Gifts

Smile, Darn Ya, Smile


Watermelon SmilesFor the despondent, every day brings trouble; for the happy heart, life is a continual feast.
(Proverbs 15:15)

On our recent cruise we participated in a bunch of on-board activities meant to bring enjoyment. I noticed that although people attended, there just weren’t many smiling faces, not much enthusiasm, not much laughter – a deficit of fun. Even the people who won prizes didn’t seem excited enough. I wondered if it was the result of too much time in the shadow of COVID, bad news, bad weather and inflation. Maybe it’s time to allow ourselves – perhaps retrain ourselves - to be happy again.

Wanna feel happier? SMILE. Years of research has now confirmed that smiling can increase your happiness. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190412094728.htm) I guess you can file that one under ‘fake it ‘til you make it,’ but Solomon knew it thousands of years ago when he wrote Proverbs 15:30. And science backs up the positive effect of good news as well. (https://www.goodnet.org/articles/why-reading-good-news-is-good-for-you) Conversely, a negative outlook is the first symptom of depression. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200107/depression-doing-the-thinking)

I would guess that most of us already knew that from experience. You may have also noticed that moods and attitudes can become a habit. And they can be contagious. Unfortunately, too many people allow the negative moods of others to corrupt their own happiness, and for far too long.

What to do? The best-selling book on human psychology, the Bible, says that not only can we take control of our thoughts and feelings, we must!

We take hold of every thought and make it obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

Thinking about meeting Jesus someday should put a smile on your face! Being sober-minded (clear-headed and self-controlled) does not mean bottling up your emotions, though. As new believers we attended a large Pentecostal church in our area. It was full of sincere believers and the Spirit of God. And immediately apparent was the ‘audience participation.’ This was no college lecture! Rather, there were ‘Hallelujahs” and “Amens” coming from every corner. And when the preaching was particularly touching people, hands shot into the air and people would dance in the aisles. It might have been off-putting if wasn’t so obviously sincere. But we had a hard time letting ourselves express our emotions so openly and publicly. What would people think? When it comes to Worship, though, it’s much more important what God thinks! After a little research in the Good Book, I saw that God appreciates demonstrative worship:

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. (Psalm 134:2)

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord. (Psalm 106:48)

Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. (Psalm 149:3)

Despite what our parents or Sunday School teachers may have told us, God doesn’t intend church to be silent and dour. He wants us to feel our feelings. God invented joy and laughter and he wants us to enjoy Him. He wants us to celebrate the joy of our Salvation.

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. (Psalm 42:4)

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:4)

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered. (Psalm 71:23)

Sometimes I like to imagine Salvation is like being on ‘The Price is Right’. Up on stage is Jesus with the microphone. We’re so excited to just be in His presence. Maybe we made a special tee shirt for the occasion: ‘Here I am, Lord! Pick Me!’ with a big red arrow. Jesus speaks: “Okay, St. Peter, tell us who will be the next contestant on “The Christian Life.” And St. Peter announces: “That would be (insert your name)!” The music plays and everyone applauds, and you – you realize you’ve just been given an incredible opportunity to participate in something life-changing. You leap from your seat! Jesus is calling your name and beckoning you to “come on down.” Tears of joy stream from your eyes. You run, leap and dance your way to the front filled with joy and disbelief. You are excited and humbled and eager for whatever comes next.

Every morning and every church service should be like that. If they aren’t, we need to work a little harder at adjusting our attitudes. We can start by letting go of negative thoughts and sharing good news. And of course – SMILE! (Because you’re never fully dressed without a smile. 😉)

Blessings of Good Cheer,

Jen


The Shifting Sands of Worry

God Is The Builder crop auto cor“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27

What can you truly trust in this life? Uncertainty and vulnerability are the human condition. History is filled with our struggle to overcome these realities, but what we really create are illusions of security and safety.

Back in the 400’s, Roman citizens were living well. They had high-tech water systems, amazing architecture, an established economy and a well-developed political system. Sure, there was an influx of Goth immigrants that was becoming unmanageable, and rapid climate change brought about by the Late Antique Little Ice Age, but it wasn’t the first time they’d faced those kinds of issues. However, their military, political, and financial power was slowly dwindling. Then, in 476, the Germanic barbarian king Odoacer deposed the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire in Italy, and the Senate sent the imperial insignia to the Byzantine Emperor. Rome fell.

