Lovely Day

Levites siteThe sign at the corner said “Gospel Brunch.”

Steve’s take: “I wonder how much gospel vs. how much brunch. Maybe this is just an Austin start-up band looking for a place to play.”

My take: “I’ve been wanting to try Threadgill’s anyway, so let’s give it a try.”

And so, on a sunny Sunday during our month of “Let’s consider Austin,” we walked down the road to a vintage BBQ joint, wondering if we should have gone to church instead.

Oh, my goodness! (And I’m not talking about the omelets.) We were in for a treat.

The Levites ( http://www.levitelab.com/bio )sang their sermon with hearty helpings of encouragement, conviction, and just plain fun.

  • “Keep Your Mind on Jesus.”
  • “Lay Your Burdens Down.”
  • “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” (Because you trust the Lord).
  • “Lovely Day”

That last one surprised me. It’s clearly a romantic love song, yet it has become a worship tune for me  now. Its message is this:

Sometimes I wake up with my mind burdened by the seemingly impossible challenges ahead of me. Then, once I’ve looked at you, I know everything will be okay.

Doesn’t that pretty much cover how our best days begin? We rarely wake up to face a day free of all difficulties, but we always wake to a chance to remember Who is really in charge. We have a choice, each morning, as to what our focus will be. And when we make the right choice, many of our days can be lovely.

Because I take copyright laws seriously, you’ll have to go here  to read or here to listen to the full lyrics written and performed by Bill Withers in 1977. I hope you’ll take the time to do so. Then I hope you’ll take yet another moment and post an answer to this question: What “secular” song has become a song of worship for you? I would love to know!

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Defying Gravity

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Last year, after listening to the music for quite some time, I finally saw Wicked on stage. Since I grew up watching Wizard of Oz once a year on television (our only option back in the dark ages of video technology), I enjoyed the new spin on an old story. One song still sticks in my brain and pops into my thoughts on occasion. Actually, it’s only one line that keeps on repeating itself. In my imagination, I can hear Elphaba declaring that she will try defying gravity. More than once, as I’ve trudged up my stairs feeling low, I’ve heard those three words resound within my thoughts. I want to try defying gravity this year too.

Before you think me crazy for wanting to fly, let me tell you exactly what I mean.

My grandson is so delightfully quick to laugh. I suspect you and I were the same way as toddlers. When does that fade? And why? I know that Nick is unaware of the difficulties adulthood will bring, but he also knows little of the joys that await him. He laughs in the present moment.

We live in a world that fixates on the grave details of life, and not just the ones that are facing us today. We mull over the pain of the past and our fears of the future, often for no good reason at all. Matthew 6:34 says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Actually, I like the King James Version of that verse even better, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And as we face the “evil” of each day, how often do we falsely imagine ourselves facing it alone, forgetting the One who goes before us and stands behind us?

Here is how I want to try defying gravity. When heavy concerns come into my brain, I want to take them to my Lord in prayer without pause. When I catch myself frowning with furrowed brow, I want to lighten my countenance in a way that confirms the song God has put in my heart. And when I am tempted to join a discussion centered only on the failures of man or the bleak landscape ahead, I want to either walk away or change the course of the conversation. Who would have thought the Wicked Witch of the West could remind me of such important truths? This year, I hope you will try to defy gravity right along with me.

 

And Then We Danced

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Just 24 hours after “the call,” we were on a plane to my niece’s wedding in South Florida. What a gamut of emotions assailed me as we traveled! Sometimes I felt out of breath, as if my body just couldn’t acclimate to the news of pending change. I called my brother and sister-in-law to tell them the news. Their response was, as expected, loving and compassionate. The surprise was my brother’s closing words, “I feel led to say this to you. Allow yourself to have human emotions as you go through this.” My siblings and I don’t often say, “I feel led to say…” Yet that was just what I needed to hear. How easy it is to think that a life of faith means a life of stoicism. Untrue!

Two days later, I realized I was breathing normally and, most of the time, keeping in tune with the activities and conversations around me. Then came one of many shining moments. Steve and I were on a dance floor crowded with other wedding well-wishers, and I realized I wasn’t worried. I was happy. Now, truth be told, when first hit with the news of cancer, I was in a place of “Don’t Worry. Be at peace.” Happiness was still a bit out of reach. But here I was, just a few days later, truly back in a place of joy. This was a miracle, God’s grace in action, another reminder that the One who loves me most was and would continue to be carrying me through the hard times ahead.

