30 Days of Thanksgiving: God is gracious

I’m amazed that God still calls us His children, even after all the ways that we screw things up or don’t follow through in the right ways. It’s an honor and privilege to be called His children, one I think we forget about from time to time because we don’t have a relationship with God exactly like we do with most of the important people in our lives. Most of them we see on a regular basis or talk to on the phone or over Skype or something similar where we see them. Even long distance relationships aren’t the same as the relationship we have with God.

But God never forgets us, He continues to be giving towards us and one of the most important things is that He gracious and forgiving of us. God doesn’t want us to sin but knows that’s part of our human experience that we’re (hopefully) working on getting better at. It can’t be easy for God to forgive us as often as He does for some of us, but it has to be rewarding when He sees we’ve learned our lesson and don’t repeat the same mistake again.

While we shouldn’t enjoy trying God’s patience, and it’s humbling to realize exactly how patient He is with us, God’s patience is something I’m very thankful for. It’s a good lesson for us to learn, that if He can be that patient with us, surely we can be a little more patient with and forgiving towards the people we interact with on a daily basis.

If you’ve been trying of God’s patience lately I encourage you to find the motivation in you this holiday season to really step up and work on yourself.  Holidays are a time for celebration, and there’s no better reason to celebrate than personal growth and a closer and healthier relationship with God.

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Reminders from God

Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we forget to stop and take a moment, or we’re so focused on one direction that we can’t see the way God is trying to lead us.  Let’s take a look at some of the reminders in the Bible:

There’s a lot we can’t see, and a lot to hope for:
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  Hebrews 11:1

Use your words wisely:
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”  Proverbs 15:1

Live with joy:
“I will be filled with joy because of you.  I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.”  Psalm 9:2

If God can forgive and be merciful, can’t we?:
“But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.”  Nehemiah 9:7b

God saves us, leads us and teaches us:
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.”  Psalm 25:5

God is generous, gracious, and loving:
“Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.”  1 Timothy 1:14

We belong to God, and are to worship Him:
“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship…”  Acts 27:23 ESV

Choose patience:
“Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.”  Ecclesiastes 7:8

Don’t give up:
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”  Philippians 3:14

Each of our days include thousands of interactions, experiences and relationships, each with the potential to teach us something, help us heal in some way, make us a better person, put us in a position to help someone else, or reveal another aspect of who God is to us and who we are to Him.  It’s up to us to be open to where life takes us and where God sends us, and to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  What has God shared with you recently?

How Do You Love?

Today, thinking about Valentine’s Day next week I thought we’d talk about love, and how we can love. Each of us responds to love in different ways and needs different kinds of love to feel loved. But I think there are some universal truths to how we love that are the same for everyone.

Love passionately:
Before you say that this isn’t a way you love, I do belive that there are degrees of passion. Sometimes passion is a run-to-the-other-person-and-leap-into-their-arms passion, sometimes it’s that overwhelming, unbearably strong feeling of love that wells up in you when you see them. Passion doesn’t have to be loud or featuring over-the-top displays, you can see the passion between two senior citizens who have been together for more than half a century when they sit and look at each other. Passion is a feeling, not just an action or reaction, one that sometimes bubbles up to be seen and other times is just a deep and enduring connection.

Love generously:
Just about everyone has been hurt by love before, but I still believe that we should be giving when it comes to love. I haven’t ever been sorry that I was generous when it came to those I loved, even if the love wasn’t returned as generously as it was shared. And I think most of us who have relationships that have ended in divorce or separation or that didn’t last question if we had just given a little more effort to the relationship a little sooner if it would have survived or even thrived.  There’s such a thing as working too much, but I’ve never heard of anyone loving too much.

Love patiently:
Of the 3 we’re talking about today, this is one of the more challenging truths, but also one of the truths that can bring you the biggest victories with love. So much of our lives today are lived in the fast lane that we don’t always take the time to develop things as they should or to hang in there long enough for things to work out. You can love a pet or person for the few hours, days or years you have with them, if they have a terminal illness or you’re only with them for a short time (think about visiting a shelter to love on some pets waiting for their forever homes). Or you may be blessed with many years to love someone, years of easy love and years of love that will take a little more effort and waiting on your part. If it’s true love, it’s worth the deep breaths and repeated texts and letting the other person do things at their own pace.

Do you need to work on how you love your partner (or those around you)? How will you choose to grow in love this Valentine’s Day?

Let’s Be More This Year

I was thinking today about what would make this year better or how to make this year better, avoiding the usual ‘lose weight’ and ‘set goals’ comments you’ll hear at this time of the year. They are great things to think about, but both are kind of vague and often feel like a losing battle or constant tug-of-war. So I thought about what would make my life better this year and what would make the world around me a little (or a lot) better, and is doable for everyone to see victories, and here’s what I came up with:

Be more patient-even just taking an extra 20 seconds to park the car, drive to a destination, meet with someone, listen to my partner, do the job right, or not rush the results can make a big difference to yourself and someone else.

Listen more-we’ve gotten really good at talking and we’ve got more ways than ever to express ourselves, which is great. But if we listened more we’d have fewer issues, better understand each other and be able to make more happen.

Enjoy more-we’re so blessed to be in the world at this time, there are so many great opportunities and so many ways to experience the world. In line with the first idea it’s about more than trying to cram all the stuff you can into this life, but about taking time to savor and appreciate.

Have a better attitude-we can’t avoid all the issues in the world or the fact that things will go wrong, but I think we can learn to approach life better and treat each other better, or at least reserve judgments on each other until the evidence has really proven guilt, and be willing to forgive and let people make a new start.

Take action-dreams and ideas are great, but they can’t be successful if we don’t make a plan and put it into action to fulfill the dreams and make the ideas turn into reality. If we worked to take just one more action each day we’d accomplish more this year than possibly in years past.

