There are times I look at someone and I wish I had more to offer. I wish I had the words to make things better. As a parent, we try to make things better with our children. Comfort them, kiss the wound, and send them on their way. But in so many lives there is anxiety, depression or emotional scars that are far deeper than a band-aid and a kiss. They need God. I am so glad He is there. You see, the good news is that God is willing to go to all of those places!
In Genesis 39 there is a familiar story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. To make a long story short, she ends up accusing him of trying to assault her and Joseph ends up in jail. But do you know what it says? It says that while Joseph was in prison, God was with him. He was even in solitary confinement and God was with him. God showed kindness to him and watched over him even though he was suffering. He didn’t take the suffering away. He was there with him in it.
It is a healthy reminder for all of us that there is no limit to God’s presence in our life. If you are in prison, the hospital, or in your living room wondering how to navigate the pain of your life, God is with you! Sure the suffering might not just disappear, but knowing you are not alone should give you some hope.
So remember that no matter where you go in life, God is willing to go there with you.
After a tough start to winter this year, we finally had some days where we could go outside and not have the wind freeze our flesh. It was quite the treat. As I walked around the yard I noticed that the snow was deeper than I remembered it being and that getting that snow in your boots is cold. Over on one side of the yard sat the Christmas tree, waiting in line to be burned in the fire pit during the summer. It still looks really green, but is not as nice as it was in the living room. In my hands were Christmas lights that for whatever reason decided to stop working, ironically just like my preteen son. And then it hit me: I would sure hate to be January.
December gets all the hype, fun lights, gifts, movies,elves, and sweet treats. November gets Thanksgiving which takes food and football and merges them together in merriment. What does January get? Dark days and nights. Cold temperatures. Frozen pipes. Cars that won’t start. Ice covered roads. Garage doors that break. (yes, the replacement of the aforementioned door is happening this week– could be a blog post in that) All of this and the let down emotionally that Christmas has now come and gone once again. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the seasons of the year. I look foward to them in fact. It is just that January seems to get left out of the fun, like that one friend that nobody thinks to call and invite to the movie. Thankfully February shares candy hearts early with everyone, which makes us look forward to spring and February 15th when they get marked down to 50% off.
Yet, as I thought about this I realized that there is a lot of joy to be had in January. Life is full of adventure and experiences. Winter sports are in full swing. Movie nights in the warmth of the living room are a nice treat that does not happen in the summer. Getting out the skis is a fun activity that even the littlest among us can figure out pretty quickly. (I mean how can you look at her and not smile?)
Yes, I guess there is joy to be found in every month of the year. It takes looking for something that will brighten your day and doing that. For me it might be getting a cup of coffee and staring out the window for a while. At other times I enjoy pulling my daughter around the yard in the sled or working on some project. Whatever it is for you, get out and enjoy each day because each day is a true gift from God. Yes, even January.
It seemed like a reasonable request to him, but to me it might be a bit much. “Dad, you need to change the carpet in here right now.” Why the sudden concern over the flooring choice in our living room? Like most things in life with him, it starts with a John Deere tractor. As it turns out, the new cultivator he bought with his Christmas money does not work well on the longer carpet. It gets tangled up and it falls off. We have ourselves a frustrated farmer. The only solution is to change the carpet.
We might laugh at that, but it isn’t actually too far away from how serious God is about our sin. Jesus even went so far as to say that if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Which, by the way, is hyperbole — don’t really cut your hand off. But what it does is show how serious it is to stay untangled in the “carpet” of your sin. Run from sin. Stay away from sin. Change your scenery if it is just causing you to stumble.
Remember that this world is doing everything it can to take you away from God. Change whatever you need to avoid the trap of sin.
After I wrote yesterday’s post, I remembered something. Actually, I was just about ready to fall asleep and I had a thought pop into my brain. As a side note, that is a strange place for that to happen for me, usually it is when I am taking a shower that I think the clearest. But anyway, I got to thinking about how in many different places in my life I have been told to “leave it better than you found it.” This is easy to understand when you are given something to borrow, or you are in someone’s home. But what about if we thought the same about the people we encountered everyday?
