First Impressions

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

This expression emphatically declares  – “what you see on the outside does not necessarily represent what is on the inside”.

In other words, be careful how you assess what you initially see. Be careful how quickly you allow yourself to jump to conclusions or let your initial perceptions guide your thinking.

It is valuable advise but not always easy to do.  impressions

It is easy to jump to conclusions. It is easy to let our preconceived opinions shape how we see things going forward. It is also easy to allow our perceptions to continue to guide us. These perceptions can be difficult to change.

Each of us have them. We have perceptions about things every day. We encounter situations, people, environments where we draw conclusions. Impressions get formed and we use them to define what we determine to be truth. These perceptions can also be reinforced – not so much by what we see, but by what we want to see.

As an example, if we perceive someone as a genuine, caring person we will look for actions which reinforce our mindset. If we think of a person being self centered or self righteous we will notice the actions, statements, or behaviours which further occur which demonstrate that our understand of who we think they are is accurate.

Our conclusions get shaped and set through our perceptions even if we do not actually know the person. These perceptions or first impressions can actually become more entrenched simply because we look for evidence to support or prove that our perceptions are true.

In fact as time goes by these perceptions of a person can become so entrenched we struggle to change them even if they are not based in any real facts.

I heard someone give an address this week which made me wonder about my own perceptions.

I had met and talked with them before and knew something about them on a personal level. However, I have to admit much of my knowledge of them has come through other sources. It is amazing how someone else can create an image for us of someone we don’t really know. And it is equally amazing how we will adopt someone’s perception and make them our own.

Regardless, when I heard this person speak, with this backdrop of my own perceptions of who they were, it left me at a difficult place.

What I perceived them to be like was not how they came across. In fact it was almost the exact opposite. I has left with wondering if my initial assessment was totally off base. Had I been so wrong about how I had perceived them to be?

That could be one conclusion.

Another could be that the person had actually changed? They had become someone who was very different than how I had initially perceived them to be? They had changed. They were becoming a different person. If this is was case then my perceptions were correct but need further examination.

So there is another option…it was merely a act, a show. They were being skillful at creating an image outside of their real character for the audience in order to dupe us into believing that what we perceived them to be like was not based in any fact. What we saw on the stage was not who they really were.

This left me in quite a quandary. How was I to evaluate what I had just witnessed?

It made me realize our perceptions can be very powerful and at times dangerous.  Dangerous because they can stop us from getting to know people as they are. They can stop us from “getting past the cover” and never “reading the book”.

It made me realize how easy it is to fall into this trap of allowing my preconceptions to become the lens I look through and keep me from pausing before I jump to conclusions.

The only one who really knows the truth about someone is God.

After all, “…People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

(1 Samuel 16:7)

God sees what we are really like regardless of how we try and portray ourselves to those around us. He knows the real us. His first impression is not based on what we want Him to see but based on who we really are.

Only…

This caused me to look at one other conclusion we can jump to.

We do not only confine our perceptions to the people around us, we also have perceptions about who God is. We see His nature through a lens we create or have had others create for us about what He is like. This can be accurate or can be completely off base.

Some will perceive Him to be:

  • loving,
  • a judge,
  • a strict enforcer of the rules,
  • a soft hearted giver of good gifts
  • a kind hearted Father
  • and so on.

These are based on our notion of who we think He is or who others have helped define Him for us. Once we have perceptions we often continue to look for things which help to cement these notions for us as fact.

But that may not be based in any reality.

It may be like looking at the cover of the Bible and assuming we know what it contains – rules for living, myths, good stories, moral lessons, and so on. But until we actually read the book we may never know.

We may only have our preconceptions or those of others to define for us what the heart of God is like but not have any actual truth.

Before we jump to conclusions about Him, it would be helpful if we actually had the facts. First impressions are not enough.

 

 

 

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“Taken Away…”

It isn’t very comfortable.

Having something taken away from us seldom sits well. When it occurs it creates a real sense of loss. It produces this empty place or void which previously was filled. A gap, a hole is generated and we can be left feeling defeated or overwhelmed.

On the other hand, we are much more naturally inclined to add to our lives. After all, adding implies a more positive perspective. When we add we are gaining, getting ahead, accomplishing, building, acquiring more. This generates a positive feeling of our moving forward and being blessed. This is in sharp contrast to how we feel when things are removed from our lives.

Daily this positive perspective is reinforced as we see enticements to get more, get newer, bigger, better, all by adding to our lives. We have very little exposure to how we should see less, get smaller, reduce – unless it is our waist line – and even then it is so we can add more to our renewed healthy lifestyles.

Lately I have thought about this “taking away” part of our lives. A number of situations have occurred where loss is exposed and is overwhelming.

