Spreading Peace

Our verse this week is Psalm 29:11: “May the Lord make his people strong. May the Lord bless his people with peace.”

You can flip on any TV channel or open any newspaper or magazine and see that there’s a serious lack of peace in this world right now. If I asked you about work, your relationships and your family, at least one of those 3 topics would bring up a situation that lacks peace. I totally understand, after all there are some seriously messed up people in the world. It doesn’t really matter how they got to be that way, but they sure challenge those of us who normally are pretty decent people (no one is perfect, right?).

First, let’s talk about those difficult people. Some are totally oblivious to the damage they cause, others are fully aware of the destruction they leave in their wake. I don’t believe that they should have our sympathy or sorrow, somewhere along the line they chose to live and act the ways that they do. The best thing we can do is understand that just because they’re miserable people we don’t have to let them make our lives miserable too. Given the sheer number, it’s almost impossible to avoid them, which is why it’s important to understand them. But just because we understand that they are who they are, it doesn’t mean we should spend tons of time with them.

Second, let’s talk about spreading peace around the world. Peace spreads through peaceful people. If you want to spread peace, you can’t overreact to miserable people (including drivers). You have to remain calm and collected. You can impact people by being peaceful yourself. And, there will always be opportunities that pop up that will allow you to spread the message of hope and peace with others verbally and through actions, like going on missions trips or when friends ask about your positive attitude in the face of challenges.

Third, looking back at Jesus’ ministry on earth, there were people who didn’t like Him, and He was a really likable guy. You can’t make everyone happy nor can you know the right thing to do every time. Jesus set the example of spending time with people who wanted to spend time with Him and were good for Him. While Jesus couldn’t avoid the teachers of the law, He didn’t make a point of spending a lot of time where He wasn’t wanted.

This week I encourage you to spend time with people who lift you up and encourage you to be the best version of yourself (including Jesus). You’ll feel better about your relationships and be able to find peace and satisfaction with your life.

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Looking Beyond the Ruins

My heart hurts with the people of Vegas as they struggle to navigate the aftermath of the shooting. As much as we may try to do the right thing and encourage others to do the right thing as well, there will continue to be people who are evil and don’t have good in their hearts. With the tragedy in mind, I thought we’d take a look at the words of Isaiah 51:3:

“The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.”

No where in the Bible does God or any of the writers make light of the challenges that we face on earth. Look at Job; no matter what way you look at his situation, he experienced some really tough stuff, Elisha and Elijah were both treated to some natural and supernatural situations and disasters, Abraham didn’t doubt that God could destroy a city, and Saul/Paul accepted being shipwrecked and bitten by a snake, and those are just a few examples of the people in the Bible. Today it’s no different, whether we’re looking at attacks, genocides, money issues, economic troubles, bad leaders or natural disasters, you can’t honestly expect that you’ll “escape” this life without incident. But the good news is that God promises that even with the bad days, good days will follow.

I don’t think God sits up in heaven and shakes His finger at us and says “that’s what you deserve!!”, I think He feels our pain and knows that we’re struggling. Jesus certainly, after spending days in the desert, knows what it’s like to feel desolate and deserted by life, as many of us have seen with neighborhoods completely dark and cold after this hurricane.

What Isaiah says towards the end is what captures my attention: he says that the joy will be found in the barren, now reborn, wilderness. Where there wasn’t much promise, now there is. Where there wasn’t anything worth living for, now there is. What only brought sadness and anger, now brings joy and gladness.

The choice that Israel had to make, and we have to make today, is the choice of how we react to the wilderness. Are we going to react with frustration and anger that we’re in ruins? Are we going to go beyond the reality and see the potential in the future and reach for it with hope and thanksgiving? It’s not about ignoring the bad, or bypassing it. In truth it’s important to see the ruins and come to terms with the tragedy. Not only does that give you perspective for the future, it’s also healthy to grieve for what you’ve lost. But just like the story of Jesus doesn’t end at the sealed tomb, our stories can’t end with us grieving for what we’ve lost. We have to choose to be grateful for what and who we have in our lives.

This week I hope you’ll join me in looking for ways to turn wildernesses into gardens and bringing life back into an area, and a country, that used to be vibrant and full of hope. What are you thankful for?

Eyes on Jesus

This Wednesday in the US is See You At the Pole, a day honored by high school and college aged students gathering for prayer around the flag pole at their schools. As adults we can certainly pray for them as they gather, and we can also reflect on the verse they’ll be focusing on: Hebrews 12:2: “We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.”

This is a great reminder verse for all of us, believers of all ages. We all can benefit from the reminder to keep our eyes on Jesus because there are so many distractions, responsibilities and dreams that fill our days and nights, often not specifically focused on Jesus and the work He is doing and has us doing. Having done the human experience Jesus understands some of what we’re going through and trying to manage in our lives today, so we should not be completely discouraged or frustrated by the fact that we get distracted, that’s part of the life we live.

But as people of faith we should always be working to strengthen, grow and share our faith. We should be listening and learning and praying and sharing as we all work through the challenge that is 2017 and beyond. We should be more understanding of the pressures each of us face, and be more encouraging as we try to figure out what it looks like to live a life of faith in 2017.

