Monday, September 28, 2015

The End...

...No, the BEGINNING of a life of JOY.

I've filled 5+ journals; read 6 different books; contemplated more hours than I kept track of; written more words than I ever thought possible; and here I am this morning, writing a conclusion. The journey began on December 27th, after a significant period of time looking back on a year, and asking the Lord for direction in a new one. The word "JOY" kept resonating with my spirit. Some of it started when I was reading Galatians and hit chapter 4 and stumbled across these words of the Apostle Paul in the letter he was writing:

What has happened to all your joy (v. 15)?

That was a valid question. I had to admit, over the years, I've been prone to lose joy in the midst of hard. Were the Apostle Paul walking life's journey with me, he might have been on target in asking me that question. Thus began the journey. I had no road map - just hundreds of Bible references, titles of books, and a journal with empty pages. I've never spent so much time on one word! I've loved sitting down each morning with such specific direction, and hearing God's whispers filling in a lot of blanks, dispelling several myths, cleaning up my definition, and giving me direction. At the beginning, I thought that life was the journey and the destination was JOY. I've discovered that while LIFE is the journey, JOY isn't the destination, it is to be found IN the journey. JOY is mine to claim at any time, no matter the circumstances; primarily because it is found IN HIS PRESENCE (Psalm 16:11). I, like Moses, cry to the Lord, I do not wish to go anywhere without God's PRESENCE!

So, the end of the matter is really the beginning. It is where I started; so, it is a fitting conclusion - the story of God, Moses, and the Israelite people. If you want this whole story read Exodus 33. The Lord says to Moses in so many words: Go on ahead to the land I have promised you and the people (the land I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they would possess). I'll send an angel before you, and drive out all the "ite"-nations. However, I will not go with you, for you are an obstinate people, and if I were to go in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Moses pled with the Lord in the tent of meeting:

And Moses said to him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not take us up from here. For how will it be known then that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not by your going with us, so that we will be distinguished, I and your people, from all the people who are on the face of the earth (15-16)?”

There it is, again, the main answer to the "why" of JOY. Here is why it mattered to Paul for the Galatians to lose their joy. Why it matters if I lose mine. Joy is a byproduct of His presence. If I am not regularly in God's presence on this journey, there is no joy. If I am not in God's presence, there is no distinguishing me, as a follower of Christ, from any non-believer. There is nothing attractive about me. For now I know this: I NEVER wish to take a step unless God is with me, for my heart's desire is to be a distinguishing follower. 

I'm still reading verses; I'm still reading more books on joy - I'm certainly not finished with the study, but I'm only adding snippets to the main lessons I've learned, at this point. So, what next? Well, that will be as much a surprise to me, as it will be to you, as a reader, if you choose to keep joining me...

Monday, September 21, 2015

Live a Life of Gladness

It's very Pollyanna-ish. Yet, there is no question that if we are being fruit-filled, fruit-refreshing, joy-givers, then we are passing on gladness. It certainly wouldn't hurt our world to hear more people playing the glad-game.

There's plenty of negativity to go around. We live in a world that accepts negativity as normal - and, acceptable. Sometimes, it's all in the name of "vulnerability" and "honesty." While I honestly think being vulnerable is important, and we all need safe people with whom we can have those kind of melt-down-moments, I'm drawn to those folks who are positive and joy-full. There are a few I have hand-picked in my life. I need them. Their gratitude and gladness is contagious. These folks don't fake it. They mean it. Their lives may be over-the-top with HARD, but they look for the stuff of which thankfulness is made. Gladness is the thread that stitches the quilt of their lives together so they can wrap up in comfort when the storms of life get stormier. Being with them teaches me to do the same. That's why I need them. Even after a brief conversation, I'm refreshed and ready to tackle what life throws at me.

