Wednesday, November 2, 2022

November

 November.  Thanksgiving.  A reminder that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights….” (James 1:17a).  As we count our blessings and thank the Lord for His goodness toward us, may we focus on the Giver as well as the gifts.

 

Glorious

Infinite

Victorious

Eternal 

 

 

Trustworthy

Holy

Awesome

Near

Kind

Savior

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Christian Opportunism

 "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

This quote by Winston Churchill, while spoken in a secular context, provides Christian believers with an invitation and perhaps a challenge to consider how we view the world.  In today's rushed, stressed, and competitive world, it is all too easy to become overwhelmed with the tasks of daily living and to become crushed by events beyond those daily tasks.  This is a world where even those born with optimistic personalities struggle.  But if we move beyond secular thought and innate personalities, we find that Christ has something amazing to say to us about our world view.

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33.

These words of Christ, spoken just before He was arrested and crucified and quoted by the Apostle John, offer His disciples--then and now--a worldview for those who have a faith relationship with Him.  Jesus does not mince words.  As fallen people in this fallen world, we will encounter tribulation.  It can be and often is exhausting and excruciating.  But.  Jesus is beyond the fallen world even as He resides in us via the Holy Spirit.  He is not the eternal optimist; rather, He is the eternal Redeemer, who, as a manifestation of who He is, uses every difficulty as an opportunity for His good work of redemption and blessing.

The Gospels illuminate Jesus as opportunist throughout His ministry.  Wherever He goes, He encounters difficulty, misery, and suffering: The ill, the blind, the lame, the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the dying, and even the dead.  And each encounter becomes an opportunity to reveal and extend the grace of God thought he work of the Holy Spirit who had descended upon Him at His baptism.  Jesus never denies or minimizes the suffering or blames the sufferer.  Nor does He ignore it.  Instead, Jesus takes each unique encounter as an opportunity to display God's gracious and merciful heart. 

As we follow Christ as our Model as well as our Lord and Savior, we would do well to remember that the same Holy Spirit who indwelt Christ now abides in us.  As difficult as it is to fathom, we have the power of Christ who has overcome the world by His death and resurrection.  We can indeed take courage and view struggles--our own and of others--as opportunities for God's good work in us and through us.

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.  John 15:11.

The world is full of tribulation.  But Jesus has overcome the world!  And while the culmination of His victory will not be complete until the end of time, Jesus is offering us both peace and joy in the here and now.  It is a wonderfully complete package: As we depend upon the indwelling Holy Spirit for the wisdom and power to exercise our faith relationship with Christ, we are better able to look for His work in and through us as we walk through this difficult world; the Holy Spirit then grows the fruit of peace and joy in our hearts; and we are encouraged to continue our dependence.  This is true as we deal with our own struggles and as we encounter those whom the Lord puts in our path.  The peace and joy that come from Christ as we negotiate both small inconveniences and more daunting tribulations are gifts from the Lord that we would do well to not take lightly.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Beginnings

 

September may be heading us toward the end of the year, but it is more often considered to be the harbinger of new beginnings: the start of a new academic year; returning to “normal” life and work after summer schedules and vacations; initiating new ventures.  But despite the feelings that often accompany beginning, the truth is that beginnings are not the whole story.  And sometimes, beginnings are not the story at all.

 

The Old Testament gives us many examples: God’s creation began in perfection, but marred by the sin of Adam and Eve (and all generations after them), it quickly devolved into a world of hardship, suffering, and pain.  The beginnings of Noah’s life would have given him no clue that his life would become forever known by his faithful obedience in building the ark.  King David’s beginnings were as a humble shepherd.  And then the New Testament continues the theme:  Mary and Joseph, focused on beginning life together as a married couple, were surely blind-sided by the Lord’s other plans for them.  The Pharisee Saul, raised by good Jewish parents and at the height of power in the Jewish community, found himself turned around by the God he served to become an Apostle of the Christian faith that he had dedicated himself to eliminating.  

 

Real life continues the theme we find in the Bible.  While most, if not all, newly married couples expect to be personally changed by marriage, I will confess that I was totally shocked that marriage to Ken made me not only a baseball fan, but a Yankee fan.  And whatever you think about the baseball in general and the Yankees in particular, they, too, offer numerous examples of beginnings that have little relationship to subsequent events and outcomes.  Babe Ruth is one of the most celebrated Yankee sluggers of all time, and indeed, the old Yankee stadium was known as the house that Ruth built.  But Ruth began his professional baseball career as a pitcher for the Yankee’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox.  And in a recent game, the Yankees found themselves down 5-2 in a game against the Kansas City Royals.  After the game resumed in the eighth inning after a rain delay, Yankee star Aaron Judge came up to the plate.  He struck out: a terrible beginning in the attempt to rally from behind, and without doubt personally disappointing for Judge.  But Judge’s teammates persisted and took a 7-5 lead.  Judge unexpectedly found himself with a second at-bat in the inning, and with bases loaded, he hit a grand-slam homerun, breaking the game open and giving the team an 11-5 lead.  

 

Beginnings are an unreliable predictor of the future.  But even as we know this, it can be all too easy to allow them to dominate our expectations of the future.  As we head into whatever beginnings September brings, it would be wise to shift our expectations and place them into our Lord’s hands, to strive for excellence but to also look with expectancy and anticipation to the Lord as He does His loaves and fishes work with our efforts.  We would also be wise to prepare to be surprised!

 

 

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21.

