A Year of Smiles – Day 217

Reason to SMILE #217: SIMPLICITY

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I often think I am too simple minded. When listening to the conversations of others serving in ministry, whether it be in children’s ministry, student ministry or pastoral ministry, I am many times awe struck and even a bit jealous. These ministers speak with such eloquence. Their words reflect great intelligence, an impressive education and a wide scope of sound reasoning. Then there’s me, shrinking into the corner of the room and thinking, “Wow! I don’t talk like that. Heck! I don’t even think like that! Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work.”

There’s nothing like being in a room full of fellow ministers to make me start questioning my calling! Ask each one what the requirements are for a successful children’s ministry, and sit back and listen. You’ll find that most everyone will have a list of six to eight, maybe more, foundational necessities that will guarantee the success of their ministry. Then ask me.

“Karen, what is the key to a successful children’s ministry?”

“Love.” The end. Next participant, please.

But, to me, it really is that simple. I could have the grandest of facilities, top of the line sound and video equipment, next generation check-in software, an abundance of committed and hard working volunteers and teachers and an engaging curriculum but if the children in my ministry don’t feel loved, accepted and welcomed, none of it would amount to a hill of beans. Love yields relationships. Relationships yield trust. Trust yields openness to the Gospel. Openness yields new believers in Christ. So, yeah. My answer is love.

We complicate so many things in life, don’t we? We especially complicate our faith in God. We call those complications religion! We argue over how one should dress for worship, what music should be played and what color to paint the walls. We debate methods of baptism, church organization or polity and styles of worship.  But, to me, simple-minded me, our faith doesn’t have to be that complicated. It really is quite simple:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Luke 10:27

If we can follow these two precepts, everything else will fall into place.

And I don’t know about you, but when my life has less complications, it’s a whole lot easier to SMILE!

A Year of Smiles – Day 215

Reason to SMILE #215: SOMEONE TO COUNT ON

My Sunday began as usual – choosing songs for morning worship with the kids.  “Hmmm. Which song should we sing today?” I thought as I scrolled through our music files. “Ah! We’ll start with this one. We haven’t sung this one in a while.”

I made our playlist and waited for the kids to gather.

Soon, our morning activities began and music filed the room. My first song choice was playing and all was going well until… the chorus.  The words rang out,” I’m counting on, I’m counting on God. I’m counting on, I’m counting on God.”

Now, I must interject here that there are times when I get a little annoyed with some of our children’s songs. The chorus in this one repeats the same line over and over again.  And it’s not just the repetition of the words that bugs me. It’s also the music. The chorus is basically written using only one note. Don’t get me wrong. This song is awesome. It simply took some getting used to.

Today, however, it wasn’t the repetition of our song that disturbed me. As we were singing “I’m counting on, I’m counting on God” for the second or third time, I began to hear something more than the monotone melody of this children’s song. Rising above the music was a distinguishable voice asking, “Are you counting on me?” It was all I could do to control my emotions.

You see, I’ve been struggling lately, feeling like one particular issue I’m facing is hopeless. I had resigned to the fact that I’m alone in my struggle, that nothing will change and that I simply have to live with things the way they are. After all, I have been dealing with the issue for quite some time and every time I believe a breakthrough is just around the corner, there’s always a setback.

Man! What a bunch of hooey I was allowing the devil to spew into my ears! As a child of God, I always have someone on which I can depend. My Heavenly Father is faithful to answer my cries for help. He is the only One who can solve my problems and make a way when I can see no way at all. It’s time I begin trusting Him with everything – even that one situation that I believe is hopeless – no, especially that one.

Isn’t it ironic that a song I haphazardly picked for children’s worship would be the vehicle for God’s voice in my life today? Nah. God knows how to speak to His children. That’s something you can always count on! And God’s dependability is most certainly a reason to SMILE!

A Year of Smiles – Day 216

Reason to SMILE #216: SECURITY

“Ma’am, how I am supposed to know that you weren’t actually trying to brake in to this house?” asked the police officer.

At least, that’s what I imagined he would ask after he arrived at my parents’ house finding me on the front porch while the security alarm wailed. You see, I had only gone to pick up my child who was probably two or three at the time. I knew my parents had taken him out for a while and they hadn’t made it back home. I also knew I would get to their house before they did and I would have to wait on them. I should have waited in the car. Instead, I decided to sit on their front porch.

As I made my way onto the porch, I noticed my parents’ cat looking out of a large picture window. So, I did what any normal person would do. I walked up to the window, bent down to get a closer look, said, “Hello, Cali,” and gently tapped the window at the vicinity of the cat’s face.

Do you know those signs at the pet store that say, “Do not tap glass”? That also applies to any window anywhere through which animals are staring at you from the other side. Just don’t do it. Ever.

