DO NOT DISTURB

clam pass birds naples flBut to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. … Do to others as you would like them to do to you. [Luke 6:27-29,31 (NLT)]

The snowbirds are back; not the retirees who arrive in cars or on planes but the migratory birds, some of whom flew more than 3,000 miles to get here. Their long flight takes a tremendous toll on their bodies. By the time they reach our beaches, they’re exhausted and hungry and many have lost half their body weight. Before I understood the trials they endure in migrating, I never gave it a thought if I happened to disturb them while walking the beach. Granted, it’s a beautiful sight to see hundreds of birds take wing at once but, every time they’re flushed by someone on the beach or a passing boat, precious reserves of energy are used and their nests are left unattended. Now that I understand the birds’ challenges, I am more considerate of their needs. When walking the beach, I keep my distance to avoid unsettling them.

Although they may not be as endangered, hungry, and exhausted as migratory birds, many people have taken a long and arduous journey to get where they are today. While some end up better for the journey, others end up bitter, rude, angry, or demanding. Just as I hadn’t thought about the challenges facing the birds, I rarely pause to consider the circumstances these difficult or toxic people must have encountered to leave them so embittered, short-tempered, or uncivil. While trials, loss, and pain never excuse bad behavior, they often cause it. Not everyone believes in God, has experienced the joy that comes from following Jesus, possesses His peace, or knows they are loved and forgiven.

In these stressful and divisive times, hostility and boorishness seem to be on the rise. Admittedly, upon encountering a toxic person, self-control, patience, kindness, love, and courtesy often fly right out the window. Rather than turn the other cheek, we want to give as good as we got. Retaliation, however, only begets more of the same. Studies have shown that incivility and rudeness are as contagious as yawns, smiles, laughter, and viruses! As followers of Jesus, our job is to make sure we don’t contribute to the problem. We’re expected to treat people with kindness and consideration, not because they’re nice people who deserve it, but simply because it’s what Jesus would do! Hopefully, our even-tempered behavior will make the rest of their journey easier.

We must choose to break the chain of incivility with love, gentleness, a forgiving heart, and by praying for the offender. It helps to remember that difficult people carry a lot of baggage with them and their quarrel, hostility, or complaint may have nothing to do with us. Remembering that we know nothing of their hardships, pain, or fear, let’s cut them a little slack and give them as much space as possible. Like the migratory birds, they’ve had a difficult journey and are struggling to survive the only way they know. “Do not disturb” is wise advice in both instances!

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. [attributed to Plato]

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. [Colossians 3:13-15a (NLT)]

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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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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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WHY ASK HIM? (Cana – Part 2)

The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.” [John 2:3 (NLT)]  

low bindweed - ILWe know from His encounter with the rabbis when he was twelve that Jesus was wise beyond His years but He’s not associated with any miracles until that day in Cana. The lack of wine at that wedding created a crisis and a solution was urgently needed but I wonder why Mary went to Jesus rather than the master of the banquet or host with the problem. Did she expect her son to perform a miracle? Whenever she ran short of wine at home in Nazareth, rather than going to market did she simply ask Jesus to make it? Like the widow of Zarephath, did Mary have an endless supply of oil and flour? I think not. Although Jesus was fully God, He also was fully man and, for the most part, lived within the restrictions of humanity. Moreover, not one of the miracles He performed was done for convenience.

If Jesus hadn’t acted as Mary’s personal 7-Eleven in Nazareth, why did she bring the predicament to Him? That she didn’t fully understand Jesus’ identity or mission was demonstrated later in His ministry when Mary and His brothers expressed fear that He’d lost His mind. Nevertheless, Mary knew Jesus was different and a man of wisdom, assurance and authority. Intuitively, she knew to turn to Him when things went wrong. Mary, however, never asked for a miracle; she simply stated the problem. While her words were a polite Middle Eastern way of implying that He should do something, what she expected is not clear. Perhaps she thought that He and His disciples knew where more wine could be obtained. Leaving the decision to Jesus as to whether He’d do anything and not knowing how it would be done, she told the servants to do as Jesus said.

Are we as upfront with Jesus concerning our problems as was Mary? Are our prayers as straightforward? Do we simply bring our concerns to Jesus and leave it at that or do we tell Him what we want Him to do and how He’s to do it? Are our prayers confident ones? Are we as sure as was Mary that Jesus can and will resolve the situation, answer the question, or provide what’s needed? She gave Him the problem and then walked away. Are we as willing to hand Him our concerns? Is Jesus the first one to whom we come with our problems or is He more like the 911 operator we call only when all else fails and the situation is dire?

When we come to Jesus do we come with a willingness to obey Him? “Whatever he says, do it,” said Mary. Remember, Jesus wasn’t the host; He was just another wedding guest. His instructions to fill ceremonial jugs with water and take some to the master of the banquet for tasting didn’t make much sense. Yet, we don’t read of the servants questioning Him. We don’t know at what point that water turned into wine but had I been one of those servants, I would have been shaking in my sandals. What if it still was water or, worse, sour wine? Nevertheless, they immediately did as they were told.

Let us learn from Mary’s faith in Jesus to solve our problems and the servants’ willingness to obey His instructions!

The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are at opposite sides of the same coin. [A. W. Tozer]

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” [Matthew 17:20 (NLT)]

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CLOSED DOORS

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! [Psalm 141:2 (ESV)]

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (ESV)]

chapel of the transfiguration - Grand TetonsOne of the countless questions we have about this pandemic is how God could allow church doors to close throughout the world. 2020 is not the first time the doors to His house have been shut. In 586 BC, the Temple doors closed for the Jews when Judah fell to Babylon; Jerusalem was laid to waste and the Temple destroyed. Its doors didn’t open again until the exiles returned and completed the second Temple in 515 BC. Destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, all that remains of that Temple is a small portion of an external supporting wall on the Temple Mount.

Although the focal point of Jewish worship was the Temple, we know that synagogues existed in Jesus’ day. They may have evolved as a substitute for the first Temple during the Babylonian exile. Rather than houses of worship, however, they were places for study, communal meals, the local court, and from which to distribute charity. Until 70 AD, the Temple remained fundamental to Jewish worship and, every year, Jews from all over the world returned to Jerusalem to worship there for the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

After the Romans destroyed it, the Jews wondered how they could continue to worship and offer the required sacrifices without a Temple. Looking to the Bible and tradition for answers, they found scripture that connected prayer with sacrifice. Prayer became a satisfactory substitute for ritual sacrifice and the synagogue became a place of worship and prayer (as well as study).

Nowadays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw Jews to the synagogue the way Christmas and Easter draw Christians to a church. COVID changed that this year and, when the High Holy Days were celebrated last month, even the doors to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue were shut. When asked how they could observe the holiest days of the year without going to synagogue, Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky replied, “You’re going to make your home into a mini-synagogue.” He then made reference to a quote by Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a 19th century Hasidic rabbi who, at the age of five, is said to have asked his father, “Where is God?” When his father answered, “God is everywhere!” the future rabbi responded, “No, I think God is only where you let Him in.”

God needs somewhere to live but that place isn’t a church or synagogue; that place is us! When we ask, “Where is God?” let us remember He doesn’t live in a building. God is wherever we allow Him in! He is in the simple everyday miracles of life and His Holy Spirit dwells within us. Since God has allowed our church doors to close, He must have His reasons. Perhaps it’s simply a reminder that being a Christian isn’t going to church; it is being the church! We can do that anywhere! Let our homes become mini-churches and may our lives reflect His presence.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” [John 14:23 (ESV)]

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV)]

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