The Rest of the Story

Everybody likes a happy ending.  Whether you are reading a book, watching a movie, or watching a play, you hope that the story ends well.  Indeed, it can be disappointing to get caught up in a story and then not have it end well.  On those occasions, the story leaves us disappointed, sad, or even angry.  We want a good ending; a happy ending.

Life is made up of stories.  Each person’s life is a story.  Each day in a person’s life is a story.  From the moment we are born to the moment of our last breath we are part of an unfolding drama that involves people, places, and things.  Sometimes the drama is rather mundane and ordinary.  On other occasions, our stories can leave us breathless with fast-paced action.  Parts of our stories are happy, and parts of our stories are not happy.  Likewise, each story is unpredictable.  We do not know what each day will bring.

In the book of Psalms, we read the thoughts and prayers of ordinary individuals trying to make their way through the world with their faith in God.  Thus, it is not uncommon in the psalms to hear the cries of those who are trying to figure out the bigger story of their lives.  For example, in Psalm 39: 4 we read, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.”  Here the psalmist prays to know how the story of their life will end.  Will it be a good ending? In our own lives, we too sometimes wonder how it will all end.  When we read or hear the latest news stories, we sometimes wonder how we got ourselves into such a mess and if there is any hope for the future.  When you add your struggles to the mix it may feel as though there is no way the story can end well.

The apostle Paul never had it easy.  Once he decided to follow Christ, he found himself in a daily struggle to survive.  He endured beatings and imprisonments, shipwrecks, floods, and hunger.  Paul knew what it was like to just get by living in the world.  Yet, even with all these struggles and hardships, Paul knew how the story would ultimately end.  Paul writes in Romans 8: 18-21:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Paul knew that despite all the difficulties that he faced in life that his life would end well.  Indeed, it would end well for all those who trust in Christ Jesus.  As Christians, we know that ultimately God will have the last word for all of creation, and each of our lives.  The broken world will not have the final word, but a God of blessing will.  When all is said and done, all will be well.  Oscar Wilde, the great Irish poet, and playwright said it well:  “Everything is going to be fine in the end.  If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”  It is no wonder that the final word of the Bible is the word “amen” which simply means, “so be it.”

We can trust that God knows how the story will end for he is the author.  And if God is the author, there will always be a good ending. So, Amen.

opened white book
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Dozing Off

I could barely hold my eyes open. It was a lecture about Victoria, Canada. It was the next stop on our family cruise. Now I had never been to Victoria, Canada, nor did I know anything about Victoria, Canada. You would think I would want to soak in every bit of information I could for our next stop. However, I couldn’t stay awake. I know this because my family videoed me dozing off. They have a good laugh with it now.

Sometimes it is hard to stay awake: sitting in class in school, maybe a pew at church, a boring movie, a long car ride. We’ve all had those experiences where we fought off sleep as our heads bobbed up and down and our eyelids felt like they were lined with cement. It can be a challenge to stay awake when you’re tired. And when you do doze off, you may miss something in that moment of slumber. So, if you are in the company of others, when you do wake up, you ask, “what did I miss?”

In the book of Psalms, the writer considers God’s presence in his own life. We read in Psalm 121: 3-4: “He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” God does not doze off. God does not tire or get sleepy. As a result, God does not miss out on our lives and our day to day experiences. Even when our days are slow and dull, God does not rest God’s eyes. The writer Job would confess, “For his eyes are upon the ways of peoples, and he sees all their steps.” (Job 34:21)

Our steps take us in many directions over the course of our lives. Likewise, some of our steps are made with joy while other steps are painful and slow. Some steps keep us close to home while others are made in distant lands. Yet, as our scripture reminds us, regardless of where our walk takes us in life, God’s eyes are upon and God eyes are always open. God never misses out.

With this good news, we can live in faith trusting that our God is never asleep on the job. Rather, God’s love for us, energizes his passion to watch over us and keep us. We are safe under the watchful care of a God who never sleeps.

tired ethnic working mother at home with playing kids
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

 

Labels

When I was young, I was very sensitive to the labels in the back of my shirts.  The label which tells you the brand name, the type of fabric, the size, and where it was made.  These labels irritated me and as a result I often cut and remove them.  I just did not like labels.

