Bad Days

Bad Days

Sometimes I have bad days.  I bet you do too.  Sunday started off to be bad day.  It began when I woke up.  Usually, the first thing I do when I open my eyes is say, “Thank you, Jesus.”  When I do, I’m thanking him first for waking my up.  I’m thanking him for protecting me through the night.  I’m thanking him for the sleep I got, in spite of the pain in my shoulders.  That’s what my first of the day “Thank You, Jesus”, means.  Sunday morning I didn’t say it with an zip or enthusiasm.  It took some effort.  I recognized that right off so I said to Jesus, “Jesus, I really do mean it even though it doesn’t sound like it”.  When I got out of bed my body didn’t feel like it.  My mind didn’t feel like.  My attitude certainly didn’t feel like it.  I was just going through the motions.  You ever been there?

Church attendance later in the morning became optional.  I was arguing with myself.  “You can stay home and worship God.  You can devote the whole day to that.  It’ll be okay this time.”  “Oh come on.  Suck it up.  You’ll feel better once you get going, get loosened up.  Eat breakfast.  Read the devotionals.  By the time you get to Oswald Chambers if you aren’t revved up by that time, reading “My Utmost for HIs Highest” will certainly get you there.  If not, praying afterward certainly will.  Come on.  Let’s go.”  One by one, I began checking things off the list.

Nothing was working.  Nothing worked.  After all this was done, there was still time to get ready in time to go to church.  I needed to kill some more time.  I had put off doing my exercises, any of them, for several days.  I knew it was a bad thing to do because my shoulders were really hurting more and more every passing day.  Today, I made myself exercise, more to kill time than for the good they would do me.  Okay, so I exercised.  Actually loosening up my shoulders made them feel better.  Okay, there was still enough time, so I said I’d make a final decision after I took a shower.  So, I did.  Slowly, I noticed my will was taking over and I was willing myself to continue.

I took my shower, shaved, brushed my teeth, trimmed my eyebrows, trimmed my toenails.  Yep, I still had time.  I opened the closet door and began collecting my Sunday go-to-meeting clothes.  I finished dressing, collecting my Bible, identifying my offering, checking everything twice and still waited a few minutes before dragging myself out the door.  I still did not have a good attitude and wasn’t looking forward to meeting and greeting anyone.  I wanted to turn around and go back in the house.  I didn’t because my will was in charge now.  Just like the exercises done for the wrong reasons were still good for my shoulders, I knew going to church would be good for my spirit.  I made a commitment to serve Jesus and my will was taking me down that path.

Going Through the Motions

I was pretty much numb driving the familiar streets on the way to church.  My efforts to perk up were not being successful.  I waited at the traffic lights patiently.  I blessed the rude and thoughtless drivers I encountered along the way.  I made all the right turns, even the left turn into the parking lot.  I saw the greeter waiting for me just inside the glass door.  Hmm.  I tried to to put a sincere smile on my face.  I think it fooled him, anyway.  I couldn’t fool myself though.  I could have sat on an empty pew.  Instead I chose a spot next to a young mother holding her infant in her lap.  During the greeting time I left the pew and wandered up and down the aisle, smiling, greeting, and shaking hands.  I sang the songs as best I could.  I bowed my head during the prayers.  I listened to the message delivered my Brother Daniel.  It was a good message.  The service over, I deposited my offering in the box at the back, shook Brother Daniel’s hand, told him it was a good message, and was one of the very first out the door.  But then things began to change.  The gloom was beginning to lift.  My steps became lighter as I crossed the street and entered the parking lot.  By the time I reached FJ, joy had begun to take over.  Sitting in the driver’s seat, seat belt fastened, ready to go, I bowed my head and prayed.  This time I prayed with real gratitude a prayer of thanksgiving; thankfulness for his faithfulness and unfailing love began to flow.  Finishing, I pulled out of the parking lot with a new attitude for the day.  I traveled the same streets. Waited at the same lights.  Encountered even more mindless drivers than before.  This time was different though.  This time I did so with joy in my heart and praise on my lips.  I did devote the rest of the day to worshiping and praising God.  By the time the day ended, I could honestly say it was one of the most joyful days I’d had in quite some time.  When I went to bed that night, I told God how great a day it had been, giving him all the honor and glory.

