Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hey, It’s Your Joy, Not Theirs

The Beatles were the thing back then. We kids in the neighborhood would gather around the record player and sing along at the top of their lungs. One day, in the midst of a powerful concert in the living room of one family, one kid looked up at me and said, “You can’t sing.”

Not many things crush the spirit of someone as much as being told you can’t do something you think you’re pretty good at and enjoy doing. A thousand fears ran through my mind. A judgmental chain was hung around my vocal cords. I, who had felt the freedom to let it rip, now was afraid to even hum.

One comment, made by one stupid kid—who had no basis for his opinion but personal preference—shut me down. From then on my public display of delight was over. I had been told my expressions were unacceptable.

How many other statements have we heard that have shut us down? You shouldn’t think that. You’re wrong. You can’t feel that way. How stupid! I knew that would happen if you tried that. I told you you’d fail. You’re going to do what? Stop crying! Maybe you’ll grow out of it. What were you thinking?

Words have great power over us. They get trapped inside our heads and play back at the most inopportune times. Like when we try singing in public again. We’re all prepared, listening to our introduction, ready to share our song, and some kid’s words flash through our mind.

If it works that way in natural matters, how about spiritual ones? Satan is the punk kid telling us lies that discount the faithfulness of God. He reminds us of past struggles, unanswered prayers, unsuccessful resistance to temptations, dark times, unquenched sorrows. He points out disappointments where things just didn’t seem to turn out for good. All in an attempt to keep us from trusting God.

I don’t know how good I ever became at singing. I still struggle at times. But what that kid said in his living room doesn’t stop me anymore. I’ve decided the joy of singing trumps the fear of singing badly. Now, though there may be an audience, I sing to express my deeper joy, not to gain their approval.

Joy is our expression of our confidence in the faithfulness of God. It is not a performance to please a suspicious observer or to demonstrate how good we are at being a Christian. Joy is a statement of what’s going on inside of us. It is our statement, not up for the criticism of others as to whether we are expressing it appropriately or not. So let it rip.

Question: Have you ever sung as though no one was listening?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jumping for Joy

Watching my two-year-old grandson at his birthday party, there were moments when the only thing appropriate for him to do was jump. When Joy overwhelms you, sometimes you just have to give in. At other times you may have to run around in circles. Occasionally you need to dance. Rarely are you impressed to sit quietly as though nothing’s going on. Joy wants expression!

I never was a great dancer. Okay, maybe not even good, but that didn’t stop me from trying. Music does that to you. It makes you move. Whether it’s tapping your toe or patting your hand or drumming on an invisible trap set, when the beat’s pounding you’ve got to respond.

Whenever we hear it and don’t move, something’s wrong. My guess is: we’ve probably had our expressiveness squashed by someone who didn’t think it was appropriate to show Joy publicly. Someone said if you can be calm in a moment like this then you obviously don’t know the severity of the situation. It’s as though there is a highly regulated protocol as to how we’re supposed to act under certain circumstances. 
Showing Joy, for some, would be an insensitive affront to that protocol and reflect poorly on their struggles.

I’m not being insensitive to what others are going through if I don’t get on their level to appreciate the moment. I don’t have to adopt their approach. I can remain faithful to what God is doing. I’m allowed to see things differently.

If you’ve ever tried on someone else’s glasses, you find immediately how they see isn’t how you see. You need glasses made to your prescription not theirs.

When the eyes of our faith see God’s faithfulness in the midst of turbulent times, even if others don’t see it, I have to dance on the updrafts. Wanna dance?

Question: What’s to keep you from getting up and dancing right now?

Monday, February 25, 2013

What Blocks Your Joy?

I’ve only seen one major solar eclipse. The warnings were clear so we looked at it through a hole in one piece of paper allowing the image of what the sun was doing to show up on another.

