Tag Archives: joy

What is Abundant Life?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

It’s Saturday morning in South Carolina. Though it’s before 10 am, it’s already hot and I have a fan whirling. I sip my coffee and watch the birds visit the three bird feeders we’ve placed beyond the reach (at least for now) of relentless squirrel visits.

I love Saturday mornings. Unless I’ve packed my schedule too tightly, there’s time to sit and relish God’s nearness.

This morning I read John 10:10. I pause at the promise of abundant life.

Abundant Life. What does it really mean?

Through our country’s eyes, abundance has a lot to do with possessions. Yet we know this kind of abundance doesn’t produce abundant life.

Statistic show that half the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population. Can these 1% say their possessions have given them abundant life? History is dotted with sad stories that say no. Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Earnest Hemingway are just a few who lived in abundance of possessions, yet their lives ended sadly, not reflecting the abundant life Jesus is referring to.

In fact, it can be argued that abundant possessions inhibit abundant life. Stuff can drain much time and energy, leaving little margin for true abundance.

By implication, abundance can also be associated with success, good health and overall good circumstanced. There is certainly nothing wrong with desiring all these things,  but we know that circumstantial happiness does not translate directly to abundant life either.

The abundant life Jesus refers is not tied to possessions or circumstances. In fact His abundant life is exponentially more satisfying and stable than either.

Years ago, during a two week missions trip to Lima Peru, I was deeply saddened by the living conditions I saw.  Poverty forced mothers to do the unthinkable, releasing their young sons to fend for themselves on the streets.

Our group served at Casa Hogar, an orphanage designed to feed and educated these children. But many of the abandoned children were already steeped in a life of glue sniffing, stealing and prostitution. Chained to this life, they  refused the long term help of the orphanage. Some were adopted, however, and shown the love of Jesus.

In spite of all the poverty and sadness in Lima, there was a quality of love we saw in the believers which I had not experienced in the United States. The folks who worked at Casa Hogar seemed to be refreshingly free from the pursuit of possessions and smooth circumstances.

We all experienced such a depth of the love of Jesus during our two weeks in Peru that many of us dreaded to return to the  “rat race” of the American culture.

We had the audacity to think we were traveling to South America to “minster” the love of Jesus to folks in dire straights. But we were the ones who were deeply touched by the love of Jesus flowing through the Peruvians, even the children.

As I take another sip of coffee, and notice a squirrel repelling down a wire to once again help itself to our bird seed, I write the following words:

Abundant life is not abundant possessions or smooth circumstances. Abundant life is Abundant love.

The Bible is saturated with remarkable language about God’s love,  but there is no better demonstration of abundant love than what Jesus did for each one of us on the cross.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.[1]

 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)[2]

As I watch the squirrel wrapped around the feeder, spilling seed everywhere, I conclude that  the kind of abundant life Jesus promises us has everything to do with His love.

But how does God’s abundant love translate into an abundant life for us on a day by day basis? In other words, what is our part in God’s story of abundant love?

I believe the answer is in John 15.

In verse 9, we get a such an astounding definition of abundant love that only the Spirit of God can fully reveal it to our hearts. Jesus tells us “Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you;”

Pause a moment. Jesus loves us as much as God the Father loves Him. This is stunning!

Allow this truth full access to your heart, penetrating every hardened sinew  of protection and blowing away every argument of self hatred.

Jesus loves us beyond our comprehension and He demonstrated it by dying in our place on the cross

The second part of  John 15:9 is a command:

“Remain in my love.”

Remain where God has placed us, in the love of Jesus.  We did nothing to earn this love, ours is to not move from where we have been placed.

Verses 10 and 12 tell us how.

If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love. (10)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. (12)

We remain in Jesus love, by loving like Him; by being willing in every situation to love sacrificially. This is what we experienced in Peru; folks being freed up from chasing possessions and smooth circumstances to love like Jesus in spite of their poverty and difficulties.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to not have the burden of the “rat race” facing us every day; to rather ask God each day, by the Indwelling Spirit of Christ, to love the people He brings our way; to yield to the Spirit in us to allow Him to love as us.

This is abundant life. Allowing the abundant love of Jesus to flow through us.  ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38

If you don’t see already that abundant life is abundant love, allow me to seal the deal.

Couched in between verses 10 and 12 in John 15 is the following verse:

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:11

Abundant life is abundant love.

