The Fight for Joy

Eleven friends of mine from The Mix at First Alliance embarked on a weekend in the Smoky Mountains a couple weekends ago. Of course, like any good retreat, we had a theme: Life, Liberty, and the Fight for Joy.

Here are a few reflections on the subject…

Our beloved Declaration of Independence states that we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’m wholeheartedly behind that. The thing is, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about our personal happiness. But it does seem to say some pretty strong things about the importance of Joy in our lives (Phil 4:4, 1 Thess 5:16; Luke 12).

The truth is that Joy is a fight, a choice. The world, and the Enemy who roams it, does their very best to bring us down, to make us worry, to cause us to be riddled with anxiety. Our enemy wants nothing more than to have us dwell in the misery, negativity, and the “what-ifs” of the sad and broken world rather than the reality of life, joy, and redemption that God has given us through his Son Jesus.

That’s how James can tell us to consider it joy when you face trials, or how Paul can tell us in Romans to rejoice in our suffering.  It’s because our Joy comes not from what is happening now, but what has already happened – life and Salvation through Jesus.

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Perhaps the Bible, from the Psalms to the Epistles, talks so seriously about Joy because that it is what truly sets Christians apart from the rest of the world. It’s how people take notice that there is something different going on in our hearts something bigger in our lives than just our physical circumstances. We are anchored in whose we are rather than what is happening.

In essence, our joy is a direct result of the love in our heart given to us by a God who is infinitely loving, powerful, and totally in control.

So when the inevitable difficult life situations arise, may we walk it out in faith believing that the Joy of the Lord is our greatest strength (Neh 8:10).

Angrily Speaking

This Fall I studied the book of Jonah with the young adult group at my church.  It is truly a fascinating story full of sailors, killers, super-plants, destructive insects…oh yeah and a giant, man-swallowing sea creature. It sounds like it should be the next Biblical movie blockbuster, right?

So, there is a verse in Jonah that jumped out at me, and I haven’t been able to shake it.

In the last chapter (4) Jonah is angry at God.  He’s angry because God didn’t destroy the city of Nineveh like Jonah wanted him to.  The whole city turned to God and they were saved from destruction for their terrible wickedness (they are called a “city of blood,” known for ruthlessness toward Hebrews).  That they weren’t punished made Jonah pretty upset – upset to the degree that he wanted to die (vs 3).  Jonah just couldn’t deal.

Then God asks Jonah a question (the first of 3 questions God asks Jonah in this chapter), “Do you have good reason to be angry?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it?

Most of us get angry from time to time.  Sometimes anger comes and leaves quickly, other times anger moves in our hearts and sets up a permanent camp. Either way, we all experience it for one reason or another. In these days, with all that’s happening in the world such as Ferguson, the NYC grand jury verdict, the political landscape, the economic landscape, ISIS, Ukraine, and so much more, there is plenty of anger to go around.

The question God asks Jonah is a good question for all of us: “Do you have good reason to be angry?”

Um…maybe not

Often times we really don’t have a good reason to be angry if we are honest with ourselves [See: cut off in traffic, long line at the store, Starbucks is out of pumpkin spice latte, spouse doesn’t load the dishwasher the right way, etc].

In those times we are just more concerned about our own agendas, our own preferences, our own lives than anything else.  Sometimes we simply need to get over ourselves.  After all, Paul writes how Christians should look to other people’s interests over our own (Phil 2:4).  Think, if only we did that more how great that would make the world in which we live?

Um…maybe so

On the other hand, often times we do have a good reason to be angry.  Anger is often a result of deep hurt (see: being abandoned, lied about, cheated on, abused, betrayed, etc). It’s natural to be angry when we have been hurt or seen others hurt. And God understands this hurt.  He knows it well. Jesus suffered all of those same hurts and much much more. The author of Hebrews writes that we have a High Priest who knows and understands our weaknesses (4:15). God empathizes with our hurt.

It’s not wrong to be angry.  Anger is a natural emotion. Jesus himself was angry (a great study for another day).  But living and dwelling in anger is unhealthy.  It keeps us from experiencing the full joy of life God wants for us. Living in anger keeps us weighed down, burdened, blinded, and not able to reach our full potential for joy & happiness.


Image © Gabe Lawson

The problem with Jonah was that he couldn’t see past his own hurt.  It was like a giant wall blocking him from any perspective.  That’s what anger does to us – it blocks us from really seeing anything except what’s directly in front of us.

