Don’t Worry, Be Happy

“It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look” – Francis of Assisi

This is one of my favorite quotes.  When I am in a social setting with other people I know pretty quickly who is grumpy and I tend to shy away from them.  I would rather be in the company of those who are happy and show it.  In fact, those who exude joy are those who typically are surrounded by others.  Certainly many could put on a smile and it would not be authentic for them.  However, it is possible to not be very pleased yourself and still reflect the joy of Christ.  Francis of Assisi is encouraging us to lead others into this joy of Christ.  Whether we are having a bad day or not, it is through us that others may or may not see the love of Christ.  It is our duty to show that joy and love.

Next time you are at church, at a party or even out at a store, check your face.  Is it showing God’s love or is it saying, “stay away, I am grumpy”?   I remember walking into a church where it seemed EVERYONE was smiling. People were so filled with the joy of Christ that I wanted so badly to be part of it and it was not long before I was smiling from ear to ear.  Certainly not everyone there was super happy and had no problems, but in that moment, when they were in the House of the Lord and with other disciples, they mirrored Christ’s joy.  HIs joy was more important than their issues or feelings.  Christ won out for that time and it was glorious.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34:5)

Victory

I have a friend who approaches each day the same.  When he wakes up he says to himself, “I just want one victory today.  God please grant me a victory.”  Sometimes he is looking to have that victory be part of his business.  Other times, he wants to just have a small victory of personal growth.  Yet other times, he just wants to not goof up too much.   When he really needs a bigger victory for the day, he turns to the Psalm below.  I pray that you receive a victory in your day today.

Psalm 118

A Song of Victory

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!

2 Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the Lord say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”

5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The Lord is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in princes.

10 All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
16     the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.e]”>

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.

29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Overcoming Self

“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

Francis of Assisi gave us that bit of wisdom.  He understood that what more often stands in our way of growing as a disciple, loving God more fully, loving others better than we are, and loving ourselves is…us!

God gives us the ability to know ourselves, love and forgive ourselves, and change.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  2 Cor. 5:17

Do a self evaluation today.  What is it about your life that you need to change?  What difference would it make to you, your family, your community, to God?  Ask God to love you through this time and give you the strength to change.  Seek others who will help you hold yourself accountable to the change.  As a last step rejoice in any changes you are able to make, no matter how small.

Do you want to know more about Francis of Assis?  I invite you to read this article.  It is very good:  http://www.biography.com/people/st-francis-of-assisi-21152679

Others over self

There’s an old Chinese Proverb that says, “Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.” In Scripture we are told: “Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own” (Philippians 2:4).

Who is it in your life that you would care more about their interests than your own?  Your children?  Your parents?  Brothers and sisters?  Maybe a very dear friend?  Jesus taught us to go even further.  We are not just to look out for our interests but even those we do now know or do not like or even worse….are our enemies.  Do you really care more about that annoying neighbor than yourself?  That is REALLY hard to do but Jesus invites us to act that way.  Our love should flow so fully that it reaches out to everyone.

It wasn’t an accident that he ate with tax collectors, invited prositutes to folow him and loved the lonely and the lost.  Evaluate your interests and those of those you encounter and begin to care more for the other than for the self and see how it can transform them, you and the world.  It is what we are called to do as Christians.

Simple

Some of the most simple inventions have really changed the world.  Think about it.  How many of you have thrown a frisbee…someone invented that concept. Remember that silly but oh so fun toy…Slinkie?   What would you do without velcro?  I just wrote myself a reminder on a POST-IT note.  All of these were simple concepts but impacted the world.  The modern equivalent for me is SCRUB DADDY.  If you do not have one, you do not know what you are missing.

Then there are the giants of inventions.  Those who invented the automobile or computers, the printing press and iron.  I never could invent such things, my mind does not work that way.  However, someone had the skill set to invent each thing.

The same principle can be said about our faith.  There are the giants of faith and discipleship.  John Wesley, Martin Luther, the Disciples, Mary, Martha, Moses and many more.  They impacted and continue to impact the world.  But most of us are never going to have books written about our faith or will be asked to go on the news to discuss issues of our faith.  That does not mean, however, that we are unable to make an impact.  Even our small gestures and triumphs of faith can make an impact.