You could witness the slow dissolving away of our massive energy source, being blocked by something as comparably insignificant as our moon. I had seen examples of that happening and knew what I’d see. What I wasn’t prepared for was the darkness that came over the earth when the sun was fully blocked. It was eerie. It makes sense after experiencing that how more primitive people thought something disastrous was happening or would happen. It was like a shroud being draped across the world.

Now, to take the magic of the moment away, all that happened was the moon got in the sun’s way. It temporarily blocked the light, warmth and comfort of our blazing source of life. The sun never went away, nor did its effect or sufficiency in our lives. It was only temporarily blocked, limiting our experiencing that effect and sufficiency.

Joy can be blocked. Stuff—the great bane of life—gets in the way. That stuff can be anything that for the moment gains my attention and distracts me from what is really important.

My back has gone out. The pain I feel permeates my whole body. I can’t walk, I can’t move, at times I can’t talk. Operations that are so natural that I don’t even have to think about them now are a struggle. The irritation going on inside has blocked out the natural flow of my life.

Whenever we allow stuff to become more important, regardless of how painful or loud or distracting it is, it will block our Joy. As with the eclipse, I will loose contact with that which is vital to my life by focusing on that which is temporary and of lesser value.

We must change our habit of looking directly at the stuff. Instead, look at it through the pinhole where we will see it in perspective and help us focus upon how great our God is to accomplish all that concerns us.

Question: How do you fight the distractions to stay focused on God?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Finding Joy in the Sorrow

One of the most difficult places to find Joy is in our sorrows. Words like “rejoice, consider it joy, blessed are you when…” kind of fall flat on the hearts of those in grief. They are dying inside and the power of their grief cannot be denied. These are legitimate feelings. They cannot act as though what happened wasn’t significant. Grief is the price we pay for loving someone.

In moments like these, Joy isn’t our greatest need. During those times God has something different in mind.
Sorrows need Comfort. When I am in the midst of sorrow I need the warmth of God’s presence as my companion and closest friend. I need Him holding me as we walk through this valley together. When I am overwhelmed, God seeks a different path to restore me.

A famished man doesn’t need an all-you-can-eat buffet. Things have changed inside. His stomach has shrunk. He needs smaller portions to begin the process of restoration.

In sorrow, I don’t need Joy…yet. I haven’t lost the gift within me. Joy is still present but now must take a less-prevalent role. Comfort is what sustains me. His Comfort becomes the light for my darkness. The path back to Joy is still there and I will return to it, but for now Comfort is the grace gift that holds me tight.

Staying on that path is an indication of my confidence in God. That “this too shall pass.” In the meantime, though, I am not sinning by being sad. Even if the sadness returns later. But if I get stuck in my sadness to the point that I deny the work of God bringing me healing and restoring my Joy, there is a point at which that denial becomes doubt which creates a battle within my spirit. I must press on.

Sorrow cries out for Comfort. My tears need wiping, not denying. I need to feel God’s compassion. Out of His Comfort comes Peace. As Peace begins to reign my confidence in Him as being good and accomplishing what concerns me returns, and along with it comes my Joy. I have made it back to my Joy spot once again—that place of trusting Him with all my soul, mind, body and broken heart.

If you carry sorrow, seek His Comfort. If you know His Comfort receive His Peace. When you recognize His Peace, declare your trust. When you declare your trust in Him, your Joy will be restored.

Question: what do you fight that keeps you from Joy?

Monday, February 18, 2013

You Don’t Get Joy From the World

Jesus is a great giver. He gave us His peace. Not as the world gives it, but only as He can. The world gives stuff temporarily and usually with a price attached. In the world nothing’s free.

I downloaded a “free” program to help me unzip files. It came with at least five additional programs that would do other useful things to my computer. These additional programs had a price attached that if I hadn’t been careful would have cost me far beyond the value of the “free” program.

Life does that. It dangles its advantages on the low branches, failing to mention what that one bite is going to cost us big time in the long-run.