Joy-givers live a life of gladness. How do I know it's biblical? Remember a couple weeks ago, I mentioned the Greek word for joy is transliterated "chara?" My favorite author of a word study dictionary, Spiros Zodhiates, gives this uncomplicated definition for joy: a spirit of gladness. So, quite often you'll see the word "chara" translated in our Bibles as "glad." They are synonymous, yet each give us a slightly different spin. To be glad is the expression of joy. Joy is that internal spirit of soul-settledness. Those who are glad cannot help but speak up. We often find the words together in Scripture. Where joy is gladness shows.

Let the godly rejoice...
Let them be glad in God's presence;
Let them be filled with joy.
Ps. 68:3

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you may endure trials for a little while. 
I Peter 1:6.

 In order to be able to rejoice and be glad in spite of the trials of life, there is one key ingredient: we must lose the sense of entitlement; the thought that we need/deserve more. I've been slowly reading devotionally a book by an author, Jeremiah Burroughs, entitled The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (contentment being another accurate synonym for joy). The book was written in 1648 (it is a bit comforting to know people struggled with a spirit of gladness and satisfaction way back then, too). One of the things that struck me recently was Burroughs statement that when we enroll in Christ's school to learn this great mystery of joy, we will find that it comes to us upon recognition that all the Lord does in our lives is suitable to us. In other words, I may wish for something to look different, to hold a different position, to have more power, more finances, more resources, a better house, an upgraded computer/phone/tablet/television, yet those things are not fit for me at the moment, and maybe never.

Deep in the recesses of my heart (though I believe I have dealt with this), there is this one wish for MORE, to be better at something... Yet, I know why the Lord holds that desire from me. It's not suitable for me. Without doubt, I KNOW, I could not handle the responsibility, the demands the duty, the "danger" toward pride, or the depths of accountability to which I'd be held. It's silly really;  yet, has the potential to be a joy-robber, if I don't stay on top of this TRUTH. The other side of this coin is the fact that God has blessed me in so many ways. Ways that are truly bigger than I deserve. This fact is HUGER than I can believe when I stop to list those blessings each morning. He is truly faithful, with new mercies for me each day. There is much to be GLAD about.

Yep, we are to give joy away through grace, through generosity, and certainly through gladness. The older I get, the more I want to be Pollyanna.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Live a Life of Generosity

is a 
practical expression

Over and over again, I've been reading the above quote, which I actually wrote in my Bible, sometime last February, a little more than a month into my focus on joy. Here's the other one-liner I wrote in the margin of my notes:

Living a generous lifestyle
is a back door 
into JOY. 

I'd been sitting in church listening to the pastor preach a message on something totally unrelated, who made one little side comment, and these two thoughts leapt out of nowhere, and onto the notes I was writing. I tried to stay focused on the remaining message (which was actually coming to a close), but I found myself swept away with a flood of conviction.

I'm not, by nature, a thoughtful, nor generous individual. Some people are born that way. I was not. I was born to be organized. People who were born thoughtful know the right things to say, the right things to do, and when a generous thought hits the brain waves, they don't suppress it. They do something about it. Me, I'm thinking more about myself and what I need to get done. Being thoughtful is not the first thing to come to mind when it comes to giving away finances, time, resources, energy, words of encouragement, acts of goodness and kindness... That's a sad indictment. True, but sad. To be generous, I have to be particularly conscious and ask myself the question, "What can I do for someone else?" "If this were me, what would I want right now?" Generally, my life is measured by the current "to do" list sitting on my desk, not the acts of generosity I make room for during the day. For some reason, those don't often make The List.

To be generous means I pay attention.
To be a giver means I listen to the Lord's whispers regarding others...and then respond as He would to them.
To be lavish in my kindness means I stop thinking about me (& my "to do" list) and creatively connect with someone else.
To be generous means I make space in my life for thoughtfulness.

Here's the thing. I don't want to just write these words down on paper. I want to be a doer of them. I want to heed that one thing I noticed about others who are natural-givers: when thoughtful people have a generous thought, they don't suppress it. Because, truth be told, I've had some generous thoughts, then I over-think them. They go no further than the head, because I start thinking about all the other stuff on my plate. As my husband always says, "We make time for what's important to us." Obviously, my priorities are out of whack.

