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.

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.

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.

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.

Walk Steadily on the Road

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. (Psalm 119:1, The Message).

Has God revealed something to you?  Is there something God has spoken to you that hasn’t come into being?  Do you have a desire in your heart that you can’t seem to explain to others?  Yet, you know God understands! What’s keeping you from pursuing that desire with all your heart?  Maybe you have given up on God, thinking, “That’s not what He really said for me to do.”  The Psalmist says here you are blessed if you stay the course.

Maybe there is something God called you to and circumstances blocked your path.  Where are you now?  Are you still on the road? Maybe you are still on the road but have settled for selling lemonade instead of walking steadily.  After-all, you heard once when life throws you lemons you should make lemonade.  Or have you given up altogether and decided to cut your own path?

I was listening to Steven Furtick’s message, “Don’t Stop on 6.”  It’s a message on Joshua and the people of Israel as they were headed for the Promised Land.  On the road, they encountered many obstacles and problems.  Jericho was one of those problems in their path.  God told Joshua to lead the people around Jericho.  Literally, they marched in circles around Jericho.  For 6 days they made one lap each day around the city.  What if they had given up on day 6?  What if they had given up on lap 6 of day 7?

It doesn’t matter where you are in life.  If you are a college student struggling to understand God’s plan, or if you are in your 40’s/50’s wishing you had made other choices. Blessed are those who stay the course! Don’t give up.  Don’t quit. Has God given you a dream – a passion – something you can’t let go of… yet you haven’t arrived? Don’t stop here!  Keep pressing on.  Let Him take you deeper in His Word.  Deeper with those He has put in and around your life.  God’s purposes are much greater on the road He reveals over the path either one of us could carve out on our own.

In Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (NIV).

Josiah was eight years old when he became king. He ruled for thirty-one years in Jerusalem. He behaved well before God. He kept straight on the path blazed by his ancestor David, not one step to the left or right. (2 Chronicles 34:1, The Message).

Our lives aren’t meant to be a sprint to the finish line but rather a long distance endurance race.  Don’t allow the mountain in front of you to keep you from finishing the race strong!  Take it one step at a time.  Keep your focus on your footing and keep on walking steadily.

I picked up a journal recently I was writing in 2009.  The interesting thing for me is that I am still praying about the same thing today that I was then.  I’m even praying over the same passage of Scripture.  My initial reaction was, “Wow, I can’t believe that!”  I thought for a moment why continue… but that thought process quickly changed.  What if Israel had stopped on 6.  I’m not stopping either.

Day 7 is on it’s way if we keep walking steadily!

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).