Taking a Risk

I know a little about investing.

For a number of years I have been on a Pension Fund Board. During that time I have listened to financial managers who invest the fund’s money. As a Board we provide the investment policy framework for them and chose who will manage the fund for the plan’s members.

This experience has provided me some insight into how financial portfolios are looked at and created. It has given me some understanding about how you build a portfolio which has the best opportunity to get a good return with the least amount of risk.

It is in fact, the key part of managing someone else’s money. Provide good returns with the least amount of risk. Active investing will always involve a certain amount of risk. One of the first things good managers try and discover is “How much risk are you willing to take.”

Once they understand your risk tolerance they can build the kind of investment portfolio to match your tolerance level. For example, if you want to avoid risk, investing in stocks that have great rewards but can also significantly drop in value should be avoided. Otherwise you would be in panic mode too much of the time.

On the other hand, if you are not afraid of risk, investing in safe low risk funds where growth is secure, but slow, you likely desire more – so change how you invest or will look for a new manager.

What I have found about risk is all of us are willing to experience some risk – but we have different limitations on how much.

I have also found that our risk tolerance applies to more than just investing our money.

When it comes to our following of Jesus we discover that He tests our tolerance of risk as well. When He walked on this earth, He caused those who heard His message to assess how much they were willing to risk to follow Him.

We find very different reactions. Some were quick to respond. Others hesitated. Some kept resisting. This in part was because the message Jesus gave was one which challenged their present understanding about life.

The message Jesus brought about the Kingdom of God was that it was very different – therefore risky – than what they had understood life to be like in the 1st Century. It required not only a change in their thinking but the need to trust this teacher from Nazareth.

For some they were quick to trust Him. After all they saw something in Jesus that altered their lives. Others, there were hurdles in their way. They were not prepared to trust.

This continues to be the case today.

And yet, the way Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven it really is not much of a risk. Following Him is a sure thing. It leads to life. And it is more valuable than anything we could possibly seek.

In Matthew 13 He describes it this way.

4“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

45 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

Jesus reveals that the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom He was bringing to the world, is like a treasure found in a field or a discovered pearl. It has such great value that everything else in comparison is insignificant.

When put that way, the risk is very low. Selling everything I have to obtain something of infinitely more value is not really much of a risk – unless….

Unless…I don’t trust Jesus assessment of the value the Kingdom of Heaven has.

Quite frankly that is what it comes down to. It comes down to whether we trust His words or not. Learning to trust someone is often based on relationship. The more we get to know someone the more we determine we can either trust them or not. The same goes for Jesus.

He invites us to walk in relationship with Him so we can learn to discover whether what He said about life and about the Kingdom of Heaven is true. He welcomes us to take the risk.

The only question is whether we are willing to take the risk.

The potential is we will find something worth more than anything else. How willing are we to go there?

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Consistency

It’s been said that “Variety is the spice of life” !

I would echo that sentiment. 

Many years ago I worked for a cabinet manufacturer. My job was to assemble cabinets building them like you would a puzzle. It involved getting the plans for a kitchen, with all the cupboards required, and then proceed to find each of the pre-cut wood pieces to make up the various cabinets. Once you got these all together you would begin to assemble each cabinet, using large nail guns, until the kitchen was done.

You would then repeat the process.

While there was some variety to my day, it basically consisted of doing the same thing day in and day out. I also remember how it was an extremely hot summer and we tried to avoid working in as much of the heat of the day as possible so we began our shift at 5:30 or 6 am. I am not sure it helped. 

I learnt something that summer – I like variety. Having a routine where you do the same thing every day is not the environment I thrive in. I thrive in variety, where I am not doing the same activities day after day. 

But, with that said, I am increasingly thankful for some consistency.

Today – Wednesdays –  are the day I post “Reflection”. Is there something significant about Wednesdays? No, it is a day I picked to make these posts, and it helps me to consistently write. 

It is also the day when I will receive an email that will complement me on my post. An encouraging email. It is like clockwork. Whether it comes 20 minutes after I press “publish” or a few hours later – it will come. 

It comes from my dad who turns 85 today. 

