HAPPINESS STARTS WITH A SMILE

We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! [Psalm 126:2-3 (NLT)]

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. [Thich Nhat Hanh]

clownIn the Pearls Before Swine comic drawn by Stephen Pastis, Pig may be a little naïve but, sometimes, the sweet fellow has the right idea. In a recent strip, when asked why he was wearing an enormous hat decorated with a smiley face, he explained it was “the hat o’ great happiness” and he wore it as a way of sending happiness to others. I thought of Pig’s silly hat of happiness while viewing an ad made by Coca-Cola as part of their 2015 Belgian “Choose happiness” campaign.

It began with people walking into a subway tram. Among the commuters was a man who stood in the middle of a crowded car. Wearing ear buds and looking at his tablet, he suddenly erupted in laughter. Ignoring the stares of the people around him, he continued to laugh—not polite little giggles but loud and unembarrassed guffaws. Hidden cameras filmed the reactions of his fellow commuters. As his laughter increased, they began to smile and then their smiles turned into laughter. A promotional team from Coke revealed themselves and handed out cans of Coke with a leaflet linking laughter and happiness. The ad closed with the words, “Happiness starts with a smile, what are you waiting for?” followed by the hashtag “choosehappiness.” Filmed over two days on 17 trains and six different metro lines, the commercial brought laughter to over 4,000 commuters! Millions more have caught themselves laughing as they’ve viewed the video since it first aired. (You can find it on YouTube.)

Scientific studies actually have found that actions like yawning, smiles, and laughter are contagious. Because of a primitive reflex in the cortex of our brains, the urge to mirror another person is triggered by something called echophenomena: the automatic imitation of another’s words (echolalia) or actions (echopraxia). Moreover, other studies have found that a smile brings hidden blessings by releasing a cocktail of body chemicals that relax the body, lower the heart rate and blood pressure, decrease stress levels, and serve as antidepressants and mood lifters!

The joy we have in Jesus should be obvious and as contagious as any yawn, smile, laugh, or virus. Like Pig, we need to find ways to send happiness to others and we don’t need a silly hat or a fit of laughter on a train to do that. Just as the Lord smiles upon us, we must smile upon all who cross our path (even if that smile is hidden by a mask). We have to make that smile pass into the rest of our body: our face, eyes, voice, hands, and heart. Like Pig, let us find ways to send happiness and joy to those around us; we just might find our spirits lifting as we do!

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. [Leo Buscaglia]

They longed for me to speak as people long for rain. They drank my words like a refreshing spring rain. When they were discouraged, I smiled at them. My look of approval was precious to them. [Job 29:23-24 (NLT)]

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart; good news makes for good health. [Proverbs 15:30 (NLT)]

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CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES

How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery?” [Habakkuk 1:2-3 (NLT)]

bougainvilla

In Pearls Before Swine, a comic drawn by Stephen Pastis, the gentle, sweet, and somewhat dim-witted Pig has been struggling to maintain his cheerful disposition during the pandemic. He tried ignoring it all with a good book and a bucket of cheese while sequestered in his “comfy corner” of pillows and then attempted to erase the year entirely by throwing out his 2020 calendar. In the belief that “the only way out of these difficult days is to hug our way out!” Pig recently went door to door offering hugs. After being told that hugging wasn’t allowed because of the virus, he lamented, “These are merciless times.” Indeed they are and we can’t change them with a bucket of cheese (or a bottle of gin), denial, or hugs.

It’s a bad situation and may well get worse before it gets better. We could do as Pig did in one comic—close our eyes, cover our ears, and sing “lalala” whenever there’s bad news but ignoring bad news won’t help. Eventually, we have to face reality and hear what it has to say. Recently, the naïve Pig asked the wise one on the hill, “When will things get better?” His response was, “When you decide they get better.” Pig questioned what he meant and the man answered, “That you can’t control events, but you can control your reaction to those events.” Disappointed, Pig said, “I was hoping he’d just say Tuesday.” Yes, the answer is disappointing but it’s true. The naïve Pig was told what we, as Christians, should know: circumstances do not have to determine our mindset!