As soon as I tapped the glass – and I mean, I barely touched it – the alarm began to blast. I froze. What was I going to do? My parents weren’t home, yet, and I couldn’t get into the house to turn the alarm off. All I could do was sit there listening to the alarm and imagining what I was going to tell the police when they pulled up in the yard.

Fortunately, my parents returned home shortly thereafter and the police were never dispatched. As my parents were unlocking the house, I began explaining how I set off the alarm. “I didn’t know what I was going to do if the police arrived. I didn’t know how I was going to prove my relationship to you and that I belonged here.”

“Karen,” my mom replied as she opened the front door and pointed in the house to the wall directly in front of us, “Your picture is right there as you walk in the door. That’s all the proof they’d need.”

You know, one day we are all going to stand before an even greater authority than our fine men and women in blue. We are all going to stand before our Creator and the question of our belonging in His eternal home is going to be posed. What are you going to do? Are you going to rattle off examples of your good deeds, your acts of charity, your adherence to the Ten Commandments? Are you certain that you will even have a place in Heaven one day?

The Bible tells us that the only way to an eternal home with our Heavenly Father is by faith in His Son Jesus Christ. (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9John 14:6) The Bible also tells us that once we make the decision to become a follower of Jesus by admitting we are sinners and in need of salvation from an eternal death, believing Jesus is the only Son of God and He paid the price for our sins through death on a cross and resurrection from the grave, and confessing our sins and committing our lives to Him, then we can know for sure that we have an eternal home in heaven that no one can question or take away. (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:35-39) And on the day you stand before the throne of God and your belonging is questioned, you won’t have to wonder what you will say. Your Savior will step forward, point to your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and say, “Yes. she’s mine. See right there. That’s her name!”

I know my eternity is secure. What a SMILE that brings to my soul! What about you? Are you sure of your eternal home?

A Year of Smiles – Day 201

Reason to SMILE #201 – BLESSINGS

The rhythmic beat of drums and the blues-y sound of a bass guitar filled the air as a room of kids chanted “Bless-ed, bless-ed, bless-ed, bless-ed, bless-ed.”  We were singing a song about the Beatitudes found in Matthew chapter 5.  It’s actually a rap and when I first heard the song, I thought, “Wow! What a cool way to learn the Beatitudes!” After six weeks of trying to teach the song to these kids, I have come to the conclusion that my group was not meant to rap – no matter how much I wanted them to! Oh, well.

The Beatitudes are excellent Bible verses to read and even memorize. These verses talk about blessings. And who doesn’t like blessings? We ask God for them all the time, don’t we? Lord, bless this food.  Lord, bless our home. Lord, bless this business venture.  Lord, bless me. We pronounce blessings on others, too. What do you say when you hear someone sneeze? God bless you. And how do you respond when you find out someone is sick or when someone has gotten hurt? Aw, bless his heart. Yes, we like blessings.  However, our idea of blessings is not really the Lord’s idea of blessings.

God doesn’t hand out blessings like Santa handing out toys. If you read Scripture carefully, you’ll find that the blessings and promises of God usually come with a proviso. Read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1 -12, for instance. Some of the blessings you will find in these verses of Scripture are comfort, mercy, seeing God, being called a child of God and the kingdom of Heaven. Those all sound great. I’ll take those blessings, please! It doesn’t quite work like that. Jesus tells us in these verses that these blessings belong to those who live and act a certain way, to those who are faithful followers of God. Take a look:

³Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It’s obvious from these verses that God doesn’t regard blessings as we do. God is more concerned with our lasting growth as a person than He is with our instant gratification. Again, He’s not Santa freely handing out candy canes at the mall or a genie in a bottle waiting to give you three wishes. There has to be some responsibility on our part. If we want to be blessed, we have to live the life worthy of blessings. And when we do, verse 12 tells us that even if we are insulted or persecuted for it, we can “Rejoice and be glad” a/k/a we can SMILE (KJV = KJ’s Version) for “great is your reward in heaven”!

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 192

Reason to SMILE #192: THE INCREDIBLE HULK

Do you remember the scene near the end of The Avengers in which Loki, god of mischief, is being pounded by the Incredible Hulk at the top of Stark Tower but in an attempt to halt the beating, begins ranting about his godhood and demanding respect?

C’mon. You haven’t seen The Avengers? Really?

I admit it’s not for everyone but indulge me for a moment. Watch this short clip.

I LOVE that scene! In case you missed it, Loki is the bad guy. He’s full of himself and had been trying to take over the world. He deserved that beat down and much more. If you ask me, the Hulk took it easy on him but he brought that huge ego of Loki’s down a notch or two. “Puny god.” Ha!

