Tag Archives: joy

The Missing Guitar String ( A story of simple Joy)

“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”                   2 Corinthians 8:2

Arriving in Lima

When our group  arrived in Lima Peru, we took a bus ride past block after dusty, dirty block of thrown together wooden buildings where people lived and worked. Our destination was Scripture Union, a ministry dedicated to the service of abandoned boys and gospel outreach, located in downtown Lima. I was a chaperon for our youth group’s mission’s trip to the place known by its residents as the saddest city on earth. The evidence of this sadness would overwhelm us before the trip was done.

The Orphanage

Our focus would be to serve the boys in the orphanage known as street boys. A street boy can range in age from six years old to the late teens. These are boys who have been abandoned by their parents for economic reasons and left to fend for themselves in the cruel streets of Lima. Most live lives filled with theft, prostitution and glue sniffing. But some accept the help and rules of the orphanage and these were the boys we would love and care for. To our surprise, by the end of our trip, Peruvians, street boys included, would do more for us than we could have possibly done for them.

My Peruvian Friend

I met Saul Camarena while carrying sacks of sand to the roof of the orphanage. He’s a short man with glasses, dark hair and chocolate colored skin. He approached me on the stairway and introduced himself in English, inviting me to his accounting office to see his computer. He showed me his Spanish version of Windows and we chatted briefly about our families and faith. I felt an instant connection with him, amazed at how quickly a common faith in Christ can traverse cultural differences and connect hearts on a spiritual level. Our friendship has continued to this day.

As the days unfolded, Saul would occasionally translate for us as we worked beside the Peruvians on the roof, building more rooms for the street boys. On one occasion, I took a break and talked with him as we gazed over the half built wall, looking down on the dry, dusty streets below. Though it was July, since we south of the equator, we were experiencing the cool cloudiness of a Peruvian winter.

Though the buildings were smaller, Lima reminded me of a dirty, gray New York city; the constant sound of horns and motor rumblings with a pronounced smell of exhaust, trapped around us by the cloud layer.

Invitation to Dinner

As we stared down at the street, Saul invited me to bring a few of the boys from our youth group to his home to meet his family. I agreed and we settled on the Thursday night before we would leave to return to South Carolina.

The day before our dinner, Saul took me aside, his brow and forehead displaying concern. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we are very poor.” At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but now I know he was concerned for the boys and me, that their poverty would affect us. His sorrow was that he couldn’t afford the luxury he knew we were used too.

Saul lived 50 kilometers from Lima, about an hours drive. Each day, it cost him a Peruvian Nuevo Sol coin (about 33 cents) to ride to and from work. As we boarded the bus, Saul insisted on paying our fair. I argued, but could tell not allowing it would have been against his deep desire and joy. It was very humbling, especially when I found out later that he made only $200 a month.

As the dilapidated bus bounced along the mountainous terrain, I noticed that each hill was crowded with small wooden shacks. They were brightly painted as if in an effort to dispel the dismal aura of poverty. I was saddened when I thought of each family crowded together, struggling to survive.

Saul’s Village

When we got to Saul’s village, we stepped off the bus into what felt like a scene from National Geographic; the poverty,  the trash, the sickly looking dogs in search of scraps. The sadness of the place dulled our hearts as we followed Saul down a couple of blocks and across the cracked street.

We walked up to what looked like a concrete storage area between two other buildings, but when Saul took out a key and opened the door, I realized it was his home. We followed him in and waited in the living room area while he went toward the back. The house had a concrete floor with a wooden post resting on two wooden blocks as a support in the middle of the room. A blanket separated the main room into a living area and a bedroom area. There was also a kitchen bathroom area that had only a portion of a roof and a little storage section that may have served as an additional sleeping area.

Thursday Night Church

Though it was Thursday night, when Saul returned he surprised me by inviting us to go to church with him. Before the trip, my pastor warned me to have a short sermon ready because I might be asked to speak at a church. I’m so glad he mentioned this because this is exactly what happened. Also, since one of our boys played guitar, we were asked to sing a song we’d learned in Spanish, using their guitar, which was missing a string.

