Watermarks

I think most people are familiar with watermarks.  Originally a watermark is a more or less transparent image or text applied to a piece of paper, another image to either protect the original image or make it harder to copy the item, e.g., money stamp watermarks.  If you hold the paper in the right light, the watermark appears.  The watermark gives the paper authenticity.

As Christians, we are marked.  In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)  As Jesus’ followers, we are authenticated by God’s Spirit.  God has claimed us as his own and has placed his watermark upon us.  In our baptisms, we are marked and sealed with God’s Spirit.  As a result, our lives must reflect God’s ownership.  When people look at our lives, they should be able to tell to whom we belong.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul was addressing the life change that comes from following Jesus.  Paul speaks of a new lifestyle as Christ’s followers. Paul writes about putting away falsehoods, speaking the truth, changing behaviors, watching our speech, putting away wrath and anger, and offering forgiveness to one another.  If our lives do not match our watermark, then Paul says we will grieve the Holy Spirit.  To grieve means to make sad or sorrowful. It means to cause sorrow, pain, or distress.  It saddens God when our baptism marks us, but then we do not follow the ways of our Lord.

Following Jesus in our world is not easy.  The temptation to join the crowd and forget our watermark is easy.  We end up blending in, losing our identity in Christ, and failing to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world. Instead, our lives must exemplify the Christ we came to follow if we are to be authentic.  Unfortunately, what the world often experiences from Christians and the church comes across as a cheap imitation.  Our confession of faith does not match our daily living.  C. S. Lewis in his classic work; Mere Christianity stated, “When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.”  The world will only true believe the good news of Christ Jesus when they see it in us.

As we live our daily lives as followers of Jesus, let us commit ourselves to God’s mark upon our lives.  May we be a Christian not merely in name, but in word and in deed.  Let us encourage one another in our walk as we all stumble at times.  And let us hold one another accountable in our faith so that the world will see our watermark and know to whom we belong.Baptism

Lost in our Thoughts

What are you thinking about?  We’ve asked that question of others, and others have directed that question toward us.  A lot of times, you can tell when someone is thinking about something.  They are there, but there is a disconnect with the environment around them.  They are lost in their thoughts.  The dictionary defines lost in thought this way:  “When you give all your attention to what you are thinking about and do not notice what is going on around you.”

It just seems that our minds are always thinking about something.  Some of our thoughts can be reasonably average like what is for supper, what do I need to pick up from the store, did I turn the lights off?  At other times, our thoughts can weigh much heavier upon our minds as we consider issues such as our health, relationships, finances, and other uncertainties.  Yes, we can get lost in our thoughts.  We can worry.

Everybody worries.  It would be impossible to live in the world and not find ourselves at times worried about something or someone in our lives.  Parents know what it means to worry about their children.  Business owners know what it means to worry about the bottom line.  A person who is dealing with a disease knows what it is like to worry about their health.  The list goes on.  Yet, worry is not a modern phenomenon, but it is as old as humanity itself.

In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus addresses worry.  Jesus speaks about worry related to the daily needs of food, drink, clothing, and shelter.  Jesus knew that the people of the day could easily get lost in thought and worry about these things.  Jesus states, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (Matthew 5: 28-30) Jesus called his hearers who found themselves lost in thought and worry to reframe their thinking by focusing on lilies.  Now I don’t think lilies were Jesus’ favorite flower.  Instead, Jesus pointed out lilies because they demonstrate God’s concern and care for the flowers of the field, and if God thinks about the flowers of the field, we can trust that we are always in God’s thoughts and on God’s mind.

When we can come to trust in God’s care and concern for our lives, then we can trust God with our anxiety, worries, and problems.  We can allow our thoughts to rest in God’s mind.   In doing so, we do not become so lost in our thoughts and weighed down with anxiety that we can’t enjoy the life God has blessed us with.  We can begin to think of all of God’s blessings, acts of mercy, times of provision, sustaining grace, and steadfast love.  When we get lost in these kinds of thoughts, we enjoy the peace of mind that only God can give.  That’s something to think about.

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The Pursuit of Happiness, When We Were Made for Joy

It says it right there in the Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  These are three examples given of unalienable rights granted to all humans by their creator.  According to the Declaration of Independence,” we have a right to these.  I’m not sure why these three were identified as central, as I am not a historical scholar.  Yet, I have been intrigued by choice of the pursuit of happiness.

But what does happiness mean?  Happiness can mean different things for different people.  Is there a set standard for happiness, and who gets to define the standard?  What does it mean to pursue happiness?  When I think of pursuing something, I think of trying to chase something down, capture it, and claim it as my own.  And I guess if you are pursuing something, it doesn’t mean just sitting still, but actively going after whatever you are pursuing.

Well, I think most people want to be happy.  Happiness makes us feel good.  Happiness puts a smile on our faces.  Yet, it has been my experience that happiness never lasts, but it is fleeting.  Maybe this is why we are always pursuing it.  Once we attain it, it does not last long.  The new car eventually gets dinged and dented.  The new job becomes routine.  The new outfit goes out of style.  The new relationship begins to grow stale.  The next high wears off.  Happiness is off and running, so the pursuit begins again.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says these words to his disciples:  “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Jesus promised his disciples that they could share in his joy.  Unlike happiness, joy seems to have a deeper and richer meaning to it.  John Piper defines Christian joy this way:  “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and the world.”  This kind of joy cannot be found or experienced in anything that the world has to offer, but instead, its source is in God alone.  When Jesus said to his disciples that he had said “these things,” so they might have joy, we have to ask what did Jesus say?

