Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lent 365 Days of the Year?

Is it possible to continue some of the acts of Lent: prayer, penitence, alms giving, and self-denial beyond Easter Sunday?

Prayer and fasting:

For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1Sam.16:7)

I love this reminder that no matter what I say or do or how people judge me, God knows me by what's inside my heart. Interestingly enough in Mathew chapter 6 we are given the model of prayer and fasting and they both include the words secret place. In other words: God knows your actions by the intent of your heart. I have to confess I don't put into practice fasting as much as I would like or should, but I have given up some unhealthy habits that I once enjoyed. And when I do choose to fast or skip for a day or two something that I enjoy, I am making a conscious effort to draw closer to God.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

As for prayer, it is defined as communicating with God. King David is one of my favorite men of God because he was able to just lie under a tree and carry on a conversation with God and also sing praises unto Him. And that my prayer!

Repentance is an easy one to decipher. The closer you are in your relationship to God the faster you run to Him for forgiveness. When I was just a babe in Christ I thought it was just me having a guilt complex when I sinned until I learned that guilt complex inside of me was actually the Holy Spirit at work. So now as soon as I do something wrong or say something that I shouldn't, I'm asking for forgiveness as quick as you could say Father.

alms giving:
I guess if us followers of Christ are to exemplify Jesus in all that we do then I suppose we just have to love our neighbor as ourselves and give to those in need, right? Did you ever notice that the times that Jesus fed the multitudes He didn't ask them: "What faith are you?" Nor, "Are you a sinner or a saint?" Or, "What political party or group do you belong to?" Or even, "What race are you?" All He did was simply feed them.

self denial:
Once we as believers can grasp the fact that:
And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.(Rom.8:11)

then we can take on what may seem like the impossible; controlling what enters our mind and how it effects our choices, thoughts, habits, and lifestyle:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom.8:5,6)

The last couple of weeks my Pastor has been teaching on Worshiping in Spirit and Truth
(checkout the podcast link on my homepage). I think nothing can prepare us more for entering into Holy Week than our worshiping God in Spirit and truth and continue to do that on a regular basis.
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (Jn.4:24)

It took me a long time to get into this habit of praise and to understand the importance it plays in my daily walk. Choosing to live my life in an attitude of worship has enabled me to shut out the fear and anger that the media and society wants to fill us with.

True, honest worship is our desire and enjoyment of being in His presence and giving glory to His Name. Our worship is what keeps that bond glued together in our relationship with God.

Did you know that inside each of our individual bodies is a cell adhesion called laminin which is in the shape of a cross?

So, if we are carrying around inside of us something in the shape of a cross, shouldn't our outside persona be representing the cross as well?

Because I've learned to worship in spirit and truth I am more prepared to enter into Holy Week and to: remember, ponder, and reflect upon what Christ did for me on the cross and know that He indeed rose again on the third day. But I also have enabled myself to carry that with me in worship each and every day.

How about you?

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Day The Music Died..Then Reborn


After hearing what had happened to Aunt Bea my heart sank quicker than the Titanic. I couldn't even imagine what she might have been going through let alone what the church was going through. And I really can't even put into words why God chose to take the music director like He did. My best interpretation would be the man left earth doing what he loved best, singing praises unto the Lord, and entered heaven being serenaded to by heavenly angels.

As for the church, the congregation knew how much Aunt Bea and the director loved singing together, so their prayers for Aunt Bea (and mine as well) would remain for quite some time, as she remained silent in her singing.

I had established good customer repoire with the new choir director so she kept me informed of any breaking news on Aunt Bea.

It wasn't until six months later when Aunt Bea would walk through those doors at the store again. We talked for a very short while then she promptly walked over to one of the listening stations, put on some music and began to sing. And she didn't even ask! This time she didn't need to ask. The woman who loved to sing about Jesus was back. And this time around it was the sweetest voice I had ever heard.

Within that two minute conversation I had with Aunt Bea I revealed to her that I knew what had happened and had been praying for her. Aunt Bea in return explained that her joy in singing unto the Lord had been restored ten times greater than what she had before.

