Listening for Encouragement

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Bible passages. Many people hear it in church, but it’s also often shared at funerals or with those who are going through a challenging time in their lives. In some ways it reminds me of the Serenity Prayer which is used by countless self-help programs and groups. One of the things I love about Psalm 23 is that it brings us through the journey of our lives in just 6 short verses, talking about both high points and low points that we go through.

As I was thinking about this chapter and about our topic of the month I was reminded that sometimes what we need is to hear something as simple as Psalm 23 to find the peace, hope, encouragement, strength and perseverance to make it through another day. It’s not about having all the answers, having tons of money, having lots of friends, being well-known, or not having any issues or challenge or problems in life. That’s not the story of Faith or the Bible, despite what some people may say.

Throughout the Bible we’re reminded that there will be challenges we face and there is no guarantee of a great life on earth. However, we are assured if we’re people of faith that God will go with us through all challenges we face and that we’ve got the hope of heaven to look forward to because Jesus died for our sins and rose again. Earth is a chance for us to learn from the challenges we face, to
explore our individuality, to develop the gifts God has given each of us, to encourage each other, and to pave a better way for the next generation. Perfection isn’t expected or the goal on earth, instead it’s to live a life worthy of the God you believe in.

If you’re going through a challenging time in your life, I encourage you to print out copies of Psalm 23 and maybe even the Serenity Prayer to post in locations around your home, workplace, and car and anywhere else you go frequently. Don’t give up because it seems like the darkness is lasting for so long or the mountain seems too high. Rely on God to bring you through, and don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. After all, Jesus didn’t do His years of ministry on earth alone, He had men who worked closely with Him and women that He taught and trusted too.

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Faith in Planting Seeds

Summer is always an interesting time of year, it’s my favorite season, we get to enjoy late nights and early mornings, we take lots of time to be with friends and family, and unfortunately it goes by so fast! One of my other favorite things about summer is all of the readily available fresh fruits and vegetables, many that are available grown locally or within the US, which isn’t the case during the rest of the year. But summer’s break for all the kids and teachers and fresh fruits and vegetables is only a result of the work that’s done prior to summer arriving; summer and into early fall is the time that we see the results of the seeds that we’ve planted in spring, and the education that’s been going on for the past 8-9 months.

Summer seems like we get instant results, but the reality is that those results took a lot of work and time to get to. If you’ve done any gardening before you may be familiar with plants, especially in the fruit category, that take more than one year to really see results. For instance, you won’t see apples the first year you plant the tree, nor will you see raspberries the first year you plant the bush. Just like apples and raspberries, most of the great results in our lives take time and effort.

I think this is something God planned intentionally, knowing how immediate and light-speed our lives would be today. It’s an important lesson on taking time in our lives. Technology has shortened the distance between people which is amazing, it’s also made it easier and cheaper to connect with others than ever before, which means that we’re able to take the time we never could to really build relationships and have conversations. It’s easier than ever to touch base with someone who needs a friend or is having a bad day and just tell them that we love them. Since it’s that easy to do, we really have no excuse not to do it.

It’s also an important lesson on the value and concept of planting seeds. It’s easier than ever to get things done and make changes in our lives with all of the resources and technology available to us, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take time sometimes to really get things done the way they should be done or the way we want them done. Sometimes God will delay that timeline intentionally because we’re not ready or because the time isn’t right yet. God may have you working on something now that won’t show fruition for several years or seasons of our lives, and other times we may not even see the results of the seeds we plant because those seeds are planted in people who move away or live after we die.

So this week I encourage you to not only plant seeds, but to make sure you’re taking action when you’ve got the opportunity to do so, and enjoying the fruits of your labor when they do happen. And don’t forget to thank God for bringing you from seed to fruition too.

Faith and Imperfections

Last month we spent a lot of time talking about relationships and this month one of the things we’ll be talking about is freedom. As I was thinking about these two topics I read these words:

“We’re all broken in one way or another. So let’s be kind” Mary Carver

People of faith are often seen as perfect. Maybe we seem that way because we make people think that, or because we talk about being forgiven and freed all the time. But the fact is just because we’re people of faith, it doesn’t make us perfect. We still need other people, we still have faults and failures, we still screw up and hurt others. Even the people who are living a life of faith that God is proud of (the people who everyone looks up to because of how spiritual and well-behaved they are) aren’t perfect and struggle with the same human experience and emotions that the rest of us do.

People who are “good” are important because they show the rest of us how to live in a way that honors God and reminds us that it is possible and that it isn’t something reserved for people in the Bible or people with an official church title. For those of us who aren’t quite so perfect, it’s not easy to show both sides of this to the world, because we want to be a good reflection on God. But being truthful about the struggles we face on a daily basis or about the challenges God has brought us through not only help those who don’t share our faith better identify with us, it’s a reminder that we’re still people in need of God.

Over and over throughout the Bible there are examples of Jesus and other people of faith who choose to show love and compassion in the face of sin and suffering. Jesus made a point throughout His ministry to show love to those who were suffering or fallen and knew they needed help, but when faced with those who thought they were without reproach or had lost sight of what their faith was supposed to be all about, He didn’t show interest or have mercy (He even lost His temper a time or two).

No one really wants to admit how flawed they are or how badly they screw up, but it’s only in those moments that we can really take account of where our life is and what changes need to be made going forward. It’s also in those moments that we’re given the ability to reach out to others for their support and encouragement. Are you honest with yourself about how broken you are? If so what are you doing about it? And what happens when someone who feels broken comes to you for support?  Are you there for them to support them or just judge them?

This week I encourage you to choose kindness and support, both for others and yourself, when faced with failures and struggles.   Choose to be the person who loves and doesn’t condemn, and the person who’s honest about the help they need.

Anointed By God

If you’ve read through the Bible or attended church after the celebration of Easter, you’ve probably heard about the event called Pentecost. It’s written about in the book of Acts in the New Testament (along with a bunch of other really culture-shifting events). During Pentecost “all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:1b-4a). The whole event was pretty fantastic and hard to believe by those who didn’t witness it, except those who were anointed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost were, in this specific situation, able to speak in different languages, languages they didn’t previously speak, as evidence of the anointing.

As I mentioned the Book of Acts is filled with stories like this one. From real life interactions with Jesus after He ascended to being brought back to life to shipwrecks and snake bites the book of Acts has lots of crazy stories that line up very well with seeing tongues of fire land on people’s heads. But it’s also got some great insight into what the early church was all about: faith, community, and sharing the Good News. The good news is that there are many churches alive and well today who have taken on those core aspects and continued them today.

Pentecost was an important and amazing event, but what about the rest of us? We aren’t exactly anticipating a Pentecost in 2017, and I haven’t heard of anyone experiencing exactly what the Early Church did back on that first Pentecost since then. First, it’s not necessarily something we should be looking to have happen. Second, as important as the first Pentecost was, there rest of Acts 2 tells us that they (the Early Church) added to their numbers daily. Those people weren’t experiencing tongues of fire, they were just interacting with people who believed in community and the Good News. We don’t need tongues of fire to make us believers or give us any special abilities. The only thing we need is belief in Jesus and the willingness to do His work on Earth and share about Him with others (using words when necessary). You don’t need tongues of fire to know that God has a plan for your life, or to have a calling and mission for Him.  So as you finish up this week I encourage you to look for ways that God is showing up in your life (they may be seemingly ordinary), how He may be leading you to build community and who in your life needs to hear about Him. What will God show you?

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.