Easter Today and Tomorrow

Today around the world people will be celebrating Easter.  People who rarely attend church will wake up early, families who don’t always see each other will travel distances, and countless eggs will be hidden and later found (sometimes even days or weeks later).  For people of the Christian faith we celebrate with a specific reason: Jesus is alive.  And more than that, Jesus died, rose again and has taken away the sins of the world.  I’d say those are some really good reasons to celebrate.

As I was thinking about what Easter means, it got me thinking about the word tomorrow.  Easter really is all about the concept of tomorrows, and all the tomorrows we’ll have, because with Easter we’re offered a tomorrow that’s promising, and filled with hope and worth living for.  Before Easter happened we had hope that someday maybe God had a good plan for us, and we worked through each day and the challenges therein clinging to that hope.  But with Easter that promise is partially fulfilled, or at the very least revealed.

So today as we celebrate Easter we’re each given the opportunity to accept that hope and believe in that revelation and resurrection.  To accept that God is with us in the here and now and celebrating with us. That He knows what’s going on in our lives, both good and bad, and that He knows what our future holds too.  We have a choice with how we choose to live our lives today and what we do with the time we’re given while we’re here on earth waiting to be called Home.  For the time being the challenges will remain, but we can choose to focus on the hope of Easter and the promises that Jesus brought to life when we have to face them and the not-so-good days.  I’m celebrating today, are you?

“We are the resurrection people.  We have hope.  We choose joy.  We overcome, always.”
“I want to live well in the here and now.”
Holley Gerth

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.

The Lord is my Strength

I saw another advertising sign this week reminding people that there’s no guarantee that life is easy.  Just because we have faith or beliefs in God, that doesn’t change for us either.  We too are challenged by daily life.  The figureheads of the Bible (Paul/Saul, Abraham, David, Moses, Jesus) didn’t have it easy just because they were who they were.  They were each met with challenges, discouragement, frustrations and, with the exception of Jesus, failures too.  As I was considering this all, the Bible passage that popped into mind was a familiar one, Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.”

We’re not guaranteed smooth sailing to heaven but we are given the gift of God’s open arms and presence with us as we meet our daily challenges and stretch to meet the opportunities.  This week when you’re confronted by situations out of your control read Psalm 23, or another Bible passage that helps encourage you, and take a few deep breaths.  Just because we don’t live an easy life it doesn’t mean we have to make things harder on ourselves.  Take a time out when you need one, send your kids on a play date, make a family outing this weekend for a hike in nature, tell someone you need to think things over before giving an answer you may regret later, choose to make the most of this life and not get sucked into the negativity and pettiness that can be part of our lives. When you take the time to be centered and relaxed and choose to think things through rather than just react, you’ll find you had more strength and courage than you believed.

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?

What Do You See in 2017?

As we work our way into this new year I want to encourage you to make time not just to make resolutions about what you’re going to change or what you want to accomplish with this year, but really to take stock in what’s in your life, what you might be blind to and what you’ve been ignoring, and see what’s really going on around you.  Part of this is about facing the things that have hurt you, the things you may do that hurt others, the things that are holding you back, and the things that you’ve let influence your life for too long.  But the other part of this is about really opening your eyes to see the world around you and see what God wants you to see and what He has created.

In today’s verse God’s promising Abram all the land that He sees around him and letting him know that a thriving, plentiful life for himself and his future generations is all around him.   Would Abram have know that if God hadn’t pointed it out to him or took the time to listen to God and see what God was trying to show him? I think God would have blessed him anyway but Abram would not have known the impact that he would have on future generations without taking the time to look and listen.

I know that we can get really busy in our lives, let things take over, let the concerns of others take priority and forget to take time to really look around and see the world around us, not just as others are telling us it exists, but truly seeing what God wants us to see.  I encourage you to make time this week to really take a good look at your life.  Don’t let any overwhelm you feel discourage you and don’t let the problems you see stop you from trusting that God has a good plan for your life (and can and will forgive you if you repent, and will help you work through the challenges).  And maybe you’ll get lucky like Abram and see some really incredible promises.

“The Lord said to Abram after lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.” Genesis 13:14

Reality Reflection: Winners and Losers

Tuesday this week in the US was election day.  When people woke up on Wednesday morning some were quite surprised with how it turned out and who won.  People were surprised for many reasons including the facts that winner has been someone who has said a lot of controversial things throughout the race and that the winner is not a traditional politician.  As with every race there has to be a winner and a loser, sometimes the underdog wins, sometimes the bad guy wins, and sometimes the winner is the one everyone thought was a shoe-in.  I’m not going to technically reflect on the result today. What I want to talk about is what we can learn from the result of the election, and there are tons of lessons regardless of which side of the very divisive fence you are on.

