Reality Reflection: Proud to be Patient

The name of today’s game is patience.  Yes, it is almost a game when you’re being patient, or trying to be sometimes. It can be really challenging sometimes to be patient when all you want to do is just do it yourself or force them to understand, since clearly they’re not doing it right or getting what needs to be done.  And when it’s their turn to be patient with us, we tend to forget the difficulty we had being patient with them.

So what’s the lesson in patience?  The first lesson of patience is that it’s a universal thing, it’s not like saying I have a president and you have a king, or I like spicy food and you don’t, or I live in a house in a small city and you live in an apartment in a big city.  It’s not something you can really pick and choose.

The other lesson is in having a lack of patience.  Taking quick action is helpful sometimes, without the quick action of our emergency and rescue personnel there would be many more injuries and casualties than there are.  But most situations that we deal with on a regular basis aren’t life and death, they’re things that can be given two extra minutes to really communicate things and work through confusion before taking decisive action or saying something that could bite you later.

Love is being patient with ourselves and with others because we know the rewards that come with that little extra hug, that extra minute and that extra care.  Are you avoiding love and patience for a reason or have you experienced the benefits of them in your life?

Facing Challenges with God’s Love

We’ve talked a lot this year about how challenged we’ve been and how we’re relying on God for so much. It certainly has been a year unlike any that most of us have experienced. Every year comes with challenges, just like every life comes with challenges, and some years have more challenges in them than others. Sometimes God gives us challenges because they help us become stronger and wiser and more prepared to be the leader He has called us to be. Other times we experience challenges based on the choices we make in life. And sometimes, challenges are just part and parcel of the human experience.

We know that God goes with us through all the challenges we face, because He’s awesome like that and doesn’t leave us alone to fend for ourselves. Even if He’s not ready to provide answers or get us out of situations, He doesn’t leave us alone to work through them. Can you imagine being God and having to go through all those challenges with each of us? I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be when time and again we’re making the same mistakes or getting ourselves into the same challenges that He’s helped us through before. And then you add to that the pain and hurt of people who walk away from God, for however long or brief a time, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed at how much God manages on a regular basis all the while supporting and encouraging and doing miracles. And yet, He continues to be the God of love:

“God’s love is an extravagant love and God has an infinite amount of it to give. Hear God’s reassurance: I love you. I have plenty for everyone and I will give you the provision you need.” Br. Jim Woodrum

“O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.” Psalm 86:5

“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” Psalm 103:8

If God is able to love through all that we put Him through, surely each of us can find a little more love, patience, compassion and kindness to share with the world too. God doesn’t expect us to be Him, but He does hope that we learn from His example and from the experiences that we have, so that maybe the next time our tempers flash or we face a challenge, we’re able to handle it even just a little better.

Tragedy, Love and Forgiveness

We begin what feels like the twelfth month of the year because of all that’s gone on even though it’s just the sixth. Of course I have hopes that we’ll just improve from here, but we’ve entered into a different world over the past few months that is strange and new and it’s too soon to know if it’s good or not. It feels very fragile, almost like what I think it must feel like after an earthquake, not that you’re waiting for another shoe to fall or quake to happen, but just shaky. Of course the latest developments in this very long year are another tragedy and some people aren’t making the best decisions in response. I don’t know how much of that has to do with the last few months and the lack of movement and mental stress that we’ve endured or if unfortunately it’s how some people would have responded regardless.

It’s been hard over the past few months because you want to point fingers about the spread and cause of the virus, but there isn’t yet an exact answer and there may never be, and with as many asymptomatic cases as there are it’s not like you can always say you knew you were sick before you passed on the virus. As much as you can point fingers at those who are being violent in their protests as well as those who practice racism towards others, but again, how much of this is a result of the past few months and how much is a revelation of who they have always been? As my heart was hurting for people who have not only struggled over the past few months but now had their businesses damaged, not to mention for the racism that still happens around our country, I thought about how God would respond or what He might say about all of this.

