CHOOSE JOY

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In the early hours of the morning yesterday, I heard a “ping” sound somewhere in our house. Actually, a short time later I looked at the clock. It was 2:15 a.m. The noise obviously was loud enough to awaken me. I was startled by the sound. The noise also awakened Barnabas. He was up on all fours and moving his head from side to side.

I don’t recall that the hairs on the back of my neck were actually standing up, but I was on full alert for any indication that something was amiss. I strained to listen closely. I remember thinking: “My shotgun is on the other side of the house”. It was of little comfort knowing that it is locked in a case. To make matters worse, I’m not sure I remember the combination. At least the shells were near. They are on the top shelf in our bedroom closet.

Had I been four or five-years-of-age, I might have put my head under the covers and pretended I didn’t hear anything. Do you ever remember doing that as a kid? Probably if truth be known, I’ve done the same thing in the midst of adulthood. However Sunday morning, I opted to stay alert. Of course, had Barnabas started barking, it would have offered the ultimate test? I might have been tempted to regress to childhood and put my head under the covers, but hopefully not.

What is fear? The most often expression used in God’s Word is the instruction to “Fear Not”, but what is it that we are to avoid?

When used as a noun, fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the perception that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

When used as a verb, fear is the experience of being afraid of someone or something as likely to be dangerous, painful or threatening.

I normally don’t live with an elevated level of fear. Of course over the past week while I was in Washington, much to my surprise several fears surfaced:

Fear of escalators – I’ve never been fearful of escalators before, but after falling on one at the Metro Station the last time I was in Washington, fear associated with the moving metal staircase came out of nowhere. Pardon the pun, but it carried with it the possibility of being my downfall.

Fear associated with being stranded in Washington – As the media hype associated with what to expect related to the winter storm on the East Coast heightened, I was fearful my flight on Friday would be cancelled. As it turned out, the fear was well placed. The flight was cancelled. I was very fortunate to get the last seat on the last non-stop flight to Austin out of Washington on Thursday evening. Otherwise, today’s blog would have been written from the snow covered District of Columbia instead of the great state of Texas.

In recalling how debilitating fear can be, I came to realize that when given a free reign, fear has the ability to take away our focus on all that God has provided. Fear – when fully allowed to control our imaginations – always leaves us in shambles and with the sense that the “worst possible case scenario” is inevitable.

Our response to fear is generally crafted from the lower portion of our brain that responds to the “fight or flight” syndrome. It negates the ability to think clearly and focus realistically on circumstance. The reality is, when we are in a state of panic or fear, we don’t think clearly. We use our “downstairs” brain rather than our “upstairs” (more cognitive level) brain. Consequently, we don’t process information very well.

In Max Lucado’s book “FEARLESS” (subtitled: “Imagine Your Life Without Fear”), Lucado asks the questions: “Is that even conceivable? Is that even possible? Can we negotiate life without fear?”

How many people do you know for whom FEAR seems to be a situational or chronic companion?

Two or three years ago I talked with a friend who’d learned two weeks earlier that his job was being reduced to a half-time position because of budget cuts. He said with tears streaming down his cheeks that he was still in a state of disbelief. Other than his wife, he had told no one other than God of his circumstances. He said he didn’t know how they were going to make it financially. He was the sole provider for his family. He and his wife have a special needs daughter and his wife is a stay-at-home mom. He said: “I’m trusting God with this, but I’m really afraid.” My heart hurt for him.

As it turned out, I subsequently talked with him after he located a new job and his circumstances were better than they’d ever been. It all worked out and the sleepless nights, anxious filled days and nights were for naught.

Fear – Isn’t it at epidemic proportion in our country? Everything from health care, big government, consumer debt, politics, the up-coming Presidential election, economy, terroristic threat, etc. We opt to jump to worst possible case scenario.

How many people do you know who have more to do than they can possibly accomplish? The fear of unmet deadlines and employer expectations loom heavily over their head. Their response to the work environment is one of fear and anxiety. Can I really get it all done?

I spent a portion of this week in Washington attempting to have some kind of influence in hopes to block proposed legislative change that could negatively impact my work. The details aren’t all that interesting, but the threat is real.

In a chapter entitled: “Why Are We Afraid?” Lucado begins his book by writing about his brother’s death. But then he addresses our pilgrimage, our struggles, and our challenges. He writes:

“You may not be down to your final heartbeat, but you may be down to your last paycheck, solution, or thimble of faith. Each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear.

“Fear, it seems, has taken a hundred-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversize and rude, fear is unwilling to share the heart with happiness. Happiness complies and leaves. Do you ever see the two together?

Can one be happy and afraid at the same time?
Clear thinking and afraid?
Confident and afraid?
Merciful and afraid?”

“Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors. Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?” Susan, a new friend from church recently shared an email blast with me that she sent to a number of friends. Not only has she eradicated fear in her life, she facilitated that by choosing joy. I think that must be the formula for “walking out”. She wrote this:

“Greetings friends! I wanted to share with you what God has been teaching me since moving to Texas (4 months ago). I believe that all of you are aware of the difficulties we ran into when we arrived. The builder didn’t have the house finished when we arrived and took us for nearly $40,000.00. I had never experienced such stress in my entire life. Then one day every joint in my body locked up, and I wasn’t even able to get up and down without assistance. I was later diagnosed with autoimmune disease – Rheumatoid Arthritis.

“Tom and I were disheartened. We went to church that Sunday and the visiting preacher preached a sermon. I don’t remember much about the sermon other than that one sermon point was on “Choosing Joy.” We grabbed on to that like someone grabbing on to a life preserver, while drowning in a deep sea of despair. “Choose Joy” became our victory cry. We soon experienced that our hearts had released resentment, our minds began to clear, and peace returned to our souls. A heightened sensitivity to the Holy Spirit has developed, and Tom and I have felt a strong pull to return to ministry. We aren’t sure what that means or looks like, but God does.

“I started looking for scriptures to support this new ‘Choose Joy’ philosophy (honestly to rebuke Satan with when my heart, mind and circumstances didn’t agree with the choice). For those of you who know me well, I had to share what God is teaching me! This has become my outline for the next Bible Study and I wanted to share with you for comments.

Choosing Joy in the Texas Hill Country,

Susan”

My response to Susan’s email was simple: “Wow! Susan, what a heartfelt and powerful message! Thank you for sharing your story and experience. I run across people almost daily who are beaten up by life. If only, they too, had the wisdom and nudging of the Holy Spirit to choose joy! Your testimony not only glorifies God, but it radiates with hope. Thanks for the advanced permission to use it in a sermon!”

All My Best!

Don

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