Satisfyingly Quiet

I love writing, it’s why I blog multiple times a week on several blogs and write newsletters and a devotional each week (I also happen to love to read both fiction and non-fiction, but one doesn’t necessarily relate to/influence the other). Sometimes when I sit down I’ve got something really specific on my mind or heart to write about, other times I’m sparked by something I read in an email or saw in the news, other times I’m sharing about something I saw out and about in the world, sometimes I write about something seasonal that I probably write about every year in one way or another.

Monday when I sat down to write this blog post I had a couple of ideas to write about but I kept getting stuck. I’m sure if you ask any author even those who are extremely prolific with book writing/publishing and put out several books a year can tell you that sometimes they sit down and either have a block or decide that everything they’ve written so far is better off deleted than shared. Sometimes like in any other aspect of life you decide that you’ve given it your best effort and accept it as it is, or decide that it’s going to fulfill the bridge purpose it has (i.e. it bridges between two books/posts/topics) because not doing something is not an option or you’re being too picky on yourself.

But as I was reflecting on what to write today I came back to something we’ve taken a bit of a step back from in recent days/weeks, and that’s quiet time. We sure had a lot of it in the earlier months of the year, but now we’ve gotten back into some social gatherings and the busyness that comes with autumn and school and I don’t think we’re stopping to reflect and listen and be peaceful and just appreciate being alive like we did several months ago. We’ve scaled back and made changes that can benefit us long term, but I don’t think we should lose the appreciation for life or the quiet moments that we added to our lives through the challenges of this year.

Yes, we like when we talk to God and when He talks with us. Yes, we like when we’re able to gather together, or at the very least chat on the phone or by video chat. But there’s something fulfilling and satisfying about being quiet and just hearing nature or being alone with your own thoughts or just sitting and meditating with God. So this week as you make plans (however tentative they may be) for the rest of the month and maybe the rest of the year, I encourage you to plan in some quiet time each day, or at least each week to give yourself time and space mentally and physically to just be.

Living Wholeheartedly

We have a lot going on in our lives, and that was before 2020 showed up with the pile of not-so-awesome presents it’s delivered so far and could have hiding for us in the last 4 months of this year. It has been an opportunity for us to explore what’s truly important to us and how resilient we are as a world, to consider simplifying our lives both in responsibilities and possessions, to reconsider the path we’re on, to appreciate the little things, and to get back out in nature. It’s been an opportunity for the Church to grow into the online world and share about Jesus digitally instead of just in person.

We also got a lesson in giving our full attention to something. The entire world shut down over this virus for weeks on end, many places for months, and some places more than once. Small medical centers were sharing their resources with hospitals and businesses were producing whole product lines that they never normally produce to support the efforts. We cleaned our homes and hands as never before. Some of us prayed harder than we ever have. Many people lost someone in a way they never expected to long before their expected time. All of this brought completely new perspectives about life and living to light.

In recent weeks I’ve been working my way through the book of Jeremiah. Most people are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, but I think we forget that there are another 20 some verses after that verse, kind of like we forgot how easily germs can spread and how invisible they really are. I don’t know what the rest of 2020 holds, but maybe we need to check in on more than just our cleaning and education practices before the year ends. Maybe we need to spend some of the time that we’re feeling especially at odds and ends this year pursuing God more and truly investing ourselves in our spiritual growth and health.

I brought up Jeremiah 29 because one of those verses after verse 11 spoke to me this week. Jeremiah 29:13 says: “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” If you feel like you’re missing something in your life, that something isn’t as it should be, maybe it’s because you’re not pursuing it wholeheartedly. Maybe you’re not giving it the amount of your attention that you should be giving it. Maybe you and God haven’t worked through what needs to be addressed before you can get to that part of your journey. Maybe what’s missing in your life is taking time each day to wholeheartedly pursue God and discover what He loves about you, His plans for your life, and what He’s trying to show you in this world that you’ve missed out on. What are you wholeheartedly pursuing?

God is Working Everywhere

One of the most well known books in the world is the Bible. Even if you don’t believe it or read it, you’ve probably heard of it. It’s one of the best opportunities to learn about the life and times of people who lived many years ago. It gives a much more personal look into people’s lives and decisions and interactions than most history books do with modern history. It also helps us understand on a very human level how God interacts with people, how much He cares about people, and how much He invests in people-often without their knowing until much later.