Sometimes those of us who are believers will often wonder why am I going through this bad stuff ?
But, if there wasn't such a thing as bad we would never be able to appreciate the good in life. And we certainly wouldn't have a testimony to give on how great God is.

Most people when they think of Job they go straight to his suffering:
Lost all of his property
Lost all of his children
Was stricken with boils from head to toe

and fail to recognize that at the end of his adversity Job would gain twice as much as he had before:

After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so he died, old and full of years.
(Job 42:16,17)

If there were a message God wanted to convey through this story of Aunt Bea and her singing partner, and the fact that they chose to sing It Is Finished, it would probably be:

God's love for us didn't end at the cross, that's where it began.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Day The Music Died

The following story happened about 11 years ago on the days leading up to Good Friday and afterward. I can't remember the woman's name but she reminded me of Aunt Bea from the old Andy Griffith Show, so I guess I'll refer to her as just that:

Aunt Bea would come into the music store every two weeks to listen and purchase new song tracks to sing in church. She would spend at least half an hour listening, carefully studying the words and and on occassion hum the tunes. Sometimes she would even ask if I'd mind her singing out loud. In order to make the customer happy of course I was going to oblige. But this woman, well..let's just say that she brought new meaning to the scripture: make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Even though her voice would crackle and be off key at times, she sang with great confidence and joy, and I could tell that nothing or no one was ever going to take that away from her.

A week before Easter she came in to buy a background track to sing for the Good Friday service.
Little did I know that would be the last time I would see her for quite some time. A whole month had passed and no sign of Aunt Bea. Then one day a young lady came in looking to buy some songbooks for her church choir. She was newly appointed as the music director at her church. As we chatted I suddenly realized she was from the same church as Aunt Bea. I described to her what Aunt Bea looked like and began my investigation:

"Where is she? Is she okay? Haven't seen her in awhile, did she move?"

With a hesitation in her voice she answered,

"She's okay. She just stopped singing."

"She stopped singing?" I asked loudly. "What on earth would ever stop her from singing? That was her passion."

The young woman would then explain what had happened:

At the Good Friday Service Aunt Bea was singing a duet with the choir director. The old hymn
It Is Finished was their selection. Just as they finished singing the first verse the music director grabbed his chest in pain and fell to the ground. In front of a very large gathering of parishioners the man died of a heart attack.

And thus putting an end to the enjoyment of singing for this sweet old lady.

To be continued...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Can God Bless Even Through The IRS?


When you think of the Internal Revenue Service you most likely don't think happy thoughts of them. Along with receipt of my refund check (they always have trouble with the automatic deposit program) came a postcard stub saying my refund was more than what I had figured out on my tax forms. But, do not cash this check until you receive a letter from us explaining why this was so and if you disagree with the change please call us.. At first my instinct was: okay more is better than less. Then, with my curiousity getting the best of me, I went ahead and double checked my figures. I still came up with my original refund amount. Then I began to ponder all kinds of different thoughts including: what if I cash this and then later they come back and haunt me with the old "We made a mistake and you owe us". I am one of those people who just needs to know why!

This all reminded me of one of my favorite Honeymooners episodes called The Worry Wart.
(side bar here: I consider this 1953 sketch comedy show the greatest spontaneous acting ever done) In this particular episode, instead of receiving his $42 refund check Ralph Kramden gets a letter requesting him to report to the Internal Revenue Office tomorrow. Now Ralph was counting on that money to take a vacation camping with his wife Alice, so naturally he becomes upset. Ralph is one to always jump to conclusions so his mind starts wondering in all different directions. He stays awake all night trying to figure out not only what he did wrong, but what does the IRS want with him and will he be sent to Levenworth. All this loud commotion awakens his neighbor Norton who comes in to calm Ralph down and help him figure where he might have went wrong with his taxes.

