Cease Striving

from the pen of Jeff Joyner

Several years ago, I was in a band with CRU, a Christian organization based in California. For over 4 years, I spent most of my time on the road doing concerts, both in the US and overseas. One day, we got news from the national office, that they wanted us to record an album, to make available at our concerts. We were only going to have a limited amount of time to make the record, since we were scheduled to do an overseas tour within weeks.

After several days of preparation, the recording sessions began at a studio in Southern California. We all were feeling major pressure to get the record done quickly, so we could take it with us on tour. Our producer was in a “One Hit Wonder” band in the early 1960’s called The Dartells, so he had a lot of experience working with stressed out musicians. Though the first day was a bit shaky, we finally settled into a groove, and seemed to be on track to finish the project by the end of the week.

A song we still needed to record, was one that I had written, and sang the solo on. As the band prepared to lay down the tracks, I began feeling tinges of performance anxiety. Our producer called me in, and asked if I could sing a practice solo with the band, so they could have some vocals in their headset. Since it would be a practice track for me, he set me up in a hallway with a microphone, and told me to sing the song exactly like I did in concert. As the band played in another room, I sang my heart out in the hallway, feeling absolutely no pressure to perform.

After we were done with the song, our producer called me into the listening room. He had secretly recorded my solo, and wanted me to hear it. When it was done playing, he looked over at me and said, “that’s a take.” He knew that without the pressure to perform, he would be able to get the very best out of me. Though I tried a couple more times to improve what I did in the hallway, I was unable to.

I learned a lot from my hallway experience that day. I saw first hand the futility of trusting in myself, and my own efforts to accomplish what only God can do. Though it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again, I’ve seen that the more I allow Christ to live His life in and through me, the more I will experience His deep, abiding peace, in the midst of this chaotic and turbulent world.

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” Psalm 47:10

What Happened to Peace on Earth?

We’re starting into the Christmas season this year, and it got me thinking about peace on earth. Or the lack thereof. I’ve already seen news clips of craziness at Black Friday sales (which is why I’m sitting at home with locked doors). Ukraine is at war with Russia, dominating headlines. But many other smaller countries are also at war. We’re often unaware of just how much conflict is occurring outside of our own circle of reference. So (I use that word a lot) I’m going to spend a few posts considering what the Bible says about peace.

In Isaiah, we see the famous reference to Jesus as the Prince of Peace. The promise being that when Jesus rules, there will be peace on earth. My struggle with this concept is that, supposedly, Jesus is ruling in the hearts and minds of his followers. But our Christian churches don’t seem to be getting along all that well as we fracture and splinter over interpretations of the Bible. Many of us who attend church together find it difficult to get along with each other (if you don’t get along with me, I’m certain it’s not MY fault!).

Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus is our peace. In the context of that verse, the general meaning seems to be that Jesus will heal the rift between Jews and Gentiles. Jesus will bring peace between two people groups who have never gotten along. It’s not too much of a stretch to suppose that Jesus can and will bring peace between our various churches and the various members of individual churches. If there isn’t peace, then we must be doing something wrong. Or not doing something right.

What that might be I’ll explore in my next post.

Look For God’s Beauty

from the pen of Jeff Joyner

This is a picture I took a few years ago, out in the Oregon countryside. Though these trees had been here for quite some time, it was really the first time I had ever stopped and took notice. The Fall colors were so vibrant, that I had to pull over and take a few pictures. I remember asking myself why I had never noticed them before. The only answer I could come up with was, I was so consumed by the stresses of life, that I had failed to recognize the beauty God had placed around me. From that point on, I made a commitment to make these trees a regular part of my yearly “Fall experience.”

The following year, I decided to drive by the trees once again, to anticipate when they would return to their Fall splendor. As I pulled over to get a better view, my heart began to sink. An entire row of trees had been trimmed down some thirty feet, presumably as a result of a recent ice storm. There would be no majestic Fall display that year, nor for many years to come. At least not like the ones I had previously enjoyed.

God’s message to me was clear. If I allow the weight of the world to consistently pull me down, I can be in danger of missing the beauty that He has placed around me today. God has promised to walk with me each step of the way, through wooded valleys and lofty mountaintops. If I will only take time to recognize His beauty in and around me, I can experience His peace, through both the smooth and rough terrain. For the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Psalm‬ ‭23:1-2

Unsung Teachers

from the pen of Jeff Joyner

It was a normal Sunday, and my parents walked me to my Sunday School class at church. The first half of the class was filled with several planned activities to keep us four and five year olds occupied. During one of the games, I overheard a children’s worker asking another, if she would teach the lesson, because the regular teacher was sick. Though reluctant to do so, she finally agreed. Once the activities concluded, she walked to the front of the class.

Always the intuitive kid, I noticed that she seemed extremely nervous as she began. The lesson was about David and Goliath, and how God used the extraordinary faith of David to bring the giant down. As she continued, her nervousness seemed to increase. As I glanced around the room, none of the other kids even seemed to notice. It finally got so bad, that I closed my eyes, and said a silent prayer on her behalf. Then something happened that I will never forget. As she continued to talk about David’s willingness to be used by God, a peace began to come over her face. It was as if I could visibly see her begin to trust God, just as David did when he went against Goliath. Though I was a pre-schooler, it made such an impact on me, that I walked up to her, and thanked her for the lesson that day.

I don’t know who that Sunday School teacher was, or whatever became of her. But what I do know, is that the words she shared that day, have been permanently imprinted on my heart ever since. And because she was willing to trust God, and give Him everything she had, I was able to leave that Sunday School class, ready and willing to be a warrior for God, for the rest of my life.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs‬ ‭22:6‬ ‭