This isn’t the first time life has presented us with circumstances beyond our control and it won’t be the last. The book of Habakkuk begins with a complaint much like Pig’s. Wanting to know when things will get better, the prophet cries, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help?” Looking at the troubles surrounding him, he wonders if God has everything under control and questions God’s goodness. God’s answer is to wait patiently and trust Him.

Like Pig, Habakkuk doesn’t completely understand. Nevertheless, he chooses to look beyond the difficult times and focus on God. His words conclude with a psalm of faith, trust, and triumph. The situation is still as bad at the end of the book as it was at the beginning and yet the prophet’s words go from those of gloom to ones of glory. The only thing that changed was his mind! Like us, Habakkuk still didn’t know why or when, but he knew that he would rejoice in the Lord regardless of his circumstances.

Rather than focusing on our circumstances—circumstances not of our choosing or liking—let us focus on the God who is with us in these circumstances. As Christians, we must remember that we’re not defeated by loss, pain, worry, grief, injustice, or insults and we’re not overpowered by trials, difficult people, or even a pandemic! Things will get better when we decide they will: by accepting what we can’t control, controlling what we can, and trusting in the Lord!

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. [Nikos Kazantzakis]

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. [Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)]

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ABIDE

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (RSV)]

cardinal - maleThe Apostle John used the word menó 53 times in his gospel and epistles. Frequently translated as abide, menó originally referred to the staying power of an army that is not driven from the battlefield. Meaning “to stay, remain, reside or stand fast,” menó came to imply an unbroken friendship or a continuous fellowship.

When guests come to visit, I often welcome them by saying, “My home is your home!” but I really don’t mean it. Even with the best guests, there are boundaries. While I want them to be comfortable, I don’t want them rearranging my kitchen cabinets, going through my closets, looking in my junk drawer, reading my files, or borrowing my shoes. Although my guests stay with me for a while, they don’t abide with me the way John or Jesus used the word. Abiding isn’t coming for a long weekend or spring break; it is moving right in and becoming part of the household permanently. Recalling the battlefield origins of menó, abiding is staying together even in difficult conditions: standing fast in the face of an assault.

When Jesus abides in us, He permanently moves right into our hearts and lives. No room is off limits, no drawer or cupboard is locked, no habits concealed, and no secrets remain buried. Unlike a guest who might stay too long or leave at the first sign of trouble, Jesus never wears out His welcome. Moreover, He remains in times of distress, danger, temptation, and discord as well as times of joy, triumph, and cheer.

In Scripture we find a reciprocal nature to this kind of abiding. If Jesus and His word abide in us, we also abide in Him and, if we abide in Him, He abides in us. Early in His ministry, Jesus told the disciples to follow Him but, as he approached the end of His life here on earth, He told them to abide in Him. Instead of trailing behind or imitating Him, He invited his followers to have an intimate relationship with Him. In turn, Jesus promised to abide in them: to make His home in their hearts. Abiding in Jesus means having a continuous fellowship with Him.

Recently, a pastor asked if Jesus was my hotel or home. Do I abide in him or do I come and go? Abiding is a 24/7 relationship as Christ lives out His life through us and we live out our lives through Him! Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]

Is Jesus welcome only in your guest room or does He run your house? Do you live in Him or is He just where you go when you need a break? Who abides in you and where do you abide?

