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

JOY – well, there’s that.

Do you ever feel like you never quite accomplish what you set out to do in a day? Not that you feel like a total slug, but there’s just something missing from the pattern so there’s a gap where achievement belongs.

I’m a list maker- and because I’m not unique in that capacity, my guess is that some of you are too. I used to do a few tasks, then sneak them onto my list, just so I could have the satisfaction of crossing them off. Come on – tell my you haven’t ever done that.

Lately though, I want to give up on my lists. I know. Right? How can that even be possible? It has nothing to do with lack of additions to it. Confession time. My lists have lists now and that makes me feel like a failure. My friend, Kim and I started the beginning of the year with weekly pages to keep us motivated and actively checking things off as we completed them.

At first my pages looked like Swiss Cheese, but then began to look like a deep, empty well pit. We need a new beginning and start over with the school year, but before then a new mindset. What does God say about my pattern? Does it look like what he envisioned? Or is it messed up too much with my ideas and not enough of his?

In days like this, I’m glad God doesn’t have mood swings. In fact, no matter how many times I get distracted, accomplish nothing, and do life my own way, God just says, ““I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

Every morning (well, almost every morning) I start my day with God. We have a conversation about what I don’t want to do because I want to get it right out there where I know what I’m dealing with. There’s nothing like getting a clear, prayerful understanding. Then I pop in the DVD for exercise, and finally after that, have quiet time with the Lord and have an attitude adjustment before the day comes rolling in full steam ahead. Mindset. Prepare. Choose Joy.God sings over you with joy

Then stuff happens.

At the end of the day I wonder what he would say if I asked, “God did I meet all your expectations today?” But you know what? I don’t think God loves me any less if I messed up his pattern. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty warrior who saves. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

You see, you can work hard or coast; make the most of every moment or waste the minutes. God delights in you with gladness. God rejoices over you with joyful songs. Anyone who sings over you, is not holding a grudge, is not angry, is not waiting to catch you up. He rejoices over you with joyful songs – no strings attached. God wants obedience and doesn’t want you to give up. God wants what’s best for you and that is believing him, trusting him, and loving him. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He expects us to stay faithful and not give up. He is a God of new beginnings.

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. Jude 1:2

 

Choose joy . . . It’s the better deal

How ’bout those Tigers, huh? I could hear explosions of great joy all over the net last night. Yeh, that!  I’m sure it was not explosions of grief for the Marlins – although with a close 7-5 score. Well . . . and let’s just leave it right there.  All I can say is Bring It! So is it OK to be thankful for a sports team winning? I’m saying yes! (my apologies to Marlin fans) What I’m most thankful for is the hype, the enthusiasm, the sheer positive expressions of happy fans, and the contagious nature all of that exudes. Can we grab onto that for today? Longer than a day?  Just for fun. Yes!

Sometimes we need a little reminder that joy is kindled from a whole variety of sources, sometimes even a game….lots of times from games. I think often about the Apostle Paul and his analogies often portraying athletes and their endurance in the game of life. Like the Tigers last night – they were in it to win it. And in this life, no matter what it brings, we are in it to win it. Bring it!

We might start this day filled with great anticipation only to encounter little earthquakes that shake us up. Before we let them get to our core we have to fight back. Here’s the path to overcoming the enemy of defeat. Don’t worry. It changes nothing.  Remember God is by your side. Ask Him to be your guide and protector. Start reminding yourself of what is good, lovely, honorable, and brings you joy. Write it down … I am thankful for … and make a list.  You will feel a lot better after you read it.

Here’s my joy jar so far:

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There is no such thing as perfect. Perfect is just a word, it’s not a state of being. So let’s not expect perfect but let’s expect to be so persuasive in our thoughts that our hearts and attitudes catch up with our will. You know will, don’t you.  I WILL do this. I WILL find the joy in this.

