What is Joy?

Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires…and the expression or exhibition of such emotion.” Well-being is defined as “happy, healthy and prosperous.”

My first response to this definition is that if you feel joy, it should show! As I look more closely at those words, I find what the world would call joy is covered well in the first part – well-being,success and good fortune. Most people would agree that those are all good reasons to rejoice. But what if your life hasn’t been filled with good health, good fortune or success and prosperity? Is this reason to despair? Not for a minute! For believers, the rest of the definition is where we find our hope as well as our joy. “The prospect of possessing what I desire”… eternity with Christ! No matter what life looks like today, we still have reason to be filled with joy.

Many years ago I knew a man who, for me, was the personification of joy. John was no more than about 5’5” and wore glasses thicker that pop bottles. What little hair he had left was white. He was severely diabetic and also wore a colostomy bag. Yet every time you saw him he had a smile on his face and a story to tell about the goodness of God. The man dancing in the aisles each Sunday morning during worship? That was John. He wasn’t healthy or wealthy but he was wise. He knew the source of his joy – that he would possess what he most desired – eternity with his Lord and Savior. Toward the end of his life, John lost his dancing legs to complications of his diabetes and yet on the day he went home to his Savior he was still singing songs of joy.

 “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” –  Psalm 118:4

How will you express your joy today?

The Longer You Look, the More You See

We have some picture books by Joan Steiner. She makes elaborate photos of scenes using everyday items. It might be a train or an outdoor scene; it might be a kitchen or a living room. She uses items like erasers, paperclips, tennis rackets, socks, batteries, you name it. Using her imagination and all these simple, easily recognizable items, she creates an amazing picture. The longer you look at each picture the more items you are able to identify.

When I look at these books with my grandchildren it’s so much fun to watch their faces light up when they spot something else they recognize. With excitement they say, “Hey! That’s a pencil sharpener!” or “Look, do you see that tree is really broccoli?” It’s such fun to see them suddenly find the treasure that was hidden in the picture.

I have a pair of curtains in my house that are of a brightly colored tide pool theme. If I look at them long enough I can see the face of an old man among the rocks. I can also see what looks like two puppies in the sand. If you look at the coral you can see the suggestion of a kid with a wild, blue afro and huge sunglasses. Now you may think I’m a little goofy, finding people and pets in a tide pool curtain but you know you’ve done the same sort of thing! How many times have you looked at a cloud and said, “Hey, that looks like a duck, or an elephant, or a car?”

I think it’s a trait God created in us for a purpose; looking for things that might not be readily apparent to the casual glance. It’s why we liked the hidden picture puzzles in the old Highlights magazines when we were children. It’s why Where’s Waldo was so popular. It’s why I can look at a pair of curtains in my house and see things that aren’t really in the picture.

It’s how God wants us to look at the world around us. He wants us to see beyond the obvious picture and find the things He’s hidden for us. He also wants us to do that with His Word. He wants us to linger for a while and look at the things He made and the things He said and find the hidden treasures that He so carefully designed into our world and His Word.

Take some time today to look more closely at the world around you. And take time to look more deeply into God’s Word and see what amazing surprises He has for you. I know you will be blessed!

 I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. – Isaiah 45:3 (NIV)

 Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.  – Jeremiah 33:3(NASB)

Sometimes You Have to Take a Risk

Most of us like to play it safe. We like to have all the facts and make well informed decisions. We like to know what’s at stake up front with no surprises. But the longer you walk with the Lord, the more you come to realized that God doesn’t usually work that way.

God often requires us to make decisions and take action in ways that look pretty risky. Things don’t always look safe and risk free. Why does He do this? What is gained by us having to take risks?

He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.”  – Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 (NASB)

Sometimes God asks us to take a chance, to do something without knowing ahead of time what the outcome is going to be. Consider the risks that missionaries choose to take in order to proclaim the Gospel. What gives them the courage to willing face such uncertain and dangerous situations?

The word risk implies uncertainty and even fear. God doesn’t ever take risks because He already knows the outcome of every situation. He doesn’t have to fear what lies ahead. He offers us that same assurance if we will only allow Him to guide us. He asks us to put our trust in Him and have faith in His plan. To us, with our limited perspective, it looks like we may be asked to take huge risks but if God already knows the outcome and He is in control what do we have to fear?

What are you willing to risk? What steps can you take today to move out of your comfort zone and trust God to do something extravagant in you and through you? Just ask Him for courage and take that first step. You will be amazed at what He will do.


Great is Thy Faithfulness

The writer of that familiar hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness wrote from firsthand experience. As a young adult, Thomas Obadiah Chisolm had fragile health and spent many months in bed, too ill to work. At the age of 27 he gave his life to Christ and was overwhelmed with God’s faithfulness. He needed God’s strength on a daily basis, but in reality, don’t we all?  He wrote the poem that would later be set to music, as a way of offering his overwhelming thanksgiving to the God who sustained him every single day.

