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

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Comfort zone? What comfort zone. There is nothing comfortable here!

Remember the New Year? The one where everyone was talking about resolutions and goals – oh! And stretch goals! Those goals destined to pick you up body and soul from where you are comfortable and transplant you in a foreign zone where things are not familiar? It works great in theory. I can see the value in learning something new, adding a level to physical activity, participating in an activity you’ve never done, or even adding an exotic food like Sushi to your menu. Well, maybe not that.

Let’s be honest. You set some stretch goals, didn’t you? I did and so far, I’m doing pretty well on them. Of course, this is only the third week of January and there are still about 340 days left in the year – but I’m optimistic. There is a purpose for expanding our horizons and we reap the benefit.  I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort zones though. Even in the absence of goals and ambitions, how often do we say we are totally at ease, living the dream of the comfort zone? That’s what I thought. At night cozied up to watch TV or read a book – comfort. Spending time with friends and family – comfort. Driving the same car, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food – we’re comfortable.

We can be comfortable one moment and a phone call later, be catapulted into the discomfort zone. It isn’t always tragedy that sends us there, though. It can be as simple as a negative feeling creeping into our thoughts. Don’t you wish you could see an emotion lurking around so you could slam it with your shoe like a nasty bug? Slam it and return to your reading or whatever you were doing. That would be awesome! We like comfort, it’s where we are at ease. If our boat’s going to be rocked, we want to be the one to rock it – like working through those stretch goals. They can be rocky!

A lot goes on in our comfort zone that isn’t all that comfortable. Sometimes getting outside our comfort zone means choosing a positive attitude when our circumstances are negative. Getting outside our comfort zone could be that we look for a sliver of good in a bad situation. It could be deciding that ‘this’ will make you better, not bitter. See, our comfort zones aren’t all that comfortable. Isaiah 40 starts with Comfort, Comfort my people. We want to be comfortable and God knows that. But there’s a difference between comfort and complacent. Maybe the thought behind getting outside our comfort zone is a warning to not become complacent. In Luke 18, the Pharisees were full of pride and complacently pleased with themselves to the point that the looked down on people who didn’t meet their standards. In the latter part of James 2, we are warned about complacently sitting back and doing nothing when we should be helping others. Faith is nothing if we do nothing to express it through our actions.

So can we agree that it’s OK to appreciate our comfort zone, but guard against becoming complacent? When our comfort zone isn’t comfortable do some soul searching to understand what’s going on in there. Is it time to learn something new or experience an activity you’ve not tried before? Does your spiritual life need renewal? Isaiah 40:31 says “But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.”

Look again at Isaiah 40. The chapter is bookended with God’s recognition that we will need to be comforted and that we need his strength to carry us through whatever comes between.

Ready team? Let’s get out there!

Time to shake things up a little. Shake, Shake, Shake – like you’ve been Changed, Changed, Changed by Mercy Me

At the heart of ‘Change Me’

To get the new year started there was an insurgence of the One Word theory. If you didn’t catch it on television or through social media, the premise is to choose one word that becomes your guiding influence, your doctrine to live by throughout the year. Since I don’t make New Years Resolutions this idea appealed to me because it was like having a snap-in piece of the puzzle I was already working on. In the past, I’ve chosen favorite words that speak to me; some would define them as call to action words. I define them as words to live by. Words like integrity, wisdom, knowledge, joy, understanding, patience, love, persevere, faith, discernment. I like the way Proverbs 16:21 sort of pulls them all together “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. One online community group posted the question: If you had one word to live by this year, what would it be? The responses were often accompanied by why the contributor chose their word. There were so many meaningful words – why not make a poster to frame and hang in the space above my desk? I couldn’t think of a reason not to – so here’s the result of the 46 words contributed by members of the LinkedIn group Inspirational Leadership, Management and Engagement – People Discovery.

