex-workers, the widows, the misplaced, the people struggling with their demons. Jesus understood their plight – after all, who could identify more with being marginalized than Jesus himself? His compassion drove him to open blind eyes, release the oppressed and preach good news to the poor.

Yet for each one, every single person, the healing encounter with Jesus went beyond merely the physical aspect of their lives.

Jesus looked into their eyes. He scanned their souls. He found that place of deepest need – the Need-to-Belong, the Need-to-be-Valued, and he touched them there. And his touch repositioned them – both in their own thinking, and in the perceptions of those around them.

Encounters with Jesus gave the Insignificant value, and the Sidelined purpose.

Those encounters allowed each one to sense their own value and uncover the empowerment that comes from that. These Anonymous Ones uncovered the surplus of the unlived life within themselves and tapped into it’s potential. For these Fringe-dwellers their purpose had now been defined, and they were empowered to move on in life with dignity and influence. Their place of residence shifted from Obscurity to Significance.

Zacheus grew in spiritual stature the day he met Jesus; the Samaritan Woman became an ambassador for genuine love; Bartimaeus became a man of vision; a Roman Centurion began winning spiritual battles; the Tax Collector became a benefactor; the Psychopath became an evangelist.

Our mission is to complete what Jesus started in our world.

We should find ourselves constantly scanning the horizon in search of the Lost, the Forgotten, and the Exiled, and introduce them to a Jesus encounter.

They live in the bewildering place of fatherlessness, in the insidious place of bullying, in the distressing place of poverty, in the horrific place of human trafficking, and in the empty place of fame of fortune.  We will find them at checkouts, mothers’ groups, in jails, in church, over the neighbouring fence, in our own families. They are all around us, searching for inclusion, and a purpose for living.  Sometimes all it takes is a cheery word to the woman cleaning the Rest Room, a coffee date with the new single mum at school, some time for the old man who lost track of his family years ago, a welcoming smile to the overweight woman hiding at the back of the room … it’s not that hard!

That search for belonging, that incessant hunger for value is the prompt that has led us all to Jesus. We were, at one time or another, all lost until we found Jesus walking towards us with arms outstretched.

He stopped amidst the swirling, stifling, suffocating crowd.

“Who touched me?”

The woman trembled, bloodied, afraid.

She knelt before the Lord of Ones and whispered her confession.

And He, who would one day Himself be bloodied for Ones such as this said,

“Be healed.”

 

He slept through the storm as they crossed the Lake,

While the Madman waited in turmoil amongst the tombs.

Naked, too strong for chains and irons, yet hopelessly bound,

He ran and fell at the feet of the Lord of Ones.

And He who would one day be bound in the place of Ones such as this said,

“Be free.”

 

He sat and watched the Rich and Powerful throw in their coins.

The Widow came, unnoticed, yet seen.

She gave out of her poverty two small coins of infinite value.

“She gave her all,” mused the Lord of Ones.

And He who left the wealth of Heaven in order to give His all for Ones such as this said,

“Be blessed.”

 

He stood alone as the crowd hurriedly dispersed.

“Unclean!” they reviled, and hissed and cowered.

The Leper knelt before the Lord of Ones and pleaded, “If you are willing..”

And He who would soon be defiled by the sins of Ones such as this,

Reached out and touched, and said,

“Be clean.”

 

I wait, speck in an ocean, grain of sand on a beach,

Bloodied, bound, impoverished, unclean.

Overcome by His Presence, overwhelmed by His Grace, “I come to worship,” I whisper.

And the Lord of Ones who died in my place embraces me and draws me in.

With words that echo across time and eternity He whispers back,

“We are one.”

© Julie Cochrane 2013

Today Jesus is still searching for one more soul to transition from the margins of limitations to the margin of possibility. Let’s remain alert, on call, so we don’t miss the opportunity to partner with him on the journey.

The Unlived Life

Linking in with shelovesmagazine.com

Creation

Zion's superheros with border - photo credit  Julie Cochrane

Our three grandsons live next door to us.

Each afternoon the boys drop in, check out our fridge and pantry, then pull out the Craft Box and get down to some serious creating…. all the while chatting away, filling me in on their day. I love these times.

Zion is 7yrs old and lately has been making superhero characters. He draws them and colours them, and cuts them out. Then he and his two younger brothers tear around the house and yard playing out imaginary dramas with these characters.

I’ve always been fascinated by a child’s insatiable drive to create. Whether it be drawing superhero figures, building Lego structures, solving puzzles on their ipads, dancing, playing dress-ups, telling stories… dreaming and creating is in their DNA. It’s the way Creator God designed them – in His own image. We are all born with the hunger to create, a drive to craft something new, something unique.