Jonah forgot that before God spared the Ninevites from punishment, God spared him too. When God first called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah ran from God and boarded a ship to the end of the world. He was subsequently thrown overboard to die in the sea, but God sent a fish to rescue him.  Jonah didn’t deserve to be rescued. After all, he deliberately and intentionally disobeyed a direct order from God. Yet, God saved him anyway.  And in the belly of the fish Jonah sings God’s praises saying, “In my distress you listened to my cry,” and “Salvation comes from the Lord (ch 2).”

How soon Jonah forgot these praises when God extended salvation to people he didn’t think deserved it.  Anger blinded him.  Anger caused him to forget that God saved him too when he didn’t deserve it. Jonah wasn’t living in the joy of his own salvation. He was living in the bondage of past hurt, causing him to forget the very salvific nature of the God he served.

Let’s not make the same mistake Jonah made.  Sure we may have good reason to be angry. But instead of living in anger, let’s view it in relation to the character of God and what he has done for us. It’s all about what we decide to focus on.

Have we been hurt and mistreated? Yes, and it’s certainly unfair. God knows this.

But we have also been saved from death by Jesus taking the punishment of death in our stead (Galatians 3). Like Jonah, we were saved from death even though we didn’t deserve to be saved at all.

When life is viewed from the perspective of Christ and the Cross, it makes it a little easer to let go of that hurt, anger & bitterness.

Letting go of hurt and anger is not easy.  It is most certainly a process. It takes courage to let the anger go. It takes the grace of God, to be sure. But once we do, we will experience a fresh feeling of liberty, hope, and joy.

Let us not be weighed down and blinded by hurt that we didn’t deserve.  Instead let us live in the joy of knowing we too have been, or can be, given life that we don’t deserve.

Scripture on anger:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.  For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.  – Psalm 37:8-9

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. – Proverbs 29:11

Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. – Ecclesiastes 7:9

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold. – Ephesians 4:26

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. – Colossians 3:8

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. – James 1:19-20

Three Things My Parents Taught Me About Love

Today marks my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary.  They are brave, bold, hilarious, and truly loving. Here are three things they have taught me about love and marriage.

1) Love – you just can’t hide it.

They have always been affectionate with each other around my brother and me. Growing up they were constantly hugging, kissing, holding hands, and cuddling up. Of course, my brother and I were totally grossed out by this when we were younger.  And they laughed a lot with and at each other.  They had fun, and still do. Now more than ever, maybe. This was so good for us to see as kids. It anchored us in the solidarity of their relationship. Deep down we knew that, no matter what fights came up, our parents loved each other and loved us because we saw it with our own eyes.

2) Love doesn’t overlook the issues

Some times it’s easier to turn a blind eye to issues and conflict than to talk about them and deal with them.  They will be the first to tell you they aren’t perfect. They certainly make mistakes.  So when problems arise don’t look away. When hurts happen, or conflict arises don’t ignore it.  Talk about it. Bring light to the issue. Look the problem squarely and say to the other, “we are in this together. Let’s deal with it together.” Love gets you through problems, issues, and fights.  I’ve seen them do this so many times – and they are the better for it – together.

3) Love isn’t about you

They serve each other so well. They constantly put the other person before themselves. My Dad has such a servant’s heart towards my Mom in so many ways.  And Mom totally supports and builds up my Dad. They truly put the other first – and this has been so beautiful to see over the years.  It’s made me a better husband and a better person. They know that their love isn’t grounded in just the other person.  It’s anchored by their mutual love of God, His grace, and the covenant they made with Him back in 1979 to honor and serve the other.  And they are still living in that today, maybe now more than ever.

They taught me that love isn’t about us.  It isn’t about our present feelings.  It’s about the other person.  It’s about truly knowing that we are better people with the other in our lives, despite how we may feel about them in the present.  Love is about putting them first all in the Grace of a God who first loved us.

So thanks for teaching me so much, Mom & Dad.  I’m so blessed to have you as parents.


The Singing Priest

The Singing Priest

I recently encountered a singing priest.  He burst into a John Legend song right in the middle of a wedding Mass.  At one point he was giving his homily with the bride and groom sitting quietly listening, and then suddenly he started singing, “All of me, loves all of you…give your all to me, I’ll give my all to you.”  You’ve probably heard the song on the radio a time or two (or a hundred).

As you can imagine, everyone was slightly surprised. I have certainly never seen a priest burst into a pop song, a cappella, in the middle of a formal catholic mass.


copyright © Honey Heart Photography

I confess, my first thought was, “wow, he’s a pretty good singer.” Then I thought, “what is he doing?! How could he be doing this during a wedding ceremony?!” I had a bit of a condescending attitude initially, I must admit.

And then I realized something – I loved it.   I found myself appreciating his honesty, his charisma, and his passion.

