Living with Real Joy

In Luke 10:17-20, Jesus cautions his disciples not to get caught up in what great service they have done, “The seventy-two returned with joy,”  Jesus knew how easy it is for us to get caught up in what we accomplish and for our personal accomplishments to sway our feelings of “joy.”  Jesus received what they had to report and quickly turned their attention away from what they accomplished to himself saying, “Do not rejoice that the evil spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20, NIV).

Real joy does not come from what we do but rather in the One in whom we seek, find, and live.  Our real joy comes from knowing Jesus and walking faithfully in his leading.  The point of our following Jesus is wrapped up in him more so than in what we do… there is where joy is truly found.

Paul lived with great joy.  He was full of the Holy Spirit and was confident in Jesus.  He was introduced to Jesus on the Road to Damascus.  But he came to know Jesus as he walked with him the rest of his life.

I’ve got a friend who played professional baseball.  He played for many years at the top of the Triple A League.  He would get called up to the Big Leagues from time-to-time when someone was hurt then go back down.  His desire was to play in the Major Leagues full-time but that opportunity always seemed to escape his grasp.

In my opinion, he was living his dream.  He lived with joy.  He knew his “call” was the minor leagues.  He is a guy with great character, integrity, and faith.  Much like the Apostle Paul.  Paul found great joy in his sufferings for the sake of Christ.  My friend knew his greater impact in the lives of others was the Minor Leagues.

I read an article recently that spoke of Paul’s desire to serve in Spain.  Bet he never got there.  I thought of my desires in serving the Lord…. There is a deep growing in the process.  The ultimate goal of the Lord’s is not that I obtain that goal but rather a deeper relationship with him.

The missionary’s great essential is remaining true to the call of God, and realizing that his one and only purpose is to disciple men and women to Jesus (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 27).

  • Do I know the Lord?
  • Do I know the power of His indwelling Spirit?
  • Am I wise enough in God’s sight, but foolish enough according to the wisdom of the world, to trust in what Jesus has said?
  • Am I abandoning the great supernatural position of limitless confidence in Christ Jesus, which is really God’s only call for a missionary?

I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, November 10).

Seek Him first in your season

What season do you find yourself in today? Would you characterize your life as being in the Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter?

I know where I live the season seems a bit messed up. It’s May and I’m writing on the back deck of our home wearing a sweatshirt. The Fall-like weather feels great but it’s a little unusual. I’ve read today where there are still major snowstorms going on. It seems crazy not being able to predict what to wear from day to day. It’s as if we are in the midst of a climate shift.

Just as the seasons change our lives change and go through different seasons of cold, dryness, warmth, and growth. During the springtime of life, growth happens almost flawlessly. If you are a Christian, in the springtime, the Word of God is alive and sharp in your life. The Holy Spirit seems to be speaking at every turn. There is a great sense of excitement in the air. I know during these moments of intense growth it is easy to become complacent and begin to expect this to be the “norm”. If you find yourself today in the midst of a spiritual growth spurt be alert to the unpredicted shifts in the climate. Don’t look at it as a set back – rather understand God is going to use this time to bring about more growth.

Maybe your life is characterized by being in the “dead of winter.” Don’t lose hope. Know that Spring is near. Draw close to God and don’t worry. No matter how cold your winter may feel – He is with you and He will sustain you. Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness!

We aren’t to worry about what tomorrow may bring. Jesus said,

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Matthew 6:34, The Message).

I know there have been several mornings in recent days I have been surprised by the frosty-like weather. As I walked to the car with my son several mornings ago, we talked about how Fall-like it was. It reminded me of what Oswald Chambers has to say about uncertainty,

We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises. When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God—it is only believing our belief about Him. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 29).

Do you trust God and believe in Him with your entire life? Or are you holding on to what you believe about Him? As Chambers points out, there is a difference in believing in God and believing in your belief about Him. I think a lot of times we throw up a prayer of hope without faith in Him. We pray hoping what we believe about Him is true. Then when things don’t turn out the way we hoped then we get mad at Him. I think that’s one reason why Jesus teaches us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Seeking Him first removes our agendas and puts our focus where it needs to be.

