THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

This is the first line in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, “A TALE OF TWO CITIES.”  The story dates back to the 18th century before and during the French revolution.  In his tale, Dickens draws unsettling parallels between the Cities of London and Paris describing abject poverty, appalling starvation, rampant crime, ruthless capital punishment and aristocratic greed.

It was a time of contradiction—a time of uncertainty.  Changing times promised the end of tyranny.  So, on one hand, there was joy and hope and on the other despair and suffering.

We are going through the same paradox, for the world we now live in hasn’t changed all that much.  There are still places where tyranny reigns and poverty and suffering run rampant.  In every city, there are those who live in luxury while others rummage in garbage cans for the next meal.

Someone has said that we are living in the best of times with technology making our life easier and also in the worst of times when we are enslaved by the same technology.

I have to smile a little bit because my idea of the best of times and worst of times has nothing to do with smartphones and laptops.

In a waiting room the other day, I struck up a conversation with a young man who is saving up for the latest I Phone, because it does all these amazing things.  He needs $1,100.00.  Yesterday, my doctor was over an hour late for our appointment, because of a glitch in the computer system.  We agreed that computers are sometimes more trouble than they are worth.

When I told the sweet little bank teller that I needed cash, but I didn’t have my checkbook with me, she said, “O, I don’t own a checkbook.  I have never written a check.”  Then she said, “You know, young people really don’t know how to handle money.  We just do it all on the computer.

This may be interesting, amusing or annoying, but none of it has to do with “The best of times or the worst of times.”

There is a major conflict raging in this world between good and evil, light and darkness, wisdom and folly.  This is true of society in general, but more importantly, it is true in the life of every individual.

I guess I’m thinking about this today because this has been a very difficult summer for me.  You might call it one of “the worst of times.”  To my great disappointment, the surgery I underwent did not relieve the pain I was suffering.  So, now I am seeing a pain doctor, who will shoot drugs into my spine to eradicate the pain.

In preparation for my first visit, it was necessary to fill out seventeen pages of information for the doctor.  There was one question that gave me great pause.

 “How often, in the last week, have you felt depressed and hopeless?”

Thinking about it, I realized that not once, even when in private I wept at the pain, did I feel hopeless or depressed.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  I am not immune to the conflict between good and evil.  There are times when I struggle, as does everyone, but I have a secret.

Through the years, I have come to understand that it is possible for an individual to suffer, what would be considered the “worst of times,” and simultaneously enjoy “the best of times.” For, if Christ is the center of your life—if He is ever present within you, you can face the very worst of times without losing hope.

I John 4:4, “Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world.”

            Romans 8:35-37 encourages us.  “Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Here the Apostle enumerates some of the “worst of times,” and reassures us that we cannot only survive the worst, but we can enjoy the best, for—

“…In His presence is fullness of joy; at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11.

THAT’S THE BEST OF TIMES

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

DOING IT OVER

When I was a child, my Saturday chore was to rake our gravel driveway – to rid it of stray leaves or any other bit of trash that had found its way there.

Raking the driveway was not a happily anticipated chore, so my efforts were sometimes half-hearted.  Upon inspection, my Mama would often say, “Fayrene, you need to go back and “lick your calf over.”  I never quite understood those words, but I knew, without a doubt, that I hadn’t done a good job, so I had to do it again.

The phrase, “lick the calf over,” is a rural, southern expression referring to the way a cow cares for her newborn calf.  She spends much of the first few hours, after birth, licking her new baby.  Among other reasons, she licks to form a bond and groom her calf removing the fetal membranes.

“Lick your calf over” means to re-do a job that was not done well.

Doing it over again, regardless of what the task is, is never pleasant.  “Doing it over again,” always has a negative connotation.  It means—you did something wrong or you didn’t do something right.  It means carelessness or failure or simply a lack of “want to,” and it means multiplying precious time already spent.

My mother taught me to sew when I was a little girl.  She taught me to sew the quick and easy way.  She taught me certain shortcuts.  However, in eighth grade, I found that I had been doing it wrong all those years.  I couldn’t just pin seams.  I had to baste them, but basting took too long.  When my teacher caught me doing it the wrong way, the seams had to be ripped out and I had to start over.  I hated that.  Why couldn’t I do it my way—the fast way.

Four years ago I had my right knee replaced.  Seven weeks ago I had my right knee replaced again.  It was a “do over.”

My original surgeon didn’t want to touch it.  He offered a brace or physical therapy, but I didn’t want to settle for a temporary fix, so I opted for a complete replacement.  That meant finding a surgeon who would rip out the whole thing and start over.  It was an aggressive surgery for someone my age.  I think I’m glad he did it, or at least I will be someday.