 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Thought For The Day

 "Love isn't a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like 'struggle.'

                                                                                    Fred Rogers

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sylvia: A Not-So-Silly Squirrel Story

 Once upon a time, there was a cute little squirrel named Sylvia.  Sylvia was the youngest of twenty, and she lived with her family and dozens of other squirrel families in a stand of Blue Spruces known as Blue Point Ridge.  Being a squirrel in Blue Point Ridge was serious business.  Young squirrels were not encouraged to be curious and were warned to avoid distractions, and they were taught the squirrel code very early on: Squirrels were always to look out for one another and to take nut gathering with the utmost seriousness.  

 

Sylvia was not serious in the way the other squirrels were.  While the young squirrels would dash along the floor of the Ridge looking for nuts, Sylvia perched in a cozy spruce and gazed thoughtfully at the beautiful, symmetrical branches surrounding her.  Sometimes she would simply marvel at the beauty of the Ridge and ponder how it came to be.  And if a racoon or stray cat or dog encroached on their territory, the others would chatter their curses at the intruder while Sylvia wondered what had brought it so close.  Her siblings and friends found Sylvia to be downright annoying as they were always trying to find her as she wandered in the woods, and her parents and elder squirrels were always scolding her for her unserious ways. 

 

It was a short walk to squirrel school, but it was one that Sylvia enjoyed immensely.  The path led out of Blue Point Ridge for a bit, and Sylvia loved the open country, the bubbling creek, and the lush green valley just beyond.  But her classmates did not like that section of the route so much.  They would hop and chatter along their way, but when they left the secluded protection of the Ridge, the unfamiliar creek became an object of fear and they hurried past.

 

One drizzly Fall morning, Sylvia and the other young squirrels were trotting to school, and when they came in sight of the creek, her companions shrieked and sprinted the rest of the way to school as Sylvia stared.  The creek was shrouded in a glistening mist.  Sylvia crept toward the mysterious sight.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t afraid; but she was overwhelmed with curiosity.  As she stared into the mist, she thought she saw a shimmering figure in the mist, almost like a holograph.  When the figure disappeared, she shrugged her shoulders in bewilderment and followed her classmates to school.

 

At bedtime that evening, Sylvia told her story to her mother.  “Sylvia!” exclaimed her mother.  “Now you are being downright silly!  Please be a good little girl squirrel…. Please be serious!”  

 

It was a particularly rainy September and October, and the mist appeared more regularly over the creek. The little squirrel students developed the habit of dashing past the area as fast as they could go, arriving early and breathless at school.  Except Sylvia.  She developed the habit of inching closer to the creek and standing before the glistening figure in the creek mist.  She found it both frightening and irresistible.  After a few days, she found herself awed by the figure and started to bow her head in respect before continuing her journey to school.

 

And then one day, Sylvia made the mistake of mentioning her time with the mist figure to a few friends during noon playtime.  They stopped and stared at her almost in disbelief, and then burst into an avalanche of laughter.  “Sylvia is silly!”  “Sylvia is silly!” they chanted around the garden, and soon the entire school knew.  Her teachers became concerned, and the principal threatened to dismiss her.  When her parents confronted her, Sylvia could only explain what she saw and felt.  Her parents feared for her mental health and scolded her soundly: “Sylvia, stop this nonsense right now!  This is too silly!”  And they begged her to be a serious little squirrel.

 

Sylvia was very sad.  She knew she was not silly.  She knew there was more to the world than what the other squirrels could see.  She didn’t know who the figure was, but she did know she wanted to know.  It was so hard to not be able to talk to anyone about it, but she continued to linger by the creek on rainy days.

 

And then one day it happened.  A storm came upon the Blue Point Ridge one evening just as the young squirrels were settling in their nests.  Lightning lit up the sky above, and thunder drowned out the cries of terrified squirrels.  Suddenly the situation became life-threatening as a tree in the middle of the Ridge sustained a direct lightning hit and caught on fire; and then the fire started to spread with alarming speed.  Before long, the entire Ridge was ablaze and squirrel families were racing for their lives.  

 

The rain came, but not in time to save their homes.  Running blindly in the most familiar direction, the ragged groups of squirrel families came to the creek.  They stopped in their tracks as Sylvia walked forward, her eyes fixed on the figure in the mist.  Bowing before the figure, she was able to see the last thing she expected to see: a tiny bridge formed from debris that had collect in this shallow section of the creek.  She looked closely at the mist figure and was sure she saw a smile.  Sylvia turned and shouted, waving her arms in excitement.  “This way!  We can cross the creek here!”  She couldn’t see their faces, but their reluctance was clear by their lack of response. 

 

The fire raged behind them until eventually, the squirrel families had no choice but to try to cross the creek.  Sylvia kept waving her arms and shouted words of encouragement as the first few families took their first tentative steps across the makeshift bridge.  Before long, the entire group was across the bridge, safe from the fire, and scouting out the nearby forest for a satisfactory place to begin a new colony.

 

Once again, Sylvia lingered, glancing at the mist figure who remained.  She bowed and whispered, “Thank You!”  As she walked toward her new home, she cast one last glance at the figure.  She was sure He winked.

 

And from that time on, none of the squirrels called Sylvia silly.  She had earned a new nickname: “Spiritual Sylvia.”

 

Monday, August 1, 2022

Thought For The Day and A Lifetime

 "If I won't be myself, who will?"

                          Alfred Hitchcock

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Power of Living Loved

 "Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

                                                                                                               James Baldwin