When old Odoacer came storming through, reducing that advanced, beautiful city of Rome to the ruins we visit today, there was no salvation in Jupiter or Apollo, denarii, the Imperial Senate or Oracles. The only salvation possible was in Jesus Christ. In Christ our cares and worries for this life should disappear, and concern for God’s will for His Kingdom take precedent.

Worry is a sin because it is based on the lies of Satan – selfish, prideful lies like, ‘it all depends on you,’ or ‘you have to have this or look like this or live here to be a success,’ ‘what will the neighbors think?’, ‘God isn’t big enough or doesn’t care enough to handle that,’ or worst of all ‘Did God really say…?’. Anxiety and happiness are based on circumstances and situations that we have little actual control over. They make up the emotional roller coaster of building your house on shifting sands. When the tide is low and the sun is shining, happiness rules. But when the tides rise and the storms come, worry prevails.

Joy, however, is built on the rock of the eternal promises of God. Promises like, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you,’ ‘You can do all things through Christ who’ strengthens you,’ ‘God is able to do exceedingly more than we can dare to ask or imagine,’ and ‘He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.’ And let’s not bury the lead: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Worry can also hide or distract from the will of God in the world and the miracles He’s working. Rome fell and many regarded it as the end of the world. But 1,500 years later we know it wasn’t. After the end of Rome, the Christians who were left behind sought the conversion and education of the pagan tribes. Many of the tribes had no Christian background. Most of the others were Christians in name only. However, in the 500 years following the Fall of Rome, all the new nations of Europe had been Christianized. Some of these converted barbarians became excellent missionaries themselves. The British monk, Patrick, became the missionary to Ireland. Columba, an Irish monk, took the Christian message to Scotland. Boniface took the gospel to the Frisians, and Willibord took it to the Netherlands. Clovis, the king of the barbarian tribe of the Franks, claimed he saw a sign in the sky, and that this sign was from God to assure him he could win a battle in war. He won the battle, and he and three thousand of his warriors professed Christianity at once. This was the first case in history of a whole tribe of barbarians professing Christianity because their king did.

God has given us Revelation, prophesy and promises, but the details are a mystery. We must be careful not to hinder His will for us and the world. We wouldn’t want to be scolded as in Matthew 16:23. “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”” Worrying about the future is just a waste of precious time. Read the signs? Yes. Prepare? Yes. Worry and fret? Nope.

As St. Augustine said in a sermon in 410, a Christian’s duty is to pray and to ask God for strength to endure these trials, not spend time lamenting the outcome of God’s mysterious providence.

PRAYER: Yet, not my will, but Yours be done, Lord. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen!

Blessings of Faith and Trust,

Jen


Master of Distraction

Spread Those Seeds rescan

Mark 4:18-19, The Message

“The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.

I’ve been watching an old British mystery show lately called Jonathan Creek. The premise is that a guy who designs magic tricks for a famous magician is an excellent lateral thinker and solves murder mysteries with a journalist. The plot-twists often revolve around the bread and butter of magicians – distraction.

The distraction often hides the deception. As cynical Jonathan is fond of saying, magic doesn’t exist, there’s always a trick. So, the waving of a wand, the recitation of ‘magic words,’ the legerdemain, the rotation of cabinets are all really just distractions to give the performers time or space to do the deception of the trick – produce the item, pop out somewhere else, guess the card, etc. This idea has found its way into our language: smoke and mirrors.

We need to be aware that Satan works the same way. Satan is known as the Deceiver, and Father of Lies, but we should understand that these deceptions are often hidden behind distractions. In fact, the distractions themselves are often lies. Jesus himself tells us that “…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14) So, Satan doesn’t need to possess you with demons to thwart God’s plan for your life. Really, he only needs you to step off that narrow path or distract you enough to miss the little gate. And that is shockingly easy to do.

