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?

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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?

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.

When God Takes Too Long

This month one of the topics we’ve been talking about is patience. The big question around patience is always “but what if things are taking too long?”  I agree, sometimes it seems like things are taking too long, especially in our fast paced, fast food, high speed internet world.  While I think by far and large we can slow down with most things, some things definitely benefit from being attended to as quickly as things can be in this day and age, like national disasters, missing people and health issues like Zika.  But waiting 30 minutes to get quality food, especially if you don’t have to cook or grow it yourself seems to seriously pain some people.  I understand we all have things going on in our lives, but sometimes the only thing that can be done is to wait and see.

One of the biggest challenges around waiting is when we’re waiting on God for something.  It can seem like God is taking forever to respond to our prayers, especially since He hears them instantly.  Sometimes God is waiting for us to do something, but all too often it’s just not time.  It’s not easy to wait, especially if you think the answer God is sending is that He’s not sending that miracle cure/job/person/child/freedom or whatever it is you’re praying for or would be an answer to your prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “no.”  Hearing the “no” is almost easier than hearing “wait” because it means we’ve been given an answer and aren’t waiting for things to happen or work in perfect order.

Fortunately or unfortunately, more often it seems like the answer is to wait.  Yes, that gives us hope that a solution is coming, but still challenges us to work on our patience and do what God has called us to do in the meantime.  If you’re in a waiting period, find comfort and hope in the words of Isaiah 60:22: “When the time is right, I, the Lord, will come quickly. I will make these things happen.”  You’ve probably experienced it at least once, that when God gets going, things really move. Sometimes things are revealed over time, other times it’s so fast you almost can’t see it happen.  So if you’re praying and waiting today I encourage you to continue to live your life and to be prepared for things to happen when God’s time is right.  Don’t be discouraged by the “wait”, instead, prepare for what is coming.

Ready for New Things?

I don’t know about you, but the events of late really point out to me that we need to be doing something different in this world.  It’s not OK that we’re killing others as violently and frequently as we are, nor is it OK for the violence to be all we talk about or see in the news.  So all of these events have me thinking about changes that need to happen in the world, as well as the changes that we go through in our lives and maybe are going through right now.  The Bible does talk about things becoming new and the importance of new things, so today I want to take a look at some of those verses.

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!””  Revelation 21:5a

“You have heard my predictions and seen them fulfilled, but you refuse to admit it.  Now I will tell you new things, secrets you have not yet heard. They are brand new, not things from the past.”  Isaiah 48:6-7a

These verses are really important because they are clear in that God sometimes thinks that what needs to happen are new things.  Sometimes things have to change, they can’t stay the same, and even more than that, God makes plans to change things.  We as a people have always been about improving things and making things better, so if we’re all about that, wouldn’t God be too?  If you look at the New Testament stories including those about Peter and the sheet of animals in Acts 10, as well as countless stories of Jesus turning old religious beliefs and traditions on their heads, it’s pretty clear that God is interested in making things new and isn’t willing to be stuck in the old or past if it’s not what’s best or what’s right.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

But not only is God interested in changing things, He’s interested in changing people.  When someone chooses to accept Jesus as their Lord they’re supposed to make changes in their life that include leaving hurtful practices and relationships behind, and moving into those that are in line with God’s commands and the calling He places on our lives.  Since we’re still sinners we won’t get it perfectly right, but we’re still called to do better every minute of every day and try to better follow the example Jesus gives us.

Are you going through a transition in your life right now or are you able to be of support to others who are going through transitions?  If you can, be a word of hope to all you meet,  especially those going through transitions.

Trust and Fears

This month in our talks about fears an important topic to address is that of trust. Our fears tell us that we can’t trust people or things, and some of our experiences or the experiences we hear about do back up that distrust. So how do we build trust when dealing with our inevitable fears?

Often all we need is one person we can trust in order to start trusting ourselves and others.  A good place to start is with God. Throughout the Bible, the lives of countless Saints and my life as well are reminders that God can be trusted and that He will always come through for us.  Maybe it won’t be in the way or timeline we think it should be, but He will follow through and will do all that He promised. Through our daily interactions with God little by little He reveals that we can trust Him and that He won’t let us down.

God gives us experiences that teach us that we are capable humans and we can trust ourselves in the face of many different types of challenges and obstacles, and that we can still trust ourselves even when our fears come to fruition. He builds our trust in Him and our trust in ourselves so we can keep going in the face of life’s uncertainties.

Our experiences with God and trust show us that fear and trust aren’t about knowing everything or having all the answers.  Sometimes our fears will come to pass and sometimes our trust will be rewarded.  But much of life and faith are about going forward without knowing all the answers and hoping, believing and trusting that it will all work out.

So if you’re dreading the week ahead because it’s Monday, because there are so many unknowns or because of what happened in the past week and the trust that was broken or you broke, spend some extra prayer and devotion time today reminding yourself that God trusts you and you can trust God to help you work everything out.

“Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.” Isaiah 26:4

What’s Your Focus?

Today I want to talk about our focus.  Sometimes we focus in pretty specifically on something, which is a good thing if we’re trying to finish some work or spending time with our families. But if I’m really in a groove with my writing or work to have someone call or interrupt me it can really be damaging on that focus.  If you’ve got kids you’re probably familiar with the concept of starting stuff but not finishing it for a very long time.  We live in a society of constant interruptions, one that keeps rushing past in such a fashion that you can feel like you’re missing something if you’re not paying attention.  I’m pretty good about reading and checking email only 3 times per day, and I don’t spend much time on social media, unlike many people who have almost an addiction to it. The challenge is in determining what your priorities are and then sticking to them.

As I was thinking about priorities and focus this week I read Isaiah 49:16: “I drew a picture of you on my hand. You are always before my eyes.”  This verse reminded me how valuable our attentions are.  It really matters what we put our attention on and how we interpret things, also known as our perspective.  There are lots of people who have negative or glass-half-empty perspectives on life, which, religious or not, is a waste of life.  It’s one thing to be aware of how things could go wrong, it’s another to anticipate or believe that they will more likely go wrong than right in all situations.

Maybe it’s just luck that you got that perfect parking space, there was no traffic on the road, you didn’t get into that accident, your partner did something nice for you, you got a gift just because, you got everything on your shopping list and even the things you forgot to put on the list, you reconnected with that old friend, you got that discount on your morning coffee and treat, or it didn’t rain on your big event, or maybe it was all God looking out for you.

I can’t answer that, I can’t tell you what was God and what wasn’t. Sure you can assume that it’s all God because God is everywhere at all times or none of it’s God because of free will, it could be endlessly debated.  But if we choose to see it as God working in our lives it’s really reminder after reminder that He’s looking out for us and loves blessing us in a variety of ways.  This week I encourage you to look for God in your life, look for the lessons He’s trying to teach you, and thank Him for being present when you see Him.