Tragedy, Love and Forgiveness

We begin what feels like the twelfth month of the year because of all that’s gone on even though it’s just the sixth. Of course I have hopes that we’ll just improve from here, but we’ve entered into a different world over the past few months that is strange and new and it’s too soon to know if it’s good or not. It feels very fragile, almost like what I think it must feel like after an earthquake, not that you’re waiting for another shoe to fall or quake to happen, but just shaky. Of course the latest developments in this very long year are another tragedy and some people aren’t making the best decisions in response. I don’t know how much of that has to do with the last few months and the lack of movement and mental stress that we’ve endured or if unfortunately it’s how some people would have responded regardless.

It’s been hard over the past few months because you want to point fingers about the spread and cause of the virus, but there isn’t yet an exact answer and there may never be, and with as many asymptomatic cases as there are it’s not like you can always say you knew you were sick before you passed on the virus. As much as you can point fingers at those who are being violent in their protests as well as those who practice racism towards others, but again, how much of this is a result of the past few months and how much is a revelation of who they have always been? As my heart was hurting for people who have not only struggled over the past few months but now had their businesses damaged, not to mention for the racism that still happens around our country, I thought about how God would respond or what He might say about all of this.

The first answer I came to was that God is love. John 3:16-17 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. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.” and Matthew 22:37-39 says “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'””

This leads to my second thought and that’s that we don’t have to love the actions of someone, but we have to love them. There’s nothing worth loving about some of the actions over the past week, but that doesn’t mean that those people aren’t worthy of love or that God doesn’t love them. It goes along with the saying that you can forgive someone but not forget their actions. Neither loving or forgiving some people is easy, which goes along with many other things we experience in life, but if God and Jesus can forgive those who murder or do other things that don’t seem or aren’t so forgivable or fixable, I think we can at least be open to the possibility of God working in and through us with love and forgiveness.

So this week I’m praying for peace and positive progress, that all of the events of the past months will not be in vain or forgotten, and that we’ll be able to come together again in the future (sooner rather than later) with love, stronger and more focused on truly making this world a better place.

Light and Love for Lent

This week we begin Lent, a serious and somber time in the Christian calendar. There are two times during the year that we’re given the opportunity and strongly encouraged to spend more than just Sundays thinking about our faith and spending more time with God, and that’s Advent and Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and finally Easter Sunday. Unlike with Advent which is a time of anticipation building up to Christmas, Lent is a time of serious, honest and deeper reflection, taking time to think about our lives and why Jesus went to the cross. Yes, after Good Friday is Easter Sunday, a great day of celebration, but you can’t get to Easter without going through the days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday first.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about Jesus’ life and what Lent means to us as people of faith, and hopefully you’ll be joining me in doing some extra Bible reading and spiritual study as well. So as I was thinking about what to write today before Lent begins officially on Wednesday and we get into that very contemplative time, I thought back on what this month has been all about and that would be love and the darkness of winter.

I find it interesting that Lent begins when we’re still typically caught in winter’s grasp: fighting to stay warm, keep our streets safe and get where we’re going when we need to be there in conjunction with dealing with what is often the wrath of mother nature with winter winds and snow.  Lent is in some ways a continuation of winter, and the time of taking a step back from the way we live during the other half of the year.  But Lent also begins when we’re seeing one of the earliest signs of spring and of leaving winter and that would be that it’s brighter earlier and for longer each day.

Which brought me to the question that many people raise: why do we have such a focus on the cross? Yes, it’s the best and worst day of our faith lives, that Jesus had to die, but He did it so we would be free and able to enter Heaven one day. So maybe rather than just letting winter continue with our serious contemplations during Lent, maybe we need to let a little more light and love shine than we might normally do outside of February and Valentine’s Day? After all, as Jesus said in John 8: “”I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.””

Yes, Lent should be a serious time of study and reflection, but that doesn’t mean we have to ignore the fact that Easter is on the way and we do in fact have hope thanks to the baby born some 2000 years ago in a manger. Will you share a little light and love with the world today?

