Polarization

Have you ever been to the North Pole? How about the South Pole?

It is unlikely.

Getting there is not easy. If you do get there, you face harsh conditions, including cold beyond anything that most of us experience. Yet, even though we may never get there, we are aware of these spots at the two most extreme parts of our planet – the farthest northern and southern points.

In the next few months we will think of the north pole – or at least a fictional one where Santa dwells. Otherwise we seldom think about these extreme ends of the earth.

Scientists will, as they try to figure out what is occurring in the world. They will examine what is changing at these unique places on earth, filled with snow and ice. But, most of us will give hardly any thoughts to these poles.

Except…

I am thinking of poles today.

These extreme places, on opposite ends of the planet, come to mind when I think of our current environment. Let me explain.

You cannot get farther apart from each other than the north and south poles. We use phrases to define what the relationship between the two is like. Phrases like, “poles apart” “polar opposites”, and so on. While they possess many similarities, they are opposites.

They are alike. They both have snow, ice, extreme cold. They both are largely uninhabited by people and have unique animals or birds that reside there. Yet, they are very separate. The distance between them is the greatest distance possible on our planet.

We use them to describe the relationship that can exist between people. We can be like our neighbors on so many levels, but we can also see things very differently. We can be close in physical distance, yet “poles apart” on so many other levels.

We had an election in Canada this week. The results reflect the diversity and divisions, which exist regionally in our vast nation – divisions, which have existed for a long time. Past elections exposed this diversity and division. However, in the aftermath of this election, the division in sharper, more defined, and distinct.

Canada’s experience is not a uniquely Canadian one – especially after an election. Many other places experience diverse views and perspectives causing divisions and distinctions, which separate people into different camps. – regionally or otherwise as they choose their representatives.

Following an election it is common for there to be frustration over what occurred, especially by those who hoped for a different result. It is a normal reaction, particularly when the campaign is fierce, even nasty.

What good leadership does, following the aftermath of election results, is signal that it is now time to work together for the betterment of all. Regardless of whether you supported the winners or not, it is time to acknowledge we do not all agree or see things the same way. However, it is time to work together on everyone’s behalf.

Good leadership does that.

It does it because otherwise the divisions, the polarization, leads to destruction. Jesus said as much.

In Matthew 12 we read where Jesus makes this statement.

25… Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: (ASV)

It is a statement, but it is also a warning. If you try and function in the midst of division, you will not be successful. Eventually, it will fall apart. Unity is crucial to success.

Nations, politican leaders, organizational leaders, and countless others cite these words of oneness and act in ways to ensure that division is overcome. In the past, it meant coming to places of concensus or compromise to find solutions to complex difficult directions where diverse opinions exist.

This “was” the pattern of behaviour. Not anymore.

These days it seems we do everything we can to resist coming to concensus or compromise. We stick to our perspectives and will not budge no matter what. We, and our supporters, know best. If you do not agree, or see things my way, you become the enemy and I see you as the south pole while am in the north.

Jesus said this attitude will bring about destruction.

After witnessing such a divisive election and a very divided nation in the aftermath, I am praying our leaders heed the words of Jesus. I am praying they lay aside their pride, arrogance, self interest and work for all of us – regardless of where we reside or whether we voted for them or not.

In my estimation, without the presence of this attitude of humility, our nation will take significant steps toward deepening polarization. We will move toward becoming people separated as far as the north pole is from the south pole. Divided to the point where destruction is possible.

Avoiding that will require good leadership.

It is needed now more than ever or the words of Jesus will become more than words. Please pray for Canada and our leaders.

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Grateful

Last weekend, in Canada, we celebrated Thanksgiving.

It is the one time in the year when we pause to remember why we should be grateful for our many blessings. Pausing to give thanks and “count our blessings” is a good thing. We need reminders about a lot of things in life. Only I find this reminder troubling.

Living in a first world country, with so much at our disposal, should make thankfulness the most natural attitude of our heart. Every day we wake up to face, or more importantly not face, many of the life challenges most people in the world have to address to survive. Gratitude for the blessings we experience should be natural.

Only…

We do not always start our day, or end our day for that matter, with grateful hearts.

Thankfulness is an attitude of the heart. It comes out of us when we genuinely are grateful for something that affects us.

Each year, as we celebrate with family and friends, we pause to share what we are grateful for. Going around the table everyone has the opportunity to mention one thing that they are thankful for.

