Where To Begin Again

Everyone needs a new beginning from time to time. New beginnings can mean starting completely over, just calling it a day and starting fresh tomorrow, taking things in a new direction you haven’t tried before or bringing someone in for a fresh perspective. Sometimes it can feel good to start fresh because you’re ready to move on and sometimes it can be discouraging and frustrating because what you were doing didn’t pan out as you expected and you were really invested in it. When you’re force to start over and it feels frustrating it can be hard to know what to do or where to turn or even how to find the strength to start over. John 1:1 says:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Sometimes you need a place to start and I think John 1 is a great reminder of where to start not only your new beginnings but each day. This verse gives us two important reminders. First, God’s been here since the beginning. He’s navigated floods, volcanos, earthquakes, drought and wars that have taken countless lives and changed the lives of countless others. There’s very little that God hasn’t had to navigate or deal with, and no people group, language or culture He doesn’t have a connection with.

The second reminder is that the Word has been here since the beginning. I don’t think this means all the literal words of the Bible, but rather the themes, concepts and laws God has shared through the Bible. However, many of the words in the Bible are evergreen, meaning we can turn to them at countless times throughout our lives and be encouraged by them. Yes, there are dated, century-specific, culture specific sections of the Bible but much of it teaches valuable lessons that can be applied to different portions of our lives.

If you’re facing or navigating a new beginning in your life I encourage you to check out some new spiritual books, ask God to lead you to new passages in the Bible to encourage and guide you now, and if you haven’t tapped back into the Bible and passages that have always spoken to you, I encourage you to do that too.

Reality Reflection: When Practice Becomes Reality

Over the past week and a half the US has been dealing with another school shooting and with the aftermath of the shooting.  One of the things that has been discussed is the actions (or lack thereof) of the resource officer and police first on the scene.  While there are no official results or reports yet, the story is that they didn’t take the actions that most would think they should.  I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know the full story or history of these individuals but hearing these possible stories of people who were supposed to be saving lives not following through got me thinking about reality.

Law enforcement officers are given training in a multitude of situations and take an oath to protect and serve, much like a medical professional takes regarding not harming anyone.  One of the arguments that has always circled regarding the education we give our kids these days is that book skills don’t really translate to the real world.  While those in law enforcement have more hands-on training than the average student does, there’s no way to truly duplicate what happens in life during practice.

I’m not discussing this to dismiss or in any way make it OK if trained professionals didn’t take action, I’m suggesting that you reflect on your life and the reality that while you say one thing and really believe one thing this minute, if reality shows up you may react very different.  No, you shouldn’t doubt yourself that you’re not going to follow through on your training or beliefs, but understand that sometimes reality is so much more overwhelming, scary, hard and different than you could ever expect.

Everyone has a responsibility to treat others with respect and to treat others as you would want to be treated, but not everyone chooses to follow through on that responsibility.  With every failure we’re given the opportunity to revisit and revise our understandings, plans and even our skills. In those moments of failure and pain we’re also given the choice of whether it will strengthen our community and our relationships or break them further apart.  People’s lives will never be the same because reality came calling a week and a half ago.  The choice is where we go from here and how we approach and practice for reality.

A Life of Faith and Fire

This week a well-known individual and leader passed from this life to the next: Billy Graham. He touched so many lives in so many ways and was outspoken about his faith and belief that life is so much more than what we deal with in our day to day lives. I believe that some of the reason he was well-known was because that was God’s plan for his life. Some of us are meant to live quiet lives of faith while others are given a lot more responsibility and a more visible calling.

But there was something else that he had that not everyone else shows the world, or is able to sustain for the many decades that Billy Graham did: passion. Billy Graham lived his life with a passion for living and for his faith. Anyone who knew Billy Graham could tell you about the passion he had, and how his life reflected that passion. He wasn’t shy about sharing his faith, but he didn’t do so in an abusive or aggressive or offensive way.

You may never have the world stage that Billy Graham did, but if you have any dreams or desires of getting there you better have a serious passion, whether it’s regarding your faith or something else. It’s not about being loudly vocal about something, or having the finances to put yourself on stage, or even about being something so that you can be on stage, it’s about having a true soul-deep passion for something (or someone), something that others identify with and can get excited about too. Where does that passion come from? It’s in large part about being true to yourself and following through on the abilities and passions you were born with or have developed.

Are you living in line with your passions and purpose, regardless of whether you’re on a national/world stage or just hanging out with friends? Focus on being who you are and choose to make a positive impact on each person you meet.

“If you are what you should be, then you will set the world on fire.” Saint Catherine of Siena

Relationships of Love

Last week people around the US celebrated Valentine’s Day. It was an opportunity for couples to celebrate the love they have together, for individuals to love themselves, and for those who aren’t in a relationship but want to be to recommit to doing the work that will bring them to that other person. One of the things I’ve been reminded this month as we talk about love is that love is so much more than just one thing or one definition, and when it comes to God His love is more than we could begin to imagine or understand or describe.