He has been consistent in his encouragement and support not only as I have been writing, but throughout my life. This encouragement has come even when he is not totally sure the path I am going down is the best one or will advance my career, bank account or goals. 

But those things never really mattered to him. He was concerned about my future and making sure I would enjoy the journey, have my needs met, etc. But what he was most concerned about what that I would know he was proud of me and loved me. That I would know he was in my corner, cheering me on.

He has done this in a variety of ways. And over the years I could count on his consistent voice.

Which brings me to this day where he turns 85.

Fortunately I am able to celebrate with him today. (I will likely still get an email even though we are in the same house – although now that I have included this – we’ll see). And being able to once again experience this consistency of character and encouragement in person in special for me. .

But, it also reminds me of something about consistency.

It is only consistent until it isn’t.

As you have read in the past few weeks we have experienced a number of loses to family members, those really close to us and those in our extended family. It has had an impact on our lives. It affects our sense of normalcy, or consistency. It has been a hard path to walk through.

However, as I celebrate with my dad today I am aware that the consistent encouragement I have received is not going to always be there. Which means a few things.

  • I need to treasure the moments
  • I need to learn from his example while I can
  • I need to be aware how I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have gone before me who cheer me and you on to succeed.

In the letter to believers called Hebrews, we find the author writes about the many heroes of the faith who showed us how to live. These were people of the past whose lives are recorded for us. It includes both their triumph’s and defeats. They are given to us to teach us about life. And then the writer writes this….

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)

I am grateful for these witnesses – those who taught us but are no longer with us. I am grateful they provide encouragement to live a life of faith – not a perfect life – but a life of faith none-the-less.

And today I am especially grateful I can be with someone who is still with me to cheer me on to run the race – someone who is my hero of faith – my Dad.

Turning the Page

Happy New Year!

I sincerely wish that 2019 will be a year marked by life, happiness, and joy.

The longer we live the more we discover not all years are the same. Some stand out for various reasons:

  • A major accomplishment occurred,
  • A life altering event happened,
  • A tragic moment takes place
  • to name a few…

Each year has moments which are impactful. In the course of 365 days things will take place which affect us deeply. However, at the time they occur, the impact of them seems more significant than it may be with the passing of time. Over time we discover what we thought was so life-altering was not nearly as life changing as we expected.

Not every year can be a life-altering one.

But…

Some years possess more than we can bear. Some years are life-altering. They contain events and moments where “what we knew” will never be the same again.

This is outstanding news.

It means events can still happen and move us from where we are to a brighter future. We can experience life changing events and moments positively affecting our future. Whether it be a relationship, a career shift, a move, a new birth, or something similar, we can have something occur leading us to a wonderful new place in life.

If something like that happens we will fondly look back at 20__ as the year when _____ occurred.

Likely there has been a year like that for you.

However, years can also be life changing for different reasons. Instead of positive events taking place, a year can be filled with setbacks. Things which didn’t unfold the way you had hoped. Tragedy strikes. Sorrow is more prominent than joy. And while it may be a year you wish you could forget, it none-the-less is life altering. The memory of it remains long after the year has passed.

In fact, I find these type of years can be even more life altering than the more positive ones. They are years which are harder to walk through in the moment and the impact of them lingers much longer.

Which brings me to the title of this post – Turning the page.

As 2018 came to an end I very much wanted to see the year that was come to an end. I was so looking forward to having a new year arrive. In looking back it was like most years, with its ups and down, joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats. The posts over this year describe some of those for you.

However, in the last part of the year it took a significant turn.

There were great joys – our first grandchild. A truly wonderful event and someone who brings so much joy to our lives.

However that was the one bright spot.

We were also beset by significant loses which have left their residue on our lives. It is still pretty fresh and so not enough time has passed to fully assess all of the impact, but part of it is being felt.

2018 will be defined as the year of…

  • Disappointment and uncertainty,
  • heartache and sorrow,
  • grief and pain

I was so looking for a new day to dawn as 2019 began.

However….

Turning the page works well in books. Beginning new chapters, where characters can start again or have a new adventure unfold, works a lot easier for them than it does in real life.