(#humboldtstrong comes to mind as one of these events but there are others).  humboldt

What they have made me ask is how do we respond when we don’t see addition, but instead see subtraction?

In part I am wondering because subtraction is inevitable. As much as adding is more preferred there always comes a time in our lives when subtraction occurs. Things we hold on to inevitable slip through our fingers.

The jobs we hold. The people we are close to. The abilities we possess. Those things we hold dear.

All – at some point – are taken from us or at the very least change significantly. What do we do when these moments come?

lossThere is an account of a man who had much in his life. And then in a time of great testing saw much of what he held dear removed. Job, even though he was seen as a righteous man, encountered tragedy. He underwent heartache and pain. In the midst of experiencing this tragedy in his life, where much of what was important to him was taken away, he makes this statement,

The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

ESV (Job 1:21)

This statement which, while short, is impactful. Job understood what is was like to walk through life with blessing. He had acquired much and one could easily recognized him as a blessed man. Which, we find, was the argument against him.

He was accused of trusting God because of what he had gained. It is little wonder that he should trust in God. Given all of the wealth, prosperity, and goodness which has been shown to him, of course he would be quick to follow God. He has reason to.

But, remove, take things away from him and you will see a very different man. You will see a man who questions God and His goodness. Pull things out of his life and you will see a man who has his faith wane or disappear entirely. You will see a man reject the gracious nature of God.

At least that was what was surmised.

Job’s reaction though is very different.

He doesn’t fully understand what is taking place. He is filled with questions about why and how come? They are the same questions we ask when things are taken from our lives. We are filled with questions – ones we don’t have answers to. We feel overwhelmed.

But what is most telling about Job is that in the midst of his great loss he goes to the place which will always be there. Even though He did not hear the words of Jesus who said,

… And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20 (NLT)

Job was aware that God was indeed present with him.

In the midst of great blessing and in the hardship of great loss God was still there. He remained with him. Tragedy did not remove Him from Job’s life. In fact it highlighted all the more how much Job needed to rely on God’s presence – a presence that would not be removed.

Did Job fully understand what was taking place?

Certainly not.

The rest of the account of his life describes the wrestling he had with trying to understand “why”. Why did he face what he did? The account details theories, relayed to him by his friends, who are trying to explain or rationalize why things occurred as they did.

We often try and explain loss.

We often try and find reasons for why things have been taken from our lives. Explanations are offered for the “why” questions we have, but most ring hollow. They don’t satisfy. And often they compound our sense of loss. The void we feel remains.

So what do we do?

Job’s initial response provides some insight.

He focused on what He knew. He understood God deserved honor in all circumstances. In times of blessing and in times of lack. God could be trusted when things were going well and when things take a turn for the worse. When he was in the midst of rejoicing and in the midst of turmoil. When we add and when we lose. This did not change.

And so, Job looked to God in the midst of his loss.

His reaction can provide us with help for today.

In whatever state you are in – a time of blessing or a time of loss – we can turn to the constant. We can turn to the One who said, “He would never leave us or forsake us” We can turn to Jesus.

What remains is will we.

“Moments….”