In my devotions last week I read 1 John 4:12 which says: “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.”

This verse says a lot of different things about love and God. First, we should love each other. Second, God lives in us. Third, God lives in us when we love each other. Fourth, when we love others we share God’s love for us with others. Fifth, we can only begin to experience God’s full love when we let Him in our lives and love others. It almost sounds like there’s a condition to God’s love, and in some ways I think there is. But what I think this verse is really saying is that God is all about the relationship. He doesn’t want to be that dude on the throne overseeing everything, the benevolant dictator. He wants to be in relationship with us, and He wants us to have healthy, loving relationships with others too.

I think it says something really powerful that God isn’t just about the relationship He has with us, but that He cares about the relationships we have with others too. Yes, the Good News is spread through people, but I am confident that God would get the message out in other ways if He had to, so it’s about more than just the Great Commission. God has more love in Him than we could ever imagine, love that works in countless ways and reveals God in exactly the way that we need to be spoken to in that moment. God doesn’t keep His love to Himself, He wants to share His love with us and for us to share our love with others. How will you share love today?

Reality Reflection: What is Normal Anyway?

A topic I’ve been contemplating this week is that of what “normal” really is. As much as many people can say that they have standards as to how they’ll be treated, how they’ll treat others or what they think is right or wrong, and as much as I think we could come up with standards about respect and how we treat others and how we share the world we live in, I don’t know that there really is a “normal” anymore. We’re such a wonderfully diverse world with wonderfully unique people who each have different aspirations, world views and passions that my “normal” won’t look like your “normal” and you and I may not even really have a “normal” in our lives!

I understand the appeal of normal, it means that things fit in nice neat boxes, are easy to understand and don’t complicate our lives.  But I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing that there isn’t really a “normal” for every life in the world anymore, or the same normal for everyone. It challenges us to think and learn how to interact with others who are different than us. It gives us the opportunity to live a much richer life. It encourages us to learn to live in the moment. It means we can love the life we individually live and allows us to be our own person and not a copy of anyone else.

I think we should stop worrying about our definition of normal not matching up with anyone else’s, or if there’s even a definition of normal that applies anymore.  Personally I think attaining normalcy should be pretty low on your list of things to accomplish.  I think we should work instead on loving better, living more wisely and being more considerate of the others that we share this world with.  Work on finding a “normal” that works for you, or don’t!

Do you have a normal or are you trying to work towards one, or are you happy with your life that doesn’t fit in a “normal” box?

A Fresh Take on Lent

This week Wednesday was Ash Wednesday which signified the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is approximately 6 weeks of reflection that begin on Ash Wednesday and end right before Easter Sunday. The church I grew up in didn’t really have a heavy focus on the religious observance of Lent, I can’t remember going to church on Wednesday to recieve ashes or really being instructed to give something up for this season.

As I alluded to, Ash Wednesday is named as such because ashes are placed on the forehead of believers. Today as I was watching TV I saw one of the hosts on TV had ashes on her forehead, and while I may not have done it as a child I have occasionally attended Ash Wednesday services as an adult. One thing that I was reflecting again on today is about how visible Ash Wednesday participation makes people and how some people aren’t that visible in their spiritual practices. For some people their faith is a very personal thing, and while they do follow the Great Commission, they don’t typically broadcast their faith to the rest of the world.

As I was reflecting on Ash Wednesday and Lent, one of the devotional emails I opened today reminded me about an aspect of Lent that isn’t frequently discussed. The majority of the time I hear Lent talked about people are discussing what they’re giving up or what they’re abstaining of for the 6 weeks. However, that’s not the only way that you can practice Lent, the other option would be to give time to those who are less fortunate. I absolutely grew up giving my time to others, that’s something I’m very familiar with. I understand the very spiritual idea of giving something up, but I feel like so many more people would participate and there would be so much less grief about it if people chose to donate their time instead of giving something up.

If you’ve wanted to participate in Lent or want to do some deeper reflections leading up to Easter, but haven’t been able to give something up (or don’t really want to), my encouragement to you would be to find a way you can give back. There are tons of people in communities around the country and world who would benefit from support and help, including the areas that were hit hard by hurricanes in the past few months. Will you be observing Lent this year, and if so how will you be participating?

Love from the Start

When thinking about love and Valentine’s Day one place we can begin the conversation is at the beginning. John 3:16 says:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Before love was anywhere or anything else, love started with God. I think this is something really important to reflect on as we approach this opportunity to celebrate love and our relationships.

Love started with God loving the world. Everything was good in God’s eyes the book of Genesis tells us. He was happy with what He created, with the world that lay before Him, much like any of us would be proud of a project we completed or of the kids we have.

But a lot happened between the beginning of God’s love and Jesus ending up on the cross. We humans did some pretty not good things, made lots of mistakes and didn’t treat people all that great. And yet God still decided to send Jesus to earth. God didn’t give up on us and decide we weren’t worthy of His love anymore, He decided that we were worth more than just love from Heaven, but rather a visible, tangible person who not only showed love in life, but showed life through death and resurrection. It was a reaffirmation of God’s love for us, and that God hasn’t given up on us.