We also tend to label people in our society.  We label people and give them a name.  We label our gender, our race, our age, our body size, our origin of birth, and the like.  Labels help us identify ourselves.  Unfortunately, however, our world often uses labeling in negative and hurtful ways.  Labels can be used to degrade people.  Labels like fat, ugly, slow, weird, useless, worthless, stupid, and the rest.  Sadly, this list is long and is well used.

We can also allow labels to define us.  After long enough, we can begin to believe the labels and succumb to their often hard judgments about who we are.  As a result, we live out of that label.  When a load of negative labels are placed upon us, we can be overwhelmed with the weight that they bring.  Weight that can leave to depression, despair, and defeat.

This is why it is important to remember that our Creator has already labeled us from the beginning.  In Psalm 139: 13-14, the writer reflected on this truth and proclaimed in praise:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

God has created each person with a loving intent and purpose.  God does not create junk, cheap imitations, or damaged goods.  God has labeled us out of his goodness and love.  Hence, each person can claim as the psalmist did that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  This is the label that we must allow to define ourselves.  The world’s labels are second hand.  When we allow God’s label to define us, we discover worth, meaning, and destiny.  God has a plan for our lives and has from the very beginning.

As God’s children, this truth should also lead us to refuse to label others in ways that do not honor God.  When we treat others with respect and dignity then we not only affirm them as part of God’s wonderful creation, but we worship the Creator who designed them and placed them in our world.  Such knowledge should lead us to affirm every person’s worth, value, and sacredness.  Ultimately, all that really matters is God’s label.  Let us not forget it in our own lives as well as the lives of others.

fabric with two buttons
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Thank You For Being My Friend

“I get by with a little help from my friends,” says the song made famous by the Beatles and Joe Crocker.  Friendship is an important part of our lives.  Most people’s earliest memories include friends from their neighborhood, school, or church.  As we grow, we gather more friends based on life’s experiences and the encounters we have with other people.  Some of these individuals we consider friends, while others are good friends.  Then if we are fortunate, there may be a best friend.

The great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, once said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  Friends usually share some kind of common story.  Somewhere along our life journey individuals connect with others who find themselves joined by a story that is important to them as well.  It can be a happy story or even a sad story.  Yet, nevertheless, some common experience brings them together.

I am grateful for Christian friends and church friends.  As a follower of Jesus, I have come to realize how important and how much I need to be connected with friends who share the same story of Jesus and a relationship with him.  It is not easy living in this world.  Jesus himself told us we would have troubles.  Jesus knew firsthand that life can rough you up along the way.  Jesus, even as the Son of God, gathered friends around him to walk with him during his life and ministry.  People called his followers his disciples and Jesus did too at times.  However, in John 15:15 Jesus speaks these words to his closest followers, “But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from my Father, I made known to you.”  Jesus would also tell them, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus needed friends.

If Jesus needed friends who shared his story, how much more so do we?  My Christian friends have been a tremendous source of encouragement, belonging, and love throughout my years.  I really cannot imagine trying to navigate through life without them.  Just knowing that someone loves you in the Lord is a blessing.  And this is especially true when life bears its weight down upon you.  To know that there is someone to help carry the load and that you are not alone can make all the difference.  For me personally, this is why a weekly gathering for worship and fellowship is so important.  As we gather together, we are each reminded that we are all a part of the same story and we are on this journey together.

Indeed, I get by a with a little help from my friends.  Rather, a lot of help from my friends.  Thank God every day for your Christian friends.  They are a special gift.  We don’t have to do this thing called life by ourselves.  God has invited us to be part of the story of his Son.  A story that brings us together, joined by his love, and blessed by his presence among us.  Thank you for being my friend.

smiling women and men sitting on green grass
Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

 

Broken

On a couple of occasions over the years, when I have received a package in the mail it rattled.  A rattling sound came from the package that wasn’t supposed to be there.  Nobody needed to tell me what I already knew; whatever was in the package was broken.  The joy of receiving a package in the mail was now replaced by the sad reality of brokenness.  Even though written on the packaging were the words, “fragile: handle with care,” the item was broken.