This was an intentional expression of joy – authentic, evident joy. And the more of that we show the world, the more the world wants to know the source of that joy. Especially when that joy is intentionally expressed in unexpected times.

Living Intentionally

According to psychologists, the twenties are the most formative, pivotal time of our adult lives.  What patterns and choices we make in our twenties determines our course of life.  It’s called the “Defining Decade” for a reason.  Young adults should not consider their twenties as wandering, meaningless years.  We should all live  intentionally – in both our life choices and our faith.

This applies to all of us, whatever stage of life we are in, though doesn’t it?  What choices are we making? How are we making a positive difference in people’s lives?

Erwin McManus asks in The Artisan Soul, “If your greatest work of art is the life you live, what life will you choose to leave behind as your masterpiece?”

A masterpiece, above all, embodies honesty. Glennon Doyle Melton recently wrote, “Art is not for the talented; it’s for the honest.” That is what the Millennial Generation craves in the church – that is what connects all of us– honesty.

Have a Conversation

So volunteer your time to serve at church or a non-profit.  Have a meaningful conversation with someone. Step out and simply DO something. One step follows another step and another – and before you know it, you’re showing people the love of Christ and living a life that humbly points heavenward.

Fresh Music Thursday [A Day Early]

Need some fresh music?  Well here is what I’ve been listening to non-stop for a couple of weeks.  Maybe you’ll like it too…

Rude, by Magic!I  – love this song – the poor boy just wants the blessing of his love’s Dad, that’s all.  Yet the dad says, “no.”  This is a fantastic song by a cool new band.


#88, by Lo Fang – I can’t quit listening to this song. Musically, it’s brilliant.


Magic, by Coldplay – continuing the magic theme, I’m loving the sound and lyrics of this new Coldplay song. It’s another song I cant quit listening to.


Back in the World, by David Gray – This is a great song off his new album. Check it out.

Have a happy Wednesday!

Let it Spill

I came upon this poem the other day…

They tell me I’m going to die.

Why don’t I care?

My cup is full, let it spill

-Robert Friend

It’s a beautiful image of a man with a full heart at the end of his life.  If I knew I were going to die soon, could I say that?

Could you?

When our hearts are full, we have nothing to fear.  When our hearts are full, it doesn’t matter what happens after this life is over.

The question is – how do we get our hearts in that place? What can truly fill our hearts?

I couldn’t help but relate this poem to Psalm 23 where it says…

…Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

2X9A8717Photo © Gabe Lawson

In this Psalm, there is a direct correlation between being anointed with oil, and having a cup that overflows.

The oil signifies God’s presence. God’s blessing. The good news is that’s available to all. God wants everyone to come to Him and simply receive it.

There are certainly enemies out there. There are dark times and valleys to walk through, for sure.  But it doesn’t matter. We aren’t alone. We’ve been anointed with oil.

When we truly receive the presence of God in our lives, and we choose to live in it, we will find our cups running over with all things divine – love, grace, peace, joy.

Psalm 23 ends like this…

Surely your goodness and love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When we accept divine Love and Grace and let it fill our hearts, goodness and love chases after us closer than a loyal dog.

When we truly accept the Love and Grace that only comes from God, we want nothing more than to have it spill out and splash those around us.


Stories from Colombia

Ansel Adams once said, “Sometimes I arrive just when God wants someone to click the shutter.”

Our little team didn’t go to Colombia for 8 days to click shutters (necessarily), we went to share the Hope found in the Love of God. For three of those days we hit the streets of Medellín, Colombia, partnering with churches and going door-to-door sharing our stories with anyone who would listen. It was certainly uncomfortable and even scary at times.  Despite that, we discovered that God’s timing was and is truly perfect.  Here are a couple of stories…

My friend, Allison, knocked at the door of a tired mother. She answered and Allison shared her story of God’s love, eventually leading her in the prayer of Salvation. After chatting for a short while they got up to leave.  As they were walking out the door, the Mother’s son walks in.  After explaining why they were there, the son was visibly shocked.  “I was just having a conversation with someone about spirituality today – and we were trying to figure it all out” he said. “It’s perfect you’re here. This is what I need.”  He accepted Christ too, right next to his mom. Perfect timing.

I noticed an early teenage boy and a girl sitting on a sidewalk in a dingy alley scarfing down snow cones. After chatting with them about snow cones for a few minutes I told them why I was there. I shared my story of God’s love and asked them this question: “Do you know where you will go when you die?” They shot each other curious looks and said they were just talking with their friends about this very thing not two hours ago – about what happened when we die. “We want to know,” they said. Their friends eventually wandered over and before we knew it there was a little crowd hearing about God’s Love and how He wants Life for us now and for eternity. They accepted Christ next to a puddle of melted snow cones. Perfect timing.