Joy is a Choice

Perhaps you’ve heard the old cliche spewed out a someone who is in the gloom, “You can get glad in the same shoes you got sad in!”  Or how about this one, “Happiness is a choice.”  Well, they really are true.  But gladness and happiness are related to circumstances that make most people glad and/or happy.  What about those times when the circumstances would make anyone not happy?  What about death of someone dear, fired from your job, rent you can’t pay, not enough food to feed the hungry mouths, severe physical pain?  How about those times.  How can you be happy during those times?  You can’t.  But what you can be is joyful.  You can have joy:  real joy.  You see, joy is not the same as happiness.  Happiness depends on pleasant circumstances.  Joy doesn’t.  In fact joy is more closely related to the unpleasant circumstances in our lives.  Joy comes from a trusting, faithful, loving relationship with God.  It’s based on knowing God has unfailing love for you and has your best interests embedded deeply in his heart’s desire for you.  Read the four short chapters of Philippians.  It’s a letter Paul wrote during a time in his life when he was chained 24/7 to a Roman Praetorian Guard.  Listen to the joy he experienced at this tough time in his life.

I’d like to end this today by sharing a scripture passage that brings me great comfort every day.

Psalm 23 (NLT)

The Lord is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,

bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and you staff

protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me

in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord

forever.

Whose Yoke is This?

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My Yoke

Yesterday was a tough day.  It began okay but turned south with the arrival of the mail.  In it was an envelope that just had an ominous feel about it.  I wasn’t looking forward to opening it.  I knew I had to.  My suspicions proved true.  My heart sank.  Emotions like anger, fear, and hate started to surface.  I really don’t like those feelings.  Self-talk began, attempting to quash the feelings.  Besides, everything in the letter was future.  None of it was about the here and now.  Self-talk wasn’t helping.  The negative and destructive thoughts wouldn’t go away.  I decided I needed to get busy and let business replace the thoughts and feelings.  I decided to put the air-conditioner back into the window in my bedroom.  It had been over 90 degrees the past couple of days.

Even before I could get the air conditioner into the bedroom, I had injured myself…not once, but twice.  Pretty badly.  First came a gash on my hand right above the left thumb.  I’m left-handed so it’s more troubling than if it had been on my right hand.  I had to stop for 15 minutes to take care of it.  Just a few minutes later, in while avoiding dropping the air-conditioner on the floor, the unit slid down my left arm opening a gash and laying a flap of several layers of skin back across my arm.  That took about thirty minutes to take care of.  Both injuries were my fault, entirely.  The feelings of anger, fear, and hate just wouldn’t go away and intensified considerable due to the injuries.  I was miserable!

His Yoke

Finally, I caught my breath and regained control of my thoughts enough to cry out to my Father in Heaven.  I said, “God, I don’t want to feel like this.  I don’t want to have this anger.  I don’t want to be afraid.  Absolutely, I do not want this to turn into hate.  I want to have the attitude of Christ.  Not this!  Please, help me be more like Jesus!  None of this matters regardless how it turns out as long as I have you!  Your love is all I care about.  I want you to be pleased with me.  Please help me become more like Jesus!”  Within minutes I was relaxed.  The anger, fear, and hate were gone.  Oh, I felt so much better.  Soon I was back on the project and focused entirely on what I needed to be focused on.  That’s a really good thing because I was going to need to use the table saw for a major part of the project.  I can only imagine what could have happened if God hadn’t come to my rescue.  And, by the way, this wound up being one of the best installation jobs I’ve done.

Our Yoke

Remember, God wants us to be like Jesus.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  (Matthew 11:28—30, NLT)

Dr. J. Vernon McGee & Cigarettes

Coyote Creek Canyon, New Mexico.
God’s Creation

Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Broadcast

I began listening to Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s radio broadcast, “Thru the Bible”, at some time during the mid-80s.  It was during a period of personal spiritual renewal.  I have to admit I had not been living a life God was pleased with.  A crisis had entered my life and I had no one I could to turn to for comfort except God.  The first thing I did to face this crisis was to begin praying, again.  The second thing I did was to begin reading the Bible, again.  The third thing I did was to fill the air around me with the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.  The “Thru the Bible” broadcast with Dr. J. Vernon McGee was one of my favorite programs.  During those years, I was working in construction and most of my work, at that time, was out-of-town.  This meant I packed my lunch in the morning and ate on the job site.  I took along a portable transistor radio and I would listen to Dr. McGee’s thirty-minute program during my lunch break.  Back then, I considered Dr. McGee to be one of the best teachers of the Bible I had ever heard; I still do, today.

