The Graham Legacy

But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love Me and obey My commands.
Exodus 20:6 (NLT)

The passing of Dr. Billy Graham in February hit many people hard. Yes, he had been in declining health for some time—but for those of us who grew up during the Graham years, his departure from this earth to his heavenly home marks the end of an era.

I happened to begin 2018 by reading Anne Graham Lotz’ book entitled Why? Trusting God When You Don’t Understand. Over the past several decades, I have had the privilege of attending various events where Dr. Graham and Anne spoke, so their voices seemed to echo in my mind as I poured over each page. Much like her famous father, Anne’s focus is always on Jesus: Jesus the Son of God. Jesus who loved us so much He was willing to die for us. Jesus who rose from the grave. Jesus who wants everyone to be with Him in Heaven one day.

You see, while Billy Graham may be gone, his legacy lives on, as was evident when his son Franklin tweeted these words on February 21st:

“My father Billy Graham was once asked, ‘Where is Heaven?’ He said, ‘Heaven is where Jesus is, and I am going to Him soon!’ This morning, he departed this world into eternal life in Heaven, prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ—the Savior of the world—whom he proclaimed for 80 years.”

Billy and Ruth Graham had five children who learned about the Lord as they were raised by this devout couple. They weren’t perfect (what parent is!), and they’d be the first to admit it was difficult balancing a ministry to hundreds of millions while raising their family. Traveling the world and sharing the good news about Jesus were important—but the most significant audience was the Graham children. In a sense, Billy and Ruth strove to fulfill what was written long ago by the psalmist:

We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about His power and His mighty wonders.
(Psalm 78:4)

The Graham legacy continues in the lives of Billy and Ruth’s children grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The truths they taught about the Lord have allowed Anne to write a book like Why? that has helped countless people all over the world with words like these:

“Jesus died on the Cross, but praise God, He shed the grave clothes, and the Resurrection and the power and the glory followed! Don’t wallow in your ‘why’s?’ Don’t throw a pity party. Don’t remain in your misery. Don’t stop short of all God wants to do for you” (p. 133)

Dr. Graham has finally been reunited with his wife and so many other “forever family” members—and, best of all, with the Savior he served so faithfully for eight decades. My prayer is that each of us will take time this month to reflect and consider our personal legacies. What are we doing to leave behind truths of the Lord? Are there more ways we can share about His amazing gift of salvation? How are we impacting our most important legacy—our loved ones—so that they too can share this salvation message with generations yet to come?

Many blessings to you this month from the team at Sonkist Ministries!

 

Thought of the Month

Let each generation tell its children of Your mighty acts;
    let them proclaim Your power.
Psalm 145:4

What’s Better Than a Hallelujah?

Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord
now and forever.

Psalm 113:1-2 (NLT) 

Amy Grant’s song Better Than a Hallelujah spoke to me again in recent weeks.  The lyrics remind me that the Lord listens to all the ways we call out to Him, like a caring parent simply awaiting our cry for help.  Yet the term “Hallelujah” is what has echoed in my mind—simply translated as “Praise Ye, Yahweh.”

Perhaps this definition is why “Hallelujah” has been tugging at me, gently making a call of its own. You see, much of my talking to God is more about me than Him. When I’m overwhelmed with life or the burdens of living in a fallen world, I ask the Lord for help in handling it all.  Sometimes I feel a lot like the psalmist who penned these words:

I love the Lord because He hears my voice
    and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen,
I will pray as long as I have breath!

(Psalm 116:1-2)

Do I love the Lord merely because He listens?  Am I appreciative of Him only when my prayers are answered? How often do I simply say, “Praise You, Lord” without having any other agenda or strings attached?

Psalm 113 is one of the Jewish “Hallel” psalms, and the verses above prompt all “servants of the Lord” to lift our praises to Him.  Indeed, this psalm also reminds us that there are many reasons why the Lord should receive our admiration—now and forever:

For the Lord is high above the nations; His glory is higher than the heavens.

Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high?
(verses 4-5)

The answer to “Who can be compared with the Lord our God?” should urge me to exclaim, “No one but You—Praise You, Lord!”

Who is there for me each morning? “Praise You, Lord!”

Who watches over my family and friends? “Praise You, Lord!”

Who holds the world and everything in it together? “Praise You, Lord!”

