WORDS AREN’T ADEQUATE

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)]
butterfly

Last weekend my three children flew in from California, New Mexico, and Illinois to surprise me for my birthday. No words can express my absolute joy at their arrival. As we reminisced and laughed until it hurt, we realized the last time just the five of us were together was in 1992. After then, whenever we gathered, either someone was missing or our friends, grandparents, significant others, spouses, or children were with us. We now number thirteen and, while I love being with the whole gang, with all of our shared memories, there was something magical about gathering just the original five! Words failed me when I tried to express my appreciation for the way my husband and children juggled their schedules to make last weekend happen.

Even harder than finding words to thank my family was finding the right words to thank God—there simply are none that can encompass my gratitude. I can’t send Him flowers and He doesn’t need an invite to see the photos on Shutterfly since He was there. It’s not like I can return the kindness by surprising Him on His birthday! The question of how to properly thank God, not just for last weekend, but for all of His blessings has been with me all week. “How can I thank you?” I asked.

We thank God with our love, which begs the question, “How do we show our love?” We do it by remembering Him with gratitude in everything we do and all we encounter—not just in the big things like a family reunion or a good biopsy, but in all the little things of our day. It’s telling Him how we appreciate the strawberries in the garden, the smell of fresh mown grass, a summer breeze, or having milk for the coffee and jam for the toast. It’s being grateful while we wash the windows or mop floors simply because we have windows and floors to clean! It’s continually thanking him for things like “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens” and even for the inevitable dog bites, bee stings, and sadness that come with our favorite things.

We show our love and gratitude through action. While there’s nothing we can do for God, there’s plenty we can do for His children. When we serve others, we are serving (and thanking) Him! We thank God by expressing our appreciation to the people who serve us throughout the day. We can scatter seeds of gratitude and joy. We show our love for God through our witness. While it seems that we’re more than willing to tell people about the good things for which we’re thankful, most of us aren’t as willing to tell those same people about the Giver of those gifts.

Remembering James’ words that, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens,” [1:17] we show our love and thanks to God with humility. Those children of whom I am so proud are His, not mine. While I’d like to think they matured into the wise and wonderful people they are because of my husband’s and my stellar child-rearing skills, I know it was God’s wisdom that led us, His hand that protected them, His voice that led them, His love that covered them, and His forgiveness that showed them how to forgive. It was God who gave me people who cared enough to plan the visit and it was God (with a little help from American Airlines) who got them safely here.

We show God our love and gratitude with prayer, praise, and worship. If we’re truly grateful, however, we offer those things both in good times and bad and, most especially, in those mundane boring days that fill so much of our lives. We continually offer prayer, praise, and worship simply because every day we’re given breath is a day for thanks—whether we’re on the mountain top, in the dark valley, or somewhere in between.

While no words adequately express our gratitude to God, the way we live our lives certainly does!

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. [A.W. Tozer]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. [Psalm 105:1-3 (NLT)]

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SMELL THE ROSES

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42 (NLT)]

barred owlsMy father always had a fixed itinerary for everything he did and, for him, a schedule, once made, was set in stone. Unless it was on his agenda, he never stopped to “smell the roses.” Whenever we vacationed, he had a list of sites to visit and things to accomplish for each day. For example, as soon as we arrived at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, he got out his list and, without even pausing to view the flowers or drink any tea, crossed off the park, and announced, “Well, that’s out of the way; now we’re off to the top of the Mark!”  Once there, our cursory look out its windows at the city went much the same way and we rushed off the next destination on his itinerary. Had we visited in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, rather than stopping to listen to Him speak from the hillside, we’d have rushed off to see the Pool of Siloam or Jacob’s well in Sychar!

I thought of my father’s version of sightseeing when visiting the bird sanctuary. We were oohing and aahing at a mother owl feeding her owlets only a few feet away. As a young man approached, we started to point them out but, without even turning his head, he quickly strode past. This swamp is one of southwest Florida’s “must see” destinations but, apparently, like my father, the fellow was anxious to cross it off his list and get on to the next thing. He missed an “Aha” moment (along with the herons, wood storks, alligators and blue flag iris) and will probably tell people his walk wasn’t worth the entrance fee.