We don’t always know how God’s movements in our life will impact our lives, let alone someone many years from now. You can think about the story of Ruth for example, and how she could see God working in her life even though there were some tragedies, but she had no clue about being part of Jesus’ genealogy and all the other people who were born through her family line and God used and blessed before and after Jesus.

Ruth isn’t an isolated example, she’s a representation of all of us. We don’t know how that comment on social media will impact someone’s life, we don’t know the impact many years down the road that our donation to a non profit or charity will make, we don’t know how God wants to use the blog post we write, we don’t know exactly the benefit someone else will get because we didn’t take the last of an item, we don’t know how our prayer for/about one person will help the life of another we’ll never meet.

What we do know is that we have to trust God, do our best to follow the guidance He’s given us, and make choices believing that they may have an impact on someone else’s life. We should take note when we do see God working and let those be reminders and encouragements to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, but we don’t know how God is going to use each moment, or even if He will, or the other trillions of things He’s working on right now besides us and what’s going on in our lives. How are you seeing God working?

“God is doing 100 things in your life. You might be aware of three of them.” John Piper

Perfection and the Church

I’ve been reading in the New Testament recently, and read a couple of verses that got me thinking about the how or why behind one of the reasons people think negatively about the Church. Let’s look at the verses and then I’ll explain:

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6

“In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.” 1 Timothy 2:8

One of the things that people have said over the years as a negative about the Church is how it’s all “perfect” and people who have issues don’t feel comfortable going to church for that reason. Of course, if we’re honest we all have issues and no one in the Church is perfect, but as many of us know, it certainly looks and feels that way. It often feels like you can’t be real and can’t talk about the issues you’re facing or struggles you’re having because all the other people at church seem to have it all together and don’t have struggles with sin or problems in their lives.

And I think that verses like these two could easily be misread and misinstructed to lead people to live, look and act as perfect and peaceful as possible in Church. Of course it’s fairly easy to keep yourself together for a couple of hours a week and have no one be the wiser. And in some ways these verses do encourage people to not rock the boat and to try to keep the peace, but I think they’re more about encouraging people to leave your differences at the door, to not let things like politics or bank account sizes define how you treat others, to let the Church be a safe place, to be willing to treat anyone else as you would like to be treated, and to pray for everyone (yes, everyone).

Faith and Church aren’t about your comfort level or who you think belongs, because the ultimate decision and final say belong to God. God has given us some guidelines here and throughout the rest of the Bible about faith and how we should treat others, and I think it comes down to if God is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, forgive them, show them grace, hear their prayers, work with them through their struggles and love them, we should try to do the same. Imagine the difference it could make in someone’s life if they chose to come to church because they knew it would welcome them, warts and all?

Good Works, Good Deeds

The other day I got to thinking again about the idea of good works or good deeds. These two terms are both used throughout the New Testament, for example:

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” James 2: 17
“And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.” Titus 2:7a
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
“Don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” Hebrews 13:16

There are a couple of a couple of stories in the New Testament of people who think that good deeds/works are what will get them into Heaven, which isn’t the case.  The only way to get to Heaven is by being saved by Jesus (John 3:16). But tied in with being a true believer and follower of Christ is the idea of good deeds/works. Jesus did good while He was here on Earth. He also spent time talking with God, teaching and building relationships, and loving others.

We all mess up from time to time because we’re sinners and not (yet) perfect, but life always seems to go a little smoother and be a little more rewarding when we’re doing good. As Hebrews 13:16 said, yes, sometimes a sacrifice is required as part of doing good. Maybe it means you’re sacrificing your vacation to go and do construction in a needy part of the world, or you’re giving up your free time to teach a VBS class, or you’re making a little extra food each week to share with your elderly neighbors. The virus has given us some new opportunities to do good including buying high-demand products in moderation and wearing masks, both of which are sacrifices that we haven’t had to work on before, but can really help others out.

And that’s what it really comes down to, is being willing to help others on many levels and ways both big and small, just like Jesus did day in and day out. And if you don’t know what to give or how to help, or don’t have the ability to get out and about or donate to charities, start with the advice of Romans 13:8: “Owe nothing to anyone-except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.” Doing good can be as simple and sometimes challenging as loving others.

What good will you do this week?

