Always (by Beth Smith)

In a marriage seminar, I learned to avoid using the word  always when arguing with my husband Bert.

The teacher gave these “he said/she said” examples:

She says, “You always leave your underwear on the floor,” or “You’re always on the phone.”

He says, “You always burn the toast,” or “You’re always talking .”

Don’t do that!

The Bible, though, uses the word always in much better ways. For example, “Jesus told them a parable that they ought always to pray and not turn coward or lose heart ” (Luke 18:1 AMP).

Always pray. We may think, “I’ve prayed. Nothing happened. Maybe I’m not praying the right way.” But God says, “Don’t faint. Don’t stop.” Keep believing that God will do what he knows is best for us.

The prayer life of Jesus is our perfect example. He prayed all the time. He acknowledged God the Father in everything he did. He prayed alone, but he also prayed with and for others. And he prayed for us!. What better encouragement can we have to always pray?

Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again; Rejoice.”  Think about the word rejoice. “Re” means to go back, or go over again. When we don’t feel like rejoicing, or when we think we have nothing to be happy about, we need to go back over what Christ has done for us. For starters, he’s provided eternal live and promised to be with us always.

Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, we find, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” Paying back evil for evil involves many things. Someone hits us, we hit back. ‘Doesn’t help. You’ve seen in sports that it’s usually the guy who hits back that gets the penalty. The refs almost never see the first blow.

Not hitting back isn’t enough, though. If we don’t hit back, we may still be full of resentment, waiting to retaliate, holding a deep, ugly grudge. That’s no way to live. We keep thinking that we’re right and they’re wrong. What they did just burns us up. Yes, it does burn us, but that hatred (we never call it that, but of course that’s what it is) doesn’t burn them at all.

Jesus tells us to forgive as we have been forgiven. For me, that’s a lot of forgiving. Instead of evil for evil, we are always to do good to fellow believers and to everyone else.

How do we do that sort of good? We can give money, time, talents, emotional support or physical support. We can give smiles, kind words, encouraging words, praise, and hope. We can tell our story of what God has done for us.

How often we hear ourselves say, “There’s nothing I can do.” Or “I just don’t know what to do.” The Bible tells us what to do. Always pray, rejoice, and do good.

Happier Still (continued)

I read “Feel Happier Today,” by Lisa Fields in the May 2020 issue of Reader’s Digest. Last week I began my spin on what the author had to say. My first point was practice God’s presence, and practice the habits that engender happiness. Here are the five other happiness boosting tips I promised you: 

Increase social connections (and social media rarely counts). I once committed to writing a prison inmate twice a month for the duration of his incarceration. I was astonished by the response this evoked, of the importance that small connection held. Phone calls and walks and cups of tea are simple things with high impact (even when they must be held at a distance). I have to fight against my inner hermit. Do you? I’m helped by the verse that tells us not to forsake assembling together. So, connect!

Perform acts of kindness. These feel good and cause us to turn our focus away from our own troubles. Kindness comes in many forms. Some of the best are cheap and simple. Don’t hold back! The Bible is full of directions (commands, perhaps) to be kind and loving to one another. We’re better off when we continue to practice acts of kindness regardless of our circumstances. I’d love for you to tell me how you’ve experienced simple kindness, or how you’ve delivered kindness and felt happy because of it.

Get some exercise. Our bodies belong to the Lord. Exercise keeps us healthier. Studies say it also makes us more cheerful and better able to handle stress. (I’ve certainly seen that in my own life.) Nearly everyone can do some sort of exercise. ‘Enough said on that point. Please put on your sneakers.

Get enough sleep. Steve just finished reading a book by Dr. Matthew Walker that insists we all need 7-8 hours each night, and we suffer more than we realize when we skimp. Getting enough sleep seems so indulgent, doesn’t it? But, in the end, it empowers us to do a better job of living—and living happily. I love to read, to watch movies, and to keep my to-do list tidy, but I’ve had to forego a good bit of all three in order to maximize my sleep. I challenge you to consider doing the same.

