Believe God Can

Recently the phrase came to mind “believe God can.” I like the phrase because it’s empowering and encouraging at the same time. It is a reminder for us to have faith in God, to believe that God can, to believe in God’s power, and to believe in His engagement in our lives. It’s a hopeful phrase that gets us thinking beyond where we are and whatever we may be stuck in, to a healthier place hopefully with a better attitude which will help us keep going through our challenges. The phrase “believe God can” is a challenge to us, to trust in God and His plan, that He’s got it all under control even if it doesn’t seem that way to us with our mortal and limited ability to see and know.

With Martin Luther King Jr. day yesterday we were reminded of a man who inspired many others to believe, to take action and to hold out hope for a better tomorrow when we all work together. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of faith, beginning his work in churches and among faith communities. He was able to speak to the lives of many outside the church as well, but his work started with the belief that he believed God could do great things.

Psalm 20:4 says: “May He grant you your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” While God can and does do many things, including things we never see happen, most often we come to Him with a specific desire in our hearts and minds, hoping that He can (and will) do something for us. If you haven’t lately, I would encourage you to find time this week to check in with your heart and think about what you desire in your life, and if you’re working and praying to get to that point, or if the course you’re on is not going to take you where you truly want to go. God may be able to and plans may come to pass, but if they’re not truly what you desire you’ll be disappointed in the end.

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Victory is a Journey

For the past few years I’ve been following the story of two twin boys who were joined at the head and separated in a very difficult and complex surgery in October of 2016. It was a trial for them, their parents and their brother, and we only got a tiny glimpse into all of it. Today I saw that an update had been posted on their story and it spoke to me about this new year we’ve entered, with both words of encouragement and wisdom.

The first thing that spoke to me was the fact that they’re both still alive, developing and growing, which is really a miracle. It’s also a miracle that we’ve made it to 2019 without killing everyone off or doing more damage to our world than we could ever try to fix.

Second, the one thing the parents said repeatedly was that some things just take time. Things weren’t perfect the moment the surgery was done, it’s been years and they’re still dealing with setbacks and challenges. That said, they can see the growth and improvements that the boys are making. We expect things to be so instant in this day and age, but that’s just not always the case.

Finally, the parents are thankful to have this time with their boys. It was a do-or-die surgery, 80% of those joined at the head die by age 2. So the only choice the parents had was to pray for a miracle, and a miracle they got. We can choose to leave this life, but I have so much more hope for the future than I am discouraged by the past.

The bottom line is I hope that in 2019 we’ve gotten through the absolute worst and only have some more bumps to contend with. I’m tired of always fighting the most extreme of uphill battles and would like to see a year in which more things go my way and your way, more things go the way of more people. I don’t expect easy or perfect all the time, but some less exhausting wins would be nice. I’m hoping for a year that shows we’ve finally turned the curve, what about you?

A Star’s Guidance

Can you believe Christmas is already done? I like celebrating through the new year, meeting with friends and giving gifts and really stretching it out as long as possible since it’s such a special time of year. From the Bible story of the first Christmas we know that the Shepherds came down to join Mary and Joseph at the place they were staying where Jesus was born. What we don’t always talk about is the fact that the wisemen weren’t there in those first days, some say that they visited Jesus 13 days after He was born, and others say Jesus was more than 1 year old by the time they arrived.

The thing that’s not disputed regardless of how old you think Jesus was when the wisemen arrived is that they arrived because they followed the star. The shepherds visited Jesus because the angels told them about it (something that would certainly get your attention and move you to check things out), but it always amazes me that the wisemen came to Jesus because of a star. We don’t see stars to the detail that they did back then (unless we’re looking through a high powered telescope), and we also don’t spend as much time analyzing and following them as the wisemen and other people in Jesus’ time did.

The wisemen, as sure in the stars as they may have been, still took a chance at following the message as they understood it. It may not have been easy and was probably years of work, if not a lifetime, but I would say they were quite pleased by their journey as they got to meet Jesus.

