Choose Joy

Jolene Meme

Down in my heart

The other day I was driving home from work, honestly, my job is intense, both physically—making every joint in my body hurt—and mentally, as I deal with people who are all driven, busy and under pressure all day long. Running a multi-million dollar project, trying to keep all the pieces and all the players moving in the right direction at the right time, while still being a craftsmen working with my hands can be hugely stressful.

So I was driving home from work with all this stuff running through my mind, my back, knees and neck killing me, trying to shift my focus to the sermon I know I have to start writing when I get home. I already knew I was supposed to talk about joy and I’m thinking; I sure don’t feel very joyful right now.

I thought of that new song from King and Country, kind of a play on the old children’s song I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. . . and I remembered my daughters singing along to this song on a cassette tape they had full of silly Sunday school songs. I can still hear their high little girl voices singing, I think it was Cally, not really sure of all the words, but she would hardily sing the last few words “. . .down in my heart Tuesday” And of course the ‘Where!’

And I started to smile.

So I started to sing; I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, where, down in my heart, where, down in my heart. . . to stay.

After a few choruses of that I was actually laughing, how can you sing that and not be happy? Especially with everything that is associated with it, especially the truth that it espouses. A simple song reminding us of the most significant truth we can know as human beings.

I’ve got the wonderful love of my blessed redeemer way down in the depths of my heart. Where?. . .  Just singing about joy, about the Lord brought the lightness back to my heart. Light always displaces the dark.

Sing it with me; Now I’m so happy, so very happy, I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart! Yes I’m so happy, so very happy, I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!

If that did not make you smile, you could be a fuddy duddy.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Gal 5

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In praying about this message the Lord told me; “Joy is a byproduct of being loved.” Which explains why it is the second fruit of the Spirit right behind love. If you know you are loved by the one who created you and holds your fate in his hands, if you truly understand the depth and the significance of that love, how could you not have joy?

And if you have joy you will have peace and as a result of that joy and peace you will have no reason to be anxious, in a hurry, so you will be patient—long-suffering— and a happy patient loved person is more inclined to be kind and gentle, putting others before himself leading to self-control  which is simply telling the flesh to be patient and kind, that there are more important things than fulfilling it’s selfish demands.

Which means in a sense, a very real sense, that Love and joy has crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. The passions and desires that unchecked will leave us with no joy, no long-suffering patience and no self-control.

Wow, I never looked at the fruits of the Spirit as being dependent on each other like that before. The fruits are not just a list of virtues that God decided one day he would just give us if we asked for the Spirit, it is an understanding of who we are, who he is, our relationship with him leading to a chain reaction releasing one fruit after the other.

Joy Meme

Distress

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.
12 For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;
With favor You will surround him as with a shield. Ps 5:11,12

Joy can maybe be defined as a lack of stress. I mean, think about it, if you are not worried, if you are not losing sleep over an issue, fretting and anxious, what are you?

So, why are you not happy, why are you not joyful? —Because you are afraid, worried, stressed. And why are you these things? It boils down to one thing to me, something I come back to over and over again in my walk with the Lord and have since the very beginning because it really is the very definition of salvation—and that is trust, trusting his love for us.

We must trust the Lord for our salvation, with our hearts and with our lives. And if we are truly trusting him in all of these things, then why, pray tell, do we stress?

The Lord has been working on this with me lately, big time. If you want to discover a whole new level of potential stress try pastoring a bunch of people, real people with real problems and issues, whom you have come to love, who have become a family, not just a church. A church that is just a church can only cause you so much grief because you can walk away from it. But you cannot and should not walk away from family.

Not if you have a heart that is attuned at all to the Holy Spirit with the instinct he plants in all hearts to defend their own.

But, I have to remember that you, this church, and my family whether blood or spiritual, are not my own, it all belongs to Jesus—I am just a steward, a shepherd, a father, a husband, brother, uncle grandpa, friend—what have you—all titles I am proud of and take seriously, but if I am not trusting all of those whom call me by those various things to the one who loves and knows them better then I could in a hundred life times, then I will only drive myself to drink, or worse, trying to protect, build and nurture them all.

My church belongs to Jesus. My family belongs to Jesus. My future, my hopes and dreams, my vision for this ministry, my job, my finances, my health and well-being—they all belong to Jesus and he alone is able to care for all of them, to strengthen me, to guide me, to quicken my soul in the right times and still it when need be.

The more I realize that, the more I trust and let go of the stress, transfer the burden over to Jesus, the more joy I am able to feel in my heart, the better I can sleep at night and the more able I am to love those around me who need loved, we all need loved.

