Joy, Real Joy

 

Dunoon, Scotland sponsored a great event this past weekend, the Cowal Highland Gathering. Tens of thousands attended to watch and participate in the dancing and pipe and drum band competitions. The event wrapped up with a parade down the main street in Dunoon and fireworks at Argyll Ferries.

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The event is so popular that Western Ferries operated a four-boat service with around 550 sailings over a five-day period, and Argyll Ferries operated a three-vessel service during the games on Saturday. It was fun. It was wonderful to see families celebrating together and neighbors greeting one another. I loved watching the dogs that attended the event, so proud to be there with their families.

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It was great fun—but not all of it was joy. Sadly, we watched a teen stumble up the steps to the main street, marijuana joint in hand, pausing to pass it around to his buddies. The kid was so wiped out that he couldn’t walk—he could barely stand. That is not joy.

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Psalm 16:11 says that the fullness of joy is found in the presence of the Lord. Jesus said that the secret of full joy is found in living for Him. The games were fun and entertaining, but those of us who met at New Life Christian Fellowship on Sunday after the games experienced real, lasting joy; joy so full and overflowing that we took it home with us.

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Iron and Clay

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“Iron does not mix with clay,” the Bible warns in Daniel 2:43, a statement that really convicted me yesterday when I heard someone I love adopt my sarcastic attitude and tone of voice about a person in my past who behaved appallingly. Just as iron does not mix with clay, neither do yesterday’s hurts and insults mix with the joy of today.

Christians simply cannot afford to nurse bitterness. It rubs off on those around them and is a terrible witness. The world hates, accuses, mocks, and ridicules those with whom it disagrees. The world doesn’t know better. The Christian does. We have a Guidebook, written by God.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21.

Personally, I need to guard my mouth and make sure that I am speaking life, because its fruit is sweet. Besides; clay and iron do not mix.

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Outward Looking

No one has a perfect life. Everyone hits hard places. Outward looking is the key to joy even when you find yourself growing among the rocks.

During my lifetime I’ve faced: childhood sexual abuse and forced abortions to cover it up; living under a bridge; 150 rejection slips for books before getting published; divorce; raising a hyperactive son as a single parent; losing the job I loved after seven years; having my house and property stolen from me; bereavement after losing first a husband, then a son, relocating to another country. Then there were the minor rocky places; being kicked in the face by my horse; getting bitten by a cottonmouth; getting attacked by an African lion (they don’t make good pets); having my truck catch on fire in downtown San Antonio; living in an open-ended garden center with no indoor plumbing and wooden planks with a lawn chair mattress for a bed; working two and three jobs for survival. Through all of these things, I have never lost my joy. The joy of the Lord is my strength.

Recently, I’ve found myself counseling people who suffer from depression. I’ve never told them what I’ve been through. I’m no hero for having survived. My secret is Jesus and believing God’s Word: “In everything give thanks,” (I Thessalonians 5:18) and “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28) Just as important, my outward-looking verse, Philippians 4:8: “Finally…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

When we look inward on our lives and relive the past with all its pains, illnesses, disappointments, disillusionments and loss, we are bound to be depressed. It’s like punishing ourselves repeatedly for the times in life we’ve been forced to grow in rocks. Inward looking is living a defeated, powerless life – and it’s selfish. When we think, “me, me, me,” all the time, “look what happened to poor me,” we are being shallow and self-centered. Everyone hits rocky ground. No person holds a monopoly on tribulation.

When we look outward and forget about ourselves and what we’ve been through, we are infused with new purpose, power, and joy. Because of what we’ve been through, we can help others. Because we’ve survived, we are stronger. Because we develop grateful hearts, we are joyful.

So if you find yourself in rocky ground, forget where your feet are planted and look outward. Who can you help? Where can you volunteer? What new hobby can you find? What educational benefit can you add to your life? Visit folks at a nursing home. You don’t have to be an expert. Give them a smile and hold their hands. Make cards to send military who are fighting for your freedom – better yet – send them care packages. Adopt a dog or a cat. Adopt a child. Take an elderly neighbor out to lunch. Look outward – not inward. You will find your roots going deep into the secret well of joy…even if there are still rocks around your feet.

Of course…you might be a writer. Don’t talk about it – do it. Write that book that you’ve always wanted to write because you’re the one who can tell your story best.

Outward looking is the key to joy.

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