Each of us have something in common.
It unites us regardless of our many difference. In spite of all of the things which keep us separated or divided, this common thing brings us together.  This commonality occurs whether we live in rural, suburban or urban centers. It is the same for each of us whether we have great wealth or live in poverty. It is common in spite of our heritage or ethnic background.
Each of us has 1440 minutes in a day.
None of us have more and none of us have less. Providing we remain alive, we all have the same amount of time in a 24 hour day.
But not all 1440 minutes are the same.
I attended a conference in Texas this week, (with I am guessing) 4-5,000 people – school board members from across the United States, along with alamoseveral of us from Canada. If you have ever attended events like this it can be a little overwhelming. Masses of people, lots of workshop rooms, and unless you make specific plans to meet someone you are with at a specific spot, you are on your own.
I knew a few people who were attending. But, as I began my journey alone, I quickly discovered there were others who were also going. Meeting at the airport for the second leg of my journey was unexpected. However, it began what was going to become a pattern.
Throughout the week I would run into people unexpectedly that I knew. It happened as I was doing touristy things, as I was leaving the opening keynote event with these 5,000 or so delegates, and even as I walked into my first workshop room. Someone who I knew was going to attend, and who I needed to talk with, was sitting right in front of me.
Imagine that.
Each day provided these moments. Brief periods of time, where if I seized them, became opportunities to build relationships. Whether it was eating together, sharing a coffee break, or simply got to know each other better.
None were planned.
It was pretty amazing, To walk through my day and have these moments occur – with people I knew allowed for these days to be very successful, not counting all of the things I learned.
However, it didn’t stop there.
I was briefly involved in one of the main events. I had to walk on stage with 50 other leaders to be recognized as a group – my 3 seconds (literally) of fame. Part of the process required us to line up so we could enter and exit correctly. There had been a dress rehearsal the day before (apparently) so some already knew where to stand. I did not.
So when me (and a few others) were added to the lineups, I was standing between two presidents who I had never seen or met before. We got our instructions and then waited for our moment in the sun. As we chatted, I find out that one of them “happened” to be the president of the state bordering my province. We were neighbors.
president.png
It was quite a moment. I was struck by how orchestrated things seemed to be. Moments which I needed to take advantage of as they emerged.
But, it shouldn’t surprise me.
After all God promises to guide our path. He promises to watch over our steps. And He did. Even as I write this, I have met people at the airport – two different ones – who I know – one I expected to see and one I did not.
This may not seem like a big thing – having moments which come across our paths – which are unexpected. Moments to provide us with an opportunity to connect with people. Except…
The backdrop to this trip was that I was anxious before I left. I am not completely sure why – I travel on my own a fair bit and much of what I was going to experience would be all too familiar. But, traveling does provide me with some anxiety. Between making sure you have what you need, going through all the security checks, getting to where I need to go etc. There is always a certain amount of stress. But over time all of these have become normal parts of trips.
The only difference in this one was the customs thing. It has been a while since I flew and had to go through customs. As it turned out the process was very different than the last time I experienced it and quite efficient.
However, as I am almost home, I have come to some conclusions. I have realized why I had all these moments over a few days which surprised me. God was reminding me that:
  • He knows where I am.
  • He sees my moments and is concerned about my steps.
  • He has a path for me to walk down.
  • He has desires for me.
  • I am never alone, because He is with me.
  • Just to name a few….
It has also reminded me that each of us have moments.
Each day can be an opportunity for God to direct our steps if we choose to take advantage of the moments He gives to us. Part of our seizing the moment is walking into those places He has for us and embracing them.
It makes me wonder, what will today bring? I am not sure, but I need to seize every moment I have. All 1440 of them.
How about you?

“Behold the Man”

The life of Jesus is well documented.

There are four very credible eye witness accounts recorded for us of what He did as He lived in Israel over 2000 years ago. These accounts culminate with His death and resurrection, the moment in time we were reminded of this past weekend.

It was moment where history was forever changed.

While we may know the main story line, there are many sub-plots to the events surrounding His life. A number of these sub-plots emerge in this climactic moment in Jerusalem beginning when Jesus shared the Passover meal with His closest followers.

Each of these under-current stories provide us with insight into the amazing impact Jesus makes.

One of these provides us with a glimpse into little known characters. pilate

For example – Pilate – the representative of the Roman government in Israel.

Pilate emerges as a key player. As governor of Israel he is known for being the one who was able to determine the fate of Jesus – or so he believe.

The religious leaders in Israel arrest Jesus and bring Him to Pilate because they saw Jesus as a threat. He was garnering crowds of followers. He was shaking up the order of things. He was causing anxiety in their lives. Besides, they didn’t have the authority to do anything to remove Jesus. That authority was left to Pilate.

Pilate, however, was not very accommodating.

He questioned Jesus and tried to get to the truth. But he was unable to find anything worth condemning. This Man was innocent. Besides, the accusations were inconsequential. He was being accused of blaspheming God, something of no concern to Rome.

So what if the masses saw Him as the Messiah. Big deal if those in authority were uncomfortable with this travelling prophet ruffling their religious system. It didn’t mean anything to the Emperor in Rome or Pilate’s place in Israel.

This man Jesus was harmless.

He was harmless enough that He should just be released. But Pilate knew that would create problems. So at the very least he should make an example out of Jesus. Bring Him out in front of the crowd, but first have Him flogged, dress Him up in a purple robe – a sign of royalty, and place a crown of thorns on His head. By doing this he could exert his authority as the representative of Rome, and show them who was in charge of the situation.

Only, Pilate did not understand what he was actually revealing in this moment.

In John’s account of Jesus life we read,

Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” John 19:1–4 (NLT)

This was going to be the moment of truth. The crowd would know that Pilate was the authority in Israel. Those potential troublemakers in the crowd were going to be shown what they could expect if they crossed Rome. Pilate was going to place himself in history as the symbol of power and supremacy. Only…

He was going to do something else in this moment. We read,

5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” (ESV)

“Behold the Man!”

With blood flowing down His face, with a body bruised and bleeding from the flogging, Jesus stepped forward in front of humanity. And the significance could not be greater.

It doesn’t seem like much.

