Joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Approaching 2015 I felt all of this pressure to have a “word” for the year. I’m not sure where all of this started but for the past several years I have had a word or a phrase that has been a central focus. But this year it seemed like the message of “having a word for the year” was coming from many directions. I don’t recall there being so much focus on “having a word for the year” before. It came from a devotional, a friend, my pastor, and Margaret Feinberg to name a few sources.

I was leaning in a direction for this word or focus for the year. Then I began to think that I was being influenced by one of my favorite authors and I didn’t want that either. I wanted this to be real, fresh, and lead by what the Holy Spirit. I even changed my word on New Years Day just to avoid the word I thought I needed to focus on… just to change it back within a few days.

I landed with “Joy” as my word for 2015. Margaret Feinberg’s book Fight Back with Joy has some to do with where I was going for the year. And it was because of her book I wanted to fight off the thought of joy being my word for the year. I just wanted this to be something God wanted me to focus on.

Several years ago I had a pastor friend tell me his prayer for me has been that I would experience real joy in my life. His words have stuck with me now for about 6 years. I’ve wondered: What was it about me that would have him say that to me?   Was I depressed? Unhappy? Did I seem like I was missing something in my life? Is that why I have been feeling the way I have been feeling? Was it all because I lacked this three-letter word in my life? The answer is, Yes.

It’s time to stop asking questions and really pursue what God has in store. Taking the words of Margaret Feinberg and making them my own,

It’s time to pursue a joy-filled life. No need to wait for joy to arrive mysteriously in the mail one day. I need focused spiritual practices that might nurture joy. (Fight Back with Joy).

Well, whatever the reason, I’m on a journey to find and experience lasting joy… a joy-filled life.

Almost everyday this year “JOY” has come up… in conversations, messages on the radio, a charm on a necklace, Scripture, a song on the radio… it comes at me through so many ways.

Recently, while sitting in the living room, sipping on a cup a coffee, during my Quiet Time, I have the thought come to me, “Read 1 john 1:4.” So I read that verse in The Message Bible. If you are familiar with The Message you know sometimes you can’t just read one verse.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!” (1 John 1:3-4, The Message).

I sat down to write this verse out on a break at work and as I finished “Joy to the world” by Three Dog Night comes on the radio that’s playing through our building. I understand what my pursuit is to be this year JOY.

I’m sure I’m no different from you as you live, breath, and walk this planet. There are problems. There are mistakes made due to unwise choices. There is sickness.  There are circumstances that may have caused you to label yourself as damaged goods – not to be used for the Kingdom of God. Maybe someone else has labeled you as such and you have believed the lie. It could be that you battle depression, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, lacking confidence or faith… whatever it is that may be holding you back today. Know that God wants to fill your cup. He doesn’t want to just fill it up He wants it to overflow from His heart to yours and from yours to those in your world.

Today is the day to surrender. Let Him fill you up! Ask Him to and He will.

Oh and one more thing… that same day I mentioned earlier, over dinner, my four-year-old says to me, “Dad you know what we are going to dance to? I got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart…”  I’m encouraged I’m moving in the right direction.

Look Up…

I love being outdoors!  Whether it is day/night or hot/cold outside, I’d rather be enjoying the outdoors than the indoors any day of the week!  I recently was talking with a few of my kids.  I talked about how in the evening after the sun goes down about my love for sitting on the deck watching the stars.  If you have never been out west in the middle of New Mexico the view of the heavens are unbelievable.  With no city lights around to dull the view of God’s beautiful creation.

It was another tough day.  It was one day of many that one of my children have had to walk through.  The frustration and the hurt was great.  I could see it in his face and hear it in the somber tone of his voice.  On the drive home from church, to make a little conversation, I asked about Sunday School.  He told me they talked about 1 Kings 8:56-58 and he began to read those verses in the Bible.

Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised.  Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.  The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers.  May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him. To walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (ESV).

As I drove,I thought there couldn’t be a more perfect verse for us to discuss in light of the situation.  We walked into the backyard at our home.  We sat down on an old porch style swing and began to rock back and forth.  The swing creaked with every movement.  Moments later the old swing cracked.  Just before the swing gave way I had told him to look up.  There was one branch of this tree that had already turned to a beautiful color of red.  We talked about that branch of this tree that already turned leaving all of the summer green behind.  We talked about that branch and how we would never had seen the beauty there had we never looked up.