Here’s one Reader’s Digest didn’t mention: Let go of fear. Fear is a sleep-robber, a joy-killer, and a powerful excuse to turn our focus solely on ourselves. I’ll end this essay by telling you what my life group leader has to say:

  • “The most repeated command in all of scripture is “Fear not.”
  • “Fear is faith in the enemy.”
  • “Keep your love, your joy, and your peace.” (Yes, I pray that you will do just that!)

photo by @stanislas1 via Unsplash.com

 

 

On Staying Happy…

Casting Crowns performs “Praise You in this Storm” via YouTube here: Copyright rules prevent me from typing up those terrific lyrics. I’m listening to them as I write. They remind me that, often, I don’t get God’s answers on my schedule. I have to wait, or I have to take “no” for an answer. And in those “no” and “wait” situations, I’m supposed to keep trusting, keep praying, and keep remembering that our Loving Lord is right there and worthy of praise, even in the stormy times.

This is a time of storm for so many of us. I could just say, “’Hope you will lift your hands and praise him anyway,” but I want to go in a different direction today. I just read “Feel Happier Today,” an article by Lisa Fields in the May 2020 issue of Reader’s Digest. The author gives instructions, from a purely secular perspective, on how to boost our happiness. Yes, I know, happiness and praising in the storm are not the same thing. On the other hand, when we praise in the storm AND take godly steps to care for ourselves, happiness is far easier to maintain. So, here’s what I gleaned from the Lisa Fields article, seasoned with a spiritual spin. None of it will surprise you, but all of it is too easy for us to ignore in stressful times. I consider this a reminder for you and me both.

“Practice being happier. This takes effort.” So true! ‘Same goes for the need to practice our faith walk. I’m reminded of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. When my first thoughts of the day run along the line of “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it,” I’m off to a much better start than, well, than almost any other sort of beginning. But such a beginning requires practice. That practice might involve

  • limiting the news (and, as we do take in news, turning to prayer over all we hear)
  • setting a Bible near the bed (and opening it!)
  • playing praise music
  • memorizing verses
  • posting sticky notes where I can be reminded of the truth
  • or …

Next week, I’ll give you five more happiness tips, but none of them are as powerful as practicing God’s presence.

What do you do to remind yourself first off that our God is an awesome God?

What do you do to boost your happiness?

Share your ideas with me, and I’ll post them here for all to see. Until next week…Brenda

Photo by Ben White Photography via Unsplash.com

Is There a Song in Your Heart? OR Singin’ in the Rain!

I’m listening to a lot of music these days. A surprising number of songs invade my consciousness in silent form, coming directly from the playlists in my brain. Those playlists often encourage me. Sure, there’s worship music stored in there. But there’s also a whole bunch of show tunes! Many of them encouragement me. Thanks to Facebook, I discovered the favorites of a few friends. Here’s a list, shared for your enjoyment:

“Singin’ in the Rain”

Gene Kelly is laughing at the clouds (currently dumping on him) because he’s in love. I wonder, when we feel dumped on, do we manage to remember the love that surrounds us, letting it alter our sinking perspective?

“My Favorite Things”

When Maria’s feeling sad, she remembers the good things in her life. How’s that for great advice? We all have blessings, some of them very, very simple. When we face limits and disappointments, looking at our remaining blessings may help us readjust.

“In My Own Little Corner”

Okay, some of you have missed this one. (But thanks, Kelly!) Cinderella lauds the power of imagination—in a life of near-quarantine, come to think of it. Good books, great music, a bit of quiet thought: These are great ways to escape when the walls close in.

“Put On a Happy Face”

You’ve just got to see the first minute or two of this number. I hope it convinces you that the simple act of smiling does matter! Watch here.

“Ya Got Trouble”

So just how bad can a pool table be? As my friend Jacqueline said, this song “Is a lighthearted take on real troubles.” It begs us to ask what other troubles we magnify beyond reason.

“Everything’s Alright”

The most important line in this song reminds us not to get worried, not to let our problems overwhelm our peace. Worry never solves anything. Really, it never does!