The verses preceding John 15:11 record Jesus speaking about our need to abide in Jesus and for Jesus to abide in us much like a branch does to a vine.  When we share our lives with Christ Jesus, then we become infused with Jesus’ joy.  We don’t pursue it or chase it down, but it is offered to us a gift of God’s grace.  An abiding relationship with Jesus Christ is the only real source of joy.  There may be happiness imitations, but they do not last.  Only the joy of the Lord is lasting and does not flee even in times of difficulty.  God’s joy is eternal.  What we receive now on earth is only amplified when we went enter into the joy of heaven.  As Fanny Crosby wrote in the great Christian hymn, Blessed Assurance:  “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.”

What is it that we are pursuing?  What is it that we have found, and has it brought lasting happiness?  Happiness will continue to slip through our fingers.  Joy, however, will anchor itself in our hearts as a constant reminder of the trustworthy source of our joy:  Jesus.

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Bent Out of Shape

It happens.  Something happens that upsets us.  We get angry.  We get frustrated.  Even our physical demeanor changes as we become red face.  We get “bent out of shape”.  The phrase means to take offense; to become angry, agitated, or upset.  Something has set us off so much that we are all twisted up inside about it.  We can’t think straight, our emotions are high, and we are visibly upset.

In the Gospels, Jesus often caused people to get bent out of shape.  This was especially true of the religious leaders who disapproved of the way he conducted himself.  The Jewish religion of the day had strict guidelines and instructions on how one should live.  There were certain things you were not permitted to do.  This was especially true about the Jewish Sabbath.  Strict observance of the Sabbath meant working and other activities were simply not permitted.

In Luke 10: 13-17 we read the following story of Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath.  “Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”

This particular woman had been physically bent out of shape for 18 years.  She could not stand straight up, but hunched over, she lived looking at the ground.  When Jesus sees her condition, he extends compassion and heals the woman.  However, the leader of the synagogue becomes bent out of shape because Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  According to policy and procedures guidelines, Jesus should have waited till after the Sabbath.  Jesus broke the rules when he healed the bent out of shape woman.  I think most people when we read this story think how ridiculous it was for the leader of the synagogue to become so upset about breaking a rule to help a person.

Sometimes we become bent out of shape on things that really in the big picture don’t matter.  Someone says something or does something and immediately we find ourselves twisted up inside, walking around miserable and mad, and generally unhappy with life at the moment.  We end up bent out of shape about something we should have just let go in the first place.  Yet, for some reason, we are good at holding on to these feelings and allow them to disrupt all the goodness around us.  All the synagogue leader could see was his anger, while he missed the bigger picture.

So, the next time something bends us out of shape, let us think about what it is that is really making us upset.  Is it justified?  Is it worth it?  And if the answer is no, then just let it go and then go forth and live your life.  It is ironic in the story that the woman walks away free from her bent over condition while the religious leader leaves all bent out of shape.  We don’t have to live bent of our shape.  Jesus can straighten us all out as he teaches us about what really matters in life. Life is too short to get upset about some things.  Jesus always shows us a better way.

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The Mess We Leave Behind: Politics and Conversations

For anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant as the wait staff or as a busboy or busgirl, there are times when you go to the table after the diners have left to find a mess.  Now there will always be dirty dishes and the like, but sometimes the table is a disaster.  Remnants of the meal are spread around the table, on the seats, and on the floor.  Everything is in disarray.  At other times you can tell that the diners intentionally left the table in nice shape, stacking dishes, collecting trash, and the like, because they know someone will have to clean up things.  Having waited on tables before in my life, I try hard now not to leave a mess behind for others to clean up.

As an American citizen, I am concerned about the mess we are leaving behind for future generations.  Our table fellowship has gotten awful messy.  While political disagreements have always been part of our American family, it has in recent years turned into a free-for-all of insults, sarcasm, ugliness, and hatefulness.  Civic conversations have given way to Jerry Springer Show like theatrics where the goal is not to discuss issues but to seek ways to destroy one another.  It has not helped that our national leaders have modeled this way of exchange for us.  When our leaders are unable to conduct themselves with honesty, integrity, and respect, then it filters down to the rest of us.  It shows up among circles of friends, families, workplaces, and churches.

The widespread use of social media has only exasperated the problem.  The daily barrage of comments, sarcastic posts, and mean-spirited words are all over the place from all sides of politics.  We are quick to point the finger at our political opponent while failing to see our own shortcomings.  In fact, political opponents are now better described as political enemies.  The lines have been drawn and compromise is forgotten as an option.  Yes, we are creating quite a mess, but at what price?

Our children and grandchildren are watching us and taking it in.  If we continue to model this way of discourse, then it is only inevitable that they will follow suit as they age.  We will have left the table so messy, then they will not know how to begin to start the conversation.  They will think this is the normal of table conversation.  Left unchanged, we will be setting them up for a generation of division and animosity.  Is this really what we want to leave behind?

As people of faith, we have to do better.  We have to model a way of discourse that is guided by grace and humility.  We have to resist the temptation of joining in the free-for-all of insults, sarcasm, and hatred.  We have to live with a different mindset; the mind of Christ.  The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, would write, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4: 8-9) Imagine the salt and light we could be as Christians at the table if we operated under a different mindset than that of the rest of society.   Jesus told us that they will know we are his followers by our love for one another.  I think we would all probably rather be known for our love than our last political post on FACEBOOK.