In life, new chapters come, but their impact often takes longer to feel. What has gone on before does not instantly remove itself from the present. We continue to feel the affects even though we turn the page to a new chapter – a new year.

I write all this because I am reminded that not all of our story will be filled with the joy we seek. But there will always be One who brings us joy in the midst of life.

Jesus said this to His close followers…

22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.
John 16:22 (NLT)
 

While we live in this world we will experience heartache and sorrow. We will encounter events which challenge our will to go on. And while it can be easy to contemplate giving up and feel like not “turning the page”, Jesus promises that their is coming a time when we will rejoice. There will be joy at the end because of Him.

I hope your year is filled with joy.

But more significantly I hope your year is filled with the giver of joy – Jesus.

A Different Christmas

Christmas is filled with memoires.

Over the years there are many Christmases I remember because of something specific which has happened. Most of these provide great memories of being together with family and friends.

I have thought about some of them these last few hours.

Some were quite memorable…

  • Like the one where not even 24 hours after getting a gift one of my cousins sat on it and broke part of it.
  • Or the first Christmas after we were married where we slept on the floor under the Christmas tree.
  • And then there was the one where we got stuck traveling to see my parents and had to flag someone down to help get us out.
  • To name just a few.

Yesterday we once again celebrated the greatest story ever told.


While there are a variety of memories coming from this season, it is about something bigger than us. It is a time to remind ourselves how God chose to become one of us in order for us to experience life and hope.

It is a glorious time of year. A time where we find expressions of joy, peace, good will, and love fill the air and flood our lives. I love the season. I love how we make time to spend it with family and friends. I love what we do when we come together, enjoy good food, play games, laugh, and work on a puzzle.

This year all these components were present when we go together yesterday to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Only, it was not quite the same.

Instead of the usual merriment of the season there was a component which has not typically been part of our celebrating – tears.

As I posted last week my sister-in-law passed away. The funeral occurred last Friday. And while we were so grateful she no longer experienced suffering in this world, it was hard to see her leave us.

Yesterday became another Christmas memory.

Much of our family had already been around for several days – preparing for the funeral service. By the time the funeral had arrived they had been here for days. They need to head back home. It had been draining for them – both physically and emotionally.

And so our Christmas was relatively quiet this year. Except for the tears.

As much as we tried to make it like any other Christmas with games, food, etc. it was just not the same. Which when you think about it is quite strange.

It was not that my sister-in-law was always with us for Christmas. Her health made it harder some years. So not having her physically with us was not that unusual. But this year it seemed more final.

Throughout the day there were moments where tears would well up in someone’s eyes and the impact of the past few weeks would take over. It was definitely a different Christmas.

It made me appreciate even more the impact of this wonderful time of year on all too many families who are experiencing loss.

We don’t fully appreciate something until we experience it ourselves. Over the years I have met with many families who are experiencing their first Christmas without close family members. I have had them as well, but usually there has been a gap between their passing and our celebrating Jesus arrival in this world.

This Christmas I know what it is like to experience loss during this season. It has made for a different Christmas, but has given me an appreciation for how in the midst of our grief God is present.

He is present to bring peace and joy in the midst of our sorrow. He is present to bind up our wounds and give us comfort. He is able to restore our soul.

I am so grateful for Him in the midst of a very different Christmas. It is still a season to celebrate Jesus.

I encourage you to make great memories with your family and friends this year. Have a Merry Christmas season.

At Peace

“Fear not”

Throughout the Christmas story we read these words spoken by angels. They are some of the first words given when they appear. Whether it was to…Zachariah, Mary, Joseph, or the Shepherds…they instructed these people to set fear aside.

Fear is natural. It is easily embraced when we are faced with:

  • the unknown
  • circumstances beyond our understanding
  • questions
  • challenges
  • in fact the list could go on and on of why fear emerges.

Several years ago I had people write down what they were afraid of. In collecting them the list was vast. There were all kinds of things which elicited fear. In each case real emotion was present, whether I thought the reason to be afraid was a justified one or not, that really didn’t matter. To the person writing why they were afraid it was significant.

