Paying It Forward: A Memorial Day Tribute

flag of u s a standing near tomb
Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

As I reflected upon Memorial Day this year, without a parade down Main Street, a festival or a family dinner, I noticed an interesting parallel. Memorial Day is the day we remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and for the rights and freedoms of the oppressed and vulnerable around the world.

Some of these men and women volunteered for service and some of them did not. But serve they did. They served bravely and honorably. Some fought on the front lines. Many more served in a supportive role. Many believed in the cause they fought for, and sadly some did not. But, loyal to their country and to their authority figures, they fought together against a common enemy. Whether they felt strong or weak, brave or frightened they submitted, they fought the enemy, and they sacrificed more than you and I can imagine. And for that, we are grateful. We have reaped the benefits.

Well here comes the parallel…

We are in a time of war right now. A war against a common enemy…Covid 19. We have healthcare workers on the front lines fighting for us. Some of them have given their lives in the battle. The rest of us are serving in a more supportive role. Are we serving faithfully? Are we submitting to authority figures who understand pandemics and how the disease is spread? Do we believe in the cause? Are we volunteers to the fight or have we been drafted against our will?

Whatever our belief or position, may we each humble ourselves in this war. May we go into battle with strength and courage…the strength of character to delay our deep longing for close, social contact and the courage to look odd and feel uncomfortable wearing a mask.

We may not be afraid for our own health, but may we fight for the health of each other. May we fight for the rights of the oppressed and the vulnerable (those with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions) to go to the grocery story, the pharmacy or on a walk in their own neighborhood.

We are Americans and that means something special. In 2018 Grinnell College commissioned a national poll on what it means to be an American. The majority of respondents (90%) said being an American means treating people equally, followed by taking personal responsiblity for one’s action (88%).

Whether you believe that Covid 19 is a serious threat to your health and/or the health of your neighbor, it seems to me that being an American means we look out for each other. We don’t disregard the warnings of the experts (and unless they have a degree in epidemiology they are not an expert). Being an American means we take responsiblity for our actions and minimize the risk of transmitting the disease to someone who is vulnerable.

As a follower of Jesus, I am asked to be even more humble. Jesus regularly gave of himself to the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. He demonstrated sacrificial love all of his ministry culminating with the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. In the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 it says, “Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.”

On this Memorial Day, we are all the beneficiaries of our veterans who served well and gave all. May we honor their great sacrifice by paying it forward. Perhaps one day, when the pandemic is over, we can have a memorial day of sorts. A day when your sacrifice and mine are remembered by those who are still here to say “Thank You!”

 

Three Lessons from the Christmas Story: #3 Follow Your Star

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany! What a totally churchy word, but it is such a cool word when you understand what it means. Epiphany is the 12th night after Christmas Eve, when Jesus’ birth is commemorated. It is when the Church marks the visit to the baby Jesus by Kings, or Wise Men, from the east. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ ” Matthew 2:1 (NIV) No one knows exactly when the Magi came; it could have been anytime from his birth to two years later. The timing is not what is really important. What is really important is what it meant and what we can take away from the story to order our own lives.

The first piece of significance you will see is a brief description of these men. They were men of power (hence they were called “magi”). They were men from another country and culture (from “the east”). Most importantly, they were men who “saw his star” and “came to worship him”. Later in Matthew we come to know that they bring very expensive gifts befitting of a king (gold, incense and myrrh).

So today is called “Epiphany” because these Magi came to proclaim that Jesus was the King, the long awaited Messiah, the Christ. The word comes from Greek and means to show, referring to Jesus being revealed to the world. They were the first step in the revelation of who this baby was and would become. LiteraryTerms.net defines ‘epiphany’ as “the moment when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing realization which changes the rest of the story. Often, an epiphany begins with a small, everyday occurrence or experience”. To find Jesus was an epiphany, a life-changing experience for these men. Matthew said the men were “overjoyed”!

The Life Application Study Bible (NIV) says this: “The Magi traveled thousands of miles to see the king of the Jews. When they finally found him, they responded with joy, worship, and gifts. This is so different from the approach people often take today. We expect God to come looking for us, to explain himself, prove who he is, and give us gifts. But those who are wise still seek and worship Jesus today, not for what they can get, but for who he is.” I love that!!