And when life isn't draining me due to its cost, it’s shorting me by giving me just enough to make me want more. Like trying to get someone hooked on drugs, the first few are designed to take me captive to the supplier.

When we discover our Joy is already present in our lives, we don’t have to look outside, toward people, places, things to find it. We merely need to focus on the Giver and realize the Joy is in us.

Jesus doesn't give us stuff and then hide it to make a game out of finding it. He places it in easy reach, on the shelf of our spirit, where we can find it whenever we search for it with all our hearts.

It’s like keeping our books in a library. We know where to look, but we have to go into the library to get them. Joy is within us, tied directly to our relationship with Him. If I lack joy, I must go to Him. It will always be there.

And since it comes from Him, the world doesn’t give it to me…and the world can’t take it away.

Question: Been to the Joy spot within your spirit lately?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Joy in the Morning

Ever had a dark night? I don’t mean one when there is no moon or the power’s off in the house. A dark night is when the soul is oppressed. It’s a time when all the lights are on and you feel a blackness gnawing away at your faith.

Supermassive black hole

Things left undone, issues unresolved, problems still on the burner, life tied in knots. Like waiting for your turn in the ER or sitting with a grieving friend or holding a sick baby, it’s a helpless feeling where you realize you have no control but have to stay through till morning.

Darkness, the shadow of despair, casts a heaviness over us that competes with our thoughts and hopes. We doubt what we once knew to be true and start believing things we never even thought about before.

One man wrote: never doubt in the darkness what God has revealed in the light. Truth remains true whether I can see its effect or not. A promise remains a promise. God remains God.

When darkness settles over you realize it’s only for the night. Joy comes in the morning.

Question: How much longer until daybreak?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Can’t Stop a Good Joy When it’s rolling

Paul and Silas were falsely accused, beaten and thrown into a Philippian jail. They were locked in stocks, chained to the floor and treated as criminals. Yet, in the midst of that darkness, stench and misery they sang songs that gave testimony of their great God.

Their circumstances didn’t stop Joy from flowing through their lives.

We are the generation of excuse finders. We search for reasons not to do the right thing at the right time. We blame everything and everybody we can to justify not demonstrating faith. And we often get an approving nod from others who agree, under our circumstances, they’d act the same way.

If you tell a baby to stop acting like a baby and act like an adult, you’d be the foolish one. A baby isn’t an adult and can’t be expected to act like one. If you tell an adult to stop acting like a baby and act like an adult, you’d be within your rights. An adult is expected to act like an adult.

When we’ve discovered the Joy of the Lord deposited within our lives, we cannot go back to live as though it isn’t there. We cannot allow disappointment and discouragement to control us.

Surely Paul and Silas didn’t want to be where they were but that didn’t stop Joy from oozing out of their lives. They didn’t allow their hearts to be dominated by the things they didn’t like. They sang.

The joy they possessed before the prison was the same joy that sustained them in the prison. Because you just can’t stop a good Joy when it’s on a roll.

Question: Ever had Joy show up and surprise you?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Can There Be Any Joy in There?

Two little boys were placed in a room filled with manure. One ran out immediately saying the room was filled with manure. The other stayed…and stayed…and stayed. Finally someone went in to look for him. He stuck his head out of the pile and said, “With all this manure, I’m sure there’s a pony in here somewhere.”

When we look at life, we know that sometimes we’re the pigeon and sometimes we’re the statue. Joy comes easy when we’re soaring, but hard when we’ve been deposited on. We look at the circumstances and all we see is what we wish wasn’t there. Statues rarely feel the Joy.

But the Psalmist wrote: God will accomplish what concerns us. Paul took that idea and said: He who began a good work within us will bring it to fulfillment. He also said: all things work together for the good for those who love God and live within His purpose.

These writers said, in essence, even when you find yourself in a room filled with manure, expect God’s to be in there as well accomplishing His good purpose.

