The New Year Before Us

Today I thought the best way to start our year off was with some words of hope, wisdom and encouragement from the Bible and wise spiritual leaders.

“None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed.  Everything was fulfilled.”  Joshua 21:45

“Be still and know that I am God. Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find rest and refreshment from this busy world.”  Loyola Press

“He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.”  Acts 9:18-19

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Let’s live like we believe God is for us.”  Melinda Mattson

“Let them all praise the name of the Eternal! For His name stands alone above all others. His glory shines greater than anything above or below.”  Psalm 148:13

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“When we take delight we gain the very thing that was our goal all along.”  Stephanie Bryant

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  Genesis 18:14

As we start this new year and reflect on the one that has just ended I’m reminded by these words and thoughts that not every year is a great one, not every year is one of forward progress, and not every year is one that produces tangible results.   Some years are years of personal reflection, tearing down, and rebuilding.  These tend to be years that you feel really beat up by at the end and even though some really good things may have been started, you’re still a long way from seeing results yet.  But regardless of what type of year last year was or this year will be for you, we can depend on God to be there with us and guide us through it.

I encourage you to choose to look at the year ahead with a positive attitude and confidence that it will be a good year in one way or another.  Don’t let your doubts, failures or fears rule your life.  Instead trust that God will go with you through it and you will find reasons to celebrate in 2017.

Doing the Right Thing

Last week in my weekly devotional I talked about the topic of guilt.  Do you feel guilty often?  I think most of us are human enough that we do feel guilt from time to time and feel bad about the things we’ve done or choices we’ve made. We should feel guilty about sins we commit and people we hurt because it means that God is working in us, and we recognize when we do things we shouldn’t.  Today I wasn’t planning on talking about guilt, but about doing the right thing.

Do you sometimes choose to do the right thing because you know it will be the easy thing?  That rather than maybe getting caught for cutting corners or having to redo things you just do the right thing the first time? I know I do.   I like shortcuts as much as the next person, but sometimes those shortcuts aren’t so short and it’s just easier to do the right thing the first time.

What about doing the right thing because it feels good? What about treating others with respect because that’s how you want to be treated? What about doing things for the right reason period?  What about doing the right thing because God says to in the Bible?  This week I challenge you to do the right thing.  Treat others with respect, go the extra mile to do things right, do things right the first time, say ‘thank you’ and ‘bless you’ often and choose to make a difference doing right not only because it will feel good, but because it’s what God calls His people to do.

“So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”  Acts 24:16

An Ordinary Season

This month as we talk about seasons I wanted to make sure to express that it’s OK to not always be in your best and brightest season. Not all seasons are great and we don’t live in a perfect world. You will have bad days and days you wish you could do over. Some seasons are for learning, some for growing, some for changing, and some for letting go. We have to learn to be flexible with how the seasons change and remember that other people are going through their own seasons too.

However, I was reminded by a verse in the Bible that just because you may be going through a challenging season it doesn’t mean you can’t strive to do the best you can to be the best version of you and the best follower and sharer of Jesus you can. You won’t always get it right, some days will be too much and you’ll need others to step up and support you, but for most of us those days are few and far between.

Regardless of what others may say you’re not supposed to be anyone but the person that God created. He did equip each and every one of us with special gifts and talents that we are to use to fulfill the mission we were each born with. In addition to those gifts and talents, there are tons of resources around the world and through the internet that you can use to supplement and further develop yourself and your knowledge.

But your ability to get through a season successfully is about more than the capabilities and gifts you have, a lot has to do with your mental abilities. Do you believe that God has called you? Do you believe you’re a conqueror and able to get through the challenges the seasons send your way? Do you believe that the world is a blessed place? Do you see God in the simple and the ordinary things? Do you believe He can do anything He wants, including in your life? Do you share that hope and faith with others?  There’s a lot more to a season than just one aspect, look deeper if you’re struggling to see it.