Be A Light

I’ve had a couple of light bulbs go out in succession this past week, I suppose that’s how things happen some times. It’s always more “fun” when it happens at night in a room that doesn’t have other lights in it. Thankfully we’ve got cell phones that help us at least navigate somewhat without having to light a candle and attempt to use that light. The gift of modern lighting is one reason I would not want to have been born hundreds of years ago, I can’t imagine what it was like when we didn’t have the ability to have (safe) light whenever and wherever we wanted, we get small tastes of it when the power goes out, and that’s more than enough for me.

Those moments of darkness are important reminders of why it’s so important as a person of faith to be a light in this world. God doesn’t want us to be so optimistic and positive that we ignore the darkness, nor does it mean we should be all fire and brimstone to beat the darkness. Rather, God calls us to be a light when there are times of darkness, to be an encouragement to others and to find hope even when it doesn’t seem like there is much. It’s not about aggression, blindness or being blinding, but about love and hope and kindness.

If you’re struggling with your light and it’s not shining so brightly, it’s time to head back into the Bible and read through the Psalms or some of the other more uplifting and motivating parts of the Bible. It also may mean that God wants you to spend more time with Him in prayer and meditation. As John 8:12 says: “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  You don’t have to be a light on your own, you’ve got God there to guide you and help fuel that light. How are you bringing light to the world?

What To Do With Today

Each moment of our lives we’re given both the opportunity and the challenge to accept what’s in our past, live in the moment and work towards the future. Some of us choose to only live in the moments, others of us are stuck in the past, and some of us only see the future. It’s healthiest if we can balance all 3 of those, that we fix our mistakes from the past (whether the past is just 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago), seeing life for what it is in the moment, and take smart actions that would build a good future for us and those we care about. Living in the past, present and future means that you’re not just focused on your life, but the lives of those around you as well.

Since there are only so many hours in a day and so many days in our lives, we have to sometimes make tough decisions about the things we do “today” and what we put off into the future. There are some things that I don’t think we should ever put off until tomorrow, like telling someone you love them and praying. Sometimes asking for forgiveness or apologizing should be done that day, while other times it should be put off until things cool down.

In my weekly devotional this past week I talked about how we have the opportunity with each day to start fresh, to have a clean slate, to get a new lease on life. God is a past-present-future God. He’s been with us through everything that happened in our pasts, and He’ll go with us through whatever our future holds (and Jeremiah 29 reminds us that He promises us a future). But one of the biggest gifts He gives us is His presence in the here and now. He can give us the insights, peace, patience, endurance, and words we need to navigate whatever each day brings, including helping us to know what needs to be taken care of today and what can keep until tomorrow.

One of the notable points of Jesus’ ministry on earth was His willingness to stop and care for someone who needed Him. He put off whatever plans He had to help them, to listen to them and to heal them. A few examples are the woman at the well, Zaccheus, Lazarus and a demon-possessed man, Jesus met them on His way to wherever He was going and stopped to make time for them.

I’m not saying that we should be stopping for everyone or everything we come across in a day, but encouraging us to follow the example that Jesus set and taking care of what’s truly important each day. It’s why we need to know our priorities and make sure they’re taken care of. Are you taking care of what’s truly important in your day or just going with what’s easy, creating regrets and wasted opportunities? I encourage you to remember the gift that we have with each day, and each moment of your life.

A Summer of Love

One of my favorite topics, and a favorite topic for many, is the topic of love. We’re getting closer by the day to my favorite season, summer, we’ve already celebrated the holidays of Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, and we’ve got Father’s Day this coming weekend, for some of us all of those are reasons to feel love and share love, even if there’s a bit of bittersweet reminiscing going on over those we’ve lost. But love continues after death. It doesn’t end, it changes. We still love them, we just love them differently.

One of the greatest examples of love is that of God’s love for us. Over the years He has shown us in so many ways how much He loves us. From the start of Creation to Noah’s Ark to crossing the Red Sea to Jesus birth and later death and resurrection, not to mention all of the individual men and women, boys and girls whose lives are well-known throughout the Bible, God’s been telling a story of love for years.