The popular 80’s songwriter and performer Sting in his song Fragile writes these words:

                                             Lest we forget how fragile we are                                                     On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

Over the course of my life, one thing I have learned about myself and others is that we are fragile.  That is, we can be broken.  Life has a way of leaving us in pieces at times.  Experiences can shatter life sometimes with a crash, while at other times we quietly realize the cracks in our lives, uncertain of how we received them.  These times of brokenness can leave us depressed, discouraged, and defeated.  When you are standing in a pile of rubble it can be difficult to see what to do next.  It can be overwhelming.

In the scriptures, we read in the book of Psalms, the prayers, cries, and longings of people who feel overwhelmed by life.  They may describe themselves as though they are sinking in mud, laughed at by their adversaries, and even in lost in the depths of the earth.  In Psalm 31: 9-12 we read this prayer:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.

I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror* to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.

There have been times in my life in which I felt like a broken vessel.  My spirit was broken.  Although those around me may have not known, I could hear the rattles within.  Every step I took reminded me of my brokenness.  The hurt and pain were hidden beneath a veneer of happiness for others to see.  On the surface, life looked good.  Beneath the surface, however, I felt like a broken vessel.

Later in Psalm 31: 14-15, the psalmist would confess: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, You are my God. My times are in your hand.”  The psalmist would trust God with his brokenness.  How the psalmist arrived at this point I do not know.  All we have is the confession, “my times are in your hand.”  The psalmist somehow found the faith to trust that God could handle his brokenness and even restore his life.  The psalmist would trust that God’s grace would be able to make him whole again.  I’m sure that the psalmist had his doubts at times, as there are no quick fixes for most of life.  But in the hands of God, he knew God could bring forth something new.

I wish we did not live in a broken world.  I wish that I, or the people I love, never felt broken. Yet, I hear the rattling every day.  I pray to have the faith of the psalmist, trusting that God can take broken vessels and bring forth new life.  I pray to trust that my times are in God’s hands.  And if I have to experience brokenness in the world in which I live, are there any better hands to be in?

mending-a-broken-vessel

Scream

Sometimes in life, you just feel like screaming.  For whatever reason, fear, frustration, impatience, exhaustion, agitation, and the like, you just feel like a scream will make you feel better.  Screaming can have a cathartic effect. For some, it’s therapeutic. When you have a ton of pent up stress brewing in you, letting it out verbally can give you a sense of relief. When you’re feeling flustered releasing it out can make you feel a little freer and take some weight off.

There is no doubt that most people carry a heavyweight of burdens with them.  While invisible to the eye, hearts can be heavy, and sorrows hidden as we pass one another with our pleasantries and greetings.  Deep inside, we may be ready to scream.  For one person they may openly let their scream be heard not caring who hears it.  Others may bury their face in a pillow to muffle their scream and thus not draw attention to themselves.

The Bible is full of screams.  I imagine that there were screams outside Noah’s ark once the flood came.  Jonah probably let out a scream right before he was swallowed by a large fish.  Mary screamed in childbirth as she gave birth to Jesus.  Zacchaeus, the dishonest tax collector, probably screamed with joy when Jesus told him he was going to his house.  And even Jesus screamed as he hung on a cross as he was crucified.  Sometimes you just have to scream

In Psalm 107 the writer repeats the phrase, Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” (Psalm 107:6) In this particular situation, the people raised their voices and cried for help amidst their trouble.  Their cry was ongoing, seeking to draw attention from God to notice and understand the difficult situation they found themselves in.  Would God hear them?  Would God respond?  When you are screaming for help, where is God anyway?

If you are like me, during this global pandemic where our lives have been so altered by the rapidly spreading virus, I have found myself just wanting to scream sometimes to release all the stressful energy that builds up when life is altered and any return to a previous time does not seem to be an option.  So, we scream, and we scream a little more.

The good news of scripture is that God is not put off by our screaming. While someone screaming in front of us may make us feel uncomfortable, God remains steadfast even in our screaming desperation.  God doesn’t check out when the anxiety level rises, but God remains a peaceful presence wherever we are screaming from.  And even as we scream, God is already working to deliver us and bring us to a better place.  It might not happen immediately, and we in fact may have to scream some more, but we can trust that God is near, God is with us, and God will deliver.