Love more-I don’t know anyone who puts on their ‘to do’ list to hate more people, and yet that’s how it seems to go. Each year we’re faced with more examples of people hurting others in a variety of ways, some that come to light from years past and some that happen as the year continues. Loving doesn’t mean you have to like or appreciate everything about someone but it means that you’re willing to see the person for more than your personal opinions or preferences or what you might see as flaws.

What are you going to do or be this year?

Listening for Encouragement

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Bible passages. Many people hear it in church, but it’s also often shared at funerals or with those who are going through a challenging time in their lives. In some ways it reminds me of the Serenity Prayer which is used by countless self-help programs and groups. One of the things I love about Psalm 23 is that it brings us through the journey of our lives in just 6 short verses, talking about both high points and low points that we go through.

As I was thinking about this chapter and about our topic of the month I was reminded that sometimes what we need is to hear something as simple as Psalm 23 to find the peace, hope, encouragement, strength and perseverance to make it through another day. It’s not about having all the answers, having tons of money, having lots of friends, being well-known, or not having any issues or challenge or problems in life. That’s not the story of Faith or the Bible, despite what some people may say.

Throughout the Bible we’re reminded that there will be challenges we face and there is no guarantee of a great life on earth. However, we are assured if we’re people of faith that God will go with us through all challenges we face and that we’ve got the hope of heaven to look forward to because Jesus died for our sins and rose again. Earth is a chance for us to learn from the challenges we face, to
explore our individuality, to develop the gifts God has given each of us, to encourage each other, and to pave a better way for the next generation. Perfection isn’t expected or the goal on earth, instead it’s to live a life worthy of the God you believe in.

If you’re going through a challenging time in your life, I encourage you to print out copies of Psalm 23 and maybe even the Serenity Prayer to post in locations around your home, workplace, and car and anywhere else you go frequently. Don’t give up because it seems like the darkness is lasting for so long or the mountain seems too high. Rely on God to bring you through, and don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. After all, Jesus didn’t do His years of ministry on earth alone, He had men who worked closely with Him and women that He taught and trusted too.

The Disservice of Rushing

Lately I’ve been thinking (again) about the rush that most of us live our lives being and doing. We’re so busy, trying to pack something into every second it seems. And in some ways I can understand because there’s a lot of life to be lived and lots of things to do and we’ll never be able to complete them all in our (short) life time. But I think that pressure and decision to say yes to so many things has had a negative impact on our relationships. I don’t think that we take the time often enough to really think about what we say or how we talk to people. Sometimes we’re so focused on being right or doing something our way that we’re not able to see the value in doing it another way, and we’re certainly not willing to admit that we don’t know everything.

I believe we can all learn something from everyone on the planet. Maybe it’s just one or two things, but those things can have great value. But when we go into a conversation or relationship with our minds already made up in how a conversation will go or how smart we are (and they’re not) or making a decision without really listening or getting all the facts, it’s not only hurtful to them, but can have a negative impact on us as well.

Just because someone is younger than you, is older than you, is from another country, went through a divorce, went through bankruptcy, doesn’t like pets, or likes your favorite sports team’s biggest rivals doesn’t mean that they can’t have good ideas, can’t teach you something and aren’t worth a few minutes of your time really listening to what they have to say. The same is true for advice, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad or because it costs a lot it’s good.

I don’t think it’s (just) about trying to pack every minute of every day full, it’s about making sure to use your time wisely and make the most of your life. Some of the best moments of your life will be with other people. Some of those great moments will only happen if you slow down and take the time to meet someone new, take the time to build up existing relationships or make amends in one that you’ve damaged. I encourage you to take time to slow down this weekend and really watch where you’re going, listen to the full explanation or conversation before making decisions, and suspend judgment a bit longer than you do normally. What will you experience with an open mind this weekend?

Working on Wait

Today in some religious circles is the day known as Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified on the cross.  It’s a difficult day for us to think about, and it was a difficult thing for the people Jesus lived with to witness, and even more difficult for Jesus who was human to experience.  He felt what we would feel if we were crucified, He didn’t hide from the pain or use his powers as the Son of God to deflect or bypass it.  From all the records we know it was a brutal experience, which was kind of the point.  But Jesus knew what He was getting into going in because He’s Gods’ Son, and He also knew what was yet to come: the Resurrection and Easter Sunday.

We don’t always know what the end result will be in situations in our lives.  Sometimes we hope that the end we want is what will happen, sometimes we just hope for some kind of good result, other times we’re resigned to what is most likely to come.  There will always be a result, sometimes it will be what we want or hope for, other times it’s not.  But what we have to do is what Jesus did for 3 days: wait.

It’s not easy to wait, especially when we’re anticipating good things like Easter baskets or Christmas morning.  It’s also hard to wait when we know we’re faced with a not so good ending like the death of a loved one from a disease or the loss of our job when a company takes ours the one we work for.  In our fast paced world we like when things move at the speed of the internet or a fast food restaurant.  One of the reasons we wait is because while we could have a result quicker, sometimes to get to the best result it takes more time.  We’ve managed to do a lot to make things work better and happen faster in the world with all of our innovations, but two of the things we haven’t affected yet is the ability to affect the days and the time.  We’re still bound by the rules of the universe when it comes to them.

But there’s no rule that says you have to be miserable while you wait or not work towards good outcomes even if the only likely result that can occur is not a happy one. But we can make all the moments up to and following that event good ones.  I think one of the things that helped Jesus through His suffering was knowing what was on the other side of it.  We may not know what’s on the other side of our pains and life challenges, but we can certainly have the attitude that whatever it is, we’ll be able to work through it with God’s help and the help of the people in our lives.