Black Tea

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you, but especially to my husband, who never complains as I write about our lives on a public platform. (Thank you, my love!) Before I relate the story below, let me applaud the way he takes my teasing—and this blog—with humor and grace. Even after four plus decades (we were very young when we met) of friendship, we miscommunicate on occasion. Here’s one of our latest faux pas.

 

Elizabeth had flown from California to Texas to celebrate Christmas. The two hour time change was wearing on her a bit, as was a bout with a cold and the fatigue of a busy week. Having never been a coffee drinker, she asked me to add a caffeinated tea to my Christmas grocery list. I had a looonggg list, and managed to come home with a trunkful of culinary delights, including many flavors of delicious tea, but not her caffeinated request.

The next day was baking day, and we discovered a few needed items were missing. My loving husband offered to make the run to Kroger, so I added black tea to the list, sure that he would enjoy choosing a delicious flavor for our much loved child.

Oops.

Steve came home with everything on the shopping list, proud of himself for discovering that Lipton makes huge boxes of plain black tea bags that average about a nickel a serving. Yeah, that wasn’t what I had in mind. I was expecting something with pumpkin or spice or at least bergamot.

The most gracious thing I could have done, of course, would have been to drop the subject altogether. (Too much to hope for, my friends.) Instead, I teased him a bit about his frugal but boring choice. I chuckled and went on with my baking, having cited the wise writers of Driver’s Ed in a Box who taught me years ago that, when there is miscommunication, the fault generally lies with she who speaks, not he who listens, as nobody wants to misunderstand on purpose. There was no harm done. Son-in-law Jake brought home wonderful tea soon thereafter. I now have a lot of plain black tea in my pantry at home.

What does this story have to do with living as the Lord would have us to? Simply this. We need to get along. To cut each other slack. To take the blame ourselves. To swallow pride. To put up with inconvenience. To encourage one another. Petty grievances, and the discord they can create, are as old as the hills. Cain and Abel. (Okay, that’s a little extreme.) Euodia and Syntyche (Check out their story here in Philippians 4.)

Peace on earth? It really does begin with you and me. And now is as good a time as any to get started!

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Faith and Presumption

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I was staying at my parents’ condo a few weeks ago and borrowed my mom’s Bible. She writes in the margins, making her Bible all the more precious and insightful. Here is the passage I was reading from Matthew 14:25-33. (Underlining mine.)

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Here is the note Mom had penned in the margin: “Peter knew he could not walk on the water unless Jesus told him to.”

Peter asked Jesus to call him out onto the water, and then he waited for Christ’s command. We can, in our own pride and presumption, begin to consider ourselves to be in charge of—responsible for—far too much. Our God is an awesome God, ready to help us accomplish great things, but not all things. We are wise to seek his will and keep our efforts within his calling.

Secondly, if we doubt or fail, all is not lost. Yes, Peter sank. But he also walked. And he was still brought back into the boat by the Lord.

What are you considering this week? Pray. Seek the counsel of a good friend and of the Bible and of God’s still small voice. Don’t take on some challenge just because it is there. It may be meant for another. But, if you are convinced that God is calling you to some task, step out of the boat! Our Lord won’t let you drown.

My Precious by Beth Smith

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Jesus told two parables about treasure. They’re recorded in the book of Matthew, Chapter 13. “The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then in joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.”

In Extravagant Love, a wonderful Bible scholar named Derek Prince[1] interprets the parable this way.

  • The man in the parable is Jesus.
  • The field represents the world.
  • The treasure stands for God’s people in the world.

The man found the treasure and bought the whole field. Did he want the whole field? No, but he realized that he had to buy it in order to get the treasure. It cost him all he had, but he gladly paid the high price, because he knew the value of the treasure contained in the field.

Consider John 3:16 in light of the parable. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, Jesus, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but shall have eternal life.” The “whoevers,” the people who believe in him, are the treasure in the field, the people Jesus died to save. He paid for the whole world in order to redeem the “whoevers.” He bought the whole field for his treasure, his redeemed people.

Jesus died for the whole world. He wants everyone to be a believer. He gave his all for the treasure, for those who believe in him.

Now, let’s look at a second parable about a valuable treasure in Matthew 13:45-46. Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went and sold everything he had and bought it.

Perhaps in this parable the merchant is also Jesus. In the first parable, Jesus was talking about all believers. In the second, he was talking about one single pearl, one believer. Picture Jesus holding one single pearl in his hand. Imagine him saying, “I gave my all, my very life just for you.” Jesus loves each of us that much. Each of us can say, “If I had been the only one on earth that needed to be redeemed, Jesus would have died just for me.”

Do you struggle with a sense of shame or worthlessness? Do you wonder whether or not God really wants you, loves you or cares about you? Stop now. Let this parable convince you that you are a pearl, greatly loved by Christ.

The next time you see a pearl, or any sort of gem for that matter, let it remind you that you are precious, of great worth. Christ proved it. He gave his all for you.

[1] Available on Amazon Publisher: DPM-UK (May 17, 2012) ISBN-13: 978-1908594556

 

Preoccupation or Prayer?

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Multitasking can lower productivity. A life of distraction hinders happiness. But meditation may actually impact the structure of the brain. Scientists don’t know why, but meditation can reduce anxiety, depression, and pain. Quiet time, prayer, Scripture memorization—these are all part and parcel of a meditative life and are certainly encouraged throughout the Bible. When the day takes on frantic undertones, or when we find it difficult to stay in the present time and place, there’s a good chance that refreshing our devotional habits will help.