“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”

Most of us already have nearly everything on Eliza Doolittle’s wish list. ‘Best to remember how “loverly” we have it much of the time.

“High Hopes”
Sinatra belts out a great reminder—Don’t give up! Don’t give in to feeling low! (And you can check out his performance here:)

“From Now On”

If you need a fresh start on your perspective, your choice to rejoice, your commitment to trust and follow the One who loves us, don’t wait. Start now!

Enjoy these great tunes, and if you’ve got a favorite song to share, let’s hear it!!!

Photo by Spencer Imbrock via Unsplash.com

Six Questions


Today, I want to pass along an email from my opthalmologist. She asked five questions. I’ve added one of my own at the end of the list.

  • What am I GRATEFUL for today?
  • Who am I CHECKING IN on or CONNECTING with today?
  • What expectations of “Normal” am I LETTING GO of today?
  • How am I GETTING OUTSIDE today?
  • What BEAUTY am I either creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
  • How much am I REMEMBERING GOD’S PRESENCE today?

These are primarily food for thought. Nevertheless, I’d love to hear your answers!

photo credit: @jules_bss via Unsplash.com

A Bit of Background

My connect group leader asked each member to write a few words of testimony to share. Once I was finished with that task, I realized that some of you don’t really know much about me. So, here’s a bit of my background…

Most people begin their testimonies by describing the day they met Jesus. For me, that would be like trying to tell you when I met my parents. I can’t recall a start date, but I can certainly tell you about seeing God’s hand in my life.

My Dad, Bert Smith, was in the Marines, and asked to be sent to Okinawa. Some other guy, also named Smith, was bragging about how he had pulled strings and was headed to a favorable base in Florida. Somehow, that guy got the surprise of his life when he headed to Japan. Meanwhile, my parents made their way to the Sunny South, where I was born and then stayed for the next two decades. And that made all the difference.

My parents were raised in the church, but their real walk with Christ began when I was about six years old, thanks to a small Bible study group that became their life-long lifegroup. About the same time, Dad was diagnosed with melanoma. Dr. Carver (no kidding) cut a huge chunk out of his back, then “comforted” my mom by assuring her that the end would come quickly. God had other plans: a vision, a healing, and fifty plus years. My dad is still around, and that story still colors my faith.

My childhood colors everything. Remember, I was raised by two brand-new on-fire Christians. My mom sang worship songs at the kitchen sink. She taught me how to be a homemaker and an encourager. My dad danced me around the living room and played chess with me. (I almost never won.) He taught me to save and tithe and plan. They both taught me to trust God from an early age, as did their life-long lifegroup. They prayed about everything, so I learned to do the same. My years at St. Mark’s Lutheran school (from third grade through eighth) bolstered my faith even further. Those teachers forced me to memorize a long list of Bible verses and classic hymns, a gift I didn’t appreciate until later on.

I’d been looking forward to attending Hollywood Hills High School with virtually all my friends from St. Mark’s and from my church. Weeks before school was to start, the school boundaries changed, switching me to South Broward High. I would know almost no one. A dear friend with political pull told my mom he could get me into Hollywood Hills. For perhaps the first time, I felt that “check in my spirit” that we all must learn to heed. That made all the difference as well, because I met Steve at the end of my freshman year in the South Broward library. At the time, he was a charming, moral boy who didn’t know Jesus. Six years later, we married. He was deeply in love with Jesus (I’ll let him tell that story) and deeply in love with me. That was forty years ago. We love each other, and Jesus, even more that we did then.

Then the details of adulthood crowd into my story:

  • A move to Texas. Hard work. Long hours. Good fellowship and discipleship.
  • An unborn baby with serious heart problems, until God fixed them weeks before birth.
  • A business that failed, but redirected our lives.
  • Two teenagers whom we came to love long before they married our own kids.

Do you see this uncanny stream of blessing? I nearly weep as I write it. For some reason, while certainly our lives have not been perfect, God in his mercy spared us many of the growing pains experienced by a host of other Christians. We do not take credit. But we do give thanks. Give thanks with me and, no matter what your story is, please consider sharing it with me.