Chisolm’s favorite bible verses were found in Lamentations 3: 22-23 – “Because of the Lord’s great love we are consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
When I think of these verses I remember the Israelites receiving God’s manna every morning. They were sustained daily, just like Thomas Chisolm. And if they tried to store up manna for the future it spoiled. God wanted them to depend on Him daily.

Isn’t it the same with His mercies? Aren’t they meant to be new every morning so that we will put our trust and our hope in the God who faithfully cares for us day by day? He only gives us enough strength for the day and then He wants us to come back to Him again tomorrow for more. He has enough to last a lifetime! Thomas Chisolm lived to be 94 and wrote more than 1200 poems and songs in his lifetime, because he was able to trust God for the strength for each day. God wants to meet us each morning and pour out His mercies on us. Great is thy Faithfulness, O Lord!

Great is Thy Faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
 There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
 Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
 As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
 Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
 Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
 Join with all nature in manifold witness
 To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
 Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
 Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
 Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is Thy faithfulness! 
Great is Thy faithfulness! 
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
 All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
 Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

A Question to Make You Think

Many will remember hearing me talk about my Thankful Journal. I wrote about it here if you want to get the back story.

I have been writing in this journal for almost 3 years now. I started numbering the entries and have over 1800  now.  Things I’m thankful for. Things that made me smile and gave me joy.

Many families have a tradition on Thanksgiving to go around the table and offer something each one is thankful for.  Answers such as “good health,” or “my family” or ” a good job.” might be shared with those gathered.

We  teach our children to say “thank you” from an early age. Many a parent can be heard coaching their child to “say thank you,” in a variety of situations.

But there is something more than just being thankful. Just saying you are thankful for something is really not the whole story. You might find it easy to list the things you are thankful for. Some could be general and some very specific.  The problem is that perhaps we’ve forgotten who to thank.

You are thankful for your good health. Here is the question.

Who do you thank for that?

You are thankful for your children.  Who do you thank?

You are thankful that you had a job and the means to pay your bills this year.  Who is responsible for that? Who do you say thank you to?

During this Thanksgiving week, it’s good to think of the things you are thankful for. We certainly need to find some positive things to think about rather that what bombards us in the news every day. But your effort is really worthless if you just list a bunch of items and quit there.

The most important part of being thankful is knowing who gave you those things you appreciate so much.  It makes no sense to say you are thankful if you can’t find the right person to thank.

All those things are God’s doing.  He is the one you should thank. He is your loving Heavenly Father and has bought all those blessings into your life. So don’t just be thankful, thank HIM.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  –James 1:17 (NASB)


God’s Perfect Design

In the third chapter of Judges there is a story that demonstrates how God designs each of us with specific characteristics that He intends to use for His purposes.

Judges 3:15-21 “But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him. Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly.”

I have one left-handed son and we had quite a time teaching him to write. He often questioned why he wasn’t right-handed like his six brothers. After we read the passage about how Ehud was able to deliver Israel from the King of Moab because he was left handed, we had a great discussion. My son was encouraged after learning that God has given each of us specific talents and characteristics that He will use for His glory if we will yield to Him. Sometimes the very thing that the world sees as a weakness or disadvantage is what God will use in an amazing way.

Today, offer God all your talents and all your unique features that you may think are nothing special. Wait and see what amazing things God will do!

“Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength,” –       Ecclesiastes 9:10(HCSB)

God Invented Zip Lock Bags

When was the last time you used a zip lock bag? Okay, maybe you didn’t use the ZipLoc brand but you probably have a zipper-type plastic storage bag somewhere in your house. The purpose of these bags is to keep things contained. They keep things nice and tidy. When we moved we used some huge 20-gallon size bags that could hold clothes and bedding. Zippered plastic bags are also used by criminal investigators to preserve evidence.

The invention of zip lock bags happened in the 1960s but God actually had the idea way back in the time of Job. Job says in chapter 14:16-17: For now You number my steps, You do not observe my sin.  My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and You wrap up my iniquity.

Job was complaining to God that his sins were being overlooked for now but God was storing them up in bag and could bring them out to use against Job at any time. It was as though God was the investigator gathering evidence to use later.

But we know differently. Picture this: God saves all our sins, the big ones and the tiny ones, He makes no distinction. He collects them in His zip lock bag – he may need a pretty big one – and he sets the collection aside to use as evidence at the day of judgment.

Then Jesus enters the picture. He approaches God the Father and says, “See that bag over there? The one for Sheryl? That bag belongs to me now; I paid the price for her sin.”

God looks at that zip lock bag and says to Jesus, “You take it. The evidence is no longer valid.” Jesus takes the bag containing all my sin and disposes of it. It’s gone forever

I pray that from this day on, every time you see a zip lock bag, you remember that God was keeping your sin to use against you and Jesus stepped in and rescued you from judgment. Hallelujah!

