A Year of Smiles – Day 216

Reason to SMILE #216: SECURITY

“Ma’am, how am I 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 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 160

Reason to SMILE #160: LIGHTNING BUGS

It wasn’t until I saw them that I realized how much they make me SMILE.  They remind me of my childhood, of living out in the country, of camp meetings in the summer, of simpler times. So tonight, I sit in the wondrous beauty of God’s creation serenaded by the crickets and cicadas while watching the lightning bugs shine in the night…

…and I am SMILING. Oh, what peace!

A Year of Smiles – Day 124

Reason to SMILE #124: THE BIG PICTURE


“I’m not going to speak at that church unless he says that it’s preaching!”

These are the words I heard a female seminary student say after being asked to speak at another student’s church.

“She can come speak but I’m not going to call it preaching.”

And these are the words of the male seminary student who gave the invitation to speak to the female student.

The female student felt a call from God on her life to preach. The male student firmly believed women were forbidden by God to preach. They were at odds with each other and neither would back down from their positions….

I just wanted to smack them both.  I couldn’t understand the problem.  I wanted to sit them both down and tell them to get over themselves.  Obviously, the guy valued the communication skills of his friend and trusted that she would bring a prayerfully guided and biblically sound message to his church.  (That sure sounds like preaching to me.)  On the other hand, if the young lady truly believed God wanted to speak through her, why turn down an opportunity to share His message just because it wasn’t called “preaching”?

It’s easy to get caught up in the things that really don’t matter.  We often think we’re standing on our principles and defending what is right. We plant our feet firmly and close our ears to any opposing opinions.  We are right and that’s all we need (or want) to know.  If only we’d take just a few steps back from the situation, we might see that in the grand scheme of things, our “important matter” is pretty insignificant.

Focusing on the big picture is challenging.  The devil likes to preoccupy our time with the little things and when we take his bait, we end up missing great opportunities for growth, for progress, for peace and for SMILES.  There’s little time for joy when you’re constantly fighting battles.

The next time you find yourself preparing for battle – worrying with an issue at work, proving a point to your opposition, ensuring that you get your way – ask yourself if it’s worth it.  Is it worth your peace of mind?  Is it going to help or hurt in the long run?  Is it worth the time that could be spent on something of greater importance?  If not, move on, fix your gaze on the big picture and SMILE.

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A Year of Smiles – Day 97

Reason to SMILE #97: LETTING GO

The final “Amen” had been pronounced and the sanctuary was clearing. I sat down to collect my things when I heard a worried yet determined voice say, “Mom, I want you to ground me for nineteen days.” I looked up to answer this curious request as my little boy continued, “I’ve been holding on to something for two years.” As my mind compiled a list of all the things my child could possibly have done to cause such distress, I remembered the Pastor’s sermon illustration of the little boy with his hand caught in a vase because he would not let go of the penny he found inside. Though I did not know what was to follow this introduction to a confession, I did know that God had spoken to my son and my son had listened.

IMG_7729Further explanation revealed a deed which would not have troubled many, I think. My son told a lie to a classmate. He was even punished for the content of the lie; still, he had not admitted that he lied. He held the sin in his heart for two years, and although he had prayed for God’s forgiveness, the conscience of this seven year old would not be eased until mom assured him all was well.

Looking into the face of my little boy, I longed to cheer the apparent sadness that he was feeling as he realized his wrong. I longed to ease the familiar pain that guilt so mercilessly inflicts and I wondered how much greater the longing of our Heavenly Father must be to wipe away the guilt and shame of our transgressions and fill us with peace and joy.  While we cling to our destructive habits and self-serving choices in our search for happiness and contentment, our loving Father patiently waits to bless his children with abundant life and freedom – blessings which are so readily available to the one who is willing to loosen his grip on the world and simply let go.

Taking my hand, my little boy sighed in relief, “I’m glad I let that go!” And as we walked out of the sanctuary, another confession emerged. “Mom, do you know why I wanted to be grounded for just nineteen days?”

“No,” I replied.

“That’s when I get out of school, and I don’t want to be grounded during the summer.”

Hmmm.  I think I’ll let that go and save the lesson on “Facing the Consequences” for another day.