Norton goes through a checklist with Ralph:
"Did you report your interest from bank account? Yes, $2.25"
"Did you receive any bonuses?"
"My boss was cheap this year and gave us a skinny chicken, worth about $2.
"How about gambling winnings?"
"Well..I won $25 playing pool that one time.
Then there was that raffle at the pizza joint and I won a horse with a clock in his stomach.
I won $5 from the 3 legged race at the Raccoon Lodge picnic.
Oh, I know what it could be! I won $85 playing poker. You don't suppose they could be investigating me for that, do ya'?"
Ralph's state of panic gets even worse as he spends all night contemplating what they're going to do to him. The next morning Ralph goes into the Internal Revenue Office and discovers that the only thing he did wrong was fail to sign his tax return. He worried himself over nothing!
Needless to say, my predicament was the opposite of Ralph's, and boy am I glad. I received the IRS letter of explanation a couple of days ago. Their reasoning for the different amount was this:
Based on information provided on your return we have determined you are eligible to claim the Making Work Pay and Government Retiree Credit on line 8 of your return and have computed the credit for you.
I had no idea this credit existed and I won't disagree with their decision and so I will gladly accept the over $400 more in refund given to me.
God always finds ways of blessing us not just through the difficult times, but even through those three dirty initials IRS.
This man is like a tree planted by rivers of water, which gives its fruit at the right time and its leaf never dries up. Whatever he does will work out well for him. (Psalm 1:3)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Shrek Full of Joy

Have you ever been to the checkout line at a store and come across a cashier that is just way too happy? And then think to yourself,"This person must be crazy! Nobody is this happy!"
This happened to me one day and my only regret was the failure to ask,
"Why are you so happy? And what is making you this happy?"

In the second installment of the great love story which is Shrek, the green ogre is on a quest to make his wife, Princess Fiona, happy. What has happened up to this point is Shrek and the Princess have been summoned by the King and Queen, who happen to be Fiona's parents, to make their first appearance as husband and wife to the kingdom of Far Far Away and receive a royal blessing.

Upon their initial meeting, the King and Queen are shocked with disappointment that the Prince to whom they expected their daughter to have married is instead a very green, blob type of ogre.

And to make this adventurous story a little more interesting, we find that the fairy godmother is stark raving mad that her son Prince Charming was not the one to marry the Princess and thus stand in line to inherit the throne. So a conflict between the fairy godmother and the royal family emerges as well.

As the royal meeting and dinner together with the King and Queen don't go over so well, Shrek and Fiona have their own little spat. In the middle of the night and in the angst of the day's events, Shrek paces the floor in sleepless disgust. In his anguish he discovers "accidently" Princess Fiona's diary from when she was a little girl. As he begins to read it he notices one common theme throughout: Fiona's desire of growing up and marrying her very own Prince Charming. Naturally the belching, slobbing ogre begins having a guilt complex and has second thoughts of not being good enough for her and asks himself 'is she really happy married to an ogre'.

Shrek, donkey, and puss-n-boots set out for the fairy godmother's castle to break into her potion room to steal a love potion called Happily Ever After. Shrek decides maybe it should be animal tested first and has donkey taste it. Donkey takes a swallow and becomes a great, white stallion. Shrek then takes a swig of the maximum strength potion and becomes a handsome Prince, though not quite as handsome as Prince Charming. And with Shrek being in love with Fiona, naturally Fiona herself turns into a ravishing beauty of a Princess without even swallowing one drop. (that's some magic potion!)
In the end Princess Fiona is overjoyed with the fact that Shrek would go to great lengths to make his Princess happy. They both also realize they are happy with just being who they really are: ogres in love.

Aristotle once said that: Happiness depends upon ourselves.

We are all only as happy as we choose to be. And naturally when everything is going fine in life it's the simple things that can make us happy:
An ice cream cone on a hot summer afternoon
Curling up with a good book by a nice warm fire in the fireplace on a cold winters day
Taking a vacation with the family

It's all there for us but it is by our choice. Now when we are going through a struggle and that joy is missing, what does it take to gain some of that happiness back into our lives?
I remember the first couple of months of 2009 and the economy took a sudden swan dive and people were losing jobs as quick as you could say "mud". But the one thing that didn't change
was our need for laughter. Movie theater sales were booming from a small comedy film called Mall Cop. People were searching for a happy distraction from the struggles of life and that search even exists today, some 13 months later.