Missing Guitar String

Though a missing guitar string would be a big deal in a church I might attend back home, I began to understand it was very insignificant in this little Peruvian church. We Americans would have maybe even delayed the service until the string was replaced, but not in Saul’s church. Peruvians had learned the importance of putting missing guitar strings in the proper place, behind relationships.

Saul’s church would have loved to have had a nicer guitar, but they didn’t. So, they went ahead and gathered together on Thursday night anyway, focusing on worshiping the Lord and each other; this spoke deeply to my heart.

Simple Joy

There were about 12-15 people at the church, dressed in simple clean but slightly ripped or worn clothing, fully focused on what we had to say and on the sermon Saul preached. During the singing, their zeal and joy was contagious. Though many of them were missing teeth, the delight of their smiles was beautiful. Their joy had absolutely nothing to do with what they had or how they were. It had everything to do with their relationships with God, with each other and with us.

When the service was over, the people gathered around and made us feel very welcomed. We then went back to Saul’s house to eat along with several of his friends from church. They seemed delighted to get a chance to get to know us.

The Love of Christ Demonstrated

Saul’s wife served us a wonderful meal of chicken, potatoes and fried yuca, which is similar to a potato. We drank a clove drink called chicha morada. They could only afford to give us portions of napkins (a forth of a napkin folded into a triangle), but by now I knew that they would have given us napkins of silk if they could have.

I’m sure the meal was very expensive. They sacrificed so much to make us feel welcome. Again I felt the contrast of how a similar meal might be experienced at home. We would have surely worked hard at being hospitable and making  our guests feel comfortable, but would we have spent so large a potion of our monthly income to make them feel welcome? I doubted it.

When the meal was done, Saul’s countenance displayed concern. Looking at each of us, he said, “We’re sorry we couldn’t do more.”

At this remark, tears began to well up in my eyes and as I looked around the modest room I saw it had the same impact on my boys. How could he say this? He had given us all he could out of his poverty and now he wanted to give us more. That moment, in Saul’s concrete home, I received an example of sacrificial love. Saul and his wife truly loved us as Christ had loved them. I feel the impact of their love even to this day.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34 

As the conversation waned, I began to think about how we would get home. I was in the most remote place my life had ever carried me, yet I was responsible to get us all back to the orphanage. Earlier in the week, I heard someone say that the area we were staying was the highest crime district in all of Lima. I wasn’t even sure what bus to take and where to get off.

This turned out to be no problem because Saul informed me he wanted to ride back with us on the bus to insure our safety. I gladly accepted.

When the night bus pulled to a halt at the stop nearest our destination, we expected to get directions and say our good-byes. However, this was not the end of Saul’s kindnesses.

He got off the bus and accompanied us all the way to the front gate of our building, several blocks away. Then he waited for the security guards to unlock the gates. When he was sure we were safely inside, he turned to catch another bus and ride home. Looking through the bars, I watched his short frame walk off into the dangerous streets of Lima by himself; having once again given us all he had.

Back to the Rat Race

We returned to the States the next morning, back to busy duties and abundant prosperity and newer guitars with all the strings. As I write these memories years later, the impact of my visit to Peru remains fresh in my heart.

In my living room,  my gaze wanders over painted walls, lovely pictures, soft furnishings, a color television set and my daughter’s guitar. Yet as I think of Peru, joy fills my heart.

I pray God will give me a heart like Saul’s and his family, and like the people in his church; even like the Street boys, who delighted in giving us simple multi-colored bracelets to remember them by.

We had the audacity to think we were going to love and serve a few people in Lima, Peru. And by God’s grace, maybe we did. But far, far greater was the lasting ways they loved and served us.

Victory is a Person

Victory, from the Old French word victor, means to triumph or overcome in a struggle. A personal victory might be losing weight, breaking a bad habit or making the dean’s list. There are team victories, political victories and victories in war. Most victories require tremendous strain and effort, but are extremely rewarding.

In Christian circles you hear of a “victorious Christian life,” a time when sin is conquered, fear is overthrown and love for God and other’s flows freely.

Our natural tendency is to think a “victorious Christian life,” is gained in the same pains taking efforts other victories have been won, giving it our all, trying as hard as we can to win. This could not be farther from the truth.

It is true, Jesus desires for us a life free from fear and sin, loving God and others in the same sacrificial way He has loved us, but He is not asking us to change.

