Below or Above the Clouds…?

I almost always get a window seat. airline.seats_0

The process of getting the seat you want on an airplane has changed. Instead of just sitting where the airline determines, you now have greater opportunities to choose where we will spend your flight, with on-line early check-ins, etc.

Most of those who choose the window seat are first time or very infrequent fliers. They want to see what is below them as they soar above cities or barren landscapes. This can create a pretty great experience for you on your first flight. But after a number of flights it can lose some of its’ appeal.

Most frequent fliers tend to choose aisle seats so they can either have a quicker exit from the plane, to leave the airport or get to their connecting flight, or they choose the aisle seat because it feels like there is more room and is less restrictive.

Airplane seats are made for average people of which there aren’t any…but I digress.

I choose the window seat not because I like seeing landscapes below, which becomes irrelevant when you climb above the clouds, but because once I get settled on a flight I like remaining there. In the aisle there is no guarantee of that. In the window seat I can at least determine if I am going to be interrupted or not.

My experience sitting by the window caused some different thoughts this week.

When you go high enough you are given a different perspective. On what was a cloudy, partially raining day at ground level, became a very different view as we climbed above the clouds. sky

On the other side of the clouds the sun was shining. The fluffy, white, pillow like clouds provided a much different perspective on what this day was like.

Perspective created two different senses of reality.

Both are correct, but both are not complete.

I can’t help but think we have become accustomed to living in our own reality without much regard to anyone else’s.

It is narcissistic in many ways. Self focused, self absorbed, and so on.

I find this especially to be true when we believe our perspective is reality.

No other perspective can even be considered because we have determined we know best.

The thing is we can’t see above or below the clouds at the same time – we only see what we are able to see. Which means our understanding of life can be an incomplete picture.

This explains a lot.

We could try and be in the middle of the two to gain a better perspective of both sides of the clouds. However, when that happens this is what we get. sky2We can’t really see either side let alone have any clarity. We don’t see more than what is right in front of us which isn’t much.

God however, sees differently that we do.

We read this,

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8–9 (NLT)

What we become aware of is God’s perspective is different than ours. And the part which is so different is that He sees clearly. He sees both sides simultaneously. His perspective is complete.

And because it is there is more understanding of the seemingly complex nature of life.

When we are sure that our view is always right it is like we are on one side or the other. But as soon as we loose some of that certainty we end up inside the cloud where we struggle to see very much.

Ideally we want the clouds to disappear so we can have sky3a clear view of everything. But for that to happen we need to remember that our view is not always complete. For it to be complete we need to listen to the One who’s thoughts and ways are above ours.

If that happens we will then be at the place where our view can become clearer. Not because of what we see – above or below the clouds, but because we are connected to the One who sees it all.

A complete understanding of life requires more than what we see on our own.

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Being Grateful

In Canada we celebrated Thanksgiving this past weekend.

It provided a day off work. An opportunity to get together with family and friends. A chance to cook a turkey and eat as much good food as possible. A reminder  that we should be thankful.

We do it once a year. thanksgiving-turkey

We stop, count our blessings – or at the very least – think of one thing we are thankful for and move on.  Move on to what the next week brings. Move on from a long weekend of connecting with family and friends.

The intention of setting aside one day a year has evolved from what was distinctly religious – acknowledging God’s blessings and offering thanks – to an opportunity for family, feast and football.

In the process something has gotten lost.

Gratitude is less a part of who we are. At least it appears to be.

Gratitude does not occur just by having one day or a weekend observance of thanksgiving. It is an attitude of life. Gratitude is a continual sense of gratefulness for the little and big things which surround us. It is being mindful of the preciousness of life – how each breath is a gift. It is appreciation for the people and things which add richness to our lives. It is a continual state of thankfulness.

Gratitude is not dependent on how much or how little we possess. It is an attitude of the heart. It is not rely on our situations or circumstances. It is present regardless of what we have or don’t have. Which is why gratitude is not contingent on our demonstration of thankfulness one weekend a year.

We do need the yearly reminder.

We need the opportunity to pause, reflect and remind ourselves of all we have to be thankful for. Only, we need more than that.

We need much more than that as I am seeing less gratitude these days.

Image result for gratefulFeeling grateful has been replaced with feeling entitled. Instead of being thankful there is more of a “I deserve” mentality. Instead of appreciation there is an expectation – I am owed.

