Daily Victories

We celebrated the official day of Easter a little over a month ago, but people of the Christian faith are always celebrating Easter because it signifies the hope that we have for life today, tomorrow and forever. Easter gives us the motivation to keep going even when we’re faced with the challenges of life. In some ways just the action of Jesus coming back to life is enough to bring us hope, but He went beyond that and gave us the opportunity for eternal life, because Easter was more than just Jesus rising from the dead, it was Jesus overcoming the grave and the death that could be the end for each of us, if not for His sacrifice.

The two fold challenge is that while we have the ability to live our lives in victory every day we are faced with all the stuff going on in the world. First, it’s hard to always be upbeat and see the victories of life when life is going down the tubes, and second, it’s really not right to be the happy-go-lucky person when there’s a big tragedy going on. God understands the need to take time to cry and mourn, there’s nothing wrong with dealing with those emotions in this world, as long as the sin remains in our world.   While there’s a tragedy in someone’s life somewhere in the world every day, I would hope that the good days far out-count the bad ones in your life.  And even in some of those not-so-great situations you still can choose to have a positive attitude, it may be what helps you retain your sanity through the challenges.

But when you’re not experiencing a tragedy, and the world that you live in isn’t being affected by one at the moment either, there are lots of opportunities for victories.  Victories can be found in big and small opportunities, from finding a bedspread you and your partner both like, to finding the perfect parking spot, to your home cooked meal turning out great, to the kids doing their homework without complaint, to completing the assigned task at work on time.  Those may seem like little things, but they’re the kind of thing that we run into on a daily basis in our lives, victories aren’t just about the big things in our lives like Easter.  Jesus performed many miracles before Easter that were pretty awesome to those people. so why should your ordinary victories be any less victorious than the big ones?

I encourage you to find at least one victory each day to celebrate.  If you can’t find one good thing that happened in your day, one thing to celebrate, one thing that amazed you, or one person you’re thankful for, we need to have a serious talk about your attitude and what’s going on in your life.  What victory will you encounter today?

“Wherever in your life is victory; there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is joy, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is wonder, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is resurrection, there is Christ calling you to follow him out of death into his larger and more glorious life.” Br. James Koester

God is Good

This week we’ll be deviating from the usual topic schedule slightly in anticipation of Easter on Sunday and this being Holy Week.  I was reading my emails today and up popped a blog post with a phrase just about every Christian has heard before.  Sometimes when we hear it we roll our eyes or feel tempted to, sometimes hearing it frustrates us, and other times we’re thankful for the reminder.  The saying?

“God is Good All the Time”

In considering Holy Week I thought this was an important topic for us to talk about.  Yes, Holy Week happened because of how good/generous/loving God is, but I know I have a hard time connecting the pain and suffering that Jesus went through with “good”.  I also have trouble with this topic thinking about all the suffering and hate in the world.  Can God really be good all the time if there’s this much pain?  The technical answer is yes, God is God, He can be good all the time.  It’s hard for us to understand how a “good” God can let us go through what we do though.

Is it technically our fault that Jesus suffered as He did and we suffer as we do, yes, it is.  But that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it or intentionally choose to torture myself with suffering. Bad doesn’t have to be the in and out and up and down of my life.  So how can we see God’s goodness through something as difficult as a crucifixion?

We may not see it in the crucifixion, but we do see it in the hope that is presented through Easter Sunday and the Resurrection.  Many people have questioned as to why the cross has become the recognizable symbol for the church rather than one that’s more in line with a positive message.  One reason is that the cross certainly is a recognizable icon while something that represents the tomb would look more like a piece of jewelry or just a rock.  The cross is also a beginning, it’s the beginning of hope for everyone who believes, but that hope is only fulfilled by the resurrection.  In a way the cross is a reminder of how life is, that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but that we need the rain and rest times too.

So as we begin Maundy Thursday and head into Good Friday, if you’re dealing with some dark nights here as Jesus was so many years ago, I encourage you to keep pushing through, God doesn’t give up on His people and does have an amazing hope and future planned for you.

Reality Reflection: Passover People

This coming week as some are readying for the celebration of Easter, others are celebrating the holiday of Passover.  Originally Passover was a celebration of freedom from slavery in Egypt for the Israelites, for many years after that it was also a spring celebration of the “first fruits of the barley” which was the first growth of the new growing season (you can read about the origin of Passover here).  Both of these are big reasons for celebration, let’s talk a bit about each.

Passover is important to anyone who has religious connections to the Israelites.  While Christians don’t typically celebrate it and it’s usually celebrated by Jewish people, it’s something that is important to both groups because it’s one of the formative stories of faith. It’s the start of an important journey of freedom, unity, faith and individuality for the Israelites.  It also began many traditions that are still in practice today as part of the present-day Passover celebration.  But Passover is about more than just eating Matzo, participating in the Seder and other present-day practices, the focus should be on the freedom that was so important and gained through this event so many years ago.  If that first Passover hadn’t happened, as tragic as it was for some people, our world today would look very different.  Yes, the Israelites were in slavery for a reason God planned, and He rescued them for other reasons.  But like any other rescue, it’s important to take the gift that was handed to them (and down through the centuries to us) and not only honor God with our lives, but live the lives that we’re able to live because we’ve been given that freedom.