It is not meant to be a solemn moment. Some of the comments are fun and bring laughter, others have a much more serious side to them. The past years events can impact what comes to mind as we think of and count our blessings.

However, this thanksgiving, I am questioning why we struggle at times to be grateful. We know we should be. We know we have much to be thankful for. It is just that gratitude is not always our natural response.

One of the factors I notice is our tendency to take things for granted. It comes out of our expectation. We expect blessing to come our way. We anticipate receiving much of the good things we receive. This makes us less thankful, less grateful, less “blessed” and more… entitled.

Entitlement, in my mind, is the opposite of thankfulness. When we feel entitled it is more about what we deserve – “It’s my right” – “you owe me” – or numerous other demands for personal satisfaction. It is hard to be thankful when we believe we deserve what we receive.

Another impediment to gratitude is pride.

Have you ever heard the song…”My Way”. Its most famous singer was Frank Sinatra. The song is an evaluation of life. The singer describes various scenarios he encountered along the way, and at the end of each the one certain fact is that, “I did it my way.”

In many ways this describes how we can often assess our receipt of blessings in our lives. We believe we have them because we made them happen. What we have managed to obtain is a direct result of our actions. We built our lives through our own efforts, hard work, smarts, skill, or…

Unfortunately that is pride – pure and simple. We do not even have breath if not for God’s action and intervention in our lives.

In Luke 17, we find an account of Jesus walking from Galilee to Jerusalem. In doing so He came across a village, which had outside of it lepers. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, possessing leprosy banished you outside of any community. Outside of this unnamed village were 10 lepers.

For some reason, they realized the person walking toward the village was Jesus. Recognizing Him the men began shouting for Him to have mercy on them. Jesus did more than that.

We read,

14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

It is a life changing moment for these men. Their isolation from family and the rest of the world was over. They were whole again. Going to the priest was to confirm what they experienced – healing.

Only that is not the end of the story.

15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Luke 17:14–19 (NLT)

There are two parts to this encounter I notice. One is this man is a Samaritan. This is included for a reason. The assumption we can make is some of the other men were Jewish – like Jesus and His disciples. This man was not.

Samaritans are outcasts. They were not accepted by the dominant culture. This man is an outcast in more ways than simply having leprosy. His response to Jesus is natural for someone who does not feel entitled to experience grace and mercy. It is natural for someone who has his life altered.

The second thing, which strikes me is the last statement by Jesus. “Faith” is at work here. Where? When Jesus told them to show themselves to the Priest, it was because the Priest is the one who could give them a clean bill of health and they could re-enter society. Only they had not reached the Priest yet when they realized they were whole.

However, instead of continuing – getting his clean bill of health first – make sure he is okay – and then find Jesus to thank Him. He goes back to Jesus first. He had a grateful heart and demonstrated it through faith.

Gratitude comes from within. Is it within you and me?

Corner

Whose corner are you in?

The question is timely as we see greater and greater degrees of polarization taking place around the world.

Pick a topic.

Invariably you find at least two different sides. The supporters from each are completely at odds with one another.

It is like a boxing match. You tell the combatants to go to their corner and come out fighting, and they do. Boy, do they fight.

Social media gives us a prime example of this. It is ripe with people taking sides on issues. Provide any opinion, and immediately there are those agreeing and disagreeing – often vehemently. They respond with their “side” of the debate. Nothing can deter them from “believing” their position is correct. Their understanding of the “facts” are above reproach. Anything, even the slight bit contrary to their known truth, is considered to be “fake”, a “conspiracy” “a falsehood” “a lie”…need I say more.

We become polarized.

Having open, honest discussions is almost impossible. Taking argumentative positions, building support from those who are “for you”, challenging those who are “against you” becomes the norm. 

This is the miserable times we live in. 

In this environment, full of competing camps, we strive to find those who will stand in our corner. We look for those who support our perspectives and positions.  Finding them helps us feel like we are not alone. Someone is standing with us, keeping us connected. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. 

I frequently see it occur.

What made me think about it this week though, is something I heard. It was a comment about unconditional love. The person’s description of this kind of love stated that it is like having someone stand in your corner. No matter what happens you always feel loved. You always feel like someone is in your corner – supporting you.  