The wisemen stepped out in faith and followed the guidance of the star. At this time of year we think about stepping out in faith as well and becoming a better, healthier, more fulfilled person in the new year. We may have tried things in the past unsuccessfully, but that doesn’t mean that this can’t be the year for us, that we can’t do what we set out to do, and that we can’t step out in faith and let God lead us to a great destination this year.

If you had a great year I encourage you to keep doing what you’ve been doing, but if you’re looking for a new adventure or simply more out of life, take some time this week to consider the signs in your life, and how you want to feel and where you want to be in your life at this time next year. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to evaluate your life, reflect on your journey and plan for the future.

Hanukkah Commitments

One of the December holidays that many celebrate is Hanukkah (or Chanukah). While Christmas is celebrated as both a religious and secular holiday, Hanukkah is only a religious one. While I don’t participate in the 8 days or any Jewish customs, especially in recent years I’ve come to appreciate aspects of the Hanukkah story and practice.

Spiritually and historically it’s a celebration and remembrance of a group of Jews who were led by Judah the Maccabee who defeated the Greeks and regained control of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. That alone is a great reason to celebrate each year, but there’s more to the story. The story finishes with a miracle: the supply of oil needed for the Menorah was only enough for one day, but it lasted 8, hence the 8 days of celebration.

In practice it’s a festival of lights, prayers and food. Families gather to light candles of the Menorah, continuing the practice that has always been done at temples around the world. Now it’s something that is done specifically during Hanukkah at homes, by both adults and kids alike. Along with the Menorah lighting special prayers are said, including some specifically reminiscent of the spiritual history of Hanukkah, asking for deliverance for those who need it.

Hanukkah is a story and celebration of light and victory. Both light and victory are topics that are relevant and important to everyone, both those who have a spiritual practice and those who don’t. But for those of us who are spiritual, light is about spreading the special light of God in you to the world. Victory is about victory over those who would hinder faith practices, over the limits of this body and living on earth, and/or the Resurrection.

But the word Hanukkah actually brings deeper meaning to the holiday, it comes from the Hebrew verb which means ‘to dedicate.’ It originally was a time of rededicating the Temple, and today it’s a time to rededicate ourselves to faith practices, to being the person we were created to be, to righting the wrongs in the world, and committing to do better for ourselves, each other and the world we share. What will you commit to this holiday season?

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Faith

We face lots of challenges and tests in our lives, it’s part of the life journey and can make or break us depending on whether we’re willing and able to push through, the support we have and the faith we have. What kind of faith do you have? Are you investing in your faith on a daily basis? Are you letting it guide your decision making and encourage you when the going gets tough? Are you struggling with or questioning your faith because of recent events?

Faith does give us the strength to keep going, it can encourage us, it can unite us, it can give us peace that passes all understanding. Faith can be a guide to help you make decisions and foundation to build your life on.  And while your faith may waver or you may question your faith for a time, I think it’s hard to truly lose all faith and never be able to return to it again, and for that I’m thankful.

Time and again I’ve returned to my faith and restrengthened my faith. There’s only one who has never let me down and is always there, regardless of how quickly or clearly I get an answer. Sometimes it’s not even about getting the answer from God, just knowing that He is supporting me and aware of all I’m going through is enough.

We’re almost at the end of another year, some of us may be questioning what’s next for us at work or in a relationship and faith is a great starting point. Start having faith that it will work out, that God will open your eyes to His plans and the direction you should go. Believe in yourself and your abilities and how perfectly God made you. Give thanks for all that you have and all the blessings that are coming your way.