Sometimes, in our journey through this life, something goes awry, and we make a royal mess of things.  On occasion our mistakes can be easily fixed.  Others are ruinous and hurtful throwing all of life off course.

Being human, often, our first inclination is to find a quick fix—an easy out.  Just put a brace on it or shore it up with bailing wire, and get on with life.  But braces and bailing wire are only temporary remedies dealing with the surface.  They never really get to the source of the problem.

In 1969, Frank Sinatra introduced the song, “I DID IT MY WAY.” The song is about a man who lives his life, including failures, and losses, without any regrets.  It seems to imply that he lived his life to suit himself without the consideration of others.  The whole song smacks of arrogance.  By the way, Sinatra grew to detest that song.

Proverbs 14:12 tells us, “There is a way that seems right unto man, but in the end it leads to death.”

I have a choice.  I can arrogantly assume that I am always right insisting on doing it my way.  Or understanding that I need council, I can cry with the Psalmist David (Psalm 25:4), “Show me your ways, O Lord.  Teach me your paths…”                     

Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us why we need to know God’s ways.  He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.”

can’t fix my messes by doing it my way.  That’s how I get into trouble in the first place.

So, how do I do it?

First, I must admit that it is my mess.  I am at least, in part, responsible.  I cannot play the blame game and expect to come to a satisfactory and healing solution.  I must be willing to delve into the deep recesses of my own heart to the very moment when I veered off course.  Only then can I begin to do it again—the right way this time.

It may be necessary to rip out a few seams.  It may be necessary to perform surgery on the problem—starting from the beginning ripping out the old and replacing it with the new.  A painful process!

Jeremiah 15:19, “Therefore this is what the Lord says:  If you repent, I will restore you…”

Restoration calls for repentance—an admission of guilt and a plea for forgiveness.  Restoration demands a “do over.”  Repentance may mean making things right with a spouse, apologizing to a child or fellow employee.  None of this is easy, especially when pride is at stake.  It’s hard to say, “I was wrong!”

This is a very simple, but difficult formula.  However, it is a formula that works.

If you need something restored in your life, ask God to show you His way.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL

 Gerald Brooks couldn’t read a lick of music, but he had a strong voice and an enthusiastic, positive attitude, so he became our church song leader.   That was in the days before worship teams appeared, and organs and pianos, choirs and soloists disappeared.

There Gerald was, behind the pulpit on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening, energetically pumping his arm up and down or back and forth, not always in time to the music.  He chose the songs (his favorites) from our “Melodies of Praise” hymnal, so we often sang the same ones over and over—“There’s Within My Heart a Melody,” and “Since Jesus Came into My Heart.”  We always sang three songs, and whether the song had three verses or thirty, we sang only three verses.

When I was very young, the choir was made up of those in the congregation who wanted to sing. It was as simple as that.  When the pastor opened the service, he invited anyone, who wanted to be in the choir, to make his way to the platform.  They came all ages, with broad smiles and lusty, not necessarily good voices, ready to worship.

There were no auditions.  The choir was not trained.  It was not practiced, nor did they know which songs they would sing.  They were there to back up the song leader and, by example, encourage the congregation in worship.

I majored in music my first couple of years in college, so now I know. “WE DIDN’T DO IT RIGHT!”  However, the memories of those simple, unstructured, unmanipulated times of worship, when hearts swelled, voices were lifted, hands were raised, in unrestrained, joyous praise to the God of heaven, are indelibly etched in the corridors of my heart.

As a child, I was part of that worship.  I know we did not sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but in those moments, I am convinced God leaned over the balcony of heaven and savored every word of praise, every joyful shout ascending to His throne.  Our simple and sincere praise blessed Him.

We often speak of God’s blessing upon our life—His mercy and benefits to us, but you must know that we also are called upon to bless Him.  I just conferred with Mr. Webster.  I was surprised to see that most of his dictionary entry defining “Bless,” and “Blessing” refer to our blessing God not the other way round.

He says, “To bless is “to give thanks to God the Father in a special manner, to speak gratefully to Him for His kindness, to honor in worship, to praise or glorify His name.”

In his book of songs, King David set a wonderful example for us.

Psalm 34:1, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

Psalm 103:1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

Psalm 119:175, “Let me live that I may praise You…”

Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord…

In essence, David is saying, “My purpose in life is to praise God by everything I do and say.  Therefore, I will praise Him continually with all that is in me, and if you are breathing, you must do the same.”

We ask for and receive His blessing, but I am wondering how often we thank Him for His kindness—how often we praise and glorify His name.  Not often enough, I would imagine.  Yet, over and over again in His Word, we are admonished to praise Him—to bless him.