A greater release of joy within the ups and downs of life is our praise unto the Lord. God takes delight in our praise and in our happiness and honors those who trust in Him during the hard times:
The man who is right and good will be glad in the Lord and go to Him to be safe. All those whose hearts are right will give Him praise. (Psalm 64:10)

Our joy in the Lord can truly bring us into a state of: Happily Ever After.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Traces of Gold

As in water face reflects face, so a man's heart reveals the man.
(Proverbs 27:19)

In conversation with a co-worker the other day the subject of picking up some of the traits of our parents came up. After a few minutes of pondering this on my own, I discovered that I am a mirror image of my father and grandfather. Some good traits and some bad ones as well.

In high school I had no interest in fixing things mechanically or construction wise so I shied away from any and all shop classes. I did however spend time helping dad and gramps fix things so I must have learned something through them. I now sometimes spend an afternoon fixing things that go awry in the office at work. I am amazed at how I am able to confidently decipher what is wrong and fix it without any knowledge whatsoever of what the heck I am doing!
My work ethic, as well as both of my brothers, are the spittin' image of our father's. So I guess growing up in a blue collar family has it's advantages.

On the spiritual side I've surprisingly picked up the traits of my grandfather. Or should I say, inherited them. My grandfather was a great, bold and boisterous preacher who remained faithful in the hard times and so eloquently went about the business of being a mirrored reflection of his Heavenly Father. A trait God expects in all of us.

I think all of us can remember at one time or another maybe confessing, "I'll never be like my parents were!" These confessions obviously coming during our teenage years when we thought we knew everything and our parents didn't know anything.
Some of you may have endured hard times with parents who had problems of their own and may have subsequently taken them out on you. But if you can take that negative image of your parents and turn it into a positive one for your life and those of your own family, then those hard times had it's reward.

Einstein once said, "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."

Sometimes life's greatest lessons are learned not through school, but through life in general.

When Diana Ross sang about reflections of the way life used to be she was reflecting on memories of a life full of: tears, hurt, lost love, and was left with just that, only memories.

When you look into the mirror you should not only see a reflection of who you are, but what you've become. And if you feel like you haven't become the person you want to be, well, it's never too late to turn that reflection into a positive one.

Friday, March 5, 2010

No Fear

When visiting inside Tropic World at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo I am always amazed at these lowland gorillas. What's so intriguing is their natural instinct and agility to be able to sit, stand, or even do a handstand on the smallest of branches. On this particular day I even witnessed one of these guy's hang upside down off a branch and was in mid air clapping his hands. I spared you the great picture because it was a moon shot view! But yes, it was the guy in the first picture.
Nevertheless, it is in these animals DNA to climb trees with no fear of falling.

One of the greatest fears of mankind is going to the dentist. On the outside of my dentist's office used to hang atop the building a couple of smiling faces with a sign that read:
We accept cowards of all kinds.

The medical room that my dentist works in is kind of small and so once your inside that frightening old dentist chair you can only turn to your right side for him to work on your teeth. And strategically placed on that wall to your right your eyes will view a painting containing the verse:
"Fear not for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

So as the dentist begins to work on my teeth and fear settles in, I am reminded to "fear not".

Fear is a natural response to a perceived threat or danger. Medical professionals have pinned this down to a science and call it Fight or Flee Responses. When something unexpected happens the adrenaline takes affect in our body. Our blood flow will rush and tighten up in both the torso area and the groin area, causing you to fight back or flee. So what's missing is the normal amount of blood flow and oxygen going to the brain which causes faulty thinking.

The 5 systems affected by fear are: physical, behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual.
So fear plays a significant role in your physical and mental well being. And that's when the importance of being spiritual can come into play, if you don't allow fear to ruin that important aspect of you.

