A Summer of Growth

Summer is one of my favorite seasons. It’s a season so full of life and living that it just makes me happy. As I was thinking about the summer growing season of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as Father’s Day this past Sunday in the USA, it got me thinking about how things grow. The term growth in and of itself implies that you start with something smaller than you end up with. If we’re talking about change it could be a transformation because of going from one thing to another, but that doesn’t mean that the size of something has to change. But with growth it is about size and starting with something smaller than you’re going to end up with.

People grow, plants grow, and animals grow, and the one thing that we all have in common is that we start small. No matter how big the tree gets, how big the dog is, or how tall the human is, each one of them started as a very small seed. If you think about companies like Amazon, Walmart and Verizon, they didn’t start as the giants they are, they started as little ideas with a person or group of people. Buildings don’t appear fully built, they start as boards, beams and pieces.

God doesn’t expect you and I to be the person we’re meant to be instantly, He knows there is a growing process we go through in our lives. The thing about growth is that even if it’s going very slowly it continues. Sometimes pruning is necessary to ensure that growth continues, but either you’re growing or you’re dying. I don’t know about you but I’m not ready to die yet.

But the reminder here today is that everyone starts somewhere. The smartest people in the world didn’t start off that way, they started off just like you and I. The people who become presidents and cure sicknesses started off just like you and I. You don’t have to be anyone but who you are at this moment. The important question is what you’re going to do with your next few moments and where you’re growing and going from here.  How will you grow this summer?

Anointed By God

If you’ve read through the Bible or attended church after the celebration of Easter, you’ve probably heard about the event called Pentecost. It’s written about in the book of Acts in the New Testament (along with a bunch of other really culture-shifting events). During Pentecost “all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:1b-4a). The whole event was pretty fantastic and hard to believe by those who didn’t witness it, except those who were anointed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost were, in this specific situation, able to speak in different languages, languages they didn’t previously speak, as evidence of the anointing.

As I mentioned the Book of Acts is filled with stories like this one. From real life interactions with Jesus after He ascended to being brought back to life to shipwrecks and snake bites the book of Acts has lots of crazy stories that line up very well with seeing tongues of fire land on people’s heads. But it’s also got some great insight into what the early church was all about: faith, community, and sharing the Good News. The good news is that there are many churches alive and well today who have taken on those core aspects and continued them today.

Pentecost was an important and amazing event, but what about the rest of us? We aren’t exactly anticipating a Pentecost in 2017, and I haven’t heard of anyone experiencing exactly what the Early Church did back on that first Pentecost since then. First, it’s not necessarily something we should be looking to have happen. Second, as important as the first Pentecost was, there rest of Acts 2 tells us that they (the Early Church) added to their numbers daily. Those people weren’t experiencing tongues of fire, they were just interacting with people who believed in community and the Good News. We don’t need tongues of fire to make us believers or give us any special abilities. The only thing we need is belief in Jesus and the willingness to do His work on Earth and share about Him with others (using words when necessary). You don’t need tongues of fire to know that God has a plan for your life, or to have a calling and mission for Him.  So as you finish up this week I encourage you to look for ways that God is showing up in your life (they may be seemingly ordinary), how He may be leading you to build community and who in your life needs to hear about Him. What will God show you?

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?