So here are a few take-aways for us:

  1. If we are wise, we will be actively seeking something that is bigger than ourselves, something that gives our lives true meaning and purpose.
  2. If we are looking up, we can still find our way to Jesus, just as these Magi did.
  3. Jesus came for all people, as represented by these men from another part of the world at that time.
  4. Truly finding Jesus will be a life-changing experience, as it was for the Magi.
  5. Once we have found Jesus, he will help us find our ‘star’, our purpose, our ministry.

We don’t know how long the Magi had been looking up, scouring the skies for a sign, something to lead the way, to guide them. Then they saw it…a star so bright, so out of place in the typical night sky that they noticed it immediately! They had to go. They had to follow. They had to leave behind their families and their normal lives in pursuit of it.

God wants to do the same for you and for me!! He wants to lead us in some amazing direction. Somewhere new. Somewhere exciting. Somewhere better than we could ever imagine. Not necessarily out of the area, but maybe. Not necessarily away from our family, but maybe. Definately He wants to lead us away from our ‘normal’!! Definately He wants to lead us to a place where we will be overjoyed! Are we looking?? Are we willing to see?? Are we willing to go??

I am…how about you??

Happy Epiphany to you all!!shutterstock_732562837

Three Lessons from the Christmas Story: #2 Why Jesus had to be born in a stable

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Can you imagine a more humble beginning for the long-awaited Jewish Messiah than this…a very young, pregnant, unmarried mother and her fiance have to travel by foot and donkey to another villiage, miles away from their families. Upon arriving in that villiage, they could not find a suitable place to stay. They have no choice but to bed-down in a stable made for animals…a cold, dark, smelly stable.

I recently asked, “Why did Jesus have to be born into such humble circumstances? Why was this God’s will for him?” In the past I chalked it off to Jesus’ kingship needing to be different than the kingship he was expected to have. The Jews had long anticipated a Messiah to rival the kingship of David with his military accomplishments and his material successes. I think this was part of the answer to my question. Another thought was that Jesus had to come into the world subtlely because there were forces at work to prevent his saving influence. Also a part of the answer to my question.

But on this particular day I received a different answer to that question. One that has, frankly,  changed my life! On this particular day the answer I was given was this…”Jesus had to be so humble because Satan is so prideful”. Wow!! Did that hit you the way that it hit me?? It makes so much sense that I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! Yet, it was a profoundly different concept than I had ever thought before.

I have known for a long time that we shouldn’t be prideful, yet I would say things like “you should be proud of yourself for that” or “you take such pride in your landscaping”. This new insight informed me that pride in anything is more in Satan’s realm than in Jesus’ realm.

Let me explain. Jesus is quoted as saying (Luke 10:18 NIV) “Yes” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”

Do you know how Satan fell from heaven? In Ezekiel 28 (NIV) the prophet Ezekiel is given a prophecy about the king of Tyre who was prideful, believed he was a god and demanded that he be treated as such. Then around verse 11 the prophecy switches topic to Satan, even though he is not specifically named. It says “You were anointed as a guardian cherub…You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you…Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.”

Satan was initially named Lucifer and was God’s right-hand angel. Can you imagine being so well thought of by God that you were appointed to be His highest angel? Well, as with any great success, there is a very real danger of pride creeping in, and such was the case for Lucifer. He was no longer content being the highest of the angels…he wanted to be God. This pride was unacceptable to God and Lucifer and his followers (about one third of the angels) fell from heaven to earth. Satan has been in competition with God ever since by trying to convince all of humanity that God is not good; God is not powerful; God is not loving.

Jesus came to reverse this tragedy. He came in all humility to convince all of humanity that God is all-good, all-powerful and all-loving. In fact, the disciple named John (who was one of Jesus’ closest friends) tells us in 1 John 4:8 “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” John may have known as well as any human the love of God brought to earth in the heart of Jesus.

So how has this new understanding changed my life?

First, it has helped me to have a means to work on my own character and spiritual growth. Whenever I feel proud about an accomplishment or a material possession I am quickly reminded that this is not Christ-like. I can then turn it into praise and thanksgiving for “every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of the heavenly lights…” (James 1:7 NIV). Everything we are and everything we have is from God’s great mercy toward us. When we allow ourselves to feel proud about something that God has actually given us as a gift, we open ourselves up to the deception of Satan.