In the moment, I began to talk with him about God’s desire for us to seek him in all of our seasons of life.  It was at that moment the swing began to give way to our movement and weight.

The night before, our family had gathered around a small fire pit to roast marshmallows.  The chairs were still set up so we made our way to sit and talk there.  After we read the above passage, once again, I looked up and could see two trees.  Both of them are large yet one was a bit larger than the other with its limbs full all the way around the tree.  Whereas, the other tree was large its limbs reached to the sunlight that comes up from the south.

I pointed out the large tree was well-rounded and full.   We observed how it was an obstacle to the growth of the the smaller tree.  Yet the smaller tree was still full of life… even thriving in the midst of the the obstacle of the larger tree.

I reminded him of the situation that was feeding his hurting heart.  I encouraged him to keep reaching out to Jesus, the Son of God.  That as he turns his face toward the Son, Jesus would never leave him or forsake him.  Just like those Israelites came to know that God wouldn’t forsake them, my son would also come to know, Jesus will never forsake him.  That is a promise we all have.  I pray that as you hear God’s voice drawing you to himself, you will not ignore him but rather turn your face to Jesus and lean into him.

Fight Back with Joy – Margaret Feinberg

Margaret Feinberg’s new book, Fight Back with Joy is out and and it is another fantastic challenge brought to you in only the way Margaret can deliver.  Over the years there have been many authors who have challenged me into a deeper walk.  But none have connected FBWJ Bookwith me in such a real and personal way as she has in her latest book.  She has shown a great determination to fight for joy in the midst of her battle with breast cancer that is inspiring!

You have joy because you are drenched in the grace and mercies of God.  #fightbackwithjoy

Over the past several years, I have followed Margaret on her trek to discover God with sheep and through vineyards.  I have been Wonderstruck by God through His many divine moments in my life.  I have been reminded of the Spirit’s Sacred Echo of His call upon my life.  For me, Fight Back with Joy, has tapped into a real and personal look into her life.  Not in a way that says, “Hey look at me.” But rather, “Hey and look at how God has been working in and through my life.  Look and see the Joy of the Lord.”  As I have I read her story I have laughed, cried, and called my wife into the room and said, “Hey, you have got to hear this.”  

I believe you need to read this book.  I know you will not be let down.  You will be encouraged and you will have a spark set off in your heart with a search for joy that can only be found and lived out in Jesus.  Take a moment to walk with Margaret as she takes you on her journey to #fightbackwithjoy.  

The Secret To Living A Defiant Joy: An interview with Margaret Feinberg

One of my favorite authors, Margaret Feinberg, has been through a brutal fight with cancer and shares the unexpected lessons she discovered along the way in her new book and Bible study Fight Back With Joy.

It’s been inspiring to learn how Margaret has been practicing a defiant joy, and I thought you might like to get an insider’s look, a sneak peek of the video and read an interview with Margaret.

Preview the 6-Session DVD Bible Study, here.GREAT-JOY

Your newest book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, was born out of your
fight with a life-threatening illness. What was your difficult diagnosis, and what has your journey to health entailed?

For the last 18 months, I’ve been battling breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t just one
disease it represents thousands of different diseases with their varying components and factors. Being diagnosed under the age of 40 is significant. I’ve been through a brutal year of chemotherapy, radiation, and more surgeries than I can count or want to remember.

Why did you write Fight Back With Joy?

I studied joy for a year and was putting the finishing touches on my book on joy—just two weeks from turning it into the publisher, when I received the diagnosis. I had been pursuing and activating joy in my life in the relatively good times, now I had to do it in the midst of darkness, depression, and torturous pain. Through the process, I’ve discovered the breadth, depth, and power of joy—that despite hundreds of sermons and many decades in the church—no one had told me of before.

FBWJ BookIn Fight Back With Joy book and Bible study, you really push the reader to reevaluate their definition of joy. Why do you think this is so important?

Much of the teaching I’ve heard on joy over the years is oversimplified. I remember those days in Sunday school learning that JOY is spelled Jesus, Others, Yourself. While that made perfect sense at 9 years old, I’ve seen how distorted that can become as an adult.

I see friends who love Jesus but spend so much time pouring into their kids, grandkids and others that their joy looks something like this: jOy.

Technically, it still spells joy, but more than anything, these men and women who are so exhausted, so empty, so running on fumes from pouring into others need to pause and take time to focus on themselves. Laying hold of joy right now will require them to reevaluate for a season and discover the joy that comes with JYo.

