Last night at our small group, I chose momentary happiness.

It all started yesterday when one of our church interns noticed that my key fob was just like hers, with one major difference. I had an extra button on mine. “Oh, that’s cool,” she said. “You have remote start.” I was incredulous. I had no idea that the little recycle icon was a remote start. I’ve owned the car for over a year. I couldn’t wait to try it.

We got back to the office, and I quickly pressed several combinations on the fob but failed. I figured I’d read the owner’s manual later. As we were visiting before small group, I suddenly remembered it and ran outside to read up on it. The instructions said to push the lock button and then hold down the remote start button. I did that. The car’s lights lit up, and I heard the engine. In my enthusiasm, I dashed back inside to my small group and screamed, “It works!” to everyone’s amusement and then ran back outside to turn my car off.

As I approached the car, I realized it wasn’t running. Then I saw one of our church members exit her car a few spots down. She had just pulled in earlier. It was her car’s engine that I had heard running. I frantically tried a few more key presses – lights, but no remote start. I sheepishly returned to my small group and sat dejectedly in my chair. My small group ministered to me through deep encouragement laughed at me.

Happiness gone.

Now when I look at my key fob, I want to smack my intern with it.

Happiness is circumstantial. Joy is providential.

juanitasAbout 11 years ago I wrote a blog entry Juanita’s, hot tea, and thee… aaaah. It’s amazing to read it today – especially considering I just got a new bucket of Juanita’s Peanut Brittle this week from my folks. The anti-blogger in that post? Neal Nelson. He was a campus minister then like me. Now he’s an associate pastor of our church here in Blacksburg.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

As I reviewed that post, it’s amazing how much life has changed. I have less hair today, but I’m in better shape. I live in a different town and state. We’ve added more chapters to our cancer saga, but we’ve experienced financial provision that boggles the mind. While I often feel anonymous, I have also been affirmed beyond my wildest dreams.

In that post, I said:

I’m only a fellow struggler. So imperfect. Yet I am earnestly convinced in the existence of a perfect and loving God. I DON”T have all the answers. I’m NOT thrilled about our financial uncertainties. Things aren’t all good at the Noble’s. Yet, here I am… life is real, raw, and confusing sometimes. Things AREN’T perfect. Not situationally, at least. But deep down… I am truly, really, honestly, JOYFUL. I love life. I am able to endure all hardships – mystically, mysteriously, really – I believe, because of my confidence in my forgiveness. Being forgiven, freed, and given purpose enables a person to embrace life even when there are sharp edges.

I was told recently that one of the things that stands out about me is my joy. I didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard it. I have wanted joy to be my life’s echo. When we were choosing vision statements for our campus ministry in Arkansas, we settled on “To magnify God as life’s ultimate joy,” and I later claimed it as my personal life statement.

The humbling thing about being told that joy characterizes you is when you realize that you don’t feel joyful. It’s a sobering reality check. I recently wrote about “feelings” after a marriage retreat. Feelings are like skunks. When they’re little, they can be cute, but if they show up when you don’t want them to, well, they can stink.

So what do you do when you don’t feel joyful? You press on. You dig deep. You look up. And you trust God. Circumstances (like possibly having a remote starter) might make me feel happy, but only truth breeds joy. In moments of grief, confusion or anxiety, we must choose what’s true in order to experience joy. It’s a lesson I know. But it’s also a lesson I have to remember.

Rick Warren says:

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

Settled assurance. I like that. Even though things aren’t as I want them all the time, I can still choose to be settled and assured. That God is in control. Of all the details.

I may not like how He is pursuing what is ultimately good for me, but it doesn’t change the truth that He is.

The interesting thing is that God is Himself joyful. When we choose truth, and truth breeds joy, we find ourselves unexpectedly stumbling into gratitude. And when we are grateful, our blinders are removed, and we see God.

Choose joy.

And if you can, order some peanut brittle from Juanita’s. It’s good comfort candy when your key fob gets your hopes up circumstances aren’t what you want.

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