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.

Light and Love for Lent

This week we begin Lent, a serious and somber time in the Christian calendar. There are two times during the year that we’re given the opportunity and strongly encouraged to spend more than just Sundays thinking about our faith and spending more time with God, and that’s Advent and Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and finally Easter Sunday. Unlike with Advent which is a time of anticipation building up to Christmas, Lent is a time of serious, honest and deeper reflection, taking time to think about our lives and why Jesus went to the cross. Yes, after Good Friday is Easter Sunday, a great day of celebration, but you can’t get to Easter without going through the days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday first.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about Jesus’ life and what Lent means to us as people of faith, and hopefully you’ll be joining me in doing some extra Bible reading and spiritual study as well. So as I was thinking about what to write today before Lent begins officially on Wednesday and we get into that very contemplative time, I thought back on what this month has been all about and that would be love and the darkness of winter.

I find it interesting that Lent begins when we’re still typically caught in winter’s grasp: fighting to stay warm, keep our streets safe and get where we’re going when we need to be there in conjunction with dealing with what is often the wrath of mother nature with winter winds and snow.  Lent is in some ways a continuation of winter, and the time of taking a step back from the way we live during the other half of the year.  But Lent also begins when we’re seeing one of the earliest signs of spring and of leaving winter and that would be that it’s brighter earlier and for longer each day.

Which brought me to the question that many people raise: why do we have such a focus on the cross? Yes, it’s the best and worst day of our faith lives, that Jesus had to die, but He did it so we would be free and able to enter Heaven one day. So maybe rather than just letting winter continue with our serious contemplations during Lent, maybe we need to let a little more light and love shine than we might normally do outside of February and Valentine’s Day? After all, as Jesus said in John 8: “”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.””

Yes, Lent should be a serious time of study and reflection, but that doesn’t mean we have to ignore the fact that Easter is on the way and we do in fact have hope thanks to the baby born some 2000 years ago in a manger. Will you share a little light and love with the world today?

Open to Love

Today I want to reflect on two verses/passages that you may have heard shared on the radio or read in a recent email or heard in a sermon about love:

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5
Love isn’t something everyone is comfortable with, and many people have been hurt by what was supposed to be love. If love is challenging for you, this is a great place to start with learning what love is, healing your relationship with love, and experiencing what it’s like to be loved. God has chosen to love us, and never gives up on us even when we make silly mistakes or big failures. God teaches us through moments of peace, patience, rescue, comfort, strength, and presence what love really is, how to have a healthy relationship and about building trust with each experience and connection.

“”If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” ” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
This is one of the iconic love Bible passages, and I think it shares an important reminder for us as we look to the day focused all about love and face the daily stresses that often are present with love. This passage definitely talks about how important love is, but it talks about love as a partner with every other aspect of life and faith. Love works best when we weave it into all other aspects of our lives, when we allow it to add some flavor and support to our lives, and when we invite it to not take over, but be part of our lives.

This Valentine’s Day I would encourage you to be open to seeing or experiencing love from a perspective you haven’t in the past. Be open to learning about your partner and opening a new chapter of your relationship, be open to finding new ways to incorporate love into your life, and be open to hearing what others and God love about you.

Reality Reflection: Only One Day for Love

In this month of love I’m saddened by how many reminders we’re getting of just how fragile life is. There’s the virus that countries around the world are now dealing with and is adding to the illnesses and things like flu that many deal with in this time of year, there’s the plane crashes that have taken the lives of other people, and then there’s the regular and irregular weather we’re dealing with and hurts not only property but people and animals as well. It’s been just reminder after reminder that it’s so important to make your moments count, invest in what really matters to you, and let the people you love know that you love them.

We only devote one day each year to remembering love. We’ve got several devoted to the military and our country, several that are faith based, some that are cultural, and several that are family based, but only one day that focuses on love, and that day isn’t always met with the best reaction. Why don’t we celebrate love like we should?

Over the years I think we’ve been shamed so frequently when it comes to love that we struggle to give love the place in our lives that it should have, both with regard to loving ourselves and loving others. Love can be this incredibly powerful aspect of our lives and relationships, but like many other things like exercise and eating, we have to actively decide that we’re going to let love have a role in our lives. It can be scary, it can be a rough ride, there will be failures and mistakes, but it can also be instrumental in creating some of the best moments and experiences of our lives.

Life is better with love in it, it’s that simple. Don’t let this Valentine’s Day pass without sharing some love with the people that are important to you, from your neighbors to your customers, to your fans, to your family, to your significant other, and to yourself as well.