Seemingly small distractions that can derail our Christian walk are everywhere, all the time, and worse, they seem very reasonable and normal. They are called WORRIES: the stress of working too hard or long at work, pursuing status or reputation, concerns over physical fitness, health crises, finances, caring for the family, housekeeping, pursuing a hobby, education, pets, entertainment, vacations, bureaucracy, chores and so much more. Of course, you need to be concerned with these things, after all, they won’t take care of themselves, will they? But consider Jesus’ words: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:30-34)

The prescription: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) The warning: “For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23)

Our culture pushes us toward self-reliance and away from trusting God. But there is merit to embracing the philosophy of Bob Marley’s ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout A Thing’ and ‘Don't Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin. They played both of those songs repeatedly on my recent cruise. I was humming along while the hubby was frantically anxious about flights, COVID tests, storms that caused 4-day power outages 4,000 miles away back home, a sick cat, a car unattended in a long-term parking lot, aches, pains, schedules and work problems.

I cannot honestly say that those things weren’t worthy of concern. But I will say this: they were distractions. Excessive fretting distracted from the relaxation of a well-deserved vacation. It distracted from the glorious joy of the incredible, natural beauty of a bucket-list destination. It distracted from a good night’s sleep. And most of all it distracted from the opportunity to gain peace by trusting God.

The Message’s version of Matthew 7:14 puts it this way, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”

PRAYER: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen. -Reinhold Niebuhr

Carefree Blessings,

Jen

 


Higher Ground

Higher Ground Mountains

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. -Isaiah 55:9

The death of a goldfish, the unrequited love of a first crush, a failing grade on a math test…all of these can seem like huge tragedies in the life of a child, but looking back, they were mere bumps in the road of a long, well-lived life. It’s all a matter of PERSPECTIVE.

This is a simple, obvious lesson, and yet, whole lives can be ruined by forgetting it. If life is a river, we should expect times of drifting peacefully and times of roaring rapids, and perhaps a few waterfalls. In the midst of the thundering cascade, it’s very hard to consider the entirety of the river, but it is only by doing so, and by knowing who is captaining your canoe that you can find any kind of inner calm or peace in the journey when life seems that threatening. If Jesus isn’t in your boat, one might be tempted to end the journey when a miraculous salvation is just around the corner.

The difficulty of perspective was brought home to me on our flight back a few days ago. I’ve been sharing about my love of mountains. Alaska is certainly no slouch in THAT department! And Mount Rainer looms large over Seattle in a way that is almost unreal. However, my favorite mountains are still the Grand Tetons. And so, gazing out of the window of the airplane, I was stunned to see them below. I was also stunned at how immediately I recognized them, but there they were, tiny, but still impressive from 3,000 feet above. Then I considered how many times we had approached them by car, and how my heart leapt every time. They are impressively monumental. And I remembered our family trip to the top by cable car. We made a couple of similar trips to mountaintops last week. But honestly, the Tetons were a little more impressive because even at the top, the peaks loomed surreally large.

Those are the same mountains in all three photos: from above, at ground level and from up close. I considered what problems mountains can be. We often say ‘don’t make a mountain out of a molehill’ when advising friends or family. Because mountains really are problematic. They're steep and filled with predators. They often make their own weather, stopping clouds or making fog. All of those photos were taken in July, and they were still covered in snow. I thought about pioneers in their Conestoga wagons trying to cross the land in months that we were zipping over in hours. In those days, timing was everything, and mountain crossings had to be made only in the summer after the snow had melted and the rivers weren’t so swollen.

But from my God-like view, the land seemed nearly flat and the evidence of human settlement sparse. I thought about the glaciers and inland seas that they say carved this landscape over thousands of years. I saw a massive forest fire only minute or so later consuming all in its path. I considered how there are places in Alaska where they are gaining an inch or more per year of land as the earth slowly springs back up as the weight of the melting glaciers diminishes. Those kinds of things happen in God’s time. His perspective is high, and long and vast. Like our giant cruise ship, He has set His course, and is chugging along toward it. Our history is like the ferries, whales and otters moving quickly nearby, making little wake, and little change in the overall environment.