 

[1] Romans 5:8

[2] Ephesians 2:4-5

 

Choosing Joy

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep on choosing it every day.”  Henri Nouwen

Violet

A few months ago I was crowded into a chapel attending the funeral of a little girl named Violet. Violet died during her birth, the first child of Joseph and Judy.

Many wore violet articles of clothes to the service, honoring her life and the courage of her parents. Though Violet’s life was short, her life impacted us all.

After the service, we were all given violet helium balloons to release on cue. When we did, the sky was filled with floating circles of purple, growing smaller and smaller as they drifted to the heavens; a salute to violet’s life and a message of love to her from us all.

As moving as the balloons were, what hit me most was the parent’s response. We learned from the eulogy that in the midst of incalculable sadness and grief, Joseph and Judy were choosing joy.

 Can Joy be a Choice?

As I ponder Violet’s parents’ resolve, I wonder how it’s possible to choose joy, just days after her death.

How could this really be true? Isn’t joy supposed to be something good? Seeing the pain on Judy and Joseph’s face, I’m conflicted.

Paul’s command in I Thessalonians 5:16 comes to mind, one of the shortest verses in the Bible: “Rejoice always;”

The word ‘rejoice’ is from the old French word ‘rejoiur’, which means full of joy.

I’m to be full of joy even when my circumstances are difficult. I’m to rejoice always. But this is extreme. An only child died at birth. Violet is dead. Are we to be full of joy even then? My heart fights this notion.

What makes choosing joy possible?

In another place I read “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Be full of joy in the Lord.

God is joy. He is the source of joy, it exudes from Him. “In your presence is fullness of Joy.” (Psalm 16:11b)

Choosing joy is choosing God in the midst of anything and everything I’m going through.

As children of God we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing including being sealed in Christ with the promised Holy Spirit.

We are in Christ and He is in us. See also Galatians 2:20a:  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I how live, but Christ lives in me;”

So joy, true joy is found in our nearness to Christ and His nearness to us.

Joy is possible at all times and in all situations because of the nearness of God; period.

God is joy. Choosing joy is choosing God.

 Choose Joy

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” James 1:2

Joy is eternal, unaffected by the circumstances of our lives. Joy is  God himself.

Though all these things are true, experiencing joy is not automatic. There is a choice involved. We are commanded to be full of joy in the Lord. We are directed to always choose joy no matter what is going on.

God is our reward,  His nearness is our good. He is our life.

Judy and Joseph love Violet so much. Their whole world was flipped upside down on the day she was born. Months of anticipation and excitement were at once turned to horror and indescribable sadness. Yet through it all, when hearts were crumbling, they clung to each other and choose God’s nearness. They chose to find their comfort in God. They chose Joy.

“In your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11b)

Challenge:  What circumstance is zapping your joy right now? No matter how difficult your situation is, choose at this moment to rejoice in God’s nearness. In spite of all, choose God, choose Joy.

Lord, thank you that in all I go through, you never leave me. Indeed, you are closer than breath. You are my joy. Help me to continually choose you. Amen

Dead Bugs on the Windshield

The clouds opened up and the rain poured.

We sure need it, thought Peter as he stared at the drops disappearing into his brown, parched back yard grass. Looking out his porch screen, he noticed the holes.

There were a hundred things  needing to be done between the house repairs, his duties at work and his other responsibilities. Peter was completely overwhelmed.

To him, life was one big problem. He didn’t even know where to begin. Exhausted, he laid down on the chaise lounge  and shut his eyes. Before long, he was asleep and began dreaming.

In his  dream, Peter was driving  a convertible in the mountains. Around a curve,  he came upon a lake nestled in a valley between rolling hills of lush meadows and trees. Peter gasped at the  beauty and pulled into an overlook parking area to take in the view.

The sun was low in the sky and the colors of the sunset were beginning to dance across the lake. Peter reclined his seat. The air was cool. The wind gently slapped his face and he detected a sent of mountain laurel. The more Peter pondered the scene, the deeper and richer the splendor appeared.

In his spirit, Peter knew he was looking at  heaven. He felt a  deep security and hope. The problems, which  had seemed so gigantic moment ago were like nothing compared to the beauty and magnificent splendor before him.

The rich implications of being a child of God began to flood his heart. He realized, as never before, how unbelievably awesome it is to have been forgiven of all his wrongs.

He had done nothing to earn God’s love. God loved him with an eternal love, unaffected by life. Joy and peace welled up into euphoria.  He just laid there soaking it all in, like parched, cracked soil drinks in an early morning rain.