A beaten up, self declared, prophet standing humiliated in front of followers and enemies alike. And yet, it offered us a glimpse into the heart of God.

Thousands of years before God acted and the world was formed. On the day He made people He provided this commentary,

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. Genesis 1:31 (NLT)

His evaluation of creation was that it was perfect, without fault or mistake. On the sixth day, the day of Man (male and female) everything was “Very Good!”.

Until…

Disobedience, rebellion, sin entered the picture. Then this perfect environment was broken. The relationship He longed for with people was shattered. It would be replaced with struggle. Straining to return to what was would be the norm. People would strive for restoration of the moment in the garden when things were very good. Struggle would continue until…

Until Pilate declared “Behold the Man!”

On the sixth day of the week – the historical day of man – God was about to restore what we had broken. He was about to take our place so guilt, sin, and shame, would no longer rest on us. It was about to be transferred to Him. Transferred to what was a guiltless sacrifice, an innocent man who would bring us back to the place where we could once again be seen as “very good”.

Behold the Man,” meant so much more than Pilate understood.

And it still does. It reminds us that our best, on our own, never measures up. Yet it also reminds us that we don’t have to live on our own. Jesus stepped into our place – on the sixth day of the week – so God could once again look at us and say, “VERY GOOD!” 

 

Changing Your Mind

Opinions.

We all have them.

Each of us have our perspectives on many different topics, most of which are pretty entrenched. I saw a tweet in the last few days asking if someone could identify people who actually change their minds on some hot button issues. The premise was it would be hard to find people who actually did.

I know in some circles there is pride in being able to think of yourself as “open-minded”. This implies you think broadly and are adverse to jumping to conclusions. You will accept all perspectives and avoid having opinions. You will be open to change.

However, while it may be appealing in theory it has very little to do with reality.

What I have discovered is some of the most so called “open-minded” people are often extremely opinionated. They are “open-minded” only to those who share their “open-mindedness.” Their acceptance quickly shifts to rejection when they come across someone who sees the world through a different lens. mind

Changing our minds, altering our opinions, is fine to discuss in theory, but on a practical level it is difficult to do.

I hear a lot of perspectives about a wide range of issues. Many espouse what they have discovered based on experiences or what their journey has led them to understand. They have even testified how their views have changed over time. And that is the point.

If there has been a shift in viewpoints, it has taken time for this to occur. A number of events, situations or experiences have occurred which have compounded to the point where it has affected their thinking and their opinions have been changed. It wasn’t a sudden move but more of a gradual shift.

That would be pretty common. Which makes me wonder why the sudden shift? Why, in this week where we are reminded of an historical event where opinions dramatically shift, do we see them move so quickly? Why do we go from Palm Sunday,  where crowds in Jerusalem were ecstatic to see Jesus enter the city, to hearing shouts of “crucify Him” by the end of the week. What changed?

How could their opinion change so quickly?

If you are not familiar with the events let me describe them briefly for you.

One of the national times of remembrance in Israel’s history was the Passover. It provided the opportunity to think of the past when God intervened in the life of Israel and brought them out of Egypt – the story of Moses. The Passover, specifically was referring to what occurred the night before their freedom. It was focused on how the blood of a Lamb was placed upon the door frames of their homes as the angel of death moved throughout the land. Any home with the blood on the door frames was “passed over”. Hence this time of remembrance.

It was a significant feast where all of Israel came to Jerusalem to celebrate their historical deliverance. Jesus and His close followers also made their way to Jerusalem as passoverwell. Days before the observance of the Passover Meal they came to the city with great fanfare. Jesus riding on a donkey being in the center of a parade.

Palm branches were being waved, coats were laid on the ground before Him, shouts of “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” were being offered as Israel came together to remember their historical deliverance. They saw Jesus as this Messianic figure who would rescue them from their present day oppressors and deliver them from the current bondage they felt. A present day Moses.

But days later…

What they had thought was going to occur suddenly looked very different.

Jesus had been arrested. In the middle of the night He was taken and hastily “tried” by those in authority. They pronounced their sentence and had Him flogged and beaten beyond recognition. It was after that He was brought before the crowd.

Each of the writers of Jesus life describe what occurred. In John’s account we read…

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!” John 19:4–5 (NLT)

The hastily called trial led to a verdict of not guilty. The assumption was that if this man was so dangerous it shouldn’t have been so easy. When He was arrested, He didn’t fight back. He willingly was taken. How is it possible for a person who was being touted as “dangerous to the state” just stand there and not respond when given the opportunity to make His intentions known.

It wasn’t a “typical” reaction.

And it affected the crowd.

