Summer Is As Sweet As Apple Pie with Ice Cream

I marvel at the funny actions of my one-year old great granddaughter, Lizzie. She often walks around looking up at the ceiling…it’s as if she can see angels. When we look up and follow her gaze, we see nothing. Perhaps the cares of the world and the mundane concerns which come with decades of daily living have dimmed our abilities to see whatever it is that Lizzie sees. There is something remarkable about the uninhibited gaze of a toddler.

How wonderful it would be to see the world without eyes dimmed by years of skepticism or unbelief or hazed-over by life’s many disappointment. When I took Lizzie outside for a stroll the other day, I noticed that she does the same thing outdoors. She looks up and beholds something beautiful.

Life is wonderful all year long, but it is especially so in the summer. Summer is just sweeeet! I have decided that I will apply my “Lizzie gaze” to all that I behold in God’s beautiful world. I want to truly see the things I would ordinarily miss.

There is something about summer that allows us to recognize that God is everywhere! God is in every  movement; He is in every word that we speak. Whatever actions I take or perceptions I have, there is God!  When I rise up in the mornings and greet the summer sun beaming through my wide bedroom window, and whenever I eat or drink, rest or work–I meet God at every turn.

and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are.

“We are his children,” Acts 17:28—Contemporary English Version

God’s eye is upon us. He sees every action, every movement that we make. He feels every emotion of our hearts; He knows every thought before it is fashioned. He understands the words we are preparing to speak, even before we utter them.

Summer is another season of bliss, a time to rejoice in all that God has given us to enjoy. I rejoice in the angels seen only in the eyes of a toddler. And in a short summer rain falling softly on the roof. And in a slice of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream, eaten outdoors beneath a canopy of trees. All is of God. Since all is in God and of God, and since we are alive in Him, this is the day to rejoice in Him.  Today I thank Him for the deep, blessed, love-filled treasure of every breath that He gives.

 

Life Is Like A Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

    I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation,  filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;  Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.—Psalm 139:14 The Voice

I saw my friend, Sarah, walking by me the other day with her head down. “Look up,” I said. “Things are going to get better.” I wondered what life had delivered that made her look so forlorn. As I walked on, I concluded that Sarah was probably suffering from a huge dose of feeling ordinary…which nobody is, by the way!

You are uniquely you. The talents God has given you set you apart. Your gifts make you extraordinary, even if there are days when you feel that you are just another cookie-cutter replica of Joe or Jane Ordinary. Whatever you may think, you are not just another common, mundane person taking up space on earth.

You were born an original. You are the exclusive, distinctive, matchless person God had been working on for a long time.

Your life reflects how unique you are. No one else has had the exact same experiences.

Many of us see our lives as commonplace. We view our contributions as run-of-the-mill. We look at our lives as middling and mediocre. Just like the painstakingly familiar peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Delicious but unglamorous.

I’m afraid that people are giving up their appreciation for treats that have long been our mainstay—like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are trading PB&J sandwiches for trendier snacks. Like hummus, for example. I haven’t exactly developed a taste for this growingly popular dip. Of course, I know it’s wonderfully low in fat, high in protein, and made from those healthy legumes—chickpeas.

At our house, we took the mundane PB&J sandwich to a new level recently and made it extraordinary.  Someone brought home a container of freshly-made peanut butter from the deli and a jar fresh-fruit laden jelly. How healthy is that?

I should have reminded Sarah that life is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but it’s up to you to make it extraordinary. You may look like everyone else, but you’re not. Tap the power God has given you by recognizing the wonder in who you are.

 

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

I will give you treasures hidden in dark and secret places.

Then you will know that I, the Lord God of Israel,  

have called you by name

—Isaiah 45:3, Contemporary English Version

 I, for one,

am not particular about being in the dark.  Actually, I prefer bright sunshine and well-lit rooms.

My favorite feature of the night is the brightness of the stars. These starry treasures point out that, even God wanted to punctuate the dark mantle of the night with a sprinkle of glimmer. I like that.

Life offers many contrasts. There are opposites and divergences.  Out of darkness comes light. Out of agony comes joy.

