Eyes on Jesus

This Wednesday in the US is See You At the Pole, a day honored by high school and college aged students gathering for prayer around the flag pole at their schools. As adults we can certainly pray for them as they gather, and we can also reflect on the verse they’ll be focusing on: Hebrews 12:2: “We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.”

This is a great reminder verse for all of us, believers of all ages. We all can benefit from the reminder to keep our eyes on Jesus because there are so many distractions, responsibilities and dreams that fill our days and nights, often not specifically focused on Jesus and the work He is doing and has us doing. Having done the human experience Jesus understands some of what we’re going through and trying to manage in our lives today, so we should not be completely discouraged or frustrated by the fact that we get distracted, that’s part of the life we live.

But as people of faith we should always be working to strengthen, grow and share our faith. We should be listening and learning and praying and sharing as we all work through the challenge that is 2017 and beyond. We should be more understanding of the pressures each of us face, and be more encouraging as we try to figure out what it looks like to live a life of faith in 2017.

So as students around the country gather to pray and remind each other to look to Jesus, I encourage you to pray this week for that generation.  Pray that they’ll gain the wisdom, knowledge and experience that the world needs to lead it into the future, that they’ll be good stewards of the world we share, and that they’ll share the love, compassion, consideration and faith the world needs to hear today.

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Celebrating A New Year Everyday

This week is the celebration of Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year. It celebrates something that Christians are familiar with, the creation of Adam and Eve. More than anything else it’s a period of celebration, of joy and of prayers for peace, prosperity and blessing for the new year. While it’s not a day that Christians celebrate, it is one that can teach us a few important lessons about life, faith/spirituality and our journey.

One of the most interesting things to note is that it is a celebration of Adam and Eve. If you remember they’re the people the Bible begins with, the people everyone can trace their roots back to. They’re also the people who connected this world and our lives with sin when they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from. It’s not exactly the best moment in our collective spiritual history is it? And yet we can all agree these people are worth remembering, and their creation worth celebrating.

The other thing that I’m reminded of by the celebration of a new year in September, what is known to many as the 9th month of the given year, is that everyone has different beginnings. If you’re familiar with the business world at all you know that many businesses start their year at some time other than January 1st. Personally, it would drive me nuts to try and balance more than one calendar. But if you really think about it we’ve all got a different calendar we could go by, because very few of us were born on January 1st (technically my year begins in October).

So what can we learn from the celebration of Rosh Hashanah? First and foremost that you don’t have to be perfect, do perfect things or get it right all the time to celebrate. Sometimes the little moments and victories should be celebrated more than the big ones. Second, any day is a great day for a fresh start. Don’t say that you have to wait for 2018 to make changes in your life, you can begin today, or tomorrow, or whenever you feel inspired. Third, if God says that Adam and Eve are worth remembering, even with their really big mistake, I would say that each of us are worth remembering and celebrating as well. Finally, take time today to celebrate, and if you can’t come up with anything to celebrate, you can celebrate that you’re alive and have another day to live, learn, and love.   What will you do with today?

Personal Prayer

In just a few days we’ve got the National Day of Prayer in the US (always the first Thursday of May, this year it’s May 4). Each year it’s a chance for people around the US to come together and pray, or at the very least be more intentional about making (extra) time for personal prayers on Thursday.  Prayer is something we should do on a regular basis, and more than just the popcorn prayers that some or most of us do when things happen or we’re made aware of needs throughout our days. Prayer is something we do individually and as a faith community.

Prayer is an interesting thing because in some ways you could say it’s irrelevant, because God doesn’t need us to tell Him anything because He knows everything, and He can choose to perform a miracle even if we don’t pray about it.  However, throughout the Bible, and especially the New Testament, it’s reminded that God wants us to pray anyway because it’s one of our best opportunities to connect and communicate with Him.  God isn’t the type of god to be all about lording over his people, He’s interested in building personal, intimate relationships with each of us.  It’s pretty awesome that God wants a personal relationship with you and me in my book.

This year the theme and verse for the National Day of Prayer are:

“For Your Great Name’s Sake! Hear Us… Forgive Us…Heal Us!”
“O Lord, Listen! O Lord, Forgive! O Lord, Hear and Act! For Your Sake, O My God…” Daniel 9:19

Daniel was known for his prayer times, prayer times that got him sent to and saved in the lion’s den.  It’s a powerful reminder that even something as simple as praying can have a big impact.  If you’re looking for a miracle in your life or the life of someone else, or are ready to really see the world around you change for the better, one of the things you can do is pray more.

If you’re already planning to attend a National Day of Prayer event this Thursday, great!  If not, the National Day of Prayer website has lots of events listed from around the country you can join.

A Generation Cries Out

This week we have two unique opportunities for students with regards to faith: See You At The Pole on Wednesday, and The Global Week of Student Prayer which began on Sunday.  See You At The Pole has been a practice for the past 25 years and is now done in countries around the world.  This year’s theme is “We Cry Out.”  I think it’s a fitting theme for the things we’re going through as a world, and the pressures that teens are experiencing now more than ever.

Each generation has their own challenges, but thanks to social media and other various kinds of technology around the world it’s easier than ever to know about the challenges that teens today are experiencing, but it’s also made the challenges increase.  For example it’s easier to communicate a secret drug buy with all the apps and text scramblers, and it’s easier than ever to bully or talk bad about someone thanks to social media.  But with that there are also more ways than ever to make your mark on the world, even among all the other people of the world that have great skills, abilities, talents and gifts, so it’s not all bad news for this generation.