Are you ready… Are you prepared for what tomorrow may bring? I believe you are ready if your focus today is on what God is doing right now. Pray and seek Him first.

“You don’t want to take a wrong turn…”

A friend of mine asked me after church where I was going to me riding my bicycle that afternoon.  After I told him where I was heading he said, “You don’t want to take a wrong turn.”  The problem with his statement is that I was already concerned about riding out there since I had never been there before and that I was going alone.

Matthew 6:25 is a verse of the Bible referenced in today’s devotional by Oswald Chambers.  As I read this today I was challenged by the words of Jesus, “…do not worry about your life…”  So often, I get out there in life and worry about this, that, and the other thing.  Once I sink into my worries I forget the promise of Jesus that is found just a few verses later, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33).  What do you do when you can’t seem to get beyond the “worry”?

I realize when I worry there is this disconnect in the faith-walk I desire to live.  When worry sets in so do the feelings of desperation.  I got a small glimpse of this in the events that transpired while I was on a 48 mile bicycle ride yesterday.  It was a route I have never ridden, in a part of the county I am not familiar with, and I was out by myself.  Just over 2 hours into the ride the battery on the phone died.  I took a wrong turn about a mile or so later.  Another couple of miles later I found myself at a crossroad without any signs letting me know what the names of the roads were. (I could have stopped the moment I realized I was heading in the wrong direction but I could see a nice little downhill ride that was too tempting to pass up). How often do we give in to what feels good at the moment to be left with a problem to deal with at the end of the good feeling?

At the crossroad, I sat there wondering what I should do…  I also recalled those words, “You don’t want to take a wrong turn.”  I could go back (remember it was a good downhill… which is now a good uphill) or try to head off in a direction that I might be the way to go.  All I could see was the uphill climb behind me, the crossroad, trees, and a occassional car that passed by.  I had this un-nerving feeling that I was lost… 40 miles into my ride.  After several minutes I decided to go through the intersection.  As I crossed the road, I saw a house back over my left shoulder and someone walking in the front yard.  I rode over and asked for directions back to the Budweiser Plant where I had parked my car.

With posted “No Trespassing” signs all around their yard the folks that lived there gave me directions.  Once I got to the end of the road I realized I had been on this road before (many years ago)… I relaxed because I knew where I was.  I was now about 3 miles from where I had parked my car.

I have thought about this experience and how much this relates in so many ways to life.  I could have sat there and worried about my situation and waited for the sun to set.  Instead of sitting there I moved and kept watch for something that I might recognize.  The lesson here is to not surrender to our worries but rather to Jesus and seek first His Kingdom and righteousness!  When we seek Him first he will provide the answers and the direction we need to get to where He wants us to go.  We should never give up on the dreams he has for us and always be watching for the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives… no matter how tempting the downhill may be.

Living beyond the horizon

So often it seems as though I’m trapped in the mundane activities that make up this life I live.  I never thought I would find myself where I am today.  It’s as if I have become trapped in the rut that has been worn out on the road I’m traveling.  These life-less activities have begun to take its toll on me.  My horizon is the lip of the rut I find myself in.  It’s as if I have the same question of those Jesus is talking with when they ask, “Just who are you anyway?” (John 8:25).

I recall mountain biking this past Fall.  It was a downhill that had several ruts that had been created by the rainfall.  I remember being in control of my descent until that moment where I took my eyes off of the trail and found myself navigating my Cannondale through the rut.  I was now confined to travel in a much smaller – more narrow line.  I managed to come out of it without falling off the bicycle.  I had to be patient – looking for the best moment to navigate myself back onto the trail.  I wonder if this same principle applies to life?

In a preceding verse, Jesus addresses those who question who he is, where he came from and where it is he is going.  In John 8:23, Jesus states,

You’re tied down to the mundane; I’m in touch with what is beyond your horizons.  You live in terms of what you see and touch.  I’m living on other terms.