But what’s in the Bible doesn’t begin to tap into all of the evidence that there is that God loves us. It’s in the way the breeze blows, the sun shines, the plants grow, the pets wag their tales, the joy of two people in love seeing each other at the end of a day, the innocence and yet amazing insight of a child, the little unexpected blessings that show up in your day, the good news, the coworker who offered to help with the big project, the satisfaction at the end of a good book or movie, the laughter with friends, the friend who stopped to talk with you, the reminder that just popped into your head, or the health to get up another morning. The ways that God can show up and show love are endless.

If you’re looking for something to challenge you over the summer, I would challenge you to make this the summer of love. Work on the relationships that mean the most to you but are a little (or a lot) broken. Work on yourself and accepting yourself and/or improving yourself. Do good things for the earth. Donate your time to organizations and people in need. And I would encourage you to ask God what ways He wants you to work on loving this summer.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16

A Prayer for Love

Love has to be one of my favorite topics to talk about. It’s all about hope, caring, selflessness, compassion and togetherness. Yes, you can and should love yourself, but there’s so much more to love than just loving yourself. Today we’re talking about love because it’s this year’s theme for the National Day of Prayer which is this Thursday.

Prayer is important  and awesome because we can do it anywhere for anyone, we don’t need their permission, nor do we need to know exactly what’s going on in their life to pray for them. All we need to do is lift them and their life to God. So it’s great that we take time each year to have this day and to focus the nation on prayer. But I’m thrilled that love is the topic they’ve chosen to focus on, because even though Easter was just over a week ago, it seems like the world has already forgotten the message of Easter: a message of hope, forgiveness and life.

Prayer is an important and valued part of our spiritual life and of our relationship with God, and love is taking it the next step. Love is something you can do without any hint of spirituality or directly connected to your faith.  Love is something everyone knows they need, and more people are willing to accept love than they are the words of faith that they don’t know they need, but really do need. Love can be the first step towards building relationships and sharing faith or it can be a continuation of that faith. Love is a universal action and concept that doesn’t require us to speak the same language or have the same culture or be of the same faith, it just asks us to give and care without judgment or ulterior motives.

So as you spend time in prayer this week I encourage you to ask God for opportunities to love, and to look for opportunities to love others in this week, and even beyond National Day of Prayer.

“Love one another. Just as I have loved you.” John 13:34

The Party Before The Win

Today I have more of a question to think over with you than the usual reflections. I’m thinking about the fact that the celebration of Palm Sunday (which is happening this coming Sunday) comes before the sobering events of Good Friday which are followed by the celebration of Easter. How often do we celebrate before the sad event and after it? Why did it happen this way?

Let’s start with a bit of context and a timeline so we’re all on the same page. After being on earth for some 30 years, and doing public ministry for 3 years Jesus’ time on earth is wrapping up. In the Bible Palm Sunday (also known as the Triumphant Entry) happens less than a week before the Last Supper (the time of celebrating the Passover and the initial event of the Lord’s Supper) which comes right before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, which comes 3 days before His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. During Palm Sunday there was a large crowd that gathered and shouted “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord” while they spread garments and leafy branches on the road for the donkey to walk on that Jesus was riding on. Then a week or so later we get to Easter on which a few women find the tomb Jesus had been buried in empty, they have a brief encounter with Jesus and then they tell the apostles what had happened (Jesus eventually appears to them and others before going back to heaven some 40 days later).

So back to the question: why this big Palm Sunday celebration? It almost feels like you’re celebrating the winner of the big sports event of the year before the event is played. Maybe because God knew how much cover-up from the government there would be after the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, so there couldn’t be as public an event. Maybe because Easter was meant to be a more holy celebration and not a party. Maybe because Palm Sunday was for everyone but Easter is only for those who believe. Maybe because God enjoys a good celebration as much as we do and saw an opportunity to reveal (and celebrate) the truth. Maybe it was to just give Jesus the proper recognition of who He was.

