Friday, January 27, 2012

Easter Spirit

I love the writing of Mary Southerland, "The Stress-Buster and Women's Ministry Motivator," for her anecdotes, humor, and Scriptural insight that regularly seem to have my own particular struggles in mind. Three days ago, she noted in a blog post, "January is often referred to as the 'blue' month. The blahs attack and a strange sense of discontentment fills our hearts and minds. A local radio host recently explained that since the holidays are over, there is a void or a vacuum left that causes those blues.... Something is definitely missing but I don’t think it has as much to do with the Christmas holidays as with the way we live the rest of the year. Christmas is not a season.... Christmas is a way of life. Every day should find us still and quiet before the manger as we celebrate the birth, life, death and resurrection of our coming Lord and King, Jesus Christ."

With the beginning of Lent less than a month away, it's good to note that what's true for Christmas should be all the more true for Easter. Many people, even non-Christians, have urged "keeping the Christmas spirit all year round," but surprisingly few ever raise the concept of an "Easter spirit" outside of Holy Week. (One notable exception is the song "Every Morning Is Easter Morning," published 1967 in The Avery and Marsh Songbook.) And yet, without Easter, Christmas would have little to distinguish it as a celebration from the birthday of Martin Luther King or George Washington. Many great people have made sufficient impression on the world that their birthdays--or death days--are officially commemorated; but only One has returned from the dead with the authority to offer eternal life to anyone who accepts it.

It's interesting that in the early centuries of Christianity, the birth of Jesus received scant attention--two of the Gospels don't even mention it, and Epistle references are few and terse--while the Crucifixion and Resurrection were emphasized at every opportunity. Easter was and is what makes Christianity unique and wonderful as a religion: who else recognizes a God Who is powerful enough to conquer even death, holy enough to be completely free of selfishness and pride, and generous enough to suffer for the very people who treat Him with contempt and offer them all anyone could ever dream of without asking them to contribute a thing to the payment?

So what does an Easter spirit look like? Reflective of this God in humility and generosity. Immensely grateful for what He has done. Confident that we can do nothing on our own and everything through Him. The epitome of Paul's command in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 

Surely it is also His will that we celebrate Easter all year.

The Power that raised Christ from the dead
Is the Holy Spirit in you:
Do not fear your weakness, but trust His strength
To direct each thing you do.

The Power that lit that Easter morn
Is the Light that glows in your heart:
Do not fear the darkness inside your soul,
For the Lord never will depart.

The Spirit Who brought new hope to life
Is the Source of all hope to be:
Trust with courage and patience His work in you,
Though you may not have eyes to see.

That first Easter Day of rebirth and joy
Still can live in your soul today:
Let it lead you on to eternal realms,
And God's grace ever light your way.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Count Your Blessings, Not Your Troubles

I confess that I lifted today's title from a principles list in Dale Carnegie's classic work, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Mostly because I could hardly say it any better--and because the contrast points up a major struggle in my own life. Counting troubles is so much easier.

Many a parent and teacher can testify that it's the bratty children who get attention, while the quiet, well-behaved ones are taken for granted unless their performance proves exceptionally good. Life's circumstances are little different. When things go smoothly, we take it as no more than our due; when circumstances impede our wants, we can think of nothing else. We're like the Israelites in the wilderness who set up a wail when the water supply ran short and complained that their daily diet was too monotonous, rarely thanking God for His miraculous provision or trusting that He would keep it up.

Trusting God: therein lies the key issue. If we truly believe He loves us and has our best interests at heart, we should have little trouble seeing the many good things in our lives; if we think in terms of "I know what's best for me and I have a right to it," everything that interferes with that ideal is the enemy. To whatever degree you believe that good thoughts attract good things and bad thoughts bad, the biggest roadblocks to our happiness are the ones we build through our own "I want what I want and I absolutely refuse to accept anything else" attitudes. Because very few people come close to getting everything they want.

Even those who do tend to find it considerably less satisfying than generally assumed. Selfishness is a sure path to misery; it's just not what we were made for. We were created, as the old catechism goes, "to glorify God [not ourselves] and to enjoy him [not our own ideas of perfect circumstances] forever."

And when we focus on Him, blessings become far clearer as well.

Count your blessings, not your troubles:
If you look at wants and lacks,
Misery will fall upon you
As a battered vessel cracks.
If you look at God's abundance
And you let Him fill your life,
Joy will come to rule your spirit
And your happiness will thrive.

Count your blessings, not your troubles:
God gives special gifts to each
As His wisdom sees is fitting:
Do not for another's reach.
Joy in what is yours, and use it
In God's grace to serve your Lord,
Do His work, and praise His glory--
You will find your sure reward!

Friday, January 13, 2012


Due to a heavily loaded schedule, there will be little commentary accompanying this week's poem on "Clutter." I hope that the irony as well as the poem gives readers a few chuckles.

My home is a jumble of clutter
From all of the things bought in greed:
Each day I waste time spent in searching
For things that I actually need.

My days are a jumble of clutter
From all of the things I must do:
I never find time just for sitting,
And prayers last a second or two.

My mind is a jumble of clutter
From all of the things pushing in:
I think God may want to speak with me—
I can’t seem to hear through the din!

My life is a jumble of clutter:
I know I need time, Lord, with You,
But, please, can’t You wait till I’m finished?
There’s just always so much to do!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Christian Life Is a Journey

Broken any New Year's resolutions yet?

By my purely unscientific estimate, the average life of a resolution--at any time of year--is approximately two weeks. Changing for the better always seems like a good idea until we remember there's work involved. In fact, there's fair reason to theorize that the famous Law of Attraction has a corollary called the Law of Initial Repulsion: he who makes up his mind to change for the better can count on being hit hard with a period of trials taunting him to prove he's serious about it. The world, the flesh, and the devil, who pretty much left us alone while we coasted on our old sinful habits, are suddenly fighting us with every temptation and frustration at their disposal.

Why doesn't God stop them? we want to scream. Maybe because He loves us too much to leave us to the spiritual flabbiness that would result from taking the easy way. Much as human nature wishes otherwise, you can't run a marathon without training, learn the piano without practicing scales, or win a war without struggling to gain ground. And you can't walk a real Christian walk--which, never forget, goes in an upward direction--without climbing some tough sections of trail.

If you're in the middle of a tough section right now, feeling that this is a terrible reward for trying to walk God's way and no incentive for continuing, don't quit just yet. Consider the principle epitomized in the famous piece "Footprints in the Sand": When times are hard, God walks with us. When times are really hard, He carries us.

He is bringing us to a destination that is more than worth the hardest trip.

The Christian life is a journey, and the path is steep and slow;
While we may glimpse the destination, a thick fog clouds our way below.
We who long for a mileage marker, for a map that shows every turn,
Rarely grasp the Lord's deeper purpose: as we struggle, so thus we learn.

The Christian life is a journey, and the road is rarely clear:
Let us, therefore, walk in assurance that our Father still holds us dear.
Let us look to the things eternal and the One Who walks by our side;
For we need not fear losing the pathway, for its Builder will be our Guide!