So as students around the country gather to pray and remind each other to look to Jesus, I encourage you to pray this week for that generation.  Pray that they’ll gain the wisdom, knowledge and experience that the world needs to lead it into the future, that they’ll be good stewards of the world we share, and that they’ll share the love, compassion, consideration and faith the world needs to hear today.

Celebrating A New Year Everyday

This week is the celebration of Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year. It celebrates something that Christians are familiar with, the creation of Adam and Eve. More than anything else it’s a period of celebration, of joy and of prayers for peace, prosperity and blessing for the new year. While it’s not a day that Christians celebrate, it is one that can teach us a few important lessons about life, faith/spirituality and our journey.

One of the most interesting things to note is that it is a celebration of Adam and Eve. If you remember they’re the people the Bible begins with, the people everyone can trace their roots back to. They’re also the people who connected this world and our lives with sin when they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from. It’s not exactly the best moment in our collective spiritual history is it? And yet we can all agree these people are worth remembering, and their creation worth celebrating.

The other thing that I’m reminded of by the celebration of a new year in September, what is known to many as the 9th month of the given year, is that everyone has different beginnings. If you’re familiar with the business world at all you know that many businesses start their year at some time other than January 1st. Personally, it would drive me nuts to try and balance more than one calendar. But if you really think about it we’ve all got a different calendar we could go by, because very few of us were born on January 1st (technically my year begins in October).

So what can we learn from the celebration of Rosh Hashanah? First and foremost that you don’t have to be perfect, do perfect things or get it right all the time to celebrate. Sometimes the little moments and victories should be celebrated more than the big ones. Second, any day is a great day for a fresh start. Don’t say that you have to wait for 2018 to make changes in your life, you can begin today, or tomorrow, or whenever you feel inspired. Third, if God says that Adam and Eve are worth remembering, even with their really big mistake, I would say that each of us are worth remembering and celebrating as well. Finally, take time today to celebrate, and if you can’t come up with anything to celebrate, you can celebrate that you’re alive and have another day to live, learn, and love.   What will you do with today?

God Remembers

The past few days and weeks in the US have been filled with remembering as we’ve remembered past hurricanes and what cities and homes used to look like. That remembering trend will continue after Hurricane Irma finishes wreaking havoc and as we’ve worked through another September 11th, remembering the men and women who died in the attacks and the men and women who worked tirelessly afterward to rescue and rebuild.

The Bible talks a lot about remembering, including one noteworthy event with Noah. After Noah and his family survive the flood God tells them that the rainbow is a promise and a sign to remember, that seeing it will remind them and God that He won’t send another flood like that to destroy the earth. Genesis 9:12-15 says:

“Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life….””

We also see in the Bible reminders to honor our elders, to care for the ill, to support those in need, and to raise up children well. And we can’t forget to mention the very memorable death and resurrection of Jesus, something that has been talked about since it happened and even some before it happened. From the miracles to the simple kindnesses, the Bible reminds us to remember each other, to remember to love, to remember to care and to remember to share. And we’re not just talking the physical and emotional things of this world, but spiritual life with Jesus as well.

This week I encourage you to remember the blessings as well as the opportunities for growth God has sent your way and to thank Him for them.

The Choice of Unity

As we think about this month’s topic of help and of all that is going on around the US and the world, today I want to take a minute to talk about the topic of unity. It’s where people come together over something that essentially erases barriers. It’s when people who are rich and poor are both affected by a flood. It’s when people who are of multiple spiritual practices come together to say a prayer for healing in a city after a violent attack. It’s even when kids of various cultures, races, and sexes come together to play on a playground before school. Unity doesn’t mean that the differences don’t exist, it means that they’re ignored for a reason and/or for a time.

The Bible is interesting because there were some pretty clear divisions in the early books, but after the birth and death of Jesus some things changed. Take a look at these passages from Ephesians and Galatians:

“So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” Ephesians 2:19

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

What became clear after Jesus death, and what Jesus emphasized through His ministry, is that faith is more important than your heritage, your race, your political beliefs, your economic status or where you call home. Being different is the way God made us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t focus more on the things that bring us together, and the things that God has called us to, than the things that would separate us.

This week I encourage you to look for and encourage opportunities of unity, opportunities to work together and help each other. If we want to see more unity and more teamwork in the world, that has to be our focus instead of our differences.

Spiritual Labor

As we look ahead to this weekend and Labor Day here in the US, I thought we’d take a look at a few verses from the Bible about work and what God says about work.  A few of the results caught me by surprise, so as we head into the new month we may take time to dive deeper into a few of them.

Work:
“He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Colossians 3:23

“The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.” Deuteronomy 28:12

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” Proverbs 14:23

“I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.” Ecclesiastes 2:18

“Whatever you do, do well.” Ecclesiastes 9:10a

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10a

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Romans 4:4

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.” Romans 12:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

God and work:
“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”” John 5:17

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1a

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalm 8:3-4

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

“God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:6

“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.” Philippians 1:6

What are your thoughts on (spiritual) work?