Home and Family

The other day I was reading part of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. If you remember the story, two sons live with their father, one son decides to strike out on his own, is unprepared for the realities of life, struggles greatly, hits rock bottom and decides to return home. Upon arriving home he was welcomed home by his father with open arms and a party, while his brother struggled to welcome him back because he felt deserted and was frustrated that his father welcomed his brother back so easily. If you haven’t read it lately, I’d encourage you to go check it out because there’s a lot of important emotion and description that Luke and Jesus share in the parable.

What this passage got me thinking about was the topic of home. We just went through the holiday season, which is always a time of gathering with family and friends, as well as a time that causes us to remember the loved ones we’ve lost over the years. The holidays encourage us to gather with the people who are home to us and visit the places that feel like home. Sometimes home is about the people and not the places, but most of us do have places that feel more comfortable and welcoming and make us think of home. Just like the prodigal son had hope that if he returned to the place and people who were home to him, each time we return home we go with hope that we’ll have a good visit, strengthening our relationships with those who are important to us and maybe also enjoying a good meal too.

Not all visits to the people and places we call home are good or go as expected, and like the brother in the story of the prodigal son, some relationships are works in progress. But when you think about the limited time that we have with each other, it’s important to hold out hope like the prodigal son did, that maybe this time our gathering will be good one. And from the people I’ve talked with, this year had more good experiences with family than usual, important as some of these families lost a family member before or after the holiday season.

If you are still feeling led to make a change this year or focus on something this year, maybe this year you want to focus on home, both the people and the places. Commit to spending time with the people who God has put in your life by both birth and life choices, people who you want to have stronger relationships or play a larger part in your life, and you in theirs. Commit to making your home a place you’re proud of and people feel welcome in. And finally, commit to living a life that welcomes Jesus and makes Him part of the relationships and interactions you have.

Facing Fears with Faith

Christmas is almost here! How has this Christmas season been for you so far? What has been different about it? How much more ‘stuff’ do you have going on before you get a break (do you get a break)? Christmas is one of the many seasons and stories and times in our lives that brings up many questions. These are just a few of them, and others include ‘How long until we get to…?’ ‘When will Santa be here?’ ‘Is it too early to open presents?’ ‘Have you been good this year?’ And of course we’ve got lots of questions asked in the Biblical account of Christmas, where we listen to Mary, Zechariah, Herod, the Wisemen, and Joseph ask questions, and there had to be tons more questions that weren’t written down but were asked during this adventure they all went through both by them and the people they knew and met.

Some of the questions we ask are asked because we’re heading into the unknown or things aren’t clear to us, and we want clarification and understanding. These are important questions to ask and can help us from making big mistakes, or having to do things again because we didn’t understand.  Other times we ask questions because we’re excited and can’t wait for something to happen and keep checking in. Then, there’s another set of questions that we ask, and those come from a place of fear or avoidance.

Fear is something that we all deal with at some point in our lives, we all have fears, and we all deal with fear in different ways. Sometimes fear can cripple us, other times we’re able to face our fears and power through them, other times we face them and are wrecked by them. Fear is definitely present in the story of Christmas, I can’t imagine being any of the people and not experiencing some level of fear. Each of the characters face their fears in different ways, some working through those fears with more grace or quicker than others, but all were able to conquer them and became an integral part of the Christmas story.

Since Christmas has already happened and Jesus already came to earth, died for our sins, and rose again, God’s not going to ask any of us to do anything like what Mary, Joseph and crew went through. But God’s still just as present and powerful as He was some 2000 years ago and can and will face any and all challenges with us that we face in the coming days. You may experience fears as you face these challenges, and God will ask you how you will respond, just as He asked the people of the First Christmas. What will your response be?

“”Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”” Luke 2:10b-12

Christmas, Doubts, and Assumptions

Something I’ve always wondered about is the passage in Luke where John the Baptist is born (Luke 1:57-66). In this passage you’ve got people asking Zechariah what the baby’s name should be and using “gestures” to ask him. This sounds odd in general, but the part that I’ve found strange is because earlier in Luke 1 it says he would be “silent and unable to speak until the child is born” because he had questioned God’s plan for him and Elizabeth. Being mute doesn’t mean you can’t hear, and the Bible doesn’t say that he couldn’t hear as well, just that he wouldn’t speak until when John is born.

This possible mistake that people are making with Zechariah is a good reminder for all of us about assumptions. Sometimes they can be helpful, like assuming it might rain so you keep an umbrella in your home and one in your car, or assuming you’re going to be exchanging gifts with friends when you meet during the holiday season (they can be returned if you don’t), or assuming you’re going to want to eat and going food shopping on a regular basis.

But more often than not they set us up for mistakes, misunderstandings and issues. Not asking questions at work can lead to doing a job several times, not talking things over with your partner can lead to hurt feelings or plans that conflict, and assuming someone else did something without checking with them can mean that it doesn’t get done.

The same is true with faith. We can assume that others know what we believe, that we all like the same church activities, or that their life is as perfect as it looks, and it may or may not be true, and could cause some hurt feelings and drive separation if your assumptions aren’t true.

The one thing we can safely assume is that God loves us, and we’re assured of this every year when we celebrate Christmas. God would not have sent His son with such joy or celebration if He didn’t love us or care about our souls, and He would not have let Jesus die on the cross some 30 years later to save us from our sins. Our Bible-based questions may not get answered until we get to heaven, but we can be assured of God’s love for us and attention on what goes on in our lives.

