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.  

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.

 

 

Open my eyes…

“Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law.” Psalm 119:18, (NIV).

When I walk into my garage from the outside and the lights are out I am blinded by the darkness as I walk in.  If I stand there for several minutes in the dark my eyes will adjust to the darkness so I can begin to see my way to the door into the house.  In life, I don’t want to live so that I am accustomed to the darkness around me.  I want to be a light in the world I live in.

The Bible tells us, “Without a vision people perish…”  (Proverbs 29:18, KJV).   I’ve desired nothing less than to see the Lord in my daily life.  During times of struggle, it can be hard to see him.  When I take my eyes off of Him, I stand there in my circumstance and get used to the darkness that surrounds me.  Yet, my desire is to continue to seek Him in those dark times.  A famous poetic quartet once stated, “In the dark you need a light do you want to make it right… So, freely surrender!” (Freely Surrender, Stryper).

The Psalmist knows he can’t see without the help of the Lord and he looks to God’s law for his light.  He realizes without his eyes open he will not see the wonder of God’s love found in His law.  “Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law.” Margaret Feinberg writes, “God invites us to look up, open our eyes to the wonder all around us, and seize every opportunity to encounter him.”  (Wonderstruck).  There is not a better place to look for God than in the Bible.  Take the time to read it and you just may be surprised how He speak with you.

Make this your pray today.  Father, open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law. In the wonderful name of Jesus, Amen.

Overwhelmed with the presence of God

It has been awhile since I have posted here.  I realize that it is a technical mistake to not continually post – especially if one wants to keep those following as a follower.  I appreciate those who have messaged me or spoke with me in some way that I needed to write.  That’s always so encouraging… thank you!

So, why have I not been writing? It began at the start of Lent.  After reading, Wonderstruck, about Margaret Feinberg‘s experience around Lent, I decided that this year I would take those days leading up to Easter to focus.  And focus is what I did! I sat down to write several times but each time I felt like my focus was being divided.

Matthew 6:33 was the basis for my focus.  I began praying around these words of Jesus, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  I researched the Bible and prayed with the focus of God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.  As I began praying, I realized how self-centered my prayer life had become.  My praying over the years had become about the later part of Matthew 6:33, “…and all these things will be given to you as well.”  I realized I had been seeking “things” rather than seeking God.  My relationship had become about the physical over the spiritual-love-life that God so desires to have with His people.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied withgetting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Matthew 6:30-33, The Message).

At the beginning of Lent, there was a lot of things that came up against me and my family.  I was beginning to wonder if what I had began to do was the right thing or not.  I pressed on!  With each obstacle, I spoke to God and prayed with His Kingdom and His righteousness as my focus.  I did not ever pray about the specific issues that came up.  I trusted the words of Jesus to seek first His Kingdom.

I write in a journal most days.  That journal at times becomes a list of stuff I am wanting God to bless me with.  I begin praying about those things and neglect intimately seeking God.  Think with me for a moment about your best friend.  Do you have them in mind? OK, now imagine every time you see them instead of talking with them you ask them for something.  Not ever once inquiring about their life or thinking about their needs, etc.  All you want out of them is something they can give you.  How long do you think you are going to have that relationship if it is only based on you asking them of something?  It’s not going to be much of a relationship is it?

If all we have are lists of things we are praying about – where is the relationship with God? 

During Lent, I came to realize my past “comfort” was found in praying over my problems rather than finding real comfort from the Holy Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit is at work around us, all of the time, God knows what we need.  We don’t have to “worry” our prayers before God over those things.  He truly desires for us to live in freedom rather than fear.  I found freedom this year in knowing God.  I am so thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.  I am thankful for this time of Lent.  I am thankful for a renewed passion for love I have for God.  I am thankful for all the Holy Spirit has done in the past couple of months.  I am amazed and so blessed.  I can honestly say with great passion and grace I have been Wonderstruck by God.

I will pursue You

Give my lifeToday is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent.  It is a time that many Christians take to prepare themselves leading up to the celebration of Easter.  I have heard of those who are giving up things like chocolate, Facebook, Coke, or some other daily habit during this time.

Lent is not something my church tradition has observed.  But I have grown increasingly curious to look at it more the past couple of years.  After reading Margaret Feinberg‘s book, Wonderstruck, I have decided to take the next 40 days as a time to focus my prayer life.

