Have A Good Laugh

You know how it is, when at times throughout any given day, some funny memory of long ago will pop into your mind and you begin to laugh? I have been caught laughing while walking by myself down the street.  What curious looks I get from passersby.  Haven’t you had that happen to you?

Just this week I noticed a woman wearing sandals; her toenails painted a bright red.  Memories came to my mind which brought on a loud chuckle of laughter.  The memory? Well, it was a particular morning when I was getting ready to leave the house.  I had decided to put on fresh coats of polish on both toe and finger nails.  That task being done I next took out my woman’s repair kit, placing before me an assortment of face creams, mascara, powder, and lipstick.  Of course, while doing this I saw my bedroom shoes and promptly stuck my feet in them.  I must have walked around for an hour before time to kick my bedroom slippers off.  Imagine my dismay when they wouldn’t come!

One of my all-time favorite memories, that still causes me to shake all over, takes me back to a time when I was fourteen or fifteen years old.  I was with my parents shopping in the Air Force Base Exchange in Honolulu, Hawaii where my father was stationed at the time.  The aisles were just below shoulder height so any adult-sized person could easily see all around the store.  I had been browsing when I saw my father standing rigid in the aisle staring motionless.

“Dad?”  I approached him.  “What are you looking at?”

“A grown man picking his nose,” he answered in monotone.

I followed his gaze and sure enough, there stood a man, forefinger stuck up his right nostril with much action going on.  I burst out laughing!  My Dad joined me.  We were both lost in our world of hilarity.  Mom came over but when we pointed out the object of our hysterics, she did not share the humor.  “You two need to behave,” she answered, probably somewhat embarrassed, although she managed a few chuckles when we got to the car.

There was also the time when, (I admit I was sixteen and should have had better sense), I decided to test whether or not one would really slip and fall after stepping on a banana peel.  I stood in our kitchen taking the peel off a banana.  Then, strategically placing it, slippery side down in the middle of the kitchen floor (linoleum!) I paced my steps and began my casual but staged walk across the floor.  After stepping on the banana peel, feet flying out from beneath me, landing me in a breathless heap stretched on the floor, my father’s face appeared in the air above me.  “If I hadn’t seen that with my own eyes,” he proceeded, “I would never have believed it.”  He meanders away, leaving me to catch my breath and join him in the other room where we, as we so often did, burst into bouts of great laughter.

Doesn’t laughing make you feel good all over?  I’m so glad that God created us with the ability to laugh; and because we know we’re created in His image, we know that He laughs, too.  Can’t you imagine the fish stories that Jesus and his disciples must have laughed about?

Did you know that laughter is a healthy thing to do?  “Laughter is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit can dry up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22  God is the author of laughter.  I have a friend who once told me that she deliberately looks for at least one thing to laugh about everyday.

May you all enjoy a good bout of laughter today.  Think back to something funny.  Share the story.  Laugh.  God gave you the ability to do so and it’s great for your health!

Keeping Safe

“That’s amazing!”  I heard someone say as I passed by two teenage girls having a conversation.  They were animated about whatever “amazing thing” they were talking about.  We all like having something “amazing” take place in our lives.  We love that excited feeling of adrenalin pumping when the extraordinary happens and we are there firsthand to experience it.

For the Christian, when we see God perform in amazing ways; perhaps provision of something desperately needed, or the healing of a very ill family member, we are filled with immeasurable joy.  We are thrilled that what we longed for, God made happen.

Such joy is a normal response; perhaps causing us to believe that our joy will never fade again — until it does.   Why, after experiencing such happiness in God, can we so easily fall into a pit of despondency?  Some even fall away from walking in God’s ways completely.

David wrote in Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.  He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”  We can easily forget that it is God Himself who is our safety and our joy rather than the thing that He may bring about to keep us safe.   Think about this: A person may be saved from drowning by a boat that appears on the horizon, but a person is still saved whether they drown or not when they are in God.   When we learn to have our focus on God being God; the One who loves us perfectly at all times, then we come to realize that we are always safe in this world because we are always in Him and He is in us.  We are merged into the love of God and kept safe by Him through all trials in life; God giving us His own strength and peace to face anything.  Even death does not take away our safety, for in death, eternity with perfect love and peace truly begins.

