Ultimate Joy

Archive for January 2010

A very wise man once told me that, when the darkness of grief settles on our life, it is human nature to look for a new beginning where the sun set.  However, if we turn around and face the darkness with courage and conviction, we will see the sun rise sooner and in the most unexpected place!

Thursday, I’m starting a new beginning in my life. I leave for an adventure in California.  Despite my excitement, this season starts with a profound loss.  Friday, I learned a dear friend passed away very unexpectedly.  Home alone when her grief-stricken husband called at 7AM, all throughout the day, I needed a hug –  to feel some of the love that the world would now be missing.

My friend was a force to be reckoned with.  Blessed with the most amazing gift of evangelism, there are probably hundreds of people who are and will be in God’s Kingdom because of her kind, thoughtful and generous evangelistic efforts.

I was a Christ-follower when I met her and throughout our relationship, she insired me.  Whenever possible, I observed her gentle ways.  Oh, how she loved God and His children.  There was no judgment as she reached out to people.  She lived to celebrate God’s presence in people.

There was much for me to learn.  She taught love when she organized countless parties and even a bridal shower for me.  She taught patience when she listened to endless stories from hurting people.  She taught laughter as she shared the joys in her life.  She taught the importance of faith, family and community. Most importantly, she showered everyone with the love of God.

The day after her funeral, as I begin my own adventure of sorts, I will be thinking about my friend.  She is at peace now; her journey completed.  Mine still continues.  But, fortunately, God gave me a friend who showed me the way with clarity, courage and conviction.  I love her and will always miss her dearly.

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For several days, I’ve sat transfixed watching the newscasts from Haiti.  It’s like watching a train wreck – precisely because that is what it is.  My heart aches for the people suffering the after effects of the 7.0 earthquake. Tears well up in my eyes seeing the flattened homes, lack of basic human necessities and the twisted, torn bodies of both the living and the dead.  The debilitating scars of losing family and loved ones will remain even after the city is rebuilt.

An Obvious Question

There are so many questions asked after this kind of destruction.  Where is God?  Why did He allow this to happen?  Why were some individuals spared while others were crushed?  But an obvious question is how do you find joy in the face of such sorrow, death and devastation?

James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (NIV) The Message Translation takes a step further – “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.”  A true gift…city in ruins, hundreds of thousands dead and over 3 million people without food, water or shelter?

It sounds ludicrous to look into the eyes of a mother who lost her entire family and say, “Consider this a sheer gift.”

God versus the Earthquake

When I am overwhelmed by tragedy, it is best to look at what I believe. My God is a great God, a faithful God.  Nothing is too difficult for God.  He does the impossible.  He can heal.  He can deliver. He helps us out of hard places.  He is the God that can do all things.  God has already done excellent and great things.  He will never leave us.  

  • God will walk beside you and give you a life of victory and wholeness.
  • God asks you to “cast your cares on Him” daily (I Peter 5:7) and in return, He will extend deep peace.
  • God will make you to “soar on the wings of eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).
  • God is our support (Psalm 18:22)
  • God is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)

Beginnings

An earthquake will not stop God’s miracles.  That is why natives of Port-au-Prince joined in a chorus of worship songs the morning after the quake hit.

The strength and resilience of the Haiti people is displayed in every newscast.  They will rebuild – their lives, their city and their country.  They have hope and strength.

God is already working His miracles in those who draw closer to Him through prayer and acts of service to those in Haiti.  His miracle is in the people of many nations who are working side-by-side using their lives to meet other people’s needs.  He is touching the 82nd Airborne soldiers who, normally called into war zones, are now ambassadors and peacemakers. 

Our human understanding makes it next to impossible to balance these things against what we see on television, which is why we need faith. God will be glorified by this.  He is mightier than the earthquake. 

And isn’t that where our joy truly resides?

If you would like to help with Haitian relief, consider making a donation to a reputable organization.  (Red Cross, Doctors without Borders)  Or please make a donation to Willow Creek Community Church’s Disaster Relief Fund.  100% of the proceeds go for disaster relief.

Yesterday, I was totally astonished by the sight in front of me. In my local grocery store, a fellow shopper, who happened to be male, had wedged his laptop in the cart’s baby seat.  Utilizing his G3 Wi-Fi connector, he was strolling up and down the aisles while surfing the Internet.

