My Favorite Day

“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” – Nehemiah 9:6. 

What is a perfect day for Winnie the Pooh? Every day is a perfect day for doing nothing says Winnie the Pooh. A hug is always the right size. “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.” And finally, “what day is it?” asked Pooh. “it’s today, “ squeaked piglet. “My favorite day, “ said Pooh. 

I know what you are thinking: Pooh is a little too perky or trite or cliché. Cute sayings or mantras or life philosophies that are tall with wisdom but short on reality will not make your day better. Hanging out with Pooh each day will make your life better, but if we “hang out” with Christ daily, we will eventually become more like Christ; and it doesn’t get any better than that.

My favorite day is any day I get closer to God. To get close to God, we must experience God. We must feel God’s presence in our lives, feel the changes in our attitude, our priorities, and the way we see and experience the world. We must experience that feeling deep inside our person: that God is real and tangible.

Searching for God is like searching for a treasure. We don’t wait for someone to show up at our door and hand us a treasure. We go look for it. We are willing to do what it takes to find it. We may not even know exactly what the treasure is but we know it has great value and, therefore, are willing to do the things necessary to find it. The Bible promises that if we seek God, He will come to us. If we truly want to find God, we will find Him.

 I don’t know exactly what a great day is for you or what following God will look like for you, but I do know that if we want to grow closer to God this year, we’ll have to distance ourselves from whatever is distracting us. We’ll have to lay aside whatever we are prone to delight in more than Him. We need to ask God which distraction(s) we need to distance ourselves from in order to grow closer to Him, and then we need to get to work.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What constitutes a great day in your opinion? 
  2. What can we do this week to draw closer to God? 

Awaken Your Joy

“You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9 ).

Circumstances come into our lives and affect us. Sometimes for the good but sometimes for the worse. The “worse” circumstances can rob us of our silliness, our joy, and wonder. In 2020,  joy or happiness has become complicated and often tied to our circumstances or some unattainable goal. When Winnie loses his balloon, he is sad. Christopher says what every parent has said in that situation “You don’t need it anymore.” Pooh replies “But it did make me happy.” It is hard to find joy today in the little things like a red balloon, a pot of honey, or quality time with the wife and kids.  

It is easy to identify with Christopher Robin. The last couple of years have been pretty rough, filled with chaos, change, and a burdensome feeling of uncertainty about the future. Stress and worry are palpable as you worry about your job, your teenage kids, and decisions you make that could have far-reaching implications. It is not that far a leap to worry about everything. Where is the joy in that? 

Christopher Robin wants joy. I imagine even Eeyore wants joy. You and I want joy. But can anyone deliver it? God can. God wants His children to be joy-filled. Just like a father wants his baby to laugh with glee, God is not interested in putting a temporary smile on your face. He has no interest in giving you shallow happiness that melts when faced with adversity.  God longs for us to experience a deep-seated, heart-felt, honest-to-goodness, strong sense of joy that can weather the most difficult of storms.

Peter referred to this joy in the opening words of his epistle in 1 Peter: “I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (I Peter 1:1)  Peter was speaking to persecuted Christians who had been driven from their cities and separated from their families. Their rights had been taken. Their property and possessions had been taken. Their futures were unsure. But their joy had not been taken. Why? In 1 Peter 1:8 (TPT) Peter says, “You love him passionately although you did not see him, but through believing in him you are saturated with an ecstatic joy, indescribably sublime and immersed in glory” The source of their joy? Jesus! And since no one could take away Jesus, no one could take their joy.

Each day can seem like the epitome of the mundane. It’s easy to sense joy in great events, but it is much harder to find it returning to the routine of work and school, and family. Unless your joy is in Jesus.

This week rediscover the joy each day, in the everyday things of your life — yes, even the red balloons. Because Jesus is in the details, every detail, we can enjoy Him everywhere, even in life’s everyday familiar routine.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How/when do you find yourself hiding your true self from God? What would it look like for you to live openly before God? 
  1. What are the obstacles to taking off our mask? What are the benefits? 

