Joy: Buried Treasure

It was the night of bright lights and bling. New Years Eve – everywhere we looked there was glitter and sparkle and shine. Every particle of air held excitement and ice melted from sheer energy. There were smiles and hugs and the air was electric with celebration! No matter if 2016 was a good year to hang onto with tenacious enthusiasm or one that we couldn’t wait to vanish into history, the beginning of a new year sparks hope. Parties and celebrations ignite happiness and flame the atmosphere with joy.  

I wonder though, what happens now when the lights have gone out, the fireworks are over, the confetti has fallen to the ground in dusty clumps and the glitter is washed down the drain. Is that the end of happiness? Is that it for joy? It is, if joy is dependent on our circumstances.

I’ve been thinking.  Special events bring excitement into our lives; they’re blessings and we treasure those moments when our hearts feel happy. But the moments don’t last and as they fade, so does the feeling we confuse with joy. Joy is heaven-made. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. “The humble will be filled with fresh JOY from the Lord. Isaiah 29:19 [NLT] Doesn’t that sound like our joy comes from God and not from ourselves or any other source?

Happiness is homemade. It’s part of our human experience. Many years ago I read one of those sayings on the side of a coffee mug that said, “If everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.” That’s a pretty good description of life, isn’t it? We’re on our journey for a while taking the scenic tour, a few curves a few hills – we’re comfortable, we’re happy. But then life gets really tough and the pleasant journey becomes a dangerous expedition. Thrown off our path we’re driven into the deep end of the ocean or feel like we’re hanging by our fingernails on the side of a cliff. Not our happiest moments, are they? There is no bling, there is no glitter, the light is gone. The last thing we feel capable of is being happy.

How often do we say it? “But Lord, I’m not happy. I’m tired of trying so hard to get through this. And Lord, in case you haven’t noticed, this ‘thing’ is getting me down. Somedays I feel so sad I don’t want to move.” Do you remember Psalm 23:1? The Lord is my shepherd … This isn’t a verse tucked into the Bible so we could envision a calm, serene flowing brook surrounded by wild flowers. Shepherds worked hard, trudged through brambles and mud to keep track of their sheep. And they protected every single sheep from any harm that threatened them. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” Do you trust your shepherd? you-make-known-to-me-the-path-of-life

Jesus reminds us that nothing can take our joy away from us because he is the source of our joy. Nehemiah 8:10 says “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” Our circumstances may make us sad, they may exhaust us, we might feel like we’ve been plunged into darkness but it’s in our darkest days that the tiniest light appears brightest. The light of the world is Jesus (John 8:12); it’s he who is the source of our joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; as I walk with You the pleasures are never-ending and I know true JOY and contentment.”

We have to look for joy, like excavating for buried treasure because that’s what it is. Joy is a gift we choose to open over and over.  Joy is our light even when the bling of the world is gone. Look for the joy because it won’t come find us.

To choose joy means we choose God, we choose to fill our minds and fill our hearts with his words. Matthew 12:34 describes it so clearly. “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Joy might not be a natural response to a broken spirit when days seem dark, but if you are God’s child, you already have unlimited, renewable joy. Nahum 1:7-8 tell us that God comforts his troubled children who put their trust in him. “The Lord is good. He protects those who trust him in times of trouble. But like a roaring flood the Lord chases his enemies into dark places and destroys them.” That’s God. He protects, and destroys the enemy that tries to steal your joy.

Lord, your word says you’ve given me an unlimited supply of renewable joy, but I’m having a hard time finding it. Please be a light on my pathway to peace and joy. Flood my heart with so much joy here is no room for darkness. God, I ask you to change my circumstances, Lord. But if you choose to grow my character through them, then please change me. Change my attitude, change my heart, change my life. Make me a faithful steward of your gift of joy. Amen

Intentions, not Resolutions

​Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. Whenever you read this, it’s good. You’re covered. 

I’ve been thinking. In a few hours we will be writing 2017 instead of 2016 for our dates. What else will we be doing instead? 