Abide in Me says Jesus. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be, as it were, rooted and planted in Me. Do this and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you. [J.C. Ryle]

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. [1 John 4:15 (RSV)]

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. [1 John 2:24-25 (RSV)]

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TAILOR-MADE

When the sun went down, everyone who had sick people – all kinds of sicknesses – brought them to him. He laid his hands on each one in turn, and healed them. [Luke 4:40 (NTE)]

paper kite butterflyThinking of Jesus’ first miracle caused me to consider His other miracles. Along with general accounts of Him healing people in Capernaum, Gennesaret, and Jerusalem, the gospels mention 35 specific miracles He performed. When we consider the way Jesus healed the blind, His miracles seem almost tailor-made for the people blessed by them. John tells us that Jesus healed one blind man by mixing His spittle with dirt, rubbing the resulting mud over the man’s eyes, and telling the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. Mark tells of another occasion when Jesus took a blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Surely, they talked but we don’t know about what. Jesus then spit on the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him. Although the man regained his sight, he didn’t understand what he saw so Jesus did it again. Was that one miracle done in two parts or could it have been two miracles: one to restore the man’s sight and the second so he could comprehend what he saw? Another time, Jesus skipped the spit and merely touched two blind men to restore their sight. Then we have the healing of Bartimaeus: Jesus immediately restored His sight without spit, mud, washing, or touch.

Like Bartimaeus, many were healed just by Jesus’ word while others were healed by His touch or by touching His robe. Some, like the woman with the blood disorder, spoke with Him and others, like the Syrophoenician’s daughter and the Roman officer’s servant, never even saw Jesus. Some miracles, such as the raising of Lazarus were done quite publicly while others, like the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were done in secret. A deformed hand was made normal, a paralytic walked, a severed ear was restored, lepers were made whole, a storm was calmed, and demoniacs were freed of their demons. When we compare His miracle at Cana with the feeding of multitudes, we see that Jesus transformed in the first instance but expanded in the others. No two miracles were quite the same and no two lives were touched in quite the same way.

The gospels tell of Jesus healing many people in Capernaum. They’d waited until evening, when the Sabbath was over, to carry the sick to Jesus and gather around Him. Faced with a crowd of hurting people, Jesus didn’t wave His hand over them and do a mass healing. Luke specifically mentions that Jesus laid hands on each person in turn. He had a personal concern for each one and the healing received was a healing designed specifically for him or her.

As a petite woman, I hate “one size fits all” clothing; even the more honest “one size fits most” apparel never seems to fit. In a perfect world, I’d have a personal seamstress design and custom make my clothes. The world, however, isn’t perfect so I settle with good enough. Although the world isn’t perfect, our Lord is and His miracles tell us that ours is not a “one size fits all” God. Because he designed and created us, He knows us more intimately than a seamstress fitting us for a form-fitting gown or a tailor for a custom suit. Coming right into our lives, Jesus gets up close and personal and we never have to settle for good enough. Knowing our unique situation and needs, His answers to our prayers are tailor-made just for us.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. [Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT)]

What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Luke 12:6-7 (NLT)]

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HE CARES! (Cana – part 4)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. [Philippians 4:6 (NLT)]

sunflowerIn spite of the theological reasons I gave for the miracle at Cana, providing wine for a wedding still seems an odd choice for Jesus’ debut miracle. Compared to the rest of His miracles, it almost seems frivolous. While the situation was embarrassing for the host, it wasn’t as grave as a demon-possessed child, thousands of hungry people, a crippled woman, a paralyzed man, or a dead friend. When considering Jesus’ reason for performing this miracle, Max Lucado had a simpler explanation than mine. He suggests that Jesus was concerned about the dearth of wine at the wedding simply because it concerned Mary; He cared because she cared! Pointing out that God is there for both the great and small, Lucado asked, “If Jesus was willing to use divine clout to solve a social faux pas, how much more willing would He be to intervene on the weightier matters of life?” Lucado certainly has a point; since it mattered to Mary, it mattered to Jesus.

Do we ever vet our concerns and only hand God the critical ones? Thinking our prayers must have a certain weightiness or urgency, do we pre-qualify them before we consider them worthy of God’s ear? Shouldn’t we present all of our troubles to God and let Him decide what is important?