The First Fruits aspect of the Passover celebration is another important part of this story, because it’s a reminder to thank God for the ways He continues to provide for us.  In this modern age we just go to the grocery store and find food, and even if we can’t find fresh there’s usually frozen that’s almost just as good. But for many people in the early days of Passover and for many people around the world they’re completely dependent on having good growth and being able to feed their families.  Even if the rest of us wouldn’t notice initially, eventually our food supply at the stores would run low as well.  We could survive without many things we take for granted today, but we’re still just as dependent on food and water as the Israelites were back then.

This week whether you’re Jewish or not I encourage you to take time to be thankful for the freedom and food you have.  Many people have sacrificed in one way or another to bring us to this point and  mother nature has continued to provide for us even if we haven’t taken such good care of her.  And if you find an opportunity to share a little blessing with someone else this week I would encourage you to do that as well.

The Purim Journey

This past week was the celebration of Purim in Jewish communities around the world.  It’s a celebration that anyone who has read the Christian Bible is familiar with as well because the story is told in the book of Esther.  The story is noteworthy for many reasons, but it all boils down to a queen (a woman) stepping up for her people (Jews) and stopping an evil plot that would have been one of the earlier examples of genocide. Because of her bravery she has been remembered throughout the spiritual histories of both Christians and Jews.

This story of deliverance is an excellent example of the way that one person can step up and do something great for many people.  Esther took a big risk by pleading for not only her life but the life of her people before the king.  While most of us are not in the position of great power and responsibility that she was, we can still learn from her courage and her story.

Royalty in that day and age wasn’t always a by-birth thing.  Esther grew up a normal girl who got picked to be queen, she didn’t know her life would take that turn.  We don’t know where the journey we’re on will take us. We can make some educated guesses based on the decisions we’re making and things we see showing up in our lives.  Most of us do have the power to change that path if we’re not happy with it or if we want something different/better/else. If an ordinary girl can become queen, I have to believe that the options for the rest of us are just about endless.  What will you choose to do with your future?

Priorities and Perspectives

One of the biggest problems in our society today is being over-committed.  We’ve been told that we have to be successful, do x, y and z in our lives, be this type of person, live in that type of house, eat this kind of food, watch that type of TV, give 110% at our jobs, be socially and communally responsible, and do it all while looking like attractive movie stars.  And they expect us to be happy while doing all that?!  Somehow everything has become a priority in our lives and if we’re prioritizing everything, nothing will get done, let alone the truly important stuff.

I love the concept of Lent being a time for fasting (or giving something up) and prayer.  My only issue with it is it doesn’t free us from all that holds us back from living the lives of freedom we could be living if we would de-prioritize things in our life that aren’t actually priorities, and re-prioritize things that should be priorities in our lives.  I’m not suggesting we all become missionaries, pastors, spiritual teachers and people who don’t talk about anything except spiritual stuff.  What I am suggesting is that most of us have way more baggage than is necessary in our lives and it’s time to get rid of it.

With all our priorities and commitments we can easily forget about the one thing that’s really important: being alive and living the life God has given you.  You can’t be truly living your life in a fulfilling way if you’re scheduled 118 out of 168 hours every week.  When we have less stress and more time in our lives, we’re able to enjoy ourselves again, and able to apply the eternal perspective we as Christians should have to our lives in an enjoyable and meaningful way.

This week I challenge you to take a look at your life and make sure that not only do you have good priorities, you’ve got room in your life to be alive and fulfill the destiny God has given you.  Letting go of even a little will free you up in ways you can’t imagine!  God has bigger and better plans for you, are you ready to make room for them in your life?

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.

Counting it Joy

We’re less than a week away from the new year and I’m ready.  2016 had lots of new starts for me and taught me lots of lessons. I’m looking forward to a 2017 that in many ways is better than 2016 and contains opportunities to implement what I learned in 2016.  As we finish out the month and the year this week I want to take one last spiritual look at our topic of the month: joy.  It’s a great month to talk about this topic because we’ve celebrated Christmas and are in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah as well if that’s your holiday.  We take this month to celebrate the year we’re putting behind us and the people in our lives, no matter how often we see them, or whether or not we tell them what they mean to us.

As we head towards the finish line of this year, let’s consider James 1:2-4: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” 

If you’ve been tested this year I encourage you to not give up.  Faith isn’t a guarantee of a stress-and-problem-free life, it’s a guarantee that you’ve got Someone going with you through everything, and the promise of something great at the end for those who believe and are saved.  Second, look for the joy. Sometimes it’s obvious that there’s joy happening around you and there are things to celebrate.  Other times you have to look a little harder to find it or make the joy yourself.

If you’re looking for some joy, we do have the new year just a few days away with 365 new days to find joy, but in all honesty each and every day is a new opportunity for you to find, create and share some joy.  So if you’re facing trouble or you meet someone who is facing trouble, I encourage you to not get dragged down by the challenges but instead to look for or share joy.  Even just choosing to share joy with someone in need can help you through your challenge as well.