Taking Time to Listen

Given the events of the last week as well as the big meeting between two world powers happening somewhere half way around the world, today I thought we’d take a look at the words of Proverbs 8:33: “Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.”

My heart hurts whenever someone chooses to end their life before God has determined it’s their time. The world lost two public figures last week to suicide, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. While we may never know what truly caused them to make that decision, many who choose suicide do so because they don’t have hope, don’t believe life could get better, don’t feel heard or have been so beaten down they can’t take it anymore. Statistics show that on average over 100 people choose suicide each day, which is a really scary number, and means there are thousands of hurting families out there.

The Bible teaches us that we should love our neighbors, that we should be giving and support each other, that we should look out for women and children, to trust that the God who knows the petals on a flower and all the creatures of the sea could look out for the little details of our lives, and that God has a plan for good for our lives. But these are not assurances that everyone knows because not everyone knows the Bible.

These aren’t just spiritual messages, they’re life messages. Anyone can love, listen and be compassionate, regardless of race, sex, age, location, or language. Are you taking the time to listen to the people in your life? To the ways they’re trying to help you and things they’re trying to tell you? I encourage you to choose love and compassion this week, to stop and listen when people speak, to make time to listen to what God is trying to tell you, and make time for those who are most important to you.

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Reality Reflection: The Legacy of Ireland

Today we’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, honoring the man who was later honored with the title of Saint, as well as remembering and celebrating all things Irish. As I’ve been enjoying learning more about the world of Ireland, celebrating my Irish heritage and appreciating the beautiful products they create, I have been reminded time and again about something that isn’t really unique to the Irish but is part of who they are: history, legends and lore. Whether you believe in faeries, pots of gold, leprechauns, luck or not, these stories have been passed down through the generations, and are a big part of the culture. Also woven in with the legends and lore are symbols that are iconically Irish like the Claddagh, trinity knot, and many knitted patterns like the basket, honeybee and cable stitch.

These symbols may not be only found in Irish culture and products, but all of them have a story connecting back to Irish history that is uniquely Irish and has remained tied in to Irish beliefs and lifestyles. For example the Claddagh is based in a story of a man who was kidnapped before he was to marry, learned to create jewelry while away from his bride-to-be and came up with the Claddagh design and presented her with that ring when he returned to her and they were married. Many other connections tie in with the land and work that people do like fishing, bee keeping, and basket weaving. And we can’t forget the clover leaf, which became an icon when St. Patrick used it to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity when he came to Ireland.

I think these stories, icons, symbols and legends do more than make Ireland a place tourists visit. I think in many ways the stories and rich history has given the Irish a leg up in life where the history of some other places and cultures has been a point of contention. The joy of finding 4 leaf clovers, looking for magical fairies and pots of gold, and believing in love that lasts has taught many Irish to have a better outlook on life, to respect each other more and have more faith. That doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges, bad days and problems, it means generally they’ve learned how to bounce back better and to keep the faith. It makes me very proud to be part Irish.

What do you appreciate about the Irish, or about your heritage?

Celebrating St. Patrick

Saturday in the US (and in Ireland) we’ve celebrated St. Patrick‘s Day.  While many people celebrate it by drinking, eating and wearing green, the holiday itself is named for a Saint.  So I thought we’d take a look at who the individual was and why he’s honored on this holiday.

He, Patrick, was a missionary back in the 5th century to Ireland.  He is one of the primary saints of Ireland and many credit him as having brought Christianity to Ireland.  Of all the holidays that are celebrated in the US today, St. Patrick is one of the few people that a holiday is named for specifically, and not as part of a larger celebration or remembrance.

I don’t think it ruins the memory or honoring of St. Patrick to have a drink and wear a little green, just like decorating a tree, having cookies or hunting for eggs doesn’t hurt Jesus or the true meaning of Christmas/Easter.  One of the reasons we celebrate St. Patrick is to honor our heritage if we’re Irish, and to honor and remember our heritage in general.  St. Patrick’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate whatever heritage you have, and especially to pass traditions, stories and icons on to the next generation so they’re not lost.

But it is also important to take time to remember what the stories of Jesus and St. Patrick are all about: their faith.  Both men are known because they chose to step up for their faith and the faith of countless others.  It’s not necessary to go to another country and share your faith like St. Patrick did, that’s just one way to do it.  You can practice the countless much smaller but not less significant examples of faith that Jesus showed through every kind word, loving touch, and prayer you pray.

How will your faith and heritage live today?

A Fresh Take on Lent

This week Wednesday was Ash Wednesday which signified the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is approximately 6 weeks of reflection that begin on Ash Wednesday and end right before Easter Sunday. The church I grew up in didn’t really have a heavy focus on the religious observance of Lent, I can’t remember going to church on Wednesday to recieve ashes or really being instructed to give something up for this season.

As I alluded to, Ash Wednesday is named as such because ashes are placed on the forehead of believers. Today as I was watching TV I saw one of the hosts on TV had ashes on her forehead, and while I may not have done it as a child I have occasionally attended Ash Wednesday services as an adult. One thing that I was reflecting again on today is about how visible Ash Wednesday participation makes people and how some people aren’t that visible in their spiritual practices. For some people their faith is a very personal thing, and while they do follow the Great Commission, they don’t typically broadcast their faith to the rest of the world.