I stopped making new year resolutions when I figured out how self-defeating they were and how self-deprecating I became. Instead of resolutions I started making a list of ideas, of things I could try to do or learn. No due date. No expiration date. Writing out my ideas helps me remember my intentions to do good. If that sounds strange, let me ask you. When was the last time you wrote your intentions to do bad? Yeh, that’s what I thought. 

Today, take a few minutes to think back over the last year. Reflect, don’t return. Forgive yourself for every mistake that comes to your mind. Forgive every offense whether yours or another person’s – even if they haven’t asked and even if you don’t want to. Verbally, right out loud. “Grrrr. I am still angry, I’m hurt, but I forgive and am moving on.” Now move on. Forgetting those things which are behind….press on.

Write yourself a note to inspire you to begin this new year with good intentions.  Who will you contact? What books will you read? What might you want to learn? How do you envision each day? I would rather live inspired by what gets me up in the morning than dread what keeps me up at night. You too?

Today, on this threshold of a new year, remember that yesterday is past tense and it’s over. It’s a reflection in your rear view mirror. It’s impossible to move forward if you can’t step away from what is now history. Don’t let setbacks become staybacks. New Year, 2017. No resolutions. Only intentions to look for the slivers of joy in life. Encourage others and you will be encouraged. Decide now to live life in forward motion, not stuck back there.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking. 

Forget what is behind. Press on toward the prize. Welcome New Year!

Finding Comfort in Our Loss

Comfort, comfort my people … a few weeks ago one of my sisters-in-law suffered a debilitating stroke, our music minister from church passed away after a very long, excruciating battle with cancer, two of my friends from church lost their husbands to cancer. During the past year, five of my friends lost husbands, suddenly, without warning. I came to wonder how many times that sick feeling of loss would be multiplied and what could I do to comfort people I care about when the only thing that seemed possible was to pray.

Loss is real. Fear is constant for so many. This Christmas season magnifies the emptiness that has become the new normal for people who are going on without their soulmate. From my recent prayer journal pages – Please pray: My mom has dementia and I don’t know how much longer I can care for her. My son’s wife wants a divorce. My husband said Merry Christmas, he’s leaving me and our kids. I suffer from Lyme disease and am unbearably fatigued much of the time. My daughter needs an operation and has no health insurance. My spouse has just been admitted to hospice care. I have debilitating migraines and can’t get out of bed. My work schedule is ruining my chance for family vacation again. My son is making extremely poor choices and there is no dealing with him.

Isaiah 40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.” Do you open an email, read a text, or see a post on Facebook and your heart is broken because your friend is riding out a storm and you can do nothing but pray? I often wonder if David was called a man after God’s own heart because he prayed often and recorded his prayers in the Psalms. Psalm 102:1 is just one where David’s endurance has dissolved “Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you.”

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever reach the end of your strength and say, “Lord, do you even see me here? Do you care that I’m exhausted from just too much? This is just too much.” God used David’s poems, songs, and reflections to comfort, comfort His people. Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Sometimes I do things backward. God should be my first choice, not my last resort. When I woke up this morning I heard the song in my mind “All is well. All is well.”  god-should-be-our-first-response That is such a comforting, heartwarming thought. Psalm 143:8 “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

In chapter six of Matthew, there are descriptions of how to pray and even some guidelines for the attitude that’s pleasing to God. In Matthew 6:6 we read one option “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Does this mean before we can pray we have to find an empty room? Thankfully not! We are invited to pray anytime, anyplace, for any reason. We pray for shattered hearts to be healed Psalm 147:3 “He heals those who have a broken heart. He heals their sorrows.”

every-morning-psalm-143We pray for direction when lives have been turned upside down by turmoil; we ask for acceptance when we have to bear the consequences of decisions made outside our control. Our faith takes a beating, doesn’t it? In these times, acknowledge what God tells us in Isaiah 48:17 “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”

When every ounce of energy we have left wants to shout, “Really God? Is this really the plan you have for me? How am I supposed to get through this one?” Let’s scan a few statements here in Jeremiah 10 … “No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power… God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.” This verse is key for today just as is was back then. Jeremiah 10:23 “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.”