God is not looking for a changed life. He is offering an exchanged life.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Christ has exchanged His life for ours. Not only did He die in our place to rescue us from eternal separation from God, but He also imputed His righteousness to us. We have become the righteousness of God.

There is not trying hard to be righteous. In Christ we are righteousness.

But you say, “That might be true, but how is victory realized in my own life? How is sin defeated, fear banished, love unleashed and joy experienced?”

The answer is still the same. With His exchanged Life.

Consider the great summary verse Paul wrote about the Christian life:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

The victory is not in trying harder. The victory is in embracing the death of our old nature on the cross and depending upon the newness of our life in Christ. Christ did not die so that we could be changed. He died so that we might die with Him and be raised with Him in newness of life.

Victory is in realizing our crucifixion with Christ and depending upon Christ in all we do. Yielding to His abiding Spirit, we bear fruit for the glory of God. Apart from His work in us, we can do nothing. ( See John 15:5)

We need to stop trying so hard to pattern our lives after what we read about Jesus in the Bible. There’s only one person who can truly live the victorious Christian life and it’s not us. It’s Jesus in us.

We have been made new. In Christ we have all the love, joy, peace, patience and hope we will ever need. Ours is to realize our newness in Him (counting as fact the death of our old self (See Romans 6:11) ) and yielding to Christ in us to love whoever get’s in our way.

Victory is not in trying harder. I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried that.

Victory is in remaining in the love of Christ and yielding to His Spirit.

The old has gone the new has come.

Challenge:  Consider an area of your life in which you feel defeated.  Trust that Jesus wants you to have victory in this area even more than you do.

Bring this area before the Lord right now:

Lord, you know  how discouraged I am in this area. I’ve tried so hard to be like you, but have failed miserably. I know now that victory is not in trying harder, but in resting in You. Open the eyes of my heart that I might know your great love for me. Teach me to remain in your love and yield to your Spirit in me as I allow you to become my victory in this area.

You are my Victory.

 

Don’t Postpone Joy

Martha had enough. Her sister Mary did it again, left her to do all the work while she just sat there. Martha was distracted by all the preparations. And though the very source of Joy was with her, she was focused on what she had to do.

Sound familiar?

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

But how can life really be about one thing? Without Martha, no food would have been served.

On a slow morning, sitting on a dock facing the intracoastal waterway in Wilmington, NC, I’m once again pondering how to be a Mary without neglecting my responsibilities.

The mid-morning sun warms the steady breeze as it massages my face. I look across the gray blue waterway and see white caps ushering the tide to my right. The rhythmic waves lap upon the shore only interrupted by the rubbing of the floating docks along the pile driven wooden poles, the squawking of sea birds and the distant sound of a dog’s bark.

I have sought my own answers to this quandary for years, but this morning it all seems clear. No profound answers are given, only His strong hand outstretched; inviting me to give Him my concerns, so I can be with Him. Together, He will show me how to live a Mary life in a Martha world.

My cares are safely sealed, waiting for His commands to be revealed.

Two light yellow butterflies dart across the rolling tide. Above the water flow, there is a lime green strip of land below a line of emerald trees, couching white, multi-storied buildings in the distance. Above the tree line, a cloudless sky rises in deeper shades of pastel blue towards the heavens.

Wow! This is joy, this trusting, this resting, this enjoying His presence. Is this abiding? Is this what Jesus means when He tells me to remain in His love?

So, what now? I could regret millions of distracted moments in my past when I labored without a thought of His nearness.

But I won’t.

I will go forth with a deeper understanding of what Jesus means when he tells me not to worry, but to seek His business, His Kingdom, His supremacy in my life.

All that other stuff, the things I seem to focus on, what I’ll eat and what I’ll wear and what I’ll drink – He’s got that. He and I  have more important things to do, like enjoying this moment together.

And by the way, when I am doing that (Enjoying moments of life with Him) I will naturally love the people I meet along the way. When, like Mary, I’m in tune with my Lord’s nearness, when I’m yielding to His Indwelling Spirit, His love flows through me to others. My number one concern now is to love others as He has loved me. This  starts with resting in His love.

Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

“Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.” John Piper

In His Presence is fullness of Joy (Psalm 16:11)

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