As Christians, we can continue to talk, discuss, and debate the issues of the day.  Each voice is important.  Yet, we do so with the mind of Christ within us.  We must let the mind of Christ guide our conversations.  Again, the apostle Paul would write to the Philippians saying, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 1-8)

We all want our voices to be heard in the political conversation.  However, are we willing to speak with voices guided by Jesus Christ?  We don’t have to leave a messy table for others to clean up.  We can leave a better place for those who come after us.  We cannot do it, however, on our own, but only by the guidance of God’s Spirit.  May we each ask God to guide our speech and its tone.  May we see others, even the ones we disagree with, as children of God.  And may we realize that our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ.

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Sloppy Saints

Did you ever ask a question of another, but did not get the answer you wanted to hear?  You ask the question hoping that the individual will affirm what you have already decided the answer to be.  In Matthew’s Gospel, the apostle Peter comes to Jesus asking a question about forgiveness.  In Matthew 18:21 we read, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter answered his question before Jesus could respond.  Peter wanted to know if he should forgive up to seven times.  Now it is not exactly clear what Peter meant by seven times.  Did he mean that when you forgave a church member seven times then you were done?  If an eighth time came along, then you didn’t have to forgive?  Or did the number seven mean perfection?  Was Peter asking Jesus if he had to offer perfect forgiveness? Now, whatever Peter meant, he does seem to be asking to see if there are limitations on forgiveness.  Is there only so much forgiveness to go around?

Jesus responds to Peter with a number of his own.  Jesus says, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:22) Peter was probably confused by Jesus’ answer.  What does that even mean?  Jesus then goes on to tell a parable about a king who wished to settle accounts with servants.  As he called each servant before him to settle up, one servant came forward owing 10,000 talents.  In modern money, it is $3.48 billion.  There was no way this servant would ever be able to pay the king back.  So, as you would expect, the servant begs for more time to come up with what he owes.  The king is moved by his plea.  He does not grant the servant an extension but instead erases his entire debt.  He now owes nothing.  Freed from his debt, the servant heads out only to meet another servant who owes him just a little.  When this servant asks for more time, the recently forgiven servant will have nothing of it.  Instead, he threw him into prison until he could pay his debt.

This news makes it back to the king.  The king once again calls the servant before him demanding to know why he didn’t forgive his fellow servant after he had just received forgiveness.  Incensed with the servant, the king takes back his forgiveness and orders him to be tortured until he pays back everything.  The story ends with Jesus saying, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18: 35)

So back to the original question.  If a church member sins against me, how often should I forgive?  Well, the first truth here is that church members sin against one another.  Even though we are followers of Jesus, we still lug around with us the baggage of our human sinfulness.  As a result, as church members, we say and do things that cause hurt to others.  Any person who has ever spent time with a church family knows that this is true.  We can still wound others with our words, actions, or lack of action.  The church is by no means a perfect place, but a group of sloppy saints trying to do the right thing.  Yet, sometimes we get it wrong.

As a pastor for the last 30 years with the same church, I wish I could say I always got it right.  Yet, sometimes I am a sloppy saint.  We all are.  That is why forgiveness is such an important part of the church.  If we can’t forgive one another, then it makes our proclamation of God’s grace seem cheap or inauthentic.  If there is anywhere forgiveness should have a good root system is in the church.  Now, this does not mean excusing unacceptable or unharmful actions, but it does mean forgiveness should always be a part of our interactions with one another.  When unforgiveness plops down in a pew or a pulpit, then problems are inevitable.

Forgiveness is not easy.  It can be tough work.  Yet, Jesus has demonstrated what it looks like.  The only guideline is to forgive from your heart.  And when we can begin there, God can then take care of the rest.

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Straight Talk

Jesus knew all along how his life would unfold.  He knew that there would come a point in which he would suffer and die.  The cross was continuously before him as he carried out his mission and ministry.  Each day drew him closer to this reality.  There would be difficult days ahead for him and his followers.  Thus, as Jesus journeyed with these twelve disciples, he tried to prepare them for the inevitable.  Hence, at different points in the Gospel narrative, Jesus tells his disciples directly that he will suffer and die.  In Mark 8: 31-32 we read, “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.”  Jesus wanted his followers to understand the severity of what was before them.  Jesus didn’t downplay the suffering that was ahead.  He was open and honest and wanted his followers to be prepared.

Now the disciples were slow to understand.  This is perhaps why Jesus spoke directly to them about his suffering more than once.  Jesus needed them to understand the days ahead, even it might create panic or stir up anxiety within them.  Not to prepare them for his cross and death would have left them in a worse state.

The anxiety was high the night before Jesus’ death as he gathered with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes their anxiety and fear.  They are fearful of the future, uncertain about their lives, and what the unfolding hours will hold.  Jesus had already spoken about betrayal and denial amongst themselves.  They were afraid, plain and simple.  As their leader, Jesus knew he needed to address their fear and anxiety.  Hence, in John 14: 1-3 we read, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  Jesus invited his followers to anchor their anxious hearts in him and that if they trusted in God, then they could trust in him.