And the list could go on and on.  For this and numerous other reasons, I want my mindset to shift to a “Praise You” attitude:

Praise the Lord! Let all that I am praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord as long as I live.  I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.

(Psalm 146:1-2)

All this processing led be back to Amy Grant’s lyrics, and I realized she too understands the importance of lifting up a “Hallelujah”:

God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
God loves a drunkard’s cry,
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

Yes, God loves us reaching out to Him in various ways, and these can be better than a “Hallelujah”—sometimes.

This month, I encourage you to join me in offering more praises to the Lord—just because.  Just because He is who He is.  Just because He deserves it.

Many blessings to you from the team at Sonkist Ministries!

 

Thought of the Month

 I will praise the Lord,
and may everyone on earth bless His holy name
forever and ever.

Psalm 145:21

A Shield of Love

 For You bless the godly, O Lord;
You surround them with Your shield of love.

Psalm 5:12 (NLT)

Have you ever come across a verse or concept in Scripture that just sticks with you—and maybe you’re not even sure why?  This is what happened weeks ago after reading the verse above. I have always believed that the Lord blesses those who strive to follow Him, but what on earth did the psalmist mean by a shield of love?  The two terms don’t seem to make sense together, especially in today’s modern world.

Then I got to thinking about the author of this psalm.  David had been a shepherd boy early in his youth, yet he was elevated to warrior status with one act of exceptional bravery when he defeated the giant Goliath (see I Samuel 17:32-51). As time passed, his father-in-law, King Saul, turned against him—so David became a soldier-at-large with his band of men.  Perhaps because of such life-threatening experiences, we find David penning these plaintive lines:

O Lord, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning.  Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but You. Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to You and wait expectantly.

 (Psalm 5:1-3)

Like us, David no doubt dealt with the ordinary ups and downs of life.  And, as we’ve seen, he had seasons of extreme stress and uncertainty.  But David lived in very different times than we do today.  A sword and shield were everyday tools in his battle for survival.  These instruments of protection for himself, his family, and his fellow fugitives were not only familiar but also seemed fitting to explain his insights about God’s love.  For David, the Lord didn’t provide a soft, fuzzy kind of love.  It didn’t come with a Hallmark card or box of chocolates.  No, to this seasoned soldier, the love of the Lord seemed as real as his ever-present shield—capable of providing confidence as well as protection, even in the darkest hours of life’s journey.

While we may find it hard to imagine hiding out from enemy forces or facing armies like David did, we certainly can relate with other frustrations he expressed in Psalm 5: “For they cannot speak one truthful word. Their hearts are filled to the brim with wickedness. Their suggestions are full of the stench of sin and death. Their tongues are filled with flatteries to gain their wicked ends” (verse 9, The Living Bible).  It appears David also experienced the pain of dealing with deceitful people and the impact of sin in a fallen world.

Take a few minutes to consider similar feelings you may be experiencing.  Are you struggling with frustrating situations, unfriendly forces, or even fear? What problems are you facing right now that seem insurmountable? Here are a few dilemmas some of our friends and family members are battling with:

·         A drug-addicted child

·         An aging parent whose health is failing

·         Chronic back pain that medication isn’t relieving

·         Strained relationships with siblings

·         Income that’s reduced while expenses continue to rise

·         A business partner who didn’t keep his promises

And this list could go on and on.  Times may change, but the problems of living really don’t vary that much from millennia to millennia.

Perhaps that’s why the “shield of love” concept has stuck with me.  I like the idea of God’s love encompassing me, shielding me and those I care about from negative experiences that bombard us each day.  In addition, I appreciate David’s plea to the Lord as he closed out this captivating psalm: “But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread Your protection over them, that all who love Your name may be filled with joy” (verse 11).

Oh, may this be true for you today! Whatever you are struggling with, ask God to help you with every aspect of it.  Whoever may be a challenge in your personal or professional life, pray for wisdom about how to handle the situation.  Not only will God give you the answers you need, but His presence and protection will also provide you much more joy in the days ahead.

 

Thought of the Month

Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to Him for protection.
Proverbs 30:5

All Things New

And the One sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then He said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:5
(New Living Translation)

For those who are old enough to remember, May 18th of 1980 proved to be an historically cataclysmic day.  After numerous warning signs, Mount St. Helens erupted with a fury—forever changing the landscape for miles around.  In the aftermath of the devastating event, researchers began studying the area, wondering if life would ever return to this seemingly post-apocalyptic world.

