The Plans God Has For Us

Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

It amazes me that after everything we’ve gone through in the past few months and everything that it’s possible the rest of 2020 holds for us, that God planned for you and I to be here at this exact time. I’ve been holding on with hope to the idea that sometimes the most unassuming things or biggest messes lead to some of the best things; for example how a tiny seed produces lots of food for us, how you combine/knead/bake ingredients together to make bread, or how you have to destroy a building that’s falling down or dangerous and then clean up the mess before you can build a new one.

I have to believe that even as devastating and challenging as the past few months have been that even if we have a little more struggle to go, we’ll be able to recover and build an even better and stronger and more prepared future. I have to believe in each one of us being here at this time to be able to support each other and the world with our specific gifts. I have to believe that everything we’ve worked to win these past few months won’t be a waste. I have to believe that God did make us wiser than some of us seem to be sometimes and that we will figure out how to work together to deal with things. I have to believe that God didn’t bring our world through world wars, plagues, floods and other natural disasters only to give up on us now (unless of course it’s time to go Home).

I believe in fresh starts, in making changes and improvements, being forgiven and being given a second chance. It’s not often that we all experience a life transformation or calling to step further into the plans God has for us and the abilities He’s given us, but here we are. As we look to what comes next in the coming days, months and year, what is God asking of you? What is God calling you to do? Is God asking you to make some changes in your life, to do something new and different? How are you seeing the plans God has for you coming to fruition?

A Satisfying Life

What satisfies you? You know, those moments when you sigh, and feel content in life? We live in a society where being satisfied is something everyone wants but no one gets. Why? Because no one stops long enough to discover what they actually have and if they are content with their life as it is. Many people go from one job to another, relationship to relationship, location to location only to discover that they aren’t satisfied no matter what they do. So they keep going and going and eventually they die unsatisfied with their life.

What’s the lesson here? The truth is that satisfaction is a moment to moment choice. You will never be satisfied with your life and who you are if you don’t stop and choose to be. I may not be a millionaire (yet) but I am satisfied with making more than I made a year ago. Does that mean I don’t try to achieve dreams that are bigger than where I am right now? No! It means that I take the time to appreciate where I am and what I have. It means I don’t go to bed at night mad that I didn’t get another client today, but thankful for the client I was with.

Being satisfied is a choice. I choose that I will be satisfied with what I have and where I am, but I will never give up my dreams and become complacent. Yes there’s a fine line there, and each person must decide where they can stand on that line without jeopardizing their future.

Being satisfied also means accepting your failures, learning from them and putting changes in place so that you won’t keep replicating your failures. You can be satisfied at the end of the day, even if you experienced a big failure, if you have your plan in place that will help you do something different tomorrow.
What about you? Are you satisfied with your life? Does something need to change for you to be satisfied or are you just not choosing to be satisfied?

Easter is About Conquering the Grave

“Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”” Luke 24:1-7

Yes, Easter has arrived and with it comes the yearly celebration of the sacrifice and victory Jesus experienced for all who believe. Throughout our daily reflections last week we took a look at some of the last events in the regular life of Jesus, starting with the celebration everyone thought He should have always had on Palm Sunday and leading up to His rather unexpected death on Good Friday. On Easter we did something unusual and gathered in our homes to watch the spiritual leaders around the world give virtual messages from empty churches or at kitchen tables. It’s an Easter I don’t think anyone will ever forget. I’m thankful that technology has evolved that we’re still able to celebrate Easter as a community, even if it’s a virtual one and not the physical one that we’re used to.

While different books of the Gospel share the Easter story with different details they all start with one fact: the tomb is empty and Jesus is no longer there. Of course He can’t be there if He’s risen and truly the Son of God sent to save the world from their sins, but it’s a great surprise to everyone of that time. The book of Luke shares that there were more than three women gathered that morning at the tomb to pay their respects to Jesus, wanting do so out of love for Him despite their likely disappointment that Jesus wasn’t who He said He was (because if He was who He said He was, how could He be dead?). But as often happens with God, there’s an unexpected development and Jesus isn’t there and they’re instead greeted by angels who once again share good news with the world, this time that Jesus is alive.