Soon thereafter, I called my sister. Sympathy and compassion flowed through the phone. Then she, like my brother before her, ended her call by saying, “I think I am supposed to say this to you.” Her message was a different one, though, “Stop taking care of anyone else. Take this time to take care of yourself and to let other people take care of you.” Those of you who know my personality know that these words were spot on. They replayed in my head many times during the days of preparation, treatment, and recovery. But on that day those words also reminded me that we serve a supernatural God, one who gave both of my siblings words of advice that I needed to hear. I received them as a precious gift.

Then I told my parents. Dad, now 82, is a two-time cancer survivor. The first time, half a century ago, the doctors told him to get his affairs in order. They told my mom to take comfort in the fact that the disease would progress quickly. When they heard my news, they were well qualified to offer encouragement, “God wastes nothing. You are dearly loved. This can turn out well.”

Next Week: Careless

Beth on Being Happy*

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*By Beth Smith

Is it true that the only difference between a yard sale and a trash pick-up is how close to the road the stuff is placed?

Why don’t we ever hear father-in-law jokes?

If you take NyQuil and NoDoz at the same time, will you dream you couldn’t sleep?

Life is full of questions, some funny and some serious. Here’s a common one. How can we be happy? We can start by being ready to laugh at life and at ourselves, quick to look for the humorous side of things. Laughter doesn’t solve our problems, but it can make them easier to bear for a while.

Most of us think we can be happy only when things are going well, but the Bible tells us how to be happy Christians no matter what. The Amplified Bible uses the word “happy” as a synonym for the word “blessed.” So, in looking to be happy, we can look at how to be blessed. The book of Psalms tell us that blessed or happy is the man (or woman) who:

  • is forgiven of sin (32:1).
  • trusts and takes refuge in the Lord (34:8).
  • helps the poor and weak (41:1).
  • continually sings praises to God (84:4).
  • fears the Lord and delights in obeying him (112:1) .

Proverbs says those are blessed who

  • keep God’s ways (8:32).
  • listen to God (8:34).

And Matthew chapter five lists these qualities of a happy person:

  • aware of a need for God.
  • gentle and lowly.
  • desiring righteousness.
  • merciful.
  • pure in heart.
  • peacemaking.
  • persecuted for following God.

Obviously, God has plenty of advice for us on how to be happy. I want to stress just two ways today. First, we need to be happy and thankful for a heavenly Father who loves us enough to discipline and correct us. Sometimes, when things are hard for me, when I am not getting my own way about things, I can almost hear God saying, “I’m allowing this situation only for your own good, because I love you. You need to change something in your life. I want you to be happy, and you will never be happy or have joy on the path you are following right now. Come on, follow me.”

Hebrews 12:11 tells us that, while discipline is painful, it leads to a rich harvest of right living. So, as odd as it may sound, we need to be happy that God will discipline us.

Here’s a second way the Bible tells us we can be happy and blessed. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (Psalm 128: 1-2).

What does this tell us we should do? Fear and follow. Acknowledge our Lord as the Almighty God. Worship him. Obey him. Emulate Jesus. Will that be hard? Yes, because our flesh is weak and rebellious, and because Satan does not want us to be happy. But Jesus wants us to be happy – to be blessed and full of joy.

How can we become happy Christians? A full answer to that question would surely fill at least one book. These principles do not cover everything, but they are a great place to start:

  • Worship God.
  • Obey his commands.
  • Receive his discipline.
  • Follow his instructions.
  • And do it all with joy.

Smile More Part Two

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Last week I wrote about “Talk less. Smile more.” Maybe this is just as important: Smile more. Worry Less. I wish that I could give everyone I know and love the gift of a worry-free life. While my life isn’t worry free, it’s nearly so, only because of the gift of these instructions.

  • Choose to be anxious for nothing.
  • Instead approach God with your needs and with your thanks.
  • Then let him give you peace even when peace doesn’t seem to make sense.

Try it. It works. But here’s the next step. Let it show. Smile.

When I was a teenager, there were posters and tee shirts that said, “Smile. It makes people wonder what you’ve been up to.” Years later, I taught my kids a song that said, “If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.” Even though I’m usually worry free and very often happy, I can get so lost in thought, so caught up in my own world of to do’s, that I forget to give those around me the simple gift of my smile. And what a gift it can be, even to those we don’t know are watching!

One of my first pastors has a wife who knows how to give the gift of a smile. I remember watching her smile at her husband throughout every service, (even when it was the second service of the day, and I knew she had already heard that sermon once already.) She was great at sharing that smile with those around her. I want to be like Ann. I want my face to say, “I am at peace. If you aren’t, ask me how you can get that way.”

I’ve been around long enough to see “Annie” filmed twice. The songs from that show run through my mind with little provocation, in particular the one that says, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” I’m not asking you to be fake. The world needs more transparency. But when you are happy and you know it, won’t join me in donning a smile. Perhaps it will do great good for you and for those who catch a glimmer of your joy!