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

What do you find in the secret, in the quiet place? Is it God?

Do you ever wake up to your heart singing a song? This morning even before I opened my eyes I heard “In the secret, in the quiet place. In the stillness you are there. In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for you, so I can know you more …” I was faintly aware of a bird chirping at intervals from some hidden place outside my window, a backdrop to the concert surrounding my consciousness. In the secret, in the quiet place – that is where we find God. That is where we find healing and comfort. That is where we find strength and where we find hope.

I’m reading a book right now titled The Anatomy of Peace. It isn’t a Christian, biblically based book but it’s transformational for people who want to live in peace and make behavioral choices that heal their brokenness. As I read, this verse kept coming back to me. Psalm 37:37 “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace.”

My heart is broken for a young couple who had a tragic motorcycle accident. God spared their lives but it will be a year and maybe longer before they are able to resume their normal lives. Many prayers are offered for them moment to moment. I pray for them and think of Psalm 119:50 “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”

I have a friend who has suddenly been immersed in the role of caregiver for aging parents. When my mom was living through the final stages of cancer my sister was in a similar role and I stepped in only twice a month to give her some relief. When we are forced into a lifestyle we would never choose and wonder what this means for our future, remember Proverbs 24:14 “Know that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” Pray for wisdom, God promises he will honor that. James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Nothing catches God by surprise. Psalm 139:16 assures us of that. Whatever you are going through today in this moment has already passed through the hands of omniscient God. He knew the moments of your life before you were born.  “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I’ve often wondered about this questions in Psalm 42:2. 2 “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Does it mean when will I meet God face to face? Or was it written to encourage us to seek God and spend time with him in prayer and reading his letter written to us and printed in the form of a book, the Bible?

In the secret, in the quiet place – that is where we find God.

Chris Tomlin – In the Secret, in the quiet place. In the stillness You, God are there.

Blank! What is your interpretation?

A while back I opened the box of marketing materials for my home based business; oversized postcards with a calendar on the back and ink pens, both items a replication of my business card.  My first inclination was to inspect the contents and everything was perfectly placed and printed exactly as I’d ordered it. Then it happened!  Putting the cards back in the box a few separated away and one looking suspiciously out of place fell to the floor.  Totally blank on the front – nothing imprinted – completely pristine white. What would the voice in your head tell you at that point? Blank! Some thoughts went spinning through my head. Guess what they were. “This card is you. Your efforts are nothing compared to what others can do. You should stop this crazy notion and see the message in this blank card.” Blank!

How easy it is to be snared into defeat. How easy it is to be twisted into thinking nothing quite measures up. If at first you don’t succeed … just means you didn’t succeed – for the 100th time.  How easy it is to give in to the struggle and let negative thoughts permeate our existence until we are like that blank card – and have nothing. It’s easy to lay down our tools, pack the protective tarp away, and let the freight train run over us.  Or we can fight back!  Recognize where the stinking thinking comes from.  Look what it says here in Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  Do the dark thoughts and defeat come from God? Of course not.  God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  Look it up.  1 John 1:5.

God had to speak to me about that blank card. Psalm 102:1-2 “Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you.  Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. “  I know how to pray.  I also know that even when I pray, God expects me to ask with the right motives and to do my part.  James 4:3-4 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives … Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”  Falling into friendship with the world limits my thinking to what I am able to do. Comparison is the opposite of contentment and when I compare myself to the achievements of others, I become my own worst enemy and that doesn’t please God either.

So what about that blank card?  Could it be that instead of representing my nothingness, it represents a slate of possibilities?  Was God showing me that He has a plan that has not yet been revealed?  A blank card – where the future is waiting to be written?  When my Bible fell open to Psalm 37, saw this message clearly.  I hope these few inspiring words encourage you for the day ahead and help you see a new message on your blank card. How will you fill it up? It’s for a lifetime – not just today.  Psalm 37 “Trust in the Lord and do good; Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:  He will make your righteous reward shine like the sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. ….. The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall,  for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”

Blank! What is your interpretation? It’s hopelessly blank OR it’s got space for endless possibilities? Start today to write on that blank card . . . Let’s get out there!