We have to go forward, move past the calamity, rise above the chaos, and clear out a lot of torn feelings all cluttering the path to joy. Remember happiness is circumstantial and sometimes our circumstances have no characteristics close to happiness. Joy comes from believing that God’s plan is for our ultimate good. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Before that next cup of coffee, before returning to the TV, before making that phone call, remember Psalm 6:9 “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Comfort, comfort my People says your God. All is well. All is well.

When is Christmas?

Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. I read an article today that started out something like this. “There’s an old saying that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I disagree with that … and then the author goes on to explain her point.”  The truth is, that old saying is a direct quote from Jesus as written in the book of Acts 20:35.  It is more blessed to give than to receive, and deep in our hearts we know giving is first an attitude of the heart. For some, a giving spirit seems to be part of their DNA, where others have to be reminded because it doesn’t come naturally to them.

We all know how to give from our possessions and give back of ourselves. We feel good when we have helped someone else feel good. Think about the last week. Without dwelling too intently on the subject, you can probably think of a number of things you have given away. At the grocery store you may have contributed to a food pantry. You said yes when the cashier at the dollar store asked if you would like to donate a toy to a military family. At the gas station maybe you dropped your change into a container where money is being collected for a community member who needs medical care. You baked and shared. You put in extra money when the offering plate was passed at church. You threw a few dollars into the Salvation Army Red Kettle, maybe more than once. Your list could be exhaustive – it could reflect your exhaustion with giving. So that’s why I don’t want to dwell on giving material things.   what-is-most-important-matthew-23-23

For now, set all that aside and think about giving that comes from the heart. Wait! Isn’t that what we were just discussing? Giving is an attitude of the heart. Yes, yes it is. But in all the giving of things we can touch and feel, God has something even more important for us to give. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus sternly spoke to people about being good about giving money away but they were failing miserably at giving justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus leveled their attitudes and called them out for their motives. Early in the chapter, Jesus warns people about following leaders who had knowledge but were bad examples. Their motives were all messed up. There hearts were calloused and pride made them impenetrable to acts of justice or mercy or faithfulness. Jesus told the people, “Don’t forget what is most important. Justice, Mercy, and Faith.”

People have needs. People need each other. We are all people. Keep giving. Keep helping. Keep loving. In our giving and helping and loving from our abundance, let’s remember to share abundantly from our hearts with justice, mercy, and faith. Let’s think before we post or speak.  Listen at heart level, accept people for who they are, and be kind. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Smile. If you see someone without a smile, share yours. Be a friend. Tell someone they matter.

Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart.  This is a song I learned when my kids were very young. It touched my heart deeply then and I believe it today. Christmas is a date on the calendar, it’s a holiday many people claims as their favorite, it’s a season, it’s a story, it’s family, it’s friends – but Christmas is more than that. It’s the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the savior.  And Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart.  Listen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXH2lvt5YMA

 

Welcome Sunday . . . Welcome Peace

Can I just say it?  Welcome Sunday! It seems like a month has passed since I’ve walked into a place of peace. I am so ready to be greeted by friends who genuinely care for me, listen to music that both soothes and energizes, and hear a message from God’s word, spoken through the hearts of our pastor and teachers. There is no better way to express it.  Welcome, Sunday!

I confess, I don’t always feel this way. Sometimes I get up, get ready, and get to church. Period! Even then, I enjoy the music, love to be taught applicable life lessons from way back before electricity. Then there are days like today when my heart is running on empty and I need to go to the filling station and get a refill.  Before this crevice becomes a cavern, there is hope for my heart.  Reading Psalms satisfies for a while.  I know God is always there.  Psalm 137:7-8 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”  I’m thankful that I can call to God anytime and He is there. Many times a day I talk to Him, sometimes out loud, like really LOUD. perfect-peace-isaiah-26-3I assure you He never answers me out loud, but God sends his spirit to calm me down. Last night we were on a pretty slippery, snowy road and I had visions of the car pile up on an expressway last week. Talk about the weather outside being frightful! Snow kept us company all along the way, in those moments I had a touch of fear that we could hit someone or something. Then on WCSG, I think God told them to play This song by Casting Crowns and on my radio, they sang the words ‘Peace on Earth in my heart I’m singing ….’ “Thank you God. Thank you for protecting all the drivers on the road. Not one slip, slide, or mishap. Thank you God for being there all the time.” Thankful! Blessed! Amazed!