Being the promised Messiah was a heavy assignment and Jesus knew he had a limited time on earth, yet we never read of him being in a hurry, rushing somewhere, or not stopping when someone called to him. Rather than grab a quick falafel at a first century fast-food stand, He stopped and dined in people’s homes. He didn’t rush by those who needed healing. While on the way to Jairus’ house to heal the man’s daughter, he paused long enough to heal a bleeding woman. He was never too busy to answer questions and he seized any opportunity to share God’s love and forgiveness. After chatting with the woman at the well, he interrupted his travels to stay with the Samaritans for two more days. Although large crowds followed him, he always found time for prayer and little children. He taught, preached, and healed, but he never was too busy to stop.

Our lives should be more than a “to do” list of events, destinations, and achievements. Granted, we need plans and goals, but we should be willing to adjust our schedules and revise our plans. Rather than think of life’s interruptions as distractions, we could consider them as opportunities presented by God. He gave roses a lovely aroma for a reason; perhaps it’s so we’ll stop to smell them! At the age of 56, my father, a man who never stopped to smell those roses, died of a massive coronary. There’s a lesson to be learned from his sudden death—the time to smell the roses is now! If we don’t, we’ll miss out on more than just a few “Aha!” moments when on vacation. We may miss precious opportunities with family, friends, and God. Isn’t that what Jesus was telling Martha so long ago?

As we journey through life, Lord, slow us down and stop us when necessary. Don’t allow us to become so intent on some distant objective that we forget to cherish the scenery, people, and opportunities we encounter along the way. May we always welcome interruptions that allow us to serve you, share your love, or appreciate your bountiful gifts.

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it is a cup of blessing. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

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THE REASON FOR THE SEASON – Easter 2022

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. [1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (NLT)]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

rabbitIn less than five minutes the house was ready for Easter. I’d hung out the spring wreath with its silk tulips, placed the resin Easter rabbit with his cart and eggs on the hall table, and put the three ceramic bunnies around the flowers on the table. With no grands visiting this year, I didn’t even have eggs to boil or baskets to fill! Since it took me days to ready the house for Christmas, I wondered why Easter doesn’t get the same amount of decoration and celebration. Granted, most of the holiday traditions for both holy days have pagan beginnings. Nevertheless, those customs have become part of our culture and Christmas seems to overshadow Easter by a mile.

Christmas has its own color scheme, its own genre of music, and its own beloved fictional characters, including a Grinch, a snowman, an elf on a shelf, and a red-nosed reindeer. We spend weeks decorating our homes, purchasing gifts, and preparing food. We have special Christmas attire ranging from Santa hats to candy cane jewelry and ugly holiday sweaters. People decorate trees, hang garlands and lights, dress up their dogs, and adorn their cars with reindeer horns. Every year sees at least one Christmas-themed movie release and we get a plethora of holiday-themed television shows throughout December. Christmas music is played from the first of November to New Year’s and our calendars are filled with dates for holiday parties and concerts. Easter traditions pale in comparison to Christmas. Even with Easter baskets and egg hunts, the Easter Bunny can’t hold a candle to Santa. The few Easter hymns are sung only a couple of Sundays and hard-boiled eggs and Peeps are second-rate when compared to the plethora of holiday treats, Christmas cookies, and peppermint bark! As far as celebrations go, Easter is sort of like the neglected step-child of holy days. Of course, it’s difficult to generate a festive spirit when Easter is preceded by a season of penitence and fasting and follows the darkest day in Christendom.

As much as I enjoy the traditions of Christmas (in spite of their pagan origins), Christmas really has nothing to do with decorating houses, baking cookies, hanging stockings, gift exchanges, sending cards, singing carols, or holiday parties. Although our sacred Christmas traditions emphasize Jesus’ birth with nativity scenes and pageants, that night in Bethlehem was just the beginning of a far greater story—the story of who Jesus was and what He did for us.

Granted, we usually consider a person’s arrival more reason to celebrate that his departure and we celebrate birthdays rather than dates of death but, in Christ’s case, it is just the opposite. The meaning of Christmas is actually found in the Easter story. Without Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension there would be no forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. Without Easter, the Christmas story would be no more than just a story. For me, the purpose of Christmas can be summed up in one word: Easter!