I also noticed how most of the definitions of joy define it more by what it isn’t than by what it is. I constantly heard that happiness is based on circumstance but joy is not dependent on circumstance.

Biblical expressions of joy turn out to be far different than what I had been taught. I am now convinced the writers of the Bible would say that, the reason we have joy is because we have great circumstances. If you are a child of God, you are drenched in the grace and mercy of God.

No matter what you’re facing: Your circumstances are better than you think.

If you’re not experiencing joy, perhaps it’s because your definition of joy is too narrow.

On a scale of 1-10, how hard was it for you to write this book and Bible study?

An eleven! This journey has been the most painful experience of my life. And, to share about it requires some vulnerability. Okay, a lot of vulnerability. And, that’s really, really hard. But I feel like I’m finally ready to share what God has stirred in my heart along the way because although cancer has been the most painful journey—it has also been the most joyful. And no one is more surprised than I am.

Pick up a copy of Fight Back With Joy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

 

 

Crossroads

Are you familiar with the ending to the movie “Cast Away”?  Tom Hanks is standing there in the middle of this intersection in the middle of Nowhere, TX.  As far as he can see in all directions is nothing – yet he has been given the gift of life to be lived another day.  If you had been him, how would you have chosen where to go?    IMG_2822

We all find ourselves at places in life where we are at an intersection and we aren’t sure which way to go.  In the movie, he isn’t sure where he is going to go.  He pauses and gets out of the Jeep with his map and ponders for a moment or two.  During this moment of contemplation is when the person he was looking for drives up.

I wonder how many times in life we come to a crossroad and ignore it and just keep driving our lives right on through.  Or – how often do we get there – and recognize it… and then we get stuck there afraid to move at all.  Maybe there has been a bad decision in the past and fearful of getting burned again.

No matter the reason or how you would respond to the situation it is still a decision that must be faced and made.  No decision is still a decision.  How do you make the decision?  What steps do you take?  Do you get the Road Map out?  In my life, the Road Map has become God’s Word found in the Bible.  No, it doesn’t tell me to turn right or left and any specifics like that at all.  I can say the Holy Spirit gives insight I can’t explain.  Which is often followed by a peace I can’t explain.

Jesus tells us in John 14:25-27,

I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. (The Message).

I’ve personally been at a crossroad for a long time now.  I have ventured in a couple of directions already to find that the peace, fulfillment, and contentment were not in the directions I have tried thus far.  I am still hungry to know God more so I keep going back to the Cross and asking for direction.  I am asking for wisdom… wisdom to be used for His glory, for the leadership of my family, and the community in which I live (wherever that would take me).

The Holy Spirit will teach us all things.  He will give all that we have need of.  He cares intimately about the details of our lives.  He will not leave us lonely in the dark.  Jesus instructed his disciples:

“This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks! (John 16:23-24).

I know He uses me through my job… even though I can’t directly communicate His Word… I live it.  I’m thankful for the opportunity I have to influence others in all aspects of my life.  I want to continue to do so full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and grace.

What’s your plan?

For the past several years I have trained for the Cox Atlanta Bike MS Ride at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. This event supports the fight against MS. Each year I have a plan on how I want to accomplish my goal.  I have a plan that requires a lot of time and my family is very supportive as I prepare.

Just as I have a plan for getting stronger as a cyclist – I must have a plan for spiritual growth.  I can’t show up and ride 100 + miles and expect to complete it.  Nor should I expect to grow as a Christian without a desire and plan to make that happen.  One of my favorite people to read about in the Bible is Joshua.  As a leader, his life has always intrigued me.  I wish the Bible recorded more about him than what is there.  He has become one of my heroes of the faith.  He learned so much under Moses. (How would you like to have “Studied under Moses” on your resume. As he gleaned from Moses, he had a deep desire to know, love, and worship God.

Recently, in Sunday School we talked about Joshua and his leadership.  In the Book of Joshua, we read about how Israel crossed the Jordan River without getting wet (except for those first Priests that put their feet into the water).  It was at that moment they got their feet wet that God stopped the flow of water. After everyone had crossed the Jordan, God instructed them to take twelve stones from the river bed and build a monument so that all who would see the monument would remember what God had done for the people of Israel. (See Joshua, Chapters 3 and 4).

We discussed monuments we have built so that those around us would remember what God had done in our lives.