“The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.”  Acts 4:13

United in Prayer

This week students around the USA are meeting at the flagpole of their schools for See You At The Pole.  Since 1990 students have been meeting every September near the start of the school year to pray for the school, each other, the nation and the world.  This year’s theme is about being united, as inspired by Acts 1:14: “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer.”

It’s an important theme for several reasons and one that should encourage us all, no matter what age we are.  One of the key aspects of the Christian faith has always been meeting together, whether in small groups or in churches and other large groups.  The spiritual leaders have always recognized that it’s a lot easier to stay true to your faith if you’re with others whose beliefs line up with yours, and better to go through the challenges of life with people who can encourage you in both matters of life and faith rather than just one or the other.  It’s one reason that AA chooses to meet frequently in groups: they know that when you are supported by others who have been through what you’re going through it’s much easier to deal with life’s challenges.

The theme of unity is an interesting one, because there is so little that we are truly unified over in 2015.  In many ways we’re blessed to be able to show and live our individuality to the world, but in other ways it means that we have less and less in common with other people.  Which is another reason why it’s so important that we continue to meet together in all contexts, not just those of faith.  With all the awesome technology we have it’s easier than ever to be connected, but it’s up to us to take that step and join or start a group.

The final and core aspect of this theme is prayer.  Prayer is something that should be part of our daily lives individually, but also our lives in a group context.  Prayer isn’t (just) about having God hear your needs, but about hearing and praying for the needs of others, which is why See You At the Pole and other prayer meetings each day, week, and year are so important.  How else will you know the prayers and requests of others if you don’t connect with them?

So this week I encourage you to reach out and join some groups that you can grow personally and spiritually in and spend some time praying for the students.  They face many of the same challenges each generation has faced in school in the past, but they also face some new ones and can always benefit from a few extra prayers or thoughts said on their behalf.

The Power of Prejudice

This past week we’ve had to face yet again another example of our imperfections on this planet with the shooting in Charleston.  We hear about shootings where people go out and shoot people because they’re crazy or feel they’ve been wronged and it amazes me that people think it’s a good idea to take out your bad day on someone else. But then you hear about people who still hold true to old prejudices and beliefs and it amazes me that they haven’t seen and accepted the direction we’ve moved in as a world beyond those prejudices and beliefs. With the internet and tons of tech tools we’re able to connect with anyone anywhere in the world in minutes.  We’re finally seeing that we’re all part of one big world.  And then things like this happen to remind us that not everyone is in the same boat and accepting that we’re all in this together.

As I was thinking about all this I was reminded of the story in Acts 10 and 11.  In Acts 10 Peter gets a vision from God of a sheet with unclean animals and God calls him to eat them.  To which he objects because he knows they’re not clean.  God’s response is great: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.”  This strange vision came right before Peter was visited by Gentiles, people who the Israelites believe to be unclean.  Based on the dream Peter decides to go with the Gentiles, ends up doing some preaching, they accept Jesus, they were baptized by the Holy Spirit and Peter baptizes them with water.

Where the story gets even more interesting is Acts 11.  We’re familiar with the part I’ve shared, of the vision and Peter’s visit to Cornelius.  What you may not remember is that in Acts 11 when Peter gets back to his home base people immediately question his decision to be with the Gentiles; they’re really not happy that he went.  So he tells them about the dream, and the 3 men arriving and their coming to faith.  He says “And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” (v17)  The only reply Peter’s critics had at this point was praise that God worked in that way.

This month we’ve been talking about letting go. It’s not easy to let go of our prejudices and previous assumptions.  We like to be right after all.  But if we don’t let go of our prejudices we’ll never get past incidents like Charleston this week.  We’ll keep seeing them and keep grieving for more brothers, sisters, parents and friends.  So what is God challenging you to let go of this week?