Think of this illustration.  If a large rock is thrown into a pond, it will make a big splash and cause big ripples.  If you throw a small pebble in, it will make a small splash and small ripples.  However, if you take a hand full of small pebbles and throw them in, the effect is as large or larger than the large stone.  Together, our church can do great things if we all participate.

1 Corinthians 12:12

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

Taking Life for Granted

The other day I was laughing with my children about how exciting it was that school was about to start.  The looks they gave to me were PRECIOUS and scary!  I responded by saying how important education is for their well being, their intelligence, what kind of job they will get etc.  It didnt seem to make any difference.  It is funny how something so important that will benefit them so highly is taken for granted and not fully appreciated.

The same can be said of our faith.  For many the only time they really fully rely on faith is during the most difficult times in their lives or during a major life moment.  Most of the rest of the time, we just take it for granted or moan about having to get up so early on Sunday morning (yes, that moan was me this week).

One of my goals this year is to not take blessings in my life, including my faith, for granted.  I really want to work on appreciating my faith life, my spiritual journey, my faith community and my family.  I hope you will join me in appreciating what you have more.

Ecclesiastes 7-9The Message (MSG)

Don’t Take Anything for Granted

7 A good reputation is better than a fat bank account.
Your death date tells more than your birth date.

2 You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—
After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover
    something from it.

3 Crying is better than laughing.
It blotches the face but it scours the heart.

4 Sages invest themselves in hurt and grieving.
Fools waste their lives in fun and games.

5 You’ll get more from the rebuke of a sage
Than from the song and dance of fools.

6 The giggles of fools are like the crackling of twigs
Under the cooking pot. And like smoke.

7 Brutality stupefies even the wise
And destroys the strongest heart.

8 Endings are better than beginnings.
Sticking to it is better than standing out.

9 Don’t be quick to fly off the handle.
Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.

10 Don’t always be asking, “Where are the good old days?”
Wise folks don’t ask questions like that.

11-12 Wisdom is better when it’s paired with money,
Especially if you get both while you’re still living.
Double protection: wisdom and wealth!
Plus this bonus: Wisdom energizes its owner.

13 Take a good look at God’s work.
Who could simplify and reduce Creation’s curves and angles
To a plain straight line?

14 On a good day, enjoy yourself;
On a bad day, examine your conscience.
God arranges for both kinds of days
So that we won’t take anything for granted.

Simple Choices

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33)

One of the things we often hear in today’s world is to slow down.  People say they are so busy, there are so many calendar items and we wonder if we will have enough time for everything.  So, we make things to eliminate from our lives.  We stop eating family meals together.  We do not go to church because it is the only day we can sleep in.  We do not exercise or take time to make healthy meals.  We do not crack open a Bible or really delve into deep prayer.

I think it is interesting.  Did you know that 2000 years ago, the days were roughly the same as they are today?  (Though some scientists are saying that the days are actually getting a little longer each year, but it is miniscule – see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-rotation-summer-solstice/),  One hundred years ago, people had the same amount of time as we do.  Even 20 years ago, people had to make similar decisions about how to spend their time.

The amount of hours we have is consistent.  The things we have to do, work, eat, raise a family etc. has remained consistent.  People 2000 years ago had to do much of the same things as we do today.

What has changed is how we make the choices to do what we have to do.  Like it or not we choose as parents to engage our children in so many activities that we turn into glorified UBER drivers.  Like it or not, we choose to spend a lot of time per day on things like watching TV (average of 5 hours a day) and posting/checking facebook (40 minutes per day).  According to Bloomberg, we spend more time on Facebook per day than playing with and taking care of our pets.  No wonder we are stressed.

Recently I read an article about a woman who was a Yale-educated journalist on the fast track in Manhatten.  She decided to quit it all and move to the Bahamas to scoop ice cream and tend bar.  She says she has as much money in the bank as she did before, she lives in a home overlooking the ocean rather than a 200 square foot studio apartment and watches the sunset every day.  She made the choice to give up the fast paced for a slower one and she is happy.  Most of us will not run off to the Bahamas (interesting thought however) but we can still make choices every day to be happier and more spiritually fulfilled.  John Wesley was very busy.  He said he did not have time to do his Bible Study because of his schedule so he set time at 4am to wake up and get it done.  Choices.

What choices are you making with your time?  Are you happier because of them?  Are you less stressed?  Would God be happy about your choices?