When we  know that we are in Christ, we are safe at all times; not because of some amazing thing He may bring across our paths on earth, but purely because we are hidden with Christ in God.  There is no more beautiful or safer place to be.  “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Colossians 3:2-3   As we begin to absorb the truth of these words, we then understand that wherever God leads us, we are safe.

My Hero

I overheard a bit of a conversation earlier this week.  One person said to the other about someone they were talking about, “he’s my hero.”  Immediately I pictured someone in my mind who is my hero.  When I think of this person, a gladness always washes over me.

It was an incident that took place some years ago.  I was traveling in a somewhat volatile country.  Caution was needed at all times.  Plans were made for me to fly to another part of the country when someone said to me that they felt uneasy about this flight.  I felt fine about it, but it was agreed that we would pray and ask God to show us, beyond doubt, something that would make me know I was not to take this flight.

The next morning, the day I was to fly, I phoned my parents to say hello.  My father immediately tells me to listen carefully.  Then he told me that a friend of ours had just phoned, in tears, sharing that she had a terrible dream in the night.  “Tell Vickie to please be careful,” she said crying.  “Thanks Dad,” I responded.  “I will take care.”  I cancelled my flight.

It was several weeks later, when someone from the town where I had intended to fly, came to see me.  He took my hands as he said, “We are so thankful you didn’t make that flight.”  He then explained that a prison outbreak had taken place.  Many of the prisoners pledged to make an international statement through a kidnapping.  They would look for a foreign woman to take.  I would have flown right to them.

It was not my time to go so our Father in Heaven arranged to send a message to me to keep me off that flight.  He sent the message through a dream to someone He knew would listen and take action.  That person is a young woman named Amanda.  She is my hero.  When I feel discouraged or get tired of “waiting” for something to take place, I think of my hero.  I remind myself of her faithfulness to God, her unwavering obedience — without question — to His direction.  When I think of my hero, I am able to press on myself, to take action, to wait when it’s hard to do so.

When I next saw Amanda I asked her about the dream.  She told me that she saw me in the backseat of a car.  We were driving through a wooded area when men wearing masks charged out, stopping the car.  She said they took me out of the backseat and dragged me into the woods.  She woke up crying and knew she had to call my parents to tell them.

Was the above a coincidence?  No, it was a specific answer to my specific prayer.  Amanda listened and took action.  As Peter explained in the New Testament book of Acts, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit on men and women alike.”  Acts 2:17-18

There is one other thing I will tell you about my hero.  She is Down Syndrome.  Can everyone be used my God?  Yes, but it takes a willing, obedient, and pure heart.  Amanda is one who, as the old hymn says, “trusts and obeys for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

Nothing That Can’t Be Forgiven

Someone once said to me, “I’m going to straighten out my life and then I’m coming to God.”  I explained that line of thought is backwards.  One doesn’t straighten his life out and come to God; one comes to God and He straightens the person’s life out.”  Seeking and receiving forgiveness is often misunderstood.

I’ve heard some say that their sin is so terrible that God would never forgive them.  Others have been more complacent, saying that they’ll “live it up” a little while longer and then come to God.  Still others have an indignant attitude toward God’s forgiveness; someone saying to me once, “you mean God forgave Hitler!”  I explained that God did not forgive Hitler because Hitler never asked to be forgiven; but had Hitler come with a sincere heart of repentance, then God would have forgiven him.

Here is a fact of forgiveness: The ultimate grounds for our forgiveness is God’s initiative.  The reason for our forgiveness is wholly of God and nothing of ourselves.  Look at the wonderful verses found in Isaiah 43:25 & 44:22, “I, yes, I alone, am He who blots out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.  I have swept away your sins like a cloud.  I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.  Return to me for I have paid the price to set you free.”  To me, these verses explain the beautiful grace of God like no other.  Here we see a threefold repetition that points to His Lordly and Kingly decision concerning us — “I, yes, I alone and He…”  He does not have to forgive sin, but in His sovereignty and majesty, His Holy love compels Him, and Him alone,  to do so.