Subtly it impacts who we become.

Not only does it shape our own lives, but it shapes the society we evolve into. There is less concern or care about our neighbors, especially if it is going to inconvenience me. There is less compassion for others unless I get something in return. “Self-absorbed” aptly describes a society where gratitude is lost.

My observations have led me to believe we have become self-absorbed.

I see it not only in the world around me, but I see it creep into me as well.

The antidote to this self-absorbed world is gratitude.

Gratitude keeps me grounded. It allows me to recognize how every relationship, everything around me, can be something to be grateful for. Even those difficult situations can become opportunities to foster thanksgiving.

When I look back, it is often through those difficult experiences where I grew the most, where I developed character, where I learned what I could never have learned without experiencing them. We can be thankful in the midst of hardship.

Ancient followers of Jesus discovered this truth.

Paul, wrote letters from prison to fellow believers, encouraging them to rejoice, be thankful, be steadfast, because their present suffering would not last forever. They could be grateful in spite of their circumstances.

He understood hardship and saw the toll it had on him physically. But, he also saw the toll it had on his internal life. He was stronger for it – therefore was grateful.

Gratitude is needed today to counteract the self-absorption we see in our society. But it will require more than a day or weekend reminding us to give thanks for our blessings. Gratitude requires the adoption of an attitude of thanksgiving which permeates our lives.

And it will require a counter-culture reaction to the circumstances we face. It will require less emphasis on me and more on others. Serving more and being served less. Being thankful in all circumstances and demanding my own needs get met less.

That is a challenge.

Are you up for it?

 

Our Thoughts and Prayers…

If you missed it Sunday night, you woke up Monday morning to another tragedy.

This time it was in Las Vegas where a shooter opened fire on a concert crowd and the worst mass shooting in USA history occurred. It was an unimaginable scene.

I heard multiple stories Monday of those who were present during the shooting. They described their flight to safety in what seemed to be unreal circumstances. It is hard to even imagine what they experienced.

disappointment.jpg

There are lots of unimaginable parts to this story. And as the details begin to emerge there are even more questions. Ones which will require time to sort through, not the least of which is – why? Something we may never know.

This is not the first tragedy, nor will it undoubtedly be the last. They have become all too common. So too have the responses.

I am not about to get into the debates which tend to follow these tragedies. Ones over gun control, security, mental health, freedom, etc. It takes about a minute before someone uses the opportunity of a tragedy to jump on their political bandwagon.

There is a belief we can and will prevent future bad things from happening if we act correctly. If we take specific actions, put in place stronger legislation, give greater freedoms, or whatever we believe will change things. If we do them we can control what occurs.

It is a great sentiment.

But it is only that – a sentiment.

Take the power of legislation for example. It only works when there is compliance. I have worked on countless policies over the years. As long as their is compliance they can have a positive affect. If people choose not to comply…no legislation, no matter how good it may be, will make a difference.

I am not advocating we don’t try to prevent these events from occurring in the future. I am just stating the obvious – we cannot control all circumstances. We cannot control all people’s actions. We cannot prevent all tragedies from taking place in our world.

What we can control is our response to what occurs around us.

Given the frequency of these tragedies we see another pattern. Not only do we argue and debate over what should be done, but we respond with… “Our thoughts and prayers are with…”

Twitter was filled with these words. From individuals, to corporations, to political leaders, just about everyone offered this expression. It is a human response.

It is natural for us to feel for those facing the senseless death of a loved one. It is normal to feel empathy for those who were injured, traumatized, etc. After all we are “thinking” about, grieving with, and sorrowful for those who faced the trauma they did. It is an understandable reaction.

But the other part of the statement…

“Our prayers are with them…”

Well…

Prayer matters. It makes a difference. It impacts and can even transform a society. But, by saying we are praying we are creating an assumption. We are assuming that we believe prayer makes a difference. Only…

Talking about praying is not what changes things – it is when you actually pray and who you actually pray to which causes change.

History reveals as much.

In the past several centuries there have been periods of time when people did more than talk about prayer. They actually prayed. They were stirred to seek Jesus to forgive them and impact their lives. They were compelled to pray about their own reactions to their neighbors, friends and even more significantly, their enemies.