I spoke up about journaling.  I began journaling back in 1991.  That’s a lot of ink, paper, time, and tears.  I began journaling as a part of my spiritual growth plan.  For me, journaling, was an intentional step in order for me to grow deeper in my walk with Jesus.  My time journaling has grown and transformed over the years.  Currently, I write in 3 different journals with three different purposes for each.  It has been very difficult to keep up with all three.  I haven’t mastered this as of yet.  It is probably the greatest reason why I don’t write as much here as I once did.  At times, they each over-lap each other… a spiritual treasure map of how God is at work in my life.

Why three journals? I keep a journal as a record of my prayer life.  It contains everything that is going on in my life and specifics that detail how God is speaking to me at the time.  The second journal I am writing in contains my trek through the Bible.  I am following a Read-Through-The Bible-Plan in a year (It’s really taking longer than a year because of the time I am taking to record my thoughts and response to the Scripture I am reading).  The third journal is based off of Psalm 119.  I am taking Psalm 119 verse by verse – reading and writing about each verse.

The Psalm 119 journal has been interesting for me.  It is definitely transforming my thoughts on God’s Word and deepening my desire to grow stronger and more intimate with Jesus.

What’s your plan for spiritual growth?  If you don’t have a plan, I highly encourage you to get into God’s Word and see what He has to say to you.  Don’t think you have to start with something as difficult as what I am doing at this time.  If you want to grow and get to know God and His Son, Jesus, I highly encourage you to develop a plan.  There are many plans for reading the Bible at You Version.

While reading the Bible, several years ago, this came to mind: Seek. Find. Live.  This has become my motto for life as a result.  As I read, study, pray, and serve, everything falls under these three words.

The journey begins in the seeking…  Life truly begins in the midst of finding…  Obedience leads to living a life of fulfillment.  For me it takes a plan and allowing Holy Spirit to guide it.

“Daddy, I want to pray for you.”

When I was a student at Lee College, I took a class that had as one of it’s books, “Will Our Children Have Faith?”  I don’t recall anything about the book today beyond the title.  The title has stuck with me through the years.  At various moments, it would come to mind and help me as thought through situations with my children as well as the children in churches where I served.

As a Dad, one thing I have always enjoyed is praying with my children at bed time.  My oldest daughter is now 19, I am confident I have taken steps that have led her in the right direction.  Just as I have done with each of my children.  I trust I have been faithful to walk with Jesus in a way that honors him and leads my children to him.

My youngest daughter will be 4 years old soon.  During the Summer, at bedtime we talked through one of our own made up stories. (Just as I have done for almost 19 years with each child along the way.)  Now, just as then, they typically include my child as the central figure in the story along with a couple of her toys that come to life that she plays with.  After the story time I pray.  Recently after I prayed she said, “Daddy, I want to pray for you… ‘Heavenly Father, bless my Daddy – In Jesus Name.'” Then she said, “I didn’t do that right, I want to pray again… ‘Father, forgive my Daddy.'”  I had quite the laugh, smile, and thought-filled contemplation over her prayer.

She prayed for blessing and forgiveness.  I believe with all my heart her prayers were heard.  I don’t know specifically what she thought I needed forgiveness for.  But that’s alright.  It has led me to think through a lot of areas of my life, as I have thought through I have sought to leave each area at the foot of the Cross.  More than anything her praying that night… her desire to pray for me – has heightened my sensitivity to pray for others.

At times, I wonder why I have had on my life a desire to pray for others.  This discipline began while at Lee College.  I kept a notebook of people I prayed for.  Today, I don’t recall all of the names but I remember many of those faces.  There have been so many that I have prayed for in which I have not seen results (at least through my eyes).  There are several people today I pray for regularly and those folks will never know this side of heaven about those moments in prayer.

This past Christmas Eve, my wife and I went to the mall to do some last minute shopping.  I wasn’t feeling well, so I sat in the middle of the mall and watched people.  It became apparent within my heart I was to pray for those that walked by.  I’m not much on shopping but those moments made the trip more than worth it.  Even now I don’t recall those things that were purchased, but I recall the people and the moment.  I recall the urgency we all have to live our lives in a manner honoring Jesus.

Just as my daughter may not have fully comprehended her prayer for me.  But the Holy Spirit did.  Her prayer has led me to search my heart and invite God to search my heart and reveal to me anything that is separating me from Him.  More than anything I want to live a manner worthy of the grace that has been so wonderfully given to me.