Our pardon from anything we have ever done or ever will do rests on His decision.  From the beginning, His decision to forgive is one-sided; it is His will to show His love to us through His forgiveness.  God made His decision to forgive us when we were not seeking it.  Only He can forgive sin because only He is holy.  There is no other way to come to God, entering into His presence, except through seeking forgiveness through His dear and holy son, Jesus, who died for our ransom.

When we realize this and come to God in our brokenness, He forgives and makes us whole by actually removing our sin from His record and making us a new creation.  In other words, we are “born again.”  This removal of our sin is complete eradication.  As if that were not wonderful enough in itself, Almighty God then reveals that when He forgives He forgets.  Only a holy and loving God can do something that perfect and amazing.

It is Satan who cruelly seduces us into sin, then convinces us that our sins are so terrible that not even God can forgive them.  Never be duped into believing the lies of evil Satan, but only the truth of Holy God.  When God says He will forgive, that He will remember your sin no more, and that He will make you into a new creation, walk forward in the light of that truth.  Humbly accept and walk on in great joy in the position of honor that God then gives you —sons and daughters of God, destined to live with Him in perfect joy, peace, and forgiveness, for eternity.

God will not change His mind in this matter.  We know this because He said in Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord and I do not change.”

To be made in His image, to be forgiven of all our sin, to walk in a new life — why wouldn’t everyone want it?  Forgiveness is yours today.  Just come to the Father, ask His forgiveness, receive the gift of life that Jesus died to give to you.  Then walk in His promises.  There’s nothing to compare to such amazing grace.

When The Heart Speaks

None of us knows when it will come — news that shocks, or hurts, or sends one into hopeless unbelief.  “Surely it can’t be!”  We shout to ourselves, knowing all along that the news we have received is true. Some want to walk away to think alone.  Others seek out family or close friends to talk it out.  All of us who have a personal relationship with God want to pray — but sometimes words won’t come.

I experienced the above this week, receiving news about a dear friend that I didn’t want to be true.  Tears slowly came to my eyes as the fact of what I was reading from my friend hit me.  Suddenly I was feeling a pain deep inside, an unwanted hurt that I could not send away.  The thought came that I must pray.

I wanted to pray, to lift my friend’s situation to our Father, but words would not come.  Not one word formed in my brain to utter on behalf of my friend.  Thankfully, I knew this didn’t matter.  Prayer is so much more than words.

Have you ever felt so distressed that forming sentence structures to speak out as a prayer escaped you? If you have ever experienced that and felt a weak failure, then please take comfort in knowing that prayer is not confined to written or spoken language.  While prayer can be given in words, the words themselves aren’t necessary.  You see, it’s all a matter of the heart.

The Bible reminds us that it is God who sees what is in the heart.  Mankind cannot hide from God because He sees what no one else can see.  Words often reveal what is in the heart and they also hide what is there to human onlookers, but never to God.  He knows all.  He sees all.  “…The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

For our subject today, when you come to a point of such distress that you want to speak words of prayer but cannot — you are actually at that point in a place of prayer.  When you have a desire to bring your pain to your Father, to ask His help and comfort, He is already hearing and answering.  He listens to the pain of your heart better than you can interpret it yourself.  He knows why you cry.  He takes that grief or fear and begins His response to your heart’s prayer.  Isn’t that absolutely beautiful?

Father does not require words.  He requires that we give Him our heart and all that is in it.  To be aware of His presence is a life walking in prayer.  To have a desire to give Him our pain is a life that lives in prayer.  That is why He tells us that He holds our every tear in a bottle.  Why does He do that?  Because every tear represents a prayer of the heart, calling out its need for hope, comfort, and guidance.

He cares about all that hurts us.  He hears our heart.  He holds every tear.  He answers every prayer.