In Luke’s account we read how Pilate argued with this crowd who had gathered. It states…

20 Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Luke 23:20–21 (NLT)

Not everyone wanted Jesus crucified. Not all of those who yelled “Hosanna” turned and cried out “Crucify Him”. But enough had their mind changed.

Something had happened. Their expectations were broken. The hope they had placed in Him to be their deliverer was left wanting. And so they turned. They changed their mind. They gave up on their hope of Him being their rescuer.

It was misguided.

The fact was He was and is the only hope we have.

We don’t change our minds easily. But sometimes. Sometimes something occurs which jolts us into shift our views significantly. It is like a light bulb goes on and we are suddenly seeing things we never saw before.

As we enter a weekend of remembrance do you need to have your mind changed about Jesus? Do you need to see Him in a different light? image

Look closer…

See who He really is…

 

Without Vision…

How would you finish this sentence?

What if you remove part of the first word – take away the “out” part. It would read “With Vision….” Again if you were to finish the sentence how would you do so?

Vision is extremely important.

Without it “people perish”. With it “we see our dreams fulfilled”.

(That is how I would finish these sentences.)

Our future is impacted significantly  by either the presence or lack of vision. But what is it? vision

One of the definitions of vision is that vision is:

“the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” 

Vision gives purpose to what we do. It enables us to take steps with meaning. On the other hand, without vision we lose purpose. We go through life reacting as life comes at us or however we feel in the moment.

We can usually tell whether someone is living their life based on vision or not. What we see from those with vision is they are focused. There is meaning to their actions. They do not do things without some measure of meaning in mind.

Jesus possessed vision.

We have a number of examples of this in His life. None however is more evident than when Jesus was coming to Jerusalem for the last time. In His journey toward the cross we witness His incredible sense of vision.

Hundreds of years before His coming there were predictions about the vision He would possess. From the writings of the prophet Isaiah we read these words describing Jesus.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. Isaiah 50:7 (NLT)

He set his “face like a stone”. It reveals the sense of determination He had to ensure that He did the will of the Father. And it took determination. Jesus knew why He had come to this world and He was going to see His purpose fulfilled no matter what. And it would take incredible focus for that to happen.

For Jesus, there were a number of difficult stages for the vision before Him to be accomplished. He would be betrayed by a friend. He would be abandoned by those closest to Him. He would experience extreme physical pain. He would feel rejection and isolation. He would feel the weight of the world’s sin – literally upon His body. And yet, He maintained the vision or purpose for Him coming before His eyes.

He was fixed on doing whatever it took so relationships (between people and God) could be restored and love (God’s love for people) could be revealed.

It was the reason He came in the first place and He fully invested His life in the vision.

I wonder how much of an impact vision has on our lives?

Do we have vision for our lives? Or are we going from one moment to the next without clear focus? If we do have a sense of vision, are we committed to it and what it entails? If we answer “yes” how committed are we?

Vision does make a difference.

We may use a different word to describe it, but the intent is the same. Those passionate about their vision act in ways which impacted the world. I am sure there are several people from history which come to mind. They are individuals who did more than describe their vision of tomorrow they acted on it. One that comes to mind for me is  – Martin Luther King’s and his “I have a dream” speech. It was his vision which he acted on.

But, it is easy to waver from our vision. We can get tired and weary. We can get bogged down when difficulties arise. Which is why I am so struck by how focused Jesus was to the vision before Him.

Think about all of the occasions where He encountered people from all walks of life. In each instance we witness His vision. Over and over again He revealed and restored people’s understanding of how they could walk in relationship with God. And most of the time that was demonstrated through the incredible love He demonstrated.

Whether it was a woman at the well who was overwhelmed by life, or a group of lepers. Whether it was a soldier whose son was dying or sisters whose brother was dead. Whether it was a tax collector who had a habit of extorting money or a woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus brought hope and life.

But it makes me wonder about one more thing. I can’t help but wonder if His vision is intended to be ours? After all He calls us to be His disciples, His followers. Does that include vision?

I know the actions would be different. But I wonder if the vision is the same – to reveal and restore the relationship between God and people and reveal the incredible love God has for each person?

Are we people who possess this vision?

Without a vision… With a vision…

Inconvenient Truth

Truth can be difficult.

Some facts are hard to accept. They go against what we want to believe. They challenge our perceived realities and how we want things to be. They stretch our understanding.

And yet, creating our own truth can be helpful. If we can define truth for ourselves it can protect our own sense of well-being. The harsh truth is sometimes best ignored.  

The danger of this relativism though, is when each of us can determine what is truth for ourselves their is no common understanding of what is truth. Everything can be questioned and challenged. Anything can be seen as alternative facts, especially when we don’t like what we hear. We can create perceptions of reality which can ultimately harm us in the long run.