“Your Life Is Happening Now, Right In Front Of You.”

“Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”  – Matthew 6:34 (TPT).  

There are many phrases from the movie Christopher Robin that remind us just how important and special our time is today and why we need to slow down occasionally. For example, Winnie the Pooh says, “your life is happening now, right in front of you.” He also commented that “there’s always time for a smackeral of wonder.” And finally, “What day is it? Christopher Robin: It’s today. Winnie The Pooh: My favorite day.”

Matthew 6:34 is a deep and moving passage where Jesus tells us to live one day at a time. It is hard counsel, and He wants to warn us against being too troubled about the future. Tomorrow will have enough troubles of its own. Yet we find ourselves spending more and more time either dwelling on the past or thinking about the future. Yes, we know we have to live in the present, but the past and the future keep clouding what is happening literally right in front of us. As a result, we are missing the present.     

When we dwell on the past we feel regret for what we’ve done or should have done; we experience resentment toward a person or persons; we dwell in our hurts or in our failures.  That is not our whole past by any stretch of the imagination, but it is the part we dwell on. When we live in the future we live in the fear of the unknown or what may be; we worry about how events may turn out; we conjure up scenarios that cause us great anxiety.  Fear, worry, and anxiety.  Not a particularly good way to spend your day. 

No wonder why people who dwell on the past and who live in the future fail to experience the peace and joy that the Lord wants to give them in the present moment.  The past is gone; the future is not here, and it simply does not make sense to spend our mental energy on things that we can’t control.  It suggests that we have a lack of trust in the mercy for our past and a lack of trust in His loving care for our future.

What are the benefits of living in the present moment?  The greatest benefit is the peace that it brings.  No regrets, no worries, just dwelling in the present moment. Pooh sure does. He doesn’t care what he’s missing out on; he’s too enrapt by the present. He says that today is “my favorite day. Yesterday, when it was tomorrow, it was too much day for me.” That is part of the reason why Pooh is the greatest friend in the Hundred Acre Wood: He never chooses work over caring for his loved ones. He enjoys the sweetness of life immensely without worrying about last week or next week. He said, “yesterday is history. tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” 

Living in the present helps us to be fully present to the people that we encounter each day and to see Christ in them.  Lastly, living in the present actually benefits our future because by staying focused on the most important aspects of our lives we will be well prepared for whatever the future brings us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the past and future seem so important to people? To you?  
  2. What can we do to live in the present? 

A Memory Lapse

“So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” – Joshua 4:4-7.  

In the opening scene of the movie, Christopher Robin bids farewell to Winnie-the-Pooh. As they reflect on life and more, Christopher Robin muses that what he likes doing best is nothing. “It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering,” he tells Pooh. But he adds, wistfully, that he can’t do nothing anymore. The time has come. The boy makes the bear promise never, ever to forget him, even when they grow old. Pooh promises. As an adult, he forgets that promise. 

As an adult Christopher Robin is devoid of joy, giving everything to his work, working so many hours he has no time left for his wife and daughter. The fun-loving playful Christopher Robin of Hundred-Acre Wood seems a lifetime away. It comes to the point where he has a choice, to go with his family for a weekend away or return to the office to work on “reducing costs and cutting staff” for his manufacturing bosses. Work wins out and his family leaves for the country without him. His priorities are not what they should be so he does not focus on what is important today.   

In Joshua 3, we read of an amazing miracle God performed for His people. He caused the Jordan River to stop flowing so they could cross on dry ground into the Promised Land. God then instructed them, through Joshua, to gather twelve stones from the Jordan to set up as a memorial. One man from each tribe was selected to take a stone from the riverbed. Joshua set them up as a sign, as a remembrance, of what God accomplished for His people on that day. God knows that we have spiritual amnesia. He knows that we sometimes forget what is truly important. So He gives us memorials. God knows that when we forget what He’s done in the past, we begin to lose focus on the priorities of the present. We can forget what is important if we are fixated on what is not important. That is the time we need to stack some “spiritual stones” as a reminder of what is really important in our lives. Then set aside some time to remember those important things. 