I know life today is a test.  It’s a test of my spiritual stamina.  It’s a faith test.  I have begun to grow weary on this road.  I recall as a young Christian, new to the faith, the horizon I could see was wide.  At every turn I never lost sight of the horizon.  The road was clear and clean.  I could see, hear, and talk with the Holy Spirit.  He was revealing Jesus to me in so many ways that were just breath-taking and life-giving.  Many years later and after some hard setbacks in life, I often-times now hear myself ask, “Just who are you anyway?” and “Where are you?”

I’ve done all of the spiritual exercises I know to do to strengthen these faith-muscles.  I look in the mirror and I don’t see the changes I have been looking for inside or within my circumstances.  I’ve done “things” in order to be seen by others… hoping someone would see God at work in my life…  To find some sort of recognition that would give me the pats on the back that affirm me and tell me I’m still heading in the right direction.

Yesterday I found some encouragement in the words of Oswald Chambers from My Utmost for His Highest.

…what God wants us to do is to “walk by faith.” How many of us have set ourselves aside as if to say, “I cannot do anything else until God appears to me”? He will never do it. We will have to get up on our own, without any inspiration and without any sudden touch from God. Then comes our surprise and we find ourselves exclaiming, “Why, He was there all the time, and I never knew it!” (May 1).

I recal, as a youth pastor, teaching Henry Blackabee’s, Experiencing God.  I remember the portion of the study that discusses “God’s invitation leads to a crisis of belief.”  I thought I understood what that meant back then.  I had just not experienced it at the depth I am today.  I realize that I am personally in a place of tremendous testing.  I know this is all for my growing and His glory.  I know God has spoken his assignment into my life.  I know He is in the midst of preparing me where I am today for what He can see on the horizon.  It’s my job to trust Him… to walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7).  I know I’m afraid and that I don’t “feel” equipped.  Tonight, I trust – by faith, He is with me.

I wonder… do you feel as I do?  Have you been where I am?  Maybe you can relate to me so much because you are exactly where I am.  I believe this is a crucial place – a place that must be bathed in prayer and communion with the Father.  I want to encourage you to pray and seek His face.  Ask Him to give you peace and strength as you journey on by faith.

I would like to leave you with this one thought that comes from the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-11.

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?  (The Message).

The Challenge

In the late 80’s I decided to start cycling as a sport.  I really didn’t know much about it.  I purchased a Road Bike from a friend who had just begun competing in triathlon’s.  (The frame was too big for him) My first time out on my bicycle some idiot guys came by and opened their car door on me.  They missed and I ran off the road.  I turned around, went home, and put the bike away until the mid 90’s.  Even then I only rode around the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when I had a moment or two to spare.

I was preparing to move to New Mexico when I began to get excited about Mountain Biking.  I began to ride more then.  But I never really got to a place where I felt like I was committed to the sport.  I was more committed to getting out and seeing the scenery from my bike more so than I was about the sport itself.  After a move to Kansas road biking became a focus once again.  Yet, it lacked the sustained commitment I needed.  I basically rode then in order to deal with the stress of working in a church.  I found cycling to be a great stress reliever! 

A couple of moves later and now I am back in Georgia.  After being here for several years I have been back on my bike now for over a year.  I’ve logged over 1,500 miles in the past year.  View from the SaddleI would like to say I am committed to cycling now… Finally at age 46.  Last year, I was challenged to enter into the  Bike MS150 Cox-Atlanta Ride 2011.  Training to ride in this event gave me the focus I needed to ride.  I kept at it through several set-backs from Shingles at the beginning of my training in February 2011 to numerous problems with my Centurion Accordors (the one I bought in the 80’s – and the one I still ride today).  I met my goal for that ride in September 2011… I finished.  Other benefits along the way were for my health.  My doctor took me off of my blood pressure medicine, I lost a little bit of weight, and I just felt better.