Life is also filled with inconveniences.cross 2

Inconveniences occur when things do not go according to how we hope they would.  Agendas get altered. Plans change. Expectations shift. We get pushed in directions we do not expect to face. And often this inconveniences us.

It pushes us outside of what we would rather do. It makes us go out of our way to respond. It is not our first choice of action, rather it is an out of the ordinary response.

Inconveniences are often described as a sacrifice. When we do something requiring extra effort, or beyond what is expected, we can feel it is a sacrificial act – it is going out of our way, or above and beyond.

“I was inconvenienced, I went out of my way – I sacrificed to do that.” 

They all seem to go hand in hand.

But I wonder, how much are we willing to inconvenience ourselves? Do we set limits? How far are we willing to go for truth?

These two words have been on my mind this week.

As we come to the end of this season of preparation leading up to Easter – the season of Lent – I have been thinking about truth and inconveniences.

This is a significant time in our calendar. It is a time to remember the most important event in historCrossy.

Easter marks the actions by Jesus. It reminds us that our Christian faith centers around sacrifice. It centers around Jesus inconveniencing Himself for our benefit. He allowed Himself to be arrested, wrongfully accused, beaten and put to death in an incredibly brutal way.

These are the historical facts.

During this season of Lent many choose to “give up” certain things they enjoy to demonstrate their own degree of sacrifice or inconvenience. These actions are used to help us realize the impact of sacrificial behaviour. Only, no matter what we give up or sacrifice, it is a poor comparison to what Jesus experienced. We fool ourselves if we think they are at all comparable.

But it has made me wonder.

How far would we be willing to go? How far would we be willing to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of truth? For the sake of others?

People do make sacrifices. We read about, we know people, who are willing to make sacrifices for their loved ones. They will give up their own comforts for their kids, for their spouse, for their friends. They will do things demonstrating love beyond the norm to make sure those around them are cared for.

A mother will sacrifice, inconvenience herself so her children will experience life. It is an amazing picture of sacrificial love. Only, even this example comes up short in comparison to the actions of  Jesus.

The following description of what Jesus did speaks to the degree of inconvenience He went to. In Romans 5 it says,

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:6–11 (NLT)

Jesus gave His life for us while we were His enemies. He acted, not because we deserved it. but because of His enormous love for us. He acted, because of our being so utterly helpless, that without His intervention we would never find life. He acted, out of selflessness because the truth of the matter is that we would never have a future without His intervention.

And it cost Him dearly.

What does our faith cost?

Is it an inconvenience to have our faith impact our actions? Is it inconvenient for our following of Jesus to cost us something? Is it inconvenient for us to respond to this great love and give Jesus our devotion?

I find we sometimes believe following Jesus is a sacrifice. Our following Him is more about obedience than devotion. We think of it in terms of how, “If we follow Jesus then we can’t…” We are sacrificing for Him.

But if we understand what He has done for us we discover an unimaginable truth. He acted for our benefit. He inconvenienced Himself just so we could experience pure, endless love. He acted in unimaginable ways for our benefit.

And that’s the truth.

Enlightenment…

At least once a year we hear the warning – A storm is coming.

It is not typically for a tornado and never for a hurricane – it is a warning that a winter storm is on the way.  Storms are common. And when they occur they often come with a warning. The tracking of weather allows meteorologists to issue warnings when see the  conditions are right for a storm to take place.

Winter storm warnings cause different reactions, depending on where you live. I know places where the warning is enough to send people running to the grocery store to stock up on everything they can. Schools close, people head home and brace themselves for what amounts to a typical winter day where I live. If we had the same reaction we would never leave our homes for at least 5 months.

As a result, winter storms have less of an impact. We continue with normal activities until the storm actually arrives. There is little panic. There isn’t a run on groceries. We are used to winter storms and so you just deal with them when they arrive.

These storms almost always include: high winds, reduced visibility and significant amounts of snow. Sometimes they move quickly and within a day or so you are shoveling your way out. Other times, though, they lasts for a few days before you can finally return to normal.

We had ours this week. Hopefully it will be the only one we get between now and when spring emerges. They are disruptive. But they can also be enlightening.

Now that it has passed and things have returned to normal, a couple of enlightening thoughts have emerged for me.  snow

One was in the warning we received.

We heard the warning. “A storm is coming” but very little was done to prepare. After all we have gone through them before and we will see them again.

But this warning had even less of an impact. The warning for this storm lasted for days. Most of last week we heard warnings about a storm coming on the weekend. The initial forecast called for the storm to move in Friday night. However, Friday was nice and sunny, so was Saturday even though the warnings continued.  It wasn’t until Sunday night that we even saw a glimpse of snow falling.