I was at a hotel with my family some months ago and I noticed an older couple strolling around the lobby. The older man was in a wheelchair and his wife was pushing him around. Immediately I had compassion for them because they looked tired to me. She loved him and would do anything for him. He had some sort of health problem that limited him to the wheelchair. I noticed they wanted to go into the pool area to see what was going on in there, but holding the door was challenging. I went over a held the door so they could come in and then when they left again. They both smiled at me and thanked me for my help. I didn’t do much, but I hope I left them better than I found them.
Words have the power to hurt and heal. Of course working with people can be a challenge. If I chose to be negative or grumble about others, I will just add negativity to an already negative situation. People don’t always do things like I do them. Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes other people make mistakes. We are all human. One thing that helps make things better is gratitude. I can say thank you. In fact, I have found that one way to counteract negativity in the workplace or in the home is to say thank you, even to that person that can rub you wrong. Actually, this is probably something we all can do better at. It doesn’t hurt and it is free.
What can you do today to leave them better than you found them? Someone needs you to lift them up today.
It is interesting to look back at how this blog started. I was a youth pastor on Cape Cod and there was so much going on in my brain that writing was a natural outlet for it. It was a real fun thing for me to build a little following, make a few cyber connections, and learn something along the way. For a whole year I wrote one post a day! That is quite the pace. And then things changed. I moved to a new place and encountered some difficult days. The horizon seemed dimmer. It was like I was shut off; my mind had things it still wanted to say, but I lived in almost a numbed silence. I didn’t even know how to move ahead.
Just recently I picked up my notebook where I jotted down blog post ideas. Some of them were really funny. But that exercise encouraged me again. I realized that my mind was sharper when I was writing on this forum. I think that it actually helped me express things that God was doing in me. It made me think creatively and put ideas out there, whether anyone looked at it or not.
Therefore, I am going to be doing some work on this blog in the coming days, sort of fine-tuning where it is I want to take it in 2017. The concept is still the same: There is nothing wasted in life. The only difference is that my kids are now older, I am older, and the things that cause me to think now are just a little more refined. And when I say that, it is not like some really aged piece of cheddar or anything. I mean God is maturing, challenging, and expanding those things that I thought I had figured out. That is exciting! I want to share my heart, the things I care about, and hopefully some encouragement for people who might track along with me. No, I don’t have it all figured out. But I believe that all that was cut off in my difficult times has actually grown into something quite beautiful. And for those new horizons, I thank God.
The season of Christmas has such interesting dynamics to it. On the one hand, it is really fun. I mean who doesn’t love seeing their kids dressed like sheep and angels? It can be fun to have time to catch up with family or friends. My daughter was giving me the details on how many sleeps it is until Christmas and the order of events. To say she is excited about this Christmas is an understatement. But in all of my preparation this week for two services, and time with my family I have been thinking about the amount of suffering that people are going through. Does that seem strange? Well, keep in mind I am a Pastor of a church and an EMT in the local community. I have seen some suffering. I know we sing songs about how wonderful this time of year is and declare “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.” But what about those who are not experiencing so much joy
this year? You can’t just sing it and make the pain go away. Some people have experienced more loss this year than at any point in their life. Suicide. Depression. Alcoholism. Abuse of all kinds. Stress. Anger. Anxiety. Financial Challenges. Illness. I mean, can we just be honest and say that for some people this season does not make pain get better, it just amplifies the issues.
So what difference does this baby make for those who are hurting this Christmas? Micah 5:5 says that this ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem would be our peace. Peace is something we talk about and strive for, but can’t seem to achieve. But if Jesus is our peace, maybe we can experience it. Maybe this one we celebrate can actually enter into my mess and help me. And of course the answer is emphatically “yes!” You are why He came! You are why He left the comforts of His heavenly home and entered our world in an insignificant town surrounded by insignificant people on some insignificant day in a very insignificant way. In doing so, however, He did provide for us something we were so desperate for: hope. Hope says that while right now things are a mess; one day things will no longer be that way. Why? Because Jesus has come and is coming again.