A Little Spice to Life

You’ve probably heard the saying “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe there’s a lot of truth in that statement. I’ve always been someone who enjoys a variety of things (from dogs to TV to foods to people to places), but equally important with variety in that statement is the mention of spice. I know some people aren’t fans of spicy foods, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a life, food, job, relationship with vitality, personality, passion and flavor. I don’t believe life should be dull and uniform, I believe that we’ve been created to enjoy life and live a creative, colorful and meaningful life.

I’ve been sharing about this in recent weeks in my devotional, starting with sharing in May about the book of Ecclesiastes and how God would not have placed or allowed to be created all of the pleasurable aspects that we enjoy if we were not to enjoy them. This past week I shared about mornings, and while I’m not a morning person, I know that each one is different in the different ways the sun rises and colors the sky to the animals that move around to the flowers or plants that are growing and changing. God’s not a boring God, and in case you need more evidence, He created each of us different! That’s a huge challenge and investment right there and takes lots of creativity (over 100 billion individuals).

It can be easy to get wrapped up in your own little world and miss what’s going on around you. For example, I know that there’s a lot more that goes on throughout the day on the street I live on now that it’s summer and I’m outside to see it, than I could predict just from hearing the cars go by. But you also miss out on lots of God’s little blessings and signs that He has for you when you’re too focused on keeping your life status quo and not open to a little spice and variety. What’s the point of asking God for stuff if we’re not open and looking for it?

So this week I encourage you to add a little spice to your life and to be open to something new and different and whatever blessings God wants to send your way. I think you’ll be blessed and amazed with all that goes on around you that God has a hand in that you don’t know about, and those little blessings might be exactly what you need to give you the strength to navigate the challenges and changes that we’re going through right now.

Partners in Life

If you’ve worked with me or been around the blogs for a while, you know that I like to refer to the person we’re married to or in relationship with as a partner. You may call them your significant other, your life mate, your husband/wife, your lover, your boyfriend/girlfriend, or something else. Those can be accurate terms, but I like to use the word partner, not just because it’s politically correct, but because it speaks to the way your relationship should be with the other person: a partnership.

A partnership is more powerful to me than the other terms because it implies that not only are both people committed to being together, they’re also both contributing to the relationship and invested in it being a success. Could there be less divorce if people were committed to being in a partnership? Possibly, yes. Could it be easier on everyone involved if when a divorce was really the best or only option the couple worked through as partners rather than on opposite sides of the story? Yes. Could you and your significant other have a healthier and more satisfying relationship if you both approached the relationship as a partnership, both responsible for bringing things to the support of your relationship? Yes, absolutely.

Today begins the 40 days of Lent, with Ash Wednesday. Lent is the period of time leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and depending on the church you attend or how you practice your faith, maybe a more or less spiritually involved time for you. But regardless, like with Advent, Lent is an opportunity to deepen your faith and get to know God better. It’s also an opportunity to create or deepen your partnership with God. How different or improved would your life be if God was a partner in it and you were partnered with God? Would you feel more confident about life? Feel more secure in your faith? Be more invested and interested in developing your spirituality? Feel or be more in tune with God?

I encourage you to consider what kind of partnership you currently have with God, if it’s a one sided relationship or if you’re really open to hearing what He has to say and acting on it in your life. Lent could also be a good opportunity to consider the other partnerships or relationships that you’re in and what you’re really investing in with your life.

Songs of the Season: Away in the Manger

Today is Christmas. As I was thinking about what or if I would share today or tomorrow, the words of Away in the Manger kept coming back to me. Away in the Manger is one of the most well-known spiritual Christmas songs, taught to every boy and girl that enters a church building and those who enter as adults learn it quickly too. It tells the story of those moments right after Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in the little town of Bethlehem some 2000 years ago:

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with thee there.”

It’s such a simple song and yet it says so much in these 3 short verses. I know Jesus knew what He was getting into when He agreed to come to earth, and yet I feel like this was a big reality check for Him, on whatever level He understood being fully Divine even though He was a fully human baby.

This song shares a bunch of similarities between Jesus’ story and ours. We all start where Jesus started, although most of us start in a better place than a straw manger with stars as our overhead view. We all are going to face some hardships and challenges in our lives. We all need our sleep. And we all want at least one person to be there with us through it all.

We all have things that we wished we would get this Christmas, some got luckier in that regard than others. Some of us do struggle with our housing and having people who support us in our lives, and maybe we feel as vulnerable as baby Jesus sounds in this song. But we can be assured that Jesus will stay with us and care for us, and the evidence is found in the fact that He did come to earth some 2000 years ago on Christmas and stuck around to die on a cross and rise again three days later.