The warnings were there but the signs said something different. We wondered if we were going to miss the storm entirely. But we didn’t. It finally arrived.

This made me think how God has given us warnings and messages about our future. And yet, we can wonder, if what He said was actually going to come about. Will it really happen? We can question it. Our wondering can turn into disbelief. Is Jesus really going to return? He said He would, but where is He?

However, it made me think that just because we don’t see the signs doesn’t mean it is not coming. We may have to wait longer than we expected or thought it would take, but it eventually occurs.

There is food for thought there.

The other enlightening thought I had was about what occurred in the aftermath of the storm.

When a storm like this moves through and the sun finally shines again, things come back to life. During the storm people continue to do what they can do. They go to work, if they can get out of their driveways. They continue life normally, as much as possible. Even in the midst of it there is still activity.

But once the storm has passed the town is a buzz with activity. Those who have equipment to move snow show up everywhere in order to make sure their family and neighbors have a path to leave their homes – driveways are cleared, streets get plowed, neighbor assists neighbor. snow edited

We were the recipients of this activity as our neighbor made sure our driveway was cleared as he used his Quad to  plow snow. It saved hours of shoveling on our part. Another neighbor had their family member bring in a tractor to clear some drifts on our street to make driving much easier.

Disasters bring out the best in people. So do storms. Maybe it is because we are all in the same place facing similar circumstances. And because of that we will lend a hand to: push people out who are stuck, shovel the neighbors’ driveway, clear a path forward.

Having a clear path makes life so much easier.

The streets that are plowed first – the emergency routes – are so much easier to go down than those which have not been touched. Yet, getting to that clear path is not always easy.

God has revealed that He will make our paths straight, He will lead us where we need to go and be a light for us. He will be there for us when we are not sure where we need to go next. He will lead us. That is if we will let Him.

If we listen and accept His help He will make our paths straight.

We can go it alone. We can refuse His help and assistance.

We could have told our neighbor to stop moving the snow out of our driveway we want to spend the rest of the day moving it ourselves. But why? That would make no sense.

Just like it makes little sense for us to ignore the offer of help God gives to us in the midst of our storms in life. We can do that but why?

Storms can be enlightening. This one was certainly enlightening for me.

 

One More Story

It was a sad news day.

Last Wednesday, at the age of 99, Billy Graham passed from this life to the next.

Over the past number of years you knew it was a matter of time when that day would come. Given the health issues affecting his life, you knew one day you would hear about his passing. After all, death is part of our existence. billy graham pray

None-the-less it was a sad day. But also a day which sparked a season of remembering.  

The passing of Billy Graham has caused countless people to think back and provide their stories about the impact Billy Graham had on their lives.  You can read some of them as part of a memorial here,

https://memorial.billygraham.org/memories-condolences/comment-page-49/#comments

But, these are merely a fraction of the impact this one life had.

Much of the news surrounding his passing has centered on the fact he provided council or at least met with Presidents – Democratic and Republican ones alike – going back to Harry Truman and continuing until Barack Obama. And while this is noteworthy, as is the other “famous” people he met and talked with throughout his life, it is not the biggest story. The greatest part of this preacher’s life is the story that is yet to be revealed.

In the more than 36,000 days of his life there are many stories which can be written, and a number have been. Biographers will provide a glimpse of who he was. They include highlights and low moments. Times of triumph and failings. They chronicle both. Not every day exhibited saintly behaviour or perfect decision making. But there were days which did. And they will recount those moments. They will record those moments where  decisions and actions impacted a nation.

But, there is something biographers are unable to do. They are unable to record it all. They will pick and choose. On the page of memories there are “notable reflections” referring to comments made by people whose names may be familiar. But who is on that list is by choice. The complete story is not yet revealed.

How do I know?

Because mine is one that has not been told.

Billy Graham’s life impacted me.

I was 5 years old. I was watching TV with my mom and I assume my siblings. It was in the late 60’s and Billy Graham was speaking to a crowd of people in a city somewhere in the world. Where it was is irrelevant. The circumstances surrounding the event may have been noteworthy at the moment, but they are not memorable. What he was specifically speaking about is also forgotten. However, something is of note.

Of the scores of messages he delivered, there was always an attitude behind them. They were delivered with the recognition that the message was always more important than the messenger. The One he was speaking about mattered more than the one speaking.

And so in hearing, this already famous communicator speaking to thousands in a stadium, this 5 year old realized something significant. In his basement this child recognized that the message being conveyed was not only for the masses who were responding in a undetermined city – it was for him. And so he turned to his mom and said, “I need Jesus.”