It was in the praying where something happened. Things changed.

Their selfish nature was replaced with one of serving others. Their pride or arrogance was replaced with selflessness. Their response to the people around them shifted. They became people of patience, kindness, love, forgiveness and grace. Their priorities centered on purposes higher than personal satisfaction and pleasure seeking.

In turn society was impacted. Impacted for the better.

It wasn’t utopia. But if you look back to these moments in time you find dramatic, positive changes occurred.

I am thinking of what was known as the: Pre-Reformation Movement influenced by Wycliffe and Hus, the Reformation led by Martin Luther, the First Great Awakening influenced by John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards and others, the Great Awakening influenced by Charles Finney, a movement under the preaching of D.L. Moody, a renewal beginning in Wales but then spreading to Korea, and in the USA at Azuza street in Los Angeles, to name just a few.

During each of these periods in time people prayed and society was altered. (You can read about them on your own).

Which brings me back to this phrase. “Our prayers are with…”

What I have been wondering about, since Monday, is do we by saying these words mean we are actually praying for those who face these horrific moments? Or has it become just something we say to make us feel better? Is it just used to acknowledge we feel for and recognize our own efforts are not enough to bring what is required to comfort, support and bring peace to lives that are shattered? Is it just an expected and necessary saying to show our sensitivity to other’s tragedies?

Or, are we in fact praying?

I wonder if every time we acknowledged that our “thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the families, the community, the….” that we took time to actually pray for those we were thinking about, what might occur?

Perhaps these incidents would lessen if we actually prayed more.

Looking Good…?

Icebergs are a perfect example.

If you have ever seen one in person you know the incredible marvel they are. This massive block of ice floating on the surface of the water. It is majestic even otherworldly. But also deadly.

The Titanic, the most famous ship ever to encounter an iceberg, ended up at the bottom of the sea on “A Night to Remember”. This seemingly unsinkable ship sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg.iceberg

How can you miss something so large?

It was night. (If we want to give the Captain of the Titanic the benefit of the doubt.) However, the thing about icebergs is while you may see an incredible towering mass of ice above the surface of the water, what you see is only part of the story. Below the surface of the water is where most of the iceberg resides. In fact the majority of the iceberg is unseen below the surface.

I thought about icebergs this week.

What prompted me to think about them was the result of some re-arranging we did in out shed.

I know this is an odd connection, but stay with me.

Looking at our shed you see something pretty typical of any garden shed you use to store yard stuff. We have had our garden shed for a long time. During its life-span we have made a few improvements – doors, a step, etc. all in an attempt to ensure it maintains its longevity.Shed1

So this past weekend we cleaned it out.

Everything that was on the inside was removed so it could be sorted. We had to determine what stayed, what went elsewhere and most importantly how we could better organize what remained so we could store our patio table for the winter. It took several hours to re-adjust the inside of the shed.

During the process something else happened. (Besides marveling how we could have gotten so much stuff into it in the first place.)

What looked so good from the outside, was different when we walked around inside. The moisture, which is under the shed in the spring when the snow melts, had caused some damage to the floor. Unbeknown to us, part of the floor was rotting.Shed

Suddenly it gave way as we walked around re-adjusting what was inside. You had to be careful where you stepped so you didn’t go right through the floor.

It is easy to see some parallels to our lives.

The things we see do not always describe the real state of affairs. What is on the outside does not always describe what is present on the inside.

We have warnings about that.

Statements such as: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” warns us to be cautious about jumping to conclusions too quickly or merely determining the whole truth just by what we see. The story of “Beauty and Beast” portrays that very thing. What appeared to be awful on the outside is in fact not so awful after all.

It will always be difficult to come to grips with these contrasting alignments. We want to conclude that what we see is in fact the whole story. Only, the inside and the outside are not always in perfect alignment. This occurs in part, because we would rather “put a good foot forward” or “show our best” than “show the whole picture.”

When David was chosen as King of Israel he was not the first choice. Samuel, whose job it was to anoint the next King, discerned that another of David’s brothers was better suited for the role. He looked the part.

This exasperated Samuel as each of  David’s brothers came before him only to have them all rejected. However, in the process we find God pointing out something we are charged with remembering. We read,

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”   (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT)

God sees what we can’t see. He knows what is beneath the surface. He is never fooled by appearances, good impressions, outward observations. He knows the real story.

