A Joyful Heart

If happiness, joy, were a contagious disease how infectious would you be?

COVID changed the face, that is the face of America. Happiness, joy, was bleached from faces and for many has not returned.

If you have even the most faint smile on your face indicating a joyful heart you won’t have trouble infecting persons and soliciting a similar response. It can brighten things up. If you have a happy face about to break out you will never be short of friends. People who enjoy life in spite of challenges and an atmosphere of gloom are magnets of friendship.

Most persons who know the Bible, and they are not most persons, will remember, “ a joyful heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17: 22)

There is another verse with a similar message: “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” (Proverbs 15: 13)

There are a couple of descriptive aphorisms worth recalling often.  Such as:

“If you have Jesus in your heart, notify your face.” And:

“Joy is the banner that flies over the castle of the heart when the King is in residence.”

It is people who typify these truths that people want to be around. They are friendship magnets, people are drawn to them.

The oil of joy is a medicine for those down and out, burdened, and sorrowful. A big gleeful smile is not suitable for every occasion, but a person who looks on the bright side of things and expresses the sufficiency of the Lord is.

Let’s face it, our tank of joy isn’t always full. We, too, have downcast occasions that drain us of things that give us happiness. It is then we must switch to our second tank and evidence the sufficiency of the Lord. 

Be honest when you are down and out. Lift up your head and shout “I am down and out, BUT I can see the glory of the Lord even amid sorrow. There is a little known poem, the fullness of which eludes my memory of all but one line related to the fact one has not learned to live until he has learned to see the stars through the sycamore tree. The sycamore is symbolic of sorrow. The star is emblematic of bright hope and joy. The line is emblematic of seeing the best and brightest even amid sorrow.

If Nehemiah 8:10 which states “the joy of the Lord is thy strength” is true, and it is, how strong are you? Those words were spoken to the people of Israel as they stood among the ruins of their homeland from which they had been away in exile for years. If they could find joy in their darkest hour so can we by reminding ourselves of the sufficiency of God and His promises of provisions for us.

Got a problem? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3: 5, 6)

        Smile, God loves you.

The Church’s One Foundation

The first church I served as pastor was Mt. Pisgah Baptist just outside of Mt. Hermon. To get there you had to turn off the asphalt road onto a gravel road off of which you turned onto a dirt road. There it set as it had for years. It was for me the “Institute of Pastoral Care,” in that there was a deacon there who taught me more than some seminary professors. I loved the 35 people we had in attendance most Sundays.

The first problem I precipitated was to put screens in the windows to keep out the mosquitos. What I did was irrepressible. There were deacons who always sat by windows so they could spit their tobacco out during the services. I almost drowned one before they took out the screens.

My new bride was right off sorority row at LSU. She had never been to a funeral. The first week there were five. Welcome to the role of a pastor’s wife.

Small as the church was, it was large enough to be built around two family lines that were rivals in all things. After church on Sunday the conversation turned to fishing. Two rivers flowed through the larger community. The two sides challenged each other as to which could catch the most catfish while fishing on the two rivers. I don’t remember how my lot fell to become a member of one team.

The result of the first night of fishing resulted in them calling us to come over and see their 22 pound catfish, making them the clear leader.

The next night we caught one that weighed 20 pounds. I looked at the fish hanging there on the cotton scales with their mouths wide open. I noticed nearby some elongated counter weights used in old windows. I picked up one and dropped it down the fish’s gullet. The scale responded, and with the addition of others registered 24 pounds. We called them to come see our winner. Things went well until we took him off the scale and laid him down. When we did fish clanked – – – gotcha. They insisted we dress the fish immediately and when we did our nefarious act was revealed.

My education in fishing wasn’t over. Later I accepted an invitation to go fishing with one of them. I noticed he put a sack in the boat with something in it.

When we got to the right place he pulled out an old phone not to talk on, but to be used for fishing. I had no idea what he was about to do, but he threw two lines in the water and began cranking the phone. This sent an electric shock in the water which stunned fish and brought them to the top. He netted a number. I could just see a game warden behind every tree. There were none and we avoided arrest.

Dude Miller, a local dairy farmer, led the singing. Right behind the pulpit were two classrooms and restrooms. One Sunday while I made the announcements Dude felt an undeniable urge to visit the restroom. While I, with dignity, made the announcements there was a thunderous roar as he flushed. When he came back one half of his coat in the back was tucked in his pants. No doubt what that was about. 

Only because Jesus said, “I will build my church” has Mt. Pisgah survived. That is true of all churches. I am thankful that the church taught me many lessons that influenced my 50-plus years as a pastor.

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Sing it, Dude.

A Sure Way to Be Blessed

 “….remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20: 35

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us how to be blessed; here, He tells us how to be more blessed! True, because when a person gives there are two people blessed, the giver and the receiver. The principle blessing belongs to the giver.

Basically I have not used the names of those I grew up with, but I am going to expose this one, the late “T. Tommy ” Cutrer, long time iconic voice of the Grand Ole Opry. His start was as a part time announcer at a radio station in a nearby town. Driving around in his car he would make a fist of his hand, and speak into it pretending to be an announcer saying, “This is how you do it.” From him I learned about inflection, pronunciation, dialect, tone, pitch, and projection.

His biggest impact on me came from a simple incident. Walking along together one day he found a nickel. I was probably 12 years old, and to me a nickel was a lot of money. It was before allowances and I had never had a nickel. I was so impressed I said, “I wish I could find a nickel.” He said, “Here, you can have this one,” “Really?”