The first answer I came to was that God is love. John 3:16-17 says “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.” and Matthew 22:37-39 says “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'””

This leads to my second thought and that’s that we don’t have to love the actions of someone, but we have to love them. There’s nothing worth loving about some of the actions over the past week, but that doesn’t mean that those people aren’t worthy of love or that God doesn’t love them. It goes along with the saying that you can forgive someone but not forget their actions. Neither loving or forgiving some people is easy, which goes along with many other things we experience in life, but if God and Jesus can forgive those who murder or do other things that don’t seem or aren’t so forgivable or fixable, I think we can at least be open to the possibility of God working in and through us with love and forgiveness.

So this week I’m praying for peace and positive progress, that all of the events of the past months will not be in vain or forgotten, and that we’ll be able to come together again in the future (sooner rather than later) with love, stronger and more focused on truly making this world a better place.

Representing Jesus

Over the past week my heart has been breaking all over again with regards to some of the people that we share this world with. We’ve learned in recent days of violent acts with no pursuit of justice, and tons of rude, inconsiderate and violent acts of people towards others with regard to social distancing, masks and plain and simple human courtesy and decency. We’ve seen many signs of people supporting each other in whatever ways they can right now, but there’s also been an embarrassing amount of lost human decency over the past few weeks. Almost as if the virus has had two different influences in the population: one good, one bad.

Colossians 3:17 says “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

There are lots of ways that we can live up to what this verse says, and Jesus certainly showed a whole variety of them. Sometimes we are a representative by doing or talking about spiritual things, but more often than not it isn’t specifically about or through a spiritual action or word. After all, faith is a very personal practice. Yes, God asks us to share about Him with the world, but there’s a lot more that goes on in any person’s life than what they share with the world, and God has a personal relationship with each of us.

But there are some words are used in the Bible and encouraged by Jesus that speak to the most basic ways to be a representative for Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). You don’t have to have one specific faith practice to be able to do any of them, nor would it be assumed that you were of a faith practice by doing any of them.

There’s still a lot of struggle to work through, a lot more patience that’s needed from all of us around the world, and a lot more teamwork than we’ve probably ever seen before. I can’t answer to the medical and scientific side of this virus, but I can definitely answer to the human side and where it has to go from here. If we aren’t willing to accept the value in the lives of the other humans around us, if we aren’t willing to be patient with each other, if we can’t learn to truly care for others even a fraction as much as we do ourselves, then we’ll never be able to even come close to realizing the dreams we have for our world, let alone be able to look back on this virus many years from now with any kind of positivity or pride.

Choosing Love

A big part of the conversation right now is about two things: moving forward with life with/after the virus and Mother’s Day. There’s a new level to trying to understand what comes next and how we live after the virus, how we interact with each other, how we work, how we shop and how we share this world. There’s also been a big change for many families when it comes to being able to provide for them and what happens when people are out of work. It’s important to have serious conversations like this occasionally, but hopefully we don’t have to have too many of these serious conversations in our lifetimes.

But in truth much of the conversation is something we discuss on a regular basis because transitions and change are a regular part of life and family (blood or chosen) is an important part of our lives. But it’s taken a big crisis to get us all really considering and talking about what we want our future to look like, what the best future looks like for all of us, how we can support each other better, how we can be better prepared, and where God is in all of this. There aren’t easy answers, nor are there any guarantees, but even as people of faith we know that life doesn’t come with guarantees outside of the two that God loves you and will be with you always. Faith doesn’t mean special privileges or get-out-of-stuff-free cards, but it can give us some wisdom about what’s next and how to move forward and how to be in relationship with others.

1 Thessalonians 4:10 says “Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more.”

This verse is interesting because you don’t often hear it said that you should love even more. We talk about abundant love or limitless love and the importance of love and being loving, but not loving more. It lines up with the idea of ‘seventy times seven’, which results to a calculable 490, but the sentiment behind the phrase was to indicate a number that didn’t seem realistic. So here we’re being asked to not only choose love, but to choose love in greater abundance and frequency than may seem normal.

Love doesn’t require being physically together or being able to see each other’s mouths. Love doesn’t have a time constraint or quantifiable cost to it. And the rewards for us for loving and the rewards others receive from our love are too many to count. As we work through the rest of this transition and challenge related to the virus, I encourage you to go with love, share love, encourage love, and when in doubt choose love.