What surprised many, even these seasoned scientists, was how quickly restoration came to charred land, choked rivers, and debris-filled lakes.  As authors John Morris and Steven A. Austin explain, “Early predictions had claimed it would be over one hundred years before life could re-establish itself in the poisonous ash which covered everything.  Despite the predictions, in just a few years, rain and snowfall have broken the ash into nutrients and resurrected the buried soil beneath, allowing plants to reappear in abundance” (from their book, Footprints in the Ash:  The Explosive Story of Mount St. Helens, 2003).

As we begin this new year of 2018, the story of regeneration at Mount St. Helens pales in comparison to what the Lord can do in each of our lives.  Indeed, in Revelation 21 we find that He is the One who makes all things new.  Not a few items.  Not almost everything.  No, the Lord boldly proclaims, “I am making everything new!”

This transformative process begins when we accept God’s gracious gift of salvation by believing in His Son Jesus.  As II Corinthians 5:17 explains, This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Despite whatever has happened in our past, the Lord changes all of that when we become part of His forever family.  Our old, damaged life is no more; instead, a complete renewal begins because of Him!

Of course, God also reminds us in Scripture that, along with this miraculous, life-altering development, we have a part to play:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
(Romans 12:2)

While living in this tumultuous world, our job is to avoid acting in ways that are unproductive.  This verse in Romans 12 also encourages believers to “let God transform you.”  In other words, we must intentionally allow the Lord to work in and through us, looking for opportunities to learn His ways and will for our lives.

This part of the transformative process has been mirrored in the aftermath of Mount St. Helens’ eruption: “Perhaps even more starling is the rapid adaptation of certain animals … God designed His creation in such a way that it can adapt to a variety of conditions” (Morris and Austin, p. 108).

How awesome!  God has given His creation the ability to transform, no matter how awful the circumstances.  Despite an unimaginable past, current unsettling situations, or uncertainty about the future, the Lord can and will help us through it all if we so desire.  Even if you feel that the changes you need to make are insurmountable, the One sitting on the throne has already declared, “Behold, I am making everything new!”  This process is already in motion! The Apostle Paul reminded us of this fact in Philippians 1:6: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

So, another new year is upon us.  What will we do with the opportunities for growth and change that lie ahead of us?  Will we get stuck in the muck and mire of this world, focused on what was or what could have been—or will we allow the Lord of Lord and King of Kings to transform us in new, exciting ways that we can’t possibly imagine?

Like many aspects of life, the choice for a new beginning is ours to make—and we can be confident that He who is trustworthy and true will continue His work “until it is finally finished.”

Happy New Year to you and your family from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!

Thought of the Month

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.

Colossians 1:6

I Want to Know Christ

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

From the song Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Johann Sebastian Bach , lyrics by Robert Bridges

One of the joys of the Christmas season is the beautiful music that is played everywhere.  Recently I heard the faint strains of Hark the Herald Angels Sing as I cruised up and down the grocery store aisles.  Bing Crosby’s version of O Little Town of Bethlehem greeted me when I stepped into an elevator at a local mall.  And when I tuned into satellite radio’s holiday station, I got to enjoy a melodious rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

The lyrics of the song above might not be as familiar to some, but this last movement of a Bach cantata has been played at many Christian festivities since it was written in the early 1700s.  In addition to Christmas, you may have heard it at Easter and at weddings.  The lyrics that were later added by Bridges are also striking.  They call for us to look to Jesus, the joy of man’s desiring.  His wisdom and love speak to us, drawing us into an amazing relationship that allows our souls to soar!

Friends, this is what I love most about Christmas.  In the days ahead, we can’t help but focus on Jesus.  The decorations, wrappings, food, and festivities don’t have to be distractions—instead, they can be constant reminders of what this holy season is all about! And that’s what I long for:  I want to really know Jesus more and more this Christmas.  I think Paul said it best this way:

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.
Philippians 3:7-10

Like the apostle, my heart’s desire is to know my Lord and Savior.  I want to understand why He left the joys of Heaven in order to save us.  I long to love the way He does, reaching out to both the saved and yet-to-be-saved—sharing with them about the joy that He has given me.