Do you need to let go of something today?  What are you waiting for?  The sooner you do, the sooner you feel that peaceful SMILE again.
Image by symbols-n-emoticons.com

My God is SO BIG

My God by Go Fish

Have you ever heard this song?  Click the link and take a listen.  It sure didn’t sound like that when I was singing it in Sunday School as a kid.  But I love this version and so do my kids at church.  We rock the children’s wing as we pump up the volume and sing as loud as we can, “My God is so big and so strong and so mighty. There’s nothing my God cannot do!”

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve created a healthy competition between the boys and the girls. I’ve challenged the groups to sing louder than the other.  OK. OK.  So, it usually becomes a screaming match but it is so much fun!  And I hate to tell the boys this but the girls can out-scream them any day of the week!  That’s just a fact.

Last night was no different.  I had the groups stand up and separate. I could see the excitement on each face.  The challenge was made and the boys and girls faced off to see who could sing the loudest.  It was a fierce battle.  Each team attacked with great force and enthusiasm.  The boys were not going to be outdone and the girls were not going to lose their winning title.  When the song ended and the kids began to settle, there was no doubt in my mind that this battle had to be declared a tie!  The girls actually did sing louder but the boys’ valiant effort showed that they can definitely stand their ground.

More than just a never-before-imagined tie between the boys and the girls, last night’s sing off yielded an overwhelming response within my heart.  As I listened to these children raising their voices to declare how mighty and big our God is, a huge list of worries began to whirl through my mind and I realized how silly I’ve been trying to handle these worries on my own.  I’ve been wasting so much time worrying about things that are out of my control, causing myself so much grief and damaging my emotions, my mind, even my body.  And it’s all been unnecessary!  You see, no matter the problem, my God is BIGGER.  No matter the obstacle, my God is STRONGER.  No matter the opponent, my God is MIGHTIER.

So, today I say to that financial concern, “Have you met my God?”  To the issues my husband is facing at work, “You better step back.  My God’s on the way.”  To the anxiety and nervousness that is constantly tormenting me, “Fear? Ha! My God’s got my back!”  I know there will always be problems.  There will always be obstacles.  There will always be mountains to move and waters to part but I don’t have to worry.  I serve a BIG, STRONG and MIGHTY GOD!  And there is nothing that He cannot do!!!

A Storm, a Song and a Good Father

There it is, again! That annoying song! You can’t get it out of your head no matter how hard you try. You watch TV. You read a book. You listen to every other song in the world. You even bang your head on the wall a few times but nothing works! THAT SONG keeps playing over and over again in your mind. Aaaaaaagh!!!

Have you ever been there? I certainly have and the songs that usually “get stuck” in my mind are those annoying cartoon theme songs. You know, like the one about the yellow square sponge – yeah, that’s it. Don’t start singing it! Oh, it’s too late! The mind numbing loop of musical misery has already begun. Thanks.

Having a song play over and over again in your head is not always bad, though. There are times when I’ve been grateful for a song that came to mind. One of those times happened a few nights ago. A huge and frightening storm system swept through our area in the wee hours of the morning. The winds were howling. The thunder was rumbling. The lightning was crackling and the rains were pounding. Did I mention this storm was huge? And frightening?

For a while I wandered through the house. There was no way I could sleep through all of that ruckus.   Soon, however, I decided that sleep was a good thing and I really did need it in order to function the next morning. So I went back to bed. As I lay in the dark listening to the winds rip through the many pine trees in my yard, I began to pray and the words of a sweet song filled my mind. “You’re a good, good Father – It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are,” began the serenade. “And I’m loved by you – It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.”1  On and on the song played stealing my attention from the frightening winds and rains and filling me with a peace that allowed me to drift to sleep.

“Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” A weather alert jolted me out of my slumber. Although I was filled with peace, there was still a huge and frightening storm knocking at my door. And this storm was not going to be ignored. I reached for my phone to discover what danger was headed my way, and another song bombarded my thoughts. “It’s not over yet, It’s not over ye-et,”2 it taunted. For the next couple of hours until the storm finally passed, weather alerts blared one after the other and each “Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” was accompanied by an overture of “It’s not over yet, It’s not over ye-et.” Now, THAT is annoying.

The next morning, I was sitting at my desk at work. The rains had stopped and the clouds had cleared. As a ray of sunshine peaked through my office window, a song from my childhood quickly came to mind: “Look! The sun – it dried up the land-y, land-y – Everything was fine and dandy, dandy.”3 I couldn’t help but smile.