As I was reading this passage over the past few days, what stood out to me was a question the angels asked: “why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?” Sometimes I think we look to what/where/who we think is the answer because it often is where we found the answer, and even if we’re not sure that’s going to be the place to find it, maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be there or close anyway. The angel’s message almost makes you wonder why we go to graveyards and cemeteries to honor the dead after the initial burial, because while their bodies may be there, their souls aren’t, and the things we loved about that person are much greater than anything to do with their physical bodies.

It’s also a message about how to live our lives. Yes, we should remember the past, but not to the extent that it stops us from living in, innovating for, or moving to the future. We can learn tons from the past, but unless we want to recreate the past, we have to put those lessons into practice with an eye for the future. If there was ever an important time to hear the Easter message of life and hope, it’s now as we work to conquer this virus. Our world will be forever changed by this virus, but we can’t let the virus control us to the point that we have no future. Instead, we can choose to build a world that’s stronger because we fought and won against this virus together, honoring those who died during the fight of course, or we can let it keep us in a proverbial graveyard of fear and loss of life and livelihood. How will you let the message of Easter guide you into our new future?

Psalms for Today

It’s interesting to be working through the spiritual season of Lent while the world battles this virus. During the time that we in the spiritual community are reflecting on the incredible, powerful, transformative, humbling, intense years of active ministry leading to biggest and most challenging week of Jesus (and anyone’s) life, His death and resurrection, we’re facing a challenge that we’ve not yet faced as a world, and we don’t yet know how things will end up. It gives you some understanding and intimate knowledge about how the apostles must have felt after Jesus died on Good Friday.

This week I was reading one of my Lent devotionals, this one written by N.T. Wright, and while the devotional wasn’t written with knowledge of the virus in mind, I thought the words were relevant both to the situation we find ourselves in, as well as about the relevance of the Bible to our lives today:

“The deep distress we sense as we read this Psalm has, paradoxically perhaps, given great hope to millions down the years. No matter how deep we have sunk, no matter what sorrows or tragedies we may encounter, the Psalms have been there before us. Not only do they encourage us to believe that we have not, after all, fallen off the map. They give us words so that, when our own words fail to do justice to our misery, they will do instead.

The Psalm doesn’t hide. There’s no point pretending, putting a brave face on it before God….’Out of the depths!’ That’s how it is, for all of us some of the time, for some of us most of the time. Let’s tell it like it is.”

The Psalm referenced here is Psalm 130, which talks about suffering and fear, as well as hope in God and in God’s power to redeem. As N.T. Wright says, this is a recurring theme through many of the Psalms, all 150 of them. One of the reasons to love the Psalms and to read through them regularly is because of how they can speak to you about whatever situation you may be going through at the time, even though they were written thousands of years ago, which means that Jesus, who lived on Earth after the Psalms were written, can also identify with the feelings we’re dealing with now.

It may seem like we’re in a vicious, endless downward spiral right now, and that even though there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, it seems too far away to get to before everything falls completely apart. Much of our world will still be experiencing great uncertainty as we get into Palm Sunday and Holy Week next week, and Easter won’t look anything like what most of us have known it to be all our lives. And it’s OK to be struggling with this uncertainty and even have a healthy degree of fear and respect towards the problems that we’re dealing with as a world. But as we know from many Bible stories, God doesn’t give up on His people and doesn’t forget about them. So even if or as you struggle through this challenging time, know that Jesus will go through it with you, and that He’s faced much worse for you, and it’s with the type of love and compassion that Jesus showed during His years of ministry that we’ll be able to get through this too.