If you experience unconditional love you know what I am talking about.  You know the incredible sense of encouragement it creates. It feels like no matter what happens love is always present. It is like someone is always in your corner, on your side, with you – no matter what.

Many of us do not know what this feels like. 

Unconditional love is not a common experience for all of us. Many of us feel like we have to earn love, or at least keep doing things if we want to maintain love.

We know what it is like to momentarily have someone in our corner. We also know what it feels like when they are no longer there. Our actions, words, perspective causes them to no longer support us. We lose their backing. 

This is conditional love. Love based on the conditions, it is not a constant love. It is typical.

There are two thoughts I want to leave you with today.

One is that we can always know unconditional love. We can always have someone in our corner. Jesus said,

“…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

These were some of His final words to His followers. He is telling them He will always be in their corner. They never have to wonder where He is. He is always there supporting, encouraging, helping them. 

The promise is not only for those who heard the words directly, it is for us today as well. He is in our corner – encouraging, helping, cheering us on. Even when we fail, fall on our faces, miss the mark, He is in our corner.

We simply need to look to Him. Embrace His love for us, a love that is unconditional.

The second thought I have for us today is to ask ourselves a question. Whose corner are we in?

Are we in someone else’s corner, supporting them as they walk through life? Are we there to encourage, cheer on, someone else – or do we always look for support but never really give it? Are we supporting them even if we do not always agree with their perspective? Is our support unconditional because our love is? 

Having someone in our corner feels great. Being in someone’s corner can be even greater.

The point is no matter what occurs we are cheering each other on. As we read in Hebrews 10,

24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”

We do that by being in their corner. 

 

 

 

 

“Afraid of the Truth”

Ignorance is bliss… or so Thomas Gray said in one of his poems.

Since the 1700’s, when Gray lived, many others have chosen to live with the sense of avoiding reality. Not knowing is better than facing the truth. A false perception of reality is better than confronting the facts.

At least that is what the saying implies.

We liken this approach to that of an ostrich. Our reasoning is that it is better to be like an ostrich than face the uncomfortable reality of the world we live in.

Ostriches, are famous for sticking their head in the sand. They hide their head in the sand at the first sign of trouble. When a predator comes on the scene they hide from the truth by placing their head in the sand. The belief is the ostrich hopes that if they cannot see their enemy they are not there.

They get a bad rap.

The truth of the matter is an ostrich would die if they stuck their head in the sand for any length of time. They would not be able to breathe. 

As popular it is to think about an ostrich avoiding its enemies or the world around her at the first sign of trouble, the truth is different than the myth. 

The truth about ostriches is they dig holes in the ground for their nests. Several time a day they turn their eggs with their beak. From a distance, and for a few moments, it can easily look like they place their head in the sand. Given how big the bird is, it is an easy mistake.

In describing people, who tend to hide from the world, we describe them as an ostrich. We do so because avoiding the difficulties of the world, hoping they will go away, seems like this bird. The person cannot face the truth.

While the connotation is a negative one, the fact of the matter is it is a reasonable desire to avoid the challenges of the world we live in. They can be overwhelming, impossible, and scary. It is easy for fear to set in when thinking about the truth of the world we live in. It is also possible for us to experience fear at the truth of our own lives.

I notice several different perspectives about our own reality.

Some of us tend to see all the negative things about ourselves. We struggle to see anything positive. We accept this perception as truth – even if it is not.

Others of us like to think of ourselves in the best possible light. We overlook our own flaws because we believe our truth is better than the actual truth.

Truth should not frighten us… but it can.

In Canada we are in the midst of a Federal election.

All of the candidates and parties attempt to put their best foot forward and encourage people to vote for them. In doing so, they provide their version of the nation and the issues which they think matter most to the public.

Some do so avoiding the truth. If they can cause people to overlook certain problems and issues they have a better chance to gain votes. One of the greatest fears of candidates and parties is if facts emerge which reveal a truth about a candidate or a party’s leadership that is unfavourable. It can be the difference between being elected or rejected by the public.

Truth in our lives can have the same affect. We can be afraid the truth will come out about who we actually are. We maintain certain images of ourselves, images we want others to see. But, if people only knew who we are….

Fear of the truth is understandable.

Only Jesus had a different perspective about truth. In John 8 He said this…

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31–32 (NLT)

Truth is intended to free us. It does not need to create fear within us. Rather, from truth we should find freedom. How? How does that occur?