Then I remembered a verse that I learned around the age of six:  Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” I learned something from that moment.  God is there in the moments that flash in front of us and are gone. He’s there when our heart hurts and crushing emotions drag on for days or months. Hope seems lost when we need strength to go on:  Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”  We all crave peace in a peace shattered world.  Leaning on God is not a crutch. We were born seeking God.  We were created in His image for a purpose and it is not to live in fear, regret, and lost hope.  This is one of my favorite go-to passages when I need to be reminded that God created every person, he knows everything about us, he loves us and just like we take care of things we treasure, God takes care of us even more.  I hope you enjoy these verses from the Message translation.

Jeremiah 29:  11-14 “I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  ”—God’s Decree— Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.  I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you”—God’s Decree—“bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”

Peace On Earth; Casting Crowns

Finishing Well, or Just Finishing

Happy Birthday, Billy Graham. A hero of the Christian faith turned 98 on November 7th. Billy Graham has lived in the public eye since he was in his twenties, stayed true to his faith in Jesus Christ and has never been involved in immorality or been the object of scandal. When I was 11 years old my friends who had TV talked about watching Billy Graham Crusades and 40 years later I was still watching him talk about the object of his faith. In honor of Billy Graham’s birthday and his impeccable testimony, I’m writing this after reading his touching and gentle book, Nearing Home, but it’s also about Finishing Well. A lot has changed since Billy Graham began his evangelistic ministry, but one thing has not changed.  Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the phases of life. If you know me personally, you will know that I’m basically retired, but am trying to live as though I am not. I have nothing against retirement if it’s right for your life, but that isn’t the path for me. Someone told me once that retirement is OK as long as you ‘retire to’ not just ‘retire from’. I get that, and when I get far past the age of 80, I will ‘retire to’ rock crying babies in a hospital somewhere. I hope I still have a voice to sing to them too.  That’s all on my 20 year strategic plan. Go ahead do the math, I don’t mind. finishing-well

While wrestling with some decisions I was lead to the latest book by Billy Graham, Nearing Home.  I was drawn to it because of the sub-title “Life, Faith, and Finishing Well” and was caught from the second sentence of  his introduction. “All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever taught me how to live in the years before I die”. He goes on to say, “The Bible doesn’t picture us spending our latter years as useless and ineffective, spending our lives in endless boredom or meaningless activity……God has a purpose for us no matter what our age, young or old, the best way to meet challenges is to prepare for them now, align ourselves with God’s plan so we grow older with grace and find the guidance to finish well.”  OK, so if you happen to have the book you will realize that I took great liberty in paraphrasing, but in essence – those are his thoughts.  And I share them, because that is my prayer for all of us – that we find God’s purpose for our lives so we continually are living out a life aligned with God’s plan, inside His blueprint that’s uniquely our own.

That might mean we keep on doing the same things we’ve been doing because we’re on the right path and in the proper grid on the blueprint.  It might mean taking a slight bend in the road and modifying our course, just a little; a small incremental change.  Or it could mean a 90 degree angle or 180 degree turn. Where should I be today to be assured of finishing well tomorrow?  Today is all I have and tomorrow is the result of how I live it.  Maybe start hereDeuteronomy 6:5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, and mind.   Then speed read over to 1 John 5:3 This is love for God; to obey his commands. And if I start to waiver and fear that I can’t do what God has put in my heart to do, there is always the wisdom of Isaiah 41:13 I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Seriously, friends – what are we afraid of? God has made us unique because He has a purpose for each of us, He created us with certain interests, abilities, and yes, even our personalities.  He will be our guide if we are committed to follow His lead. Get that – His lead.

How many times do we fall into the trap of thinking this is all there is? Life isn’t the party I signed up for. Let’s encourage each other in our walk today. I know myself well enough now to recognize that my passion to learn and share what I’ve learned through writing, mentoring, and teaching is who I am. The nearly obsessive desire to be a helper and support others so they don’t have to do it all themselves – that’s part of me. Scott Steiner, a true faithful servant of God recently when home to live in heaven with Jesus. A few years ago he taught a class at my church on spiritual gifts and, me, always eager for insight into what God’ purpose was for me, couldn’t wait to put action into my purpose. God spoke to me through those lessons in discovery and purpose. I’m still discovering and will continue – well, until God says it’s a wrap for my life on earth.