“Therefore, thus says the Lord God: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, A precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; he who puts his faith in it shall not be shaken.” Isaiah 28:16

30 Days of Thanksgiving: All The Saints Before Us

This November we’ll be talking about the topic of being thankful.  This month I really want to work on being more thankful myself, so in addition to the thoughts of thanks on Facebook and Twitter, each day this month I’ll be sharing a reflection, encouragement, inspiration or just bit of thanks here on the blog. Today I want to start in what may seem like a strange place: Halloween.

Halloween was Wednesday, and while it’s a very secular celebration today, historically and originally it was something much different.  It’s originally known as All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, the day before November 1, today, which is All Saints’ Day.  What’s All Saints’ Day?  A day honoring all the saints, both highly decorated and less known.  And what’s a saint? A saint is someone who is recognized for having an especially close relationship with God and living their life in a way that is dedicated to God.

It’s a day that reminds us of the afterlife, of the fact that good people of faith have gone on before us.  That they’ve had their turn sharing God with the world and doing His work here on earth.  It’s an opportunity for us to recognize, remember and thank all those from the past who have paved the way for our faith today.

This All Saints’ Day there are several new saints up there, including a missionary friend I’ve supported for several years.  It’s not easy to no longer have these people as part of our world because we loved them and they were doing such great work here on earth for God.  But at the same time we know they’ve entered into their eternal blessing and their reward after all the work they’ve done for God throughout their lives.

So this All Saints Day make time to thank God for the people of faith who influenced, guided and encouraged your faith, whether they’re from the past few years or several hundred years ago.

Facing Addiction as a Faith Community

There’s a serious problem in the US and other parts of the world, and it has to do with addiction to either drugs or alcohol. Whenever you turn on the TV whether to watch the news or one of the popular cop shows there’s a really good chance that something in that show will have to do with addiction. The addiction to alcohol has contributed to too many drunk driving episodes that have killed too many innocent people, and they’ve also contributed to many domestic violence charges too. The addiction to drugs is something that has been growing over the decades, from the fun and mystique of the 70’s to the epidemic it has become today.

It’s not something I have personal experience with nor do I have someone in my immediate circle who is dependent on drugs or alcohol, but I’ve followed the epidemic all the same, in part because of how deadly it is. For many people it starts innocently with a prescription and then snowballs into something more serious. I know that there are people whose lives have been made better because of the drugs that have been developed, and that there are people who are finding relief from medical marijuana. I support the use of drugs and other medical aides, but only with careful supervision and only for those who really need it. There is no reason anyone needs the addiction, and it doesn’t do anything good for anyone.

And yet the addiction grows. But over the past few months there have been a few stories of communities and people who are doing their part to not only combat the addiction but get the people who are addicted help including a small Washington community, and a family doctor in Iowa. Instead of viewing the addicts as a “dirty population” or “homeless” these people and communities are taking a step back and seeing them as people, humans just like themselves. Because while there are some addicts who don’t care, there’s a significant portion of the population who does care and just can’t break free for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s because they don’t have the resources to get clean, they don’t have the support to get or stay clean, or they’re trapped in the community and can’t get free, just to name a few.

Choosing drugs or staying addicted to them certainly isn’t treating your body like a temple, it’s not respecting the gift of a body that God gave you. For those of us who don’t have personal experience with an addiction we can’t understand what they’re feeling, thinking or really going through. We also have to accept that we can’t help everyone and everyone won’t want help. But for those who are willing to get help and be freed from their addiction, we should be open to extending them the same grace, patience and love that God does to us when we experience failings or sin. It’s not our place to judge or criticize them for their failings, just to extend the friendship and help that God would extend to us.

If you’re struggling to understand this whole topic I would encourage you to read some of the articles and stories from the communities and people around the country who have been addicts, are trying to make a difference in the lives of addicts, or are on the front lines interacting with addicts like police and emergency medical technicians. Understanding is one of the first steps to being able to help, or at the very least pray about this epidemic. After that we need to take a real hard look at our communities and whether we’re working to resolve this epidemic or not, and the damage it’s doing to our world.  What are your thoughts and experiences with addiction?