It reminded me how these two parts of our lives need to be in alignment. What is inside and outside needs to be the same. There is no need trying to be something we are not. Reality is more important than pretending.

So what does that mean?

Does it mean we leave the rotting boards until the whole shed collapses? Making the outside match the inside?

Do we allow the inside, which is decaying, to continue to decay until the rest of us is in ruin?

Or…

Do we address the areas which need addressing?

Do we seek forgiveness, cleansing, grace and mercy? Do we embrace hope, peace, love, and joy? Do we allow the life of Jesus to cause our inside to be transformed so the outward appearance is matched by our internal life?

What is below the surface, what is on the inside, really does matter. In fact it matters more than the image we want to present.

The boards will be replaced – next spring. In the meantime, it serves as a reminder to look a little more carefully. What we see is not the complete picture. Much more lies beneath the surface – just like an iceberg.

 

A New Chapter

It’s started.

The signs are all around us – the air is a little crisper, geese are honking, and the leaves are beginning to change color.

Fall is here. fall

As I look out my window I can see signs of a new season beginning. The shift is obvious.

These are just some of the indications Fall is arriving. There are others: school getting underway, the overlap of major sports – with some winding down and others getting ready to begin, and a new TV season –  just to name a few.

We have very distinct seasons. The length of time each lasts is not as distinct however. Winter seems to last much longer than the calendar says it should so you never know how long fall may last once it arrives.

With every season there are adjustments made to make the most of the changing environment. Jackets re-emerge or disappear from the closet, lawn furniture is stored or brought out of hiding. Each season brings with it adjustments.

My wife and I have entered a new season. We have sort of been there already, but it is much more noticeable now. We have entered the “empty nest” phase of life. Our children are no longer living at home. We have gone back to where it was when we were first married – just the two of us.

This requires adjustments.

Patterns established over the past two decades are less applicable now, given we are the only ones in the house.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We want our children to grow up, establish themselves and build productive lives. This requires some independence. So moving into this stage of life is not a bad thing.

However, it does require adjustments.

It has made me think about the various stages we go through in life. Sometimes they are easily identified and at other times it is harder to detect them. We can be in a different stage of life without even realizing it.

Especially as it relates to the spiritual part of our lives.

A number of years ago now I saw a list identifying the many different stages which can occur in our spiritual journey. The list displayed stages for someone going from being a full fledged atheist to becoming a full fledged follower of Jesus.

Sometimes we assume there are only a few steps between the two. However, as was pointed out in this list, there are often many more smaller steps required as someone moves toward becoming a Jesus follower.

It was a fascinating list.

Not only did it help me understand there are various stages someone goes through in coming to initial faith in Jesus, but there are also a number of stages which occur after our decision to follow Him takes place. We don’t make a decision to follow Jesus and then stop in our journey.

The point of these various stages was to help in understanding how life is more of a journey than a sprint. We move through various stages of life at different points in our journey.

I am sure the list was not exhaustive of all the stages we may go through as there are different journey’s each of us take. But it did help explain where we might be in our journey. It also helped to explain how there is always more growth that can occur, a new stage to enter and experience as we move through our life of faith.

However, it also indicated there can be seasons where we move downward. Our journey does not always take us on a upward trajectory. We may experience peaks and valleys where our faith is tested, where we go through “dry” spells and where we are overflowing with joy.

At each stage, in each season of life, we are faced with adjustments. How we handle or cope with these adjustments will significantly impact our lives.

I am not sure what stage or season you are in.

You may know where you are, or it may be something you haven’t given much thought to. There might even be some confusion as to what is happening around you. Regardless of where you may find yourself today, the fact is you are in a stage or season of life.

Solomon pointed out in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that there is a time for everything. We read,

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. (NLT)

We can choose to ignore the signs around us.

However, that might mean we will step outside and face the harshness of winter being ill-prepared for the conditions.  An alternative approach is to take note of what is around us, what is occurring within me, being aware of what the signs are – and responding accordingly.

For us, we have entered a new season, a new chapter in our journey. And we are learning to adjust.

 

“Good Enough”

The words contain very different meanings depending on the context.

To state “good enough” can mean you are tired of the current project and what you have achieved to this point will have to do. good enough

To state “good enough” can mean you have met expectations.

