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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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.  

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.

“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.

Out of the shadow of Shadow Weaver…

…comes Sentimental song.

The Choir‘s new album, Shadow Weaver, is out and ready to be indulged.  It seems to me with each new release by this band there is a drawing of my ear to go deeper in the music and the lyric.  If you are a follower of The Choir, you know exactly what I am talking about.  There is not another band out there who can weave the dreamy alternative rock sound in and out of each album and paint as pretty a picture lyrically as this band can.  You can become a fan now with Shadow Weaver but don’t stop there.  One of the beauties of their art is how previous lyrics or themes are consistently weaved throughout their work.

In 1987, I discovered The Choir, while I was a student at Lee College in Cleveland, TN.  The album was Diamonds and Rain.  Shortly after that purchase Chase the Kangaroo was released and my followship of the Choir was solidified!  As I have grown up over the years, it’s as though the lyric and sound have been a soundtrack for my life.

I’ve experienced many highs and lows in life.  Both of which I would love to have had the right tools to draw from when experiencing both of them.  Today, I hope I’ve learned from the difficulties, destruction, and triumph experienced in my life.  (Deep breath)

I recently attended the kick off concert for the Shadow Weaver tour in Dallas, GA.  I went hoping to be able to write about my experience hearing the songs from Shadow Weaver.  They only played a couple of the new songs that night… and what we did hear was outstanding!  Right now, it’s a song off of the 1990 album, Circle Slide, that I want to share.  As Derri began to strum the first chords of this song, applause began as everyone knew what was coming…  Sentimental Song!

As Derri sang, my mind went back to a little house I lived in back in 1991.  I had been divorced for a short period of time.  Just a little bit shorter than I had actually been married.  My life and my heart were a mess of emotions during that time.  I realize Sentimental Song is really a love song.  But during those days I heard that song from the heart of the Holy Spirit.  Each time I played that song then God reached out to me with love.  I tried hard to grasp ahold of those rays of the Son through the thick darkness that had enveloped my life.  As I sat there listening to Derri sing, emotion welled-up within me as I thought about the love my Heavenly Father has for me.  How His grace is deep and not near as complicated as my life has tried to make it.

I’ve heard of people having serious car wrecks after running slightly off of the road.  The wreck occurred after they tried to over-correct from the first mistake.  Well, my life then was much like that.  I ran off the road through that relationship and tried to over-correct my life and ended up crashing.  Some of the memories of that time in life still plague me.  It’s a constant reminder that God has deep meaning and purpose that is hidden even in the darkness we find our lives in the midst of.  His desire is to mine the diamonds that we have hidden in the past of our lives.

Finish the race

When you step back to take a look at your life, what do you see? How do you evaluate your place or position?  What tool do you use to measure in order to see if you are where you need to be or want to be in life?

There are many voices and tools “out there” to give us the help and guidance in life to get us from where are to where we really want to be… or more importantly, to where God wants us to be.  For me, the greatest tool is reading the Bible.  I find direction, strength, hope, and encouragement in the words I read there.  Reading the Bible is a discipline that I must not neglect and must be a part of daily living.Run the Race

I was recently challenged to think about what my ideal life looks like.  As I began to think about my response, I thought back to the 4th grade.  I was sitting in a room in my house and I recall thinking, “I’m not going to be like that.” I can recall the voice of my dad saying he wish he had made other choices about his career.  I can recall the career path he would have preferred over the one he was on at the time.  In my pursuit of God and living in obedience, I struggle with keeping of my stride since it has been broken.

“How you see your future is more important than what has happened in your past.”  Zig Ziglar

I’m involved in quite a few really “good” things.  I visited one of those recently.  I walked out of that meeting and overwhelmed at the need in our community and the task that is set before them.  The thought kept rising in my mind that they are Jesus in their corner of our county.  They are literally being his hands and his feet.  Reaching out to those who can’t feed themselves.  I was unsure about what my experience would be as I drove onto the property.  I drove away challenged.

I once was a competitive long distance runner.  I recall the feeling of having someone break my stride because they cut me off.  It was a breaking of my stride physically and mentally.  I could get my physical stride back pretty easily but, at times, it was the mental portion of it I would have difficulty over coming.  I can recall dwelling on what had just happened and that becoming my focus over the race being run.

You are never a failure until you quit. Resist discouragement and finish the race God has set before you. -Rick Warren, Uncommon Courage Devotional.

I mentioned earlier there are a lot of tools to help us on our journey in life.  God’s Word is the greatest of those… His word is truth.  At times, each of us have moments when someone or something breaks into our lane and breaks our stride.  Keeping our eyes intently focused in the Word of God will help us to keep our focus.  The Holy Spirit will use those words to lead us where God wants us.

If you are in a place in life where someone has cut you off and broken your stride, now is the time to bring life back into focus.  Looking toward the goal that has been set within your heart.  “You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7, NIV).  Don’t let the distractions of this world, the words of others, or the actions of others break your stride.  Keep running.

Why do you believe what you believe?

I recently read an article posted on Facebook.  I was shocked at what I read concerning a “leader in the church.”  I thought that can’t be true.  Yet before I investigated the truth of what I read – I sent the link to a couple of my friends.  Later in the evening, I was discussing this article with someone else.  Based on that discussion, I decided to actually do some research on it.  I discovered that the original article was an “internet hoax.”  I came to this understanding as I sought out multiple resources.  Even with a closer examination of the original article, it even stated on the website that what was posted was “satirical”.  (I over-looked that).

That’s why it is important for us to make informed decisions about our lives and the faith we so often proudly proclaim. Or the faith we so proudly try to disclaim.  Not only are our lives weighing in the balance but the lives of those we come in contact with on a daily basis.

This experience led me to question, “Why do I believe what I believe?”

I had never heard of the source of the original article.  So when I first read it I was skeptical.  Yet there were some interesting quotes that made me think, “Well, I guess that could be true.”  By the time I finished reading the article I was ready to send it on to a couple of friends with the subject, “Wow!”  And that is exactly what I did.

As a result of this experience I asked myself, “Why do I believe what I believe?” I want to pose the same question to you, “Why do you believe what you believe?” Why do you believe in God, Jesus, Holy Spirit?  Why do you not believe? Why do you believe in some other god or religion? Why believe there is no such being greater than our current existence?  I’m wanting you to consider this in order to draw you into a deeper relationship with God or to bring you into a real search for truth.

Did each of us come to our place of belief because we personally sought truth? Or did we stumble into our belief (or disbelief) in God based on our parents, family, friend(s), or culture?

I write here with the presupposition that those who read are already Christians.  I do so not to negate or over-look those who are not Christians or those seeking the meaning for life.  So, please know If you aren’t a Christian, I think of you as well when I write and pray you come to a place where you are brought to God through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life because you have sought to know Truth.

If you are a Christian, I hope you will take the time to reignite your faith but answering the question about why you believe.  I hope that asking yourself will lead you into a deeper relationship and a greater walk of faith in obedience to the love of Jesus for his people.  If you are not a Christian and are still searching, I hope you will not give up in your search for truth.  Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness…” Matthew 6:33.  If all of us will live seeking His kingdom before anything else – we will not be disappointed!