Someone has said that the richest blessings are often those that come to us in the night seasons of our lives, when we believe that we are surrounded by an unfamiliar haziness. In that hour, God sends a surprise package—some unbelievable delight.

There are countless stories of people who lost their homes during a flood. I have heard many people say that, after the loss, when those residences were rebuilt, they had an even better home.

The story is told of a man whose home and all of his belongings were washed away. On the darkest day, he stood to survey his losses as the waters subsided. Despondent, he saw an object shining in the mud. It looked like gold. And it actually was gold. The floodwaters, which brought ruin to his door, also made him very wealthy.

God will reveal to us hidden treasures in dark, secret places! This promise, this divine truth, comes today to brighten the night of your trouble, whatever it looks like. Look a little closer. You will see evidence of God’s hand, moving.

The darkness is not always the herald of shadowy things; sometimes it is about unanticipated blessings. Perhaps the night will usher in your next season of favor.

Mr. Demille, I’m Ready for My Close-up (or, Tyler Perry…Are You Out There?)


I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;

night is coming when no one can work.—John 9:4 NRSV

 

 

Lights, camera, action!

Last Saturday evening, I trudged out into the February chill to hear author Eric Metaxas speak of how William Wilberforce launched a heroic campaign to end slavery.  There were a billion reasons that came to mind as excuses to stay home where it was warm and cozy. An hour and a half after taking my seat in the auditorium, I was glad that I came. Author of the book, “Amazing Grace,” Metaxas told riveting stories about how one person used his talent and influence to make a lasting global difference, impacting millions of people. The lecture was riveting and inspirational. I left telling myself:  “I’m ready to do something really big!”

I think I am ready for my Oscar. How about you?  Or we could plan a trip to LA, take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and see if anyone placed our stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame…but forgot to tell us.

Among the more memorable words ever spoken in the world of cinema, for some strange reason, I suddenly recalled this famous line from the picture, “Sunset Boulevard.” Actress Gloria Swanson slinked down a winding staircase and said, “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”  Swanson was Norma Desmond in the ‘50s classic and her lines addressed famed director, Cecil B. DeMille.  Playing Norma to the hilt, Swanson was ready to face all of “those wonderful people out there in the dark.”

There are even more people in the dark today. Who knew that we could find inspiration in the portrayal of an attention-driven actress? But this is the inspiration we need to tackle our God-given assignment and this is the strength we will find to help people walk into the light of Christ.

Well, this is the moment for your close-up.  I am challenging you to begin your most important quest—not necessarily to become a famous actor but to take on the pursuit of your really big role: accomplishing your divine purpose in life.

What is the one big thing you feel chosen to do? What great dream do you have for making a difference? What will you do to make the universe a more peaceful and joyous place?

You may be the one to positively impact someone halfway around the world. Closer to home, God may be counting on you to reach out in a new way in your own neighborhood or family.

Today is your day! This is the moment to find your true self.  If you don’t mind my saying so, it’s time to go big or go home.  Just go do it—whatever it is that God created you to do, do it now.  It doesn’t matter what work you envision; just don’t be a procrastinator. If you don’t do it, it may never be done. Ready for your close-up?

Watch Your Words!

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  Proverbs 23:7

I worry sometimes that, when people walk past my door and hear me talking to myself—audibly—they may be concerned.  No need. Usually, I am speaking aloud those affirmations I need at the moment.

Positive affirmations are important. Speaking them aloud helps them to sink in better.

Did you realize that whatever you speak over your life is what happens?

Whatever you speak to yourself is the life you create.  When you speak words of healing, then, you are healed. You have the power to speak victory over every illness, every bout of depression or any negative situation.

What you say in your heart happens.  Those words that you speak to yourself internally are the words that grow out of your innermost thoughts.  When we envision something, we create our own reality.

There is a popular Donald Lawrence gospel song with the words, “encourage yourself in the Lord.”  Of course, those lyrics are based upon the Word of God.  “…but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”—1 Samuel 30:6(b) (KJV) His life was in danger. He had suffered tragedies, now mutiny. His own troops were murmuring about stoning him. If David could speak encouragement, with all of the trauma and difficulties he faced, so can you.