But to state “good enough” can also be an assessment of your efforts.

The first context drives some people crazy. They have a “perfectionist” streak and any time they hear these words describing efforts they hear the words, “okay” or “passable.” For them this speaks of mediocrity.

That doesn’t work. It implies you are settling for less than your best.

Meeting or living up to expectations can be a positive thing, unless exceeding expectations is what you want to be known for or accept.

However, using the term to assess our own efforts is a tricky one. It can be used, not only on how we are doing on our own, but as compared to someone else.  This means I have been “good enough” to meet or surpass someone else’s efforts or accomplishments.

But is that “good enough”?

I thought about this perspective in a different context. I thought about how we use these words to define our relationship with God. I am “good enough.” I have been “good enough” to receive the privileges or benefits which come from God. After all:

  • I am a good person
  • I do… (we make a list of all of our positive activities)
  • I don’t do…(we make a list of all the things we think are questionable behaviours)
  • I am certainly better than…(we make a list of people we surpass in the above lists)
  • I am better than…(we list the God followers we know who fall short)

Our assessment is:

“I should be good enough to reap the benefits God offers including eternal life. I should make it to heaven because I am good enough to deserve it.”

Only…

Who said my being good enough is the measurement?

Who sets the expectation of what is acceptable?

Is “good enough” the standard we are asked to meet?

What prompted my thoughts was an old story about one of the Kings of Judah. The people of Judah and Israel had been given the requirements that God was looking for them to meet. They were exhaustive and exhausting. They were burdensome. But they were the standard.

“Good enough” was only achieved when they were followed. Anything less than strict obedience was not enough. As time went by the people grew discouraged. They always came up short. There was always another action required, another sacrifice to make, another act of devotion to follow. There was never completion.

And the history of their response is recorded for us. They would follow and then they would stop following. A king or someone else would come on the scene and help them renew their devotion. Another would be established and the next generation would be led astray.

This pattern went on for generations.

The feasts, which had been established, saw periods of time when they were no longer observed. And then they would begin again. The obedience, the Law demanded, was forsaken. They would give up. And then their devotion would return.

In reading their history we find it was God who stepped in and used a people to re-establish their faith. One of the Kings He used was Hezekiah.

You can read more of his story in 2 Chronicles 29-32.

There is something in his leadership in re-establishing the Passover and drawing the people back to a relationship with God which I want you to notice. I want you to notice God’s actions.

The strict pattern of what day and what month the Passover was to be observed had been missed as the people re-established their relationship with God. And yet, they were determined to restore what had been broken.

In Chapter 30 we read the account of how Hezekiah set about restoring the observance of the Passover. However they were late. They had missed the appointed time of observance. Yet, they were determined to acknowledge what the Passover implied – that they were not “good enough” they needed more.

So the second month, instead of the first month was chosen. And they set about getting ready.

You can read the account for yourself.

However, there is part of this story which stands out for me. Here it is,

18 Most of those who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not purified themselves. But King Hezekiah prayed for them, and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the requirements of the Law. For Hezekiah said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon those 19 who decide to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors, even though they are not properly cleansed for the ceremony.” 20 And the Lord listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:18–20 (NLT)

What stands out is they were not “good enough” to meet what the Law demanded. They didn’t measure up to the requirements of the Law. They were less than they should have been – and yet Hezekiah prayed for a pardon for them. He prayed that God would look past their faults and failings and cleanse them as they choose to follow Him.

It was a bold prayer.

And yet it was one which God heard. Notice the last sentence. He listened and acted. The heart of God is revealed here long before Jesus walked on the earth and demonstrated this same heart.

It has always been in God’s heart to respond to those who choose to follow Him. They may not measure up or meet expectations that are laid out, but God longs to declare them “Good enough” – not because they meet the bar but because they met Jesus.

Have you?

He is the One who makes us “good enough”.

“Two Become One”

The picture says it all.wedding

Okay, it doesn’t quite give the whole story.

This past weekend I “gave away” one of my daughters.

It was the first wedding for our family.

It was preceded by months of preparations, weeks of putting together all of the special details (like the seating chart), and then a few days of decorating to make sure everything was just as it was envisioned.

And just like that the day came and went.