Peter was not sure how long he lay in bliss, but before long and very slowly at first, he began to notice tiny specs on the windshield of his car; little bits of dirt, smudges and dead bugs. He hadn’t noticed them before, but as he shortened his focus he could see them clearly. The closer he looked, the more he saw. Soon the imperfections began to distract him from his appreciation of the grandeur he had been enjoying.

He tried to ignore the windshield, but before long he had been completely overtaken by the details of the mess in front of him. The reality of the brilliance beyond the windshield had been lost.

Suddenly a voice came from the seat beside him.

“What happen, Peter?”

Startled, Peter turned to see a man dressed in a white suit seated beside him in the car.

“How long have you been sitting there?” asked Peter.

“The whole time.”

“How did you get here?”

“It doesn’t matter, Peter.

Why did you take your eyes off of what you were looking at; the reality beyond and what has been done for you? You were focusing on truth and hope and enjoying your inheritance as a son, but then you chose to stop looking at it. Why did you  start focusing on the things close up on the windshield?” The man asked.

“Who are you?”

“I’m a messenger, Peter.

Why did you start focusing on the windshield? That stuff was there the whole time you know.”

“I don’t know?” Peter explained. “I  began to notice how dirty it was. There’s so much needing to be cleaned.”

“Is that your goal, Peter, to have a clean windshield?

You’re forgetting something very important. How did you feel when you were focusing on what was beyond the windshield?”

“It was the most unbelievable feeling I’ve ever had!” Peter exclaimed, a great big smile returning to his face as he recalled it.

“Everything about this world seemed insignificant! My problems and obligations were like little bits of sand on the floor.

All that seemed important was the splendor beyond the windshield. I wanted my family and others to see and experience it.”

“That’s good, Peter,” said the man. “That’s exactly what you should have been feeling. But then something changed. You began to believe a lie that has haunted you.”

“What lie?” Peter asked.

“You began to believe  that the way you handle your cares and problems can change God’s love for you.

Did you really think a few dead bugs on your windshield could effect all that brilliance?

You fell for one of the greatest deceptions the enemy uses to rob God’s sons and daughters of their joy and strength.

All he has to do is to get you to take your eyes off the marvelous truths of the gospel for a moment and to begin to focus  on your problems. Before long, you think  it’s all up to them again. You start living like an orphan and your joy is zapped..”

“But we have problems and obligations. We can’t just ignore them, right?” questioned Peter.

“That’s right, Peter. We can’t just ignore them. But if your goal is carefree living, you’re end for a weary journey of endless striving.

Can you prevent bugs from running into your windshield and dying? Can you prevent dust and dirt and rain?”

“No.”

“Of course you can’t! Dead bug end up on the windshields of life. Until you realize your goal is not to prevent them, you won’t  see them in the proper light. Does that make sense, Peter?”

“I think so”, said Peter. “But I certainly can’t just ignore all this stuff. How do I look at this filth?”

“Peter, when you were looking at the mountains and the lake, were the smudges and dirt and dead bugs on your windshield?”

“Well, yea. I think so.”

“Look at the mountains again, Peter. Tell me if you still see the smudges?”

“No, not while I’m focusing on heaven, I mean the mountains.”

“Now, look back at the windshield again and pick one of the worse dead bugs, the one you think should be cleaned off first.”

“OK, I’m looking at it. It’s that one, next to the rear view mirror.”

“Good. Keep your eyes on that bug, but begin to focus on the mountains again. And tell me what happens to the bug and the mountains?”

“Well, the bug seems really small and insignificant when I focus on what’s beyond the windshield. And when I focus on the beauty beyond, but still have the bug in sight, the mountains and lake seem even richer than before. Why’s that?”

“Peter, beauty is magnificent to gaze upon, but it’s even more marvelous when seen in light of something not so wonderful.”

“I can’t believe it!” exclaimed Peter. “You mean all this time I was fighting and striving and working myself weary to prevent these dead bugs and this dirt from landing on my windshield. And all along, they were going to end up there whether I wanted them to or not?

And not only that, the very things I was striving against the wind to prevent are the very things that God is using to help me focus on his truths more deeply?”

“Amazing, isn’t it Peter,” said the man.

“Yea.” said Peter. “But what should my goal be if it’s not to reduce the problems in my life?

