Friday, February 24, 2017

Go To Where I Will Show You

The LORD had said to Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.
Genesis 12:1

I had to go back to our "old house" (as we are calling it now) to work this morning because I don't yet have internet service in the "new house."  

We had all of the furniture moved yesterday from the old house to the new house, but we left the desks standing in anticipation of this particular moment.  

It's odd to look up and see the familiar landmarks in our rented house are now gone.  We only lived here for three months, but it didn't take long for it to feel like home.  Even in the short time we lived here, we made memories together.  

At the end of a very long day yesterday, we finally gathered in our jumbled living room, ate pizza and began to laugh a bit, which we needed to do.  Moving is no fun--especially across the street.  

I didn't think about it in the moment, but I wish now I had said something important as we ate, considering it was the first of what will be many family meals in our new home. I think I would have said something like this...   

"We dreamed of this place, long before we knew it was here.  The fact that it was across the street from us all along was just God's way of showing off.  We are all here together under one roof, just like we imagined it.   When we started this journey across the country, we just stepped out in faith.  We weren't sure where it would lead us, or how it would all work out.  And now here we are... home.  God is so good.  We'll tell the story of how good God is our whole lives."   

I am a living, walking testimony of the goodness of God.  Pursuing God's call for our lives has made us uncomfortable.  It hasn't been easy, but it's in moments like the one we shared last night that I am reminded of how amazing the adventure of following Christ truly is.  

May you find ways to step out in faith and be amazed at the goodness of God today.  Test that goodness.  Go where you feel led to go by God without fear and trepidation.  The road ahead might not be clear, but trust that it leads exactly where you need to be.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Your Circumstances Don't Care

It's easy to get mad at your adverse circumstances.  Chances are, they deserve it. 

That trying situation you are going through?  It probably needs to be called out and vilified for being so awful. 

And that bad thing that happened to you...  You have my permission to let off some steam by calling it every name in the book.  

But you need to realize something as you are railing away at the unwanted circumstances, situations and awful things that have happened to you:  They could care less.  

I read this amazing quote from the ancient Roman playwright Euripides today.  He wrote, "You shouldn't give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don't care at all."  

It doesn't matter how mad you get, frustrated, or full of despair--circumstances aren't concerned about your feelings.  They are not people that can respond to your frustration, and no amount of anger is going to change that fact.  

I struggle with this something fierce.  

When I am running late, and stuck behind a slow moving truck on a two line road where I can't pass---no amount of steaming and fuming behind the wheel is going to make it better. But nine times out of ten, I find myself doing it anyway.  

When I find myself dealing with situations that are causing me stress, but are quite beyond my control it's easy for me to start whining and complaining.  But no matter how big my pity party might get, it's not going to fix it.  

What I need in those moments is not to rail at my circumstances, but to turn to Jesus, and find in him the strength to be at peace.  

The Apostle Paul once wrote: 

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Chances are, when I am facing hard situations and circumstances, I got into them because I lacked the peace and contentment of Jesus in the first place.  

May you discover in the midst of your circumstances, situations and challenges new depths of peace and connections with Christ.  May you find in this peace and connection a renewed sense of contentment no matter what you face.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Words Get In The Way

Words are powerful.

Words have the power to give life or to take it away.  

Words have the power to heal or destroy.  

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue," Proverbs 18:21 states.  In Proverbs 21:23 we read, "Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue, keeps himself out of trouble."  

I am ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I have used my words to hurt or destroy others.  

Sometimes I've done it unintentionally, but there have been more than a few times when I've used hurtful and killing words out of malice and anger.  And most of the time, the person I've said those words about never heard them.  

We have this mistaken notion that the things we say are somehow harmless if the person we're referring to can't hear us say them.    

What I've learned about the power of words is that even though the person about whom I am speaking my angry, hurtful words isn't within earshot---they are hurt by them all the same.  

You see, we are all connected through the power of the Holy Spirit of God.  When we speak killing words out into the universe, they do more than just grieve the Spirit--they take their toll on the people we're directing them toward.  

