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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RAINBOWS OF JOY (Part 3)

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

rainbow at sunrise

While Joshua thought his 48-hour day was long, for most of us, these last seven months have seemed like a year. Unlike Joshua, we’ll need more than another 24 hours before declaring victory on the enemy. Back in March, I naively thought life would be back to normal about now. By the time May rolled around, I realized that what first seemed like a marathon run had turned into an Ironman triathlon. I now see it more as a grueling trek along the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails. It’s been a long haul with steep hills and dark valleys; without the end in sight, we’re growing weary and morale is low.

Be that as it may, it’s not all bad and there’s been some “trail magic” along the way. Trail magic is a term long-distance hikers have for those unexpected experiences along the trail that inspire awe or lift their spirits. It can be nature’s gifts like a rainbow after a day of rain, a field of wildflowers, or seeing a doe with her fawn on the trail. It also can be a kindness like an encouraging note or a cache of soda or candy bars left beside the trail. Rather than trail magic, a friend who’s been working from home since last March calls these moments “little rainbows of joy.” For her, one such rainbow has been having the opportunity to finally teach her 12-year old how to ride a bike and being able to take a daily ride with him.

A pastor friend found a rainbow of joy in in her new normal because it’s meant having more time with her children than she’s had in years. Another pastor friend finally found the time to adopt a dog. A corporate attorney, whose busy schedule had her on the train by 6:50 AM, expressed her joy at being home and able to make breakfast for her family (they love her French toast). An accountant friend finally had time to share his love of woodworking with his children and show them how to use tools. My son has been teaching his daughter how to use the sewing machine (and admits that reading blueprints is easier than sewing patterns). His wife has discovered a love of baking; she and the children have made some fantastic cakes. People are again finding time to fish, hike, bake bread, play games with one another, and garden.

There are rainbows of joy in the technology that allows on-line church, concerts, Bible studies, doctor’s appointments, book clubs, and even virtual happy hours with colleagues. Grandparents are playing Yahtzee or reading bedtime stories to their grands courtesy of Zoom or FaceTime. We’ve been reconnecting with old friends via email, phone calls, or video chatting. There was even a bit of trail magic in the Celebration of Life I attended last week. Even without COVID, the distance would have meant I couldn’t be there but, because of Vimeo, I could. A family member who couldn’t attend had her own trail magic when two eagles landed on a tree outside the window while On Eagle’s Wings was sung during her mother’s memorial. There are sprinkles of joy scattered throughout even our hardest days.

We are told to be thankful in all circumstances but it’s hard to be thankful unless we find some joy hidden in those circumstances. Regardless of what you call these blessed moments, the key is to find them in the midst of the darkness and challenges surrounding us. They’re found by lowering our expectations from the impressive to the inconsequential but beautiful experiences found in our everyday lives. They’re found by celebrating our little successes—whether it’s making spring rolls or pizza dough from scratch, finishing a 500-piece puzzle or building a bird house, defeating your spouse in a game of Rummikub or seeing a rainbow on the morning’s walk. Let us open our eyes and find the joy that is hidden in this long journey through COVID-19.

The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! [Henry Ward Beecher]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

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FOR THE CLERGY

Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because they are straining to help you. And remember, no quarreling among yourselves. [1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (TLB)]

October brings Columbus Day sales, pumpkins, corn mazes, Halloween candy, jack-o-lanterns, and the first Christmas items in the stores. On the second Sunday of the month, it also brings us Clergy Appreciation Day. Although we should let our pastors know how much we appreciate them all year long, we probably don’t. We’re more likely to complain about a sermon, the choice of songs, the temperature of the sanctuary, or the sound system than we are to compliment, encourage or thank our ministers. If we haven’t expressed gratitude to our clergy men and women, this coming Sunday is the time to do so.

This year has been especially difficult for our pastors. Their biggest challenge was maintaining unity while addressing their congregation’s concerns and complaints regarding opening. Since March, they’ve continually fielded questions as to when or how their church would open while knowing that half the congregation wouldn’t like the answer. Deciding to close the church was a whole lot easier than figuring out how and when to reopen! They’ve had to cope with the technology required for on-line services and think outside the box as they offered drive-by blessings, drive-in church, Zoom Bible study, or Skype counseling. Preaching to a camera from their living room or an empty church presented its own set of challenges as did offering virtual communion. The isolation of sheltering in place was heartbreaking for the people who regularly visited households, nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice rooms. They could no longer lay hands on the sick or embrace those who grieved. As they’ve ministered to people with financial, health, and family concerns, they’ve struggled with those same issues themselves.