I had the special privilege of not only walking my daughter down the aisle, but of conducting the ceremony for them. Being able to share the day with so many family members and friends made it even more special.

But, now that the happy couple is on their honeymoon, and those family members have left and made their way back home –  it kind of feels surreal. All the preparations  leading up to the day (of which I had little involvement), and in a fleeting moment it is over. It is almost like it didn’t occur.

Yet it has. They are married.

A number of thoughts have gone through my mind in the few days that have followed the big day.

One is that our house will be emptier. We will be in the empty nest stage of life. A new experience – at least for the last 25 years.

Another is a little more serious. Was the advice I gave them going to be listened to?

I gave them some practical advice. Learn much, love deeply and look up.

Learn all you can about each other. Love beyond a superficial love. To love deeply requires sacrifice. It requires putting 100% of yourself into your marriage. Not 50% or even 75%. Deep love is giving 100% of yourself into your marriage and your spouse doing the same.

But it is hard to do without looking up. Without God’s strength it is incredible difficult to love like that. Without His strength life is hard. Things will occur which will be beyond our capability. We need to look up early so we can find His strength and help – not as a last resort, but as our first, most natural reaction.

Jesus desires to give us what we need. He has shown us what deep love looks like in His love for us. And He longs to step into the midst of our lives.

So I hope they take the advice, it will do them well.

Which brings me to the last thought going through my mind. I have even greater reasons to pray.

You may recall that this day almost didn’t happen. You might remember the “bull” and the “Jeep” experience. This is the couple who encountered a bull with their Jeep and were able to walk away.  JeepGod graciously allowed them to have their day together to become husband and wife when things could have taken such a different turn.

They survived and were able to stand together and pledge their love for each other. And now the real living occurs as they chart a life together under His guidance.

Scripture states this. Quoting Ephesians 5:31 where we read,

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” (NLT)

 

They are beginning a new life together and it is not my role to get into the middle of their lives. At least until they ask. They have become one and need to chart their course together.

But I can pray.

wedding 3.jpgI can pray each day that God will show them His grace. I can pray that He will guide their steps each and every day. And, I can pray for His presence in their lives as they build this new life together.

And I will.

Gone, but not Forgotten

Every two years, or so, it occurs.

My wife’s family – Aunts, Uncles and their families – journey to one spot to be together. It is not compulsory, mandatory, or something you must go to in order to remain part of the family. However, each time it occurs most of the 100 or so come together to spend time with each other.

Family Reunions are not always seen as positive events.  Some families spend time with each other only when they have no other choice. The thought of going to a campground to be together for a whole weekend (which by the way never seems long enough) is unbearable, let alone something to be valued.

Yet, since I have been part of this extended family – 28 year – these have taken place with great regularity.

This family loves being together.

The 10 siblings love to spend time with each other. When we get together: we cook together, we play games together, we have loads of fun together, we eat constantly and we cry together.

This last part occurs more frequently as of late. With our grandparents passing away in recent years along with several cousins, including one this summer, more tears are being shed than have been shed in the past. Getting together now also reminds us that we are not all together, particularly as we share memories being with each other.

It has resulted in another tradition. In the course of our weekend we release a balloon for each of the family members who are no longer with us. It is an emotional and yet powerful moment. Emotional – I am sure you can imagine what it is like to remember those who are no longer with us. We recognize that we miss their presence. Tears are shed as we do. reunion.jpg

Powerful  – because this act does two things. One is it simply recognizes that each of our family members is gone but not forgotten.

It is a common phrase to use “we will never forget” when we think about those who have passed away. We often say how we will always remember.  However, time has a way of impacting our memories. As life continues, as we get caught up in our own lives, we can forget those who are no longer with us.  This simple act reminds us.

The second powerful thing this act does is help us look forward.

Jesus promised that for those who trust in Him this is not the end. There is life beyond this existence. There is everlasting life with Him. His own resurrection reveals that death is not the end. A bright future awaits those who place their hope and confidence in Him.

By remembering those who are no longer with us we look forward to the time when we will be reunited with them. Our hope in Jesus assures us that we will see them again. We will hear their laugh once more.

The next reunion is in a couple of years time, the sooner the better. We don’t know how many balloons we are going to release – hopeful the same number as we just did. But, we don’t know. A lot can happen in two years, which is why we are meeting again two years from now and not three. Why wait to be together when you never know when you will be able to see one another and make new memories?