Ten years ago I was watching a Joyce Meyers program where she said, “Sometimes I need a word from the Lord.” You know? Sometimes I need a word from the Lord. In fact there are deep chasms in my life that will be satisfied only with a word from the Lord – infusions of words from the Lord. When I chose my One Word to live by for 2014, I knew in reality there would be more than one word touching my conscience and enlightening my spirit. My word, discernment, acknowledges choices and decisions. Some days don’t you just feel like you need a word from the Lord? Do you ever stop what you’re doing and say right out loud “This is just not right. I’m getting nowhere. OK, Lord, here I am totally lost for what to do. Change my attitude, sooth my frenzied emotions, change my heart.” This morning in our church service a young man whose life emulates his heart for God sang “Do you still feel the nails every time I fail….Am I causing Him pain…then I know I have to change.” Have you ever prayed, ‘Lord please change me’ and really mean it? Have you considered the dynamics at work in a sincere prayer like that? Consider these two comparison verses to understand the battle that’s unleashed when we pray, ‘Lord, take the person I’ve become and change me to be the person you desire me to be. ‘

When we seek to have a heart like God’s, be assured He is looking for us too, to strengthen us. 2 Chronicles 16:9For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” So smooth sailing. Right? Not at all. The enemy of our souls descends on us with perfect aim, targeting the place in our life most vulnerable to breaking. Our family, our job, our finances, our hobbies, our friends …. Take a look at 1 Peter 5:8Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” This is not a cute cuddly lion we love in Disney movies; this is the vicious lion that has long sharp teeth capable of tearing a leopard or cheetah to shreds, but normally kills by strangulation. “Your enemy the devil … seeks to devour.” Devour pretty much ends all good intentions. The devil will attack us in the place we care most about, the place that has our heart. The battle between good and evil is fought every time we pray, “Lord, give me a heart like yours.” I’m convinced that God created us with a need for relationships so we can help each other, pray for each other, and encourage each other over the rough patches of loss, illness, grief, and sadness. Ephesians 4:20-30 talks about how to live but I’m especially drawn to these verses “be made new in the attitude of your minds; put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness; be kind and compassionate to one another”.

I received a word from the Lord this morning. When Pastor Al cemented the truth that if we are not wholly committed to God, we will crumble. My word for the year, discernment, becomes even more essential to living life inside God’s plan. Last week, in one of my Bible readings, I found this verse and it was like water poured over a parched and withering plant. Ezekiel 36:26-27I will plant a new heart and new spirit inside of you. I will take out your stubborn, stony heart and give you a willing, tender heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit inside of you and inspire you to live by My statutes and follow My laws.” It might not speak to you the same that is spoke to me, but it was like hearing Jesus say over roaring, gusting winds “Peace be still.”

Do you need a word from the Lord? Tell him. He’ll lead you to it if you ask.

What’s going on over there?

Welcome to the next day of the week….Let’s get this party started! It’s Tuesday …. do you realize it’s only 1 week till Christmas? And if you’re taking an extra day off for Christmas Eve — you have only 4 more days till you can ignore the alarm clock for 4 chillaxin’ days in a row. YAY!  And what about the week after that? At least one day off – New Year’s Day. Oh no, not the end of the year, not the beginning of a new year already….I’m not going there – or am I? New Year’s Resolutions? Do you do the “I resolve to ….” ceremony? Me either. That’s because two ceremonies in a row are just overload.  One to kick off the promise and one to watch it fade, or is it a fizzle?  That’s not for me.

Still there is merit in renewing goals and dreaming for what comes next. I remember someone saying “A dream is a goal with a deadline.”  That makes sense.  Even if we don’t make New Year’s resolutions, what can we do to enter 2013 with a dream that has a deadline? What can we commit to that will be fulfilling to us, so we can be joyful and pass on joy to others?  Hmmmm…….what will I work on today? What will I work on this week?  What’s over there in the next year where I can make a difference? Why wait till New Year’s Eve?

I feel a promise to myself, calling me right now.

Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 2:2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.

1 Timothy 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.