Our pastors have a huge responsibility and we have huge (and often unrealistic) expectations of them. They work far more than a few hours on Sunday morning. Along with writing sermons and prayers, planning services, teaching Bible studies, counseling the troubled, visiting the sick, supervising a staff, marrying, burying, baptizing, and blessing, they manage to unite a disparate group of people into a church family and lead them on their faith journey. We may not always like what they say or do but their job is not to please us; it is to lead us. Consider Moses and the Israelites—if they’d had their way, the Israelites would have ended up back in Egypt as slaves. In spite of their grumbling and complaints, however, Moses led them where God wanted them to go—to the Promised Land. Without a doubt, shepherding a church today is no easier than leading a bunch of disgruntled Israelites through the desert.

Appreciating our pastors shouldn’t be limited to just to one day; we should show our appreciation all year long. While a thank you note is nice, perhaps a better way of communicating our gratitude is by providing support with our time, talents, and treasures; avoiding church politics; and offering encouragement rather than complaints. The best thing we can do for our pastors, however, is to pray for them every day.

Father, we thank you for our clergy—the people you have called to shepherd your church. Let your Holy Spirit fill them so that they shine your light, share your love, and shape your people.

If a church wants a better pastor, it only needs to pray for the one it has. [Anonymous]

Pastors need your grace, not your gripes. [Woodrow Kroll]

Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say. For their work is to watch over your souls, and God will judge them on how well they do this. Give them reason to report joyfully about you to the Lord and not with sorrow, for then you will suffer for it too. [Hebrews 3:17 (TLB)]

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BENEVOLENT DETACHMENT

Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. [1 Peter 5: 7-9 (MSG)]

great blue heron“We’re just a big ball of frustration right now!” a public information officer for the San Antonio Police said while describing the rise in road rage and violent driver incidents in that city. Unfortunately that big ball of frustration isn’t limited to the road or San Antonio. Satan must be chortling in glee as he watches people’s virus-fueled anxiety spurring rising levels of aggression and hostility everywhere.

A Texas woman recently had a complete meltdown in the grocery store. After being asked to wear a mask, she went on an expletive-deleted tirade while flinging more than a dozen items out of her cart. Although she’d worn the mask while shopping, she’d removed it in the checkout line. While she chucked her pork chops, chicken, produce, and canned goods into the aisles with one hand, she held her mask in the other. Finally, abandoning the rest of her groceries, she stormed out of the store, screaming profanities and still waving her mask. The outburst gained her nothing but embarrassment as her outburst went viral and she still had to buy groceries (in a city with a mask mandate)!

Whether it’s fear, anger, depression, unease or frustration about health and safety, racial injustice, politics, government, cabin fever, unemployment, financial challenges, on-line schooling, working remotely, or isolation, tension is high and everyone is on edge. But, instead of dealing with our feelings, we seem to be lashing out at one another. While I haven’t thrown a tantrum or screamed at anyone yet, I admit to not liking my mind’s inner dialogue when I see people flaunting the mask order, hogging the sidewalk, wearing masks improperly, with a loaded grocery cart in the express lane, or committing numerous other minor social infractions that wouldn’t have aggravated me a few months ago.

People are wound tight and living that way isn’t good for our bodies or our souls. We need to let go of those petty annoyances along with our major concerns and give them all to God! Christian counselor and author John Eldredge calls this practice “benevolent detachment.” It’s a way to be kind to ourselves as well as to those around us. To practice this detachment, he’s developed an app called “One Minute Pause.” With soothing music in the background, it begins with a few deep breaths followed by God inviting us to give everyone and everything to Him. It continues with our response: “I give everyone and everything to you, God!” followed by a few Bibles verses and a brief prayer. Although I have the app, none of us need an app on our phones to benevolently detach from the world around us. We do, however, have to hit the pause button on our emotions! We need to unclench both physically and spiritually and release whatever is troubling us to God.

The request to put on her mask probably was the least of many things bothering that Texas woman but, as “the last straw,” it was what triggered her frenzy. What if she had made a practice of benevolent detachment—of regularly pausing long enough to hand her frustrations to God? Let us all make a concerted effort to let go of life’s minor vexations before they evolve into a complete meltdown or worse. Let’s regularly step back, take a deep breath, and redirect our attention to the One who is walking through this valley with us. We’re not in this alone! As we give God our fear, anxiety, irritation, exasperation, angst, and sadness, let us choose to trust Him.

Over time I’ve found no better practice to help clear out my cluttered soul than the practice of benevolent detachment. The ability to let it go, walk away — not so much physically but emotionally, soulfully. [John Eldredge]

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SUBMITTING – Part 2

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. [Ephesians 5:22 (NIV)]

I’m not quite ready to put to rest Paul’s use of the word “submit.” With one in three women having experienced some form of domestic violence, the word “submit” makes us bristle as we think of passivity in the face of abuse. Throughout the ages, women have been mistreated, exploited, demeaned, and discounted. We’ve had the vote for just a century and it wasn’t that long ago when our career choices were pretty much limited to teaching or nursing. Today, women continue to earn only about 80% of what men make and professional women still bump their heads on the glass ceiling. Wanting independence and empowerment, submitting sounds too much like surrendering whatever power we have, buckling under to unfairness, and servitude.