Secondarily, it has given me a means to discern the heart and character of others. It is so difficult in this world to discern truly good people from people who simply say or do good things. Would you agree? Satan can apparently be “nice”. He was able to deceive Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and he truly did tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Good actions, kind words, even complimentary words can unfortunately be used to deceive and manipulate. Every good salesperson knows how to make us feel like we are getting the ‘deal of a lifetime’ or that they only want what is best for their customer. Occasionally that could be true, but mostly it is not. So here is what I have started to pay more attention to…is the person prideful or humble?

I have become convinced that pride comes from the likes of Satan in order to lead us away from God. Pride convinces us we really don’t need God. “I’m doing just fine on my own, thank you very much!” Pride makes us afraid that if we truly follow Jesus we will have to give up some things that we have based our self worth upon (a job, a social life, a bank account, a fancy house or car, fine clothing, etc.). A charismatic person can use pride to woo us into a relationship that distracts us from God and His will for us, and these relationships often become very destructive. Remember, pride was the sole reason Lucifer was cast out of the presence of God!! Pride even convinces us that we are ‘good’ people on our own, so good that we probably don’t really need a savior anyway.

Well, I could probably go on and on, but you’ve got things to do and places to be this day after Christmas! I do hope you will contemplate and pray about this concept that I have learned and shared. “Jesus had to be so humble because Satan is so prideful.” Use it to grown in your own spiritual maturity and use it to inform your relationships and decisions. I pray that it changes your life, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Lessons from the Christmas Story: #1 A Matter of Timing

shutterstock_1221181900Almost every year during Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) we study the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah from the book of Luke. Zechariah was a Jewish priest, the highest honor for a Jew at that time. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were said to be “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6 NIV). “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” (Luke 1:7 NIV)

A couple of years ago, I wondered for the first time why a couple who followed God so closely and authentically would have to go through such a difficult circumstance as infertility. To be a barren woman in that culture was shameful. To be a man without a son to carry on the family name was devastating. Here was this upstanding couple, growing into old age, without any descendants to help care for them.  Why would God allow such a hardship upon such devoted followers?

Don’t we often ask ourselves the same question? I do. I’m sure you do as well. Why does God allow difficulties, even great difficulties, to fall upon His most devoted followers?

Have you ever asked God a question and then had an idea pop into your head that seems to answer that question? It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does it feels like God personally gave me a new nugget of understanding. On that day I asked God, “Why did Elizabeth and Zechariah have to wait so long to have a child?”

Here is the answer I believe I received from God…”Elizabeth and Zechariah had to wait so long to have a child because they had to wait for Mary to be old enough to give birth to Jesus.” You see, Jesus and John (the Baptist as he is known in scripture) were to be contemporaries of each other. We can speculate that Mary may not have even been born when Elizabeth and Zechariah were married and hoping to begin their family. So they had to wait for Mary to be ready…old enough to conceive a child.

Elizabeth and Mary were relatives. They did not live in the same community, but they knew each other. They each knew that the other was having a miraculous birth…Mary was carrying the Messiah (the hope and dream of every Jewish girl was to one day be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah). Elizabeth was pregnant well beyond the age that is humanly possible to conceive. Elizabeth also knew (through an angel’s words to her husband) that her son would become a mighty prophet who would prepare their people for the Messiah. They were each overwhelmed by their individual miracles. Luke 1:39-56 tells how they came together for an extended visit in celebration and mutual support.

This new nugget of understanding has been a very important insight for me. It has helped me to understand that my time of waiting for something I believe that I need is not always about me. It is not always about my decisions or an opportunity to strengthen my faith (though God can certainly accomplish this as a secondary gain in our time of waiting). Sometimes it is about the perfect timing for another person or group of people. Sometimes it is even about a set of circumstances that needs to occur first. God knew precisely when Jesus needed to enter this world. All the pieces had to be set into place before the events could begin to unfold.

I hope that you can see this nugget of truth in this story as I have. When you are in a tough time or a prolonged season of difficulty, I hope that you will remain strong in your faith that God is always good. That God is forever loving. And that God’s timing is perfect without fail. We almost never see it in the moment, but He often makes it quite clear in hind sight. Our waiting is part of an eternal symphany composed and conducted by the creator of the universe. God directs each performer on each instrument to come in at just the right time to create the most amazing music for all of us to enjoy. Our job is to patiently wait for our time, the exact moment that our heavenly conductor points to us to raise our instruments and contrubute to the symphany. May we each be ready! It is, my friends, a matter of timing!

