The Most Important Thing Now

To the untrained eye it might look like dad is being kind and letting his daughter win.  If that is what you are seeing, then look a little closer.  Actually what you are seeing is dad lose back-to-back games of Candy Land.  The game is all about how the cards are stacked. (or in our case pile up since they are so bent) But, yes, I get it.  There is no real skill involved in this game. But is it possible that my 5-year-old daughter actually has skill in this?   There is another game she likes to play called Spot It.  You spot things on cards and then you get that card.  She will win those too.  I think I am easily distracted or just too slow.

img_0627The other morning she got out Chutes and Ladders.  I was making breakfast, so I couldn’t play.  That didn’t matter to her.  She just grabbed her toy dog, Max, and played with him.  She would move him over to the board, spin for him, and then taunt him when he was not winning.  Where does she come up with this stuff?  I am fairly certain I would have lost that game also.

img_0629Kids have a way of slowing life down a bit.  They want to stop and look at the caterpillar on the road.  They want to slow down so we can look at the deer.  They don’t have the same pressures on their time that we do.   “Hey, dad, do you want to play Candy Land?” is a hard thing to turn down. And do you know what that does?  It allows me to enter her world for just a little bit.  The truth is I have things I need to get done.  But what is the most important thing right now?  I think I need to lose another game of Candy Land.

If you are alive today, you have opportunities to enjoy life.   What is the most important thing right now?  It might not be what you think it is.

 

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When It Rains….

It occurs to me that those who say “when it rains, it pours” have never actually seen it rain because it more often than not does not pour when it rains. What a mess it would be if it always poured when it rained!  But what do we remember?  We remember the times that it poured.  The water comes down so hard that puddles form in our yards and anyone that was caught outside looks like they were dunked in the lake.  And then the next time there is a hint of rain we think it will happen again.

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When it rains…..

There is something about the human brain that processes those negative things in a way that gives them more of an impact.  We remember them.  We dwell on them.  We relive them.  This is why I remember my times of discouragement vividly, even though I have been encouraged on more occasions.  I have more good days than bad days.

I was reading through Exodus and it turns out this is nothing new.  Moses was told by God to deliver the Israelites from slavery.  You would think that when God told him that He would accomplish this and go with him that the people would be excited.  They have been in slavery for a while now and would no doubt appreciate the good news.  Well…not exactly. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to hear it, they just couldn’t.

Moses reported this to the Israelites but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.” Exodus 6:9  

Discouragement is a powerful emotion.   Despite what God had told them and even the history lesson he gave them to prove it to them, they still could not see any sort of hope in their circumstances.  The pain was just too big and real.  Have you been there?  Do you know anyone there today?

Who can you encourage today?  There are people in the midst of their own person downpour right now looking for hope.  Can you offer some encouragement to them?  Remember that often the most helpful thing you can do is be there.

Are you discouraged?  Look for hope in your life today.   Listen to what the Lord says and be encouraged:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Remember that in the story of Moses, God did accomplish what He said He would do.  God has not left you. He has not ignored you.  He is not sick of you.  Look to Him today and realize that sometimes when it rains it doesn’t pour.

Loving When the Camera is Off

I was looking through some boxes in the basement when I came across an old video camera.  Do you remember those?  They actually had tapes you put inside of them in order to record something.  My grandpa used to video tape all of our family events and then we would need a special adapter to watch them in the VCR.   Having the camera took effort and planning.   We then moved on to the digital camera, which was more convenient to use, but still involved extra steps to take the video and upload it to a computer.  Oh, the good ole’ days!

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Camera or not, someone is watching.

Now we have instant access to video because most of us carry a camera at all times in our smartphones.  Things like Facebook live makes it possible for anyone to stream what they are doing at any given moment with almost instant feedback.   This only feeds into the narcissistic society we live in today.  The cry of the world today is “look at me!”

The Bible talks about how people will be lovers of themselves even more so as time passes. It says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud…..and the list goes on.  (see 2 Timothy 3:2-3)  This creates a problem for the church of Jesus Christ because we are called to love people bringing glory to Him, not us. Except our flesh says “look at me!”   That means we need to be very careful about our motives for the things we do.  Are we demonstrating kindness because people are watching or are we doing it because we love Jesus Christ? Are we reaching into our community because we love people or because we want to feel like we are doing something?

