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.

Will You Step Up?

Monday we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King was best known for his speech at the March on Washington in 1963 and his work for the Civil Rights campaign.  What not everyone remembers is that he grew up in the church and was an American Baptist minister.  He never gave up on his faith through his short life, and spoke at his church a few months before his death.  Faith was important to him and he was very traditional in some of his beliefs and often referred to his faith during speeches.

Today I want to look at one of the more spiritual things he talked about.  He said (referring to the Good Samaritan Bible story):

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”

It’s a question that I think Dr. King himself asked throughout his life and work with the Civil Rights movement, and it’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.  If we choose not to get involved what will happen?  I know that sometimes it seems like we’re being asked to do everything and no one else is stepping up.  We get tired of that.  We get tired of feeling like we’re the only one doing anything.  But I think two of the reasons that many people don’t step up include that they don’t want to do it alone and don’t feel they have a personal stake in the issue.  However I believe that what affects some of us will soon affect many of us.

As Dr. King and his commitment to human rights is remembered this week I encourage you to think of others and some of the causes you can support.  Yes, you may have to put forward some effort or resources, but remember back to the last person you helped that was really grateful and you could see the benefit of what you did for them.  That’s the feeling I want you to remember the next time you’re asked to help someone or with something.

The New Year Before Us

Today I thought the best way to start our year off was with some words of hope, wisdom and encouragement from the Bible and wise spiritual leaders.

“None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed.  Everything was fulfilled.”  Joshua 21:45

“Be still and know that I am God. Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find rest and refreshment from this busy world.”  Loyola Press

“He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.”  Acts 9:18-19

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Let’s live like we believe God is for us.”  Melinda Mattson

“Let them all praise the name of the Eternal! For His name stands alone above all others. His glory shines greater than anything above or below.”  Psalm 148:13

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“When we take delight we gain the very thing that was our goal all along.”  Stephanie Bryant

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  Genesis 18:14

As we start this new year and reflect on the one that has just ended I’m reminded by these words and thoughts that not every year is a great one, not every year is one of forward progress, and not every year is one that produces tangible results.   Some years are years of personal reflection, tearing down, and rebuilding.  These tend to be years that you feel really beat up by at the end and even though some really good things may have been started, you’re still a long way from seeing results yet.  But regardless of what type of year last year was or this year will be for you, we can depend on God to be there with us and guide us through it.

I encourage you to choose to look at the year ahead with a positive attitude and confidence that it will be a good year in one way or another.  Don’t let your doubts, failures or fears rule your life.  Instead trust that God will go with you through it and you will find reasons to celebrate in 2017.

Christmas Carol Classics: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

This is the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (you can listen to it here).  It is based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (you can read the poem here).  It’s a song that talks about the divide in the world and how there’s so much unhappiness and hatred in the world that it almost seems like a joke when the cheerful bells play and speak of peace.  But the longer Longfellow listened to the bells the more he was reminded of the hope that they sound and the promise of peace one day that believers have in God.

We struggle with the concept of peace still over 200 years later. We don’t have peace on earth with all men, we’re still learning how to get along with each other.  The song ends with a reminder that if we want peace it’s our job to spread it.  Just like the bells are most enjoyable when they’re heard, so too is the story of peace.  How will you share peace today?

Celebrating the Saints

Today, November 1 is known as All Saints Day in some religious circles.  Technically, “saints” are all those who have attained heaven.  However, most people traditionally associate this day with remembering those officially declared as Saints (St. Patrick, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux etc.).  I think that this is an important day to recognize because the Spiritual Leaders, the people who are officially Sainted, are those who we should be looking to for guidance and wisdom about how to live our lives and grow our faith.

You may think that there isn’t a lot of point to talking about the same people all the time, whether we’re talking about Saints or people from the Bible like Abraham, David and Paul.  Or that because we spend so much time talking about them we don’t take the time to talk about the  things that the regular people are doing with their faith like you and me.  I get that, and I agree that we don’t take time to recognize the faith of the individual as we should, and sometimes feel that we’re so busy putting spiritual leaders on pedestals and figure that we could never measure up, which makes us forget that they’re human just like us.

But the simple fact is the faith of the world is built on people both large and small, people who have world-wide stages, and those who just share their faith with a few.  Yes, we’re all called to spread the word about God to the nations, but we’re not all called to do it in the same way.  We each do things differently and while we’re not all created to be a “Spiritual Leader,” we are all called to use the different gifts and talents God has given us to spread the word in our own way.

Everyone needs guidance, and the Spiritual Leaders like the Saints are there to give us the strength, courage and guidance to know how to handle situations.  Don’t be afraid to look to those who have more wisdom and experience, instead celebrate that they were given that gift, that responsibility, and take the opportunity to learn from them rather than rejecting them because they are too well known or you figure you’ve heard it all before.

Faith in Fasting

This past Monday Ramadan started. It’s not a holiday I participate in, but it is one that many people around the world care about. Ramadan is a month of fasting by Muslims to celebrate, remember and honor the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.  Today though I wanted to talk a bit about the topic of fasting and what it says about Ramadan as well as the other times that people may fast.

Let’s talk about what this type of fasting is all about. It’s really a religious commitment to purify yourself, remember the founders of your faith, return to spiritual beginnings, ask for answers or intervention about something, ask for forgiveness and/or shake off the evil that may have become part of your life. Most spiritual traditions include fasting in one way or another. Depriving yourself of food, sleep, and even sometimes drink can be an effective way of helping you refocus and get reconnected spiritually in a very raw way that isn’t usually something you experience.  Other types of fasting can include taking a technology fast, chocolate fast or other type of fast, also with the goal of finding freedom, focus, or practicing sacrifice.

I’ve mentioned fasting before in talking about Ash Wednesday, but it’s not something I talk about much, nor is it something we do as much as maybe we should. What stood out to me as I was thinking about Ramadan is that Muslims give up a LOT to fast for this holiday. They fast for a whole month and not just the food as is typical of most fasting practices, but drinks as well, and they totally alter their days to partake of food before and after the daylight hours.  It shows true commitment and even gratitude towards Muhammad and their faith, but not in a way that would harm or be disrespectful to others, it’s a commitment they keep in and of themselves.

What about you?  When was the last time you made a sacrifice like that?  Maybe you didn’t think about it as a sacrifice or didn’t realize what a big sacrifice it was until you were involved in it.  Are you as committed to things in your life as the Muslims are to honoring the Quran and Muhammad?  What do you value enough in your life, physical or spiritual, that you would make such a life change for?  If there is something that is that important to you, make sure to express your gratitude today and give something back too.