Was this gentleman so addicted to technology that he couldn’t spend 35 minutes without it?  Understandably, shopping is not one of my favorite chores, but it is far from the most onerous.  (Cleaning toilets takes that distinction!) 

 For a quick second, I thought maybe he was using the computer as a cost-saving tool by checking prices in other stores.  While that could have been the case, I also reasoned that someone that price-conscious would have done his checking before getting to the store.  Or is that one of the differences between men and women?

I, along with experts, worry about people hunched over their Blackberries furiously typing away and missing the beauty of their surroundings.  Or the folks so quick to add friends to their Facebook page that they feel isolated from the friends and family around them.

While technology is great for those who have no face-to-face option, real intimacy cannot be replaced with technology.

With the communication vehicles available now, ever wonder why Christ wasn’t born today?  Think about it, His message could be spread via Twitter and the Internet in minutes.  And who wouldn’t want to be a Facebook friend to Jesus?

Proverbs 17: 17 and Proverbs 18:24 illustrate the value of a great friend: 

  • A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
  • A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

God picked the perfect time for His earthly ministry.  I’d like to think part of the reason was the close relationships people enjoyed in Biblical times.  Christ ate with people, stayed in their homes, conversed at length with them, embraced them, and walked the long, dusty roads with them.  He spent valuable face time in close relationship.

Washington D.C. psychologist and relationship author Neil Bernstein states that, “Overreliance on social media dilutes intimacy because it can’t relate the talking, the looking the affection, the support.  There are no shortcuts to good relationships.”

A joyful life is all about the quality of our relationships…the one with our Savior and those we enjoy with our friends. We all have a basic need as humans to relate to each other.  Relationships are simply about relating.

To find a bit more joy in your life, try this simple experiment for one week.  When tempted to email someone, call them instead.  Better yet, invite them to dinner.  Instead of spending an hour on Facebook, practice your listening skills by inviting a friend for a conversation at a local coffee shop. 

Joy is a premade, positive commitment to God and the world that He created.  It involves nurturing the things that bring joy.  That includes our relationships.

The Christmas gifts have all been purchased, opened and put away.  The effervescence of New Year’s Eve is a memory.  The holidays are over, 2010 has begun! 

Hoping your New Year is bright with promise, glad with hope and blessed with peace and joy!

Like most of you, I’m hoping that 2010 is filled with more joy than 2009.  But wishing will not make it so.  Joy requires intentionality.

Many ways exist to bring more joy into your life.  But one sure fire way is to serve someone.  That’s because one huge “joy-zapper” is unused talent, which means the opposite is also true.  There is nothing that pleases God more and brings an inordinate amount of joy than using your talents to serve God.

Serving God should not be something done out of duty, but out of passion.  God wants us to serve him enthusiastically.  Repeatedly, the Bible says, “serve God will all your heart.”  That means digging down inside to find the talent and abilities that express the uniqueness of who God made you to be.   When doing what you love, no one has to motivate you; no one has to check up on you.  The passion you feel in your heart propels you to keep serving.  And when you do, joy is a natural byproduct.

God wants you to excel when serving.  Don’t you find that the tasks you do the best are the ones that you feel the most passionate about?  When you do what God wired you to do, passion i stirred in your heart and this  drives excellence.  If you don’t care for a task, the necessary training and corrections will never be made and excellence is impossible. 

Every Black Friday, I shake my head in disappointment as I watch the news reports showing a mob of shoppers rushing into stores to purchase Christmas gifts.  Our ultimate joy is not found in things.  King Solomon, who probably owned more than any man in history, said in Proverbs 15:16, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it.”

Joy can be found in serving others.  That’s because a meaningful life is much better than wealth.  As Rick Warren says, “You can have a lot to live on and still have nothing to live for.”

So, put down the remote control, the IPod, the technology that often separates us from each other.  Have a heart-to-heart chat over coffee with a friend, visit a nursing home, watch your neighbor’s kids while she goes grocery shopping – or better yet have dinner with them.  Figure out what you love, then devote those talents to passionately, enthusiastically serve God. 

Want to dance for joy?  Then make 2010 the year of achieving not just the good life, but the better life of serving God in a way that expresses your heart.