“Great question Peter, but I think you already know the answer. What do you think your goal should be?” asked the man.

“Well,” said Peter.  “All I can think about is what I was experiencing before I noticed the bugs on the windshield. My mind was filled with thoughts about God and how much He has done for me and how much He loves me. I was amazed at the fact that He actually sent his son to die for me, so that I could become one of His children.

All I could think about was how I wanted to be the best child I could be for him. I wanted to please Him in my role  husband, father and friend.”

“Peter, you’ve answered your own question. The longings you have, while focusing on Jesus and his great love for you, become your goal in life, nothing else.”

“But what about the bugs?” pressed Peter.

“You can view them in two different ways,” said the man. “You can view them only as problems and obligations, there to weigh you down. Or, in light of your goal of pleasing your Father, you can develop a passion for serving Him in everything He calls you to do, including approaching the dead bugs that go along with living on this side of the windshield.

Having a passion and resolve to give God glory in all  you do, can unmask the problems. You can then see them clearly for what they really are, little dead bugs and dirt on a windshield, having no effect on the marvelous truths beyond.”

Peter seemed to understand. He was looking again at the brilliance beyond the windshield.

“Peter.” The man said.

“Yes.” Peter looked over at the messenger.

“There’s one more thing I need to tell you.

No matter how many dead bugs and how much dirt and grim which lands on your windshield; and no matter how ugly the mess appears, never, ever think that it’s all up to you to take care of it by yourself.

Remember; the richness of your inheritance. When you were adopted as a child of God, you received the full rights of a child; the wonderful hope of heaven beyond the windshield. But not only that Peter, God gave you something for now.

When you became His son, God came to live inside of you in the form of His Holy Spirit. This is an unbelievable truth! God does not expect you to take care of all this mess alone. God Himself indwells you.  He wants you to depend on Him to work in you to handle every dead bug.”

Peter smiled. Already he was seeing the mess in front of him in a different light. He had the power of the universe inside of him, ready to show forth in strength at each and every opportunity.

Peter looked at the man, but he was gone. Without a second thought, Peter turned his focus again to the soothing, powerful, peaceful truth beyond the windshield.

Meanwhile, back on the porch, Peter’s 8-year old daughter Lisa came crashing through the door to the porch.

“Daddy!”

“Wha, Wha What’s going on? Oh hey sweetie. I was asleep. Is any thing wrong?”

“No Daddy, not really, well yea, we had an accident. Randy had an accident.”

“Is he OK? Is he hurt!”

“He’s not hurt Daddy, but he’s scared. He caused an awful mess! We were trying to reach a game on our closet shelf and we couldn’t reach it. Randy brought in Mom’s paint cans from the bathroom and stacked them up so he could reach it. He was able to get the game, but then he lost his balance and fell. One of the cans came open and blue paint got all over the carpet.

Seeing Peter’s look, Lisa stepped back. “But, we cleaned most of it up Daddy!  Please don’t get mad at him. He didn’t mean to!”

Peter could feel the pressure mount. He could never fully clean blue paint from the carpet and he had no money to spare to get it professionally cleaned or to replace it.

Add it to the list, he thought. One more thing for him to do, one more. Peter stopped in mid thought, paused, then continued his thinking. One more dead bug on the windshield. One more opportunity to see the beauties of God’s truth through a stained carpet bug on the windshield. One more opportunity to see God work in me to handle this challenge of life.

Peter looked at Lisa. He could tell she was scared and worried. “Where is Randy?” he asked.

“He’s hiding Daddy! He’s scared of what you’ll do.”

“Let’s go find him. I’m not mad. I know it was an accident.”

Peter found Randy huddled in the pantry, terrified and sobbing. His bottom lip was trembling as he cried. When he saw Peter a look of terror filled his eyes.

“Randy, it’s OK!” Peter assured him. And then their eyes met. Instead of the anger and rage he was expecting, Randy saw something else in his daddy’s eyes.

“Come on Randy, we’ll figure out a way to clean it up.”

Peter reached out his hand and Randy took it. They walked out to the porch, Lisa following.  They all crawled into the chaise lounge where  they hung out for the longest time,  laughing and enjoying each other until the sun started setting and mom called them in for dinner.

Turning Deadlines into Lifelines

And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Romans 8:10

 Deadlines create stress even in the most joyous of occasions.  “Deadline” is a negative word which first appeared in a Georgia Confederate prison camp. Confederates built a rail around the stockade where they held the Union soldiers. The deadline loomed twenty feet from that railing. Death awaited any prisoners caught beyond that line.