However, through Jesus, Christ, God gives us the opportunity to come aboard and see things from His perspective. From high above we see that all the things that loom so large in our daily lives are mere bumps in the road of eternity. We also can see that our lives, although they may seem short and insignificant, are part of a great cosmic life cycle, a universal environment, which have the potential to affect those around us for better or for worse. It took a lot of individual snowflakes falling 500 years ago to make the glaciers we see today, but there they are.

So, let’s be snowflakes. Snowflakes know their life is short, but they’re ‘cool’ with that because they get to see the world from God’s perspective for a brief time. They go to the mountaintops, perhaps get squeezed to become glaciers seen by thousands, or perhaps melt, joining with innumerable others creating streams of living water, nourishing and giving life wherever they go, giving themselves up completely until they rise back up to the heavens.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me to gain perspective. Help me to see the beauty of the Earth, the beauty of my life and the beauty of Your plan for it all. Grant me your peace as I trust in You that “every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5-6) Amen!

Mountaintop Blessings,

Jen

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Friendship is Sweet

Macaron Sweet I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. ~John 15:15

In the last few weeks my friend group has been activated to help with some crisis situations and advice, counsel and physical presence was needed. It’s good to know that friends ‘have your back.’ And even if they can’t actively help, just pouring out your soul on a phone call can soothe the spirit.

Friendship is a beautiful thing. God, in His infinite wisdom, has created us for relationship and friendship is one of the sweetest kinds. Friends are family that we choose ourselves. I would have thought there would be more about friendship in the Bible, but it is surprisingly silent on the subject. There are a few good verses to be sure, and of course, the famous friendship of David and Saul’s son Jonathan. My guess is that God’s plan is for us to love everyone, even our enemies, with an abundant, sacrificial love which covers ALL human relationships.

In fact, right before the verse from John 15 above, Jesus talks about love and friendship:

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

So, our human relationships should mirror to our relationship with Jesus. If we have a friend in Jesus, that relationship should look a lot like our earthly friendships and vice-versa.

  1. FRIENDS GET TOGETHER REGULARLY

One of the challenges of friendship is staying in touch. Facebook, Zoom, email and cell phones have made this much easier these days, but you still have to intentionally make the time to do it. There will always be something competing for your attention. With Jesus, though, it’s even easier to have a chat. Any time can be prayer time: doing laundry, in the car, at the gym. But be sure to make a special time each day for a heart-to-heart talk where you listen for Jesus’ response.

And just as you might hesitate to contact a friend you’ve been out of touch with for a while, you might think Jesus will be mad that it’s been so long since you’ve prayed. He won’t. He’s been waiting and looking forward to your call. Do it today.

  1. FRIENDS CARRY EACH OTHERS’ BURDENS

Friends are a shoulder to cry on, a buddy to laugh with, an arm to lean on, or a companion when loneliness threatens. Good friends will even help you move! Or help plan your Mom’s funeral, be at your bedside in the hospital, help build your deck, or drop by with a casserole when you ‘can’t even.’ Jesus won’t swing a hammer, but he can swing some pretty miraculous resolutions to your cares and worries and problems. And he really, really wants to:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:7

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. ~Psalm 68:19

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. ~Matthew 11:28

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~Galatians 6:2

We were not made to ‘do life’ alone. We were created to be dependent on others to teach us how to be dependent on God. Sharing our burdens is the only way to endure.

  1. FRIENDS ARE HONEST WITH EACH OTHER

A good friend tells you there is spinach in your teeth. A great friend will point out your character flaw or unresolved sin. Proverbs 27:6 tells us “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” It’s hard to hear the truth, which is why it should only be told ‘in love.’ Like a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down, a cup of love helps us to absorb the hard truth about ourselves. But that is how we mature. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” ~Proverbs 27:17

Jesus is also in the honesty business. He wants us to be the best we can be, so there is truth, discipline and pruning. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2 And Proverbs 3:11-12:

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,

    and do not resent his rebuke,

because the Lord disciplines those he loves,

    as a father the son he delights in.

And He expects us to be honest with Him and each other: “If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:15-16

Thank God for friendship! And thank God for the friend we have in Jesus!

Blessings of Friendship,

Jen