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.

Reality Reflection: Shine Like a Star

The adventure in Rio has begun.  Whether you enjoy watching events like the Olympics or others like the World Series or Oscars (as well as local events of the same types), or not, there’s something awesome about people coming together and showing what they’ve got.  These special or culminating events include people from a specific group or from around the world who are the best of the best at the time.  It’s a way of showing what they can do as well as an opportunity for the rest of us to celebrate what they can do.  I think these types of events are important because it’s important to celebrate the good, cool, and/or interesting things we can each do.  It’s a healthy way of pointing out and celebrating our differences and what makes each of us unique.

I believe that God has given each of us special gifts and talents, and that it hurts Him when we don’t use what He has given us.  You don’t go to the store and buy stuff you don’t like or use, you only buy what you want and need.  The same is true with the gifts and talents we have: we should use them.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose and what I’m doing with my life and what I want to do with my life.  It’s always good to take time to reflect on your life and what you’re doing because it means you can stop the derailments that may be happening and curb unhappiness before it becomes full blown depression or causes more problems than it needs to.

Take time to do a reality check on your life this week.  Are you unhappy?  If so, why?  Life is way too short to be stuck and unhappy.  Don’t be afraid of letting your gifts and talents shine.  Don’t worry too much about the criticisms you get for having and using your gifts and talents.  Don’t bury your gifts and talents because you don’t think you can make a living using them or that they’re not useful gifts.  Everyone has valuable gifts, it’s up to you to find out how best to use yours.

“I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 1:4

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  Matthew 5:14, 16

First and Last

In the US we’re really gearing up for the November elections.  Candidates are being finalized, sides are being chosen (or rechosen), and people are hoping that the person of their choice will look good to the rest of the country and be the person who ultimately wins.  It’s gotten me thinking a lot about winners and losers, and about first and last place.  I’m not big on competition.  I know it can be good for some things, but personally I prefer to work together rather than against people whenever possible.  I know that there isn’t one candidate that we can all agree on, that’s part of the reason it’s a democracy.  But I also know that what seems like a victory for one person or one “side” doesn’t have to mean a total loss for the other.

For example, just because your team loses the game, it doesn’t mean they’ll lose the season or that they couldn’t have a personal best number of points in that game.  Or just because you didn’t win the cook-off at the fair, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be picked up by a national brand or get great publicity anyway.  Or just because you lost this round, it doesn’t mean you can’t win the next.

And sometimes being first isn’t a good thing, especially if you are one of the first people to try something new it might have some major flaws and you’ll experience loss or frustration instead of the great experience you were expecting.

What I think the US needs, and the rest of the world as well, is more working together and less violence and fighting.  Competition is one thing, hatred and senseless killing is another.  Now is not the time to see who can come out on top of whatever war is being fought, now is the time to learn to work together and bring together all our differences.  Choose not to be first or last in the war but to help others make it through to another day alive and healthy.  As brothers and sisters of Christ we’re called to lead the way to a better tomorrow, and that tomorrow doesn’t start with more violence or hatred, but with more love.

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  Matthew 20:16

A Simple Message of Love

To close out our talk on love this month I have a simple message for you: love God, love your neighbor. I know, it sounds really simple but isn’t always so simple to follow through on, is it?  It’s a great concept but we don’t always let it get beyond that, maybe because we’re scared or not willing to put in the work necessary to make the concept into reality.

I think the first step is to not over-complicate it. I know we’re really good at that and put all kinds of unnecessary pressure on ourselves on a regular basis as a result. Love can be really complicated, but it’s also very simple. Which leads to the second step: do the best you can. God doesn’t expect perfection, he knows all about the Garden of Eden and how we’re going to be sinners during our earthly stay.  1 Corinthians 13 reminds that love is patient, hopeful and enduring, not that it’s perfect.

So what’s the answer? First, don’t let love end with February 14 or even February, choose that love is going to stay a priority in your life. Second, do something, however simple, each day to show love to someone else. Maybe it won’t be a romantic love action but rather a simple gesture of help for a coworker or someone you meet at the grocery store. Finally, do your best to not do more harm in a world that is already hurting. Take the time to think about your words and actions before doing or saying your knee-jerk reaction and make sure it won’t make someone’s day worse or add to the problems we have. Will you join me and do your part in spreading love?