Truth can be harsh. It can be overwhelming. It can be scary. How can we feel free from truth? This can only occur if we experience something else along with truth. If we also experience grace.

Grace looks past our faults and failing. Grace accepts us, embraces us and walks with us as we live life. Grace understands we are not perfect. Grace knows the truth and loves us anyway. Grace is amazing!

Jesus not only identified how truth brings freedom, but He identified He brings that freedom with grace. He said,
36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:36 (NLT)

While truth can seem scary, Jesus makes truth do something else. He makes it free us to be who we are created to be.  

Bandwagon

Whenever I hear the term I wonder if someone is jumping…on or off one.

“Bandwagon” is used to describe people who get engaged in a cause. I hear it most often to describe a sports team and their fans. When a team starts doing really well, it is easy to get engaged. With winning, a lot more fans show up because the team has found success. These fans are said to be “jumping on the bandwagon.” They were not in attendance years before when success was difficult to find. They only emerge now because it is the popular thing to do.

As much as I could make this about being “bandwagon” fans, I am after all a life-long Cubs fan. Being one, it is easy to tell “bandwagon” fans verses long term die hard ones. Many Cub fans have to be the later, it is a requirement if you choose to cheer for the Cubs in light of their history.

However, today there are other areas where “bandwagon” jumping is gaining traction. It shows up in so many other areas these days.

I checked into the origin of the word. It comes from parades, circuses or some other entertainment event where in order to see the band play they were placed on a wagon. This was done so they would be visible. In the course of time, bands were used for other purposes. Using them to promote political causes – to attract a crowd – grew in popularity. People came when they heard the band. Soon it became trendy to have those supporting the cause or candidate to be on the wagon. Their presence with the band showed their support for the cause as well as attracted attention for the person on the bandwagon.

The term was born.

Bandwagon jumping became a common activity.

Jumping on the bandwagon is different than simply supporting a cause. Underlying the support a person demonstrates, is an ulterior motive. They want to be seen supporting the cause.

Being supportive, being visibly on the popular side of an issue, is so common place these days we struggle to see it as “bandwagon jumping”. It can be as simple as choosing to “like” something because most if not all of our friends “like” something. If we have the opposite opinion, indicating we do faces negative reactions. Instead we join the parade. We join the movement that “everyone else” is joining.

These days, if it is popular to hold a certain opinion, we will share it, even if we are unsure of the facts, have given it little thought, or really care about an issue or cause. We just know we need to think a certain way or face ridicule or even worse – be dismissed.

If you are asked to give your opinion in a survey and you know the popular response is… how quick are you provide that answer? It is the challenge with polling these days. Providing the answer we think we should give is different than offering our actual opinion. We have moved as a culture into this “group think” mentality, this “bandwagon jumping”.

It is much easier to do these days with instant access to so many different ways to provide feedback and opinion. However, it is not a new trend in history, or in other aspects of life.

I see people do the same thing with their faith.

It is not uncommon for people to embrace beliefs about what Jesus taught when they are espoused by popular or charismatic individuals. Those with large followings tend to have their words hung on to intently. Accuracy or truth are not the determining factor of whether or not you follow. You want to be seen as following.

Jesus, Himself, faced the same pressure in His day. There were thousands and thousands who followed Him throughout Israel in the 1st Century. They came to hear His words, receive miracles, experience being part of something where hope was present. Yet, many were “bandwagon jumpers”.

As the events of Jesus’ life unfolded, the thousands who saw the benefits of being seen with Jesus, abandoned Him when it became unpopular or life-threatening to be beside Him.

The most startling occurance of this is when in the course of a week, the whole city of Jerusalem erupted with shouts of “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” at the start of the week. By week’s end they were shouting “Crucify Him.”

What changed?

It was no longer popular to be associated with Jesus. Public opinion shifted and those who were on the bandwagon, jumped off. They recognized there could be consequences if they continued to follow Jesus.

What happened to the hope He brought them? What happened to the joy and life they experienced hearing His words? Nothing. Those things were still present in Jesus. He did not change.

The shift occurred because opinions changed. The group, the “mob” mentality shifted from following Jesus to avoiding Him.

It makes me wonder how much of what we see is linked to bandwagons. People following, supporting causes simply because it is trendy, popular to do, or what society expects. I wonder how often people become caught up in the group mentality without thinking for themselves. I also wonder how quickly they will jump off as soon as it becomes more difficult or the popularity of supporting something or someone shifts.

