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.

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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.

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.

Kindness for April

Yesterday was one of my least favorite holidays of the year: April Fool’s Day. I have no problem with having fun in life and having fun with each other, but to play pranks on others and tell half truths or lies to people is just cruel on top of all that the world throws at you. I did hear one person’s rules on it for their kid that I could almost get behind and that was there could be no permanent damage, personal injury or cruelty in any of their pranks. That almost makes it OK but I’m still not a fan.

The past few days in my Lent and other devotionals there’s been a lot of talk of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Luke 15 also shares the story of a lost coin and a lost sheep. These devotionals reminded me of how much we can lose in life, from the seemingly small to the life-altering and how that loss affects each of us differently. Some may not have felt so strongly about a lost coin or sheep as the people in Luke 15 did, but to these people those individual coins and sheep were important.

We can screw up our lives on our own without help from anyone else. We rely on the honesty, predictability, and reliability of other people and businesses to run our lives as easily and peacefully as possible and with the least amount of stress. So when we’re faced with something like April Fool’s that gives the not-so-nice people of the world leave to play jokes (regardless of how many ‘just kidding’s’ that are said or sent with the joke), it almost makes me want to stay in bed all day and pretend the world doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, I think we’re a lot closer to getting rid of the time change than we are of April Fool’s Day (I’d like to get rid of both). So my suggestion to help with the darkness, bad energy and bad karma that was added to the world yesterday, is that we all share a little more kindness and compassion with the world for the rest of the week. We should always have it in our minds and actions to be helpful and considerate to others, but with how yesterday may have gone for some people I think it’s more important than ever.

Caring for the Kingdom

Today in the US is President’s Day. It’s also George Washington’s birthday, the first US president. As I was thinking about this one of my weekly spiritual newsletters sent the verse Luke 6:20 which reads: “Looking at his disciples, He said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”” While it’s not a verse that speaks directly about politics, it did spark a thought.

This verse got me thinking about how we really see the leadership in the country and if we truly take ownership of the country we all share. Luke 6 talks about the kingdom being ours, but I don’t think we always take the ownership we should take. I don’t think our ownership of the US should be impacted by who is the current ruling political class, unless there’s truly corrupt individuals in leadership positions. Then those singular individuals should be removed, and it doesn’t have to be a reflection on the whole group of them. We do have a responsibility to be wise in who we elect, and I don’t believe that’s always done by following party lines. Party lines can be guidelines, but as we’ve seen in recent years there’s a lot of gray areas.

But back to my original thought, if the US truly is ours, the country we all share, isn’t it time to really step up? To vote, to sign petitions, to vocalize our displeasure, to celebrate the victories, to take action to make things different, to recycle more, to care for our national parks, to say something when we see an injustice? During the recent shutdown some people and companies did stand up and say that they were going to stand in the gap of missing funding, helping keep national parks open and clean, and that’s a great start.

I would say that God wants us to step up and care for our country and the people who inhabit it regardless of who is considered in charge politically. If it truly is our country and we are proud to be Americans, is there anything that should stop us from caring for our current kingdom? I’d say no. If the life we live now is supposed to be in preparation for and a reflection of the next one in Heaven, what kind of grade would you get on caring for your current kingdom?

Simply Jesus

Here we are, hours away from Christmas Day. It’s a time to reflect on family and friends, to celebrate life and love, to enjoy gathering and gifting each other with little blessings and tokens that show how much they mean to us. It’s the time of year that we go all out decorating, hanging lights, trimming trees, baking cookies and gingerbread houses, and setting out our Nativity scenes. I would encourage you to spend time with friends and family, but also to take time to be alone and reflect on your life and the many blessings you have.

I find it interesting that one of if not the most important events in the Bible is only shared in 2 chapters in detail, and that the big event can be captured in just 20 verses (Luke 2:1-20), with just one verse to sum up the actual event “She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:7)

Sometimes it’s not about the big moments in life, but about those little events that aren’t broadcast around the world, about the people who you know but aren’t known by the world, about the memories that you’ll treasure forever but may mean nothing to others. Yes, there was a celebration with Mary, Joseph, Angles and Shepherds, and later wisemen and Anna and Simeon at the temple (Luke 2), but it wasn’t a large fanfare, there weren’t crowds around for miles waiting for a glimpse.

Yes, Jesus is God’s son, the ruler of heaven and earth, but He also came to earth as a baby, innocent and as human as you and I. He grew just like we did, but had a little extra special knowledge in His heart and mind. He knows what it is to scrape a knee, struggle through loss and make friends.  He also knows all about love, forgiveness, grace and hope.

This Christmas I would encourage you to take a moment and re-read the Christmas story, and ask God what He wants to share, teach, encourage, and reveal to you through those simple words.  Just because you’ve read it before doesn’t mean that you know everything about it, but if you think you do, try a different translation and see how God speaks to you through that.  Merry Christmas!

Fears of the Holidays

I was re-reading the passage in Luke that talks about Mary learning she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s son recently. As I was reading it, I got to thinking about the fear that she experienced in this moment and probably throughout her pregnancy, as well as the fear Joseph experienced in committing to Mary knowing all that was going to happen, the fears many felt as they went through the journey to return to all their respective home towns, the fear Mary and Joseph later experienced as they were fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, the fear the wise men felt when they were told by God that Herod was a danger to Jesus and they should avoid him, and the fear of parents around the kingdom that Herod would choose to kill their son.

It’s incredible that something we see as such a happy and joyous event was so filled with fears. But then the other day I was talking with a friend who shared that her company’s payroll company screwed up earlier in the year and now her checks are less to make up for the difference/mistake and she’s not sure how she’s paying for things (including where she lives) this holiday season. It made me think about this time of year and the fact that we still struggle with fears even though, or especially because, it’s the holiday season. We have fears about our finances, we have fears about how cold it will be (especially if we’re homeless or struggling with bills), we have fears about seeing certain people again, we have fears about attending all the office and other holiday parties with people we don’t know, some even have fears about buying gifts and getting the absolute wrong thing for someone.

Fears are something we live with and work through on a regular basis, but it seems like they’re amplified during this time of year unfortunately. Just when we’re trying to do the right thing and have healthy relationships and give to others and experience the spirit of the season we’re stuck struggling with fears that have the power to dampen if not ruin the holidays for us.

If you’re facing fears this holiday season know that you’re not alone. Just like you work through the fears that pop up during the rest of the year the holiday season is no different and you can work through these fears too. You may never quite get over the need to make the holidays special for those you love and the fears that surround all of the trimmings, but just like Mary and Joseph I think we can learn to make them fade to the background by focusing on what’s important and on what you can control and do something about.