 

Pace-setter

The concept of pace has come up several times in my life recently. What is your typical pace? Mine is moderately fast. I blame it on my Miami years rushing from my dorm to a class and from one class to another. But that might not be fair… I probably also kept a pretty fast pace in high school. Some friends and I would walk home from school almost every day…about a two mile walk…carrying our books in rain, shine and snow. We loved the fresh air, exercise and good conversation.

Whenever it began, I have an ingrained habit that I have a difficult time breaking. You see, my habitual pace is not the preferred pace of some people who are very important to me. My daughters are good…they also have the Miami pace down. My grandchildren are young and sometimes move a little too fast!  They get me chasing them through the house until I am out of breath!! My husband, on the other hand, has a preferred pace of about half my speed. My 92 year old father’s pace is no more than 25%. I find it very difficult to change my pace to match another’s. Do you notice this too?

I am not just talking about your speed of walking. I am talking about your speed of life which involves movement, speed of speech, speed of thought, and level of activity both at home and outside the home. Do you try to get as many things done as you can, or do you complete critical tasks at a leisurely pace? When you are out will you stop for conversations or give a cursory greeting while you remain on the move? Do you get annoyed when people are slower to think about things or to put a thought into words? Do you build time into your day for quiet time with God or do you believe you are just too busy for that? Do you make time for friends and family or are you disconnected in a flurry of activity?

I recently had an opportunity to preach a sermon series on “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth. I was too old to be a viewer when Mr. Rogers’ show first aired, and I didn’t sit my kids down to watch it in the 80’s. To be honest, he was too slow for me! His pace was so slow that it felt sluggish and lethargic. I learned through this book that he was very purposeful about his pace. He intentionally wanted a very peaceful and calming experience for his young viewers. He knew that many of the children who watched his show faithfully had chaotic living situations and he wanted to give them a very predictable experience every single day.  Now that I better understand why he maintained the pace he did, I feel a bit sheepish for my negative judgements about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Fred Rogers lived his own life very similarly to how he “lived” on his show. He was a very quiet man, took life at a slower than average pace and was extremely predictable in his daily schedule. He was a man of faith and studied for the seminary on his lunch breaks from the show. Ultimately, he became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

So pace has been on my mind a lot lately. Just because my rapid pace is a habit, is it what is best? Is it what God wants for me? I have been a bit prideful about my  pace in the past. Fast seemed best! I seemed to be able to get a lot done in most days, and I didn’t feel like I wasted a lot of time on “unproductive” matters. Don’t get me wrong…I have made a lot of strides over the years to slow my life down. I am much better at not taking on too much. I have also improved in my ability to manage my time so that the most important things get done without undue stress or worry and less important things can get left undone if necessary. A great day used to be measured by how many tasks I completed. Now a great day is also measured by the quality of time I was able to spend with someone I enjoy. I can now cherish an afternoon of reading or studying on my front porch, and I have come to love an occasional  week at the beach (but just a week!!).

The final motivation to write about pace came Sunday in Pastor Kevin’s sermon. He preached from Genesis 33:12-14. The relationship between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, had just been restored after twenty years of estrangement. They are going to travel together back to their homeland, but Jacob cannot keep the pace of Esau. Jacob has young children and livestock with nursing young. To keep the pace of Esau would kill the young. So Jacob slows his pace – even in his excitement to return home.

Pastor Kevin and Christine have a seven week old baby girl – their first. He shared how Sierra has slowed their pace as a couple. Her needs for slow and easy, quiet and gentle have superseded her parents’ habit of running (literally and figuratively). As Sierra grows, she will be able to adapt to a faster pace, even one that outdoes their own, but for now it is slow and easy, quiet and gentle.

I was curious what scripture says about our pace. Here are a few examples that can inform your speed of life…

Exodus 34:21 “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.”

     Psalm 23:1 “A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (sheep are not known for winning any races!)

Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

Ecclesiastes 9:11 “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…”

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In fairness, I found an equal number of scriptures talking about labor, being diligent in our work and faithful with our time. So which scriptures are most important…the scriptures leading us to work or to rest? By virtue of the meaning of “rest” I think you would  agree that implies we have first worked. Balance between the two is the key. Since we have a God of balance, we would be wise to seek to live our own lives in balance.

One of the biggest excuses we give for spending time with God, visiting with a friend or relative or doing good self-care is “I don’t have the time”. Time is the great equalizer. No matter who we are, we each get 24 hours in every single day. The difference between us is what is we choose to do with our time. What are your priorities? Have you made the most important things the most important things in your schedules? Have you let something good take over what is best??