I was thinking Natalie Grant’s song Hurricane would be a great ending for this story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1glRTnhssjA

Trading Desperation for Peace and Contentment

Have you ever glanced at something, and in a flash had a creeping feeling of dread? How can a split second of visual make such a powerful connection with your brain that, in a snap, alters your mood? This morning, I bounced down the stairs to my office – not in a falling down the stairs bounce, but in true Tigger fashion, a joyful bounce. As I turned on the light my eyes were drawn to an open magazine article with a huge elegantly printed title “Desperate for more” – an instant, a connection, an altered thought. Desperate for more …. Am I desperate? I don’t think so, but what if I am and just don’t admit it? Temperature check – desperate. Desperate. Desperate for more …. what?

Walking further into my office, God spoke to me about how quickly I felt a demoralizing effect from one tiny title on a page. Coffee in hand, I picked up my ‘Thankful’ journal and pen to write the daily entry. Thankful for – where do I start? My journal has an entry for every day and my Joy jar has a note for each day too. Desperate for more – of what? Here’s what I arrived at when I spent some quiet time with the Supreme Controller and Provider of all things.  empty_platform

Love – Psalm 90:14&17 “Satisfy us in the morning with your loyal love! Then we will shout for joy and be happy all our days!” I’m not desperate for love. I have all I need and am satisfied with that.

Wisdom – Ephesians 1:17 “I pray that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” The best way to avoid feelings of desperation is pray that you will know God better.

Peace – These comforting words come from Luke 1:78-79 “Because of the tender mercy of our God, there is light in darkness and He guides our feet into the path of peace.” We have the perfect instruction manual for peace. The Bible speaks extensively about peace what it is, how to get it, how to keep it, why you never need to be desperate for it. Philippians 4:8-9 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Hope – Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Contentment – I know what you’re going to say already. “You sound like a broken record.” But I have to remind myself and maybe you won’t mind a little reinforcement. Comparison is the opposite of contentment. When I think of contentment, I remember the 6th chapter of 1 Timothy.  I could copy the whole thing right here for you, but let’s start here with 1 Timothy 6:6 “godliness with contentment is great gain. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. “  If you want to read the remainder, just remember 1 Timothy 6.

Sometimes I need a little wake-up call  and allow God to warn me to stop being so vulnerable to suggestion and start fully trusting Him to meet my desperate needs.

God knows we are a desperate people. Our emotions are ripped apart and pieced back together. The happy face of one moment becomes the frown of defeat the next. The optimist can teeter on the edge of pessimism when the burden is too heavy to carry. Desperate for more ….

The magazine article’s complete title which I didn’t see at first was Desperate For More Time. The article said we are slaves to time and our schedules are fused so tightly there is no time for leisure. It’s a common problem, feeling desperate but I learned something today. I’m not desperate for anything.

Philippians 4:19 “God will provide everything you need according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

How about you? Are you ready to turn in your desperate wants for peace and contentment?  I’ll meet you out there.

Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I want.”

How secure is your security blanket?

Yesterday we learned about Lucy. Don’t you love Linus? Let’s learn from him today.

We are a blanket family. I’m literally mesmerized by stores where walls breathe thick towels, floors are spongy with throw rugs, and blankets spill off shelves. Blankets, though, entice me most and even though my family laughs at me, they are all blanket people too. I have a ‘grandpa’s rag tag quilt’ every piece of it stitched together by a cherished friend, Sandy Joyce – homemade contentment.  Walk into my house, it doesn’t have to be winter; it doesn’t even have to be a cold spring, or cool fall. In any season we cocoon in plush, wraparound blankets – the ultimate comfort zone.  I think blankets are like comfort food for the soul.

I wonder if that’s why I love Linus. You know, the philosophical character in the Peanuts gang whose blue blanket seems to be part of his anatomy. Linus is rarely without that assurance of security clasped in his arms. He is faithfully devoted to it.  Snoopy’s frequent quest is to persuade Linus to give up his blanket, and sometimes he stretches the limit just to the line of possession, then Linus realizes his adoration and dependence on his blanket and pulls back before Snoopy can claim victory.

