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 216

Reason to SMILE #216: TRUTH

My SMILE today may seem a bit unusual and may not actually feel like a SMILE at all.  As I’ve been pondering recent events in our world, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a song I wrote many years ago.  My heart aches for our children and the world we have created for them.  My only solace is the Truth of God’s Word, the promises of His plan and surety of His control.  No matter what the situation around me, the foundation of God’s Truth on which I stand brings a peaceful SMILE to my soul.

I share the following with you in hopes that you will be inspired to make a difference in the world around you and to point the way to the TRUTH.


Fires burn across the land,

The smoke fills the skies.

Angry men shout out and scream;

Some break down and cry.

 

Children watch as people die;

They see the hate, the pain.

Their little eyes can’t believe

The suffering and the shame.

 

Is this the world we want to show our children?

Is this the place we want them to call home?

We tell them that we love them but don’t show them the same.

Is this the truth we want them to know?

 

I wrote these lyrics twenty-five years ago.  I was almost eighteen years old and had just watched news coverage of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992.  I was horrified as pictures of violence, hate, fear and desperation flashed before my eyes.  I was overwhelmed with uncertainty and fear even though I lived on the opposite side of the country.  I did not understand it all and I knew there were children and other young people trying to make sense of the chaos, as well.

I wondered what these children were learning from the situation.  What lessons about life were they gleaning?  Were they giving up all hope at that moment?  Was their innocence slipping away as disturbing images of humanity at its worst invaded their ideals of safety and security?  Were they resigning to believe that this was how life was supposed to be?  Were these children accepting the hate, violence and pride as their truth?

Now, twenty-five years later, we find ourselves seeing familiar images flash on our TV screens.  And I cannot help but wonder.  Where are those children who watched similar scenes so many years ago?  They are the adults of our world now.  Are they watching in horror as they did as a child?  Are they worried about their own children and the effect this situation will have on their young lives?  Are they outraged?  Are they scared?  Are they worried?  Or are they hitting the power button, shrugging their shoulders and walking away?  After all, that’s life.  That’s the truth of our existence and there’s nothing anyone can do about it….

Oh, my friends, there is hope.  We can redefine the truth that our world accepts today by pointing the way to THE TRUTH, Jesus Christ.  He is our only Way to healing, restoration and salvation.  He is our only Truth in the midst of the chaos and deception orchestrated by our enemy, the devil.  He is our only source of abundant Life, peace, hope and yes, SMILES.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

The road to Truth starts with Love.  Love starts with you and me.

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 217

Reason to SMILE #217: CONNECT THE DOTS


What draws us to certain people, groups or organizations? Why do we feel at home in particular surroundings or atmospheres? What makes us feel connected to something or someone? 

I began to ask myself these questions as I stepped back to survey the finished bulletin board at my church this afternoon. Our congregation is beginning a study on life in the church and the connection church members have through Christ, Unity, Growth, Words, Service and Prayer. I’m excited for this study and I’m anxious to get back to the basics of what it means to be a functioning part of the body of Christ. As I finished the display, however, my thoughts moved to more than just the church member but to humanity as a whole.

It’s funny that this simple Connect the Dots themed bulletin board raised so many questions about our connections with each other. But the answer to all of these pervading questions is really just as simple as this basic children’s activity. What draws us to others? What makes us feel accepted? What gives us that connection? Love. The answer is simply love.

Colossians 3:13-14 (NIV) Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Love binds us all together. Love is the connection. And when you find that Love, you can’t help but SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 211

Reason to SMILE #211: ROOTS

Worship services today look and sound very different from what they once were. Many traditions of yesteryear have been replaced with new forms of worship, new expressions of praise, new experiences through which God can speak to a new generation. I have absolutely no problem with these changes – as long as the unfiltered, undiluted Word of God is being preached and expressions of worship (i.e. the music, drama, etc.) are the result of sincere reverence for our Heavenly Father pointing hearts to Him alone. But…

There are times when I long for the great hymns of old. I long to sing those songs which remind me of my foundations of faith and take me back to the days when my faith was still new. I yearn to hear the organ and the grand piano play once again, to feel their majestic sounds shatter the empty spaces of the sanctuary, swelling to fill every nook of the room and envelope every member of the congregation. 

Talk about a worship experience!

Sometimes, getting back to our roots is a good thing. For me, singing “How Great Thou Art”, “When the Roll is Called up Yonder” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” takes me to that place of remembrance and rejuvenation. For my parents, the songs may be “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “O Worship the King” and “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”. For my children in years to come, it won’t be hymns at all but “contemporary” worship songs like “What a Beautiful Name”, “Good, Good Father” and “O Come to the Altar”.

There will always be those songs or worship experiences from our pasts that remind us of the good old days and roots of our faith. Revisiting these songs from time to time can be a great reminder of where we began and how far we have come. It can also be an insightful indicator of where we should be headed. Even more, singing the songs that we hold dear can bring joy to a weary soul and a SMILE to the heaviest of hearts.