As you thank others for the gifts they gave you today and throughout this holiday season, make time to thank God for the gift of Jesus, and for Jesus being the best gift ever.

Christmas, Doubts, and Assumptions

Something I’ve always wondered about is the passage in Luke where John the Baptist is born (Luke 1:57-66). In this passage you’ve got people asking Zechariah what the baby’s name should be and using “gestures” to ask him. This sounds odd in general, but the part that I’ve found strange is because earlier in Luke 1 it says he would be “silent and unable to speak until the child is born” because he had questioned God’s plan for him and Elizabeth. Being mute doesn’t mean you can’t hear, and the Bible doesn’t say that he couldn’t hear as well, just that he wouldn’t speak until when John is born.

This possible mistake that people are making with Zechariah is a good reminder for all of us about assumptions. Sometimes they can be helpful, like assuming it might rain so you keep an umbrella in your home and one in your car, or assuming you’re going to be exchanging gifts with friends when you meet during the holiday season (they can be returned if you don’t), or assuming you’re going to want to eat and going food shopping on a regular basis.

But more often than not they set us up for mistakes, misunderstandings and issues. Not asking questions at work can lead to doing a job several times, not talking things over with your partner can lead to hurt feelings or plans that conflict, and assuming someone else did something without checking with them can mean that it doesn’t get done.

The same is true with faith. We can assume that others know what we believe, that we all like the same church activities, or that their life is as perfect as it looks, and it may or may not be true, and could cause some hurt feelings and drive separation if your assumptions aren’t true.

The one thing we can safely assume is that God loves us, and we’re assured of this every year when we celebrate Christmas. God would not have sent His son with such joy or celebration if He didn’t love us or care about our souls, and He would not have let Jesus die on the cross some 30 years later to save us from our sins. Our Bible-based questions may not get answered until we get to heaven, but we can be assured of God’s love for us and attention on what goes on in our lives.

Whether or not Zechariah could hear isn’t really the issue, although I would like to know, the issue is whether or not you’re going to follow through on what God has shared with you. Zechariah and Elizabeth did and they were blessed with their son John and the special role he played in Jesus’ life. This holiday season I encourage you to check in with God and make sure that you’re both on the same page and assumptions aren’t being created.

How Do You Hear From God?

I think one of the biggest questions, challenges, concerns, or struggles people have when it comes to their faith, or any type of spiritual beliefs in general, has to do with hearing from God. If you ask someone of faith they will tell you that God has certainly had a hand in their lives, or that they can see God’s leading.
And yes, we’re able to pray directly to Him, we don’t have to go through an intermediary like a pastor or priest which makes it a lot more comfortable and encourages us to do it more often.

But let’s face it, saying prayers to God is not often the same as sitting down to have coffee with someone and having an actual conversation where there’s listening and speaking on both sides of the table. I say that it is rarely like that because throughout spiritual history there have been people who have spoken directly with God like Enoch, Samuel, Solomon, Jonah, and Saul/Paul from the Bible. And then there are people from more recent history who also had a close relationship and heard from God like Smith Wigglesworth, Mother Teresa, and Billy Graham, just to name a few of the more well-known people.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with God guiding us through means other than words, I will always take that over nothing at all, but there’s something so much more personal, powerful, intimate and real about hearing actual words. It’s kind of like how you can connect with someone on social media and message back and forth, but unless you meet them in person or talk on the phone/skype, you’re not really positive they’re a real person or who they say they are.

I don’t think it’s impossible to actually talk with/hear from God, and since God is all powerful He’s certainly able to talk with anyone (or everyone) at any time. But most of us don’t take the time to develop the relationship with Him that would encourage Him to speak directly to us in that way (although He certainly can speak to you that way to get your attention as He did Paul/Saul who He didn’t have a relationship with).  And while He could speak to us all with words, it might make Him seem less divine or people would feel like they’re more equal with Him, which wouldn’t be a good thing.

So what do you do if you want to hear (more) from God? Read your Bible, make time to pray and talk with God on a very regular basis, and be open to His leading and the changes of your plans. God may choose to speak words through someone else that you need to hear, He may make your path obvious in another way, He may touch your heart with an impression or direction, and He may speak to you directly with words. I believe God speaks today, and He wants to speak to each of us, it’s a question of whether we are truly listening or not.