I can relate to Linus; not just because he is captivated by his blanket, but because of his passionate belief in his need for it.  It’s not the same, but Linus and his unshakable faith in his security blanket paints a picture of the unshakable faith I should have in the God who patiently reminds me in Jeremiah 32:17 “Oh, Sovereign Lord, you did indeed make heaven and earth by your mighty power and great strength. Nothing is too hard for you!” The issues I face, the questions I have, God has already decided the outcome. He asks us to pray, to ask in His name, not because He needs our help, but because we need that connection with the Sovereign Lord; we need that blanket of faith surrounding us; to be immersed in it like the lifeline that it is.

The conflicts of this life and the complexities of relationships are exhausting. I find myself starting a project but derailing to reach for my phone with every version of the Bible in searchable text, craving help from the King. I spend a lot of time in the Old Testament where the culture is nothing like ours, but the people were human and fractured just like us. One verse speaks of that in Deuteronomy 17:8 “If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the Lord your God will choose.” At this time judges were the decision makers, but they followed the direction of the Lord God. I keep reminding myself that God requires so little of me. I love the way He instructs through Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.” That’s all He wants from me – to be faithful and obedient before God.

When I feel perplexed and uncertain, when I’m exhausted from the struggle, when I’ve reached the end of myself, I can be like Linus and grasp onto the Lord, my security blanket, because he isn’t just powerful, he is power. And God is not of questionable character, nor does he ever make mistakes.  Right now, I’m praying for protection from the enemy of my soul who wants nothing more than to see me descend into the pit.  As I was studying and reading, and foraging for reassurance, I turned to Ephesians 1:20-22 in the Message. “All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.”

At age 5 I learned “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Psalm 56:3  The same God who David wrote about is the same God of today. Malachi 3:6 says “I the Lord do not change.” God is who He says He is, never changing, always watching, forever acting, and His power is not diluted regardless of the number of projects He’s working on.

This next verse has nothing to do with security blankets, but it gave my spirits a lift and became my favorite Proverb for today Proverbs 20:28 “Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.”

Lover vs Enemy – Which Do You Choose

Have you ever started your day from the moment of wakefulness with an unexplained sense of regret? Monday, I woke up disappointed; no reason, but the tug toward discouragement was obvious. Monday follows Sunday, the day of spiritual feasting.  It didn’t take long to recognize the leading character in this restless descent into pessimism. While my guard was down, the ‘Enemy of My Soul’ brought out his messy paintbrush and tried to ruin the landscape of the beautiful day God planned. During our pastor’s sermon on Sunday, he was reading in Psalms when my eReader flipped back a few chapters to a passage that came to my heart at the first sign of morning today. Psalm 57:8 “Awake, my soul! Awake, O stringed instrument and harp! I will wake up at dawn!” Being awake is a helpful first step, but what comes next? Good question. What does come with the advent of a new day? Some days are immersed in wandering contentedness; on others we need a swift upsurge of incentive! There is nothing wrong with taking a break, letting off the accelerator of life and coasting aimlessly for a little while. We need a reprieve from regimented structure and relentless work, but this was not one of those time-off days.

This day I had my heart set on a productive day; productive laced with contentment. I was thinking of all the things I wanted to check off my list and the satisfaction of seeing that line drawn through each task. I’m pretty sure I gave some thought to the Lord and even started the day with a sincere prayer.  I know what it says in 1Timothy 6:6 “Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit.” Instead of contentment, menacing flickers of discouragement threatened. Less than 15 minutes into morning the effects of Monday after Sunday were coloring my day with abstract images; lost focus and no contentment in sight. After about the 4th fruitless trip up and down the stairs, I recognized the signs of attitude deterioration.  I was definitely not following what I learned just the day before from Psalm 63:8 “My soul pursues you; your right hand upholds me.” I had to ask. Is this the path God would want me to stumble around on; all this aimless wandering? Isn’t this wasted energy? And what about all the time I can’t get back if this restlessness continues all day?