It became clear to me that I wasn’t perfect. I had come up short of God’s perfection. But that was okay, because God had made a way for me to be forgiven. Jesus had come so I could have life. I simply needed to ask for forgiveness and find grace. And in that moment I did just that.

Billy Graham helped me see my need of Jesus.

This is just one more story. One I see duplicated many times over.

I thought of a number of angles to the story. Everything from parents providing an example and being ready for teachable moments, communicating in a way that a 5 year old can understand, being faithful to doing what you know you need to do, to understanding that you don’t always know what your impact may be, and so many others.

However,  as I heard of this faithful servant passing away,  I can’t help but think of just two words to sum up my thoughts.

“Thank you”.

 

What Do We Do About Guns?

I’ve never shot a gun.
At least I can’t recall having ever shot one. That includes my grandpa’s rifle which he used for hunting, something he did well into his 80’s. Or my father-in-law’s gun which was close to the door, when he lived on the farm – an area where it was common to see bears and other animals.
(I can’t let myself believe it was there to keep me away before I married his daughter)
Living in a very rural place I am very aware of how hunting is a part of life – where it is used to provide food for families. I am also aware that history shapes our attitudes toward the use of guns. My national history does not include the very real threat of an authoritative government who could control its citizens by force – which is part of the reason for the USA second amendment. But it does make up part of my nation’s history as some of our citizens who were oppressed by government through force. Their attitude to guns is different than mine.
I am also aware of the difference urban and rural folks have with the threats of violence and crime. The need to feel safe and protected is real. Living where little crime, especially violent crime occurs, the attitude toward guns is different than for those who hear of violent crime regularly. Living in places where there are those who will choose violence to settle differences or use weapons to feel important creates a very real threat to personal safety.
So I understand the differences.
I felt it was important for me to state that up front. You need to know where I am coming from as I write about guns today.
Because…
Last week we saw another school faced with the reality of a gunman carrying and using a weapon to destroy and devastate lives. We saw families and an entire community face unimaginable heartbreak as a result of a gun being fired. It is a scene which has become all too familiar. guns
And so is the aftermath.
The calls come immediately. Calls to prevent this from ever happening again. Using legislation to control people’s behaviour. Banning access to certain or all weapons. Banning certain types of ammunition. Banning certain people from being able to acquire a weapon. Controlling who can and who cannot get a weapon in the first place.
And then there will be the counter points. These will surround the protecting of certain freedoms. There will be the citing of the second amendment the right “to bear arms”. The relaying of the view that criminals or those who choose violence will find a way to get what they want regardless of whether it is banned or not. The identifying how determining someone’s mental state is not always an easy task. “He just snapped” without warning can be heard after some incidents, so can we really keep these situations from happening?
The debate will rage on for a few weeks until something else takes centre stage and the urgency will be lost until it resurface again when another event occurs.
And yet, the question remains…
What do we do about guns?
We live at a time where the belief is we can legislate away all of our societal ills. Enacting rules or laws to control behaviour is a common belief and expectation. It sounds easy enough – “there ought to be a Law about that”.
As a legislator and policy maker I know how easy and difficult that process can be. The easy part can be the drafting of a rule, although being able to anticipate every circumstance is not very easy. It can make the drafting of rules to cover all of the bases or unintended implications a difficult process. However, the even more difficult part is compliance.
Can laws help?
Certainly. Especially for those who are willing to comply with them. Those who don’t want to break the law will be influenced by laws. And so finding legislative means to assist in addressing the issue of guns is a good step forward.
But, there is a bigger issue at play here.
The issue of guns requires more than a legislative change – it requires a heart change. If we were able to lay down a law that would get complete compliance we would never see anything bad happen – ever.
Laws have been enacted. But as people we have chosen to ignore them. We have chosen to dismiss them and see them as being for someone else and not us. We have chosen to look for loopholes which will allow us to do what we would rather do than follow the letter and intent of the law itself.
Laws may help, but that is all they can do.
The bigger issue here is a heart one. Jesus made a statement which sums up all the laws that have been laid down. In Matthew 7:12 (NLT) He said this…

12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

This is often referred to as The Golden Rule – a guideline for all of our interactions with others. It encompasses the use of guns, but is extended to a host of other things. It speaks to those action or behaviours which are don’t want to legislate and yet gives us a guide to how we conduct ourselves as people.

And yet it sounds too easy.

Follow this one rule and much of our challenges and heartache can be avoided.

Really?

Is it that easy?

God never intended it to be hard for us. But, He also will not force us to comply. He will help us, if we choose to let Him, but will not make us. And yet, He has made it simple for us to identify what we need.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

Maybe we should enact this law instead – at least enact it in our own hearts.