Though today’s deadlines rarely result in actual death, the word speaks to the inner turmoil. A fixed point in time, when all work must be completed, can evoke serious stressful feelings. Nobody wants to fail in any responsibility.

Recently I was the best man in my son’s wedding. Granted, the success of the wedding didn’t depend upon me, but I felt stress as deadline approached. The house needed cleaning for out of town guests. I had to produce a bride and groom video for the rehearsal dinner. I had to plan the bachelor party. I had to prepare speeches … and …. and ….

The wedding ended up being a joyous occasion, but leading up to it I fought to stay in the present moment and embrace life rather than duty.

As believers, Christ is our life. When we embrace Him as our value and our source, He becomes our lifeline, turning deadlines into joy because of His presence and life.

Value  One reason I dread deadlines is my fear of failure. I struggle seeing my value in what I do. In the wedding I didn’t want to let my son down, but I also didn’t want others to see me as a failure in my roles of best man and father of the groom. Truth: My true value has nothing to do with what I do, but with what Christ has done.[1] It’s by Christ’s life that I’m righteous, not by my own success.[2] My greatest value is being a child of God.[3] Failure has been nailed to the cross. [4]

Source  When I strive to succeed in my own strength, I become very dutiful, and allow my work to steal my joy. I believe the familiar lie that it is all up to me. Truth: As a believer, I was crucified with Christ. By His Spirit, He now indwells me. My life is now a moment by moment dependence upon His life in me. Apart from this yielding to Him, I can produce nothing of eternal value.[5] [6]

Lord, I’m sorry for seeking value apart from you and striving on my own. You are my value and my source of strength. When I see you as my life, the stress of deadlines are turned into the joy of your life in me. You have done it all, please help me to continue to rest in your finished work.

 Challenge: Think of a deadline you have coming up. Determine to work for God’s glory and not your own. Ask Christ to be your strength by His Indwelling Spirit and rest in His finished work.

 

 

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9

[2] 2nd Corinthians 5:21

[3] Ephesians 1:5

[4] Galatians 2:20

[5] Galatians 2:20

[6] John 15:5

Game Changer

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.

Psalms 73:28

In 2003, Brad Pyatt was an undrafted rookie wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. When his career ended, he would have a total of three catches for 14 yards. However, what Pyatt did one evening that year became the turning point in what many call the greatest comeback in NFL history.

The Colts were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. The Buccaneers were the previous year’s Super Bowl winners and a team touting the league’s number one defense.

With five minutes to go in the game, the Buccaneers scored, giving them an unsurmountable 35-14 lead. Tony Dungy, the Colt’s head coach, was considering pulling Peyton Manning and the rest of his starters to save them from injury. However, when Pyatt took the kick-off from two yards deep in the end zone to the Tampa Bay 12 yard line, the course of the game shifted.

With such great field position, the starters went back out and quickly scored. The Colt’s defense, now infused with courage, stiffened. The Bucs could not make a first down and were forced to punt. The Colts quickly scored again making the score 35-28 with only a couple of minutes left on the clock.

They successfully recovered an onside kick and the home crowd became deathly silent, sensing a miracle comeback. The visitors scored another touchdown with 30 seconds remaining, tying the game and sending the contest into a ‘Sudden Death’ overtime. The Colt’s completed an improbable comeback by kicking a field goal which bounced off the goal post and through, beating the Buccaneer’s 38-35.

Pyatt’s game changing kickoff return paved the way for his team to score three touchdowns in less than five minutes, reversing the outcome of the game.

That was sports. How about life? If we believe God is our good and live it out, it’s a game changer for our whole life. In fact, it changes everything.

Consider the fact that God is our Exceeding Great Reward[1] and the answer to all our hopes and dreams. What if, like Asaph in Psalm 73:28, you declared, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”

There are so many lesser “goods” which compete for our attention: checking through our to-do list, accumulating possessions, fighting for smooth circumstances. What if we could honestly say that being with God was our good; and we believed it? How would this change the moments of our day?

I believe we would accomplish what needs to be done, but would enjoy the process and the people much more than the achievements. Since God is around us and in us, closer than breathe, we would be good because He is good.

Since his presence brings us fullness of joy,[2] His nearness infuses delight into every word and every deed along the way.

Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 

Psalms 73:25

Lord, I believe Your nearness is my good, teach me to live this out in every moment of my life.