Some say that See You At The Pole is more about appearances than actual faith, and that the numbers that show up at the pole don’t reflect or support spirituality all year long among students.  While I know this can be true for some, I think it’s still an important practice, especially if done by people of year-long (and life-long) faith.  I do believe it’s important to stand up and show that you believe at events like See You At The Pole, especially if it’s a practice that stretches your personal comfort zone a bit.  If it’s done by people of faith that actively live their faith, it’s also an opportunity for those who don’t have faith but are dealing with challenges personally or at home to know which of their peers they could turn to for some support and an open ear.

So to follow this year’s theme I encourage you to speak up for those who can’t as well as those who can, speak out against the practices that are harming the world we live in and the people we share it with, and pray for the wisdom to know how to lead as we move forward into the future.  There can only be change if we choose to speak out against the wrong in the world and speak up and make change for a better future.  What’s your cry for this teen generation or even your own?

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.  They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.”  Psalm 24:3-6

When God Takes Too Long

This month one of the topics we’ve been talking about is patience. The big question around patience is always “but what if things are taking too long?”  I agree, sometimes it seems like things are taking too long, especially in our fast paced, fast food, high speed internet world.  While I think by far and large we can slow down with most things, some things definitely benefit from being attended to as quickly as things can be in this day and age, like national disasters, missing people and health issues like Zika.  But waiting 30 minutes to get quality food, especially if you don’t have to cook or grow it yourself seems to seriously pain some people.  I understand we all have things going on in our lives, but sometimes the only thing that can be done is to wait and see.

One of the biggest challenges around waiting is when we’re waiting on God for something.  It can seem like God is taking forever to respond to our prayers, especially since He hears them instantly.  Sometimes God is waiting for us to do something, but all too often it’s just not time.  It’s not easy to wait, especially if you think the answer God is sending is that He’s not sending that miracle cure/job/person/child/freedom or whatever it is you’re praying for or would be an answer to your prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “no.”  Hearing the “no” is almost easier than hearing “wait” because it means we’ve been given an answer and aren’t waiting for things to happen or work in perfect order.

Fortunately or unfortunately, more often it seems like the answer is to wait.  Yes, that gives us hope that a solution is coming, but still challenges us to work on our patience and do what God has called us to do in the meantime.  If you’re in a waiting period, find comfort and hope in the words of Isaiah 60:22: “When the time is right, I, the Lord, will come quickly. I will make these things happen.”  You’ve probably experienced it at least once, that when God gets going, things really move. Sometimes things are revealed over time, other times it’s so fast you almost can’t see it happen.  So if you’re praying and waiting today I encourage you to continue to live your life and to be prepared for things to happen when God’s time is right.  Don’t be discouraged by the “wait”, instead, prepare for what is coming.

Making Time for Prayer

Lately a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot is prayer.  Prayer is this unique communication tool that can bring all different kinds of people together.  It’s been something done by just about every religion throughout history, from the Israelites and Egyptians on to Christians and Muslims today.  I thought I’d start off by sharing a few thoughts on prayer from others:

“Express to God the deep desires of your heart and your real emotions. Tell God of your trouble, even if you have had a hand in bringing it about. Honest prayer is a mark of intimacy. It is a characteristic of a relationship that is authentic and real.”  Br. David Vryhof

“[Church is] where you learn how to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you’re by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.”  Eugene Peterson

“When you pray for anyone, you tend to modify your personal attitude toward them.” Norman Vincent Peale

“Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Prayer is a gift, an opportunity and a challenge.  It can be done in groups or by ourselves.  Prayer can be vocal and it can be silent.  Prayer can be about praising, reflecting or supplication.  We can pray about ourselves and others.  But perhaps most importantly, like any other tool, it must be used to have any effect.  You can’t put it on a shelf, you can’t take it out once a year, you can’t rely on others to do it.  It’s something you need to be doing on a regular basis if you want to see results or be able to call yourself someone who prays.

This week I encourage you to make time for prayer, for focused and specific prayer.  You can continue doing the “popcorn prayers” and other brief thoughts, but set aside time to really work on your prayer life and establishing that relationship between you and God and you, others and God.

A Patriotic Celebration

I’m in a patriotic mood with July 4th, Independence Day, being today in the US.  So it’s got me thinking about the nation we live in, the other nations around the world, the nation of Israel and nations of Jesus’ day, and about the nation that is yet to come when we get to Heaven/when Christ comes back.  With the exception of the nation yet to come, within every nation there are times of unrest and change. I don’t know about you but I’ve been following the news about the UK vote to leave the EU last month and you can’t help but hear about the presidential election we’re gearing up for in November here in the US.  Both are of interest to me because they indicate that people have a desire for something different, that they’re telling the world with their votes that they aren’t happy with how things currently are.  Maybe the changes that follow won’t be great or what people are really expecting, but not only is it important for us to stand up to what we think is wrong, if we can do something about improving our lives and the lives of others, we should!

What does Independence Day mean to you?  Does it remind you of the history lessons you heard years ago about the founding of the nation? Does it make you say prayers of thanksgiving for the brave people who chose to leave their homes and travel by boat to this new land?  Does it make you think about what the nation could become?  Does it make you think about and pray for the leaders that are in charge?  Are you flying a flag at your house, putting a poppy in your car or otherwise visibly displaying your patriotism?  We have this holiday for a reason: to remind us of where we’ve come from and to motivate us to make a better future.

What does Independence Day mean to us as people of faith?  It’s also a call to remember the spiritual leaders who have come before us and have made an impact on our lives.  Throughout the Bible God reminds us to celebrate Him, the good things He does for us, the great world He created for us, and each other and the good things we do.  He didn’t create us to be alone, nor to ignore each other.  Instead we’re to work together, live together, partner together and celebrate together.  What will you celebrate today?

“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.”  1 Chronicles 16:8