What worship songs bring a SMILE to your heart? What songs would you love to sing again?

A Year of Smiles – Day 198

Reason to SMILE #198: RAINBOWS

A promise from God.  A reminder that His words are true and that He is faithful.

rainbow

This rainbow appeared in my backyard during a particularly stormy time in my life.  I had been praying over a difficult situation which seemed to be spiraling out of my control.  As a late afternoon rain shower came to an end, I looked out of my kitchen window and found a beautiful reminder of God’s faithfulness, a personal promise that God has all things in His control.  I could let go and trust Him with my worries and fears.

I know the rainbow that appeared was a natural manifestation of sunlight being refracted through water droplets in the sky but I also know that God created that natural manifestation.  And He used it that day to bring a SMILE during a time when smiles were difficult for me to find.

… I never did find the pot of gold, though. It must have been at the other end! 😉

 

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 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.


Image by symbols-n-emoticons.com

A Year of Smiles – Day 171

Reason to SMILE #171: SIGNS

“It’s a sign,” I heard him say.  He had made the decision to work away from home.  His current job was making him miserable.  He needed a change but this change included more than beginning a new job.  It also included a new city and a new home away from his family – at least during the work week.

He set out to prepare for his move.  He sold a few of his large possessions to build up some funds.  He found his buyers fairly easy and he received the prices for which he asked.  “It’s a sign,” he said that his decision was the right one.

Moving day arrived.  Finding a place to stay was not as simple as finding buyers for his possessions but an apartment finally became available.  He approached the front door of his new abode and noticed the welcome mat.  “Believe in your dreams,” it read.

“That has to be a sign,” he concluded.

Have you ever looked for signs to help you make a decision in life?  Have you ever asked God to show you a sign when life’s decisions seemed too difficult?  I certainly have.  At times, when I’ve been at my most desperate, I’ve even asked God to simply tell me the choice I should make.  “Spell it out for me, God.  Write it on the wall or in the sky.  A Post-it® note will even do.”

I’m still waiting on those Post-it notes.

I do believe that God gives us signs in life – signs of His presence, signs of His love, signs of His promises, even signs that lead us along life’s journey – but I’ve learned that His signs aren’t always the flashing neon billboards that we desire.  He’s usually a bit more subtle.  You see, God is all about developing our character, growing our faith and building a relationship with us.  He’d much rather we seek His direction and will for our lives through the study of His Word, through prayer, through our fellowship with Him and through the wisdom of mature Christians He places in our lives.

God wants to guides us along life’s journey but He won’t force us to follow Him.  We have the power to choose. Unfortunately, we treat this gift of choice as if it were a second-hand trinket found at a yard sale. Instead of relying on the truth of God’s Word or the answers found in our daily communion with God, we base our decisions and choices on our desires and feelings.  Then wanting confirmation of our decisions, we pray for a sign, anything that will substantiate our choices.  We discard our faith in God and we find ourselves making major life decisions based on a message we read on a doormat.

Are you looking for a sign today?  Try spending time with your Heavenly Father.  Open up and read His Word.  Talk to Him and wait for His answer.  He will guide you if you choose to follow.

So, use that doormat for what it was meant and remember this: There’s no greater sign that you’re following God’s lead than the peace He puts in your heart.  And a peaceful heart shows all over your face! 🙂

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 159

Reason to SMILE #159: GOD’S HELP

“I have a headache,” my husband complained.

“I have ibuprofen if you need it,” I offered.

My husband gave no response.

Several minutes later, my husband complained again, “I don’t know why I’m getting a headache!”

“I told you that I have ibuprofen,” I reminded.

“Nah. I’ll be fine.”

Men. They have to tough things out. They’re not going to accept help, either. I’m not sure why. Maybe they’re trying to prove how strong they are. Maybe they’re trying to impress women with their masculinity. I’ve got news for you men. Women think you’re crazy for trying to tough out sicknesses or for refusing help when it’s obviously needed. We role our eyes, sit back and wait for you to succumb to the realization that you are not Superman.  And yes, that realization always arrives – most times later than sooner!

But isn’t that like us all when it comes to our spiritual battles. We try to tough out life’s difficulties on our own when help is just a prayer away. God continuously reminds us through His Word and that still, small voice that He is our help, our rescue, our support. Still, we ignore the offer and trudge through our problems, usually causing ourselves greater strife and heartache. 

I wonder if God sits back and rolls his eyes at our stubbornness. No, our God never looks forward to the “I told you so” moments. He loves us too much for that. He patiently offers his help, waiting for us to come to the realization that we can’t live this life on our own. But…

… we don’t always come to that realization.

I’m so thankful God did not leave me to navigate life alone. I may not always accept His help as soon as I should but knowing He’s there when I finally come to my senses always makes me SMILE.