We see this jumping off and on all the time. It is all around us as public opinion is swayed. It makes me wonder.

I wonder because while being seen with Jesus was uncomfortable, following Him brought life, hope, joy, and peace. Only many abandoned Him when it got difficult.

Jesus still brings these things to life, regardless of whether the band is playing or not.

“Climate Change”

Did I capture your attention?

Few words put together create images, opinions, perspectives, like these two words. Those who are terrified of the “climate crisis” confronting the world, are anxious to see what I might say. Their hope is I will reinforce their opinion of the need for bold, aggressive action to counteract the looming crisis.

Others, who are more skeptical of the causes for the shifts in our climate, anticipate my comments will provide a perspective similar to their own thoughts. These are the people, who view the changes in climate with skepticism. Skeptic that either the “crisis” is not real, or that we can impact the weather. Perhaps, they think, I will confirm it is a hoax, overblown, or irrelevant.

The two most polar opposite camps share a similar passion. Their perspective is correct. The other side is horribly wrong, even dangerous.

I could use other issues to create this contrasting opinion. Both sides on many issues become so entrenched in their position, that anyone who sees things differently is not only wrong, but they need to be stopped. Their viewpoint is dangerous.

How did we get here?

The promotion of respect, tolerance, open-mindedness, and so on, should lead to listening to each other. Instead, it creates a listening to others only if they agree with my viewpoint. If you have a different perspective, I need to do everything I can to discredit you.

This leads to what we now find on issues like “climate”. Regardless of which side of the issue you lean towards, the words “climate change” produce strong reactions.

“The Science is Settled”. “Climate Change Fraud” “Hottest Decade Ever” “Climate Change Lies Exposed”

Pick your headline.

You can easily find these and countless other headlines on the topic of weather patterns or climate, and its effect on our world. You can find the headlines to support your perspective.

The trouble with searches for information these days is you can find whatever you search for. I did a quick search – it took less than a second – to settle the age old argument of whether cats or dogs are the better pet. So I searched to see if cats are better than dogs or the other way around.

The only problem is, I retrieved 300 million sites for both. Sites which claim cats are better than dogs, and sites which claim dogs are better than cats. Whatever I asked for, I found support for.

This is the world we live in.

In looking for our opinion to be reinforced, we can always find someone who will reinforce it. Truth becomes impossible to find as everything is questioned and disputed. Everything becomes a public relations exercise to sway people’s opinion. Public opinion is what matters.

Which means…

Truth is lost.

A follower of Jesus in the first century described what we see today. He wrote,

3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths. (2 Timothy 4)

The relevance of these words today is evident.

Paul, who wrote this, likely thought of teachers instructing people relating to the kingdom of God. However, the state he describes goes beyond that. He describes a time where people will seek out those who will reinforce their opinions.

He describes our times even though it is hundreds and hundreds of years later. Paul did not think it would take place in his lifetime, but he does give Timothy, who he is writing to, some advice when he faces this environment. In the next verse we read,

5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

Keep a clear mind. Do not panic or chase everything you hear. It is sound advice and brings me back to the issue of climate.

Weather is a big deal.

Some occupations depend on weather. In the largely agriculture based area I live in, the impact of weather on our lives is felt. Too much rain, not enough rain, rain at the right or wrong time, to hot and dry, all of it impacts people’s livelihood.

I get it. Climate, weather, matters.

Conserving energy, recycling, reusing, keeping pollution out of our lakes, rivers, etc. all matter in caring for the planet we live on. I engage in all of these activities. However…

I find the issue of climate has less to do with protecting our world and more about something else. It comes out of a mindset that believes we, people, are in control of everything in the world.

We can end, stop, control, all of the ills we see around us. We can make people do, stop doing, act in certain ways we deem to be important and cease doing what we place little value in. That is why certain laws are passed, why agendas are pushed, why shaming those who may think differently than we do happens. Dismissing contrary opinions, creating our own data sources to support our perspective, engaging in public relations campaigns is so important. Through these actions we can control what the world will be like. We can fashion it into our perfect image of what we think is right.

We can control life.

For me, the struggle with controlling the situations around me, including the environment, is it instills an attitude I would rather avoid. Control, is centered in pride. It is based upon the belief I am in charge. I can chart my own course.