Are there any storms raging in your life today?  No, I’m not talking about the ones that come with thunder and lightning. I’m talking about the ones that come with fights or disappointments or bad news or financial struggles or hospital visits. Are you wandering around in worry? Are you trying to hide yourself away from the pain? Why don’t you borrow the song that helped me through my storm? “You’re a good, good Father – It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are – And I’m loved by you – It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.” You have a Good Father who loves you. He can calm the storms of your life and fill you with a peace that passes all understanding – if you’ll let Him.

Don’t get me wrong. The storms will keep knocking at your door. Fear and worry will constantly distract you telling you that your struggles are “not over yet” but your storm will pass. When it does, joy will come shining through like the morning sun and you will be able to smile and sing, “Everything is fine and dandy.”

 

1 “Good, Good Father” written by Pat Barrett and Anthony Brown, made popular by Chris Tomlin

2 “It’s Not Over Yet” written by Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone, Ben Glover, Ted Tjomhom and Kyle Rector, made popular by for King & Country

3 “Rise and Shine” Unknown

 

 

Supernatural Peace

Peace – oh, how we take it for granted!  But when we do not have it, oh, how we realize it’s great worth!

The kicker is we do not have to live without peace in our lives.  That’s right.  We do not have to live in turmoil or in fear.  Peace is readily available.  No, it’s not a life without pain or troubles, not a world without war or strife but an unexplainable calm in the midst of our troubling circumstances, a steadiness that holds us when our fears overwhelm.  This peace comes only from the Lord.

In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (NIV)  There it is, folks!  The Lord has already given it to us.  So, why are we shaken when bad news comes our way? Why do we worry when our bank accounts are drained and our livelihoods are taken from us?  Why are we consumed with anger and hatred when the world turns its back?  I believe the answer lies with our focus.

Take a look at Peter.  I know you’ve read the story.  I know you’ve heard sermon after sermon and already know the illustration I’m about to give.  But the Word of God is an eternal fountain of knowledge and truth (Proverbs 2:6, Psalm 119:130; John 17:17; Matthew 24:35).  His Word provides light and understanding each time it is read so, this well-known story of Peter walking on the water to Jesus may just be worth another look.

In Matthew 14, the Bible tells us of a time when the disciples were in the midst of a lake fishing. The weather took a turn for the worse and the waves began to grow higher and higher.  Suddenly, the disciples saw a figure walking on the water toward them.  Someone piped up, “It’s a ghost!”  And, of course, that had to be true so fear overtook the disciples.  We know, however, that it wasn’t a ghost but was Jesus coming to the disciples’ rescue.  Knowing their fears, Jesus cried out, “Don’t be afraid.  It is I.”  Well, good ol’ Peter challenged, “If it is you, Lord, tell me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus beckoned and Peter jumped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Him.  Everything was fine and dandy as long as Peter kept his eyes on his Rescuer.  But the waves were crashing in on him and he just had to turn his head.  Peter began to sink.  The story continues with Jesus pointing out Peter’s lack of faith, pulling him out of the water and returning him to the boat.   In the end, Jesus stepped into the boat, the storm subsided and the disciples once again smacked their foreheads and said, “Wow! This really is God’s Son.”  (Oh, how we are so much like Jesus’ disciples!  No matter how many times Jesus reveals His sovereignty, love and faithfulness, we are surprised at each revelation as if we doubted His promises were ever true.  But that is a subject for another time…)

Peace – it’s all about our focus.  Peter was fine when he kept his eyes on Jesus.  The waves were still crashing in around him.  The storm was still brewing but Peter remained steady.  The problem arose when his focus was diverted.  Peter forfeited his peace when he turned his attention toward his circumstances.  How often we do the same.  We survey our situation and conclude there is no hope.  We surrender to the fear, to the helplessness, to the unknowing and we begin to sink.  In fact, we begin to drown.  Fortunately, our Rescuer knows our weakness and reaches out His hand to save us.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (NIV)  Peace – Supernatural Peace – that surpasses all of our understanding and transcends any circumstances can be yours.  Your situation may remain the same, the problems may still exist but your life can be filled with peace.  Turn your focus from the waves crashing around you and fix your eyes on the only One who can steady your heart and mind.

In a song of praise to God found in Isaiah 26:3, we find the words, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (NLT)  These words remind me of another song I sang as a child that says,

“I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart,

Down in my heart,

Down in my heart.