It is natural to have fear show up.

In reading about God’s interactions with humanity there are many, many occasions where encouragement to abandon fear is offered. God understood our immediate reaction is often to give in to fear as opposed to finding faith.

However, when fear is set aside and faith is embraced something significant appears. We are confronted with peace.

That is the other message angels bring.

Instead of fear, peace arrives. Literally in this case, where the “Prince of Peace” is born in Bethlehem.

Being at peace is certainly not as common as fear is. Finding people agitated by life is easy – finding ones at peace – not so much. Which might explain why when someone passes away we use the phrase “Rest in Peace.” It seems living causes restlessness, peace is reserved for beyond this life.

Unless, we embrace the message of “Fear not”.

I saw an example of setting fear aside in my sister-in-law. She has been battling a number of physical ailments over the last several years and every time it seemed she was getting ahead something else would appear and set her back.

This last while, things had been progressively getting worse. We expected her to rally and overcome like she had in the past, but it became more and more evident that apart from a miracle she was not going to conquer this latest challenge.

She passed away last Thursday.

But she was at peace long before Thursday.

She found peace as she came to the place where she knew she needed a relationship with this One born in Bethlehem. And so a few years ago she gave her life and future to Jesus. And she encountered peace.

It was evident.

Julie was full of life and confidence. She loved to laugh and express her opinion – whether you wanted to hear it or not. She had drive to go forward when most would have allowed the challenges to hold them back. She could be stubborn or strong willed. At the same time she cared deeply.

When she embraced Jesus something else emerged. Many of her traits remained. She continued to embrace life and express her opinions. She continued to laugh and battle through challenges. But she also became more caring and compassionate than she had been. She became less agitated with things and more at peace. It was clearly evident.

She became more concerned about the road others were on than what she was faced with. She wanted others to find the “Good News of great joy for all people”. She became more grateful.

Peace had flooded her life. You could see it when you were with her.

She had found peace. She had discovered what walking with the “Prince of Peace” – Jesus – can accomplish.

I am not sure what fears you have today. There may be many or just one. And it is taking over. You need to hear the message of the angels – “Fear Not”.

Or perhaps it is not so much fear as it is everything else in life. You are agitated at all of the things which have to be done, the pressures of life, to the point where “peace” can’t even be contemplated as an option.

Except, we can be at peace. We don’t have to abandon life to find peace, we just have to embrace the One who invites us to “cast our cares on Him”. Or the One who invites us to “bring our burdens, the weight of life we feel”, to Him. Jesus said when we do that He would “bring rest to our souls”.

I have found this to be more than words this week.

I saw a living example of someone who cast their cares – and there were many – on Him. Where she found rest.

She found rest before Thursday last week. She was at rest much earlier. On Thursday she was instantly completely whole and alive in the presence of the giver of Peace. The One who replaced…fear, doubt, anxiety, worry, pain, heartache….with peace.

She found what each of us can find. If we embrace the giver of peace – Jesus. You can too.


Unlikely

About 250 words are used to describe their story. And yet, they make up a significant part of our understanding of what took place on the night God became flesh to dwell amoung us.

Indeed their experience on the hills of Bethlehem has become such a key component to our understanding the impact of the birth of Jesus. In part, because the message they were given was one of “good news of great joy to all people.” They signify the “all people” part of the story.

This is the very “human” part of Jesus birth. Shepherds, were not favourably looked upon. They served an important function, but were not well respected. Their lifestyle kept them somewhat isolated. Their occupation further removed them from things which were significant to society.

For example, it was understood they were to avoid participating in religious ceremonies. This was not out of choice, but because of what doing their jobs would involve.

It had been understood that shepherds would be required to carry out tasks which would mean they would invariable need a period of time to be cleansed. Cleansed enough in order to fully take part in the religious life of Israel. And since they would likely do the same things a few days later, they would need more time.

So instead of trying to keep track, they would simply be “written off” from being participants. No need to keep going through the process of purification, just be kept on the outside. 