Paul’s words regarding submission, however, deserve more than a quick dismissal as being outdated or politically incorrect. In actuality, we voluntarily submit to people all the time simply because submission is a vital part of living in a community. We yield at intersections, move to the side so someone can pass, hold a door, wait our turn in line, yield the floor so someone else can speak, remain silent during a concert, or let the kids pick the night’s movie. We submit to one another because we’re in this crazy world together and surviving it takes a cooperative effort.

Submission isn’t the same as obedience. Obedience responds to rules and is imposed but submission responds to reason and is freely given. Obedience doesn’t require a relationship; submission does. When we, as Christians, bear one another’s burdens, we are submitting. When we don’t dominate, we are submitting. When we are humble, we submit. When we respond to one another’s needs, we submit. Submission is a sign of strength, not weakness. It doesn’t elevate one person above the other or cancel their equality. Moreover, it has nothing to do with allowing abuse of any kind.

Submission is what happens when there is a collaborative effort and any relationship worth having is worth making that kind of effort. I regularly submit to my husband out of respect, affection, or persuasion (but I usually don’t call it submitting). In the same way, he often defers (or submits) to me. That’s how we’ve lasted 53 years! While we recognize one another’s rights, we also recognize our obligation to put aside our own personal agenda to serve one another.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)]

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [James 4:7 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR CHRISTIAN HOUSEHOLDS – Part 1

1909 Milwaukee Pfeiffer familyWives, submit yourselves to your husbands…. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything…. Fathers, do not embitter your children…. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything…. Work at it with all your heart…. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair…. [Colossians 3:18-23,4:1 (NIV)]

In a Christian household, the Apostle Paul instructs wives to submit, husbands to love and be gentle, children to obey, fathers to encourage, slaves to obey and work honestly, and masters to provide and do what is right. People often find these verses troubling for a variety of reasons. The word “submit” is a stumbling block for many and the mention of slavery is disturbing to us all. Unfortunately, slavery was a way of life in the 1st Century and quite different from the slavery found in our American history books. While not right, it was a part of the economy and social structure of the time so Paul addressed it. At the end of these instructions, Paul reminded the Colossians that God has no favorites and their Master was in heaven. In God’s eyes, slave, master, wife, husband, and child were all the same and it was to Him they all were accountable.

These verses, however, are not all-inclusive. While every action Paul mentions should be taken, he never said they were the only things people should do for one another. The Bible is the sum of its parts, not just a few select verses. Paul eloquently explained love in 1 Corinthians 13 and further defined a Christian household in Ephesians 5 and 6. After telling people to submit to one another and wives to submit to their husbands, he adds that men should love their wives as much as Christ loved the church. He tells children to honor their parents as well as obey them, fathers to discipline (not provoke) their children, slaves to respect their masters and masters not to threaten their slaves. In both family and work relationships, Paul makes it clear that we have a mutual responsibility involving submission, love, gentleness, honor, obedience, discipline, encouragement, respect, diligent and honest labor, fairness, and respect.

In Colossians, Paul doesn’t ask us to do anything in our lives and relationships that Jesus didn’t do or that Paul, who called himself a “slave of God” wasn’t willing to do. Did Jesus submit? He submitted to his disciples when He humbly knelt and washed their feet and to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. The one who raised the dead, stilled the sea, and healed the sick certainly could have struck down the guards mocking and beating him, but He didn’t. Instead, Jesus submitted willingly.

Did Jesus love? He loved us enough to lay down His life for us—people he didn’t even know and who were totally unworthy of such a sacrifice. He loved enough to suffer as a man although He was God and to ask forgiveness for those who crucified Him. As for obedience, Jesus was obedient to His earthly parents, Jewish law, and even paid the temple tax! He remained obedient to God’s word when tempted by Satan and was obedient to His Heavenly Father’s will all the way to the cross.

Rather than disparaging or demeaning the people He met, Jesus loved and encouraged them. He took every opportunity to tell his disciples not to worry, be anxious, or afraid. Rather than criticizing and shaming the adulterous woman, he forgave her and encouraged her to sin no more. From the time He was a boy in the temple, he went about His Heavenly Father’s business by learning, teaching, preaching, healing and miracle making. He neither ignored the needs of the people around him nor neglected the work God gave Him to do. He worked without complaint or resentment. Even though He wasn’t a slave, Jesus took on the role of one and did His work with sincerity of heart and reverence for His Lord.

Did Jesus provide? From wine at a wedding feast and food for a multitude to the gifts of salvation and the Holy Spirit, Jesus provided generously for his servants. We are called to follow the example of Jesus. To do that, we must conduct our lives the way Jesus did: by submitting, loving, obeying, encouraging, working for our Master and providing for His people.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 15:5-6 (NIV)]

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