I know better.

Too much of life is out of my control – including the weather. Summer needs to last longer than it is. The leaves should stay on the trees longer than they are. But as you can see in the picture they are not co-operating – at least in my yard they are not.

I need to keep a clear mind. Do what I can to respect the environment and world I live in, but realize I am not in control. I am not God.

That is part of our struggle these days – we think we are.

“Joined Together”

Two years ago I took a similar picture. Moments before I walked down the aisle with one of my daughter we captured the moment. On Saturday I took this one.

It is just moments before my youngest daughter and I would walk down the aisle of a church. There she would pledge her love and life to her husband.

I not only had the privilege to walk in with her, they gave me the honor of performing the ceremony for them.

It is something I never expect, but an honor I will always cherish.

It meant I got to provide advice about the life they are entering. While I know, in the midst of the nerves and excitement, being able to concentrate on what I might share with them is difficult. Yet, for me it is an opportunity to be a parent and a minister.

I took the moment to be a Dad. To speak like a Dad.

I also took the moment to give them advice. Like how … life is a series of moments. When you put them together, they become a life. They should embrace the journey.

Love is the bottom line. Nothing is as valuable or matters as much as being people of love. It is more important than all the other strengths you have.

Looking up matters. Jesus is the only One who can enable you to fulfill the vows you make to each other. Look to Him throughout your life together. He cares about your moments, He loves you deeply, He is there for you.

These are three things they already know.

They are not profound or awe-inspiring thoughts. However, it is my hope for them.

Which is almost all we can do as parents. We can hope. We can hope our parenting provides our children with what they need for life – to live life well. We can hope, but we cannot ensure it.

The most difficult part of parenting is we are not able to live life for our children. Sometimes we would like to, especially when they go through difficult times in their lives, or face circumstances, which devastate and overwhelm them. It is hard to watch when they choose to go down paths that we know will not end well.

But, we cannot live their lives. They must live them.

However, we can do more than hope. We can pray for them.

We can pray that God will lead them. We can pray that God will help them in the midst of whatever they face. We can pray that God will watch over their journey. We can pray that God will…

We can pray about everything in their lives. It is the greatest thing we can do for them.

We pray for them, because as much as we love them unconditionally, Jesus loves them more. As much as we desire the best for them, Jesus desires even more for them. As much as we…

Jesus hopes for and cares for them more than we possibly can. It seems impossible at times, but it is true.

Celebrating my daughter’s wedding day with family and friends was great. The time we had together with everyone was wonderful, but too brief.

In the midst of celebrating their love, it made me realize a chapter in our lives as parents ended. But another chapter begins.

We will continue to pray for our daughter in her life journey. But, our prayers will include our new son. We will pray they become One, united together by Jesus, so they will live their lives with purpose.

Congratulations Abby and Nick!

“Turning the Corner”

Each year something happens when September rolls around, summer fades away to fall.

I know it officially does not become fall for a few more weeks, yet the moment September arrives there is this feeling like we are turning the corner and are heading to a new season.

Among the many factors leading to this, is the beginning of a new school year. (Of course, this is a North America thing, as it is different in other parts of the globe.) September marks the beginning of a new school year in my part of the world. With it comes a new season, summer is over, fall is here.

I enjoy summer. I like the warmer days, the more relaxed pace, and the typical warm weather activities. I like not wearing socks and spending lots of time barbequing. Yet, when it is time to turn the corner to a new season, it is easy to anticipate all that fall brings.

As much as these past few months provide opportunities for less routine the fall brings a more predictable and a fuller schedule.

A few weeks ago I began to notice the change in seasons. The evenings were noticeably shorter with less daylight to spend outdoors. While it is still warm out, you begin looking for that jacket you have not worn for months. You begin to think of the things you need to do before…the season changes.

Thinking about how easily we can turn the corner from one season to the next made me think about other corners we need to navigate in life.

Life is not a straight line. Things occur that require us to turn corners and go in directions we never anticipated going down before. Some are easy. Others…

Others require us to face a reality we do not want to face. In the past week, families dealt with their reality suddenly altered – a diagnosis, a tragic accident, a broken relationship. Without warning life is not the same.

The road, which looked straight, a few weeks ago, has suddenly shifted.