Do you have some questions? Yes. Do you have some things you are hoping to see resolved? Yes. But there is comfort in knowing God was not content just telling us how to live; He needed to send His son to demonstrate His love for us.
So if you are in a good place right now and you know someone who isn’t, it could be a real good idea to encourage them in some way. In fact, I think it is exactly what Christ demonstrates for us in His birth. He showed up in our mess in order to save us from it. I have showed up many times just to visit with someone who was really having a tough time. Those kinds of things mean the world to people. It reminds them that God has not forgotten them — the very heart of the Christmas story.
Oh, and get to it because there are only 3 more sleeps until Christmas.
Want to hear more about what Jesus Christ has offered to us? Check out my Christmas Sermon Series on our Church Website.
I am not sure what I am supposed to say and yet here I am. This young man just learned his fate “cancer.” And I am in a car alone with him on my way to a waiting group of high school students wondering what is happening. The very thing that never happens to you or someone you love, was happening. What do I know about cancer? I was just the youth pastor who was now just a bit more concerned with the faith of a few of the students in my youth group. They were already confused and now this. The first one approached me almost immediately with “If he dies, I am done” Oh, God knows I prayed that was not a place I was going to have to go with them. But this was an honest sentiment, which I appreciated hearing. It represented real hurt and confusion. I get it. I felt it. I saw it in eyes and heard it in conversations.
I have often thought about those early days and about how much of a privilege it was for me to be brought in to such a personal journey. I also thought about how inadequate and exhausted I felt during those many trips for treatment. What did I have to offer? I didn’t even have words to make anything better and my attempts to brighten the day wasn’t always met with great joy. And I can’t say I even blamed him for it because, let’s be honest, cancer is horrible enough without the chemo. Add chemo and it is like hell on earth for people. If you want to feel compassion for people, go into a cancer center sometime and hear the sounds, smell the smells, and see the 3-year-old kids pushing their chemo around. It is gut wrenching at the best moments. But there I was and for over a year, I did the best I could to follow the example of Jesus Christ. “Just be there” was all I could do and it seemed like it mattered to some extent. Interesting how God works because the end of 2013 after being there, I left Cape Cod and moved many miles from this church family.
And so a message came to me in November of this year that this young man was nearing death. My heart hurt. My mind raced. How do I pray? What do I do? And then when I got the news that this young man died, I wept. I was really surprised by the emotion that I felt and came out of me realizing that he was free from this pain now. I guess that is what the Bible calls”sorrowful and yet rejoicing.” It is this strange dance of emotions and I did them both. In that moment I knew I needed to get there for the funeral. I just needed to be there.
As only the Lord could have planned, I was already planning on being gone on a Sunday from my current church and it was that Sunday that the funeral was planned. Now the hard part: getting an affordable flight on Thanksgiving weekend. Through a variety of circumstances, God provided and there I was. I was there.
I didn’t know what was going to happen. My mind went back to a time when I was in High School and a young boy was killed in a car accident. I remember the youth pastor up front, weeping, completely broken. They always told me that if you do youth ministry long enough, sooner or later you will bury one of your students. I just could not believe the day had come.
But in all of this, I was struck again with this simple realization. There is great power in just being there. And all I shared were stories, reflections of my time being there. In all my time playing games during chemo, I didn’t really provide a ton of insight, I provided my presence. People in the church were overwhelmed that I had made the journey. It inspired them in a way that I was grateful for, but wasn’t expecting.
This is what the Church is all about. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to have all of the answers. You don’t even have to have an answer at all. I didn’t. You need to simply be there. Learn to live in relationship with others. Love people. Allow yourself to care for them. I learned the power of that in a profound way. It is a privilege I will never forget.