To this day I still sensitively remember the thrill of that exchange. Remembering it I unconsciously like to replicate it to some degree every time I give. As a result I love to give. There is a two fold reason. One is that experience with Tommy, and the other is the wisdom of Jesus, it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

As an unconscious sidebar, if you want people to remember you and feel warmly give them something. 

I have an anonymous friend who has used this principle as a precursor to raising millions for an institution. He has done it by giving bags of a personally blended coffee. He has used it as a means of establishing and maintaining a good relationship with potential donors. Every sip of coffee is a reminder of that giver and the institution. The return has been far greater than the initial gift.

The giving being more blessed means we don’t have to wait on the action of someone to make us feel fulfilled. Being fulfilled is found in giving. Giving often is not giving something, but more importantly in the giving of self. That is costless,  priceless. Giving is the language of love. It has no other speech. “God so loved that He gave!” Love finds its very life in giving itself away. It is said one can give without loving, but one can’t love without giving.

We should “not (give) grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7b). The word “cheerful” comes from the Greek word “hilaros”. It describes the spirit of enjoyment in giving; willingly, cheerfully, without any restraint. Such an attitude of giving is thereby loved by God.

Now go out there and do what God did and does cheerfully, give yourself away, be someone’s “nickel.”

Baptisms Like No Others

As a pastor I always considered my role a special and sacred trust. I  was not the least flippant about any part of it, or without love for all who constituted it. BUT, I never lost my sense of humor or failed to see the lighter side of life. Hence, the following. I administered every act of baptism with care and compassion, but….

I was visiting a home where there was a little girl who had seen her only baptism and was fascinated by it. I saw her in the back yard with a tub of water and her dolls. I watched her push her dolls under water one at a time and heard her saying, “I baptize you in the name of daddy, bubby, and in the hole you go.”

There was a baptism by a friend I can visualize. A lady on the gulf coast was saved and wanted to be baptized in the surf. The congregation gathered on the shore and sang, “Shall we gather at the river.” The pastor and the lady started wading in the low tide of the gulf. As they walked some distance trying to get in water deep enough in which to immerse her he noticed the singing was fading in the distance.  He turned to look back and he was so far out the people were thumb size. Finally he sat down and began scooping out a hole deep enough for him to immerse her. Being that far from shore the people didn’t have a good view.

In my hometown Bull Travis lived in a house with no running water. The only time he had been in water was when he went swimming. Never having seen a baptism in a church when he walked to the baptistry and the pastor motioned for him to come in he went in the only way he had been in water, He dove in.  

Our baptism was to be on Sunday night. When I arrived at the church I knew that due to the city working on our water line the baptistry had not had time to get full. I had bid Dave who weighed over 300 pounds get in the corner of the baptistry where he could not be seen and squat down. The tide rose and things went well.

Perhaps my all time special baptism was also my most risky. There was a family in the church with a special needs child, John. He was less than three feet tall and could not walk. In that childish body was a 16 year old mind. His health had declined to the danger point, but he insisted on being immersed. I asked the family to check with the doctor about it. The doctor said it would be life threatening. The family explained the risk with the child. He still insisted he wanted to be baptized. He could not be moved from the home so the bathtub was filled with water and very carefully I baptized him. He died a few weeks later happy he had obeyed Jesus’ example and command regarding baptism.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28: 18 – 20  Have you trusted Jesus as Savior and been baptized? If not, exercise faith like little John and do it.

School Daze

The real names of all the following are being withheld in order to protect the innocent, if there were any. School days were a daze in school. Before progressing I want to acknowledge we were blessed to come through school with a succession of caring and competent teachers. Nevertheless, they had a cadre of energetic, and at times, mischievous students.

With pride one day our teacher told the class the Superintendent of Education for the county was going to visit our school and had selected our class to visit. On the big day she announced she was going to the office to get him. Following was an impassioned plea to be on our best behavior. Just as the door opened for the two to come in Steve (alias) stood up, swirled his lariat around, and threw it over the head of an unnamed girl saying, “Swing her up to the rafters boys.” We all got detention.

Then there was Hulet who had an ambition to be a log truck; not a log truck driver, a log truck. When recess came you could hear Hulet coming down the hall making the sounds of a log truck: unnen, unnen and gears grinding. When school was out he would double clutch it: unnen, unnen – unnen, unnen. One day the classroom was busy taking a test when Hulet got the inspiration and cranked it up: unnen, unnen. The teacher said, “Hulet you stop that.” Making the sound of a truck stopping suddenly he went: u-r-r-e-r.

I got hypnotized in elementary school. At the time I didn’t know what was happening. No one at the time understood what was going on. Years later I read the basis of hypnotism is confidence in the hypnotist. With that in mind you can understand the following.

“Miss Jones passed my desk and put her hand on my shoulder. I nearly melted when she said, “Nelson you are a good little boy.” So far so good, but she continued, “You just don’t have any self-confidence.” I loved her and resolved that if ever I got out of the third grade I would marry her. I had confidence in her. Starting that day I showed no self-confidence. Had I that would have meant Miss Jones was wrong and I couldn’t do that to one for whom I had such regard.

For years I had no self-confidence until one day while walking I stepped on the sidewalk, paused, and said to myself, “Miss Jones was as wonderful as I thought her to be. She was deserving of my admiration, but she was wrong, I can have self-confidence.” That day I began to belatedly develop it.

My self-confidence was and is based on the thought: “God don’t make no junk, and He made me.” My self-confidence is based on the confidence God loves me, even me. You can build your self-confidence on that same premise. 

Be careful what you tell a child about him or herself. They may believe you.

That gives a big opportunity to share character and confidence in a child.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Do it and you will find it gratifying.