However, just because things shift, it does not mean I navigate the corner before me. I can continue to attempt to go in a straight line. I can try and live as if nothing changed. I can continue to deny the signs, pain and heartache. I can keep heading in the direction I was heading in.

In other words… I can wear sandals until the snow flies if I want. I can refuse to bring out the fall jackets until I absolutely have to. I can ignore preparing for what I know is coming. I might feel better by doing these things, but it does not change the circumstances.

The road before me requires adjustment.

It is not easy.

As a matter of fact, it seems impossible.

There are those who are beginning this journey. They face a turn in the road they did not expect. As much as ignoring what occurred feels better, they know the reality of what took place. Ignoring the unimaginable does not change the unthinkable.

The road turned.

You cannot keep going straight.

Looking on, it is tempting to provide a glib response, even with good intentions. “Look upward.” “Trust Jesus”. “Have Faith”.

They are true statements.

It is just hearing the words does not help us navigate the road ahead. When our world is shattered being told to “have faith” does not begin to help. In fact, it can make the difficult corner even harder to steer around.

What helps?

What I find helpful is when you jump on board. When you join the person in navigating the corner. You do not steer, cause it is their road to go down, but you join them in the journey. You become available to help as needed.

Turning the corner is easier when you know you are not alone.

Whether you face a corner today or you know someone who is, I encourage you to navigate it with someone.

Corners are never easy. Taking them on your own is never the best.

“Out Of Context”

Ever been misquoted?

I have…. more than once.

When you participate in an interview, in any medium (that is not live), there is always the potential for someone to use your words in a way you never intended for them to be used. They can be your words, but someone else chooses to use them in the way you did not plan.

I know one newspaper writer who had a way of accurately capturing your words. The only thing was he tended to use them for whatever story he was writing – completely out of context. They were your words – just very misplaced. You said what he wrote, just about something else.

Sometimes it is completely harmless. My adult children have great fun taking something I say, often either sarcastically or in jest, and twist it to imply I am speaking negatively toward them. It is fun for them….for me not so much.

Sometimes having your words out of context can be hard to overcome. The consequences are much more significant. Your words make headlines, even though the context is skewed.

When what you say is taken out of context, the meaning, the intention of your words is altered. What you meant to say does not come across.

The more this happens, the more you learn to be somewhat guarded in what you say. The newspaper reporter, who I mentioned earlier, was not someone you gave in-depth interviews with. You could not trust him to use your words appropriately – in context.

I have participated in many interviews in all kinds of mediums, radio, TV, newspaper, podcasts, etc. At this point, I do not give a lot of attention to how someone chooses to use my words. It does not help. They will use them how they choose to use them.

However, it does affect what I say. I try to be as clear as possible so the meaning behind my words is understood. If it is in context, the message is clearly relayed. Should they use it out of context….I cannot do much about that. I know what I said and meant. The rest…it is out of my hands.

Lately, my reading of the scriptures has caused me to think about context. Particularly, the words written by one of the most noted Jesus followers – Paul.

Much of the New Testament contains letters, authored by Paul, to various places where other Christ followers were. These letters contain understanding about who God is, what Jesus did, and how to live out a life of faith in Him. They provide us with foundations to live by.

However, each of them is written to a specific group of people in a specific place and time. There is a context to them. I am not suggesting they do not have relevance for us today. I am merely suggesting we better understand the context before we put “words into Paul’s mouth”.

Context matters.

My recent reading of the New Testament letter of Romans, based on a better understanding of the context, has provided me with a whole new appreciation for what I read. In light of the context, I discover things about this letter I had never seen before.

Paul wrote this letter with a specific purpose in mind. It is not to provide a systematic theology of how to look at God and the world. It is to address the diverse nature of the church in Rome, where those with different backgrounds were at odds with one another. Paul identifies them as the Weak and the Strong.

Paul’s focus is bringing unity amoung these diverse believers. He does so as he helps each side understand how their viewpoint is not complete. They need each other, and together the life of the Spirit makes them one in Christ.

Looking at this letter through context, helps to see the other letters, or specifically some of the statements Paul makes, in a different light.

For example… some see Paul having a negative perspective toward women and their leadership in the church. It is based on statements he makes like the one to the believers in Corinth, about women speaking in the church. They should not. (1 Corinthians 14)

However, the reference in 1 Corinthians is not a reflection of Paul’s view of women or their role in the church. It is about what occurred amoung Corinthian believers when they met together. It was about a specific issue in the church at that time. How do I know?