Psalms for Today

It’s interesting to be working through the spiritual season of Lent while the world battles this virus. During the time that we in the spiritual community are reflecting on the incredible, powerful, transformative, humbling, intense years of active ministry leading to biggest and most challenging week of Jesus (and anyone’s) life, His death and resurrection, we’re facing a challenge that we’ve not yet faced as a world, and we don’t yet know how things will end up. It gives you some understanding and intimate knowledge about how the apostles must have felt after Jesus died on Good Friday.

This week I was reading one of my Lent devotionals, this one written by N.T. Wright, and while the devotional wasn’t written with knowledge of the virus in mind, I thought the words were relevant both to the situation we find ourselves in, as well as about the relevance of the Bible to our lives today:

“The deep distress we sense as we read this Psalm has, paradoxically perhaps, given great hope to millions down the years. No matter how deep we have sunk, no matter what sorrows or tragedies we may encounter, the Psalms have been there before us. Not only do they encourage us to believe that we have not, after all, fallen off the map. They give us words so that, when our own words fail to do justice to our misery, they will do instead.

The Psalm doesn’t hide. There’s no point pretending, putting a brave face on it before God….’Out of the depths!’ That’s how it is, for all of us some of the time, for some of us most of the time. Let’s tell it like it is.”

The Psalm referenced here is Psalm 130, which talks about suffering and fear, as well as hope in God and in God’s power to redeem. As N.T. Wright says, this is a recurring theme through many of the Psalms, all 150 of them. One of the reasons to love the Psalms and to read through them regularly is because of how they can speak to you about whatever situation you may be going through at the time, even though they were written thousands of years ago, which means that Jesus, who lived on Earth after the Psalms were written, can also identify with the feelings we’re dealing with now.

It may seem like we’re in a vicious, endless downward spiral right now, and that even though there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, it seems too far away to get to before everything falls completely apart. Much of our world will still be experiencing great uncertainty as we get into Palm Sunday and Holy Week next week, and Easter won’t look anything like what most of us have known it to be all our lives. And it’s OK to be struggling with this uncertainty and even have a healthy degree of fear and respect towards the problems that we’re dealing with as a world. But as we know from many Bible stories, God doesn’t give up on His people and doesn’t forget about them. So even if or as you struggle through this challenging time, know that Jesus will go through it with you, and that He’s faced much worse for you, and it’s with the type of love and compassion that Jesus showed during His years of ministry that we’ll be able to get through this too.

Light and Love for Lent

This week we begin Lent, a serious and somber time in the Christian calendar. There are two times during the year that we’re given the opportunity and strongly encouraged to spend more than just Sundays thinking about our faith and spending more time with God, and that’s Advent and Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and finally Easter Sunday. Unlike with Advent which is a time of anticipation building up to Christmas, Lent is a time of serious, honest and deeper reflection, taking time to think about our lives and why Jesus went to the cross. Yes, after Good Friday is Easter Sunday, a great day of celebration, but you can’t get to Easter without going through the days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday first.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about Jesus’ life and what Lent means to us as people of faith, and hopefully you’ll be joining me in doing some extra Bible reading and spiritual study as well. So as I was thinking about what to write today before Lent begins officially on Wednesday and we get into that very contemplative time, I thought back on what this month has been all about and that would be love and the darkness of winter.

I find it interesting that Lent begins when we’re still typically caught in winter’s grasp: fighting to stay warm, keep our streets safe and get where we’re going when we need to be there in conjunction with dealing with what is often the wrath of mother nature with winter winds and snow.  Lent is in some ways a continuation of winter, and the time of taking a step back from the way we live during the other half of the year.  But Lent also begins when we’re seeing one of the earliest signs of spring and of leaving winter and that would be that it’s brighter earlier and for longer each day.

Which brought me to the question that many people raise: why do we have such a focus on the cross? Yes, it’s the best and worst day of our faith lives, that Jesus had to die, but He did it so we would be free and able to enter Heaven one day. So maybe rather than just letting winter continue with our serious contemplations during Lent, maybe we need to let a little more light and love shine than we might normally do outside of February and Valentine’s Day? After all, as Jesus said in John 8: “”I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.””