In our lives, there are times in which fear and anxiety can feel overwhelming.  Life can create times in which we are uncertain about the present and the future is fearful.  Even as a people of faith, like Jesus’ disciples, we may doubt how we will get through.  Jesus, however, from the very beginning told his followers then, as well as today, that there would be difficult days ahead.  Jesus did not downplay the struggles we would face in following him.  Yet, in spite of the struggles we do face, Jesus promises that he will be present with us during these times and offers us hope beyond the struggles.  In John 16:33, on the same night before his death, Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”  In his straight talk, Jesus didn’t offer a rosy picture of life. Rather, Jesus spoke truthfully about the difficulties of life, but difficulties that would ultimately be replaced by hope.  We can take heart that even in the midst of a troubling world, Jesus will conquer and bring victory to our lives.

Jesus offered an honest assessment of life in a broken world; it can be hard at times.  But then Jesus offered a promised hope; he has overcome it all, and so will we. Jesus will always be a non-anxious presence in our anxiety.  We can trust him to lead us through it and bring us to a better place.

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Trash Night

Monday night is trash night at my house.  Bright and early Tuesday morning, you can hear the sounds of the truck as the sanitation workers will descend on our neighborhood and begin the weekly process of collecting the trash.  So, on Monday night we go throughout the house and collect the trash from the individual rooms.  Once gathered, we dump the trash in the large collection can and then roll it to the street.  While taking the trash out is not my favorite chore, I am grateful there are a time and a way to remove it.  Without the weekly pickup, it could get pretty trashy and smelly at the house.  You just can’t let trash pile up.

In our daily living, it is easy to allow our sins to pile up in our lives.  In the book of Isaiah, the prophet confesses, “For our transgressions are piled up before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities.” (Isaiah 59:12) Isaiah reminded the people that their sin, left unconfessed and forgiven, would pile up, and lead to death.  Sin has a way of rotting and stinking up our lives when we don’t let it go.  None of us are free from sin.  While each day may be different, we continue to do those things which are not pleasing to God.  The scriptures teach us that “all have sinned and fallen short of God.” (Romans 3:23) Even the best of the followers of Jesus continue to stumble in sin.

This is why we need confession in our lives.  Daily we have to acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our wrongs, and then trust them to God’s grace and forgiveness.  When we fail to recognize our sin and confess them to God, then we allow them to pile up in our lives which can create quite a mess.  Confession is like taking out the trash.  When we confess our sins, God’s grace removes the sin and sets us free.  As the apostle John would remind us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (John 1:9)

The amazing thing about God’s grace is that there is no single sin or no pile of sin that God cannot remove from our lives.  Regardless of how much our sin piles up or how much we feel as though we are beyond redemption, God’s grace will always be greater.  As Paul would write to the Romans, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.” (Romans 5:20) In confession, we open ourselves up to God’s grace and the richness of God’s love.  Grace and love that can change our lives, restore our lives, renew our lives, and lead us into a fresh beginning.

If the trash needs to be taken out, then let us do it today and tomorrow, because God is there to pick it up every day.

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An Aha Moment

Have you ever had an “aha moment?”  An aha moment is defined as a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.  For different reasons what was unknown or even forgotten is recognized or remembered.  There is a break in your line of thinking when the truth breaks in and you discover understanding.  These aha moments are often life lessons that cause us to rethink things in our lives.

In the book of James in the New Testament, the writer has what you might consider an aha moment.  In James 4: 14 we read, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  James confesses about the brevity of life.  Or as we might say in modern lingo, “time flies.”   I know that as I age, time does seem to go by faster.  I find myself often wondering, “where did the time go?”

In the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, we read, There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2) Birth and death are indeed the bookends of life and living is found between the two.  In it is these daily moments of life that we share in many experiences.  While at any given time we might not think much about a moment, we should seek to see the value in every moment.  For as James reminds us, these collective moments in life are like a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Someone once said, “you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Life is indeed short.  This is why we should see each moment in life as a gift and not take any moment of time for granted.  Times spent with the people we love can easily come to an end in the brevity of life, thus we must value each moment.  As James states, “we do not know what tomorrow will bring.”  All we have is the present moment.  Hence, each moment gives us the opportunity to live in gratitude for that moment and the people, things, and places at that moment that give it meaning.  Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist who gave us The Jungle Book.  Kipling once said, “This is a brief life, but in its brevity, it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”
We are only given one life.  As people of faith, we must see each moment as a gift of God’s grace. Each moment gives us the opportunity to glorify God by the way we live.  Each moment must be received in gratitude.  Each moment of life is an “aha moment” to be celebrated with the people in your life that make life such a grand adventure.  Right now is a good moment for all of us to thank God for this gift of life.

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Head for the Hills

How many times have you said or heard another person say, “We better head for the hills?”  I know I have used it on occasion at different times sometimes jokingly and sometimes seriously.  Its dictionary definition reads: ” To move to higher ground, as in preparation for or response to a natural disaster.”  So, if the water is starting to rise in a flood, you might want to get to higher ground.  But often we use it metaphorically when we are facing a trial of some type in our lives.  If people head for the hills, they run away from trouble.

Life is full of moments in which we want to head to the hills.  Life can suddenly turn upside down, the waters of anxiety can rise, and we can feel overwhelmed.  So, to avoid disaster we seek out something or someone for help.  Where do we escape to when life is swelling up around us like a flooded riverbank?  In Psalm 121, the psalmist considers his options while facing a difficult time.  He is ready to head to the hills, but where will his help come from.  In verses 1 and 2 we read, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  The psalmist realized that help was needed so he looked to the hills.