Three years ago, following hurricane Irma, contractors were in short supply in Southwest Florida. A friend’s rental property had been damaged. When the tile man called to say he’d start work that day only if the stove and refrigerator had been moved out to the deck, she didn’t dare object. The appliances were still in place and this small woman, on the far side of 70, had no idea how they’d get moved. Nevertheless, knowing that the window of opportunity with her contractor was narrow, she agreed. Wondering how she’d move the appliances or find people for the drywall and painting she’d need once the floor was done, she prayed, “God help me! ”

At the time, Irma was considered the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in history. Leaving a string of Caribbean islands devastated, it affected nine US states, turned streets into rivers, ripped down power lines, uprooted trees, and demolished homes and businesses. In our state alone, Irma took 87 lives and did $50 million worth of damage. If prayers were ranked by urgency or direness of circumstance, she knew hers would be low on His list. Nevertheless, the situation was important to her and she prayed as she drove to the condo.

As God would have it, when my friend pulled into the parking lot, two young men were standing by a truck. Mustering up her courage, she approached them and asked if they could help her. With time to spare before they started working on another condo, they moved her appliances. As the men were leaving her unit, my friend asked what sort of work they did. You guessed it; they did drywall and painting! Her prayer had been answered in full!

Billy Graham said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one bothered to ask.” If Mary hadn’t brought the wine problem to Jesus, the wedding celebration would have ended early and, if my friend hadn’t prayed about her dilemma, she might still be waiting for her condo repair! My point is simple: if it’s important to us, it’s important to God! Let us never limit Him by thinking we know what He can or will do.

Children do not find it difficult or complicated to talk to their parents, nor do they feel embarrassed to bring the simplest need to their attention. Neither should we hesitate to bring the simplest requests confidently to the Father. [Richard J. Foster]

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. [1 John 5:14 (NLT)]

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

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THE BRIDEGROOM (Cana – Part 3)

You yourselves know how plainly I told you, “I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.” It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. [John 3:28-29 (NLT)]

wedding - 1939That Jesus chose Cana for His first public miracle and turned water into wine may not be as random as it first seems. By providing wine for the wedding, Jesus took on the bridegroom’s role which foreshadowed things to come.

John the Baptist described Jesus as a bridegroom and himself as the groom’s friend, much like today’s “best man.” In Jesus’ day, the groom’s best friend might have served as master of the banquet. The master of the banquet, however, knew he wasn’t the one hosting the party and the celebration wasn’t about him. By calling Jesus the bridegroom, John accepted his secondary role.

The bridegroom imagery continued when Jesus explained why his disciples didn’t fast. Fasting was for a time of mourning but weddings were a time to rejoice and Jesus compared his relationship with the disciples to that of a bridegroom and his guests. It would be inappropriate for the groom’s guests to fast during the celebration while the groom still was present. The time for fasting would be when He no longer was with them.

At another time, Jesus likened His followers to bridesmaids who were waiting with lamps for the groom to come and collect his bride. Some weren’t prepared with enough oil and, since the groom was a long time coming, their lamps went out. Without the light, they couldn’t accompany the wedding party back to the groom’s house for the celebration. This parable warned Jesus’ followers to be prepared for His return.

We find a bridegroom again when Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast given by a king for his son. Two invitations were sent to such a celebration: the first asking them to attend and the second telling them it was ready. When the guests who initially accepted the king’s invitation refused to come, he sent out a third invitation but the people refused and his messenger was killed. With his invitation rejected, the king extended his invitation to everyone.

In Ephesians, we find Paul continuing the metaphor when he says the way a man and his wife are united is “an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”[5:31-32] It comes full circle in Revelation when Jesus, the Lamb of God, is called the bridegroom and His church the bride.

Let us not be like the guests who reject the King’s invitation or the foolish bridesmaids who weren’t ready for the bridegroom’s arrival. We want to join in the celebration. We are, after all, the bride of Christ!

Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. … And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” [Revelation 19:7,9 (NLT)]

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