That’s Not Love

I want to start our month of love discussions in a bit of an odd place, and that’s with a verse in Judges from the story of Samson and Delilah, one of the many dramatic relationship stories in the Bible.  Judges 16:15 (CEV) says “”Samson,” Delilah said, “you claim to love me, but you don’t mean it! You’ve made me look like a fool three times now, and you still haven’t told me why you are so strong.”” What caught my attention was a phrase that we sometimes hear from couples that really aren’t healthy together, “you claim to love me…,” and reminded me of another similar phrase: “If you loved me…”

Yes, the Bible says things like ‘if you love God, you’ll love others’, but that’s almost never the way that we use those phrases. The way these phrases are typically used is with something deceptive or dangerous or hurtful as the action or thought that follows.  They’re not words that people who truly love each other say to each other. That’s not what love is about. Love isn’t manipulative or an excuse. Love should support, encourage, reassure and bring forth life and hope.

So if you’re not feeling the love this month, don’t be ashamed to back away from it and focus on other aspects of your life. Don’t force yourself to be in a relationship just because everyone else around you seems to be. Also don’t let anyone tell you that something negative or hurtful is what love is about, because it isn’t. And if you’re feeling a little confused or just would prefer to make this month of love about the love between you and God, take time to review what the Bible says love is supposed to be and what Jesus shows love to be, there are hundreds of references and insights into what love is according to God to learn from.

Songs of the Season: The 12 Days of Christmas

Today’s song inspiration for the season is a popular one, one that’s had different versions created, but the original has lasted.  It’s the 12 Days of Christmas, and it’s a song about the 12 gifts that a gentleman gave to his true love.  The 12 gifts were:

1 partridge in a pear tree
2 turtle doves
3 French hens
4 calling birds
5 gold rings
6 geese a-laying
7 swans a-swimming
8 maids a-milking
9 ladies dancing
10 lords a-leaping
11 pipers piping
12 drummers drumming

This song can teach us many things.  It’s one I can hear again and again because it’s so different from what we hear in all songs written today, and everyone sings it a little differently, even if the words are the same.  I also am amazed by it because I don’t know who came up with the idea that these were the best gifts to give, even for the years of the late 1700’s when it was originally written.

This song also can say a lot about the holiday season we’re in.  Yes, it’s a Christmas song, “Christmas” is in the first line of the song.  But Christmas is just one day according to the calendar (even if different countries celebrate it on different days).  The idea of giving gifts over 12 days is a reminder that we don’t have to cram all of our celebrating into one day, and that it’s OK to celebrate for many days this month.  I also see a connection between it and Hanukkah, because it’s celebrated over 8 days each year, making this song a reminder that those who celebrate Christmas aren’t alone in celebrating this time of year, unlike during other holidays.

The song also says a lot about relationships.  I love the idea that this person was so in love with their true love that they wanted to give 12 expensive gifts.  These gifts may have cost over $10,000 in the late 1700’s, and today they cost over $30,000.  Most of us don’t spend that much on our significant others, but everyone enjoys getting more than one gift (even if that one gift is very special), so the idea of 12 gifts is certainly a simple ballpark to plan around.

Finally, in line with relationships, the song is a reminder that this season we’re in and we finish each year with is all about love.  It’s an opportunity to show love through gathering together, giving gifts, decorating together, making memories together and also donating of our time and resources to those who are less fortunate.

What would your 12 gifts that you would give to your true love be?

Reality Reflection: Love and Kindness

It’s been a rough week for many people. I found out someone I greatly respected passed away recently, my partner got some bad news about his knee, we remembered another 9/11, the Amazon burned, and more lives were lost to hatred or disregard. The other day my partner had on some show that featured Dr. Phil as a guest and he questioned where the humanity has gone, how we used to be able to sit down and talk things through, and now it seems like so many people wait until they’re hitting rock bottom before they’re asking for help or choosing violence over talking. I can’t help but agree, and it’s something I frequently emphasize to my business clients: the importance of remembering we’re all people, humans with feelings and needs and people they care about.

It’s weeks like these that I’m reminded of the importance of the other people that we share this world with. Of taking time to celebrate being alive and surviving through another day. Of sharing this world with amazing creatures like koalas, dogs, turtles and tigers. Of building amazing structures and infrastructure, some that last thousands of years.

It’s so simple and yet we seem to screw it up on a regular basis. None of us are perfect, so why aren’t we able to give each other more flexibility and forgiveness? Why aren’t more of us standing for rebuilding and recovery instead of fighting and defending our little corner of the universe? Why aren’t we taking the time to ask questions instead of just judging or hating? Many have gone through more tragedy in their short lives than anyone should, I’d say it’s past time to circle back to being a community.

“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” Barbara De Angelis