What we think eventually gets to our emotions. We choose.  Better or bitter.  Sunny or cloudy.  Peace or conflict. Joy or ….. choose joy.  It’s the better deal.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And I choose this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tezG4LRNzw&feature=g-vrec

I want the fairy tale

Once upon a time … and so begins the story with the happily every after ending. I grew up in a black and white world, not a world of a solid line running between right and wrong, but a world before color television and a world on the bleeding edge of Technicolor cinematography. Storybooks were paper, every page imprinted with black ink with an artist’s watercolor illustration adorning a page just at the moment of waning interest. Every night before bed my mom would read The House at Pooh Corners, or a chapter from a book like Treasures in the Snow, or Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, or the Little House books. But my favorites were the stories that started out with the softness of “Once Upon A Time” and ended with “And they lived happily ever after”. I still want the fairy tale.

Can you guess what my favorite fairy tale is? What is yours? Is it the Cinderella story or maybe Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Maybe it’s Rapunzel or Robin Hood and His Mighty Band of Thieves.  My favorite fairy tale is the Shoemaker and the Elves. It’s not about conflict, not about victory over a wicked queen, it’s not about a battle between good and evil; there are no white hats versus black hats; no undercurrent of deception. The Shoemaker and the Elves is all about relationships, personal sacrifice, egoless achievement and support.

This is how I remember the story. Once upon a time there was an old shoemaker. Every day he faithfully went to work in his cobbler shop. Despite the snow, ice, and wind he was there, in his shop every day working hard to provide a warm home and food for his family. Whistling through his day, he stretched, pounded, glued and polished shoes and boots from demanding customers. Being meticulous about his work, and having high quality standards, it took extra time to complete the mounds of boots and shoes on his counter. Every night he assessed his work and every night he prayed that what he had completed was done well and that tomorrow he would make better progress on the tasks ahead.  Some days he was so overwhelmed all he could do was pray.  Sometimes I think he prayed as David did many times. In Psalm 22:19 he prayed “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” Like David, this shoemaker knew where his strength came from. And in Psalm 143:8 he acknowledges his trust in God. “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..”source of strength - Psalm 22-19

While the shoemaker was pleading with God to bring relief for his burden, his prayers were already being answered. Concealed from human observation were helpers prepared for this mission, elves whose source of joy was in serving. A team of friends who would come alongside him when the shoemaker’s resources were depleted and his reserves exhausted.  These excerpts from Romans 8:26-28 gives us an inside view. “The moment we get weary in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know what to pray, He does our praying for us. He knows us far better than we know ourselves and knows our condition. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives is being taken care of by compassionate God.”

Each night the shoemaker lined up his work for the next day, swept the floor, snuffed out the candles and went home, satisfied with his accomplishments, but always with an eye on his plan for tomorrow. As he entered his home, I can hear his memory recalling Romans 15:5-6 “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the story there is no indication that the shoemaker abandoned his responsibilities to the ‘elves’ and expected them to work so he didn’t have to.  His attitude was one of gratefulness to his secret helpers, recognizing their efforts as important as his own. Romans 11:18 “Do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”

Once upon a time . . . I think God knew the heart of the shoemaker was centered on doing the right things despite his circumstances. He was diligent in using the skills God gave him, but he was not too proud to pray for relief and accept help when his situation became too challenging. I love the way the Message describes the relationship between need and fulfillment. The subject here is the Apostle Paul, but it could characterize any one of us if God is Lord and Master of our life.  Philippians 4:13-14 “I’ve found the recipe for being happy…Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.”

I still love the fairy tale, but those are just stories, wishful thinking, a dream of living happily ever after. Our happily ever after comes in eternity with God and his son Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And they lived happily ever after.

The original story of the Elves and the Shoemaker written by The Grimm Brothers.

Faith like a parachute

It’s Monday everyone. A new day. A new week. What will it bring? Every day is new, but isn’t there something about Monday that just seems different? Some of us love Monday and enthusiastically run into the day with the joyful anticipation of a sky diving adventure. Others plod toward it with resistance like wearing a parachute that’s all burden and no adventure. Most of the time, I’m in camp #1. I look forward to Monday, even though it means leaving the freedom of the weekend behind. Other times my anticipation gets a little tarnished and it takes a lot more effort to polish my attitude before I jump into the unknown. Why is that?file0001754310068

If today is one of those days for you and you enter tentatively, even fearfully, remember this word: faith. We don’t have to walk through this day alone and in the dark. I started preparing for this Monday on Saturday and Sunday. It’s like packing my parachute for adventure.  I took a faith walk through some of the Psalms and revisited some promises in Isaiah and gave my mind an overdose of positive thoughts in Philippians 4.  Today has arrived and I’m ready.