Today And Tomorrow

There is a most interesting statement made about God in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  The three facts here are clear:  1) God makes everything beautiful in His own time  2) He has put eternity in our hearts  3) We don’t know everything about our present or our tomorrow.  What encouragement can we take from these facts?

First of all, it is a matter of faith to believe that in the midst of our personal pain and sorrow, that God is, in fact, making something beautiful out of it.  What can be good when people we love die, or trusted friends of a lifetime betray us, or financial blessing goes bankrupt, or illness racks our once healthy bodies, or loneliness and despair sinks us into a pit of depression, or failure captures our sense of self worth sending our shattered emotions into a prison of hopelessness?  Can something of beauty be made from any of the above?

In our best human reasoning and fortitude, to press ahead in order to conquer all that seeks to destroy us, at its very best brings a temporary solution which is limited to our physical days on earth.  We may gain some victory, with our own efforts, over all that assaults us today, but can we have peace in the midst, and what about tomorrow?  Our verse in Ecclesiastes tells us that a lasting success of joy and peace is indeed possible for all we face today and for all that will come tomorrow.  We know this because God has placed eternity in our hearts.  What exactly does this mean?

It means that it is God Himself who puts purpose into the hearts of humankind.  It is humans who sense destiny.  We are born with a void in our soul that seeks to be filled with meaning for life that will last, not just for a period of defined time, but for eternity.  Humans contemplate life after death.  Are we but dust?  Are we reincarnated into yet another person doomed to last for a time and die again and again?  Do we pass into oblivion becoming nothing at all?  If any of these lines of thought were true, we would not have a sense of “eternity” in our hearts.  There would be no reason for this if there were no eternity beyond our present human existence.  We would not be created to seek meaning or purpose in life if that life merely vaporized into nothing at the moment we took our last breath.

Our sense of eternity, planted in our hearts by God, is to give us a hope that is certain and steadfast.  When God makes everything beautiful in His time, eternity is literally out of this world and today with God renders everything possible.  God is creating a new heaven and a new earth and we are all invited to be a part of that eternity.  In that eternity there is no death again, friends do not betray or accuse, there is no need of finance to survive because all is provided in eternity by God, illness will cease, loneliness plagues no one, and success is a way of life for all, filling us with joy and peace that never fades.  While we wait, God gives us all strength and courage to get through anything at all.

We don’t understand the pain of our present and we can’t know all that tomorrow holds on earth or in eternity, but God has given us promises.  He has promised to be our strength on earth when we are weak, to be our light when we walk in the dark, to never leave us when trusted friends do, to be our food when we are hungry, to quench our thirst for satisfaction, to fill us with lasting peace in the midst of unimaginable pain, to be our quiet joy when we hope for another weary day to end.

As that wonderful hymn by Alison Krauss reminds us:

I don’t know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day.  I don’t borrow from its sunshine, For its skies may turn to gray.  I don’t worry o’er the future, For I know what Jesus said, And today I’ll walk beside Him, For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand, But I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.

Yum Yum, Garbage!

The title may have led many of you to rightly know that this is a story about our dog, Jack.  I love this adolescent, sweet, lovable, crazy, energized dog — even when he eats garbage, but oh! how I wish he would end this curiosity!  Whenever we go for our walks, I have to be on my guard, watching every sniff to try and pull him away just before he devours something disgustingly gross!  Garbage!

At home he has clean food bowls filled with good food with proper nutrients.  Even his snacks are healthy.  (Never rawhide!!) His water bowl is kept clean with fresh water throughout the day.  His blankets are washed each week.  He is groomed and bathed.  I even brush his teeth!  In other words — he is clean and eats clean — so why on earth is he drawn to garbage!!!!!

As I look at my dear, crazy, Jack, I love him.  How thankful I am that our heavenly Father loves us, too; even when in the midst of all He provides, at times, we too, choose garbage.  The world is filled with the garbage of temptations that will entice us away from what is holy and good for us.  We look, consider, and like a dog, we sniff and grab a chunk!  Gross!  Nothing this world has to offer can ever come close to the wholesome and delicious food our Father has to feed us.  Still, we take the time to yield to the temptation.  We devour what is not good for us.

