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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Unacceptable

Unacceptable – What do you think when you hear that word? Disheartened? Anxious?  Unacceptable. If you’re anything like me – human – you’ve experienced ‘unacceptable’. No matter how much effort I put into an activity, I never get it right the first time; don’t achieve perfection; concede to the do over. It’s tempting to affix the label ‘unacceptable’ to the whole project and just give up. Consider this with me for a moment. Sometimes we pray for God to give us direction, to open the right doors, and to show us his will.  Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your path. We want clear direction, not foggy instruction. We want these words in Isaiah 30:21 to apply to the decision making process. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” How much easier it would be to hear “This is the way…”

How do you think Joseph and Mary felt about the angel’s message to them back in Matthew 1:18-24? Joseph finds out his fiancé is pregnant! “…before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”  Totally ‘unacceptable’! But then Joseph realized that even though this wasn’t the way he had it planned, God had a different idea. In verse 24 “Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” Unacceptable?

What about Lazarus? Do you remember that Jesus had a good friend, Lazarus who was very sick? You can read the full story in John 11 but here’s a recap. His sisters, Mary and Martha, sent messengers to Jesus with an urgent plea for him to come at once, but verse 6 says “Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was for two more days.” OK wait a minute! That is totally “unacceptable”. Verse 3 of John 11 says “Lord, look, the one you love is sick” yet Jesus dragged his feet and stayed right where he was until it was too late. John 11:14 Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.” Can’t you feel the anguish; maybe even anger? Unacceptable! But was it really? The story has a happy ending. Fast forward to verse 43 where Jesus is at the tomb of Lazarus and he shouts “Lazarus, come out! And he who was dead came out.” Unacceptable? John 11:45 assures us that it was not. “Then many of the people, who had come with Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in him.”
How do you think Joseph felt in Genesis 37:23 “When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern.” That’s crazy. Talk about unacceptable! If you know the story, Joseph lived a roller coaster life of premier successes and cruelest defeats. Unacceptable – until we get to Genesis 39. Verse 3 reveals “the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did”. And that’s just the beginning. Verse 9 when he was being lured by Potiphar’s wicked wife, Joseph rejects her because he is honorable to his master and true to his God.  “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” But Joseph’s story doesn’t end there, does it? The life of Joseph didn’t stop at that ‘unacceptable’ act of his brothers selling him into slavery or the deception of his master’s wife. Genesis 45 finally shows us where God’s path was leading all along. Verse 4 shows the restoration of the family. “Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

We live with perplexing circumstances, situations that baffle us. We don’t want to hear ‘unacceptable’. We plead with God to make his way known to us. We pray like David prayed in Psalm 19:14 “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Today, let’s look beyond what we fear is unacceptable and give God our best. Our best is never unacceptable to Him. Jeremiah 6:16  This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

Ready?  Let’s get out there!

Aiming for Purpose

What happens if I don’t get it right? Have you ever asked yourself that question? There are so many choices to be made in a day; decisions ranging from the minor to the major. What if I get it wrong? Sometimes don’t you wish you could hand God a blank piece of paper and say, “Could you just fill it out for me, so I can see what you want me to do?” That would be so much easier, wouldn’t it? God could have created the dynamics of our interactions to be like that, but in his sovereignty – well – this is what we’ve got.  God was the first to go paperless.  He created the Earth and all that is in it, but left no instruction manual; that came later.  Psalm 89:11 “The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.”  It was years in production, but God did hire some talented writers to pen His own words on parchment over a couple thousand years. The Bible, the book with the highest record sales ever, is the instruction manual we have to live by. The issue is, it’s written for every type of make and model without regard to specific names.

Here are a few excerpts from Psalm 139:13-16  “You formed me in my mother’s womb. Thank you, High God for making me body and soul …what a creation! You know me inside and out – exactly how I was sculpted from nothing into something. You watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”

God didn’t meet us in the delivery room and hand our parents a piece of paper with step by step instructions on it.  He did meet us before we were born though and already made plans for us.  Jeremiah 29:11 “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.” Each of us has a purpose; each of us has a free will to make decisions and the intelligence to reason things out. Intelligence though and wisdom are part of the package, but play a different role.  Intelligence gathers the facts, wisdom is the part that we get from God – and it’s the most important part of decision making.  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.”

The decision process isn’t failsafe though, is it? Many of us are impetuous and think we are helping God out by making a choice too early – only to realize it was the wrong answer.  Or we decide not to decide – and did you know that even a decision not to make a decision is a decision?  Mull that over for a few minutes. Sometimes we wait too long and while God is outside lighting up the sky, and practically playing charades, we don’t look up to Him and ‘get the message’.  We are so accustomed to having instructions written in ink, on a page, that’s unmistakable – so we know what to do next.  We wonder “ What if I make a mistake?  What if I make a wrong choice? What if I get to the end of my life and realize my whole life has been off course?”  Well if you’re reading this, your life hasn’t ended yet. What can you do today to get back on course?  God will honor you for coming back to him and his way for you.  Isaiah 30:21 says “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

God wants you to ask for guidance, and look to him first. We are not perfect; but we can try.  I’m way out of time today and I’m going to now try really hard to live each day connected to God’s will and infused with His  ways…. Because that is one thing I know God expects of me.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKkIt5uphdA