Indeed why wait.

Life goes by quick enough. We lose moments and opportunities daily to share time together with those we love. Why wait any longer than we have to in order to embrace those we are close to.

As the balloons were escaping into the sky and out of view I couldn’t help but notice how they were drifting off together. The currents were carrying them to the same place – some quicker than others – but all going together. reunion1

I hope that will be the case for more than just the balloons disappearing from our sight.

I hope each one will place their trust in Jesus and arrive at the place He is preparing for them. Where we will all be reunited for more than a weekend, but for eternity. Not because of we are or our own goodness, but because of His amazing love and grace offered to us through Jesus.

“I Don’t Want to…”

Sometime… relatively early in our lives, we learn an important two letter word. It instantly becomes our favorite, our response to almost everything.

“NO”

We use it defiantly to display our independence, to exhibit our ability to think for ourselves, to show our decision making skill and to reveal we can make decisions in our own best interest.  no

In using it we reject the authority and wisdom of others. “I know best.” I am my own person, I can chart my own path.

It signals our maturity, our strong independent spirit. Or it could be that…. if it wasn’t for the fact we are two years old when we learn it.

That is around the time when this word becomes our mantra. When we determine we know better about what should happen in our lives.

As time goes by, we quickly discover this independent attitude does not work for every situation. Almost immediately we discover we can’t do certain things without some help. In fact we are interdependent if not dependent people. We rely on and need others.

This shift occurs as we discover the reality of life. As much as we want to believe we can do things entirely on our own we soon discover we can’t. We need others to function. Some things are just too big for us to handle ourselves.

It is a lesson we learn often.

Two year olds think they can do things on their own. So do teenagers. So do young adults. And then as adults we face various situations and times where we think we are independent of anyone’s help. Our limited success proves we are…to a point.

There is much we can do independently.

We can dress ourselves. We can choose our friends. We can make career choices. We can determine where we live.  We can do a lot. However, there always comes a moment in time when we are faced with something which is beyond us.

We can’t do buttons. We can’t handle heartbreak. We are unable to face disappointment. We have fears which paralyze us. We are overwhelmed by health challenges. We physically can’t anymore. We get to a point where we need help. And we seek it out.

Unless, of course we continue to hold on to this word…NO.

“No” means I can accomplish or do something by myself, my own way, without anyone else to intervene or assist me. I know best.

And it occurs not only as we react to situations and people but as we respond to God.

Learning to say “no” to people and situations is often healthy. There will always be those who want to lead us down paths which are not in our best interest. Instead of looking out for our well-being, they want us simply to follow and reinforce their decision and directions. These may appear good but may not be beneficial to us. In fact they could destroy what we have built of our lives.

Learning how to say “no” in that context can steer our life’s path in directions which truly are in our best interest. “No” can be a life-saving word.

Except…

Except when we use it with God.

Our choice to use “no” as a response to Him is based on our determination that we know what is in our best interest. We know what path is best for us. We know which decisions, opportunities, directions we should take and which ones we should avoid. That is the premise.

Except when we use “no” with God we have miscalculated His nature. We have misunderstood His interest in us. We have determined that His plans for us are nice suggestions, but we know better.

And yet, His plans for us are always good. They will always bring about the best in us. They are always for our benefit.

Unfortunately, we have limited insight.

We don’t see far enough into the future to know what is before us. The present may seem to dictate we take a certain path, but down the road a different one would have been better. We see tough situations as not beneficial. Only they are for building character for what is farther down the road for us. So they become essential. But, we know best.

History is filled with people who chose to say “no” to God’s direction for them and they found themselves in places they never anticipated. Problems and difficulties surfaced they never thought possible. Life became less than they expected. All because they said “NO” when saying “YES” was in their own best interest.

It is natural for us to think we know better. From very early in our lives we have wanted to be independent and do what we have determined is in our own best interest. Only, God has always had our best interest in mind. He has always given us paths which lead to our ultimate benefit. Only we can’t always see where or how they will lead us there.

We are not sure if we can trust Him…so…we choose to trust ourselves and say, “NO”.

King David of Israel, chose his own path a number of times. It produced consequences which negatively impacted his life. In the midst of one of these we find him writing these words,

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

Psalm 51:12 (NLT)

After making a mess of things, David understood that following God’s path would have been better. Stubbornness, feeling like he knew best, was not the way to go. He wanted to do better in the future.