Anticipation of God’s good releases Joy. I don’t have to have everything shoveled out, the room power washed and Fabreezed in order to find Joy. It’s there in the stink of the mess.

When we insist God resolve everything before we can give thanks or acknowledge His goodness, we separate ourselves from our Joy.  In fact, our Joy will be held hostage to our own unwillingness to trust Him.

It is essential that we will believe He is there even when we can’t see Him. That He is active in our lives even when we can’t feel Him. And that He is working this together for good even when we are convinced otherwise.

Question: which little boy are you in the story at the beginning?


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Finding Joy in the Darkness

Where do we expect to find joy?  Sometimes we look for it in other people, thinking we get our joy from relationships. Sometimes we look for it in pleasures—food, toys, places, moments—thinking we get our joy from things. Sometimes we look for it in illicit activity, in things we crave and things that satisfy our lustful desires, thinking we get our joy from satisfying our wants. Happiness, satisfaction, euphoria might show up but Joy comes from the Lord.

Joy is a gift packaged within the greater gift of salvation. We always have it but don’t always embrace it. It doesn’t come to us, it is already there. We don’t ask for it, we acknowledge it.

 Right now, in this moment, we have enough joy inside us to meet our needs and have enough to share with others.

Joy is that calm assurance that God’s got things under control.

When Paul was on the ship to Rome and about to be shipwrecked on Malta, he admitted to the men they would crash but their lives would be spared. He knew this because the night before an Angel appeared to him and told him God’s intentions. That word gave him his calm assurance. Prior to that, like the pagans traveling with him, he expected the worse, now he knew to anticipate the best. Before, all was dark. Now he had light.

We typically don’t like the dark. It creates scenarios filled with unknowns. But in that darkness, when we embrace the truth—that we are not alone and are in fact being accompanied by our God who accomplishes what concerns us—we replace the unknowns with the greatest Known. And our fears are trumped by trust.

Trusting God releases our Joy.

Question: How has the darkness intimidated you into fear?


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Joy When the Juice Runs Low

I have to admit I’m tired. This week follows a fast and furious trip to Haiti. Now that I’m back I’ve got hospital calls to make, benevolence issues to deal with, a funeral to prepare for,  meetings to attend, and a bunch of other stuff. You get the idea. Tired can be draining.

There are a lot of other things that can drain us. Job frustrations, illness, financial strains, family issues, relationships, mood fluxuation, unsuccessful projects or plans, disappointments, failure, sleeplessness. Makes me tired just thinking about it. And it seems all those things can combine or hit individually and disconnect me from my joy.

It’s as if my Joy bucket has sprung a leak or the well has run dry.

If I can’t seem to draw up any joy from the well within my soul, I need a reality check to see if my expectations are getting in the way.

If I expect:

  • Constant happiness,
  • Abundant fun,
  • Unending pleasure,
  • Freedom from hurt,
  • Protection from conflict,
  • Bubble-wrapped from unpleasantness,
I’m going to be disappointed because God never promised the kind of life Joel Osteen preaches.

Jesus said to expect difficulty, but also said to anticipate His peace, presence and joy to accompany the dose of reality unannounced trials will bring. Paul said with the temptation, God will supply the way out or the way to endure.

What drains me is getting disappointed when what I expect isn’t happening. Once I’m disappointed it’s easy to become discouraged when things stay the way they are for an extended period. Depression sets in when I start telling myself this is how it’s always going to be. Finally disillusionment shows up telling me how hopeless things are.

How insensitive to the presence of God I have become to exchange the truth of God for a lie! And how ignorant I am on the topic of joy. Nothing can me of my Joy because it is not a quantity of something I possess but a statement of whose I am.

In fact, nothing can add joy nor take joy away. It is a gift of God. What makes me feel like it has leaked out is my inability to trust God with whatever is going on.

Question: anything oppressing you right now? What are you going to do about it?