Well, the letter to the believers in Rome is not delivered – read – to these believers by Paul. It is sent to them by someone Paul entrusts to be the embodiment of him to present this letter to these believers. Who does he choose for this significant task to go to the centre of the empire – Rome?

He chooses Phoebe. A woman who is a leader in her church in Cenchrea. In Romans 16 we read,

16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.

She delivers, reads, this letter to these believers.

But…

Before you begin to try and use other letters to overlook the role of this woman Phoebe by something else Paul might have written. Consider this…Cenchrea where Phoebe is a deacon is a port city in…Corinth.

Context matters.

The whole point of this is if we do not look at the context of what we read, we can misinterpret what is intended by the authors. In this case we can miss what Paul means. And in doing so, we can miss the heart of God in speaking to the church, in speaking to us by His Spirit. We can miss the real message from the New Testament letters.

Context matters.

The Value of Friends

“There is nothing better than a friend, except maybe a friend with chocolate.” – Anonymous

Friends make life better.

This is one of numerous quotes about the importance and value of good friends. If you search for “friend quotes” you find thousands of statements about how vital friendships are to the quality of our lives.

Amoung the many statements regarding friends are ones which describe the qualities friends possess. Attributes like: loyalty, dependability, trustworthiness, honesty, encouragement, hopeful, and so on.

Friends possessing these attributes add to our lives. They make our lives so much better. Which is why we desire friends.

I know a lot of people.

Through the various roles and opportunities I have worked with and developed friendships with hundreds and hundreds of people. These relationships add to my life. They enhance my life. Hopefully I am able to bring something positive to their lives as well.

However, most of these friendships are not what I would describe as best friends or even really, really good friends.

The difference is not in the qualities they possess. Many demonstrate the above list as we interact with each other. The difference comes through the amount of time we spend together.

Something happens when you spend many years together as friends. The depth of your relationship grows to the point where even if you do not see each other often, when you do, your friendship is instantly renewed. Those kind of friends are harder to find.

Friends are in my thoughts this week.

I have a few really close friends. This week I was fortunate enough to see a few of them. One is my best friend. We became friends when we were kids. We grew up together. Our friendship is over 50 years old.

The other is a couple I spent countless hours with over the years. We got to know each other really well several decades ago when they lived just down the street from me. Even though our paths have separated, as they moved several times since then, they remain close friends.

In both cases, I do not see them very often. We have full lives that take us in different directions. But none of that matters when we are together. Seeing each other instantly is like old times. Conversation comes easy, our friendship picks up right where we left off. We could talk for hours and hours, which we did. Our time together is never long enough.

Seeing either one of them in a week enhances my life. It is encouraging, strengthening, and uplifting. However, seeing both in the same week is just incredible…and needed.

The past 12 months have challenged us. With ups and downs, heartaches and joy, uncertainty and stress, we faced a lot of difficult things. In the moment you cope and keep walking. Looking back, however, you see how much of a toll life has on you. The weights you carry deflate your strength, affect your focus and sap your energy. Which is where friends come in.

Friends help share the burden. Friends help carry the load. Friends walk with you when the road is hard to walk down. Friends push you to keep going when your strength is gone. Friends make life better.

I wonder if I am that kind of friend.

My friends are in the midst of their own struggles and challenges. Do I encourage, support, lift up, or help them walk through life? Am I the kind of friend they need?

It is easy to look at my role as a friend. It is easy to ask myself if I am the kind of friend I need to be? However, I am not sure how helpful the question is. Trying to be a good friend seems unnatural.

Friendships take some effort to develop. You have to commit the time required to develop the friendship. But, they should also come naturally. You want to spend time together. You want to share in each other’s lives. It shouldn’t seem like work.

Some friendships feel like work. Some friendships feel like you put in all of the energy to keep the relationship going with little in return. Some of my best friendships felt like that at times. However, there was something natural about them. You wanted to be together. The relationship is worth the effort.

Seeing some of my best friends in the world this week reminded me about how valuable friendships are to life. Friends, good friends do make like better. If you have good friends you are blessed.

It also reminded me to appreciate the friends God has given me. After all, I need friends to make my life better. Or as Proverbs 27:17 (NLT) says,

17 As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

Thank you God for my friends.