Much of the music of this blessed season reminds me of His truths.  Let’s look at the final stanzas of Bach’s famous tune:

Through the way where hope is guiding, 
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding, 
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure. 
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown. 

Hope is indeed guiding us in this journey of life. Christmas and all its festivities merely point us back to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. So, enjoy the music! Drink in the sights and sounds of the season, and celebrate with family and friends. Most of all, get to know Jesus more through every joyful moment of the days and weeks ahead.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!

 

Thought of the Month

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

From O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks and Lewis Redner

A Lesson about Gratitude

“Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.”
Jonah 4:5-6
What on earth does the prophet Jonah have to do with this month when we celebrate Thanksgiving?  Plenty!  Like so many of us, Jonah was blessed immensely by God—and in the passage above, we see how grateful he was for the Lord’s perfect provision in his time of need.  But also like us, Jonah quickly forgot those blessings.  In fact, when things got tough, this reluctant prophet got angry:
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed. Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”  “Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”  Jonah 4:7-9
It’s almost impossible to believe that this is the same individual who cried from the belly of the great fish for God to save him!  After disobeying God, Jonah desperately prayed for help, even making promises to God:  “But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone!” (Chapter 2, verse 9).  One can’t miss the irony of a man, saved from death, wishing to die because a plant perished!

Yet if I take an honest look at my life, how many times has my gratitude shifted—sometimes dramatically—because I felt slighted by someone or even by God Himself? And when I might tend to judge someone like Jonah for being unthankful after all that the Lord had done for him, couldn’t others say the same thing about me? How often have I forgotten my blessings and instead focused on a particular problem or burden?

I’m not sure how you feel, but I want this season of Thanksgiving to be different.  I don’t want to be appreciative for a day, like Jonah, and then slip into a spirit of ungratefulness when times get tough. I would love to grasp the bigger picture of what God is doing in my life and in my world.  And I’d really like to remain consistent in my attitude of gratitude—not wavering because of some circumstance that goes awry or someone who doesn’t see things my way.

Where would you like to improve when it comes to thankfulness?  How can you praise the Lord more for the good things He has done for you?  And if God gives you something you don’t want—or takes away something that you do—can you still say “praise the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b)?

The great news is that God can still use us, even when we’ve messed up on some of the simplest lessons about gratitude.  Jonah helped save Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people, despite his flaws. If the Lord can do that kind of work, who knows what He has in store for us this month—and in the months ahead!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!

Thought of the Month

“Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High.”
Psalm 50:14

A Harvest of Possibilities

He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”
Luke 18:27, NLT
Problems, or possibilities?  This is a dilemma I’m faced with most days.  Not which ones will appear, but rather what perspective I will have about various circumstances that somehow or other cross my path.

I’m sure you can relate to some of these scenarios too. Perhaps the car isn’t running right.  Or that faucet is leaking again.  Or the dog keeps digging up the grass.  Maybe someone you know hasn’t done what he or she promised—again.  Are these problems?  Yes.  But can they also be situations ripe with opportunity?  You bet!

Now, you and I may not necessarily like the “opportunity”—whatever it may be—but none the less, we have a choice about how we will respond to virtually everything in our daily experiences.  And there’s a very good chance that some of these experiences will include problems.  How do I know?  Because Jesus Himself spoke frankly about this fact of life:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33
Note that Jesus, in addition to foretelling of future dilemmas, also gave His followers hope to be able to handle these times of difficulty: “I have overcome the world.”  Indeed, repeatedly in Scripture, we find the best approach for addressing life’s problems:  all things are possible with God (see Luke 18:27 above).  Not only can He aid us by changing our perspective about problems, but the Lord can assist us in dealing with whatever comes our way. Here are a few other passages that verify this reality:
 Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!  
Jeremiah 32:17

I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. 
Job 42:2

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 
Ephesians 3:20

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. 
Isaiah 41:10

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  
James 1:5

More of these truths can be found throughout Scripture, offering us hope—even when experiencing the most trying circumstances.  Why not take some time this upcoming season to consider the difficulties that you’re dealing with from a slightly different perspective? What problems could turn into possibilities with God’s assistance? Are there ways you can trust Him more, even if the situation seems overwhelming or intolerable?