We are all going to someday reach the finish line. All our days, like sand, will collect at the bottom of the hourglass, our time on Earth expended. Finishing well, or just finishing?

At age 98,of course Billy Graham has retired from daily work, but he still has confidence that until his next breath is celestial air, his purpose on Earth is not over.  So back to that retirement topic – there are many versions of retirement as there are many seasons of life! I’m looking forward to branching out, spreading joy, learning more, sharing more, being more tomorrow than I am today, because it’s in God’s plan for us to be what he created us to be until we no longer are.  Ephesians 5:16 Make the most of every opportunity. For some, that’s their version of retirement. For me, it’s “Show me the mountain, Lord, then grab my hand and pull me up it”.   Are you struggling today? Do you have obstacles to overcome? Are you seeking the right path? You don’t have to do this alone.   Isaiah 41:14 Do not be afraid … for I, myself will help you declares the Lord.  2 Thessalonians 3:3 & 5 The Lord is faithful, He will strengthen and protect you …. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview (book review)

Never before have I read a nonfiction book that held my interest like reading my best friend’s story while learning so much about the military life of a fighter pilot. I was captivated by the second paragraph when Jason Ladd wrote, “For centuries, the great thinkers have labored to understand man’s purpose.” In that instant, I wanted to see how this young man, father to six, husband to Karry, and US Marine found his answer to that question. By the final chapter of the book I was able to peer into his life and get know the real Jason B. Ladd, a spiritual seeker, just like me, but living his unique purpose as a Marine dedicated to protecting America in times of crisis.   oneofthefew

Before I knew about this book, I was a follower of Jason B. Ladd’s blog. I knew of his strong foundation of faith and of his Christian testimony. As I began to read this book, One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview, I was repeatedly surprised by his apathetic view of God and Jesus Christ. His question early in the book was, “How could I operate without God when so many others needed him so desperately?” Jason’s answers weren’t immediate and that’s what I found so enticing about this book. I know the uncertainty I dealt with in my search for Christ in my twenties. As his story unfolds, Jason Ladd offers views and analogies between his life as a civilian and his life as a Marine. He relates what he learned through his experiences in training for and becoming a Marine fighter pilot to his search for God and discipleship as a growing Christian.

I turned page after page absorbing the stories told by Jason about his training maneuvers in flight and on the ground, I now know that pilots can land an aircraft on the bed of a ship, and I got a glimpse of how unnerving that incident would be. As Jason says about his training for flight and training for living his life as a believer, “There is no substitute for experience and experience requires repetition. Study tactics, fly by the book and repeat. Read, fly, repeat. Read the Bible, live by the Book, and repeat. Read, live, repeat. Failure to do either can give the enemy the upper hand.”

As I read I understood more and more about the strategy of living the life according to God’s standards by learning from the author of this book, the strategies for living as a soldier. The difference between enemies of the soldier in the Marines and the enemy of the Christian is that the soldier’s enemy is physical, but the Christians’ enemy is spiritual. “War is the byproduct of a broken world. It’s impossible to prepare for battle if you are ignorant of the war.” Through his book, Jason implores us to learn all we can about the real war going on between the spiritual enemy, Satan, so we can defend ourselves against spiritual warfare. “Living a holy life in a broken world is difficult. The Bible tells you how to live, but you’re going to forget a lot of what it says. You must continually stay in the Word. Like executing fighter tactics, living a holy life is a perishable skill.” Read, live, repeat.

Through the narrative of his life, Jason Ladd shows us how to live a morally vibrant and spiritually fed life and stand firm in our faith even when the world is falling into calamity and moral chaos. “Emerging technologies may change the character of war, but the nature of war remains constant: ugly, violent, and necessary as long as evil remains a reality of the human heart.” I recommend this book to anyone searching for life solidly grounded on faith.