I challenge you to consider your pace, your habitual speed of living out your life. Are you running out in front of those you love? Is your pace stressful to yourself and others? Are you trying to keep a pace that is not realistic for your personality and your tolerance? Are you so busy that your relationship with God is weak or nonexistent?  As we head into the holidays, which for most of us is the busiest time of the year, can you find ways to slow down, drink in the splendor of the season and be totally present with your family and friends when you are able to get together?

I think one of the most precious times of Christmas is Christmas Eve worship. It is an hour of peace in a season of whirlwind. An hour of worship in a season of materialism. It is perhaps the most special hour of the year to me, as I still my pace to that of the infant Christ child. Can you allow the Holy Spirit in you to be your pace-setter?

I am going to continue to seek balance in my life. While my preferred speed will probably always be faster than some people that I love, I will work hard to slow down for them. I want them to know that I love them more than my need to get somewhere faster or complete a task quicker. I especially want God to know that I value my time with Him more than any to-do list or arbitrary deadline.

I pray that you and I might be able to fully live out Psalm 46:10 “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’.”

 

Only Love Can Overcome Fear and Anger

image_ddfeca78-fcee-461a-b53c-bd1695507a66I heard two different quotes recently that came together in my head in such a powerful way that I want to share them with you. I hope I can do them justice!

I heard the first one on Shine FM, but it was a quote from Chief Red Eagle, “Angry people want you to see how powerful they are…loving people want you to see how powerful You are.” Red Eagle was a Creek Indian who lived in the Alabama area during a very turbulent time in American history (1781-1824).  White men were taking over Indian land by force and Chief Red Eagle was trying to fight back. While the circumstances around this comment were different than our experiences today, this statement is still very true today.

The second quote came from a recent blog by one of my favorite authors, Dr. Tim Jennings, (Come and Reason Ministries) as he seeks to explain the growing number of mass shootings in our nation. He said, “Love and fear are inversely proportional; as love increases, fear decreases – and as fear increases, love deceases. The more fear we experience, the more quickly we see threats, real or imagined, and take actions designed to make us feel safe.”

Dr. Jennings is of the opinion that love is declining in our society. I think we all feel this to one degree or another. He said we used to be focused on three things: God, family and country, all with an eye toward service. Most people had a heart toward serving God, their family and their country, often in that order. Today, we focus more and more upon ourselves, our wants and how WE are going to be served. The sense of community has been declining since the 1950’s with a downward slide in church attendance, membership in civic organizations and volunterism. Self-sacrifice for a cause or an individual is on the decline.

So here is how I put this together in my head…see if it makes any sense to you.

A growing number of people are feeling isolated due to fragmented or estranged families, a lack of community and limited to no church fellowship. These individuals experience less love because they are not in emotionally intimate relationships. As the experience of love declines, fear creeps in. “Who can I trust?” “The only person I can count on is me!” Even to the degree “I hate people”. The movement away from God only serves to magnify the fear. There is limited experience of the deep and abiding love of Jesus.

Here is where Chief Red Eagle’s quote comes in. The number one vulnerable emotion underneath anger is fear. Angry people crave power in order to feel safer. People who crave power often capitalize upon the growing fear in other people. They stir up the fear about any number of  issues and then promise that they are the ‘savior’. They are the powerful one who will rescue us out of the grizzly circumstances in which we have found ourselves. It is not difficult to convince an already fearful person that life as they know it is about to be over. It is not difficult to convice an already fearful person that this group or that group is their worst nightmare and needs to be stopped, put down or annihilated.

Can you see it?? Do you recognize it?? It is happening all around us. It is in our politics. It is in our places of employment. It is sometimes even in our churches. Fear either makes us succeptible to a narcissist who claims to be our ‘savior’ (but really only seeks to control us), or it makes us fight for our very life.

When I was about twelve years old I took classes at our local swimming pool to become a life guard at some point in the future. I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to achieve my goal, but I did learn one powerful life lesson I have never forgotten. If your mother is drowning, bobbing up and down in the water fighting to catch even a little breath, and you swim up to face her, she is likely to push your head underwater just to grab a breath of her own. Believe me, I learned this lesson in my class the hard way! Panic makes us focus on our own survival. As Dr. Jennings states “as fear increases, love decreases”.