I was reflecting on all this last week when I was hit with this thought:

If God is Creator, if creating is intrinsic to his immutable nature, then he must be creating continually. God never stops creating.

Now, I know you know that.

I’ve always known that.

But this was one of those revelation moments for me.

And it was startling.

What is God creating today? What did He create yesterday? Another plant species? Another universe? There must be an infinite amount of things that God has been creating since … um … well, throughout all of his eternal existence. God has never stopped creating.

It’s impossible for my finite mind to fully comprehend this fact. Who knows what remarkable creations exist outside our universe, or within it for that matter, that we just cannot know about.

But one thing I have come to understand is this – that one of the ways God chooses to create is through people. This is why He created us in His own image – so we could partner with Him in the process of His creating.

We are conduits. But not in an impersonal way, rather God delights to see this new creation of His with my spin on it. My personality, my experiences, my talents, my passions, my choices – it’s a partnership. God sharing Himself with me. Me sharing Him with the world. I clearly remember being overawed by this fact throughout my first pregnancy – each day realizing that God’s act of creating human life was taking place within me, and with my assistance. How astounding!

Sometimes we tend to limit our understanding of ‘creative people’ to the painters and sculptors, web designers, musicians, writers and dancers of this world. But if we look more closely we’ll find creativity driving the scientist to discover that new vaccine, the detective to solve that crime, the company manager to build that business, and the mother to turn that house into a home. Whoever we are, God will use our personality, our passions, our talents and our choices to express His creative nature through us.

God has assimilated His creative self into us. What a privilege. What an inspiration to locate what He is up to in us today, so that we can capture it and proclaim it to the world around us. Think about that for a moment – God releasing His creative passion through me today – with my unique spin on it!

zion's superhero gang - photo by Julie Cochrane

Zion, self portrait

I Am From Country Towns …

I am from country towns, from main streets lined with shops and restaurants, from neighbours who chat over fences, share a cup of tea and the odd cup of rice.
 
I am from riding bicycles down dirt roads, from carrying butterfly nets and glass bottles to keep our collections in, a sandwich and drink in the basket on the handlebars.
 
I am from family drives out to the river on hot summer afternoons, from plunging into the crystal clear, cold depths, from feeling rounded pebbles under my feet, from smelling wet bark of river trees and freshness of river moss.
 
I am from visiting farms, chasing sheep around paddocks, bouncing over hills in land-rovers, hunting kittens in barns, milking cows in the dairy, and eating huge homemade scones with lashings of jam and cream.
 
I am from walking to school in all seasons, loving the crunch of frost underfoot, and the crunch of green mountain apple in my mouth. I am from the chance to see that handsome boy turning to look from the school bus as it rumbles by.
I am from the city, from the happy cul-de-sac where children play hopscotch in the street, rounders in the front yards and watch ‘Rin Tin Tin’ and ‘Superman’ on each other’s televisions.
 
I am from Christ-is-the-centre-of-our-home, from church every Sunday, from Sunday School anniversaries wearing new outfits made by Grandma, from Church picnics and camps.
 
I am from ‘integrity is everything’, from ‘always speak the truth’, from ‘be faithful in all things’ and from ‘family comes first’.
 
I am from Family Christmas lunches with coins in the Christmas pudding, once-a-year roast chicken and laughs a-plenty. I am from school days of challenges, canes and rote learning, and from fresh lunches bought at the tuck-shop on our birthdays.
I am from freedom and fun at Teachers’ College. 
 
I am from the Jesus Movement, from coffee shop outreaches, guitars and Bibles in the parks and on campus, Keith Green music and unstoppable passion to see the world saved for Jesus.
I am from coastal towns, from sandy beaches and surf, tropical islands and yachts and aquamarine waters. 
 
I am from barbeques, from songs around campfires, from ‘she’ll be right mate’, ‘stone the crows!’, ‘sheilas and blokes’, freedom and opportunity. I am from the Land Downunder.
I am from passion for family history.
 
I am from two grandfathers who fought in world wars, and from two parents who never fought.
I am from loved, and valued, and respected.
I am from 38 years marriage, with one amazing husband, two fabulous children and five perfect grandchildren.
 
I am from teaching in classrooms, and from pastoring in churches.
 
I am from making mistakes and from gaining wisdom, from messing up and from finding grace. 
 
I am from devastation. I am from restoration.
 
I am from never-give-up, from life-is-a-journey, from loved-filled-destiny.
 
I am from depositing into future generations.
I am from my Father’s heart.
 