For some reason, this scene reminds me of a guy I went to seminary with.  He had a very narrow view of who God is. We were once assigned to read the writings of Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun of the 1500s. She often referred to God as “Mother” in her writings and this fellow in my class could not stand it. He was adamant that this was sacrilege.  During a heated discussion in class one day, he was going on and on about the blasphemy of referring to God as our mother. Well, after a bit, I could stand it no longer and before I could even think of myself, I blurted out, “How small is that box you keep your god in?”

We tend to do that, don’t we? We try to define God and characterize Him as one way or another. We latch on to certain attributes that appeal to us and heaven forbid anyone try to broaden our perspective. We mold God into a neat little figurine that fits inside of a pretty box nestled safely on a shelf. And that satisfies us until we’re faced with a life changing situation that needs a God much bigger than the puny one on our shelf.

Fortunately for us, we have a great, big God who doesn’t mind being called “mom”, “dad” or even “friend”. He created us and knows what we need at our weakest moments. When we’re afraid and alone, he holds us close as a mother would do for any child. When we are weak and wounded, he picks us up, dusts us off and allows us to lean on his strength just as a father lifts his fallen child. When we’ve lost our way and our hope is gone, he searches for us as any true friend would do. Even more, when we were dying in our sins, he laid down his life to offer us salvation as only our true and loving God could do.

Yeah, I agree with the Hulk. No puny gods for me. I serve a great, big, wonderful God! That’s worth SMILING about!

A Year of Smiles – Day 191

Reason to SMILE #191: MERCY

I messed up. There’s no other way of looking at it. I completely blew it. I’ve worked for weeks to get a project completed. I’ve coordinated with several different parties from all over the United States, fought with overnight couriers, manipulated schedules and pretty much performed everything short of miracles so all could be finalized today.  Then I had to go and throw all that hard work away with one bad decision. Ugh! I may have played a huge role in completing this project but I’ve also single handedly thrown a huge kink in it’s culmination.

It has not been a good day. Fortunately, I have an understanding boss who did not even flinch with the news of my screw up. Instead, he helped me to meet enough of the requirements of the project today which will allow me time to fix my blunder in the next day or two. It’s humbling when you expect/deserve a negative reaction or speech filled with disappointment but you actually receive a helping hand and sympathetic gesture of forgiveness.

That’s a lot like God. No matter how many times we mess up, He isn’t waiting to give us a tongue lashing or strike us down with a lightning bolt. Instead, He’s waiting to forgive us with open arms. Yes, there may be consequences for our bad choices. We do have to learn from our mistakes. But God shows us mercy by withholding what we truly deserve, separation from Him because of our sins, and giving us what we do not deserve, grace and forgiveness.

I have no idea how my blunder is going to work out. It may be fine and I will be able to SMILE and thank God for the blessing. Or it may be the opposite and I may find myself cleaning up an ugly mess. Though definitely more difficult, I will still be able to SMILE realizing that I have been given an opportunity to learn from my mistake. (Did I mention how hard it will be to find that SMILE?) No matter the outcome, I am thankful for the reminder of the great mercy God shows to me every day of my life.

A Year of Smiles – Day 187

Reason to SMILE #187: NECKTIES

I have a confession.  I love men’s neckties.  No, not men in neckties – the actual neckties! Weird, isn’t it?  I know.  Sigh!

I think it started with the TV show Blossom.  Do you remember that smiley-with-bow-tietelevision show? The opening credits feature the main character bopping around in a skirt made from men’s neckties.  I thought it was awesome at the time!  I wanted a skirt exactly like it.  I settled for a vest, though.  I scrounged around in my dad’s old neckties, found a sewing pattern and helped my mom make a “Tie Vest” for me.  (Okay. All I really did was watch as she made the vest! But I did pick out the ties.  That was helping!)

From that moment, I have loved collecting old ties and repurposing them for all sorts of things.  I’ve made pillows, chair seat covers, a purse, angels to hang as ornaments and angels to stand on a shelf.  I’ve also decorated Christmas cards and picture frames and I have plans to make a Christmas tree skirt.  (Ah! plans.  Sigh! …again.)

I have boxes and boxes of old ties in my closet.  If you were to sift through the boxes and pull out any one of the ties, you might actually cringe at the color or pattern.  You might even question why I keep such awful accessories and suggest that I simply toss them. And I would respond in agreement that most of these neckties, once at the top of the fashion charts, are, in fact, quite hideous on their own.  But, when you gather a few of these old-fashioned neckties and join them together to create something with a brand new purpose, their strange patterns and out-dated color schemes become something surprisingly beautiful! Of course, it takes a little work to repurpose these ties, ripping open seams, pulling out the inner stuffing and cutting away the worn and tattered edges, but the end results are always pleasing.