Jack often vomits after his frenzy of garbage tasting.  He is then lethargic.  All is not well with him.  It’s the same with us when we succumb to eating garbage.  We lose peace because guilt sets in.  We then lose joy because guilt has stolen it away.  It’s not fun.  It’s not healthy.  It’s not emotionally uplifting. Why on earth do we take on gross habits like a dog and eat garbage!

Jeremiah knew the sheer delight and excitement of eating God’s food.  He tells us in Jeremiah 15:16, “When I discovered your words, I devoured them.  They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Oh Lord God of heaven’s armies.”

Eat garbage — not a good result.

Eat God’s goodness — sheer delight.

Happy feasting!

The Great Merger

You’re probably able to walk around your own home in the middle of the night without bumping into things.  You know where your furniture is placed.  Perhaps there is some amount of light from an outside street lamp or even the moon.  Everything is in black and grey until the sun rises revealing the full colors and shapes of the items in the room.

This is how I have felt the past few weeks as I’ve been contemplating a command given to the people of God in Deuteronomy 6:5, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”  In Leviticus 19:18 we read, “…love your neighbor as yourself.”  In a conversation recorded in the New Testament, Jesus reiterates the importance of these commands.

We are not surprised by the commands.  We agree with them and do our utmost to obey them.  We sincerely ask God to help us to love Him and our neighbor in a godly manner.  We strongly desire to carry it out and we make a plan to do so.  Since we humans are bound by a 24 hour day, we naturally have to work according to the hours given  to us.  We have a time to work, play, and sleep.  In our spiritual world it is understandable that we do the same.  We plan which hour we will spend with God and which hour we will serve our neighbor and which hour we will work, etc.

It is concerning the above, which hour is devoted to what, that the lights came on, revealing color to my shaded understanding.  Excitement began to bubble inside!  You see, it is indeed right to set aside time to spend with God; time in which we meditate on His Word and consider how to apply His truths to our lives.  It is also right that we plan our hours to work and to minister to our neighbor.  However, it is a mistake to separate the point of loving God from loving our neighbor.

If we practice loving the Lord our God as a separate entity from loving our neighbor, we will be carrying out the command but our success will only be partial.  It has wonderfully dawned on me that the two are actually one.  It is as we focus on loving God with all our being, give all of ourselves to Him, long for Him above all else, that something life altering happens — we begin to love as God loves.

It is only in loving Him with all our heart, mind, and strength that love for our neighbor is then supernaturally enhanced.  God is pure love.  When we focus wholly on loving Him, our hearts begin to take on the characteristics of His love.  We take on ability to love as He loves, and how does He love?  “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son..”  It only stands to reason that when you and I begin to draw the love of God into our own hearts, we too, will so love that we give.  We may still plan our day; we have to do so as we are captured into a 24 hour time frame, but we will not struggle so much to “do good to our neighbor;” it will be a natural outpouring of the love of God within us.  God’s love cannot be contained.  It is a love that  gives.  It is a love that forgives.

Goodness can be expressed to our neighbor but pure love can only be given when our hearts are merged into the heart of God.

Breathing

It’s that time of year when allergies attack!  For some people it becomes a miserable endurance of coughing and sneezing.  If left unchecked it can cause something more troubling like bronchitis.  Worsening allergies affect breathing.

We don’t really pay attention to breathing overall and yet it’s vital to survival.  From the moment we are born, we are breathing in order to sustain life.  Quality of life is affected when breathing is made difficult, perhaps through something like bronchitis, asthma, or emphysema. We are not at our best when we cannot breathe properly.

Did you know it’s the same in our spiritual world?  We are not our spiritual best if we are not breathing properly.  When we are “born again” as Jesus talks about in the New Testament, He is referring to spiritual birth.  The New Testament, originally written in Greek, talks about the Holy Spirit that comes to us when we experience the second birth.  The Greek word used for the Spirit is pneuma which translates as breath.    When we receive Jesus Christ into our lives, the Holy Spirit begins breathing in us to help us to sustain spiritual life.  In John 20:22 we read, “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”  A spiritual life cannot be attained without the Holy Spirit and it cannot be maintained if the Holy Spirit is ignored.