This impacted who chose to be shepherds. It was not those who sought a name for themselves. It was not those who looked for a “mainstream” lifestyle. It was those who were already feeling on the outside. 

Those who chose the job of shepherds, with its natural isolation, chose this role because isolation was handy, even beneficial to keep them in the shadows and outside of the mainstream world. Isolation was a friend of shepherds. 

That is until a light shone of shepherds. 

That is until God determined they were the first to hear the message of “good news of great joy”.

That is until God propelled them to be the first witnesses to the event that changed the course of human history.  

That is until God sent them out as the first missionaries to reveal who this child was – the Saviour, the long awaited Messiah.

These who were “written off” by society become a key part of the message.

But, as much as they provide insight to the story they provide even greater clarity about God for us. He sees our isolation and separation. He opens His arms wide to embrace and welcome us. He goes out of His way to make sure we know we are not overlooked no matter what others may think about us, or how we see ourselves.

He did that for shepherds. Keep that in mind as you read their story. 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,

and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. 

His sending angels to shepherds is for us to know something significant. We are not too far away to be outside of His reach, care or love. No matter how unlikely we may feel – He sees us and welcomes us. 

May the message of “Good news of great joy” be yours. 

Just Like Us

It’s a familiar story.

Many reading this are likely able to recount the events of Jesus being born in Bethlehem 2 millennium ago. You know the story of angels appearing, no room in the Inn, shepherds, and of course the birth of a child who is placed in a manger. (If not you can find it in Luke 2.)

However, as with other stories, they can become too familiar. In our familiarity we overlook some of the incredible details we are given. Ones seemingly insignificant because of the main event, yet, tell us some startling things.

I thought about them as we come into this 2018 advent season.

One overlooked detail is the people who surround this story. Prior to Mary hearing she is going to have a child we hear about a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.

Zechariah was serving in the Temple. The priests took turns and it was his to performing his duties. He had done this many times before, but this time an angel appears to tell him that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a child. Not a startling message under normal circumstances. But this was not ordinary circumstances. In their case they were too old for children. Elizabeth had also been barren – she didn’t have any children.

But with the passage of time they would have a son who they name John, better known as John the Baptist.

We are given their story because Elizabeth is related to someone else in this story – Mary.

We are obviously given more details about her and Joseph and how they are going to be the parents to the Christ Child.

Following the glorious birth of Jesus we find Mary and Joseph bring their first born to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him to God as was their custom.

But when they get there they encounter two other people. One is named Anna, a widow of many years, who spent her time continually praying in the Temple. And the other is a man named Simeon who had been given a promise he would see the long-awaited Messiah before he died.

The day Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the Temple to present Him to God we discover Simeon is there. He felt led to go to the Temple that day. When he sees this child he realizes it is the promised one. Anna, of course is there, she is always there. She too gives words of prophecy about this child.

These six people provide insight into what is often overlooked. 

When we read about people from the past, those who do great things or are part of great moments in time, we see them through a specific lens. We see them through the lens of who they become. We see them as a result of their specific action or exploit. We don’t see them for who they were prior to our fascination with them.  

Zechariah was a typical priest doing his duties. Nothing noteworthy or attractive to grab our attention. Elizabeth was likely overlooked, even dismissed because she did not have a child. How could she be favoured by God? Her circle of friends might have looked down on her. 

Anna was an old lady who stayed at the Temple. Simeon an old man who clung to a promise. What made him so special? Nothing we are told about.

Even Mary and Joseph were not out of the ordinary people – before God stepped in and brought added purpose to their lives.

The point is this.

In each of these cases they were normal people – people like you and I – who had the course of their lives altered when God stepped in. He changed everything.

And He still does. He still steps into people’s lives.

Which means…

He can step into your life and bring purpose and meaning to it. He can direct our steps and guide us. Actually there is one error in this statement. The word “can” should not be there. 

He steps into our lives and brings purpose and meaning. He directs our steps and guides us. The question is not “if” He does, the question is do we notice it. Do we respond to His leading? 

These ordinary individuals were all faced with a choice. And in each case they acted in following the God’s direction. I am glad they did. 