Amen.

 

[1] Genesis 15:1 NKJV

[2] Psalm 16:11

Near to the Broken Hearted

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

Whether we know it or not, we all suffer from a broken heart. Knowing this is the first step towards healing. But how we choose to mend it is the key to whether we are comforted and eventually healed or whether our hearts are broken further.

We were designed for God’s nearness. Our hearts were created to be filled with His presence. We had it once, in Eden before the fall. We were fully dependent upon Him and we lived in continually enjoyment of His closeness.  But, in Adam, we wanted to be our own god. We chose to disobey, causing the tabernacle of God to be ripped out of our hearts.

We enter life thirsty and empty, searching for what we once had; God Himself.

In Luke chapter 4, starting with verse 16, we read that Jesus entered the synagogue in His hometown. He picked up the book of Isaiah and reading about Himself, He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted.”

One of Jesus’ purposes is to heal the broken hearted, to bind up and comfort our crushed and bruised hearts; hearts longing for God; hearts broken by disappointments, betrayals and death.

Paul calls Jesus the God of all comfort, who comfort us in all of our afflictions so that we will be able to comfort others. [1]  But how does He comfort us? He comforts us by being with us. The word comfort literally means to come along side, to be near, to be with.

How does God heal our broken hearts? By being with us. Ours is to be aware of His nearness and to depend upon Him moment by moment. When this happens we receive the oil of gladness. [2] Our hearts begin to heal and we can literally be full of joy in the Lord, no matter what is whirling around us. Jesus heals our broken hearts by being the Lord of our hearts.

God Himself is our Exceeding Great Reward. His nearness is our joy, our strength, our peace, our hope, our courage, our healing.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted

 

Lord, your nearness heals us. I open my heart fully to your presence. Teach me how to be aware of you in the moments of my life and teach me to love you with my whole heart.

[1] 2nd Corinthians 1:4

[2] Isaiah 61:3

 

Fight for Joy

Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.  (2 Corinthians 1:24)

The other day a grey cloud settled  over my heart. It blew in suddenly and lingered for . My wife confirmed that my outward mood matched my inward discouragement. She said it seemed as if someone from the outside had thrown a wet blanket on my heart to try and steal my joy.  As I shuffled around, what she said resonated, but I had nothing inside to fight it.

Frankly, the last thing I wanted to do was read scripture, but I knew I needed truth. I asked God to guide me and  looked at some verses on joy.

As I read, I was struck by how much Paul’s joy seemed to be tied to how others were doing.

He wrote to the Corinthians that he was working for their joy, having confidence that the joy he was experiencing would be their joy. [1]

And to the Philippians, Paul wrote that he’d continue in the fight for their progress and joy in the faith. [2]

Paul was living out Jesus’ example of pouring himself out as a sacrifice for us. Amazingly, by entrusting our own interests to God, we’re free to be about the interests of others, including fighting for their joy. And as we fight for the joy of others, our joy overflows.

As I read what Paul wrote in Philippians 2 about considering others interest above our own, a spark of joy flicked in my heart. I understood what had killed my joy. Unaware of the shift in my heart, I had taken up the familiar position of focusing on my own desires for ease of circumstances and comfort. My intense concern for me had zapped my joy.

Kill Joy – The fastest way to kill your joy is to focus on you. Joy flows when we begin to work on behalf of others.

Lord, thank you for the barometer you built into  my heart that lets me know when the joyful flow of your presence has been clogged. Thank you that your joy flows when we turn to others. Remind me that you have asked me to deny myself and follow you. You’re who I’ve been searching for all my life. You’re my Joy, my Exceeding Great Reward.

I love you, Jesus.

[1] 2nd Corinthians 1:24 – 2:3

[2] Philippians 1:25

Living Waters or Stagnant Pools

asia-199909_960_720If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his intermost being will flow Rivers of Living Water’. (John 7:37-38)

Whether our lives are rivers of fresh living water or polluted stagnant pools depends on what we drink.

We are thirsty people. From the moment the choice was made in the garden to depend on ourselves rather than God, the tabernacle of God in our hearts was ripped out leaving us thirsty for God’s presence.

In the summer of 2002, I was always thirsty. I’d stand at the water fountain and fill my cup to the brim, then gulp it all down. But when the last drop rolled down my throat, I felt just as thirsty as before. As it turned out, I have diabetes and there was so much sugar in my blood that my system was crying out to be diluted.