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All in all, 190 people accepted Jesus in the three days we evangelized, to God’s Glory.  There are many more stories to share, from Brandon sharing Jesus in the house of a drug dealer, to Steve Rehner being accused of being a witch (ask him about it), to the amazing Colombian food. Ultimately, we found that we arrived just when God wanted someone to click the shutter, by the grace of God.

On Instagram? #projectColombia2014

What’s Playing – Blind Pilot

Sometimes I run across songs that I forgot I had, and when I hear them I can’t believe I have gone so long without listening to them.

The songs ‘The Story I Heard’ and ‘One Red Thread’ by Blind Pilot are two of those songs. They have me firmly back on the bandwagon of this band lately.

If you haven’t checked this band out, you should. Below are a few great songs of theirs.




Colombia Bound

I was told a recently of a little lady who lived alone in Meddellin, Colombia.  She was down-and-out, dejected, and all her hope had vanished like snow in afternoon sun.  She was so hopeless that, to her, the only answer was to end her life.  As she was thinking about ways to kill herself, she saw some people stirring about outside.  She saw a group of people, then she heard them knock at her door.

She didn’t answer at first.  She didn’t want to be interrupted.  Then the knock came again.  She was intrigued so she answered.  It was a group of Christians that had simply come to share their faith.

She accepted Christ that day in her house with a group of American and Colombian brothers and sisters.  They welcomed her into the Kingdom of God with warm embraces and tears of joy.

There are 8 young adults (including myself) going to that same town in Colombia for a week – March 14-22 – over Spring Break.  We are looking forward to sharing the love of God to the people of Meddellin as the team above did.


While we are there we will:

  • Participate in ministry at a very large prison.
  • Join with a soccer ministry that works with over 1000 kids and have the opportunity to share the Gospel and God’s love
  • Partner with the local churches in serving the community and go door to door, testifying to God’s saving grace

We are expecting God to do great things during our time there.  We are praying that God would lead us to the right little lady, or young boy, or world-worn man who has lost hope so that we can tell them the good news: that God has found us, redeemed us, and that we can cast our cares upon Him and have life abundantly.

Would you join us in this prayer?  If you have questions about how to support us on this mission, feel free to shoot me an email at gabel{at}

God, Donne, & Love

I scarce believe my love to be so pure As I had thought it was…

John Donne is one of my favorite poets. His writing is so deep and rich and real.

His poem Loves Growth is one of my all-time favorites.

It’s a poem about how his love, at the beginning, wasn’t as totally pure as he thought.  Perhaps that’s true of many of us in one way or another.  How much of my love includes selfish motives? How pure is my love of my wife and my friends and my God?

Methinks I lyed all winter, when I swore my love was infinite, if spring make’d it more

When we first fall in love, we think we couldn’t be any more in love.  We think it’s infinite. Perfect.  But that’s not quite true.  The truth is, it grows.

Donne compares Love to the seasons, saying it has it’s hard Winter times, and it’s happy Spring times.  Love isn’t all elation and joy.  Even love has it’s winter times.

Real authentic Love is a complex thing that should grow and turn into something even more beautiful and grand than it was at the start. Even in the winter times, the love is real, because really it’s about the other person more than yourself.

The Christian life is the same.  We come to God broken, full of hurt and covered with scars.  We love God the best we can.  And our relationship to God has winter times too. But the longer we stay in the faith, the more we grow and heal, the more our love becomes more selfless and beautiful and grand. And the longer we stay, the more we realize that God’s love is more beautiful than anything we can imagine. 

And we know that God’s love for us will always be there.  Always remain, no matter the Winter we face, for surely no Winter shall abate the Spring’s increase…001 Photo © Gabe Lawson


For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6

Love’s Growth – John Donne

I scarce believe my love to be so pure
   As I had thought it was,
   Because it doth endure
Vicissitude, and season, as the grass;
Methinks I lied all winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if spring make’ it more.


But if medicine, love, which cures all sorrow
With more, not only be no quintessence,
But mixed of all stuffs paining soul or sense,
And of the sun his working vigor borrow,
Love’s not so pure, and abstract, as they use
To say, which have no mistress but their muse,
But as all else, being elemented too,
Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do.


And yet no greater, but more eminent,
   Love by the spring is grown;
   As, in the firmament,
Stars by the sun are not enlarged, but shown,
Gentle love deeds, as blossoms on a bough,
From love’s awakened root do bud out now.


If, as water stirred more circles be
Produced by one, love such additions take,
Those, like so many spheres, but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee;
And though each spring do add to love new heat,
As princes do in time of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace,
No winter shall abate the spring’s increase.