Does this ever happen to you? Some obscure emotion snags your attitude and drags it through a gloomy path to despair and spiritual poverty? Couldn’t we use a stop sign right then with an arrow pointing to a better path; one that’s well marked with a light at the end? There is always a better path. In fact, I can prove it in Jeremiah 6:16 where “The Lord said to his people: “You are standing at the crossroads. So consider your path. Ask where the old, reliable paths are. Ask where the path is that leads to blessing and follow it. If you do, you will find rest for your souls.” But they said, “We will not follow it!” In that context, God is calmly trying to convince his people that he has given them instruction and has shown them the tried and true path, but they seemed to have a better idea and purposefully rejected God’s advice and said “We will not follow it.”  Let’s not make that chaotic mistake!

Where do we find momentum for living above challenges etched in the landscape by that messy paintbrush clasped in the hands of the ‘Enemy of Your Soul’?

  • Dive into the hands of the ‘Lover of Your Soul’, Jesus, God’s Son who promises in Psalm 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”  If you get the inside right, the outside will take care of itself.
  • Connect with God – Isaiah 59 reveals some consequences of being alienated from Him. Unfamiliar with peace; wait for light, but see only darkness; grope along the wall like the blind, like those who cannot see;
    we stumble at noontime as if it were evening.

It’s easy to begin the day with hope and quickly slide into sadness. Even when we pray to the ‘Lover of Our Soul’, that despicable ‘Enemy of Our Soul’ is ready to pounce, claw, and drag us to defeat. In those times, remember these words from David in Psalm 119:65-68 “Be good to your servant, God; be as good as your Word. Train me in good common sense; I’m thoroughly committed to living your way. Before I learned to answer you, I wandered all over the place, but now I’m in step with your Word. You are good, and the source of good; train me in your goodness.” [Message]

Your mission, should you decide to accept it is, Lover vs Enemy – you choose. Joshua 24:15 “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”

Ready?  Let’s get out there!  All will be well.

Out of a blank mind…

I have heard that when you ask a woman what she’s thinking, and she says. “Nothing” she is, in fact thinking about what to cook for dinner, picking up the dry cleaning, returning books to the library, sending a birthday card, calling her sick friend, adding to her shopping list, and fetching the kids from school.  But ask a man that same question and when he responds “Nothing” he is, in fact, thinking of nothing. Every morning, when I wake up, there is a menagerie of thought in my head – not this morning. I have no idea where my mind had gone because when my opportunity clock went off, it sounded to me like a far distant pinging. Zig Ziglar said an optimist has an opportunity clock; it’s the pessimist who wakes to an alarm.  Maybe you have an opportunity clock too.  If not you might what to go get yourself one.  They are a fabulous invention!

There’s a problem with waking up with a blank mind though….deciding on the story to tell today. Oh no! Rambling, random thoughts from my notebooks.  Hang on.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Contentment – is not what you get, it’s being satisfied with what you already have.  Contentment is not complacency, nor an escape from life’s challenges; it’s about peace in your circumstances. Paul was content because he devoted himself to rejoicing. Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! “ And Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Gratitude – there is nothing wrong with wanting good things unless those things become too important to me.  Be thankful for the little things, especially those you never think about. The heart is our control center – feed it constantly with an attitude of gratitude.  Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Colossians 3:15 says to “Let peace rule your heart  . . .  and be thankful.”

Trouble – What day goes by that doesn’t have a little bit of trouble.  What can we do with trouble – learn from it. Trouble can terrify or it can transform.  Life is a series of problems, but they are all teaching moments – even those that are devastating and seem impossible to us. 1Peter 4:12  lays it out for us “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Don’t be surprised – I’m often surprised when bad things happen, especially to my friends.  Somehow I find it hard to fit devastating circumstances into the framework of ‘good’.  After all doesn’t the Bible say in Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”?  That’s what we hang on to – that somehow, God will bless this person who loves him, with a good outcome – even if we don’t understand how this can be good.  2Corinthians 4:17 says “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Most of all – through it all, this is my forever prayer.  I’m sure David won’t take me to court for quoting him. Psalm 119:33 “God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course. Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—my whole life one long, obedient response. Guide me down the road of your commandments.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEsghRJI2kw