So, as people of faith how do we respond to this cultural shift? I propose we respond in several ways:

  1. We must first deal with our own fear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18a). We can reduce/eliminate our own fear by striving every day to live in the perfect love of Jesus. God does not give us a spirit of fear, but calls us to trust Him in all things.
  2. We must recognize fear mongers and those who seek to control others through fear so that we are not deceived by him/her. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) These deceivers are very good at what they do, so we must check their statements against other sources. For example, it is dangerous to only watch one news source, as most of them have their own political bent and will spin stories to support their positions. With the internet we have fact checkers and multiple sources of information available to us at our fingertips.
  3. We need to walk in the love of Christ so profoundly that we can’t help but to love others. There is a ‘love famine’ in our society! If you want your life to make a difference then love, love, love!! Stive to make everyone who you encounter today feel better after your encounter.
  4. Work hard to not return anger for anger. When you meet an angry person who tempts you to be angry in return, remember that your anger will only fuel the fire of their anger. Love and kindness is the only true antidote to selfishness and anger.  It doesn’t mean we have to let people abuse us, but we should draw the boundaries with kindness and respect.
  5. Be that person who tells others how powerful they are. Help others use their God-given talents to the fullest so that the Holy Spirit can bring about the kingdom of God here in this community.

Some experts say that we are living in the safest time in history but that we are the most fearful. If that is true, how sad is that!! But we don’t have to continue to grow more fearful. Through the wisdom of God, the love of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit we can find the love and peace that overwhelms the darkness of fear and selfishness. May love overcome fear in your life, and may you pass it on to others.

Blessings!

Brenda

 

Lessons from a Puppy

image_e63ab4b7-a1e8-449b-92fa-9ad7f8aaea8f.img_3240We have a new puppy in the family! Not at our house, but at our daughter and son-in-law’s house nearby. Part of the decision in them getting a puppy was our willingness to help let the little guy out during their work day and when they need to be gone. It has been more fun than we expected. My husband is fully retired so he is on puppy-duty more frequently than I, but I get to fill in on my day off and the weekend, sometimes. His name is Thor, the puppy that is, not my husband! There is hardly anything more fulfilling than to see Thor and watch him get so excited to see us! He has the exuberance of an 18 month old who sees grandma and papa after a few day’s absence. We are, for all intents and purposes, little Thor’s grandma and papa.

This doesn’t entirely surprise me. I hoped that we could have this kind of a mutually fulfilling relationship with this puppy. What has surprised me is the larger lesson I have been learning through this experience. My daughter has done much research on the type of dog that would fit best in their family and how best to care for him. They picked a Havapoo as the breed because of their temperament and intelligence. They found a breeder in Northern Ohio who had a liter of puppies at the time they wanted, and they drove several hours in order to adopt Thor into their family. They also learned how best to train Thor to be the type of family pet they needed. One important aspect was to properly socialize him. He needed to attach to his family as well as to learn to submit to the authority of his family. Improper socialization would create a dog who couldn’t interact well with people. Failure to teach submission would put him in dangerous situations as well as make house training and leash training especially difficult if not impossible. Only a few months into this relationship Thor is already quite connected to his new family. He loves his time with each one of us and is very affectionate. One of his favorite things is to roll on his back and get his belly rubbed (which I am told is a sign of a submissive attitude), and we are more than willing to participate! He is learning the skills and behaviors that the family needs from him, like house training, “sit” and “come”. Perhaps more importantly, Thor seems very happy and content in his new home.

The larger lesson I have been learning is how similar this is to us humans. We have been specifically created by God to have the proper temperament and characteristics to fit best in God’s family. God wants to adopt us into His family, and He will go to great lengths to pursue us.  Then He sets about the process of socializing us to be kind, gracious and loving to others. But the number one thing we must do is to submit. We have to choose to submit to the authority of God in our lives, acknowledging that we cannot earn our own way to heaven nor can we lead victorious lives on our own. Failure to submit to God will lead us into dangerous situations and will tie God’s hands regarding our proper instruction into the fruitful life He has planned for us.