 
 
Connecting with other writers around the world for “I Am From” stories:

The Accountant and The Artist

               Accountants, I’ve discovered, tend to be rational, realistic, logical pragmatists. They live ordered lives based on predictable outcomes that they have reasoned are most practical and sensible, and the least likely to vary.
               Accountants love numbers, numerical calculations, spreadsheets and budgets. Predictability is their comfort zone. They find great satisfaction in balancing the figures at the end of the day, and providing a nest-egg for the end of their life.
              The Accountant loves order. His genius comes to the fore sitting at a desk which is arranged in orderly fashion with an in-tray and an out-tray, neatly stacked manila folders and a pen, looking out at filing cabinets conveniently aligned in alphabetical order along the far, unadorned wall. 
              Accountants pride themselves on being frugal. They waste nothing. When faced with the challenge of writing a birthday card for his daughter, even though he loves her dearly, the Accountant will more than likely simply write, “To Jule, love Dad”, for the sake of being economical with words. 
              The Accountant is in no danger of becoming a hoarder. He looks at each and every object and asks, “Do I need this? Will I use this in the near future?” ‘Minimalist’ is a term that comes to mind.
               Accountants are steadfast, reliable people who stick to the rules and are unlikely to ruffle any feathers. They like to plan ahead and to be prepared for any eventuality. They do not like surprises.
How do I know these things?
My father is an accountant.
               Artists on the other hand, tend to be imaginative, inventive, creative, idealistic dreamers. They like to leave options open, to explore all possibilities, to be spontaneous. Not  always content with the status quo, Artists love the challenge of creating alternative pathways in life, and find great delight in anything that looks or behaves out-of-the-ordinary.
               The Artist finds various means to express himself  – it may be through paint on a canvas, words on a page, actions on a stage, or solving a problem that has presented itself.  To this end he looks at every object that comes his way and asks, “What masterpiece is lying within?” and it’s this addiction to ‘possibility thinking’ that causes him to throw nothing away.
                The Artist is happiest when he is alone in his ‘creating space’. His studio / study is left ‘unordered’ so that inspiration can flow freely. Artists do not always appreciate helpful people tidying up for them. It can be challenging for the Artist at times to focus on the practicalities of life, when their creative mind is otherwise engaged. However, at the end of the day, their genius confounds us all, when it brings to reality those amazing things the rest of us can merely dream about.
How do I know these things?
My husband is an Artist.
                That’s right – I have both an Accountant and an Artist who feature prominently in my life. My father Colin, and my husband Ross, could not be more different, and I can’t imagine life without either one!
                 Yet, despite being poles apart personality-wise, they actually have a lot in common. It’s a commonality that springs from their personal faith in God.
                 For as long as I have known both my father and my husband, their steadfast commitment to Jesus Christ has been the focus of all they do in life. They have both spent a lifetime focused on knowing God, and making him known. They ceaselessly use their gifts and talents to build up their family, the Church, their local community and beyond.
                 Together in their differences they unite to present God’s image to the world – creative yet immutable, orderly yet unpredictable, faithful yet innovative, absolute yet infinite. Their indisputable love for, and commitment to, their wives and children bears witness to the heart of God for his creation.
                 I have to say I love both my Accountant and my Artist dearly, and that I am very grateful for the texture both these men bring to my life. I cannot overstate the remarkable contribution each has made to the personhood of me.
                 And thinking about it now, I guess the reason I manage to relate so happily with both, is because even though they are poles apart in temperament, there resides within my own (oft-times conflicted) DNA, attributes of both!  
                 Furthermore, I’ve come to see hints of both the Accountant and the Artist finding expression also in my children, and in my grandchildren. 
                 Or is it the image of God that I see?
 
 
 
 

Band of Brothers

 

The boys had swords and torches.

They’d discovered that once the door to the walk-in wardrobe in our bedroom was closed, it made the perfect Dark Cave. 

I sat at the computer in my Study just down the hall and listened to the adventure unfolding.

There was thumping and laughing, squealing and shouting.
Deep ‘pretend’ voices were scheming and plotting how to rid the world of evil.
Every now and then this band of 3 brothers (aka my grandsons) would emerge from the Dark Cave and I’d catch the drift of the adventure that was underway.
 
I’d smile to myself and keep tapping away at my keyboard.
 
In and out of the Dark Cave they went, over the bed, under the bed, up and down on the bed. Every now and then they would tear down the hall, and bump and tumble their way down the stairs whooping and declaring war, then they’d return to the Dark Cave.
 
After a while though I noticed the tone beginning to change.