Dr. McGee passed away in December 1988.  Today, I can’t find his broadcast on the radio, anymore.  When I began the spiritual journey I am now on, I rid myself of all things secular in my house and once again am surrounding myself with things I know are pleasing to God and draw me closer to him.  Searching the radio airwaves for the sounds of familiar voices I am disappointed to report there are very few radio stations that still broadcast Christian programs; There are even fewer TV stations.  I have been unable to find any of the old familiar voices from the past.  However, I am very happy to report that the internet is chock full of wonderful Christian programs available through streaming.  Music, preaching, and teaching can be found on a multitude of websites and on YouTube, as well.  Also, I’ve discovered Spotify is just as good a resource for Christian music of all types as is it for secular music.  I am very happy to report that the ministry of Dr. J. Vernon McGee continues to thrive through the loving and skillful hands of a group of supporters in California.  His “Thru the Bible” program, that teaches the entire Bible over the course of five years, is available for streaming on the the internet as is his Sunday Sermons.  By now you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with cigarettes.  Well, I’m a fixing’ to tell ya.

Cigarettes & “Thru the Bible”

It was lunch time, and I was working out of town, so I had packed my lunch.  I was painting the interior of a vacated house that the owner was getting ready to put it on the rental market again.  “Thru the Bible” was on the radio and I had finished eating my sandwich and chips, bologna and cheese sandwich and Fritos corn chips.  It was my habit to smoke a cigarette immediately after eating.  During those days I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.  Yes, that’s right, three packs a day!  I was an addict and a slave to cigarettes.  They controlled many aspects of my life.  I had to make sure my supply of cigarettes was sufficient at all times, always.  I wouldn’t go places that didn’t allow me to smoke.  I was inconsiderate and rude to those who didn’t approve.  I considered smoking to be my right and they could accept it or go away.

Honestly, I don’t remember what Dr. McGee was teaching at the time, but I do recall his broadcast was on the air.  I was talking to God, or praying if you prefer, as I reached in my shirt pocket for my pack of cigarettes.  Suddenly, a very strong impression came over me.  I recognized it as being the Holy Spirit; There have been similar encounters with the Holy Spirit at other times in my life.  He said, “Give those to me.”  I said back, “I’ve tried many times to quit in the past without success.  I’ve given them to you before and it didn’t work.  I’m not going to go through that, again.”  “You never gave them to me.  Give them to me for real,” he responded.  This time I answered, “Yes Lord, I give them to you for real!  But Lord, you’re going to have to do this because I can’t.  I’ve tried too many times before and I’m not strong enough.”  I took the pack of cigarettes from my shirt pocket, the extra pack I had in my lunch box, the lighter in my pocket, walked outside on the driveway and tossed them into the trash dumpster.  Now, here’s the good part.

God took my desire and craving for tobacco away from me that day and it has never returned to this day.  A few days later, I was on another job, working out of town.  I had two helpers with me and we rode together, in my truck every morning.  They had helped me on jobs several time before and both were smokers.  It was cold that morning and I had the heater on and windows rolled up.  I told them about my experience and that I had quit smoking.  One of them said, “Oh great!  I guess that means we can’t smoke around you anymore!”  I assured them it didn’t and encouraged them to light up until they finally did.  They wanted to, at least, roll down the windows.  I said, “No, it’s cold and you don’t need to.”  Now, you ready for this?  They lit up and I could not even smell the smoke.  God had taken my ability to smell tobacco smoke away as well as the cravings.  I could still smell other things, just not cigarette smoke.  It was years later before I could detect the smoke from tobacco.  Today, I can detect it but it still isn’t very strong, at all.  How amazing is that!  Three packs to zero in an instant without any side effects at all.  In fact, I needed to lose some weight and actually had no problem doing so due to the increased appetite that accompanied my attempts to quit in the past.

I am not suggesting he will do the same for you.  I’m just testifying what he did for me.  What he does and will do for you is between you and God.  There is a scripture I’d like to share with you that I held in my heart.  “We are humans, but we don’t wage war as humans do.  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to know down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)  My human reasoning was keeping me from obeying God and being set free from the slavery of cigarettes.  At other times my human reasoning has prevented me from believing God and from receiving his wonderful blessings.  Maybe, just maybe, this passage from Scripture, the living word of God, can remove the stronghold that’s keeping you from God, too.

Carl Ray