Love brings joy.Just ask my Granddaughter Jolene whose picture graces the top of this blog.

Joy by King and Country

Take it Seriously (Wanderer part II)

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

-JR Tolkien; Fellowship of the Ring.

This poem is quoted a few times in Tolkien’s books, but it is first found in a letter from Gandalf to Frodo Baggins in reference to Aragorn, the raider destined to be King. Not unlike the King David of ancient Israel, the writer of many of the psalms, including the one we are going to look at shortly.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  We who know the Lord are never lost because our Father is always right there with us. Either by our side as we walk with him or right behind us as we wander, or even try to run.

I took this picture of my grandson, with my shadow in it on purpose, because it reminds me that we are never alone. Our Father is always right there, by his Holy Spirit.

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You number my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
When I cry out to You,
then my enemies will turn back;
this I know, because God is for me.
10 In God (I will praise His word),
in the Lord (I will praise His word),
11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me? Ps 56

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The Father cherishes you so much that he collects and saves your tears. Wow, it actually says that “You number my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle
” God saves our tears, keeps a record of our hurts and pains. Numbers our tears and our wanderings—our pain and confusion driven wanderings—“Why Lord? Why have those I trusted turned against me? Why do I feel this pain? Why am I lost and alone?”

There is only one reason a loving God would keep track of our tears and ramblings—so that he can answer for, answer to, and redeem each and every one.

“When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.”!
Ps 56

 

We have to recognize that God is always with us, he hears our cries and even saves our tears, this knowledge alone can save us from succumbing to the desire to wander off and hide, knowing that God is always there to hear us, to give us courage and to rescue us.

We don’t need to run away from our enemies. We do not need to hide from our fears, or hide our tears. Our Father is aware of all of them, he cares about them, he cares about us, and he is for us—we have no need to be afraid

Even in our wanderings, God always knows where we are, we are never lost.

Destiny

You have a destiny, a God given purpose just for you. The JR Tolkien poem we started with was written as a riddle about Aragorn, a man born to be a high King but living as a refugee under an assumed name, hiding not just from his enemies but from his own destiny. Afraid of the responsibility  and feeling unsure of his worth.

But when it became clear to him how many people were suffering because of his failure to fulfill his call, he embraced it and helped save middle earth from the evil orcs and wizards. Okay, that’s as nerdy as I‘m going to get here and I’m not sure I understand all the Lord of the Rings stuff anyway, but it makes the point.

There is a season to wander, and a season to take the trail to your destiny and to claim your inheritance. God has a better path for you, when you are willing and ready to trust. The imaginary Aragon and the historical King David had to wake up one day and decide to take their selves seriously, to take their call seriously.

Seriously

At some point we all have to take this stuff seriously.

I was thinking the other day while I was driving home from work in my company truck about another contractor in town who is rumored to be in financial trouble. I have worked with some of the people who are there now and they are a big part of that company. I also know that they got away with a lot of unproductive activity while they worked for us and no doubt have not changed a whole lot, so I was not real surprised to hear this. They did more wandering then working.

Thinking about my aching joints and weary mind from another long day of pushing a project for the people who trust me to make stuff happen, I actually said out loud, just spontaneously as I thought about the attitudes of these men as opposed to how I and the team I work with approach things—I shouted at my dirty lunch box on the floor of the truck; “At some point you have to take this stuff seriously!”

It’s that simple. If you want to succeed at anything, if you want to get anywhere worth going, accomplish anything accomplishing, make a buck or a name, build a home or a kingdom—just make a difference in this life to someone—you have, at some point, to stop wandering and pick a direction, preferably the one suggested to you by the one who has been following you around for so long, pulling you out of the tall weeds—and say, okay, this is my direction, this is my mission, and even if it’s uphill and the road long—I am going to put my all into accomplishing what you call me to accomplish.

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My passion is to fulfill my purpose in this life, the one I stumbled into, Father, while you nudged me from side to side while whispering in my ear along the way making sure I didn’t miss the wonders along the trail or get consumed by the wolves and the bears that also watched for their chance to carry me off.

David concludes his wandering psalm with this:

Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God;
I will render praises to You,
13 For You have delivered my soul from death.
Have You not kept my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God
In the light of the living? Ps 56

David was a man of his word, and a man of God’s word, he fulfilled his destiny. That’s why the Spirit calls him a man after God’s own heart.