In our lives, when we are faced with a struggle or difficulty, we all look to the hills.  The question is what is my hill and who is my help?  The psalmist confesses that his help comes from the Lord.  However, we don’t always turn their first.  We may head to the hills and turn to some vice to help ease our fear.  We may head to the hills and withdraw unto ourselves and cut ourselves off from everyone else.  We may head to the hills, become angry, and take it out on someone else.  We may head to the hills and lose ourselves in despair.  We all face these temptations when we are in trouble.

As people of faith, we must remind ourselves that ultimately our help comes from the Lord.  When we feel as though we need to head to the hills, we must remember that God will be there with us as our rock and our refuge.  We remember the words of the old gospel song, The Old Rugged Cross, when it states, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross.”  As Christians, the cross is our refuge and help.  In the cross, God stepped into the mess of our lives with a message of divine presence and deliverance.  Though life may rage against us at times, the cross is a constant reminder of God’s presence.  We need not fear the deepest valleys because our help comes from the Lord of the Hill.

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Right in Front of Your Face

Have you ever gone looking for something and not be able to find it.  You feel as though you have searched carefully, yet you have no luck in your search.  Yet, eventually, you or someone else does find it and the object was in plain sight all the time.  It is right in front of your face, but you do not see it.  You wonder how and the world you missed it.

I love the autumn season, especially after a long hot summer.  As the days begin to cool, the colors also begin to turn.  Suddenly the color of green is replaced by red, yellow, and orange as the leaves on the trees begin their annual transformation. Lee Maynard was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist born in West Virginia.  He once made this observation about Fall: “I loved Autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.”  Indeed, in our created world, God’s artistic creativity is always on display.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Rome expresses how God’s work and presence can be experienced in the beauty of creation.  Paul writes in Romans 1: 20: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So, they are without excuse.”  For Paul, we are without excuse in not believing in God, because as we look at the beauty of creation, God is right in front of our faces.  God’s eternal power and divine nature can be seen and understood through the things God has made.  Thus, every autumn tree is a doxology, every harvest moon is a song, every fallen leave is a reminder of God’s grace.  God is all around us; we are just too busy and distracted at times to notice.

The challenge then becomes ours to find a way to see the wonder of God in our world.  We have to create ways to rest in the beauty of God’s creation, celebrating its wonder and diversity, and using it as a means of worship.  Like Nehemiah in the Old Testament we can proclaim:

“You alone are the Lord.
You have made the heavens,
The heaven of heavens with all their host,
The earth and all that is on it,
The seas and all that is in them.
You give life to all of them
                                        And the heavenly host bows down before You.”                                         (Nehemiah 9:6)

We worship a creative and artistic God.  God could have chosen to give us a bland world of sameness, but God spiced it up.  The beauty of our created world is God’s good gift to all of us.  So, let us treasure it and care for it and celebrate it.  God is right in front of our faces in so many beautiful ways and we don’t have an excuse for missing God’s presence. So in every colored tree, every gentle breeze, every animal that scurries along, and every human face we meet, we get a glimpse of our God.

autumn autumn colours brown countryside
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You Can’t Hurry Love

We’ve all probably had the same experience.  You are sitting in your car at a stoplight when it is red.  The light turns green and you don’t start moving forward at the exact moment and someone starts honking their horn at you.  You’ve barely had the chance to react to the light change before someone has already grown impatient and thus, lays on their horn.  They want you to get moving so they can get moving and they are not happy to have to wait for a second more.  They have run out of patience.

I expect that most of us have become impatient about something at times.  We are tired of waiting, even if the wait is really not that long.  For whatever the reason, we need things to move along sooner than later and preferably now.  We live in an instant society.  We want everything now and having to wait for something just seems to go against the grain.  W.H Auden, the great American poet, once wrote, “Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.”  We just have a tough time waiting.  We want it all and we want it now.

The 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth is often called the love chapter.  We often tend to associate Paul’s words on love with weddings, but in actuality, the words are directed towards the church.  Paul is reminding these early Christians of what God’s love looks like in the life of a believer.  Hence, in his definition of Christian love Paul writes, “love is patient.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4)

In Christian love, we realize that we are all in the process of becoming who God desires us to be.  Yet, we are still a long way away from perfection.  We are still sinful creatures, prone to mistakes and failures, and slow to grow sometimes in our faith.  As a result, it is easy for us to get frustrated and impatient with one another.  How often have we found ourselves saying something like, “he just makes me so mad, she drives me crazy, why doesn’t he do this, what is taking her so long, and the list of questions goes on.  We think we know best for individuals, and we become frustrated when they don’t demonstrate it.

However, when we live with patient love, we are willing to walk beside another in this process of becoming what God desires in their lives.  We see it in Jesus and his circle of disciples.  The 12 he called to follow him as his personal disciples were constantly stumbling over one another, falling behind, failing to listen and understand, and downright hard-headed.  Yet, through it all, Jesus demonstrated his love by continuing to help guide them into who God wanted them to be.  Rather, than throwing up his hands in frustration and walking away, he stuck with them, through the ups and downs.  Jesus knew that you can’t hurry love.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must practice patient love with one another.  We must remember that we are all on this journey together and that none of us have fully arrived.  We are still a work in process.  In patient love, we continue to encourage one another in our walk of faith while realizing that sometimes we stumble and fall.  There are no perfect Christians.  That is why love must be patient.  We must be patient with one another, just as our Lord is patient with each of us.

