Looking for Hope

Hope is found in some really strange places. In the case of the Christmas story, it’s found in a couple of babies, some shepherds, and maybe less surprising, some angels. As much as hope is an idea or concept, the Christmas story really brings the message of hope to life and makes it something tangible that people were able to not only see but touch. We can’t touch or see any of the people from the Christmas story, but we do have signs all around us that remind us of them like nativities we have in our homes and churches, plays telling the story, and stained glass windows in churches of scenes from the Christmas story.

The Bible is a journey of ups and downs, much like our lives are. We may not be able to relate to living in tents or being nomadic or fighting wars and battles or all the farming like some of the people in the Bible, but we can relate to the different interpersonal struggles they have and other challenges they face in their lives about safety, food, family and money. Where the story of Jesus is found is after many books of struggle and doom and gloom from the prophets. Yes, they had some words of encouragement too, but a lot of it was God reminding the people that they’re living in sin and not listening to Him. And then we happen upon the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah who find out they’re going to have John the Baptist, and the whole story of Mary and Joseph and angels and long trips and shepherds and wise men. It’s a bit of a surprise, and very refreshing to read this whole story after reading the struggles the Israelites had gone through for so many years.

The struggles weren’t over just because Jesus was born, nor were they after He died and rose again. But finally there was a definite light at the end of the tunnel. The prophesies were finally going to come true, we finally have something to look forward to after dealing with all that we do in this life, and there’s nothing that can take away or change Jesus being here and being part of the story of the Bible, no number of bad days, or amount of suffering and struggle.

Some of us are struggling as we reach the end of this year and work through the Christmas season, things that aren’t typically erased by Christmas celebrations or the story of hope that we’re hearing. My prayer is that even though the struggle won’t likely be removed from your life, God would bless you with some hope this month. Hope that you aren’t alone and that it’s hard to beat the crazy story that is the Christmas story. Don’t give up and don’t lose hope.

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” Isaiah 9:2

Be A Light

I’ve had a couple of light bulbs go out in succession this past week, I suppose that’s how things happen some times. It’s always more “fun” when it happens at night in a room that doesn’t have other lights in it. Thankfully we’ve got cell phones that help us at least navigate somewhat without having to light a candle and attempt to use that light. The gift of modern lighting is one reason I would not want to have been born hundreds of years ago, I can’t imagine what it was like when we didn’t have the ability to have (safe) light whenever and wherever we wanted, we get small tastes of it when the power goes out, and that’s more than enough for me.

Those moments of darkness are important reminders of why it’s so important as a person of faith to be a light in this world. God doesn’t want us to be so optimistic and positive that we ignore the darkness, nor does it mean we should be all fire and brimstone to beat the darkness. Rather, God calls us to be a light when there are times of darkness, to be an encouragement to others and to find hope even when it doesn’t seem like there is much. It’s not about aggression, blindness or being blinding, but about love and hope and kindness.

If you’re struggling with your light and it’s not shining so brightly, it’s time to head back into the Bible and read through the Psalms or some of the other more uplifting and motivating parts of the Bible. It also may mean that God wants you to spend more time with Him in prayer and meditation. As John 8:12 says: “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  You don’t have to be a light on your own, you’ve got God there to guide you and help fuel that light. How are you bringing light to the world?

Healing with Love

One topic that has developed and changed a lot over the centuries is that of healing. People have tried everything from human sacrifice to bloodletting to blessings and exorcisms, not to mention today’s pills and surgeries, to try to help with the healing process. We should be proud for how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned about healing and our bodies over the years. So where does God fit into all of this?

Yes, there still are divine healings, God still does work today and make miracles happen. Even some of the things we’re able to do with modern medicine we’re only truly successful with because of what some people would call luck but we know is God. One of the more public illness/healing stories we’ve heard recently is that of Alex Trebek who is fighting pancreatic cancer and cautiously optimistic about how well he is responding to treatment and the positive thoughts and prayers of the many who have watched him on TV over the years. His journey isn’t over yet, so there’s no definitive answer on his healing, but good news is always good news.

Br. David Vryhof said “God’s work is healing work: bringing health and wholeness to human lives – physically, emotionally, spiritually. We ourselves have been healed by Love, and we are to be agents of that same healing and love to others.”

Brother Vryhof speaks to a big part of what God’s healing is all about and that’s love. God doesn’t like us broken and ill any more than we do, but it’s part of the human condition. As part of our relationship with God we can ask Him for healing and He’ll respond in whatever way He sees fit with some type of healing. But that’s a lot of room for interpretation, which is why you should always hope for complete physical healing, but if all that you get is the healing and calming influence of love, that’s something to be thankful for.