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

 

 

The Wanderer

 

Not all who wander are lost

So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
Indeed, I would wander far off,  and remain in the wilderness. Psalm 55:6-7

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Wouldn’t you love sometimes, to just wander off into the wilderness and be lost? At least lost to the world. Just stop the world and let me off as the old song goes. Well that can’t happen, the world doesn’t stop. But—there are those very appealing mountains just up the road—deceptively inviting, dangerous, but impartial, and there’s just something appealing about that—isn’t there? The mountains don’t judge you, they will fill or kill anyone regardless of their character or social acceptability.

 

I have a fantasy of one day, when my time is near, of wandering off into the hills and dying in peace even if it means freezing or starving to death, rather than wasting away in a nursing home drooling in a wheelchair or drying up my families savings while prolonging the inevitable in my death bed. Hopefully they have all-terrain Hoverounds, by then.

Sorry, that’s just what I thought of when I read this verse from Psalm 55. This will get happier I promise.

Not Lost

There’s an old saying that came to my mind while I was thinking about this notion of wandering; “Not all who wander are lost.” It’s actually a line from a poem that can be found in The Lord of the Rings books by JR Tolkien that goes in part:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

-JR Tolkien; Fellowship of the Ring.

It is first found in a letter from Gandalf to Frodo Baggins in reference to Aragorn, the raider destined to be King. A man hiding from his destiny. Not unlike King David, the raider become King who penned the words of the verse we started with.

All who wander are not lost. Reminds me also of my grandson Shane. He’s a couple months shy of being two years old, he loves the outdoors and likes to take big walks, he also likes to go where Shane wants to go. He’s never lost because you always have to chase after him. He’s a boy on a mission, he may not know what it is until he finds it, but it’s there for the discovering—out there.

Wandering boy

While we were on Vacation last week we stayed at my Dad’s house. He lives on twenty acres in the middle of nowhere in the north woods of Minnesota. Our daughter Danielle and her son Shane went with us.

One morning Shane decide he wanted to go outside, to no one’s surprise. He had also decided somewhere along the line that Grandpa was his ticket to the great outdoors because every morning the first thing he did when he saw me was beeline to the door and reach for the handle while looking at me with those big brown eyes pleading for adventure as if saying—‘come on grandpa, let’s go!’

So I decided I really wanted to go outside also. It was a beautiful fall morning and I was ready to get out and enjoy the Minnesota outdoors where I had spent much of my childhood. Danielle had fallen asleep on the couch—you are always tired when you have a toddler—so I quietly dressed Shane, put on his coat and shoes and off we went.

We wandered around in the yard and in the woods close by before striking out on the county road. Like I said, Shane likes to go where Shane likes to go so I basically just followed and took pictures while making sure he didn’t get too far into the woods where you can get lost in the dense vegetation pretty quickly.

We ultimately ended up walking pretty far down the dead end county road, stopping occasionally to sit and play in the sandy gravel of the road or to pick up brilliant fallen leaves or acorns.

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As we wandered down the road we found ourselves going down a pretty long hill and I kept telling him, though I doubt he understood what I was saying; “You know, if you walk down a hill eventually you have to walk back up it.”  He would just look at me, jabber something and point at a wildflower or whatever happened to catch his eye at that particular moment.

Finally grandpa decided we had better turn around and head back. So knowing I was in for a fight I grabbed his hand and gently tried to turn him around. He protested and walked into the tall grass on one side of the road, got tangled and fell. I helped him up. Then he did the same thing on the other side, I helped him up again. Then he found a nearby field access road, ducked under a gate marked ‘Private Road’ and took off like he owned the place—anything to avoid going the direction I picked for him.

I retrieved him and set him back on the road. By now he had been turned around so many times he forgot which way he was going anyway and actually started walking with me back to the house. That is until he realized that we were now walking uphill and it was much more work.

So you know what he did? He stopped, turned to me, held up his arms and looked at me with those big brown eyes. What do you suppose I did? Scold him for being weak? Say, this is the path you chose, deal with it? Laugh and leave him behind?

I picked him up of course and was glad to do it. I then carried him all the way up the hill and pointed out all the wonders to be seen off a Minnesota back road along the way.

Shane and I are now fast friends and he trusts me implicitly.

Not all who wander are lost, because if they are loved, there is always someone following, someone who will even carry you back if you need it.

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He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?” Heb 13:4-5

We have to recognize that God is always with us, he hears our cries and even saves our tears, this knowledge alone can save us from succumbing to the desire to wander off and hide, knowing that God is always there to hear us, to give us courage and to rescue us.

We don’t need to run away from our enemies. We do not need to hide from our fears, or hide our tears. Our Father is aware of all of them, he cares about them, he cares about us, and he is for us—we have no need to be afraid

Even in our wanderings, God always knows where we are, that’s why we, the wanderers, are not lost.