I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart,

Down in my heart to stay.” *

Don’t you want that lasting peace?  Make Jesus your focus and allow Him in your life.  After Jesus rescued Peter from sinking, the Bible tells us that as soon as Jesus stepped into the disciples’ boat, the storm was calmed.  Why don’t you let Him in your boat today?  You won’t regret it.

*Words by George W. Cooke

It’s Christmastime!

It’s Christmastime everyone!

Time to deck the halls –

Time to string the lights

‘Round the tree and on the walls.

 

It’s time to go a-wasselling –

Wasselling?  Hooray!

Don’t know what it is

But we’ll have fun anyway.

 

It’s time to join the bustle,

Time to shop the stores,

Time to wrap the gifts –

Wait! I need just one thing more.

 

Celebrations everywhere,

Yummy treats to eat,

Old friends to laugh with,

And memories, oh, so sweet.

 

Families all together,

Loved ones held so close,

Christmas is the time

That we truly love the most!

 

But the joy of this season

By all is not shared.

There are those burdened

By a heavy load of cares.

 

There are those who are hurting,

Those who have no hope,

Those who are hungry,

Those who cannot seem to cope.

 

Christmastime to these dear ones

Is just another day

To struggle all alone,

Not a time to sing and play.

 

They simply can’t comprehend

The reason that we sing.

Their woes are too great;

They think miracles silly things.

 

They’re searching for an answer,

Escape from their plight.

They’re holding back tears

As they kiss their kids goodnight.

 

Oh, it’s time we look around –

Open up our eyes

To a dying world

That thinks no one hears their cries.

 

Our lives are filled with plenty;

We’ve so much to give.

We’ve a Hope to share

With a world that longs for it.

 

It’s Christmastime, after all!

Time to spread the news,

Time to tell of Jesus

And His love for me and you.

 

It’s time to go a-serving!

Serving?  Yes, indeed!

Meeting needs of others –

What great joy and peace it brings!

 

So, let’s celebrate this season

Telling of His birth,

Giving unto others,

Spreading Hope and Love on earth.

God is Faithful

As I entered our youth’s worship room last night, I could feel the solemnity of the day lingering overhead.  The tragedy of the death of one of our own was weighing heavy on the entire group.  Trey, our youth leader was preparing for the evening, readying our worship leader and recruiting young people to read Scriptures throughout the service.  There were only a few moments remaining before it was time to begin and those of us who were already in the worship room gathered to pray.  We asked for God to join us, to send His Comforter to our hurting young people and the family that lost their loved one, to open hearts and to change lives.  God is faithful to keep His promises.  As we prayed, His presence was undeniable.

After our prayer, Trey left the room to gather the group, leaving behind the worship leader strumming quietly on his guitar.  I sat in the darkness listening to the sweet serenade of the Spirit and asking God to give me strength and wisdom to counsel our young people in their time of grief.  Again, God is faithful to keep His promises.  In those few minutes before the service began, the boys who were to read the Scriptures began practicing their reading.  Each one was reading a separate passage of comfort from God’s Word and each, without regard to the other, was reading aloud in the darkness while a soft melody was playing.  God’s Word began to permeate the room filling it with comfort and peace.  And as each word was spoken, I could feel the Holy Spirit rushing into that place of worship.

There are many times in my life when I have felt God’s presence but there are few times, if any, that I have ever caught a glimpse of Him.  Last night, God was there.  I could feel Him next to me.  I could hear Him in the music.  I could taste Him in the Bread of Life being spoken.  And as each young person entered that worship room, I could almost see Him as He took their hands, guided them to their appointed places and then wrapped His loving arms of comfort around each one.

Sitting in His presence, we worshiped our Heavenly Father with our songs, our prayers and our tears.  And in that place, I found comfort in knowing that God, who is near to the brokenhearted, was near to the family of young Madison.  As He was holding each one of us in that youth room, He was holding that mother and father who were aching for their daughter.  And though that family may find it difficult to see God during this time, I know that He is with them.  He is shining through the faces of their church family.  He is embracing with the arms of the friends who surround them everyday and soon, He will reveal Himself in a peace that passes all understanding.

God has promised that He will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death.  He has promised to hear us when we cry out to Him.  He has promised to comfort those who are hurting and to save those whose spirits are crushed.  And, oh!  My God is faithful to keep His promises.