When you do that—when you encourage yourself in God—the Lord Himself will, in turn, encourage you.  God hears; He listens. He uplifts you with heavenly encouragement. Just take note of the words recorded in Psalm 10:17 (NIV): “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and listen to their cry.”

Watch your words because your words have the power to kill or your words can give life.  How incredibly wise Solomon was when he recorded this warning for our benefit:  “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”—Proverbs 18:21(a)

The words that you nurture are the words that bear fruit.  Your words have a harvest. You plant them by speaking them and you can be certain that whatever you plant will grow. Just like in the natural world, if you plant corn, don’t expect to harvest green beans.  With the words you speak, you will harvest something, and you don’t want your harvest to be illness and despair.

While I acknowledge that it is human to speak words of doubt when you feel that there may be a reason to give up, we should never speak those words.  Make a commitment never to say, “I cannot do this” or “I won’t make it.” We serve a God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask of Him or even think about asking. Apply this truth to your words.

Believe in your next victory. Speak it. Have confidence in the exceeding greatness of God’s power to bring what you believe to pass.

Getting to “Whatever”

“Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ.  This is what God wants you to do.”   1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Contemporary English Version)

             There are times in life when the atmosphere simply shifts. The earth moves. The stars swing into motion and reappear in a completely different part of the galaxy. It is at those times, that Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica speaks volumes. In those surprising “whatever” moments, that’s when life happens. When you face the unexpected. When some part of the mere process of living on planet earth simply jumps out of the darkness and shouts, “surprise!”

I know about “whatever” moments. And I know because the Lord designed a paradigm shift in my life. In a new, untried place, I learned a deeper lesson of what it means to completely rely on His design.  I live in a new place. I have a new, unanticipated marital status—widow. But, in your case it may be joblessness, finding a home, entering a relationship, having a child, facing an illness, finding financial balance. Any new phase can lead to those “whatever” moments. Mine is clearly a new walk, yet I trust that God’s guidance and sufficiency are not behind me—not in my past—they are ahead of me, in the future He is leading me towards.

When I spoke with a friend’s daughter who unexpectedly became a very young widow, I shared the importance of thankfulness at her new “whatever” point.

The advice of Paul is clear. When you come face-to-face with “whatever,” your response must be to immediately start thanking. Then, keep thanking.  Thankfulness is the posture God wants for you.

Even when we are blessed, secure, healthy and comfortable, we must constantly be aware of the fact that thankfulness, in every situation, is essential. Today, more than ever, I recognize small mercies. Never wait for the big miracles; be thankful for breathing, thinking, walking, talking, working, eating, loving someone and having folks who love you. Life sparkles when we give thanks in all things.

You get to that thankful place of “whatever” by growing up in your faith. And by trusting God for all of your tomorrows, even the unplanned ones. Do not hinder the work that God will accomplish in you by anything—especially by seeds of doubt about whether or not you can see all that is in your future. Because you cannot.

Still, know this. His abundance is enough. In that grace, embrace every one of life’s “whatever” moments.

(Image:  iStock Photo by Aldo Murillo)

When You Open Your Eyes, What Do You See?

“…I will guide You with My eye.”  Psalm 32:8 NKJV

Got healthy eyes?  If so, that is a reason to be thankful. Scientists tell us that nearly 4.2 million Americans are blind or visually impaired. Experimental therapies and modern technologies are opening up incredible doors for solving our vision problems. New treatments involve gene therapy, stem cell therapy and even modified versions of Vitamin A.

Not long ago, I panicked when I saw a small pool of shadowy spots drift across one eye. When I had my eyes examined by a young doctor—who, by the way, looked young enough to be a recent high school graduate—she assured me that “floaters” are not at all uncommon. The solution she proposed:  “Come back if they get worse.” Later, in the drug store, I was surprised to find an entire section of vitamins just for eye health. I bought some.

Each morning, when I open my eyes, one thing I am thankful for is vision. If I could not see, what would I miss? How would I work?

The eye has an infinite ability to express many emotions—what we feel, how we love, how we instruct, what we think. The eye speaks many languages. Just ask the mother of a young child how she uses an expressive look to speak a loud but voiceless, “No!” The strange and lovely words written by the psalmist remind us of God’s compassion, His gentleness. How remarkable to think that God has His eye on you.