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Dirty, Don’t Touch

How often have parents told their young children, “dirty, don’t touch.”  Toddlers especially are known to be curious about anything they see whether it be a piece of chewed gum stuck to an object, a piece of trash on the ground, or a decaying bird in the grass.  The toddler wants to pick it up and examine it, see what it is, and feel it between its fingers.  Thus, the well-known parental prohibition, “dirty, don’t touch.”  As a result, as the child ages, the lesson of clean and unclean becomes part of their psyche; helping them discern things in a germ-filled world.

In the days of Jesus, they might not have had much of an understanding of germs, but they did understand the difference between that which was clean and unclean. A person or thing could contract ritual “uncleanness” in many different ways: by skin diseases, discharges of bodily fluids, touching something dead, or eating unclean foods.  Because of the strict purity laws of the day, an unclean person would have been avoided and even shunned until cleanliness could be restored which took much more than a hot shower.  As a result, if something or someone was unclean, the word of advice of the day was “dirty, don’t touch.”

Yet, when Jesus stepped on the scene, he seemed to have little regard to the thought that dirty or unclean things could not be touched.  It seemed that Jesus went out of his way to touch that which was rendered unclean.  In Matthew 8: 1-4 we read of one such an encounter.  “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.”  In reaching out to touch the man with the dreaded disease of leprosy, Jesus demonstrated the reach of God’s love to a broken world.  Even in his state of uncleanliness, God’s love would not be deterred from reaching out and touching the man.  It would not be a touch that would lead to the uncleanliness of Jesus, but the healing and restoring and cleansing of the man with leprosy.  For Jesus, whether it was a person with leprosy, a woman with a flow of blood, a woman with a sinful lifestyle, or the body of a dead person, Jesus did not fear touching the untouchable, but he feared individuals going through life and not experiencing the touch of God’s love.  For Jesus, every individual was of value and worth.

As Jesus’ followers, we are called to a life and ministry of touch.  Individuals today still find themselves shunned, ignored, and even hated at times by a world that labels them as unclean, unworthy, and untouchable.  As Christians, we operate under the guidelines that Jesus left behind that wherever there is human suffering, pain, rejection, and fear, we must stretch ourselves and touch the world with the compassion and mercy of our Lord.  We must reject the label system that classifies people as worthy and unworthy.  We must move beyond the “dirty, don’t touch” mindset that seeks us to separate us and embrace one another as a community of grace.  In doing so we tell the world that the touch of Jesus is not stuck between the pages of our Bibles, but it a real and living presence in the world today.

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The Deep End

At some point in children’s lives, the parents permit them to swim in the deep end of the pool.  Growing up with a public pool, I can remember the various roped off areas based on the water depth.  There was the shallow end, the larger pool that went from three feet to five feet, and then the deep end where the diving boards were.  As a kid, the goal was to be able to swim in the deep end.  The older you grew and the better swimmer you became, you didn’t want to remain in the shallow end.  You wanted to go deeper.

In many ways, growing in our faith is like learning to swim in deeper water.  When we enter into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ, the goal is to grow in our faith.  The Christian faith is not a static stop in life, but an ongoing journey whereby God’s Holy Spirit works in our lives to shape us and mold us into the image of our Lord.  As the apostle Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)  God desires to move our faith to deeper waters.

In the Gospel of Mark, there is a story of Jesus healing a blind man.  In the town of Bethsaida, a blind man was brought to Jesus to heal.  Jesus took the man and touched his eyes with his saliva.  Jesus asked the man if he could see anything.  The man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” (Mark 8:24)  The man could see, but his vision was blurry.  Jesus touched the man a second time and with this second touch, the man now saw everything clearly.  Something in that second touch enabled the man’s sight to be restored.

We need to daily be touched by Christ Jesus.  Each day is an opportunity for God’s Spirit to work in our lives to restore us completely.  While at the first touch of Jesus we are saved, God is not finished with us yet.  Rather, over time, as we daily surrender to God’s Spirit, God helps us to see more clearly.  Daily God moves us into deeper waters.  Our salvation is an ongoing process that is never completed on this side of heaven.  It is why Paul confessed, For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

God wants to bring us to deeper waters.  While such waters may seem mysterious and fearful at times, we can trust in God’s grace to teach us to swim.  God wants to move all us beyond where we are at this moment.  God has more to show us, more for us to experience, and more for us to learn.  We just have to trust in the currents of God’s Spirit flowing in and through us to bring us to where God wants us to be.

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Closet Choices

“What will I wear today” is one of the first questions that we ask ourselves in the morning.  We open our closets and examine our wardrobe and try to determine what we will wear.  Sometimes it is a quick decision while at other times we may struggle to decide.  We may try on a couple of outfits before we make our choice.  But at some point, we do have to choose what we will wear for the day.

What we wear also will communicate a message to those we come into contact with.  Italian fashion designer, Miuccia Prada, says it this way, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”  That is, what we wear makes a statement whether we realize it or not.

In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul writes, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  (Galatians 3:27) According to Paul, when we enter into a relationship with Jesus, then there is a wardrobe change.  The old wardrobe is discarded, and we now clothe ourselves in Jesus Christ.  Jesus becomes our fashion statement to the world.  Jesus becomes our style of living in the world.