Whatever you do, remember Jesus’ gentle reminder to everyone who follows Him: “I have told you all this so you may have peace in me.”  Perhaps this divine peace will be the best blessing we will receive this upcoming Harvest season!

Happy Fall from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!

 

Thought of the Month

Turn to me and have mercy,
for I am alone and in deep distress.
My problems go from bad to worse.
Oh, save me from them all!
Feel my pain and see my trouble.
Forgive all my sins.

Psalm 25:16-18

Back to School—Always!

We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the
Lord,
about His power and H
is mighty wonders.

Psalm 78:4, NLT

Even with over three decades in the field of education, I still look forward to the start of another school year. I’m excited for students who will have the chance to gain more knowledge, consider new concepts, and interact with one another.  Whether in public, private, or home-school settings, this season reminds both children and adults of the importance of the learning process.

This learning process is extremely critical when it comes to our spiritual development too.  Everyone, young and old, should keep growing—just as Paul reminded early believers: “I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (Ephesians 1:16b-17).  In a sense, we should be experiencing “Back to School” regularly in our journey of faith.

Psalm 78 also clarifies that the older generation must pass on truths about the Lord to the children in their care.  Look at these verses from that psalm which give the rationale for this concept:

For He issued His laws to Jacob; He gave His instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. So, each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting His glorious miracles and obeying His commands.  (verses 5-7)

Notice that the instructions God gave were to be the first agenda items that should be passed on to the next generation.  Why?  So they could learn them, avoid mistakes, and then pass the Lord’s great ways of living on to yet another generation.  In other words, by intentionally instructing the younger generation, adults were offering them the opportunity to “set their hope anew on God.

Over the years of teaching, consulting, and writing, I’ve been asked a lot of questions—particularly about parenting.  I’ve often been astonished when people express their concern about being too intentional about faith.  Some men and women are uncertain about what to share; others are apathetic.  The most surprising conversation I had was with a family member who thought his kids should just “get” faith on their own.  I remined him that we would never expect children to simply “get” reading, writing, or math by themselves—instead, we’re extremely intentional about teaching these critical subject areas.  Boys, girls, teenagers—and adults for that matter—rarely pick up knowledge without some sort of guidance. Indeed, strategic educational effort helps learners all throughout the life cycle.

In our book, Straight Line for Parents:  9 Strategies for Raising Exceptional Kids (Wilke & Wilke, 2012), we talk about “three pillars” for bringing up the next generation:  Faith, Family, and Education.  We specifically list the pillars in this order for a reason.  Faith is the foundation, family is the framework, and education provides the pathway for success.  Ten or twenty years ago we might not have been so definitive—but with over sixty years of combined professional interactions with children and adults and three-plus decades of parenting (and now grandparenting) together, we are confident that these pillars will work for you and your family.

So, how’s your “Back-to-School” process going?  Are you intentionally working to improve your spiritual knowledge?  If so, how?  Is there anything else you might do to guarantee that you are growing “in your knowledge of God”?  What’s happening with the young people in your life?  Maybe they’re your children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews.  Perhaps you teach a Sunday School class—or just have neighbor kids with whom you interact.  Could you find some new, innovative ways to “tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about His power and His mighty wonders”?

If you’re not sure where or how to get started, why not read through Psalm 78 to find out what that generation passed on—truths that are still impacting the world we live in today.  In addition, you can read Straight Lines for Parents in paperback or Kindle versions—or pick up a copy for someone you care about.  We also recommend checking out Focus on the Family at www.FocusOnTheFamily.com for fantastic faith-based resources.  Whatever you do, keep learning this Back-to-School season—and all throughout life’s wonderful journey!

Many blessings to you from everyone at Sonkist Ministries!

 

Thought of the Month

 O my people, listen to my instructions.
Open your ears to what I am saying,
for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.

Psalm 78:1-3

What Makes You Happy?

I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches. I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways.  I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word.
Psalm 119:14-16
While researching the Internet for an upcoming blog on optimism, I encountered numerous sites that summed up several studies about what makes people happy.  See how many of these resonate with you:
  • Connections to family
  • Close relationships
  • Good health
  • Generous people; giving to others
  • Being engaged in some type of meaningful work
  • Forgiveness
  • Faith
  • Exercise
  • Interactions with pets
  • Attitudes of gratitude

As I reviewed these findings, I realized that quite a few of the items were ones that God would be pleased with too since many are directly related to our relationship with Him as well as the people and experiences He has created for us to enjoy.  Indeed, Scripture confirms that when our connection with the Lord is strong, we can’t help but discover a true, lasting joy in the process.  Look at this section of Psalm 119 to see what I mean:

Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the Lord. 