Jesus holds his followers to a higher standard.  In Matthew 5:21-22 we hear his teaching on how anger (and our words) can be akin to murder:  

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment."

Jesus takes the Seventh Commandment and turns it on it's ear.  It's not just "Thou shalt not kill," it's "Thou shalt not become so angry at another person that you think or say hurtful or killing things about them."

We need to guard our words more carefully, and speak grace and peace out into the world.  Each of us should follow the ancient advice of the great Roman orator Cato who once said, "I begin to speak only when I'm certain what I'll say isn't better left unsaid." 

May you speak life into the world today.  May you find words that are full of beauty and truth, and let words filled with ugliness, hate and anger fall away to be forgotten.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Lessons From The Lobster

One of the most often-asked questions I get asked as a pastor has to do with pain and suffering. In my experience,  people who are going through difficult seasons almost always want to ascribe some kind of meaning to what is happening to them.  

But sometimes, there doesn't seem to be any meaning to ascribe.  

"It seems so pointless sometimes," a church member, who was going through a very rough patch of life told me once.  "I am fine with accepting God's will, and I get that sometimes stuff just happens, but this just feels meaningless to me.  It's like God's cruel joke."  

In the past I have been guilty of answering these kinds of questions with platitudes.  "If God brought you to it, then God will get you through it," comes to mind.  

There's truth in platitudes, don't get me wrong.  But it seems to me that what we need most in our valley-of-the-shadow seasons is to be able reframe our suffering and hardships in a way that leads us to a deeper connection to God.   

I read recently that in the first year of it's life, a lobster will shed it's shell up to fourteen times.   Shedding it's shell takes the lobster about ten days, and during that time when it's naked, vulnerable and without any armor it will grow seven percent.  

When we go through seasons of loss, hardship, tough times, pain and suffering we often find that the "armor" we've constructed on our own (a false sense of safety, security coupled with our own strength) falls apart. I know that feeling all too well.  

But, almost every moment of spiritual growth in my life came after a season of shadow.  After I've experienced hardship and suffering, I have discovered a deeper sense of God's presence.  I've drawn closer to God and stronger in my faith after I've known vulnerability and seen my self-constructed armor disintegrate.

May you find in the midst of your hard times a sense of God's real presence in your life.  May you find that the meaning you seek within the season of shadow is the strength you gain through your full and complete reliance on God in the midst of it.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

It's Your Move

 "Unless you move the place where you are is the place where you will always be."  
- Ashleigh Brilliant 

I'm moving again.  

I calculated the other day that Merideth and I have now moved 22 times in 25 years of marriage.  Within the last year, we moved three times, including one that took us across the country.  

This particular move is across the street, though.  Literally, the house I am moving into is right across the street, and one house down.  It's a miracle how we got that house--the house where our entire family, including my parents will be living.   

I'm thinking that this move I am making now needs to be the last move I make for a very long time.  I am also thinking that I need to rent a huge dumpster and get rid of a bunch of stuff.  

Additionally,  I am realizing that I've been wearing the same work clothes for two days straight. This is not a good trend.  

All this moving caused me to recall a book by Reggie Joiner that I read some time ago.  In his book, Joiner talked about how (even though we make lots of moves in our lifetime) we were created to make one primary move: a move toward God.  

Joiner writes, "When you move toward God, it has a ripple effect on every other aspect of your life."  

I have known this to be so true for me.  Every single time I have sought God's will and God's way... Every time I have first moved toward God before all else... it's made an incredible difference in every aspect of my life--particularly in my relationships with the people around me.  

This is why Jesus declared that the "first and greatest" commandment was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."  

This first move toward God opens your life up to the second part of the commandment, which is a move (Joiner's ripple effect) toward others.  Jesus outlined this by saying: "The second is like it.  Love your neighbor as yourself."  

May you move toward God today before you make any other moves.  Dedicate yourself to pursuing God first and foremost in your life, and then prepare yourself for the incredible ripple effects that will happen next, and the people you'll be moving toward as well.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.