What do you see when you look at God? What does God see when He looks at you? The greatest level of communication might well be those moments when we have eye-to-eye contact with God. If faith is our inner eye, in that contact, two become one. You and God.

In heaven, we have been promised to see Him face-to-face. Yet, for today, clear your vision and focus your gaze on God. Don’t miss His guidance. Prayer clears the vision. Meditating on Him adds light and focus. More prayer means that more light streams in and the brightness illuminates your day.

0.3 seconds. That is the time it takes for one blink. We lubricate our eyes with every blink. Each day, those 0.3 second blinks total thirty minutes. Thirty minutes of your waking time with eyes closed; you see nothing. In the spiritual context, fix your vision on God; try not to blink! Keep your eyes open.

Meeting God, eye-to-eye, opens the way for you to receive the message He has for you today. God is looking at you, individually. He focuses on your eyes in a sea of other faces. The mind of God shines through His gaze, caring for you. Look back. You’ll like what you see.

Lord, Bless This Mess

“Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah … saying,Arise, go to Nineveh…” But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord,and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish.” 

—Jonah 1:1-3

 Here’s a confession. I hear but don’t always listen.

To hear is to use your auditory senses. When you hear, you do so with your ears. When you listen, you take it to the next level. What you hear becomes the center of attention. To listen is all about focus, concentration, and tuning in to the broadcast. The conversation gets clearer.

On the other hand, human frailty is something like this: even when God speaks, we sometimes don’t listen.  Thus, my recent Jonah moment. In the Old Testament narrative, God spoke clearly and Jonah went the opposite way.

I can sympathize with Jonah. I think I know how he felt.  In my own self-created “situation,” I was on the boat leaving Joppa, heading for Tarshish when I knew perfectly well I should be in Nineveh.

And, no, it wasn’t sheer disobedience. I never refused to do what God said. In fact, I pledged to do exactly what God instructed, just not right now. The conversation went something like this:  “OK, Lord, I heard You. But I’ll be right back. Just let me run over here for a second and do this first.” It was a small request, I hardly thought He would notice I was missing.

From that moment, I was leaning into a headwind—the kind of gust that sucks the air out of your lungs. Two choices were involved and I picked the option that I favored.  The result:  a mess.

Choosing to do what we want is always prideful, self-centered and disobedient. We learn quickly that we can’t run away from doing as God instructs, Jonah-style. Nor can we quietly saunter away, full of logical explanations, like me.  Whether you end up getting thrown overboard in a fierce typhoon or simply have your eyebrows knocked askew by a powerful gust of wind, God’s message is clear. Stop doing what you want to do.  The plan we choose can never be as effective or successful as the plan God chooses for us.

Listen and learn.

Living in everyday joy doesn’t make you immune to making regretful decisions. It does give you peace in every mess. You cultivate the ability to pray and ask God to send a taxi…or a whale…going in the right direction. God honors us when He graces us with a work that becomes a blessing to someone else.  In the end, just turn around and pray for deliverance whenever you feel that messy wind start to blow.

Sparkling Water for Parched Tongues

“And when people thirst, when those poor souls with parched tongues look in vain for something to drink, I, the Eternal, the God of Israel, won’t leave them to suffer. I will respond by making the hard, brown hills sparkle with streams of fresh water and causing valleys to come alive with springs…”

~Isaiah 41:17-18a The Voice Bible

Sometimes God’s mercy surprises us. That’s what His miracles are, like water in the desert.  Water is enigmatic in the Word, a symbol of God’s mercy.

There may be days when you feel like these prophetic words from Isaiah are not speaking to your situation.  But, I encourage you to listen again. We are all poor and needy, faint and thirsty, in one way or another. This passage is not focusing solely on financial poverty.  This passage simply reminds us of the truth that, in every moment in which we are without God or whenever we are not seeking His face in every matter of decision-making, we are empty. Thirsty.

God satisfies every want, every thirst.  He is our constant supply, opening up rivers of Living Water. God’s water is the source of refreshment and prosperity. His Water is comfort that supplies all of our wants; it is an answer for all of your prayers.