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!  – Psalm 111:9 (ESV)

Open My Eyes That I May See

Have you ever looked at any of the artwork of M.C. Escher?  He has some amazing optical illusions. Some of his impossible constructions truly mess with your mind. The reason optical illusions are so intriguing is that they contradict what you expect to see.

Most of the time we see what we expect to see. We see what we want to see.  How many times have you passed by something and totally missed it? Or perhaps you’ve seen something a million times and then you walk by the spot where it should be and don’t even see that it’s gone.  It takes a minute for your brain to register that something is missing because you have been trained to see it.

Spiritually we do the same thing. We’ve heard the phrase “don’t put God in a box,” so many times we have become accustomed to what we think it means.  Of course, it means that God works and acts in ways that don’t fit our limited mental capacity to understand. We tend to limit His ablilities because we can’t “think outside the box.”

But where did the box come from? And is it God who’s in the box or us?  I think we have turned it around. I think it is we who are in the box and not God.  I think we know what God is capable of, even though it is more than we can imagine.

The real issue is that we have put ourselves in the box. A box with high sides all the way around us. We are trapped by our own illusions.  The fact is, the box sides have been blown down like the walls of Jericho but we are still imagining that they are there. They still limit our ability to move and act in the ways God designed us too.

We see what we expect to see. What we want to see. We see the walls there, holding us back, limiting our effectiveness. Time to look past this mental illusion and move beyond the walls that Jesus removed when he rose from the grave. Time to ask God to give us eyes to see what we have been blinded to for too long.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints – Ephesians 1:18 (NASB)

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. – Psalm 119:18 (ESV)

Conformed or Transformed 

Have you ever watched a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? You’ve seen the before and after but you can’t actually see change take place. It’s a mystery how God takes a slimy, fat, little worm and transforms it into a beautiful, delicate butterfly.  To be transformed means to be made into something completely different. 

It’s also a mystery how He can take a lost soul and transform it into something that begins to resemble His son. He makes us more Christ-like the longer we follow Him.  It’s a process, not an instant occurrence. While God says we are changed as soon as we accept Christ as Savior, the outward appearance takes a little while. It’s kind of like the butterfly. When he’s crawling around on the ground you can’t tell that the makings of a butterfly are already inside him. All you see is the caterpillar. No wings. No long legs. No beautiful colors.  It takes time before the butterfly emerges.  The change takes place inside the chrysalis where no eye can see what’s happening. 

It’s the same for us. God hears our cry for salvation. He declares that we are His and then He begins the process of change.  This is also what happens when we hear a word from God about the direction of our lives. We hear what he wants for us and then don’t understand why it isn’t happening. But we can’t see inside the chrysalis. We can’t always see all the work God is doing. We just have to trust Him to do it His way. 

Also, there is a strong temptation to just stay a caterpillar. We blend in with the rest of them and feel safe. We conform to those around us because to do otherwise would be risky.  But God doesn’t want us to be like all the others. He has said we are to be set apart. I would think a butterfly in the middle of a crowd of caterpillars is definitely set apart. Definitely conspicuous.   

Choose today to let your colors show. Unlike the caterpillar, we can choose to be transformed. We have a part to play in the final outcome. We can make the decision to allow God to renew our minds so that we may be transformed. Let God work in your life and transform you into a beautiful butterfly that can show off God’s handiwork and bring Him the glory. 

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  – Romans 12:2 (NASB)

Taste and See That the Lord is Good

Several years ago I was attending a women’s retreat at a camp with a group of ladies from my church. I had been struggling with some very difficult challenges in that particular season of life. I had been asking God to help me settle a few things in my heart.

One thing I asked Him was if what was happening in my life was a result of my own actions and choices or just part of life.  I had read the story about the blind man that Jesus healed and how the people had asked whose sin had caused the man’s blindness, his own or his parents.  Jesus had responded by saying that neither of those reasons was the cause but  the man had been born blind so that God’s glory would be revealed. God has His own reasons for allowing things to happen in our lives.

When we consider all of God’s attributes we should know that He will never fail us and will take care of us. But sometimes the challenges of life seem to overpower what we know to be true.

On that first day of the retreat, when we were registering and receiving our study materials for the sessions, one of the items we were told to take was a small journal. All of the journals were displayed on a table and each cover had a picture. We were told to prayerfully consider which cover spoke to us.  As I stood there looking at all the covers, one suddenly drew me like none of the others.  As I looked at the picture of a partially eaten apple, I heard the Lord speak gently to my heart. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  It was exactly what I needed. To know that God was good. To know that no matter what, that was a sure thing. God was challenging me to take Him at His word.  I chose to do so.

Today, I still have that journal and Psalm 34, which contains the verse God spoke to my heart, has become my favorite Psalm.  If you are struggling with something in your life and just need a little encouragement, ask God to give you what you need. He never disappoints.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8 (NIV)