The Holy Spirit is our comforter and teacher.  He gives strength and wisdom, joy and peace.  It is our communion with God that keeps our spiritual ears and heart receptive to hear and know the guiding of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  When we ignore that communion, something happens: we become spiritually sick.  When we are not breathing properly, we begin to weaken.  Our senses are dulled to know the way forward. We struggle to breathe in joy.  Peace fades away.  Ignoring how well we are breathing, physically or spiritually, will only worsen our symptoms.

Our every breath is necessary to walk in good health.  Today and everyday, may you take deep, full breaths of the Holy Spirit, letting Him fill your senses with the knowledge of Father’s immeasurable love, His guidance, wisdom, and His peace and joy.

Breathe physically and walk strong; breathe spiritually and do the same.

Wars Of Darkness And Light

There comes moments in all of our lives when we feel a need to get away and rest.  We may call it a time to chill out or to recharge ourselves.  It comes when we feel tired from our work, perhaps stressed from the demands of the everyday workplace.  It may be that even family needs and responsibilities are heavy to bear.  We tell ourselves we need to find a place to relax in mind and body.

In our place of rest we imagine the worries of this world fading away even if it will be for just a few days.  We desire to slip away to a place where we may nurse an emotional wound and revive an exhausted body.  Hope for such relief is strong but often shattered too soon.

You see, it’s in places of solitude that something either wonderful or dreadful takes place. True rest and rejuvenation depends on who wins the battle of the mind.  In our mind, battles between darkness and light take place.  The wars in this zone of thought either revitalizes or demoralizes.  It is a war not wanted but it is there nonetheless seeking to destroy all hope for any rest.

We all experience the effects of such battles.  There we are longing for rest, so we get away to a quiet place.  Then it begins.  Our yearning for a sea of tranquility turns into storms of exhausting thoughts.   Voices of darkness begin its invasion, drowning hope with a wash of reminders of arguments had, desire for revenge; lust and greed surface, the pain of loss and rejection suffocate.  We are sinking.  We are losing the battle.

Our spontaneous reaction to this unwelcome onslaught?  Fight or flight.  Too often we run for our lives, getting as far away from damaging thoughts as we can.  We get busy.  We do something fun.  We watch a favorite film.  We do whatever it takes for the dark and loathsome thoughts to go away; and they do, but only for a time.  When we once again seek solitude, the darkness swiftly returns to haunt us yet again.  Exhaustion grows.  Inside we cry out for rest but it refuses to come.  We are caught in a cycle, believing that if we get away once more, this time rest will come, but once again, hopes are shattered and exhaustion continues to weigh us down.  You see, we will never know the full benefit of physical rest until we learn the key to mind rest.

In the battle for our minds, flight is never the best answer.  We must fight but not with weapons of this world; with supernatural weapons of what is unseen.  We are reminded of this in II Corinthians 10:3-4, “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do.  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.”  The weapons that God makes available to us are the only source of victory over the accusations and destructive thoughts of the prince of darkness.  Philippians 4:8-9 gives us the key to rest: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise… Then the God of peace will be with you.”

When we choose to stand, amidst all the pain of dark thoughts, something extraordinary takes place: the accusing and dark voices begins to recede, losing strength, not able to shout so loudly.  Instead, as we make the choice to stand against the attack by focusing on truth, we begin to be able to hear the Light speak louder than the voices of darkness.  When the Light of God’s truth speaks, a sense of sweet peace replaces the fear, gentleness comes to soothe grief and loss,  and joy and hope lifts our faces from the sea of despair where we can breathe in goodness, kindness, and the greatest which is love.

Darkness will never cease attempts to take over our minds but if we choose to stand, to allow God’s truth to penetrate the wall of doom, then truth itself will shatter all that is not of God.  Remember — Light always diminishes the darkness.