The Purpose of Jesus’ Ascension

This past week the Church recognized Ascension Day, the day when Jesus went to Heaven as described in Acts 1. I can’t imagine what it was like for them to watch Jesus rise into the sky!  We’re not quite at jet pack technology for everyone, but we see it in movies, so we have some idea what it looked like, but to think about it happening in real life, let alone to someone we actually knew, and then to find out that they weren’t coming back?!  It was a big change for the Apostles and I’m sure they questioned why Jesus would only come to visit and then leave, so today I want to briefly address those two topics.

Let’s talk first about change.  Change is part of our lives like death and taxes.  Something is always changing whether it’s the rising and setting of the sun or the seasons or how the world around us works.  Some people thrive on change, but many are resistant because they’ve had bad experiences in the past or can’t imagine that the change could be a good thing.  The best thing to do is accept change as fact and part of our reality, as this will give us the attitude and openness to deal with the changes that come our way.  Change can be scary, but when we’re busy making lists of things that excite us about the change rather than our fears, change becomes an opportunity rather than problem.

The second part of the Ascension is the fact that Jesus left.  Everyone focuses on this when the incredible thing is actually that He came in the first place at all.  For 30 years Jesus was on the Earth, that’s a very small part of the thousands of years the earth has existed, which means the chances of you being born when Jesus was not on Earth are much better than those that you were.  So what does Jesus’ life and Ascension teach us?  First, that He existed.  There are lots of testimonials of people who say Jesus was here.  It’s an important touchpoint for us when we doubt that God exists somewhere somehow up there; that there’s an actual person/being we can believe in that people have seen and interacted with.  Second, it says that Jesus’ work on Earth wasn’t the whole point of His visit.  If Jesus came to Earth to do lots of great stuff, you would think He would stick around longer, maybe following early Biblical life terms of 600+ years.

So where does that leave us today?  It leaves us with the knowledge that Jesus exists, that He left us because He trusts us to continue His work, and that He is present with us today in spirit like He was before He spent 30 odd years on Earth.  For whatever reason God decided that the time of Jesus’ Ascension was not to be the end of the world, but would be some undetermined 2000+ years in the future.  Jesus’ Ascension wasn’t the end of the story, there’s still time for a reason, a reason that each of us are part of because we each have something to contribute to the world.  Jesus may have gone but you are still here, do you know your purpose?

Gifts, Actions, and Responsibility

“The Apostles said to them, “It would not be right for us to give up our work of teaching God’s word in order to be in charge of getting food to people.””  Acts 6:2

To understand this verse and get to our topic today we need a little context: when the Christian church was in its infancy after Jesus was on earth the people who had worked closest with Jesus (the Apostles) were in charge of everything.  But as the church grew the Apostles quickly realized they couldn’t do it all and started to delegate responsibilities.   They took advantage of others with good leadership ability or who showed potential and were willing to serve God and put them in positions of authority to tackle some of the tasks that didn’t have to be done by the top leaders, like food distribution to the poor as seen in this verse in Acts 6.  It’s an important task to be sure, but not one that had to be done by those at the top of the organization.

The same remains true for us today: we each have different gifts that can be used within the Church as well as in our towns, our jobs, and even with strangers.  However, not only do we not always use our gifts, sometimes we deliberately don’t use our gifts to help others.  Think about the number of stores you’ve been in where the employees were barely civil to you, and the businesses you’ve been in where you were welcomed.  Sometimes these employees are trained to treat you well, other times they’re just acting as they naturally would and treating you well.  And of course there are the stores where you’re astonished someone that rude or unhelpful could be hired and paid to work there.

The bottom line is as people we’re responsible for how we treat others, whether we’re helpful, kind, loving, accepting, rude, selfish, or angry, and we all have a choice as to if we accept that responsibility or don’t.  And sometimes we’ll do better at following our choice to be responsible than others, everyone has the occasional bad day or human moment.

This week I challenge you to not only use your strengths wisely, but also partner up with those around you to make the world a better place inside the church and around the world.