“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.'”  Matthew 22:37-39

The Gift of Today

I love working for myself because no one can tell me what to do or how to see things.  Working a regular job it’s always a requirement for us to follow that specific company’s preferences, accept their opinions and apply their techniques to our work.  To an extent we’re all given the suggestion/recommendation of following social and cultural norms in our lives, some of which are for good reason (like not shooting everyone who looks at you wrong), but others take away from our very individual and unique natures.  I do believe that culture and incorporating it into our lives is an important thing, it gives us a foundation on which to build, people to relate to and guidelines on what people we identify with see as acceptable.

This year I’m really going to try to see life as more of a gift.  We’re so blessed to live in 2015 and be part of the world that exists now, and the incredible freedoms, potential and opportunities within.  Having just finished the annual recommended season of giving it may sound strange to be talking about gifts now, but I was reminded of the Wisemen and their gift giving this past week.  While the Bible seems to line things up immediately, some researchers have come to the conclusion that the Wisemen did not spend any time at the manger, but met up with Jesus and his family after that point in time, giving their gifts to Jesus after the traditional newborn gifting time.

There’s a lesson in this for us, that it’s never the wrong time to give or accept a gift.  Each day we’re given the gift of another day to go about our lives.  We may struggle with physical challenges, emotional and mental discord, or situational frustration, but when we take the time to look at the bigger picture we’re able to see that there’s more to the story; that each and every moment is a gift just waiting for us to open it, even if it’s not the gift-giving season.  So what about you?  Will you give a gift today or accept one?

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star… they saw the Child with Mary His mother… They opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:10–11

Agreement of Love

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:37-39

We’ve heard this passage recounted countless times.  It sounds simple but we all know that both loving God and loving our neighbors can be challenging.  Matter of fact, loving ourselves can be challenging too.

Let’s start with the simple part first.  When you’re a kid love is pretty simple: you love everything almost (except broccoli).  Somehow as we go through life and get our hearts broken we stop believing in simple love.  Even our parents, it seems, fail us at times.  But if we take the time to remember back to being kids we can remember how easy it was for us to fall for our first crush, love mac-n-cheese, and simply trust and openly love our parent(s).  If we want love to be simple as adults it starts with remembering love as we knew and believed when we were kids.

The challenging parts are that none of us humans are perfect, and while God is perfect and can’t fail, He isn’t right here to answer us in the way I might answer you either in person or via the internet.  Instead we’re left to struggle with our self-doubt, fears, loneliness, worries and losses when things don’t work out like we hoped.

As I was considering all that this week I ran across a verse that changed my perspective on the first part of that passage: the loving God part.  Deuteronomy 7:12 says:

“If you listen to these laws, and if you are careful to obey them, the Lord your God will keep his agreement of love with you.” 

What’s this agreement of love?  It’s God’s promise to love us for who we are, at any time, any place and for as long as we’ll accept that love.  He’ll love us beyond our faults and failings, from the lowest lows to highest highs.  Yes, He always hopes we’ll live up to the sky-high hopes He has for us, but His love is unconditional.

Know as you begin this week and celebrate love, that whatever else happens God will not let you down for loving Him.  He’s agreed to love you for who you are.

Learning Kindness

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 7:12

This verse is a challenging one for all of us.  Sure it’s easy to those who are nice to you, but it’s not so easy to be kind to those who are rude to you.  It is a huge opportunity for those of us who are Christians or people of faith to show people what it really means to have spiritual beliefs, and not perpetuate the sad truths that have made their way through society in the past that have gotten so many people labeled as hypocrites.  The unfortunate thing in all this is we haven’t treated people as well as we could have.  We’ve judged them before we’ve known everything, and we’ve been less-than-shining examples of Jesus.

If we all treated others with respect and dignity simply because they were human beings like ourselves, can you imagine how much would change?  I’ve been seeing this change in business over the past few years.  It’s slow but it’s definitely developing a stronger presence. I’ve seen fewer scam businesses be successful, more action taken against them and more bad leaders sent packing.  I’ve also seen the awareness growing that we can’t be isolated but need physical contact and connection with other people.

No, people aren’t perfect. I’m not, and I’ll guess that you probably have a fault or two.  That’s OK, I don’t mind that we’re not perfect.  I appreciate being able to extend forgiveness and grace, and receiving it as well.  I also appreciate being able to learn from our mistakes, wouldn’t life be boring if we got it right the first time?

One final thing to consider: this verse in Matthew doesn’t assume or state that others will immediately respond in kind.  In our world kindness needs to be learned.  We don’t all accept that others are kind, we’re often suspicious of the kindness that others extend to us.  This week do your best to treat others with respect in ways that you want to be treated.  Over time you’ll see people’s attitudes and actions towards you changing for the better.