Remind yourself daily what God says about your situation, and what He says about you as a child of God.

Remind yourself that: For God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us a spirit of power and of love and of a good mind. (2Tim.1:7)

Monday, March 1, 2010

What's Love Got To Do With It

So I found myself captivated with an actual message within an episode of I Carly a couple of weeks ago. I was watching my 7 year old niece for a couple of hours and that is my only reason for watching this kids sitcom on Nickelodeon. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

In this particular episode Carly, a preteen, is walking across the street and almost gets hit by a taco truck. Freddie, her best friend since childhood, had run across oncoming traffic to push Carly aside. Freddie was hit by the truck and received a broken leg and a broken arm for his heroics.

During his rehab Carly finds herself not only indebted to him with gratitude but begins to fall in love with her best friend. She visits him everyday and even refers to him as "my hero".

Now Freddie has had a crush on Carly for quite some time and has always dreamed that the two of them would be boyfriend and girlfriend. So they now consider themselves a couple. But after awhile Freddie kind of figures out that Carly is not really in love with Freddie the person, but in love with the heroic actions that he had pulled off.
Freddie becomes a little bit wiser through all of this and doesnt want them to be together under false pretenses. So they decide to just remain best friends.

All of us could probably remember our childhood years and being able to fall in love so easily. We drop a book or pencil when walking through the school hallway and some dreamboat boy or girl stoops down to pick it up for us, our eyes meet and then Bamm!! puppy love has entered the building. Love was simple then. When we got older and matured love took on a whole different meaning for us.

What came to mind when watching this I Carly episode (my mind is always moving around) was not just the thought of falling in love because of actions but our love towards God. And do we only reserve our love for God when action calls for it?

1.We're in a tight situation and God gets us out of it and so our love for Him exists but it only lasts momentarily.

2. Our love for Him is reserved for only certain occasions such as the season of Lent or when we recognize Jesus' birth at Christmas time.

3. In our time of need we run to Jesus for help and so we're going through the motion of
desperate times calls for desperate measures and then find ourselves making a barter with God.

God's love for us never ends and it never fails. He doesn't hold it against us when we do something wrong. He doesn't put His love for us in a box and open it only on certain occasions.

He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins; the single, greatest act and submission of love that will ever exist.

Since I have a fondness for dogs I am always intrigued by one detail when I see someone walking their dog down the street as I drive through various neighborhoods to and from work: you never see a dog angry when out walking with his master. The dogs always look happy. They are wagging their tails, some even look like they are smiling, they are happy they are out walking with their master. Such a simple attitude and response to love.

Here's some questions for each of us to ponder:
If you are walking with the Lord are you happy?
Am I responding to Christ's love for me in a positive way?
Am I reserving my love for God only at certain times of the year?
Do I reflect and appreciate God's love on a daily basis?

And if you are not walking with the Lord and you appear to be happy, it is only a temporary joy you are experiencing brought on by the world and what it has to offer.

But the joy and love that God provides is one that lasts for an eternity. He even promises that:
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

In our submission to Christ we gain access to the Father. So we can approach God at anytime day or night and He is there for us, ready to listen and respond.

The title of this post is also the title of a song by Tina Turner. The song is about not giving your heart away so that it can be broken. And within the words of the song she sings that love is a second hand emotion.

But in the Word of God love supercedes all other emotions and your heart can't be broken with God's love.

There are six primary human emotions that function through us: fear, sadness, anger, surprise, love, and joy.
In the Bible:
Anger is mentioned 270 times
Joy 242 times
Sadness only once
Fear, interestingly enough, shows up in one form or another 365 times
But love shows up over 442 times

You may have many questions about love but there is only one real answer and that is Jesus Christ.

Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy. (Psalm 126:5)

If we can,within our trials, sow ourselves into God's Word, worship Him, and pray in faith, God turns our tears and trials into joy.

So when God answers your cry for help it is not the emotion of surprise you should feel
but the emotion of love.