What our communities really need are people who are the Church.  That is what brings glory to Christ.  We are the Church no matter where we are or what we are doing.  That means that whether the camera is on or not, be the Church.  Love the poor, broken, and lonely. Pray for people.  Pray with people. Share about the hope you have.  Be kind to people.   Involve yourself in the workings of the local community and be a witness for Jesus there.  Feed the hungry.  Visit the sick.  Care for the widow.  Make the community a better place because the church of Jesus Christ is there!  This is what being the church is all about and it has nothing to do with whether the camera is on or not.  People are watching anyway.  Let’s bring honor to the name of Jesus today!

Surrender or Drown

I have trust issues; I think we all do.  It is not that I don’t believe God will do what He said, I do.  My problem is in being too impatient to really wait for it. Well….no, that’s not entirely true either.  Let’s couple that impatience with a desire to be in control and maybe we are getting closer.  No matter how you describe it, at its core,  it is a lack of trust.  I guess I was convicted by my own sermon yesterday because as I sang the closing song I thought “Lord, I have held so much back out of fear or as the result of past hurts.”  Fear and trust apparently don’t like hanging out together because when fear is around trust shows up only in shallow ways, not the deep, abiding way we are desperate for.

The song we were singing “All to Jesus, I surrender, all to Him I freely give. I surrender all, I surrender all, all to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” Hmmm….I can’t imagine anyone can really say that they have surrendered ALL. Some, sure.  Most, maybe.  But to surrender all is much more costly. And so I sang that song longing to surrender all, with the realization that fear and doubt are always ready to make me start to grab onto things.

The picture I get in my mind is this: 

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Trust is easy when things are calm

Let’s say you are out in a canoe and you have all of your fishing gear there with you. This is not just any gear either, this is the best gear you own.  You are floating along when all of a sudden you run into something, turn sideways, and flip over.  In that moment it would be difficult not to try to grab your gear before it floats down the river.  But do you know what is better?  Surrender.  Surrender those things to the river because if you don’t, you will drown trying to save them.  If you make an attempt to gather all of your belongings, you have made a choice that those things are more important than your life.  But what good will that stuff be to you if you are dead?

 

 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

It doesn’t take very long for life to flip you into the water.  The question is:  what do you do when that happens?  If you are to trust in Jesus with all your heart, then you will grab onto Him and surrender everything else because life in Him is far more valuable than grabbing onto things that will drown you.

 

 

Forgiveness: A Journey of Healing

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Forgiving is a journey of healing

If I had to choose one area of life that is the most difficult to do as a follower of Jesus Christ, I would have to pick forgiveness.  I know it doesn’t make sense when you look at it in light of the cross and the forgiveness Jesus has provided for us.  But words hurt.  Personal attacks stay with us.  People who are friends betray us and we are left wondering what we are to do with the broken pieces.  It is tough, raw, and never as easy as it seems it should be.  Deep down in us we want justice.  We want to feel like God has taken care of the problem. (in other people of course, not in us)

I have struggled with this and God has been gracious to give me insights from His Word on this.  What does it look like to forgive someone?  What does it feel like?  And how do you know it is actually done?

Joseph was just another one of Jacob’s sons.  Yet, God had given Joseph a special ability and that really irritated his brothers.  I mean, he sort of rubbed it in, but that is just what siblings do.  So we see them come up with this plan in Genesis 37 to kill him and throw him into a cistern.  Yikes!  My brother annoyed me, but I never planned to do that.  Thankfully Reuben had a little more sense than that and he talked them into just throwing them into the cistern and leaving him there.  So they throw him into the cistern and then they sit there and eat their lunch!  I mean, can you imagine what kind of strange scene that might have been. How do you enjoy your sandwich when your brother is down in a hole yelling for help?  They then end up selling their brother as a slave to Egypt and then telling their father that he is dead.  That is not nice.  Don’t do that!

Fast forward now and Joseph has been given a position of power in Egypt.  He actually ends up being in a position to inflict harm on his brothers who have come looking for food in a  terrible famine.  It was his chance to get revenge.  But what does he do?  In Genesis 45 we see a broken man loving his brothers despite the abuse.  Yes, the same ones who had hurt him so deeply!  What does this tell us about forgiveness?

Forgiving Does Not Mean Forgetting

Genesis 45:2 says that Joseph wept so loudly in this moment that everyone heard him.  This was the heart of a man who saw his brothers, loved his brothers, but felt the pain of what had taken place.  It hurt him deeply.  And yet he decided that he was not going to hurt them.