Well, Jesus was indeed a trendsetter who stood out from the other religious leaders of the day.  It is why people were drawn to him.  His life was dressed in a wardrobe that was attractive and inviting.  Jesus stepped out in a new style.  As his followers, we are called to emulate that style of living in our world.  Each day we must decide to clothe ourselves in the style of Jesus before stepping out into the world.  And the style of Jesus is one that will be evident to others.  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul would also write, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3: 12-14)

However, what is confusing to the world is when we claim to follow Jesus, but our lives are out of sync with the life that Jesus lived.  Rather, than demonstrating the qualities that Paul highlights: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love, we sometimes model the direct opposite. Mahatma Gandhi, in observing Christianity once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Whether it was Gandhi or our next-door neighbor, people are watching us as followers of Jesus in our how we live our lives.  The question for all us is, “do they see Jesus in me?”  Do they see Jesus in me at work, school, in social settings, on FACEBOOK, twitter, and the like?  Does our way of living demonstrate that we have indeed clothed ourselves in Christ Jesus?

As individuals, we can spend a lot of time and money on our clothing wardrobe.  We can stand at our closet doors in deep thought about what we will wear for today.  Maybe we should all spend some time reflecting more on how our living models the life of Christ Jesus in our daily walk.  When we clothe ourselves in Jesus, then the day we live will always be in style in the eyes of God and be attractive to those around us.

Image: What to wear tonight?

Word Games

Most people enjoy a good word game like crossword puzzles, word searches, jumbles, scrabble, and the like.  Such games are good intellectual stimulation, they can strengthen our vocabulary, and are simply fun to do.  Some people are good at them while others may struggle and take longer to complete.  Yet, like anything, the more time you spend doing the games, the better you become.

The Christian faith is built around words.  In the first chapter of John, the gospel writer says this about Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  (John1:1, 14) Jesus is described as God’s Word in flesh and bone.  Through Jesus, God’s Word is made known.

We know about Jesus through the written word, the Bible.  We call the scriptures, “God’s word.”  From the opening pages of the book of Genesis to the closing verses of the book of Revelation we read the story of God’s redemptive work in a fallen world.  In faith, we turn to the scriptures for guidance, instruction, and encouragement.  The Bible plays a central role in our Christian walk.

In the letter of James in the New Testament, the writer challenges us as Christians, however, not to play word games with the scriptures.  In James 1: 22-24, we read, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; or they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”  James sought to encourage the early Christians to live out God’s word in their daily lives.  It was easy then, as it is now, to read and listen to God’s word, but then not take the next step of making a it a guide for living in the world.  Reading and hearing God’s Word means little if it does not affect the way that we live our lives.  It is as James states, like looking in a mirror, walking away, and forgetting what we look like.  God’s Word must be transformative in the life of the believer.  We are not simply to be “hearers” but “doers” as well, otherwise we are simply playing word games.

What then does a “doer of the word” look like?  It would seem to me that a “doer of the written word” would look like Jesus, the Living Word.  A doer is one who seeks to model her life after the life of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he tells them, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 15-17) As the living Word, Jesus calls us to a life of servanthood whereby we live out the written word by actively engaging the world in the way Jesus did with love, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, tenderness, faithfulness, generosity, patience, and the like.  Jesus has given us quite a vocabulary of words to put into practice.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer once wrote, “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.”  For Luther, we play games with God’s word when we fail to live lives that do not reflect Jesus Christ.  When we fail to use the vocabulary of Jesus, then God’s word becomes a lifeless relic for museums and library shelves but nothing more.  Yet, as the Living Word, Jesus becomes the foundation of our living, shaping us and molding us after his will, and leading us to “do” the kind of life that reflects him.

achievement alphabet board game conceptual
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We Interrupt this Program

You’re watching your favorite program on television when all of a sudden, the news interrupts your show with breaking news.  It usually begins with an announcement of some kind like “we interrupt this program for a special news alert.”  Something has happened that is of such importance that your regular program is interrupted.  Unfortunately, most often the news is not good.  Rarely do networks interrupt their scheduled program with good news.

Life is full of interruptions.  We find ourselves on cruise control as life is good when something suddenly happens that throws everything off course.  A sickness, death, a job loss, a family conflict, financial trouble, depression, and the like interrupt our lives and leave us wondering when things will return to normal.  These interruptions can heighten our anxiety, leave us fearful, weary, tired, and depleted.

In my lifetime, I cannot remember an interruption affecting so many people like the COVID-19 virus.  Life as we know was interrupted on a massive scale in March 2020 and we still find ourselves struggling in the currents of uncertainty.  Like a riptide that pulls a swimmer from the ocean shore and out to sea, we have had our lives pulled out from under us leaving some of us struggling to keep our heads above water.  We long for the security of the shore as we are pulled out into the waters of uncertainty.

Yet, life does not need a pandemic to be uncertain.  We all face situations when the present is unstable, and the future is worrisome.  We know what it is like to lie in bed at night and try to sleep while our anxieties are wide awake.  As people of faith, we sometimes feel guilty for feeling this way.  We wonder why we are not stronger and that we should have more faith.

The night before Jesus was crucified, we find him in the Garden of Gethsemane, alone and in prayer.  In Luke 22:44 we read, “In his anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground.”  Luke tells us that Jesus was in anguish with sweat dropping to the ground like blood.”  The dictionary defines anguish as excruciating or acute distress, suffering.  This is the Son of God, face to the ground struggling with what is before him.  If Jesus can feel like this, it would seem that we too can be honest about life when it is interrupted.  Uncertainty and fear are simply part of the human landscape.  Jesus once said, In this world, you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) Jesus didn’t proclaim an unrealistic picture of life.  Jesus knew that life would be interrupted and that there would be some difficult times.  Yet, Jesus also offered hope.  The rest of John 16:33 reads, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When life interrupts we have to remember to take heart and trust that God will bring us to a better day.  The prophet Isaiah would confess, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) God promises to stay with us even in the interruptions of life.  Regardless of what the news of the day is, we will never be alone.  God’s faithful presence will watch over us.  In many ways, in the coming of Jesus, God interrupted the bad news cycle of our world with good news.  Good news that offers us hope for today and tomorrow.  God’s divine interruption into our lives is ultimately what will make a difference in our lives.