We’re a lot like those old, out of style neckties, you know.  We become worn and ragged from life.  We acquire stains, wrinkles, bruises and scars.  Sometimes others look at us and shrink away because in their minds, we’re unsightly.  We don’t quite meet their standards.  They may choose to toss us aside thinking we are of no use to them.  We all have that tendency to throw others away, not giving them a chance (or a second chance) or not being forgiving and accepting.  What great potential and blessing we so easily discard!

Oh, but I am exceedingly glad that God sees us as more than just junk to be discarded. He doesn’t see our messy lives and seedy pasts. He doesn’t care that we have ugly scars or faded dreams. God takes a look at us and sees all that we can become, all that He created us to be. Then He picks us up, shakes off the dust, scrubs and washes clean the sin-created stains, rids us of the unnecessary clutter and baggage and molds us into something beautiful. But He doesn’t stop there.  He takes the beauty He is creating in each one of us and He places us all together, a hodgepodge of talents, skills, and unique characteristics, to form a family working, living and existing together to bring glory and honor to Him. How cool is that!

But I must warn you. God’s repurposing is not an easy process. It hurts at times. It calls for sacrifice, humility and complete openness. It calls for dying to self. But the plans that the Creator of the Universe has for us are so much better than we could ever imagine for ourselves. And I guarantee the end result will always bring a SMILE.

Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)
Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) 
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Revelation 21:5 (NIV)
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

 

 

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 181

Reason to SMILE #181: MAKING OTHERS SMILE

Sometimes we forget the importance of sharing SMILES with those around us. We often seek SMILES for ourselves.  What is going to bring me joy?  What is going to brighten my day?  When we do this, however, we’re actually short changing ourselves. We’re settling for a diminished joy and telling ourselves that our SMILES are as good as it gets.

Well, I’ve got news for you. That joy we experience from doing things that make ourselves happy is nothing compared to the joy that comes when we make another person SMILE.  It’s a joy that makes no sense to a world focused on me, me, me but once experienced, you’ll never want to let it go.

Do you wanna kick your joy up a notch? Start spreading the SMILES.  It’s easy to do.  The needs of others are right at our fingertips.  Prayer requests and cries for help are all over social media.  Pick a need that you can meet and go be the hands and feets of Jesus.  Do for others as you would like done for you. 

Oh, and don’t wait around for a “Thank you”. I guarantee that the SMILE on the faces of those you choose to serve will be more than enough thanks.  And the joy you feel, well… you have to experience it for yourself to truly believe it. 

So what are you waiting for? Go spread some SMILES this weekend.

Soapboxes and Servants

I’m revisiting one of my posts from several years ago.  It seems God wanted to remind me of its message today.  Perhaps there’s another who needs to hear this message, as well.


Sometimes I stand on my soapbox.  Sometimes I climb even further and sit on my high horse.  I like it from up there.  I can see much more clearly in that position.  I can think without the distractions of the opinions of others.  I can make my declarations without interruption from those standing below.  I can feel satisfied and proud of myself for standing up, for saying what I believe, for spreading the message of truth and what is right (at least, what I think is truth and what I think is right).

Yes, I can stand on my soapbox and sit on my high horse because it’s the easy thing to do.  In fact, we all can do what is easy.  It’s the difficult that gives us problems.  It’s those things we know we should do, such as walking in the steps of Jesus, that we find so hard.  For His steps may lead us to the houses of sinners or require us to love the unlovable.  Jesus’ steps may direct us to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to serve our neighbors or to forgive our enemies.  The steps of Jesus may even require us to rethink our definitions of truth and re-evaluate what we believe is right.

Certainly, to follow in our Savior’s steps is no easy task but I can’t help but think that we make it harder than it should be.  You see, it’s tough to be a servant from the lofty heights on which we choose to stand.  And it’s difficult to share our Savior’s love while clinging to the reigns of our pride.  It appears it would be easier to follow in the steps of Jesus if we were a bit closer to the ground.

Oh, Lord, forgive me for climbing atop my soapbox and for mounting that high horse in times when You want me to deny myself, swallow my pride and simply serve others.  I want to follow in your steps.  So make me a servant, dear Lord.  May my words and my actions exalt only You.  Amen.


Mark 10:45 (NIV) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Philippians 2:5-7 (NIV) In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Mark 9:35 (ESV) And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Galatians 2:20 (ESV) I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 176

Reason to SMILE #176: GRACE

John 3:16 (NIV) For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.


God’s grace is not restricted to those who are powerful, those who are rich, those who come from the right neighborhood or those who behave a certain way.  God’s grace is freely given to ALL who believe.

So why is the grace we choose to show limited to only a select few?

Knowing that I am loved, forgiven and accepted by God no matter my past, no matter my mistakes and no matter my proclivity for messing up, is the greatest SMILE of all.

Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV) Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.


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