I spoke with a father recently who was concerned about how to inspire his son to go back to church. Disappointing, discouraging words spoken by others had caused the son memorable hurt and he stopped attending worship. The father and I talked about how the most important thing he could encourage his son to do was to develop a close, personal relationship with God. Then, returning to church would happen.

That is the prayer I have for my children, grandchildren, all the children I know and those I will never know.  My prayer is that God’s presence in our lives will be exceptional—overflowing, bursting at the seams, like fountains brimming over in a desert.

When we break away from the cares that concern us, moment by moment, and turn our attention to God, we are like a dry and thirsty land that is, suddenly and unexpectedly, filled with gushing streams. The words recorded by Isaiah are actually God Himself speaking and giving you His promise. God will arise; He will spring up in the midst of every barren day.

Life is a journey. Pathless, because we do not know what’s ahead. We cannot see around each bend. Yet, in the wilderness seasons of life, God provides for all our needs.

My prayer for you is that each daily experience of God in your life is so richly alive, flourishing, cool and refreshing, that you liken it to a plunge in a pool of water on a hot, summer day.

DO YOU REALLY KNOW WHO YOU ARE?

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.  

2 Corinthians 4:7 (KJV)

Let’s do an experiment. Go get that special cup of gourmet coffee (or tea, if that’s more to your liking), take out a blank sheet of paper and write down the answer to this question:  who are you?  I don’t just mean your name. No, don’t just give me your bio. Who are you…really?

Here’s a bold statement: you are not who you think you are! I am struck by this fact—many of us don’t know our own worth.  If we look at the outside, we see a common vessel–a pot made of clay–we see the external you. However, the internal you is a priceless treasure. The divine light of Christ’s presence is within you. You mirror His glory; you were made in His likeness.

What makes this treasure even more valuable is that, as weak and as frail and as fragile as we may be, we carry the transforming power of God’s grace and share it by our words, our joy, our testimony and our actions.

The PBS’s documentary, “Who Do You Think You Are? With Henry Louis Gates,” highlights celebrities whose background is traced, as cameras follow. I spoke with one of the producers of that series not long ago and expressed how I appreciated their perspective on heritage. I’ve been thinking about having that kind of DNA test done that breaks down ethnicity, even geographically. What part of Africa were my ancestors from? I’ve always heard that my maternal grandfather (he died the year I was born) was Native American, as many people have said…was that true?

Bigger than the mystery of our ancestry is the awesome truth of how valuable we are to God. He bought us, He paid for us, He bankrupt Heaven…giving up His beloved Son…to buy us back to Himself. In the art world, a piece created by Pablo Picasso or Jacob Lawrence is valued based on what someone last paid for a similar piece.  Beyond that, the great God of the universe values you so highly that He paid an incredible price.

Early in the summer, I sat in the window of a fast food restaurant in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, waiting for an appointment with an Army small business specialist to begin.  I decided to use the time to read several documents I had saved on my iPad.  As it approached midday, I looked up and suddenly realized that I was surrounded by men and women dressed in fatigues.  What struck me most was the reality of who these young people are who serve in our military.

Fort Campbell is one of the world’s largest Army installations. It was lunch time. The restaurant had quickly filled with fresh-faced, fatigue-clad men and women. Should I have been surprised at how they looked like my grandchildren? Almost aloud I said, “These are our children! We send them around the world to fight for us, and they have only been in the world for two decades.”

With that vivid picture still so fresh,  the Defense Department announced statistics on military suicides.  They now cap one a day, a record high.  A few weeks ago, I passed through the book store of the airport ain Columbus, Ohio, nd picked up the July 23 issue of Time magazine.  The cover story was:  “One A Day.” The article, by Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs, stated that “every day, one U. S. soldier commits suicide” and went on to describe “why the military can’t defeat its most insidious enemy.”

Are these youthful soldiers returning from combat and giving up on life? Why? Perhaps it’s because no one told them who they really are.

You matter to God!  The One who created you wants you to claim the power of your identity and enjoy life…completely.  You were meant to know God, up-close and personally, serve Him by doing the work you’re created for, be joyful every day, and enjoy Him forever after this life. So, go do that.