The amazing thing is that God was gracious to him. While there were still consequences from his actions, God continued to give him direction. And He wants to do the same for us.

That is…if we learn how to avoid using this word, which we have known for a long time…

 NO.

Finding Rest

Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t things be simpler, easier, less complex?

Is it just me or are you finding this to be the case? Image result for stress

There was a promise several decades ago that life was going to become easier. The promise was that all the new technologies and time saving devices were going to make life much simpler, less complex, less stressful. Our hard work and effort was going to diminish and there was going to be so much more “free time.”

It seems pretty far fetched these days.

As a matter of fact, life appears to be more complex.

The decisions we have to make seem harder. The overload of information and attention grabbing headlines, the continual bombardment of “stuff” have made things fuller not simpler. Time saving devices have turned into time consuming ones and there is the constant feeling we can’t keep ahead of it all.

This is not an “anti-technology” rant. I embrace many of the new technologies and use them daily. The have made some tasks much easier and have reduced the storage of paper immensely.

However…

Yesterday was National Relaxation Day. That’s right a day set aside to focus on doing little, on taking a break. It began in 1985 when a 9 year old boy in Michigan saw that working all the time was not good, so he determined we need to set aside a day to relax, a day to be lazy.

Image result for restIn the midst of trying to make life simpler the complexity and stress of life has seemingly increased. So much so that we need a day to have permission to rest.

I can usually tell when things get beyond the point where I can manage. There are signs I have which tell me that my mind has become too full. Where all of the “stuff” and the continual bombardment of issues to address reaches that overload place. I can usually tell when I am overwhelmed and need simplicity as opposed to complexity.

I can usually tell because of how I respond.

I look for diversions.

I find when those moments come I pursue things which keep me from thinking too much and too hard. I play games – computer or video ones, I do crosswords or Suduko, I cook, I watch movies. I do things I enjoy but don’t have to spend much thinking space doing them.

What I find is I spend more time on diversions the greater the stress I feel. The more overwhelming by the work load, the more I want to retreat to what frees my mind from focusing on what can be taxing. The greater the pressure, the more I crave these mind numbing pursuits.

It has helped keep me manage over the years. I think…

However, I have also noticed after years of being continually bombarded with issues requiring attention and action that rest is hard to come by.

There is a difference between sleep and rest. They are not synonymous.

Some can fall asleep quickly and easily but are not at rest. They dream and their minds are continually filled even though they are asleep. Others have difficulty shutting their minds off and so sleep is hard to come by. However, they can “rest” by doing things which free their minds – like diversions.

Being at “rest” is not only the amount of sleep you get. It helps but is not the only measurement.

Most of us wake up each morning with our “Inbox” full of messages. We start our day feeling behind before we get out of bed. And it doesn’t stop. There is always the “latest” story or message which clamors for our attention. I get tired just thinking about it… or I look for a game.

And yet, rest is something which God has given to us. It is for us. For recharging, refocusing, reenergizing our lives, for finding life. There are two distinct ways I find God gives us rest.

One is He has given us a Sabbath – a day to turn off the pressure. One day a week was given as a day of rest. This day wasn’t given just so we could fill it with other activities to keep our lives full or add to our stress. It was so we could release the stress life brings.

Unfortunately, it seems we have missed how a day a week needs to free our minds and spirits, not increase the demands we feel.

And secondly, He offers to give us relief through trust.

If everything is up to me then I feel the weight of the world. If I don’t have to lift that burden I can feel relief. Jesus offered just that.

Jesus made this statement to people who were searching and struggling to cope with the weight of life. He said,

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 (NLT)

 It was a message of release from the burdens they were carrying and instead to embrace of the One who could carry their burden for them.

Sadly we tend to think these words are for when we are in over our heads or faced with huge mountains. In those moments we decide we will take Jesus up on His offer for rest. But, the offer is not just for those extreme circumstances. It is for the everyday things which overwhelm and cause stress for us.

In those moments, daily, we can “come to Him” and find rest. We can find it through trust. Letting Him carry life’s challenges with us. Where we are not on our own. He promises us rest.

Have you found rest? Jesus said, “Come to me…