Yes, Lent should be a serious time of study and reflection, but that doesn’t mean we have to ignore the fact that Easter is on the way and we do in fact have hope thanks to the baby born some 2000 years ago in a manger. Will you share a little light and love with the world today?

Open to Love

Today I want to reflect on two verses/passages that you may have heard shared on the radio or read in a recent email or heard in a sermon about love:

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5
Love isn’t something everyone is comfortable with, and many people have been hurt by what was supposed to be love. If love is challenging for you, this is a great place to start with learning what love is, healing your relationship with love, and experiencing what it’s like to be loved. God has chosen to love us, and never gives up on us even when we make silly mistakes or big failures. God teaches us through moments of peace, patience, rescue, comfort, strength, and presence what love really is, how to have a healthy relationship and about building trust with each experience and connection.

“”If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” ” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
This is one of the iconic love Bible passages, and I think it shares an important reminder for us as we look to the day focused all about love and face the daily stresses that often are present with love. This passage definitely talks about how important love is, but it talks about love as a partner with every other aspect of life and faith. Love works best when we weave it into all other aspects of our lives, when we allow it to add some flavor and support to our lives, and when we invite it to not take over, but be part of our lives.

This Valentine’s Day I would encourage you to be open to seeing or experiencing love from a perspective you haven’t in the past. Be open to learning about your partner and opening a new chapter of your relationship, be open to finding new ways to incorporate love into your life, and be open to hearing what others and God love about you.

Reality Reflection: Only One Day for Love

In this month of love I’m saddened by how many reminders we’re getting of just how fragile life is. There’s the virus that countries around the world are now dealing with and is adding to the illnesses and things like flu that many deal with in this time of year, there’s the plane crashes that have taken the lives of other people, and then there’s the regular and irregular weather we’re dealing with and hurts not only property but people and animals as well. It’s been just reminder after reminder that it’s so important to make your moments count, invest in what really matters to you, and let the people you love know that you love them.

We only devote one day each year to remembering love. We’ve got several devoted to the military and our country, several that are faith based, some that are cultural, and several that are family based, but only one day that focuses on love, and that day isn’t always met with the best reaction. Why don’t we celebrate love like we should?

Over the years I think we’ve been shamed so frequently when it comes to love that we struggle to give love the place in our lives that it should have, both with regard to loving ourselves and loving others. Love can be this incredibly powerful aspect of our lives and relationships, but like many other things like exercise and eating, we have to actively decide that we’re going to let love have a role in our lives. It can be scary, it can be a rough ride, there will be failures and mistakes, but it can also be instrumental in creating some of the best moments and experiences of our lives.

Life is better with love in it, it’s that simple. Don’t let this Valentine’s Day pass without sharing some love with the people that are important to you, from your neighbors to your customers, to your fans, to your family, to your significant other, and to yourself as well.

That’s Not Love

I want to start our month of love discussions in a bit of an odd place, and that’s with a verse in Judges from the story of Samson and Delilah, one of the many dramatic relationship stories in the Bible.  Judges 16:15 (CEV) says “”Samson,” Delilah said, “you claim to love me, but you don’t mean it! You’ve made me look like a fool three times now, and you still haven’t told me why you are so strong.”” What caught my attention was a phrase that we sometimes hear from couples that really aren’t healthy together, “you claim to love me…,” and reminded me of another similar phrase: “If you loved me…”

Yes, the Bible says things like ‘if you love God, you’ll love others’, but that’s almost never the way that we use those phrases. The way these phrases are typically used is with something deceptive or dangerous or hurtful as the action or thought that follows.  They’re not words that people who truly love each other say to each other. That’s not what love is about. Love isn’t manipulative or an excuse. Love should support, encourage, reassure and bring forth life and hope.

So if you’re not feeling the love this month, don’t be ashamed to back away from it and focus on other aspects of your life. Don’t force yourself to be in a relationship just because everyone else around you seems to be. Also don’t let anyone tell you that something negative or hurtful is what love is about, because it isn’t. And if you’re feeling a little confused or just would prefer to make this month of love about the love between you and God, take time to review what the Bible says love is supposed to be and what Jesus shows love to be, there are hundreds of references and insights into what love is according to God to learn from.