So, Merry Christmas and Happy Easter on this upcoming Resurrection Sunday!

Somehow we just don’t make the same boisterous fun of Holy Week that we do of Christmas. No one plans to have a holly, jolly Easter. … Easter may seem boring to children, and it is blessedly unencumbered by the silly fun that plagues Christmas. Yet it contains the one thing needful for every human life: the good news of Resurrection. [Frederica Mathewes-Green]

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. [1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)]

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. [John 11:25-26a (NLT)]

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TAKING INVENTORY

Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. [Philippians 4:11-13 (MSG)]

plumariaBefore going grocery shopping, smart shoppers take an inventory of their cupboards to see what is missing. That’s fine when going to market, but it’s not a wise policy when we assess our lives. It’s far too easy to spend time thinking about what we don’t have instead of being thankful for what we actually do possess.

When a friend took me on a tour of her magnificent new home, she kept mentioning the furniture she’d ordered months ago that hadn’t arrived, the incomplete landscaping, the bare walls waiting for pictures, and other finishing touches that still needed to be done. I sympathize since there’s an empty corner in our den waiting for the chair we ordered a year ago and the landscaper still has not laid the promised mulch. Nevertheless, I was struck by how little she was enjoying what, for most of us, would be our dream home. Where was the enthusiasm, joy, and appreciation one would expect her to have? She seemed oblivious to the fantastic view, fine craftsmanship, and all of the beautiful new things that already surrounded her. In the midst of a home worthy of a spread in House Beautiful, she only saw what was lacking.

But then, are any of us that much different? It is incredibly easy to focus on what is missing – be it money, phone calls from the kids, granite countertops, compliments from the spouse, the latest iPhone or Apple watch, premium channels on TV, a grandchild, or one of those Instant Pots does just about everything but wash the dishes! It seems we always want something more, new, different, bigger, or better. Beware, hiding behind that spirit of discontent lurks Satan. Instead of focusing on God’s provision with appreciative hearts, the enemy wants us to focus on our deficiencies.

Satan started that ploy with Eve and continues with it today. She and Adam lived in a perfect world where they could enjoy everything but the fruit of one tree. Did Satan have her look at all she had? No! He had her look at the one thing she didn’t possess so that, rather than appreciation and thanksgiving, her heart was filled with discontent. We continue down the slippery slope of discontent whenever we focus on what we don’t have instead of seeing what we do. Today, instead of an inventory of what we’re missing, how about taking an inventory of our many blessings? Thanksgiving shouldn’t be limited to one day in November; it should be every day!

Thank you, God, for your abundant provision in our lives. Open our eyes to see your blessings and give us grateful hearts for them. Whether we live in abundance or need, may we always remember that you alone are the true source of joy and contentment in our lives.

All our discontents about what we want appear to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have. [Daniel Defoe]

Satan wants us to constantly focus on everything that is wrong with us and look at how far we still have to go. But God desires for us to rejoice in how far we have already come. [Joyce Meyer]

You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes. [Philippians 4:19 (MSG)]

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HAPPY HOURS

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)]

My biggest fear is waking up to find what matters
Is miles away from what I spent my life chasing after.
Is my story gonna have the same two words in every chapter?
What if, what if? …
What if today’s the only day I got?
I don’t wanna waste it if it’s my last shot.
No regrets, in the end
I wanna know I got no what ifs! [Matthew West]

While enjoying discounted drinks and small plates during a local “happy hour” with our old skiing buddies, we reminisced about the many happy hours we spent together in Colorado. One of our favorite lunch (and “happy hour”) spots used to publicize their “happy hour” by spelling out the words in the snow on their rooftop. Since the pub was located right beneath the gondola, skiers couldn’t avoid seeing the message as they rode up the mountain. Tourists would speculate how the words got there and most assumed there were specially placed heat tapes beneath the letters. The letters, however, were carefully stomped out after every major snowfall by a friend who had more enthusiasm than common sense as he jumped from letter to letter on the sloped roof.

For many of us, “happy hour” probably means discounted, beer, wine and cocktails, half-price appetizers, and maybe some entertainment between the hours of 4 and 7. But, is a happy hour really about three hours of discounted drinks and food or a great band?