“Under the Radar”

Every story you hear, every news item you watch, every event you witness – there are missing details.

I don’t say this because of poor journalism, although that does occur. I say it because there is always more to a story than meets the eye. There are things we cannot see without looking much deeper than we usually do. There are details only in-depth discussion can bring to the surface. 

There are always things going on “under the radar”, unnoticed things hidden from us.  

It is hard to get to the bottom of most stories. Some require time to lapse before we can understand what is really going on. Motives, intentions, hidden circumstances can all have a bearing on what is taking place. And in some cases we may never know the full truth until much, much later, if ever.

There are other cases where we just miss the obvious.

It is there right in front of us all along, but our attention is focused on other things. Details, which in themselves, are seemingly irrelevant can in fact be very relevant.  They provide us with insight we would miss without them.  

A prime example of this is Christmas.

This weekend we begin the season of Advent – a time of anticipation leading up to our celebration of Jesus coming into the world as a baby born to Mary and Joseph.

The story of His birth is well known. Followers of His and non-followers alike have a pretty good idea of what took place. And yet, within this historical moment in time, it is easy to add to or miss the full story. 

I have quizzed congregations about the Christmas event. And every time I do, I surprise someone about what they understood to be known facts, but are actually not. They are details added to the narrative to fill in the gaps to the story. They may have occurred, but are no more than speculation about what took place.

I also find there are parts to the story which most of us overlook. They seem insignificant, even irrelevant to the main point – Jesus being born – and so we dismiss them or miss them entirely. 

However, what I discover is these details provide depth. They are given for us to help uncover truths we don’t obviously see. They are “under the radar” so to speak. 

I am going to look at some of these in the next several weeks. 

Several years ago I heard someone instruct us that when we read the scriptures we need to read with a clear focus on what is given to us in the text. Not bring our perspectives to it, or skip the details that are there but look a little more critically at each part and ask some of those key questions – who, what, where, when and why.

When we do, we are able to gain insight we couldn’t have otherwise. We are able to see deeper than we tend to.

What I have found, as I have done that, is a fuller picture comes into focus.

As you anticipate the celebration of Jesus I encourage you to do the same. Look below the radar and marvel at the amazing message of hope God brings to the world. 

Words to Live By…Part 5

***This is the fifth and last post in this series exploring phrases which significantly impact our lives. 

Words or phrases get added to our vocabulary from many different sources. As I write the last post in this series I am reminded of one from the iconic Star Wars saga. Whether you are a fan or not, this one will readily come to mind from this epic story of the battle between good and evil.  

It is the phrase…“May the force be with you”.

This line is used often in this series of movies. “The Force” was the energy enabling heroes, the “good” ones, to do good things, to act in incredible ways to further the purposes of good in the world or worlds. The series also contrasted the good with the “Dark Side” of “The Force”, the evil side.

I am not about to enter into the debate over what was intended or not by George Lucas when he created these movies for the big screen. Nor am I going to try and make a specific spiritual connection found in the movies. In my mind it really doesn’t matter.

What Lucas did manage to do, whether intentional or not, was to help people think about a dimension beyond themselves.

This phrase came to mind when I thought about the words Jesus spoke to those who were closest to Him at a critical moment in their lives. 

See the source image

Jesus had spent 3 years with these followers. During that time He taught them, He demonstrated the Kingdom of God, He showed them how to live. And then He was arrested, hastily tried and executed. These followers had their world shaken. 

But the story did not end there.

Days later Jesus conquered death and came out of the grave. He continued to instruct them and provide them with insight into their future. And then He would leave them again.

Prior to leaving, He gave them clear instructions. Within these words of instruction we find a phrase which alters life. We read these words, fondly known as The Great Commission because of the instruction they provide. 

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

We tend to focus on the clear direction part of this statement. After all it gives us specific tasks to accomplish and pursue. However, the phrase which I want to draw your attention to is the last one where Jesus said, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

He will always be present. He will always be with us. 

Always…

Let that sink in for a moment.

This is the part of the statement we need to remember. Whatever we face, whatever is before us, we confront it with Jesus present. We are not on our own. He is with us. We can be sure of it. Jesus said as much. 