Patiently Trusting God

Each year during Lent I read some devotionals, devotionals that I didn’t read the year previous. Thanks to our internet world, there are tons out there to choose from, and each year different faith leaders and organizations come out with new ones. This year one of the devotionals I’ve been reading has moved through the life of Jesus at a rate that has been quick for me, and I’m wondering if they’re going to run out of stuff to talk about before we get to Easter. Last night for example they shared about Jesus asking for a drink on the cross. We’re still 18 days out from Good Friday, so where is this devotional going? I’m not one to read ahead and find out, so I guess we’ll see. But it got me thinking about what’s going on in our lives right now and Jesus’ story as a whole too.

Sometimes life takes turns we’re not expecting or we get overwhelmed and we have a moment of insanity or poor judgement or weakness. Examples include Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane where He pleads for what He knows to be coming to not, the suggestion of Peter to build shelters for Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration, or even how Jesus died on the cross and His followers were stunned speechless that everything led to this (before Easter occurred). There are other moments of strangeness in the Bible like Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the fish, Job’s story, and the story of Jericho and Rahab. Of course much of the world is in a ‘wait, what?!’ moment with this virus that’s taken the globe by storm, compromising the health of hundreds of thousands, killing thousands, and causing disruption in the daily lives of possibly everyone around the globe for a period of weeks if not months or more, not to mention the havoc it’s wreaking on businesses.

We don’t have a magic wand or crystal ball, and despite our best efforts at reading the signs that are visible, we can’t truly predict the future or know all things. Only God knows what the future holds, why things are moving ahead as they are, and why we have the experiences that we do. With the Lent devotional I’m reading, I have hope that they’ll use the next 18 days to share some more great insights and that there’s a reason that they’ve almost rushed through Jesus’ life. I have to have hope that our world will prove resilient and we’ll rebuild better and stronger than ever before with a thought to what’s best, not just what’s quickest or what’s easiest, or fold under the pressure.

What is God asking you to be patient in or trust Him in right now? Maybe He’s asking you to take a step of faith or make a change to your life. Don’t let the moments of confusion or insanity sweep you away, stay strong in God and He’ll help you see it through.

Reality Reflection: Spring, Groundhogs and Hope

Wednesday I shared about some perspectives on Groundhog Day and victories, and today as I was reading through my email I got another reminder why Groundhog Day and the possibility of spring being here very soon is so very important to us, so much so that we’re willing to put our trust in two fairly questionable resources, a groundhog and the sun. I was reminded how hard it is to grow and thrive when all you feel like doing is hiding under the blankets away from the shovels, white stuff, cloudy days, and cold weather, not to mention the colds and other illnesses that show up this time of year.

Yes, we can get lots accomplished in this time of year, like reading books or deep cleaning or getting organized or building an online business or building relationships and getting to know people, but that’s all indoors and our plans change as health and weather affect those plans. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s essential that we take breaks and have rest times in our lives, but it’s really hard with our active lifestyles to face such a serious change to our lives each year when winter rolls in.

But deep down in our hearts, minds and souls, we’re wired to thrive, and it’s hard to thrive, or grow, when we’re shut down, practically locked in and almost always freezing. So to have the possibility of hearing that spring will possibly be arriving sooner rather than later, is incredibly encouraging and motivating and keeps us from getting stuck mentally and physically in winter. It reminds us that we won’t always be in this season and that another season, and more chances to grow and connect with nature without any of the cold or white stuff, will arrive.

So if you’re not a huge fan of winter, or you’re in a season of winter in your life, know that there is hope, that God has a bigger plan for your life and that you can and will get through this, and we know this in part because some years ago someone decided to let a groundhog help us know how soon spring is coming.

“When God calls us, it is always to larger life. To inhabit that larger life, we have to let go of some of the outward forms which constrain our lives. We’ve outgrown them. What we’re grown familiar with is simply too narrow, too constraining – and we need to let it go.” Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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.