Just as I couldn’t quench my thirst that summer, we can’t quench the thirst of our hearts unless we drink Jesus. We can drink in all the success, money, pleasure and comfort the world has to offer, but we will end up thirsting for more. Ask Solomon.

Jesus tells us to come to Him. The word “come” in the Greek also means to accompany Him. He tells us to drink of Him, our Pearl of Great Value, our Exceeding Great Reward. When we drink of His Rivers of Living Water, which He later explains is the Holy Spirit, our lives are refreshing streams of joy. His love flows in, and with His love, we love others. Without the flow of His loving presence, our lives become putrid, stagnant pools.

Lord, I’m sorry for all the times I’ve thirsted after the things of this world in vain attempts for satisfaction and purpose. I know now that you designed me to long for you. Only in you will I have the joy and deep fulfillment you desire me to have.

Amazingly, you long for me too. It brings you great pleasure when I find my joy in you. You are closer than breath. My heart jumps for joy at the mention of your name. I love you, Lord.

“but whoever drinks of the water that i shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  Jesus

Sorrowful yet always Rejoicing

Mom
Mom

Sorrowful yet always Rejoicing

sorrowful yet always rejoicing, II Corinthians 6:10

I was teaching a two week interim class at the Governor’s School of Science and Mathematics. My mom had been complaining of abdominal pain for a few weeks. We hoped it was her diverticulitis, but when antibiotics didn’t clear it up, the doctors talked about something more serious. They scheduled exploratory surgery the day I was finishing up my class.

I hadn’t heard anything when the class ended, so I headed home along a dark rural road.  Suddenly my car lost all power. Navigating to the narrow shoulder of the road, a massive eighteen wheeler whizzed by shaking the car.

My cell phone rang. It was my wife. Mom had a form of stage 3 ovarian cancer. Hanging up the phone, I felt numb. But then a strange peace welled up deep in my soul. A sense of God’s presence filled me with unusual joy. Not the kind of joy which would cause glad shouting. But it was a firm realization that because God was with me everything was okay.

I learned from this experience that being okay is not a matter of circumstances always working out. Being okay is about us being with God and Him being with us.

A few months later my mother would die. However, the Lord used Isaiah 43 to speak to her heart about being redeemed. She trusted in the Lord Jesus for her salvation before she died.

This brings me unspeakable joy.

No matter what you are going through right this moment, joy is available.

Don’t look for it in your circumstances. This world has troubles.

Joy is found in the presence of God. Behold Him and He will BE your strength and joy.

Lord, thank you that in spite of very difficult circumstance you made me aware of your joyful presence. It is so easy for me to try and find joy in my circumstances and feelings. Thank you that you give me a deep rock solid joy which is unaffected by ANYTHING I face. Please keep me aware that You are my Delight, my Joy, my life. AMEN.

God Shaped Hole in our Hearts

“Delight yourselves in God and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (NASB)

164202_10201560062862030_865156004_nThe God Shaped Hole in our Hearts

Bliase Pascal wrote the following in the 1600s:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” [1] 

Pascal is giving more description to Solomon’s conclusion that God has set eternity in the hearts of men. From this quote men began to describe our inner abyss as a “God shaped void”.

It was God’s great pleasure to create us. [2]  He made us with glory and honor [3] and he values our fellowship.[4] In short, God created us because it delights him to give us the pleasure of his presence.

In the garden, we had what our hearts desire, intimate communion with our Creator. But we weren’t satisfied. We wanted to be like God and were cut off from the tree of life. The place of God was ripped out of our hearts leaving a great eternal chasm.

The roads of history are flanked with hopeless souls who have lost their way trying to fill the God shaped hole in their hearts. They have made idols out of and become addicted to what God created, instead of God himself.

“Folly is joy to him who lacks sense,” Proverbs 15:21a

But God has made a way back to Him, though it cost Him His very life.

Lord, you are who I’ve been looking for all my life, though often my actions say otherwise. In self-effort and self-gratification, I have placed myself ahead of you in my heart. But you want my whole heart.   Amazingly, you actually want fellowship with me. Thank you for providing a way to rescue me from being lost and separated from you through the death of your Son. Teach me to pursue you above all else. I love you, Lord.

[1] Pensées, Blaise Pascal (Published in 1670 after his death)

[2] Genesis 1:31

[3] Psalm 8:5

[4] John 15:14-15