First and foremost I believe this is a wake-up call. If you listened to the news or lived in the US for the months and years leading up to the election you’re familiar with the unrest that is being experienced  most often as shown with shootings and between the police and minorities.  There have been countless calls for change and change has been slow moving, if it has really even happened. The reality is though that you can’t expect change to happen if you aren’t willing to do anything to change. Sometimes those changes are relatively easy like switching breads because your favorite company went out of business.  Others are much more difficult like learning how to walk again after spinal surgery or after you lost a leg.  The type of change that people have been calling for isn’t the bread type of change, it’s the learning to walk again type of change.  And as the well-known definition of insanity says: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  (While that may work for flipping coins it doesn’t work in the situation of human life and tragedy.)

So this very real wake-up call, that the divisive non-politician would be elected, means that people are really sick of how things have been run for a very long time and are finally willing and able to step up and say so.  Maybe what we had wasn’t so bad and we were getting along OK with it, but I believe that we can do better as a people and as a country. Maybe what we need most is someone with a big set of brass balls to step up and make some changes. No one makes all good changes, but the hope is always that the majority of changes that are considered are given careful thought given to how other people will be affected by the intended result before changes are made, and that decisions aren’t made based on superficial qualities like money, skin color or sex.

The second lesson here is that there’s always a chance you’ll lose or fail.  We don’t like losing or failing especially on such a grand scale or in front of so many people, but sometimes it happens.  When the loss or failure happens it is important to take a step back and see why the loss or failure happened.  Maybe you weren’t the right person for the job, maybe you don’t have all the qualities that are needed, maybe you didn’t bring enough confidence to the table, maybe you were trying so hard to make yourself look good and fit the mold that you missed that the mold was no longer a mold, maybe you didn’t throw enough money in the ring, maybe you didn’t give it enough hours, maybe you didn’t try something new, maybe you secretly needed to fail so you could finally have a day off, maybe you needed to lose because there’s something bigger and better for you to work on, and maybe the reason you lost or failed isn’t apparent today but will be revealed years from now.

I close with a thought that I heard as part of one of the reactions to the election result: whether you agreed with the election result or not there’s nothing we can do about it now, it has been decided.  What we can do though is decide how we will live each and every day.  You still have control over the attitude you live with, the career you pursue, the people you’re in relationship with, what you do when you lose or fail, and how hard you work to accomplish your goals, dreams and purpose in life.  One leader can do a lot of good or a lot of harm, but they are only one person, just like you are only one person and I am only one person. We may not have the platform that the president has, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do our part to make the world a better place, regardless of whatever hate or violence others around the world choose to try to throw around.  Don’t let a single loss or failure determine the rest of your life. Don’t stop working after a single victory.  Each day is a new opportunity to resolve to do your very best and make the very best impact on the world you can.

Thinking about Thanks

Today I’m thinking about being thankful.  It’s funny because sometimes we do have to think about being thankful, but other times it seems natural, like when someone holds the door open for us.  That type of thanks has been (usually) ingrained in us since we were kids, and now it’s second nature to react in that way when events follow a certain progression.  And if people don’t hold the door open or don’t pass the item we asked for or don’t give gifts even though they should have we tend to get grumpy and feel the opposite of thankful.

As much as being thankful is about you and is a personal thing, it’s also something that is all about connection.  When we’re thankful it’s usually because of something someone else did, because of someone else, about something someone made, that someone liked something we did, or that something worked out in our favor.  And, we’re encouraged to express our thanks to others when they do something that has a positive impact on our lives.

But there are times when we’re feeling challenged by the world and not so thankful about how things are going.  It’s during those times that we benefit most from others sharing what they’re thankful for with us.  Hearing that others appreciate who we are or what we bring to the world, or even just that they’re thankful that we exist and are part of their life can be the spark of hope we needed to hear.

So today I encourage you to remember to express your thanks.  Make sure to thank the person who said “bless you” after you sneeze, thank the person holding the door open for you, thank your coworkers for showing up faithfully each day, thank your family for putting up with your quirks, thank the mail person who delivers to you day in and day out, thank your parking guy who is out in the weather, thank the gas guy who works through rain and snow.  Sharing a little thanks will not only brighten their world, it will make you feel good too.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”  Albert Schweitzer