God told us not to worry about the future.  We can make the best choices, and do everything right, but still we are promised this moment and the future is out of our control. I’m not making that up. It’s all true. Anticipating the future can be exciting. Ask someone whose hobby is skydiving. They will tell you, you’re up there in a plane with nothing but you and your parachute. You know it will open on the way down; that’s the faith part.  But there’s still that leap into the unknown, the adrenaline rush, the experience. Whether we approach our day with excitement or dread, it’s faith coupled with hope that carries us.   That’s what we need to do with this day. Let our faith carry us into a day that becomes our joy because we have our faith on and our radar tuned to God’s best.

This morning I was reading a devotional and noticed how  many of the references were in Psalm 119. It’s a long Psalm so it shouldn’t surprise me that there is so much encouragement in there, but I chose these to share with you today – Monday – the day after a weekend – the day after a holiday. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t identify the verses. These are from the Voice translation:  I have pursued You with my whole heart; do not let me stray from Your commands. I will chase after Your commandments because You will expand my understanding. Deep within me I have hidden Your word so that I will never sin against You. Guide me to walk in the way You commanded because I take joy in it. The earth is filled with Your unfailing love, O Eternal One; teach me to observe what You require. Help me to learn good judgment and knowledge because I believe Your commandments. Before I had trouble, I strayed from the true path, the path of righteousness, but now I live according to Your word. You are truly good, and Your acts are too; teach me what You require. According to Your unfailing love, spare my life so that I can live according to the decrees of Your mouth. Your word is a lamp for my steps; it lights the path before me. I long for Your salvation, O Eternal One. Meanwhile, Your teaching brings me great joy. Let my soul live on so that I may praise You, and let Your precepts guide me.

No fear OK?  Eyes, ears, heart wide open like a parachute. Take the giant leap of faith – like Francesca Battistelli sings here in – I’m Letting Go.
Ready team? Let’s get out there! Treat yourself to joy every day!

He is risen! Happy Easter!

A few months ago, I took a class where one of the assignments was to think of what qualities we would have if we were fearless and able to accomplish things that, in our own selves, would not be possible. We were told to think of heroes in our lives who already had the qualities we were lacking. I’ve never been a hero worshipper but if it made the assignment easier, I could put my mind to it. My first thought was what would it take to be a hero? I mean from my estimation. Would it be the character who enters a phone booth as a mild mannered young man and bursts forth as Superman, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound? Or would it be a woman who is highly successful and respected around the globe? Or would it be an aging man who has brought millions to hear the gospel, who has written books about being totally sold out to God, and who has lived a quiet life, above reproach? More likely, my hero would be someone I know personally, respect for their wisdom, look up to for guidance, and already seek their counsel.Happy Easter
When we have a hero, what is our ambition? To become like them. We covet their approval. We pursue their advice. We pay attention to their advice and try to emulate their best characteristics. We can’t wait for the time to come when we can get together and have girl talk (or guy talk) And we love them with unconditional love. I have several heroes, people I look up to, respect, would model my life after – at least to some extent, but they are human. While these people have all the characteristics of strong Christian faith and unblemished moral character, they have the vulnerabilities of being human. Today is Easter Sunday. I don’t have to wonder who my super hero is. I can read an entire book about his qualities. As much as I’m able, I want to emulate him.
In my quiet time with the Lord each day, I read a devotional. When scripture is mentioned I read it from the Bible and often write it down. These are just a few of the verses that spoke to me recently about the character I want to emulate.
 