The other people involved are in pain also

Let’s be honest.  Just because I said that mean thing or did that in anger, it does not mean I am free and clear of the pain.  The pain is shared.  It doesn’t matter who you are, if you have been on the side of the offender, you have been hurt by it also.  I have no doubt in my mind that at some point his brothers kind of said to each other “hey, you know I kind of feel bad about that.”  We have all been there.  So when Joseph starts weeping  it makes these guys panic.  What is he going to do?  Will he hurt us? No.  He has no intention to.  In a true moment of God’s grace here recorded in scripture, they embrace each other, allowing the pain to be released.  And then it says they talked.  What a picture of forgiveness and the grace of God!

Joseph was able to recognize God’s hand in the pain

He said that despite what they had hoped to accomplish in seeing him sold off, God had accomplished his good purposes.  His pain was used to save lives, ironically even their lives.  That is really hard to see in the moment, but what a beautiful mess it really is when we get that.

Let the past remain in the past

After he sends them back to get their father he gives them instructions.  Do not fight on the way back.  I love that because I know I would probably want to have a conversation about who was more at fault in the whole thing.  It is never my idea, is it?  But Joseph is telling them to forget about all of that and just go get dad.  Do not go back in the past.  Let’s move ahead.

This all reminds us of Jesus Christ

This makes us look to Jesus Christ again because he was rejected, sold off and beaten.  He was betrayed in the most cruel ways.  We rebelled and put him on that cross.  Yet, he is willing to forgive us which saves us from our own mess. What a wonderful Savior!   He is willing to send out sins far away and restore our relationship with God.

Oh, God, help us all to be just as kind to other people who wrong us.  It hurts us for sure, but Jesus Christ is able to help us in it. If you are struggling to forgive, look to Jesus Christ.  It is not easy at all, but He understands fully and is able to help.

 

Mix Up Your Stressful Nights

Weeknights can be stressful. It seems like the moment the kids come home from school the universe is set on a collision course with itself.  No that doesn’t make sense.  They get home and need food because the three block walk from school wipes them out and they must eat right now! Okay, I guess it has more to do with their early lunch time.  Hey, let me tell the story.  Anyway,  then they unpack their backpacks and papers are strewn about. You need to sign this.  I need this money for the school activity.  Some nights there are sports or other activities.  But there is always time for homework and then next best thing, complaining about homework.

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School days are full days.

Tonight I was feeling the tension.  The kids were fighting. Then a couple of them were playing some random game that involved barking and marbles.  No, I did not understand it, but they were getting along.  That seemed to be going okay until they broke the glass jar.  Then there were tears.  In the next room homework was going on.  That was no going so well.  The way they are teaching math now is like a foreign language to me.  My attitude was going south quickly.   And then the suggestion: “Let’s play telephone”

How long has it been since I played telephone?  I mean that would never have been a suggestion I would have made.  Okay.  Let’s see what happens.  The kids started to come up with their phrases.  “The barn is green and yellow.”  Then there was something about ice cream and kibbles.  We were quickly laughing.  It is amazing how quickly the tension was gone.  There was no more fighting as the kids now tried to think of fun things to say. Looks like the kids figured out a way to bring some life to the boredom and tension of the evening.  My suggestion for you:  play a game of telephone and see what happens. Lighten up a bit and mix it up.  You will be glad you did.  I know I am. 

Stop Killing Time

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Time is not worth wasting

I have a confession to make.  It seems that I have killed a lot of time in my life. There is no way to measure the amount of time that has been slaughtered by my carelessness.  I have been a killer of time and I am not happy about it.  You see, time is a commodity that seems to become more and more important the older that one gets.  When I was in grade school I looked forward to the day being over.  I looked forward to the weekend, to summer, and to that vacation my family had planned.  I looked forward to getting to high school, getting my license, and finally getting out on my own.  All of those things came quickly though and now time seems to be moving along faster than I can watch it fly on by.  It bothers me because I know that one day I will look back and wish that time I murdered when I was younger is able to be brought back to life.  It bothers me because I keep getting these things on my Facebook feed reminding me of how quickly my kids are growing up.  I have no time to waste!  Every minute actually matters.  Every second must actually be savored as the most important moment of life.   It seems to me that life was meant to be lived right now, not for something in the future — an idealistic dream world that never actually comes anyway.  So then I wonder how it is that we can talk about how busy we are in one moment with no time to spare and then spend an hour “killing time” waiting for our children to finish their event, or our plane to board.

Stop killing time and start living your life purposefully.  Wait with purpose.  Meet new people.  Take up a new hobby.  Read a book (an actual one with paper).  Do something for someone else.  Pray.  Turn off the notifications on your phone. Find something to do.  Just don’t kill time.  It will be gone before you know it and you have none to spare.