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.

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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.

“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.

No More Hell To Pay

I’ve been a huge Stryper fan since 1985.  I walked into a bookstore in Macon, GA and saw a display with their Yellow and Black Attack album.  I picked up the cassette and headed back to Cochran, GA (Middle Georgia College).  The entire drive back to the dorm I was in heaven as I listened to their sound for the first time!  Later that week a friend in the dorm (who was not a Christian) came to me to ask if I had ever heard of a band called Stryper as he handed me a copy of Spin Magazine with a feature article on the band.

That was the first time I shared the Gospel with someone because of Stryper’s music.  In the years to come, I would share Jesus with others my age and younger through the band.  I recall one summer going to Panama City Beach, FL with a few extra cassettes (Soldier’s on Command) on hand to give away as I met other teens.  One of the high points was watching Stryper (In God We Trust) at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA.  Michael Sweet directed everyone’s attention to the stars in the ceiling of the building and began to talk about God’s creation.  There was a couple next to me that both began to break down and cry as Michael talked about God.  I began praying for them.  At the end of the concert I spoke with them and prayed with them before we left.

Fast-forward…. I saw Stryper a few years ago in Atlanta with several friends.  As we hit I-75 I asked, “Who would have ever thought we would be going to see Stryper in our 40’s riding in a mini van?”  Ha!  The next tour through Atlanta I will have my 11 year old son with me too! 🙂

Well, Stryper is releasing another studio album!  It is expected to release on November 5.  Their first video from the album has already been released, “No More Hell to Pay”.

My best for His glory

2013: Day 1.2013

New things bring about fresh excitement. A New car, a new house, a new job, a new relationship, and a New Year all bring about this fresh excitement. Today being January 1, all of us are probably going to make some sort of commitments to change. We are going to live better-healthier lives by joining the gym, start running, lose weight… the list goes on and on. Maybe for you it is not to get fit physically but rather to be fit spiritually. Both are important. Both can bring about healthier living and greater enjoyment of life.

I have my own, not so little, list of things I want to accomplish in this New Year. I’ve gone over this page -or so of notes in my journal – and the goal of everything on it is ultimately to be closer to God in some way. I want to surrender each point on my list to the will of God. I want to make this year – the year of looking up. I want this to be the year that Oswald Chambers would say, “My determined purpose is to be my utmost for His highest— my best for His glory.” This will start as I look up – from my knees – in prayer… Seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

As you begin this New Year, and you focus on the spiritual aspect of your life, don’t forget the fact your decision to follow Jesus or not will have ramifications on those you love the most. Your decision will affect, either way, those you are around on a daily basis. It’s a choice you make. You can’t ignore the fact that if you choose not to make bold commitments for the Lord today you will be delaying or hindering the blessings that He wants to work through you for the sake of those around you – for His glory.

My choice this year is to:

  1. Look up
  2. Daily open my eyes to God’s wonder all around me
  3. Seize every opportunity to encounter God
  4. To be my utmost for His highest – my best for His glory

What do you choose for yourself as you start 2013? Is it for your glory? Or is it for His glory?

“Let the little children come to me…”

At times, my two-year old gets a little jealous of the attention her daddy gets from the other children.  When my older children hug me or sit with me she wants to draw closer to me.  She will typically say, “My daddy!”

After work I will pick up my son from school then head over to the baby sitters to pick up my daughter.  Everyday my son hopes when he walks up to the door  she will want to run to him and hug him.  Each time she runs past him.  I can’t get up the steps to the front porch before she is literally jumping off of the top step and into my arms.

As I caught her yesterday, I thought to myself, “That’s faith.”  She loves me and can’t wait to see me.  She can’t wait for me to hold her.  Her 10-year-old brother can’t distract her attention from me.  As we arrive home, she begins to see the other children (all teenagers) she doesn’t want them.  She only wants her daddy.  She holds my hand, sits in my lap, and will only take her cup of milk from me in those first moments we are together again.

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Luke 4:16, NIV).

In this passage, we see the love Jesus has for children.  I think Jesus is conveying to us his love for all of his children. And the manner in which we should go to him… as little children.  As I have thought about the faith of my little girl, in action, as she jumps from the top step and – into my arms – I have questioned where I stand today with faith.  Do I live with this same excitement? Do I run to spend time with the Lord?  Do I run past the distractions to be only in His presence?  Do I want only the food He can give me from the moments I spend with Him? Do I give him my strict attention at the beginning of each new day?

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

 

“Edit Walker”

Several weeks ago I was checking my son in at church.  I was in the process of making the correct selections for the class he was going to be in when he noticed a button on the screen that read, “Edit Walker.”  With his 9-year-old wheels turning he asked, “What does that mean?”  I replied, “Computers have a button that allows us to go in and edit our lives.”  He didn’t buy it. 

We went on to talk about this a little while later.  We talked about why we go to church, read God’s Word, and why we pray.  I explained to him I do these things in order to give God the opportunity to teach me so I can get to know God better and so I can make the necessary changes in my life in order to become the person He created me to be. 

Too me it seems like I put God in a box and look for Him to speak to me in certain ways.  I look to those moments from the past and think I should learn certain things to help me adjust my life today… at least so I won’t repeat the same mistakes twice.  I know God chose this simple moment at the check in station to speak to me through my son’s question.  While reading Oswald Chambers this week I read,

Do not look for God to come in any particular way, but look for Him. That is the way to make room for Him. Expect Him to come, but do not expect Him only in a certain way. However much we may know God, the great lesson to learn is that at any minute He may break in. (My Utmost for His Highest, January 25).

There is no set formula on how to hear God.  I find that at different seasons of life He speaks in different ways to me.  My main job is to look for Him – in all circumstances.  I’ve got a lot of growing left to do.  Each day I know that a part of that growing comes from those moments where the Holy Spirit needs to do a bit of editing of my life. 

I’m ready!  I’m ready for God to break into my life.  I’m ready for the renewing and editing that I know needs to take place.  I know that I have a story to tell… I know you do to.  Be ready.  Be on the look out for Him to show up in your life.  There is not an easy edit button on your life.  Submit your ways to Him… and may they become His ways.  Just when you least expect to see Him begin to look… seek Him and you will find Him.