Unconditional love: Jeremiah 31:3 I have loved you with an everlasting love—out of faithfulness I have drawn you close.
Prayer warrior: Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.
Morality: Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, watch over your heart; diligently guard it because from a sincere and pure heart come the good and noble things of life.
Humility: 1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up.
Joy: Psalm 119:2 Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.
Practice the presence of God: Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord! Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
I went to see Passion of the Christ when it came out a few years ago. “See” is a euphemism for something that didn’t happen. I spent the greater share of the movie looking at the back of the seat in front of me. You might remember that the entire movie was done in subtitles, but I was paralyzed, unable to look at the screen. It was brutal and horrific to see 200 years later, imagine the experience in real life! Isaiah 53 is the story told before it even happened. I won’t copy it all here, but read it for yourself. It’s the tragedy of the cross. No cinematography required.
Jesus is my hero. He lives in heaven, but he also lives in my heart. Jesus said in John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” My prayer is that Jesus is your hero too. He wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) He is the unchangeable, miraculous, constant companion, we can look up to, emulate, and love. Jesus deserves our ultimate hero worship.
Isaiah 53 Jesus was despised and rejected. it was our suffering he carried,our pain and distress, our sick-to-the-soul-ness. We just figured that God had rejected him, that God was the reason he hurt so badly. But he was hurt because of us; he suffered so. Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed him. He endured the breaking that made us whole. The injuries he suffered became our healing. The Eternal One laid on him, this silent sufferer, the sins of us all. And in the face of such oppression and suffering—silence. Not a word of protest, not a finger raised to stop it. he went—oh so quietly, oh so willingly. Even though he did no wrong by word or deed. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.
He is risen. Happy Easter!
Worthy, worthy, is the lamb who was slain . . . Kari Jobe – Revelation Song

Think it … Act it … Believe it

Have you ever been through a major life change? Well – maybe not even major, but some change that prompt friends to ask, “How did it go?” I’ve been asked that by many of my friends. When a major change takes place in life, friends you’ve confided in want to know “How did it go?” and what else can we say except, “It’s different.” That’s a good place to start. I saw a book once titled, Change is Good.  You Go First. That about describes it.  Sometimes change is forced on us and in those times, change doesn’t seem all that great. Right? Other times we make a decision that changes the landscape of our lives and we think this change is good, we hope this change is good, then we wonder … it’s different.  No matter which description fits the situation, the one thing we can control is our attitude. Chuck Swindoll has a famous quote about attitude and in it he says, ´I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”  So how did it go? It’s different, but it’s good, the possibilities are ahead, as are the consequences. So right now our best choice is to have joy and remember – we are never on the path alone.  – God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5  

When change comes, we have to accept it, because it’s our new normal. It’s reality. We could fret over what we no longer have or we can begin the rebuilding process and start the remanufacture of our life from a different vantage point. When I was in my early twenties, someone wisely convinced me that change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different. It took awhile for that to sink in, but it’s become my survival mechanism. Here’s a little free advice. “Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost. Capitalize on what you can do, not on what you can’t.” I know it works.Psalm 30 11-12

Are you going through changes now that are exciting and you anticipate better days ahead? Or do you approach each day, tenuously out of dread or even fear for what lies ahead? Either way, when change comes, it means adjustment … day-by-day, moment-by-moment.  Ask yourself how can I get through these moments and come out the victor instead of the victim? You might not want t to hear this, but it starts with Attitude.  You might come to the starting line kicking and screaming, toting a long list of disadvantages and (gasp) even grievances. Acknowledgement is good. Bring that list along because this is where making adjustments begins. First in attitude, then in thoughts, then in actions, and finally in acceptance. Change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different.  ´I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

We might not be happy, but we can have joy. Happiness comes from the external; those situations that we perceive as good give us happiness. But happiness can be shattered in an instant, or it can fade when circumstances are less than optimistic. Joy on the other hand comes from the inside and is unaffected by the beating we take by those things that cause us despair.  I was having a bad spell in my life a while ago and on one of my ‘least optimistic days’  someone said to me that I was the happiest person she knew. Well huh! Mission accomplished then, because at that moment, I was anything but happy.  It must work then . . . We can fake happiness by choosing to be joyful. In that moment, when she said I was the happiest person, I prayed right then and thanked God for masking the unhappiness I was feeling at that time, so that happiness looked real.

What can we all do today, regardless of our circumstances, to make a big production of our joy? Think it, act it, believe it!

Psalm 30:5 [God’s] favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30:11-12 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Ecclesiastes 8:15  So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.