Margaret writes about how she fell in love with this time of Lent.  She talks about God leading her to give up prayer… at least prayer in the form that she had grown accustomed – lengthy prayers.  God had instructed her to shorten her prayers to three words.  Imagine that!  Condensing every prayer down to three words.  I don’t know if my brain has the vocabulary or creativity to accomplish that kind of prayer.

During Lent, I’m not going to cut my prayers down to three words but I am going to cut out praying for my personal needs over the next 40 days.  Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” (New Century Version).  I’ve been noticing how much my praying is focused on me… my needs… my wants… I have made prayer about me and not about Jesus.Your presence

Jesus says if we will seek God’s kingdom first – what He wants – THEN our other needs will be met.  It seems like I have had my prayer life backward.  Praying for my needs and not necessarily seeking first God’s kingdom.  Over the next 40 days I want to grow closer to God and I want to get to know Him on a deeper level in the power of His Holy Spirit through prayer.

Oswald Chambers states,

The goal of my spiritual life is such close identification with Jesus Christ that I will always hear God and know that God always hears me (see John 11:41). If I am united with Jesus Christ, I hear God all the time through the devotion of hearing. A flower, a tree, or a servant of God may convey God’s message to me. What hinders me from hearing is my attention to other things. It is not that I don’t want to hear God, but I am not devoted in the right areas of my life. I am devoted to things and even to service and my own convictions. (My Utmost for His Highest, February 13).

Over the next 40 days I want my life to be marked by being devoted to the right things.  To the pursuit of walking in His presence.  How are you going to spend these days leading up to the celebration of Easter?

Look up and open your eyes…

I have been captivated by Margaret Feinberg’s new book Wonderstruck. Many other people have been too. It has barely been out a week and it’s already into the 2nd printing!! Before its release on Christmas day, I received an advanced copy of three chapters. The timing for me to read these chapters were definitely God ordained. And I believe God has inspired Margaret to write this book for such a time as this. I’m excited to start 2013 with Wonderstruck.

We are living in a time where the pressures of this world are very over-whelming. So many people I have talked with have lost their joy, their focus, the understanding of their purpose, and the wonder of God. I’m thankful I haven’t lost my job, my house, or anything like so many others have. I can say that other circumstances in life, both, past and present, have had me extremely over-burdened. These things have worked over-time to take the life right out of me for the past few years.

Last month, I was out for a fall run on Pine Mountain. I started out with one thing in mind… to get near to God and for things to change within my life. I am so glad I took the time to listen to God that day. I am thankful I am able to share with you some of the images from the pictures I took. God was speaking to me in ways I didn’t fully comprehend. I’m confident that God is not finished with what he began in me.

As I move into the year 2013, I have adopted one sentence from Wonderstruck that will be my life theme for the coming year.

God invites us to look up, open our eyes to the wonder all around us, and seize every opportunity to encounter him. (Margaret Feinberg, Wonderstruck, 27).

As I ran on the trail I stopped to take this photograph. Pine Mountain in the shadowsI began to run again and God whispered to me, “Stop and look up.” The sight was beautiful. What I saw were these leaves with the bright blue sky as the back drop. God had painted this beautiful canvas all around me. But it was in the invitation to look up that I really began to understand what his desire has been for me.

I have had my eyes focused on my journey, focused on my surroundings, focused on the darkness, focused on the past and ignoring the moment. His purpose and plan for my life and for your life is far greater than anything either one of us could imagine on our own. Pine Mountain Look Up

This moment is his. His invitation is for us to look up and open our eyes to the wonder all around us. He is all around us. He is inviting us to experience him beyond what we can see. He wants us to seize this moment. He wants us to take the hill and conquer this life and allow ourselves to encounter him.

Our battles are first won or lost in the secret places of our will in God’s presence, never in full view of the world. The Spirit of God seizes me and I am compelled to get alone with God and fight the battle before Him. Until I do this, I will lose every time. The battle may take one minute or one year, but that will depend on me, not God. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 27).

As I look forward to this new year of 2013, my prayer is to get to know God in a fresh and new way… to encounter him. I pray you will also embark on this same journey to encounter him too. He is inviting all of his people to, look up, open our eyes to the wonder all around us, and seize every opportunity to encounter him.