Today, while listening to Matthew West sing, “What if today’s the only day I got? I don’t wanna waste it if it’s my last shot!” I pondered what makes any of our hours truly happy ones.  It certainly isn’t cheap drinks and food! What kinds of things would an hour of happiness encompass? If you had only a few hours remaining in life, how would you spend them? What would you do to make that hour a happy one? I doubt you would spend them eating and drinking in a bar.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.” I have to agree. When I think about happiness, my happy hour includes things like God, family, friends, peace, service, generosity, love, hope, faith, worship, salvation, smiles, hugs, laughter, a few silly games with the grands, and maybe a butterfly or two. There are no discounted drinks, chicken wings, peanuts, popcorn, guacamole, salsa, or chips in the scenario because they have nothing to do with true happiness and joy. Also missing from that picture are things like wealth, success, and fame along with quarrels, resentment, conflict, anger, regret, guilt, heartache, disdain, bitterness, fear, hatred, and animosity. In short, a happy hour is one spent in gratitude. It was gratitude for all that God gave us, not the discounted drinks, appies, or sunshine and powdery snow, that made those hours so enjoyable back in Colorado and continue to do so in Florida!

The man who stomped out those letters on the rooftop? When in his mid-forties, his hours were unexpectedly cut short by a freak accident. I’m sure his family would agree that happy hours should never be limited to a few hours at the end of the day. How will we choose to spend whatever is left of our hours to make them happy ones—the kind of hours truly worth having and remembering? After all, today could be our “last shot!”

Do not look back on happiness, or dream of it in the future. You are only sure of today; do not let yourself be cheated out of it. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Now look here, you people who say, “Today, or tomorrow, we will go to such-and-such a town and spend a year there, and trade, and make some money.” You have no idea what the next day will bring. What is your life? You are a mist which appears for a little while and then disappears again. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live, and we shall do this, or that.” [James 4:13-15 (NTE)]

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SPIRITUAL HYPOCHONDRIA

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. [2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)]

alliumHaving frequently been told by her elders, “If you get your reward on earth, you won’t get it in heaven!” a friend said it still remains difficult for her to accept praise or compliments. Her experience reminded me of my college roommate Marilyn who, like my friend, received large doses of guilt, shame, hellfire, and brimstone in her strict Christian upbringing. She reminded me of The Nun’s Story and Sister Luke who tried so hard to be a perfect nun who flawlessly kept her vows. But, even when Luke succeeded at following a rule of cloistered life, she repented of the pride she felt at her success. So afraid of inadvertently sinning, the nun even felt guilty when she caught a glimpse of her face reflected in a window! Like her, Marilyn kept taking her spiritual temperature and searching for some hidden transgression for which she should repent. If something was fun or entertaining, Marilyn was sure a hidden sin lurked in it. Both the fictional nun and coed became so focused on their real and imagined spiritual faults that they missed out on the joy of the Lord.

Most of us have regular check-ups at the doctor and routinely check for lumps or suspicious moles but, unless we’re hypochondriacs, we don’t do that every day nor do we take our temperature or check our blood pressure hourly. As Christians, we should look into our hearts and acknowledge the errors of our ways but we should be cautious of excessive self-analysis and soul searching. Hypochondriacs, whether medical or spiritual, focus on themselves which leave no room for anyone or anything else. When we brood about our real and imagined spiritual failings, our eyes are focused on ourselves rather than where they belong–on God! And, if our eyes aren’t on God, it’s pretty difficult to experience His joy or serve Him with gladness.

When we wallow in self-condemnation, we’re choosing the enemy’s gifts of shame and blame rather than God’s gifts of mercy and forgiveness. Rather than dissecting our lives and putting our every thought, word, and action under a microscope, it might be wiser to have a regular check-up of our spiritual health and progress in following Jesus. The following seven questions can help us do just that and it seems they can be asked without our becoming spiritual hypochondriacs. Originally posed by Pastor Colin Smith of the Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Illinois several years ago, they are the following:

Am I praying with faith?
Am I serving with zeal?
Am I believing with confidence?
Am I confessing with humility?
Am I worshipping with joy?
Am I giving with gladness?
Am I reaching out with love?

Great thoughts of your sin alone will drive you to despair; but great thoughts of Christ will pilot you into the haven of peace. [Charles Spurgeon]

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. [Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)]

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