I invite you to share your thoughts on the party before the party, and to remember to celebrate the King this Palm Sunday.

Spring to Life

Today I am thinking spring. I’m thinking all things that come along with spring, from clearing out the clutter and cobwebs of winter to bursts of life to warmer weather and being more active. As I was reading through my Lent devotions for this week and the other regular devotions a couple of verses caught my attention:

Spring will have some dark days:
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” Psalm 23:4a

Spring is a time to be refreshed:
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:13-14 NIV

Spring is a time for thrive:
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Spring is a time to celebrate:
“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Spring is a time to search for God (and find Him):
“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!”” Psalm 70:4

This spring can be whatever you make it out to be. It’s totally up to you. My hope is that you would take inspiration from spring slowly (or quickly) coming to life and you would do a little spring cleaning on your life so that you get rid of the things that are holding you back or down so that you can celebrate, thrive and grow into the person God has created you to be for this season in your life.

Reasons to Listen

As we finish another month and head into a new one this week, one that’s often thought of as the month of back-to-school, today I want to talk about a topic that’s crucial to learning: listening. Listening is one of the most powerful and crucial skills we can learn. It can make or break our relationships. It can be the deciding factor in whether or not someone accepts an invitation to a spiritual event. Listening can be what helps you get that promotion at work or sets you back several positions. Listening can mean that you continue on the path God has for your life or you have to keep re-learning tough lessons. Listening means people feel valued and important. Let’s take a look at a few things the Bible has to say about listening.

“Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.” Psalm 119:165
This verse is a pretty straightforward one: if we want a smooth path and peace, we have to follow God’s instruction, and the only way we can know His instruction is if we listen to Him. We’re welcome to try and figure it all out on our own, but why would we when we’ve got God who’s willing to give us hints and sometimes tell us flat out which way to go.

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Psalm 116:1-2
This set of verses is an important reminder that God listens to us. As much as we’re supposed to listen to Him and learn from His wisdom, He’s also not only willing to listen to us, He’s eager for us to talk to Him.

“I praise God for what He has promised….” Psalm 56:4a
Throughout the Bible God promises us some pretty awesome things, but this verse reminds us that the only way we can know what God promised is to listen to and for those promises. It’s also a reminder that God does have good things for us in our future, we just have to listen for them and work towards them.

“You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67
Of course this is one of the best reasons to work on listening: eternal life. If we didn’t listen to the call of God in our hearts, if we didn’t listen to that friend who invited us to Church, if we didn’t listen to the speaker at that rally or summer church camp, or if not for that missionary, we wouldn’t know God or have eternal life.

So how good of a listener are you? How often do you follow through on what you hear? How often do you remember what you hear? Do you make a point of actually listening to what people are saying? This week I encourage you to work on being a better listener. Not only will you get to hear some great stories, you may learn about some of the reasons that God’s got you in the place you are at this time.

Peace for the World

As I’ve been thinking about resting and simplifying life this month I’m also surrounded by the almost panic of back to school events. From the stress of getting supplies to finding out the clothes from the previous year no longer fit to finishing up the assigned work and reading for the summer, everyone’s moving out of the relaxed pace of summer and into the busyness that is September and autumn.

But as I was thinking about the seasons some more, I got to thinking about what each season really makes me feel. Winter is a season of quiet, spring is full of excitement and new life, summer is happiness and then you’ve got fall which often makes me think about feelings of peace. I know, that sounds like it’s in direct contradiction to the thoughts I just expressed about the almost state of panic that people enter into during the transition from summer to autumn and as many schedules become quite busy. But there’s something that’s so soothing about the autumn colors and scents and temperature that speaks to a sense of peace.

However, God doesn’t care what season it is or what’s going on in your life. He shares peace in any and all situations and at all times of day and night. It’s not peace that only happens when life is going well or when you’re feeling like it, it’s peace that passes all understanding. It’s peace that God is willing to give you whether you feel like you deserve it or not. It’s peace that’s just a prayer away if you need it today.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27