Whether or not Zechariah could hear isn’t really the issue, although I would like to know, the issue is whether or not you’re going to follow through on what God has shared with you. Zechariah and Elizabeth did and they were blessed with their son John and the special role he played in Jesus’ life. This holiday season I encourage you to check in with God and make sure that you’re both on the same page and assumptions aren’t being created.

Peace and Quiet

This year for December’s devotionals I’m going to be sharing about the topic of Advent. If you’re not familiar with Advent, it’s a tradition that’s been in religious circles for hundreds of years, most typically practiced with an Advent wreath that has candles around it (typically 4 candles around the wreath and one in the center), although there are other traditions. For those who do celebrate Advent with a wreath, the candles can signify different things depending on the faith group you belong to, and I’ve always associated the Advent wreath and candles with some specific words, which we’ll be talking about throughout the month.

While it’s not a traditional week one topic, I wanted to start the month by talking about peace. For people of faith one of the first words that comes up when we think about Christmas is peace. There’s always been an association of Jesus in the manger with a peaceful, perfect night with some gentle sheep and local shepherds gathered around. Rarely is giving birth a quiet, peaceful experience, and if you’ve been around an infant, there’s some peace and quiet, yes, but there’s also noise and smells and needs to take care of that often interrupt sleep for the adults. The same is true for sheep, they aren’t exactly great at creating peace with the noises and smells that they make.

Peace is sometimes about our circumstances, including that picture perfect moment we imagine in the manger or that moment we’re all gathered around a Christmas tree. But peace is also found in the words of Psalm 46:10 which says “”Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”” and Luke 2:19 which says “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (after the shepherds stopped by and told them about the angels).

We each have a choice how we approach and take in this holiday season. We can choose to be bringers of peace into the world, or we can choose to add to the chaos. I would encourage you to celebrate this holiday season with the wonder that Mary experienced and take the time to be still and experience all that is going on around you, and all that God is doing too.

Making Time to Give Thanks

This week in my weekly devotional I shared about the story of 10 men being healed of leprosy from Luke 17, and thought I’d share an additional thought here today. In short, the story goes that Jesus is traveling and 10 lepers call out to him for help, Jesus tells them to go visit a priest, they do so and are healed, and then one comes back to thank Jesus. It’s an interesting story about men who are willing to ask for help and follow through on instructions that may not seem like they’ll do anything, as well as how touched Jesus was by someone making a point to thank Him for helping them.

Most of the stories about Jesus and His interactions with people are short. The Bible gives description so you can feel like you’re there, but it’s not the same as watching a video recording of the whole thing play by play, so while it does make complete sense as you read it, it’s certainly possible that there are some things left out. There’s no mention of if they thought He was crazy or if they questioned how walking to see the priest would help their leprosy heal, if there was anything else said between the lepers and Jesus, or if Jesus and the lepers were alone or if there were other people around. There’s also no mention after Jesus tells them what to do that they said “OK, thanks” or anything like that before they headed off to see the priest.

But the second half of the story is devoted to the interaction between one man and Jesus, and how one of the healed lepers comes back to thank Jesus and Jesus is amazed that only one made a point to find Him and thank Him. I can see why people who were previously outcasts would be very interested in moving forward finally with their lives and being able to embrace those who they hadn’t been able to be near in however long, but the story reminds us of how important those few extra minutes that it may take to thank someone can be. It’s clear that like us, Jesus liked to be appreciated for how He helped.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s no mention that “OK, thanks” or anything like that was said before the lepers took off, which it should have been, but even if it wasn’t one man knew that it was better to give thanks late than to never give thanks. As we head towards Thanksgiving, I encourage you to make a point of thanking others, even if you’re a little late in doing so.

A Faith Journey

When He left, Jesus gave the command to take the Good News into all the world. His time on earth showed that some people needed to rethink their idea of who was welcome into the kingdom, because Jesus did a really good job of turning them on their heads by eating with tax people, caring for those who were ill, and talking with those who had multiple husbands. God made sure the message got reinforced and shared after Jesus went back to heaven with Peter’s vision of the animals in the sheet (Acts 10-11) representing the welcoming of any nation who fears God and does right.

So it’s not a huge leap to get to the idea that anyone could get into heaven, as long as they’ve been forgiven of their sins, have a relationship with God and believe in Him. Which is why we should first and foremost be open and willing to tell whomever God puts in our path about the love that He has shown us, about how He has supported us, and how He cares for us. We should do the very best we can with each and every opportunity that God sends us, give them the care, respect and opportunity that each of us would want.

But there’s two other sides to this, neither are as hopeful. The first is the fact that you individually can’t save everyone. Even someone with the reach of a Billy Graham, Kirk Cameron, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, or Steven Furtick can’t save everyone, it’s why we are all called by the Great Commission. Sometimes we have to choose to save the one or two people that we can. The lesson applies to other areas of our lives; we should do our best and let God handle the rest. God knows the potential of that one person you may bring to God, you can only do your part.

The third side is a story that is seen in 3 of the 4 gospels (Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 9 and 10) and in Acts as well. It’s the recommendation of Jesus to shake the dust off your feet when you’re not welcomed in a home or town that you’re traveling through or bringing God’s message of peace to. Basically it’s suggesting to leave them to whatever fate they may have. Maybe that means years from now something will change, maybe it doesn’t, but according to these stories, it’s not our job to be overly concerned or focused on their future. Of course we can pray for them, but each person is ultimately responsible for their own future.

So this week I encourage you to walk with faith.  Do the best you can, live a life that honors God, share your faith and don’t let the negative take you down with it.

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.