“Miracles I have Missed”

Luke 5:  1One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,a]”>[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

 I have always envied those disciples who got to see Jesus perform miracles first hand.  Even more, I envy the women who were first to come across the resurrected Christ.  I have often thought, “if only I could have witnessed Jesus first hand, what a difference it would make in my life.
Then I remembered how faithless the disciples really were in the midst of His life.  Peter failed to walk on water.  The disciples ran away scared when Jesus was arrested.  Thomas doubted the validity of the Resurrection.  Ultimately their faith overcame their weaknesses but even when they came face to face with the miracles of Christ they wavered.  That gave me encouragement, but I still wanted to be witness to the miracles.
The more I have lived a faithful life, however, the more I have come to know that we too, thousands of years later, are witness to miracles of faith.  They are all around us and yet we falter in our faith as well.  I look at the vast creation and realize there is a God.  That is a miracle.  When I held each of my three newly born children, I came to know that they are indeed miracles of life.  Yesterday when Laura and I interviewed the confirmation students it was abundantly clear the six miracles that came before us.  The power of their testimonies spoke to the power of the Resurrected Christ.
Miracles are all around us.  Where have you seen one?

March Madness and the Victory of Jesus

Yesterday my beloved Wisconsin Badgers defeated the University of North Carolina and advanced in the NCAA mens basketball tournament to the Elite 8.  As I watched the game unfold I saw the elation of the victory and the devastation of defeat.  Smiles were abundant with those who wore red and tears and frowns on those who wore blue.  As always, I thought theological.

First, it was evident that victory is more joyous and a better place to be than defeat.  The ultimate victory of Jesus on the cross is so wonderful that it brings joy and gladness where there is despair and loss.  Those who have come to know the victory of Jesus have come to realize a joy that cannot be known apart from Him.

Second, I noticed how quickly the cheering and smiles turned to stunned silence and sadness.  Those who were cheering for the UNC Tarheels found themselves upset and I even saw a few angry people.  I am reminded how quickly things change for us.  On Palm Sunday the cheers and joys of the waving of the Palms will turn to jeers and boos and shouts of Crucify.  We must be diligent to remain steadfast in our praise of Christ.

Finally, I saw a graphic on how few college basketball programs have been in the Sweet 16 each year since 2008.  (That means they advance in the tournament pretty far).  Even fewer have felt the final reward of a national championship.  For 63 teams (plus the 4 play in teams) the final game they play this year is a loss and defeat.  Only one team wins.  In Christ ALL of us are invited into the victory.  The only way we can lose is if we reject Jesus and the free gift of grace.

Be joyous in a victory for all that lasts but be wary not to throw down your palm and replace it with a shout of “crucify.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.     -Romans 15:13

Atheism and Easter

Last night I watched a news program on Atheists.  I was fascinated listening to the reasons why many seem to be walking away from faith and the church.  It was interesting hearing the opinions of ex- pastors who now were atheists.  I thought it was ironic that one of the these pastors who complained about the amount of money churches spend on buildings instead of feeding the poor was still receiving his salary from the church as he falsely preached on Sundays.  Another pastor created an Atheist gathering on Sunday mornings and the worship mirrored Christian worship including music, a form of prayer and liturgy and preaching, and he had a nice offering as well.  Yet another atheist group pulled all of the good things they learned when they were in churches about community and mirrored them in their gatherings.

It was clear that those who now claimed atheism as their religion were seeking:  they were seeking answers, comfort, community and love.  There was more of a revolt against the organization of relgion than against God.  As an observer, it seemed like those who were grasping for the atheist movement were lost and in need of something in their lives to believe in, as strange as that seems.  Their disbelief became their belief.  It connected them to others, it gave them some meaning, it helped them deal with the hurt that was caused by the church or very religious parents.  But, I wonder how long that will last.

So, how is this a part of the most wonderful time of the year?  Throughout history people have denied, betrayed and left God.  All throughout history people have turned to false gods or idols or nothing at all to replace God when they were disappointed in God or felt most distant from God.

The Good News is that God is still the Creator of atheists and all those who fall short in their own beliefs.  God is still a loving and forgiving God.  God is a patient God.  God so loved the world that  while we were yet sinners or atheists God sent Jesus into the world to bring us salvation.  God still requires us to believe but even when we turn away, we have the opportunity to turn back.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.              -Romans 8:38-39