Hopefully, this movie will remind us of the importance of family, the importance of today, and the importance of remembering what God has done in our lives; the moments He’s met us in our weakness, and showered us with strength. The times He’s brought clarity to our confusion, direction to our wandering, and peace to our fears. The more we acknowledge God’s footprints across our yesterdays, the more we will see His hand upon today and the less we will worry about the future 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there something from our past that will help us in our present?
  2. What can we do to remember the memorials – the things God has done and is doing in our lives? 

Coronavirus And The Psalms

“If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home…The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” – Psalm 91:9-10, 14-16.

The Coronavirus will not fade away anytime soon. So during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to keep our eyes and hearts fixed on God. It is a time to reflect on who He is, and what He has done. The more we read and pray, the more we put God at the center of everything, the more we’ll overcome our fears, anxieties, and temptations during this difficult season. The Bible remains a go-to source for Christians who find it difficult to pray during the coronavirus pandemic, or who simply want to remain hopeful during the pandemic.

Scripture is full of people who found themselves in similar, if not worse, circumstances than we find ourselves in today. One is King David. David authored many of the Psalms found in the Bible. In addition to there being psalms praising or thanking God, asking for His protection, and asking for His justice against enemies, the are psalms that either affirm the author’s faith in or ask for God’s divine protection.

Three such psalms are Psalm 23, Psalm 27, and Psalm 91. If you spent any time in church you probably are familiar with Psalm 23, which begins with the declaration: “The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” It states further in verse 4: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” Another Psalm that can help fight coronavirus fears is Psalm 27. This psalm is more about calling on God for protection while remembering why He is faithful and reliable. It begins in verse one: “The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” Verse 5 says, “For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.”

Finally, Psalm 91 is another prayer of protection. In this part of Scripture, the author again affirms faith in God as a protector of His people. It states in verses two and three: “This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.”  Look at verses 5 and 6: “Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.”

Reading the Bible is a good reminder of how others before us have turned to and trusted in God, and can provide us with peace of mind in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can scripture give you peace and hope during the COVID-19 pandemic? 
  2. What can we do this week to convert scripture reading into new mental outlooks? 

Find Your Wonder

“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” – Nehemiah 9:6. 

We might as well admit it. We live in an age where we are hard to impress. We are conditioned to expect something bigger than last year and something even bigger next year. We expect to be wowed. We want Walt Disney size activities and excitement. We want to travel to other planets. There isn’t much that gives us pause to wonder these days.   

But shouldn’t Christians be the most wonder-filled people in the world? Wonder used as a verb is to notice, to marvel, and to be amazed. For some, the opposite may be our tendency. We are in a time crunch; we feel pressured to accomplish all that is on our plate, resulting in frustration, exhaustion, even depression. The problem may be that we have forgotten how to wonder. A child can look in sheer wonder at a lightning bug like he or she uncovered buried treasure. But as adults, we lose the wonder; like the wonder of salvation. Have we lost the wonder that God sent his Son to die as a sacrifice for our sins? Mark 9:15 (NIV) says, ”As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.” How often are we “overwhelmed with wonder” because of Jesus?   

Recapture the wonder of Jesus. Go back into that first love, that all-inspiring wonder that Jesus came to earth for you, died for you, rose again for you, and lives to make intercession for you. Holding on to the wonder of it all will keep you humble. Living in the wonder means that you acknowledge the power of God in you and you give Him credit for all that you do and all that you have. You will be loving and giving and forgiving when you live in the wonder of the Lord. It will keep you positive because you’ll be focused on all the good things in your life instead of the negatives. It will reduce your stress. Living in the wonder will focus you on eternity. 

Rediscover the wonder of your salvation, of the unique way God has created you and the gifts and purpose He has given you. 

Psalm 105:1-5 says, “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does your relationship with Jesus include the wonder of it all? If not, why not?
  2. What is one thing you can do this week to fix your eyes on Jesus? How might doing so begin to change your frame of reference?

Take Off Your Mask

“I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we go to see what we looked like under the masks.” – Quote from the movie Wonder. 