As I was reflecting on Ash Wednesday and Lent, one of the devotional emails I opened today reminded me about an aspect of Lent that isn’t frequently discussed. The majority of the time I hear Lent talked about people are discussing what they’re giving up or what they’re abstaining of for the 6 weeks. However, that’s not the only way that you can practice Lent, the other option would be to give time to those who are less fortunate. I absolutely grew up giving my time to others, that’s something I’m very familiar with. I understand the very spiritual idea of giving something up, but I feel like so many more people would participate and there would be so much less grief about it if people chose to donate their time instead of giving something up.

If you’ve wanted to participate in Lent or want to do some deeper reflections leading up to Easter, but haven’t been able to give something up (or don’t really want to), my encouragement to you would be to find a way you can give back. There are tons of people in communities around the country and world who would benefit from support and help, including the areas that were hit hard by hurricanes in the past few months. Will you be observing Lent this year, and if so how will you be participating?

Not Alone

This week I’m feeling encouraged to share some hope with you.  We live in a really big world where it can be easy to feel forgotten or overlooked.  We feel hurt by family members, ignored by our bosses, abandoned by our partners and irrelevant to our friends.  We sometimes feel that even God has left us alone.  I hope that these words from scripture remind you of the truth:

Psalm 37:23
“The Lord directs the steps of the godly.   He delights in every detail of their lives.”

1 Peter 1:7a
“These troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold.”

Romans 8:31
“So what should we say about this? If God is for us, no one can stand against us. And God is with us.”

These verses each touch on a very special message: God delights in every part of your life, finds you unbelievably valuable and is with you.  I’ve spent enough time working (and living) with people to know that we all have moments where we don’t feel like these statements could possibly be true. Honestly sometimes we don’t deserve God’s delight or presence, we’re humans who sin and have failures. But God knows that, and still loves us.  We’re still allowed to meet with God and be loved by God because of grace and forgiveness.

On those days that you struggle, remember that you’re enough. You may not be perfect, and you may need to grow some (we all have room for growth), but don’t ever let anyone tell you you aren’t important or special. God hasn’t forgotten you, and will never leave you alone.  He’s also put people in your life to encourage and support you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help (I’m an email, call or message away!).

This week, instead of focusing on what goes wrong, take time to turn to that which inspires and encourages you.  Read the Bible, your favorite devotional, or listen to some Christian music or a sermon that’s online when you’re feeling particularly challenged or discouraged.  You’ll not only feel better, God may give you the wisdom for how to work through your situation in that time of worship or reading.

Don’t give up, God’s got a plan for your life and plans to go with you every step of the journey.

Faith for the New Year

When I look back over the past year, I can’t help but be thankful.  There were a lot of struggles and there were several not-so-good moments.  But there were so many lessons that I learned that have made me a better person, and have definitely encouraged me as I look forward to 2018.  I may not have all the answers yet, but I do know that changes and improvements are coming.  John Wooden eloquently states it:

“Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books – especially the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.”

A new year is an opportunity for change, but in truth any change can be made at any time.  You can choose today to read your Bible again, you can choose today to fix your relationship with your partner or your kids, you can choose today to make better food choices, or you can choose today to let it all go and step into the plan that God has for your life. As Jeremiah 29:10a-13 says:

“”I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.””

I encourage you to listen to the plans God has for your life in this new year.  What changes or additions will you make to your life this year, especially in regards to the spiritual aspects?

Lighting a Candle This Christmas

I’ve gotten over my first hump of December, I’ve got lots planned for the last 2 weeks of December, but a big part of that is taking time to celebrate Christmas and enjoy time with family and friends. As I was finally sitting down tonight to cross a few things off my list and plan the rest of the week out, I paused a moment to look at the Christmas lights hung in my office and reflected on the lights of Christmas, as we talked about last week. It also got me thinking about exactly how long it’s been since I lit a candle.

One of the lights that always says “Christmas” to me is the candle light. Countless churches around the world do a candlelit service, during which candles are lit, often while singing Silent Night. Some churches also offer regular opportunities to light a candle for someone, a visual representation of the prayer you’re saying for them. Years ago (before we had all the modern lights) people would put lit candles on their Christmas trees, and candles used to be the main source of light for everyone. Candles still grace many windows today, although they come in the form of plastic with batteries or power cords. There’s something magical about a candle that can’t be duplicated by any other type of light. Many companies have been trying for the past decade or so, but I just don’t feel the same emotion looking at a battery operated candle (or any other type of light) that I do when I look at a true flickering flame candle. I love the opportunity that they give us to put candles where we really shouldn’t, but it’s just not the same as having the real thing.

The candle is such a great reminder for this season of how unique Jesus is and of the light that He brought to the world with His birth, and even of the light of the star that shone on His birth and led the wisemen to Him. It’s also a reminder that each of us has a light to shine in the gifts we give, conversations we have, how we treat others, outlook we have on the world and how we use and develop the gifts and talents we’ve been given by God. You may be in a unique position at this moment to shine your light and guide someone through a dark period in their life, but you won’t know unless you let that light shine. How will you shine your light this Christmas?

“…This is the time of year
We hold our families near
But God let us be a friend to the hurting

Oh Emmanuel, God with us
Spirit revealed in us
That we may be your hope to the world
Oh Emmanuel, God with us
With a light to break the darkness
That we may show your hope to the world
Emmanuel, God with us
Be God in us…”
“Emmanuel, God With Us / O Come, O Come Emmanuel” Point of Grace