This week I encourage you to be a force of healing love for the rest of the world. There are so many people who need love in the world, and even just a little love can help them begin their healing journey. How will you share love with the world?

A Choice of Burdens

I read a quote recently that I think really lines up well with the Biblical passage of Matthew 11:28-30 but also sheds light on it. Let’s start with the Bible passage:

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.””

It’s a very well-known passage, one that is repeated and turned to during times of stress, fear, confusion, challenge and weakness, maybe one you yourself have said or read recently.  It’s one that we turn to because Jesus is clearly saying that although there will be burdens in life He is here to help us with them. Which is where the quote I mentioned comes in:

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” Lou Holtz

It’s very rare in life that we truly are out of option or that we have no choices. Typically we just can’t think of them or don’t like the ones that we can think of or see. But both the passage and the quote remind us to rethink that and be encouraged that the burden we bear doesn’t have to be the burden we see it as, and that there are options and hope, if only we would open our eyes.

Today I would encourage you to not only bring your current situations to God in prayer, but also take the time to really do your research and consider your options.  You’re only out of options and hope if you believe it is so or stop looking.  Maybe the one you’ve been avoiding is the answer.  Maybe it’s something you haven’t heard of before.  Maybe it’s something a friend has heard about and would be able to share with you if you share your burden with them.  Maybe today will be the day that brings hope back into your life.  But even if it isn’t, I know that God has everything under control and has a plan for everything, and He is here to carry your burdens with you.

Life Fulfilled

Lent is only part of the story, and leads to the good stuff, the main event, the finale if you will. Lent is all the studying you do before that big test, all the prep you do before that big meeting, all the cleanup you do before the guests. It’s important because of what it leads to, what it prepares you for, not because of what it itself is.

Each day with each choice we make, each interaction we have, each step we take is all writing our story. As people of faith we have God helping to guide the story, leading us to meet the people we need to meet and be there for those who need to meet us, bringing us through the experiences we need and others need us to have, and generally supporting us through the humbling, sobering, heart breaking moments of real life.

And that’s what it comes down to. What would people say if they were to read your story? In one of my Lent devotionals that just finished were the following words:

“At the end of His life, Jesus says” ‘it is finished.’ He looked back on His life and decided to lay down His life. It as if this reflection now takes Him to a place of contentment where He can die. This is significant. Jesus died as He lived – fulfilled.” Mosaïek Church

Good Friday and Easter are both crucial because they do show that Jesus fulfills His life purpose and the promises He made when He came to earth. But technically Jesus only had to do the 3 days of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter to fulfill that promise: He lived, died and rose again. It’s those 30 some years in between those 3 days that Jesus intentionally chose how He wanted to spend His time, and as the quote above says, He chose to live every moment to the fullest.

I believe that what we read in the Bible is only a fraction of the amazing things Jesus did on earth, the personal interactions He had with people, the lives He touched. Jesus may have only been on earth for 30 some years, but He made the most of each day, experience, relationship, interaction and opportunity, especially the last few years. But even with all the ways that Jesus lived, I think the way He really filled in the moments were best seen when He took a moment to talk with someone one-on-one, or in taking time to love on the children, or never giving up on the Pharisees, and even in the moments when He was so very human like when Lazarus died or He took a nap on a boat.

Life is made up of countless moments big and small. Just like Jesus you’ve got a choice: you don’t have to live a fulfilling life, but if given the choice why wouldn’t you?

(This is a bit of the weekly devotional I sent out this week, click here if you’d like to learn more or subscribe)

The Day the Lord Has Made

As I was working on my weekly devotional this week, one of the verses that came to mind was Psalm 118:24 (ESV):

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I think it’s a great verse to start the year off with, because it reminds us up front and center that this day, with whatever goes on in it, is a day that the Lord has made. I don’t say this to make light of whatever challenge you may be facing today, some days are absolutely brutal with their expectation of you and what they throw at you. Some days all you can do is make it through with as little damage as possible, and some days even that doesn’t go so well. As much as we might like to hope that because it’s a day God made that everything would be great, that’s just not the reality of living here on Earth.

So what can we be glad in when we face one of those days? I’d focus on the fact that there’s a day after today that hasn’t happened yet. As long as you keep living and pushing through, you’ll get to the next day, a day that is a blank slate and you can do almost anything with. You can’t erase the past, but you can build a different (better/bigger/quieter/healthier etc.) future. Today may not be a rockstar day, but it can teach you what you need going into the future. It may give you an experience you can use to help yourself or someone else in the future. It may be the motivation you need to make changes in your life.

What will you do with this day the Lord has made?

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?