Halloween inspires creativity and there seems to be no limits or boundaries to what or whom you can become. On Halloween there’s no script, there’s no plan; you can choose an identity that feels exciting and new. In many cases, the best costumes involve exotic and scary masks. There is one problem with those type of Halloween masks, they are suffocating. There are reasons we don’t wear masks; the holes are small making it hard to breathe, speak, or see clearly. All the senses are impaired. And even though people rave about the awesomeness of your costume, you can’t wait to get home and take off the mask and breathe.  

In the movie Wonder, Auggie uses an astronaut’s helmet to help him cope with being different. Auggie’s helmet acts as a way to experience the world without actually living in it. Without the helmet, Auggie felt exposed and vulnerable. Many of us do the same thing. We wear a mask. We wear a mask to hide something. or maybe to protect something. Masks don’t just hide who we are—they block our vision. They don’t allow us to see the whole truth about ourselves, God, or anyone else.

Ripping off that mask and letting you see who you really are gives you room to breathe, room for God to move, to use you in the same way He created us—in His image. It also gives people room to judge us and all my flaws, but I am willing to take that risk to stand before you as who I really am rather than a fake, plastic, masked version. I want to be brave enough to rip off my mask, not so you can see my glorious face, but so you can see His.

Here is the good news: If you believe that Jesus sees all your flaws, but loves you anyway, you don’t have to lie to yourself about your flaws, faults, and sins. You no longer have to be afraid of what others would think if they truly knew you either since God already loved and accepted you in spite of your sins.

This week, let’s take a hard and honest look at the masks we have been hiding behind. Remember, you are not alone—we all have them. Like Auggie, face your giants. It is faith that will enable you to overcome your fears.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How/when do you find yourself hiding your true self from God? What would it look like for you to live openly before God? 
  1. What are the obstacles to taking off our mask? What are the benefits? 

A Place Called Empathy

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  – Hebrews 4:15 (NIV). 

Do you ever wish there was someone you could talk to? Someone who would understand the challenges you face at any given moment? But maybe, as you think of all your friends and family, and perhaps even a mentor, it seems that there is no such person. Sure, there are plenty who are compassionate and wise who will listen or share an encouraging word, but there’s no one with whom you can have that no-holds-barred intimate talk that your heart desires.

Most people have felt that way at one time or another. If there was only that one person  I could go to who would really understand what I was going through. It is not easy. After all, it’s my life, so how could an outsider really understand? Auggie in the movie Wonder felt that way. There is no one who has walked in his shoes. In fact, initially, he finds anything but empathy as one toxic kid in the movie mercilessly teases him whenever adults are out of earshot. Sometimes empathy can seem out of reach.  

Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that we are never alone. We have Jesus Christ. We have a High Priest that we can talk to, who understands what we are going through and what we need. Jesus has empathy, not sympathy, for you because He’s been through everything you have and more. He empathizes with our situation. He knows what it is to be tempted. He understands us because He experienced what we experience and endured what we endure.

The more we experience His love and are filled by and with it, the more we will love and have compassion for those around us. The closer we get to Jesus, the more we will start to feel empathy for those around us.  

But we’re not Jesus. So how can we identify with others going through situations we’ve never encountered face-to-face? It starts with active listening. It’s compassion in words: “I understand your disappointment…I understand that this loss has left you confused and scared”…”I’d like to help, is there anything I can do?” Perhaps more than anything else, empathy should motivate and empower us to love. There is a greater reason for our engagement with people. God may be deliberately placing someone in your life who need not only empathy but the love of Jesus Christ. Who knows how much difference a little bit of empathy can make in somebody’s life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of empathy? 
  2. Reflect on the ways you practice empathy. Has there been a moment recently where you have shown empathy for another person, and they for you? What was the result? 

Everyone Has A Story To Tell: What’s Yours?

“The best way to measure how much you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average– though those things are important, to be sure. It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.”  –  From the movie Wonder.