I understand how it is one thing to hear the words and another altogether to have them actually affect our living.

We can know He is present, but that does not mean we live being empowered by His being with us. We can know He is with us, but that does not mean we cease trying to do things in our own strength or power. We can know He is with us, but still act like we are on our own. 

It is easy to do. 

But it is not very helpful. 

What is helpful is when we understand we are not alone – ever. We are always in a place where Jesus is with us – whether we call on Him or not. He is there. He will continue to be there. 

Regardless…

Regardless of what today will bring. Regardless of what we are confronted with – good or bad. Regardless of whether we want Him to be or not – He is there for us. 

And that is the key. He is there for us because He loves and desires the best for our lives. Which is not always what we consider to be best – but what He knows is the best for us. 

So…

May Jesus be with you. He is.  

Words to Live By – Part 4

**This is the fourth of a five part series exploring phrases which impact significantly impact our lives.

When we come face to face with those who are confronted by difficult circumstances, even overwhelming ones, we are not always sure what to say.  We like to point out how God is present and He will make things better. And often we look to the words of encouragement or words of life we have touched on these past weeks.

They help us face the test we encounter or…

They help us say something when we don’t know what to say.

These phrases are lines which we like to use to navigate life. They contain incredible truth, but we often use them because we need to say something.

I find though, that while we like to use them to assist others in their journey, it is quite another thing when we are the one facing the challenges of life. Then these words, while filled with truth, are much more difficult to hear. Instead of bringing life to our soul, they sound more like a cliché, just an expression and not a word of life. 

 

I encountered another change of direction this week.

What I was pursuing shifted and didn’t end up where I thought and hoped it might. There have been lots of words of support and encouragement in the aftermath. The expressions are with good intentions. They are well meaning and genuinely offered and I appreciate them all. 

Yet, they are not as easy to take as I would have thought. 

The words are ones I have heard many times – often because they came out of my own mouth. They are how I would have encouraged others to address their own circumstances. But now when they are given to me… it has made me think. 

It has made me wonder about how these words of encouragement – or at least intended words of encouragement – actually encourage others. 

I can tell someone that “God has a plan”, “He has better things in store”, or “You can trust Him”, more easily when it is not your life which is in the balance. When you see someone else’s circumstances it is easy to encourage and provide words of hope or life because it is not your situation. You are not the one who is trying to determine what is next. 

God does have a plan. He does have purpose and teaches us as we go through life, when things work the way we expect and when they do not. He is present in the good and hard times of life. 

However…

It is more difficult to see in those moments when we are unsure where He is leading. 

Which makes me evaluate these words of life a little differently this week than I might have earlier. 

The next phrase I want to look at is meant for situations where we are unsure of “why” things are occurring the way they are. In fact they reveal something we would never be  able to understand without going through challenging moments. 

In his letter to the Jesus followers in Rome, Paul wrote to them about what to look for in the midst of suffering. Things were hard. They were overwhelmingly hard. And yet, Paul knew and wanted those who read this letter to know that there was hope. 

So, in the midst of encouraging them he provides these words…

28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.   Romans 8:28 (NLT)

“Everything will work out.” 

It is great advise to give, but not always so helpful to receive. Especially in the midst of uncertainty or wondering what God has in store next. 

Paul knew what he was talking about. He faced incredibly difficult times and a lot of uncertainty. He was living his life completely dependent on the Holy Spirit to direct his steps. But, in doing so, there were times he wondered. He speaks of it as our weakness – our frailty – our humanness. We don’t always know “why”. We can’t always see the bigger picture or the longer scope of what is occurring around us. 

And because we can’t we need to be aware that no matter how hard, overwhelming, or challenging the moment might be, God is still present. He has not overlooked us or forsaken us. He is still present to lead us, and move us into new paths. 

We don’t have to know all the reasons, because we can trust Him in the midst of what we don’t understand. And as we trust we can see Him take us down paths we would never have seen without His presence guiding our steps. 

This is not an easy road. But it is one where we do not walk down it alone. God is with us in the midst of the journey. 

Words to live by.