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First Things First

Many people operate daily under a “to do” list.  That is, as they consider the day before them, they list the things that they want to accomplish.  Likewise, sometimes the “to do” list is prioritized based on what needs to be done first.  Somethings are more important than others and need to be taken care of as soon as possible.  Other things can wait even if for another day.  The important thing is to do the first things first.

For most church’s worship, there is a typical order of worship that the congregation follows.  Each church may be different from one another, yet each church often has its own “to do” list when it comes to worship.  The “to-do” list may include singing, prayer, reading scripture, litanies, special music, a sermon, communion, and the like.  Hence, the congregation usually develops an order of worship.  What will worship begin with and how will it end?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Gospel, Jesus teaches about doing first things first when it comes to worship.  In Matthew 5: 23-24 Jesus says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”  According to Jesus, as we enter to worship the first thing, we should do is seek to reconcile with those whom we have had discord, division, and disagreement with.  If there is something broken in a relationship, then we should seek to make it right before we offer our worship to God.  Hence, as followers of Jesus, reconciliation should always come first.

In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes about how we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, our broken relationship with God is healed and made whole.  In Jesus, we are reunited with God in a new way.  As a result of our reconciliation with God, we must now become reconcilers ourselves.  Paul writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18) As Christians, the ministry of reconciliation should always be at the top of our “to do” list for the day.  Every day allows us to mend fences, tear down walls that separate, and forgive one another.  For when we bring unforgiveness with us to worship it will always impede our worship.  That’s why Jesus told us to leave our gift at the altar and go and make right that which is wrong.

So, whatever our “to do” list may be for today, let us not forget that God has called us to a ministry of reconciliation.  This should always be the first task of the day.  Reconciliation must be the first thing in our order of worship but also the order of our lives.

pen calendar to do checklist
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Tongue Tied

Sometimes things just come out wrong; that is, out of our mouths. We say the wrong thing or say something in the wrong way. Regardless, the words that flow from our mouths are heard by others in a negative light. I think most people can remember times in which they wished they had not said something. We’ve all had experiences in which we would like to take back our words.

We also realize that words can cause pain. The old saying of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” just does not stand the test of experience. We have all been hurt by the words of another just as we have hurt others with our words. Likewise, hurtful words can sometimes take a long time to heal. Richelle. E. Goodrich in her book, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, and Grumblings for Every Day of the Year writes:

“Silly words cause trills
because they’re ludicrous and funny.

Happy words paint endless smiles
and swallow troubles whole.

Thoughtful words are thus
because they make the day feel sunny.

But hurtful words are such
that pierce the heart and weigh the soul.”

Indeed, words matter. The words we choose to use and how we use them can impact others for both the good and the bad. Perhaps this was the thinking of the writer of Proverbs in the Old Testament where it is written, “To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble.” The writer contends that we must watch over our mouths and tongues as we seek to communicate with others, because there is power, both good and bad, in the spoken word.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul reminded these early Christians about using their words for the benefit of others. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” As a people of faith, our words should always be filtered by God’s grace. Do our words reflect the character and nature of our Lord? Words matter and when we season them in the Spirit of our Lord, they are more likely to build others up, encourage others, and communicate love.
So, let us choose wisely. Words soaked in grace and love which seek to bring healing, encouragement, peace, and kindness to the lives of others. When we allow God’s Spirit to watch over our mouths, then our mouths will bring forth the words of our Lord and in the way of our Lord.

man in white suit sitting beside woman in black dress
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Do-Over

When I was a young boy there was an open lot across the street from my house.  As a result, it became a great place to play football with my friends.  We would often meet there after school to play.  When we played a game of football, we had to referee ourselves.  As a result, there were some times disagreements about particular plays.  Every side would argue their case and understanding of what happened.  When we couldn’t reach a decision, someone would call out “do-over.”  A “do-over” call meant that the previous play was forgotten, and everything would be done over.  It was a new start; a new chance to play.

When you read the Gospels, there are countless stories where Jesus encountered individuals who had come to a point in their lives where they felt stuck in situations that offered no hope for their futures.  Whether it was a man covered with the sores of leprosy, a woman sitting alone at a well, a dishonest tax collector hanging from a sycamore tree, or a woman about to be stoned to death by a mob, Jesus entered the scene and cried out “do-over.”  Jesus refused to let these individuals remain in their hopeless situations.  Jesus offered a second chance and a fresh start with a new future.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the apostle Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  In Jesus, God offers every person a chance to start over and begin anew.  In Jesus, no life ever reaches a point in which it is beyond redemption and renewal.  Every life can find a new beginning in Jesus.

Nowhere is this more seen than in the cross.  The cross of Jesus is God’s way of saying “do-over” to a world broken by sin, gripped in guilt, and bound for hell.  God, out of his great love for us, turns the pages of our past and creates a new beginning for all.  We can leave our painful past and find hope for a new beginning in Jesus.  Regardless of what our lives may look like in the present, God says, “do-over.”  It is a new start and a new chance at life.

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