Submission…we don’t like that word much!! We have been taught to be independent thinkers, “self-made” men and women, to have SELF esteem and to “do it my way”. I have bought into all this hype, too. But slowly and surely God is opening my eyes to a better way…that it is through submission to our Holy God that brings true freedom. Our adult Sunday School class is working through Max Lucado’s “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus”. Max says that Jesus sets us free from a number of things:

  • Jesus sets us free from our emotional baggage
  • Jesus sets us free from discontentment
  • Jesus sets us free from hopelessness
  • Jesus sets us free from fear
  •  Jesus sets us free from loneliness
  • Jesus sets us free from guilt and shame

Psalm 111:10 was my devotional scripture yesterday: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who do his work have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

We hope that our puppy has a fear of disappointing us so that he learns not to run into the street and a trust that we are placing limits upon him because we love him and want to protect him. We need to be similar. Are we willing to live in submission to our God, trusting that He places limits upon us because He loves us and wants to protect us? Can we reject the world’s lies about the freedom of ‘self’ and embrace the freedom afforded us as followers of Jesus? I challenge you to be observant in the coming days. Who seems to be living with more peace and joy…those who are self focused or those whose eyes are focused upon God, our creator, and Jesus, our redeemer? I think you will find that peace comes in the submission. Freedom comes in the relationship with Jesus. True fulfillment comes through willingly following the path that God lays out before you. True love and compassion are found within the body of believers most often called the church.

These are my lessons from our puppy…so far. I’ll keep you posted!

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!

Today is Independence Day. The anniversary of the day the thirteen colonies declared their independence from England, a monarchy that ruled over them and taxed them without representation. England did not understand these colonists, nor did they seem to care. England made laws and decrees that were good for England and England only.

The fledgling country of the United States of America had to fight for this independence. It did not come quickly nor easily, but it did finally come. And you and I are the benefactors of their vision and their sacrifices.

But, today, we stand at another crossroads in our nation’s history. We are not fighting an external power but an internal one. We are currently more in a civil war. A war of vicious words, villainization and power plays. Our forefathers developed a democracy of parties – two parties as it stands today. The intent was to never have one party or the other in complete control, but to have a balance of power between them for the good of all. Just as England could not possibly understand the needs and desires of the colonists, each party has a difficult time understanding the needs and desires of the other. This has always been true. The dilemma of today is the parties have largely quit trying. It is no longer protocol to work together for compromise and collaborative solutions, assuming good intent even in a different perspective. Rather, each party today seeks primarily to control. There is an erosion of trust between fellow citizens to work together for mutual gain. Instead, an issue is looked at from two opposite positions and a tug of war ensues. Each side villainizing the other for their “ridiculous” position.

On this Independence Day, let’s unite as Americans behind our love for this country and each other. Let’s stop villainizing each other and seek to understand each one’s position. Together we could solve the problems before us (drug addiction, poverty, racism, abortion, domestic abuse…) by seeking to understand each perspective and addressing them with compassion and justice.

Jesus never took a political stand, because he knew that politics only divide, and divisions only seek to exclude others. Instead, he spoke for freedom, true freedom, from sin, from judgement, from condemnation. He spoke for truth, for justice and for mercy. He died to remove the divide between us and God. His Spirit taught the disciples to ignore man-made divisions and accept Gentiles into the faith as graciously as they did Jews. Jesus died to unite not divide. He came to love all not to only love some.

I will be the first to admit that I am struggling to love and accept those who view our current political situation differently than I do. But I am feeling strongly urged by the Spirit to listen, to seek understanding and to speak out for unity rather than annihilation of the opposition.

On this Independence Day will you join me in doing your part to mitigate the anger and the hatred and the division? Let’s again seek to unite this country in a way that is glorifying to God. Let’s take care of the forgotten and the displaced. Let’s find balanced solutions to our problems. Let’s love each other as Christ first loved us. Hate only strengthens hate. Love is the true antidote.

The true meaning of “Belonging “

Our pastor shared a message about baptism today. It was a message he has been intending to give for three weeks now but the weather has not cooperated. So he ended up masterfully blending the three messages he planned to give over the last three Sundays and I gained a new insight! He also shared how we are all parts of one body, the body of Christ, and a celebration of gifts that each member of the body is given.

After Jesus was baptized in the company of many others who came to John the Baptist to be baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him. This was the launching event of Jesus’s ministry. My new insight is that our baptism is not just about our new covenant with God. It is also about becoming connected to the body of believers that we call a church and our commitment to use our gifts and abilities in service to and with that church family.

As people, we so need to belong somewhere, to find “our people” and to find a way to make a difference in this world. God gave us the church to do both!! Maybe society’s exodus from the church has been the reason so many feel alone and aimless today. If you feel this way, I encourage you to find a body of believers with whom you can connect and serve with commitment. It will truly make all the difference in your life!