Tomorrow as you celebrate love I encourage you to take time to celebrate that first love, the love of God for you.

Reality Reflection: Flying Snow Fun

This past week we had some winter weather. It was just enough to snarl some travel and make some piles of snow and ice, but not really enough to really play outside with the kids more than just a few snowballs. As I was driving the next day I was witness to quite a few flying snow roofs. Now, I did clean off the roof of my car but I know it can be difficult to do, especially if you’ve got a big car and you’re short. However, technically you’re supposed to clean off your roof before you drive, because it can be dangerous to have all that flying snow and ice.

So as I’m driving along I was watching these flying snow roofs and I have to admit that I thought they looked really cool. I know it’s not something I should encourage, but there might have even been some oohing and aahing happening. It’s kind of like watching a really big building be destroyed to make way for a new building (blowing up a casino to build a new one for example), or watching a shuttle launch in person, or even something a lot more normal like watching fireworks.

The reality is that icy snow flying from car and truck roofs is dangerous. Yes, it can be a real rush to watch the snow break apart or even to fly over your car, but the rush doesn’t remove the danger. The rush of watching two cars race on TV or around the track in front of you will never be as great as the rush of being in the race yourself, but is the increase of the rush really worth it? I’m not saying you shouldn’t live life to the fullest, just to be smart about the risks you’re taking, especially if it puts someone else at risk or may leave your kids without you should the risk be realized.

I encourage you to embrace life and to love your life but never forget that you’re part of a family, whether they’re blood or not. You matter to other people and you’ve got the ability in countless big and little ways each day to impact their lives, and the lives of others you may never personally connect with.

How Do You Love?

Today, thinking about Valentine’s Day next week I thought we’d talk about love, and how we can love. Each of us responds to love in different ways and needs different kinds of love to feel loved. But I think there are some universal truths to how we love that are the same for everyone.

Love passionately:
Before you say that this isn’t a way you love, I do belive that there are degrees of passion. Sometimes passion is a run-to-the-other-person-and-leap-into-their-arms passion, sometimes it’s that overwhelming, unbearably strong feeling of love that wells up in you when you see them. Passion doesn’t have to be loud or featuring over-the-top displays, you can see the passion between two senior citizens who have been together for more than half a century when they sit and look at each other. Passion is a feeling, not just an action or reaction, one that sometimes bubbles up to be seen and other times is just a deep and enduring connection.

Love generously:
Just about everyone has been hurt by love before, but I still believe that we should be giving when it comes to love. I haven’t ever been sorry that I was generous when it came to those I loved, even if the love wasn’t returned as generously as it was shared. And I think most of us who have relationships that have ended in divorce or separation or that didn’t last question if we had just given a little more effort to the relationship a little sooner if it would have survived or even thrived.  There’s such a thing as working too much, but I’ve never heard of anyone loving too much.

Love patiently:
Of the 3 we’re talking about today, this is one of the more challenging truths, but also one of the truths that can bring you the biggest victories with love. So much of our lives today are lived in the fast lane that we don’t always take the time to develop things as they should or to hang in there long enough for things to work out. You can love a pet or person for the few hours, days or years you have with them, if they have a terminal illness or you’re only with them for a short time (think about visiting a shelter to love on some pets waiting for their forever homes). Or you may be blessed with many years to love someone, years of easy love and years of love that will take a little more effort and waiting on your part. If it’s true love, it’s worth the deep breaths and repeated texts and letting the other person do things at their own pace.

Do you need to work on how you love your partner (or those around you)? How will you choose to grow in love this Valentine’s Day?

Love starts with God

This month one of the big topics that everyone is talking about is love. We are called to love everyone and treat each other as we would want to be treated, but I know that it can be hard to think about love with as difficult as some people can be, and it can be difficult to talk about love if it’s something you don’t have in your life, even for people of faith. Sometimes it sounds like love is supposed to be this perfect cure-all and we should just love everyone, and while both of those are true, it’s a whole lot easier to say than experience some times. As I was thinking about love and the challenge it can be sometimes I read 1 John 4:7:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”

If you’re not sure where you’re going to find the motivation to love someone or if you feel you need to learn how to love, 1 John reminds us to turn to God. God knows how to love the most difficult of us, He’s been loving us for centuries and He loves us in the ways that speak most to us. The Bible is filled with examples of people showing love and of God showing love to people. There are stories of people who are saved from a sorry ending because God showed grace, or because someone loved them and cared enough to go to bat for them.

God’s love is filled with patience, grace, forgiveness, hope, kindness, caring, and gentleness. His love will be as passionate as you are or as persistent as you are or as peaceful as you are. Love doesn’t have to fit into a specific box or description, just like you don’t and your relationship with God doesn’t. Who will you love in your own special way today?