Why does He command us to bless Him?  This God, who knows everything, can do anything and owns all that exists.  Does He really need our praise?  Surely He is not going to wither and vanish away if I do not bless Him.  Truth is I can’t make God any bigger or any greater with my praise.  So, why—

Actually, when I praise God, I am the one who benefits, and God knows that.  It is God’s way of lifting me out of my slough of despond, away from my impossibilities, above the cares of this world, and into His marvelous presence.  In His presence, there is fullness of joy.  In His presence, I am encouraged, my faith is renewed, and I am strengthened to continue the journey.

It is true.  Sometimes we are so obsessed with our needs that we cannot find a word of praise, and yet the scripture even asks us to sacrifice praise to God.

Hebrews 13”15-16, “…let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise…for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Our style of worship is not the issue.  Whether or not it is polished and practiced is not what counts.  It is the attitude of the heart and a grateful, loving spirit that attracts God’s attention, and causes His presence to inhabit our praise.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

DISAPPOINTMENTS

We all suffer disappointments from time to time.  Some are fleeting while others may last a lifetime.

For months I have been plagued with pain that has made it almost impossible to walk more than a few feet.  Because of obligations and other “THINGS,” I waited to make arrangements for surgery.  Finding an Orthopedic surgeon to do a knee revision is not an easy task.  Most will readily do the initial knee replacement but refuse to fix something you have messed up.  That’s what I did.  I messed up my knee falling on the pavement.

I was thrilled to find a doctor who would do the surgery and do it well.  I actually counted the days until the scheduled operation—ten days, three days, only one day until I get some relief.  I prayed every day that I would not fall again.

Yesterday morning, I was at the hospital at 6:30 a.m.  I waited forever until everyone had his coffee.  Then a sweet nurse took me back to prepare for this anticipated event.  My pastor was there to pray with me, and dear, longtime friends came to see me through the ordeal.

During the course of disrobing, being poked with needles and answering interminable questions, Dr. Hudson, the anesthesiologist showed up.  He was concerned about my Pace Maker and the fact that I am totally dependent upon it.  After faxing my cardiologist for more information, Dr. Hudson came back to explain that it is possible during the surgery that some of the medical instruments could interfere with the Pace Maker.  If such a thing occurred, they would have to send me by ambulance to another hospital, because being a specialty hospital, they have no cardiology back up.

The upshot was they would not do the surgery.  They couldn’t take the risk. I was so disappointed!  I was numbering the days until I would be mobile again.  Of course, I didn’t want to die, but—

Four and one-half hours after being admitted, I left the hospital feeling deflated—overwhelmingly disappointed.

Later, I thought, “The only positive thing about all this is the delightful breakfast and visit I had with my good friends.”  Then I thought again.

I remembered the extreme kindness of Dr. Hudson and the fact that I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to Kim, one of the nurses, about The Lord.

All of a sudden there was an explosion in my “pea brain.”  I thought, “This doctor may have saved my life!”

If I believe what I say I believe, then God was not absent yesterday morning.  He was right in the big middle of everything that happened.

I had prayed beforehand that God would guide the surgeon’s mind and hands, and enhance his skills, but I never imagined He would stop the surgery.  God, however, knows what is best for me, and since I belong to Him, I must allow Him to command every situation.  So, He was there.  He stopped the surgery—the doctors following God’s direction whether or not they were aware.

Romans 8:28 says, “…we know that all things work together for good to them that love
God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

I believe that scripture.  I really do, but I am not the spiritual giant that I may sometimes wish I were.  When I awoke this morning, I thought, “I should be in rehab today beginning the therapy that will put me on my feet again.  Instead, I have three more weeks of pain and immobility to look forward to.” I was not happy!

I do love God.  He has called me to be His child, and slowly, as I allow, He is working His purpose in my life, but I want to know right now, what is the purpose of this royal mess-up— why didn’t someone recognize the problem, when arrangements were being made?

However, in reflection, I realize the Holy Spirit has given me a whole list of Whys.

  1. The few hours I spent in the hospital Monday morning I had the opportunity to show a joyful spirit, and to witness of God’s goodness to a needy soul. What if that is her only witness?
  2. The anesthesiologist saved my life proving once again God’s love for me.
  3. I had wonderful fellowship with people whom I love and seldom see.
  4. As I wait for the next three weeks for surgery at another facility, I have the opportunity and the time to draw closer to God—to know Him more intimately. What a wonderful possibility!

Surely there are more “WHYS,” and the greatest one I may never know, but something good will come out of all this.  God said so!

Don’t fuss at God about your disappointments.  Don’t let them defeat you.  Remember God is there in the midst of them, and He will “work it together for your good” and for His purpose.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!