So, how do I change. Here's another "ism": nothing changes if nothing changes. So, I start with the small steps, that which is doable. I begin with confession (which means an intentional turn in the other direction). Now that I'm looking forward, I set my hand to the plow, and don't look back. Today, I begin planting seeds of thoughtfulness by asking the Lord to whisper a generous deed that needs doing into my head. When He does, I get ready to act on it, knowing what He suggests will always be something within my realm of capability. In other words, I must organize thoughtfulness into my life.

Other thoughts to ponder...

No book ever captured generosity for me quite as much as Shel Silverstein's, The Giving Tree.  Have time? Here it is narrated for us on You Tube.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Live a Life of Grace

1 - The fruit of JOY - it's not meant to be hoarded, but to be given away. 

2 - We are called to be life-giving fruit bearers.

Those two statements. That was last week's lesson on joy as I realized (AgAiN) how selfish I've been in wanting to have joy for myself. There's this competitive edge inside of me that wants to be known as the "best" at something...or at least better than you. Right now, it seems, I'm on a mission to be the best at joy (especially joy in the middle of hard). Yet, the Lord has convicted me that I'm not just to discover joy for myself, but to be a joy-giver, and to always be looking for ways to dispense joy to someone else. I've contemplated the "how" and for me the #1 answer seems to be this:

In an informal survey done by moi, the majority of folks interviewed gave the word people as their most frequently visited thief of joy. Those same folks said they felt that most of life's problems could be easily navigated, as long as they felt that relationships weren't being undermined, or that someone in their life was additionally "stirring the relationship pot." Most said that they felt they could handle anything if they had a good support system, cheerleaders to encourage them onward, people to really listen (not fix, just listen), extend the benefit of the doubt, live beside them free of judgment, and love them in their messiness. This list; it's summed up in one word: graceI heard this, often: Why do the wounded keep getting wounded?

You and I, we're a lot like chickens. Put 'em in a pen; insert one with a small bloody wound...and watch what happens. The other chickens will peck at that small wounded bird until the wound is no longer small, but life threatening. Failure to help the wounded animal will ultimately lead to it being pecked to death. We do that, metaphorically, don't we? We, too, peck at the wounded. We peck at 'em behind their backs with hurtful words. We peck at 'em in their presence in pretension of friendship. We peck when we fake-listen. We peck when we offer advice without really knowing the situation. We peck when we insert our issues into their lives, when in reality, their story is nothing like ours. We peck when we fail to love like Jesus did...

Here's the thing about the word joy. In New Testament Greek, the word is "chara". There's a lot more to this word than just the translation of it to joy. It is the root for the word "charis," which is the Greek word we translate grace. So, no matter how we define joy, it includes the giving of life-dispensing grace! Here's what that says to me:

Remember Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross and scorned it's shame? His grace was magnified because of His joy! Even more, though: This explains for me one of the "why's" of joy: why we need to live a life of grace. Joy is a magnet. When we give away grace, we are giving away joy. It's that essence of Jesus' character that influences others to Him. When we live out joy-filled, grace-extended lives, the lost are drawn to Jesus. They are naturally attracted to Him. They see Jesus in us, "the hope of glory!" We are Jesus with skin on. We are Jesus spilling over and splashing a little bit of Himself on others in a refreshing spritz of JOY. It's not just the lost, though. More importantly, it's for each other as believers. Refreshing spritzes of JOY are so important when life heats up for those around us...when it is dry and uncomfortable. When we hurt and are in pain. When wounds are bloody, and need bandaging. 

Let's give away grace...and watch JOY fill the hearts of those around us. What would happen, I wonder, to the church, if we were grace-givers, spritzing others with Jesus'-joy? I'm thinking it would be difficult to house the numbers that might flock to a chicken coop like that!

We are never more like Jesus (who for the joy set before Him endured the cross) than when we live a life of grace.