Of course we’re called not only to prayer, but to praise, worship, and thanksgiving. Time[1] Magazine reported that people who are grateful tend to feel more content. Gratitude means noticing the good in our lives and being happy for what we have. If one of your “brain ruts” is that of constant comparison or disgruntlement, you’re dragging yourself down. Happy people are seldom bothered by the successes of others. They count their own blessings. They have a biblical perspective: all good things come from God, and he knows what is best for us. Remember, we can change those neural pathways with practice. We don’t need greater wealth or better circumstances to be happy. We need greater appreciation, mindfulness of our blessings, and a willingness to express our gratitude for them. Church helps. It’s an easy place to express our gratitude. Furthermore, when I of Sunday mornings, I think of

  • Music, a proven mood enhancer.
  • Fellowship, touted by many as essential to sustained happiness.
  • Friends. Time says stable, committed relationships matter.
  • Faith. Multiple studies assert that people of faith tend to struggle less with depression and anxiety.
  • Acts of Service: Time insists that charitable giving brings greater happiness than personal spending, and that doing acts of kindness is better still.

Does money buy happiness? No, but it does give us the opportunity to do a scientifically (and Biblically) supported happiness-building activity: spend some on other people. In one study, children as young as 2 years old were given the choice of giving another child small crackers from either their own pile or from that of someone else. They were happier giving away their own crackers! Another study showed that people who commit to doing three or more acts of kindness a week may elevate their happiness level.

Is wanting to be happy a selfish goal? I think not. The Bible talks about rejoicing and gladness and praise. And isn’t it generally unhappy people who become turned in upon themselves, sometimes spreading their gloom as they go? So, let’s make choices that bring good cheer. Currently, only 30% of Americans say they are very happy. Maybe this is the year we can up that number.

[1] The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life, A Time Special Edition, September 9, 2017.

Mindfulness

brain-2062057_1280 mindfulness pixabay 12 14 17On Christmas day, were you present for the presents—really there, consciously engaged in the moment for the whole event? Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University studied 5,000 people and concluded that adults only spend about 50% of their time in the present moment. Ugh! That leaves many of us severely distracted half of the time.

 

Furthermore, according to Killingsworth and Gilbert, we’re generally happier when we are fully engaged than when we are mentally checked out, even if the activity at hand isn’t one of our favorites. The good news is that our mental wanderings can be curtailed. The more we practice awareness, the more it will become a habit.

So, how do we practice awareness, being present in the moment?

For starters, consider wearing a watch! How often have you pulled out your smart phone to check the time and then decided to “take a moment” to check the news, your text messages, your social media outlets…Suddenly checking the time has taken a lot of time. The average American teen, according to Time, sends and receives more than 3000 text messages a month. Too many of us are letting too many moments slip away via those electronic rectangles. And when we have our eyes on a screen, we are no longer fully engaged in our present time and place. Perhaps we all need to scheduled screen-free breaks in our busy weeks.

Next, stop buying the lie that multitasking is the path to a productive life. When we mentally lean into the next task, (for example, sweeping the floor while composing a memo or mowing the yard while reviewing the day’s to do list) we lay ourselves open to anxiety  and stress while forgoing the happiness of completing a task. Boy am I guilty of that! Emma Seppala, PH.D., author of “The Happiness Track,”[1] teaches that multitasking, rather than helping us accomplish more things faster, actually keeps us from doing anything well.  Undivided attention, on the other hand, brings greater efficiency and a higher level of enjoyment. Worrisome thoughts may be one of our chief distractors, and Jesus plainly said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.[2] Instead, we are told to pray. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.

[1] HarperOne, © 2016.

[2] Matthew 6:27, 34

More Time to Be Happy

abraham-abe-lincoln-295315_1280 pixabay 12 14 17Time Magazine’s[1] list of “Healthy Habits for Happiness” are right in line with many of the things I believe God would have us do. That list includes:

  • Sleep—an average of 8 hours. Consider this verse from Psalm 127, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.
  • Exercise—increasingly considered a standard part of treatment for depression. Remember, life in Bible times was, by its very nature, filled with exercise. Think no cars, plenty of farming and shepherding and chopping wood.
  • Sunshine—which boosts synthesis of mood regulating serotonin, and was certainly a natural part of life long ago.
  • Diet. (A few more ideas about that here.)
  • Standing up straight and smiling—yep, even on down days, smiling seems to help. Perhaps that’s a physical part of the choice to rejoice, as in “Let us rejoice today and be glad!”[2]

Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” We can’t orchestrate our lives to be free of unhappy circumstances. The Apostle Paul said, though, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”[3] He also said, in that same letter, “Rejoice in the LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”[4]

According to Dennis Charney, dean of the ICAHN School of Medicine, we can train our brains to think a particular way. (So we can teach ourselves to think like Paul!) If we worry all the time, for example, we create a sort of worry rut. The PhD term is a neuronal pathway. Worry, or fear, or plain old grumpiness can become our default. If we choose more positive modes of thinking, of responding to difficulty, we can create new and better brain ruts, so to speak. But we have to work at making those changes. Something called “mindfulness” is a good place to start, and that’s exactly where we’ll start next week.

 

 

 

[1] The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life, A Time Special Edition, September 9, 2017.

[2] Psalm 118: 24b

[3] Philippians 4:12

[4] Philippians 4:4