As they stood in the hallway I overheard, 
“Ohhh… why can’t I be the Good Guy?” (Rome, 4 yrs old)
“Because we can only have one Good guy.” (Zion, 7 yrs old)
“But why can’t it be me?” (Rome)
“Because we need someone to be the Baddie.” (Zion)
“But I’m always the Bad Guy!” (Rome)
“Alright then, Knoxie can be the Bad Guy!” (Zion)
“Yah! Yah!” (Knox, 2 and 1/2yrs old, making sword-swiping noises)
The 2 Good Guys ran into the Dark Cave and slammed the door.
“Let me in!” (Knox)
“Do you know the password?” (Rome)
“What?” (Knox)
“Do you know the password?” (Rome)
“What???”(Knox)
“Do you know the p-a-s-s-w-o-r-d??” (Zion and Rome, yelling)
“What???” (Knox yelling back)
“D-o  y-o-u  k-n-o-w the p-a-s-s-w-o-r-d?!”
Silence.
“Let me in!!!” (Knox yelling extra loudly)
 
After this exchange the Dark Cave door flung open and Zion declared:
“I know, PA can be the Bad Guy!”
“Yeah!” shouted the other two in unison.
Problem solved, the 3 Good Guys then flew down the stairs in search of Pa yelling:
“Yah! Yah! Yah!” and swiping their swords through the air.
 
Children.
 
I love being around children.
Throughout my teaching career, motherhood, and now grandmother-hood, I have never ceased to be amused, and enlightened, by having these little people in my world!
 
They come in different genders, different shapes and sizes, different talents and abilities, and different personalities.
But they all come with their honesty and unpretentious expectations from life.
I love their perceptions of the world, their curiosity, their unquenchable thirst to know why? how? when?
They are so willing to trust.
They have astounding insight into spiritual truth.
 
Jesus loved being around children too.
 
He must have found it so refreshing sometimes – like the time his disciples were arguing as to which of them would get the highest rank in God’s Kingdom.
On this occasion, Jesus took a little child in his arms and said:
                         “I’m telling you once and for all, that unless you return to square one, 
                          and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the 
                          Kingdom, let alone get in.                                                                  
                          Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will 
                          rank high in God’s kingdom.” (Matthew 18:2-4 MSG)
 
Kingdom Life.
 
Simple and elemental.
 
Trust. Faith. Honesty. 
 
Curious. Unpretentious.
 
Band of Brothers.
 
Goodies vs Baddies.
 
Save the world!

Goodies vs Baddie

 

Pa with his Band of Brothers

 

The Great Basketball Challenge

We all decided to go to the park.
Ross and I needed the walk, our three grandsons needed the space to release their energy, and our daughter and her husband were keen on some exercise. We took a basketball.
 
We left the house, crossed the road and wandered down the pathway into the park while the boys raced ahead and claimed the basketball court. 
Then the game was on!
When it came to teams, I think it was basically Joel (son-in-law) against the rest of us (actually, them – I was the cheer-squad).
Which was SO unfair – for the rest of them. Joel stands well over 10ft tall and his wingspan must be several meters in both directions. AND he broke all the rules .. well, that’s the way this Nanny saw it from the sideline 🙂
There was a lot of running, shouting, puffing and panting, and laughing.
Rachel, reliving memories from her High School Basketball days, was amazing with her defence, securing the ball many times, and landing some outstanding goals! Even Pa managed to impress his grandsons (and me) with a few awesome shots.
The boys, Zion, Rome and Knoxie gave the game 100% and just kept up momentum hounding their dad for that ball. But he was too fast, too big, too fit. (and maybe a tad competitive?)
But after a while, the boys’ enthusiasm began to wane. There was less laughter, and tears of frustration began to emerge. Little Knoxie wandered off to play on the slide, and few comments like “it’s not fair!” and “you cheated!” began to change the tone of play.
And then the game changed.
Joel, after showing his boys how it should be done, now got alongside them to show them it could be done. 
They’d experienced enough failure, now it was time to experience success.
He ‘let’ them snatch the ball from him, and lifted them up so they could succeed at throwing the ball in the goal. It’s amazing how the boys responded  – suddenly there was hope!
A new energy came from somewhere, and the game regained its enthusiasm with shouts of “Yesss!!” as ball after after ball landed through the hoop.  Finally light began to fade and it was time to go home for dinner.
As I looked over my not-so-clear photos later I thought about how much our family basketball game reflected God’s heart when it comes to the game of life.
God has specifically designed a life-purpose for each of us, and deposited gifts within us to help us achieve that goal.  He shows us how to play the game, and comes alongside to help us reach our potential.
He loves to watch us ‘have a go’. Although He doesn’t expect us to get it right every time, He does expect us to develop our gifts and bear fruit from the investment He has deposited in us.
He positions us amongst more experienced people – parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, friends – so we can learn from those who have gone before. 
And He places us amongst peers – our  family, the Church – so that we can learn the value of teamwork, and experience the exhilaration of living for a cause greater than ourselves.
Family times.
Life lessons
Purpose.
Success.

“Stories we have heard from our fathers, counsel we learned at our mother’s knee. We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation – God’s fame and fortune, the marvellous things He has done.”
(Psalm 78)