While on a recent ride, I kept hearing my “coach” (my step father) in my head telling me to focus on various things.  He wasn’t with me but several things he has spoken to me on some training rides kept coming back to mind as I peddled.  Then I began to think about the Holy Spirit and how He constantly brings the teachings of Jesus back to my mind.  I have also been thinking about the years I have been following Jesus and about my own commitment to following him.  I may not still be in “ministry” vocationally but my goal still is to please him and to follow him.  I want my relationship with him to be more than my desire to be vocationally serving him or a local church.  I want my commitment to him to be more than the scenery along the way.

As I have begun to be more serious about cycling, I have also begun to get more serious about my over-all health and the food I eat. (I do treat myself from time to time with a nice chili burger from Ross’ Diner… yum!).  I also read more about the sport and fitness trying to put those things into practice.  My good friend recently told me his plan is to just “ride”.  Taking his advice and applying it to life would be to just “live”. 

Maybe there is some truth in that.  It’s on that thought I will continue to be challenged… not only in cycling but also in following Jesus.  For me, the challenge each day is to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and his teachings. (Hebrews 12:2-3)  Too often I get my eyes focused on the “scenery” or the benefits of following Christ more so than on Jesus himself and his teachings.  I am reading in the Book of John in the New Testament now.  This is a quote from the Message found in John 6:45-46,

This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’ Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father. No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see me.

Today’s challenge is to walk faithfully with Jesus.  Inviting the Holy Spirit to teach and work through me.  To be committed to the life of a faithful servant.  To be like Peter when he told Jesus in John 6:68-69,

“Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”  (The Message).

Can you hear it?

 God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
   Madame Day holds classes every morning,
      Professor Night lectures each evening. 

  Their words aren’t heard,
      their voices aren’t recorded,
   But their silence fills the earth:
      unspoken truth is spoken everywhere. 

  God makes a huge dome
      for the sun—a superdome!
   The morning sun’s a new husband
      leaping from his honeymoon bed,
   The daybreaking sun an athlete
      racing to the tape. 

  That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies
      from sunrise to sunset,
   Melting ice, scorching deserts,
      warming hearts to faith. (Psalm 19:1-6, The Message).

 

What’s that I hear?

I miss those moments I once spent in a Canyon just west of Durango, CO.  The memory of the fresh air and the quietness of that spot on our planet is intoxicating.  It’s a place I really desire to go and visit once again.  There is a small stream that flows down that is so inviting to sit by.  The sound of the water as it rushes over the rocks  is calming to the soul.  The sight of the water as it flows tucked within the bank is reassuring that all of God’s creation has meaning and purpose.

I long for moments like those I spent there.  Those memories of camping, walking, talking, mountain biking, and thinking in that canyon are wonderful.  Memories that seem to always be calling me to return.  Just as I have those memories, there are other memories from my past that seem to find their way into the forefront of my mind. 

Today as I cycle, drive off in my car, or sit quietly and pray or read Scripture – I keep hearing the same few words fill my mind.  This Voice continues to echo through my mind the same message I have heard so many times.  It’s a call to follow Jesus in way that is greater than the life I could plan on my own.  This echo is something that Margaret Feinberg calls the Sacred echo, “…those moments when God speaks the same message to my heart again and again.” (24).

Oh, how I want my life to count. To be filled with meaning and purpose.  To be stretched in order to live worthy of the calling He has placed within my soul.  I’m reminded of a parable Jesus taught in Matthew 25:14-31.  I must confess, these days it seems I am more like the one who buried his talent.  I want more than anything to be faithful to Him who has given to me so freely.  I want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful son.”  But until that day, I want to live life to the fullest of God’s potential working through me.

This week I saw the movie, Blue Like Jazz.  I was once again reminded that my life is a story.  I have a choice today to determine how I want this story to be written.  I can choose to live boldly or I can continue to live in fear and hide that which God has given.  What is it that you hear? What is keeping you from living life to the fullest?