Everyone has a story. The person in the nursing home has a story. The homeless man on the corner with a cardboard sign has a story. Our congressman has a story. The kid who gets picked last for the baseball game has a story. The question is how well do we listen to those stories; and do we react as Mr. Browne suggested in Wonder, “when choosing between being right and being kind we choose to be kind.”  

The main character of the movie Wonder is Auggie. One of the interesting aspects of this movie is told from the perspective of Auggie and his sister Olivia. They both have a bad first day at school for different reasons. Olivia’s best friend Miranda seemed to dump her for no apparent reason.  And because she is Auggie’s sister, she simply responds by not revealing the whole truth. How many of us are like her just trying to make it through, trying to hold on and be strong. And yet, her story is important. The girlfriend who ditched her had a story. The movie shows us that everyone has a story, and every story needs to be heard.

One of the things we as Christians can glean from this movie is that everyone has a story, but do we listen long enough to really hear that story. Everyone has the right to be heard. Everyone has the right to be valued. And everyone has the right to be loved. As Auggie said, everyone needs a standing ovation at least once in their life. When Auggie and Via are able to slow down enough to listen to each other, and it is an amazing thing that happens when they finally take a moment and share their stories. They produce empathy by telling each other their stories and a connection occurs. 

Everyone has struggles. If you know someone without a problem in the world, just give them time. Hardships and sorrow catch up to all of us. When we take time to listen to their stories we are more aware of how many people are living out difficult stories just below the surface. Listening makes us more sensitive to what they are going through. 

Auggie eventually wins the entire school over by the power of his story and his persistence.  It is a painful journey but a powerful one.  This movie is powerful in the revealing of the back stories of many of the main characters.  It is in the revealing of those back stories that we learn so much.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What has God been doing in your story? When did you last tell someone about it?
  2. What can we do this week to listen better? What are the benefits? 

Called By God

“And the call isn’t out there at all
it’s inside me
it’s like the tide
always falling and rising

 I will carry you here in my heart
you remind me
that come what may
I know the way.

 I am Moana!” – Songs of the Ancestors

Who doesn’t like a Disney musical? Who doesn’t have a soft spot in their heart for a princess that has a dream in her heart, a show tune on her lips, and a Polynesian choir for backup? Moana is one of the best if you want to experience those things. There are many Christian messages that can be squeezed from this movie, but at its heart, Moana is a call story. It is the story of a girl who follows her call, and through that journey, discovers who she is—and who her people are. In a way, that’s our story as Christians, too.

Moana struggles with her call until a crisis appears—the goddess Te Fiti’s heart has been stolen, and until it is returned, the islands are slowly dying. She is called to restore the heart. Once she discovers what it is she is called to do, she follows her call eagerly. She isn’t necessarily very good at it—if it weren’t for the ocean’s help, her limited sailing skills wouldn’t have gotten her very far. But she is willing to go, and that is all that was needed.

We’re not alone when we feel insufficient for whatever God has called us to do. The Bible gives us numerous examples of saints who doubted their capabilities. At the beginning of Exodus, Moses is called to a daunting task. From a burning bush, God hands him the responsibility of delivering the Israelites from Egypt. Moses questions God’s call on his life. Moses’s successor, Joshua, also despaired over his ability to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Esther feared to go to the king, knowing it was a risk to her life.  Just as God equipped Moses to lead the Israelites with Aaron and his staff, just as God kept His promise to give Joshua victory over the Canaanites, just as God gave Esther the courage to go before the king, He will also equip us for the tasks He gives us. As Paul puts it, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” (2 Corinthians 9:8). God doesn’t call us to something only to leave us to fend for ourselves. He is with us, He provides for us, and He enables us to finish the assignment.

At one point, Moana sees her mission as hopeless. We may come to that point as well. That is when we trust God. God loves to stretch us beyond what we think possible. Maybe you’re given a new assignment at work that seems overwhelming. Or maybe you’re asked to lead a small group when you feel unqualified. Whatever the calling may be, God wants us to remember the same thing He told Moses: He will be with us. He will equip us. As He famously commanded Joshua, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is God’s primary call for all of us?
  2. Where do we go from here? What’s the next step God wants you to take? When will you take it?