You number my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
When I cry out to You,
then my enemies will turn back;
this I know, because God is for me.. . .
11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me? Ps 56

 

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Seasons and Passion

This is but a season.

shallow focus of clear hourglass
Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

Life is full of seasons and each and every one has a purpose if we are trusting the Lord. Even the ones imposed on us by the enemy or the wrong choices of others can become a God orchestrated, character building time that one day we will even be grateful for as we discover that because of it we have a renewed sense of faith—and an energizing passion that drives us to storm the gates in ways we never dared before.

King Solomon writes:

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.   -Ecclesiastes 3

 

There are good times and bad times, times of building and destruction, sowing and reaping. Didn’t Jesus say a seed must die before it brings life? buried and gone only to one day become a beautiful plant, yielding a bounty to be enjoyed.

We were all placed here to do something. We are created in the image of God with unlimited potential and even given his Holy Spirit to overcome any earth and flesh imposed limitations. We are children of God and citizens of heaven.

So, are you enjoying the fruits of the harvest? Or, looking forward to the ones to come if you are in a season of planting and waiting—patience?  Or maybe you are in the just plain toil season, of plowing and weeding.

Whatever the season we must rejoice that we are still around to keep working, working with the knowledge that everything will be made beautiful in its time, rejoicing that we will eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of our labor—that’s a promise, that’s the gift of God.

In Christ, everything in our lives serves a purpose and has meaning. But outside of Christ everything has ramifications as well, the laws of cause and effect always apply. The scriptures call it bearing fruit. Either we bear good fruit, or bad fruit, abundant fruit or little fruit–withering until we just give up and fade away, certainly no satisfaction there.

The Farmer

In the old Soviet Union, the one that us of the baby boom generation grew up fearing during the cold war, communism was the rule of the land.  This meant no one owned anything- everything belonged to the state who in turn was supposed to divide everything up evenly amongst the people, no one was special, they were all “comrades”. This sounds like a fair system, right? Well, it was- everyone was equally hungry.  Except for the privileged few who had all the weapons and did the distributing, they always seemed to have much more.

I remember seeing pictures in the news of grocery store shelves with little or no food, people would stand in line for hours to buy a loaf of bread just hoping that they would not run out before they got there, they could only hope, they couldn’t pray– because that was not allowed.

Weird, that there was so little food-everyone had a job, whether they wanted one or not, there were just as many farmers—maybe more—there was just as much land to grow crops and raise livestock, but, there was no love for the land anymore, there was no desire to work the fields, to work all day and night to bring in the harvest.  No one wanted to stay up all night and make sure the new born calves or lambs didn’t freeze to death. Why?

Because there was no love for the land, there was no passion. There was no passion because it just didn’t matter to the people who were farming- there was no reward, everyone got paid the same, no matter. And there was no cost of failure– everyone got paid the same, no matter. 

People didn’t get to choose to be farmers, you did whatever your parents did- like it or not. So not only was there no reason- many people hated what they did and couldn’t wait to go home at the end of the day no matter whether they were done or not.  The whole system finally collapsed under its own weight.

At the same time, and yet today, the American farmerthey work round the clock, work themselves into the ground, often just to watch their work get destroyed by a single storm or swarm of bugs, but they screw their hats down tight and do it again, and if you ask them why- they’ll tell you they love it and there is nothing else they would rather do. And there is always hope, there is always next year.

silhouette of man sitting on grass field at daytime
Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

Why?  It’s their passion- it’s the life they chose- they love the land like it is a family member and everything it produces -they are proud to take to market and they hold their heads high when they take that check to the bank knowing that they earned every penny and that they are one year closer to passing the land on to their own children- to the son or daughter who chooses that life. And if they have the passion of their parents and grandparents planted into their souls– the farm will continue, and the people of this nation will still be able to stroll to the nearest store and choose from thirty or more different kinds of bread that they can buy for less money than the gallon of fuel it took to run the farmer’s tractor for a round or two in the field it was grown in.

The passion in the heart of the American farmer feeds the world and a bad year just makes them more determined the next.

What you love

Doing what you love, doing what you were born to do, doing what you choose to do, knowing that it makes a difference, that is what keeps you going, that is the passion we all need. The kingdom of Heaven is no different. Many of Jesus’ stories centered around farmers, because passion keeps the economy of the kingdom strong- God’s kingdom is strong when we are strong, we need passion.  The farmer is tireless, why aren’t we, the church, the keepers of the kingdom, working to bring in the greatest harvest of all?

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Mat 9

Please my friends, do not give up if you are in a trying season, there is always hope, this is indeed, but a season.