Joyful are those who obey His laws and
search for Him with all their hearts.
(verses 1&2)

The message found in these two verses seems counter-intuitive to much of what we find in our current culture.  In fact, the “me” focus of a few decades ago has transformed into a “whatever works for you” mentality.  Today, morals are questioned, social mores morph by the minute, and faith-based thinking seems way off base to many.

Yet these time-tested truths the psalmist shared transcend what may be trending on social media.  Consider these facts shared in this section of Psalms for a minute.  Has following God’s guidelines for great living helped you—or not?  When you’ve felt close to the Lord, did your life seem better—or worse?

And when we consider that list of top items that make people happy, wouldn’t many of them be more uplifting if the Lord was integrally involved?  For instance, how would our experiences with family, friends, co-workers, and community members be if we interacted with one another according to Biblical principles?  Might work be more meaningful—would we be more thankful—could we forgive more freely—if we had God’s assistance?

Summer is a perfect season for reflection, so I encourage you to think about what truly makes you happy.  Remember, God has great plans for you—and being joyful is part of that!  So, contemplate all the good things you’ve got in your life right now.  Make plans for fun, joy-filled activities in the days ahead—and include lots of family and friends so they can be encouraged too.  And, most of all, be sure to set aside time to focus on the One who makes life possible and would love to be part of your joyful journey here on Planet Earth!

Thought of the Month

May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy, for I have put my hope in your word.
Psalm 119:74

I Choose Peace!

But all who listen to Me will live in peace,
 untroubled by fear of harm.

Proverbs 1:33

Like many people, I’ve spent lots of time considering the word “peace”—and certainly never like I did in 2016.  World news was once again dominated by acts of terrorism, and in the U.S., daily broadcasts of everything from politics to local events revealed struggle, strife, and animosity in abundance.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve also spent time wondering if we will ever be able to experience real peace this side of Heaven.  The great news is that God’s Word confirms that we can—we should—enjoy His kind of peace in our day-to-day lives, and this is the message you’ll discover in Sonkist Ministries’ latest book, I Choose Peace!  Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2 that speaks to the thoughts above:

 Like many people throughout history, you may be wondering why God would allow such evil to be perpetuated—especially on members of His forever family. Once again, the rationale for all of this links to the very beginning of human existence. Disregarding God’s guidelines had consequences, and the decision by Adam and Eve to reject God’s wishes, mirrors the rebellious act of Lucifer and the other fallen angels. While time ticks on, the imperfections initiated by the choice to turn away from the guidelines God provided for perfect and peaceful living will continue. However, the Lord is good—He has given us gentle reminders of this reality all throughout His Word, including the verse that started this chapter. Let’s look at John 16:33 again: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

In some of His final words to His followers, Jesus spoke of the realities of living in a fallen world—yet He also offered an amazing peace that people can experience by having a personal relationship with Him. Look at the wording again: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me.” It’s as if Jesus were saying, “Sure, life will be hard when I’m gone. You will have your own intrapersonal struggles. People won’t like you because you’re Christians. The devil is at work in the world, and so are his evil forces. But don’t worry! I can help you because I am the One who has overcome sin, evil, and their consequences.”

If we just focused on the consequences sin has had on humanity, we can grasp why peace is so challenging to experience here on earth. This situation might also be pretty depressing as we face the reality that our flawed human state, as well as the devil and his forces, are constantly working against us in our quest for harmonious living. But, as Jesus reminded us, we don’t have to be discouraged—we should “take heart!” In Him we can find true, lasting peace—and that’s exactly what the next chapter is going to delve into in a much deeper way.

 Our prayer is that I Choose Peace! will encourage you in your journey toward finding the Lord’s peace—and that you’ll also be able to share about how to experience the peace-filled life God always hoped His creation would enjoy!

*I Choose Peace! can be found in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.com.

Thought of the Month

 If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good.
 Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

 I Peter 3:10-11