So, if you have to scream, then scream.  If you have to cry, then cry.  If you have to throw up your arms in frustration, then throw up your arms.  God can handle it all.

file-20200520-152288-mkivz7                                            The Scream by Edvard Munch

Choose Compassion

photo of people reaching each other s hands
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

We have all had that experience of sitting down in a restaurant and looking through a menu to choose what we would like for our meal. If the menu is full of delicious entrees, choosing one might not be an easy decision. Likewise, when you know that your server will soon be returning to your table to take your order, then the pressure is on. What will you choose?

The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis wrote these words about decision making: “We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will, therefore, draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the center: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork, you must make a decision.”

In our day to day living, we come in contact with individuals, who for whatever reason, are struggling, suffering, and in need. Society is full of broken people. You don’t have to step too far away from your front door to meet a person in need. Sometimes you don’t even need to leave your own home. The decision that we have to make is how will we respond to human needs?

Jesus encountered all kinds of individuals in his life. In the first century, people were broken then just as they are today. When Jesus encountered a person in need he always chose to respond in compassion. In Matthew 8: 1-4 we read of just such an encounter:

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Jesus chose to heal the man of his leprosy. And thus, in what would have been seen as shocking, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the man with the dreaded and contagious skin disease. Jesus’ choice of compassion led him to reach out to this man who was hurting in so many different ways. There were plenty of reasons on the menu of why Jesus could have refused to help the man: his health, he didn’t know the man, what would others think, how long would he have to be involved, what might it ultimately cost him? Jesus could have easily talked himself out of doing anything for the man.

When we encounter human need our minds often ask the same kinds of questions. Likewise, we can decide to do nothing. However, as followers of Jesus, we are called to choose compassion. Jesus demonstrated the kind of life that we are called to live. Lives that are attentive to human need and a willingness to stretch out to others even when it may be costly. We must choose compassion.

When it comes to following Jesus, the menu of our choices is clear. Jesus would say in Luke 6:36 “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.” Compassion for others sometimes seems to be in short supply in our world as we focus so much on ourselves and our own needs while forgetting the needs of those around us. Jesus, however, invites us to look beyond ourselves, to see the needs around us, and then choose to stretch out our hands and touch the lives of others with the same compassion that God has touched us.

The Heat is On

President Harry S. Truman, our nation’s 33rd President, was well known for using the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”  The phrase means, “If an activity is too difficult, or the pressure of a situation is too much for a person to handle, then perhaps it would be best to stop doing it and/or leave.”  I think most people have experienced those times in life in which the heat was on and we just wanted to escape our present situation and find relief.

In my early working days, I worked a few summers to help prime tobacco from some of the local farmers.  Priming tobacco, pulling the leaves off tobacco stalks, was indeed one hot job.  One row of tobacco at a time you walked, bent over, pulling off the leaves that were ready and then tossing the leaves into a nearby trailer pulled by a tractor.  The rows were often long, and it was always a relief to get to the end of a row as there would be a cooler of water to get a drink from before moving onto the next row.  The water was a welcomed relief when the heat was on.

The atmospheric temperature today in Richmond, Virginia is triple digits; that is, 100+ degrees.  We are under a heat advisory which tells us to avoid too long of periods of exposure to the heat.  And indeed, it can be dangerous health wise to be in the heat too long.  Well fortunately, we do have places to escape the heat.  Air conditioning is nice.  An electric fan can also bring some relief.  And if you are able, a dip in a swimming pool in the midst of the summer heat can be a nice getaway.

However, there are times in life in which the heat is on in other ways where simply sliding into an air-conditioning room is not an option.  There are those times of stress, anxiety, pressure, fear, frustration, and mental exhaustion that leave us tired, weary, and depleted from the heat that often bears down upon us in life.  In such times it is easy to dry up and wither away when the heat is on.

As a people of faith, we are not immune from those heat stressed experiences that can bear down upon our lives.  There are times in our lives in which we feel the heavy heat of life bearing down upon us, draining us of life, and leaving us in danger of withering away.  The prophet Jeremiah, speaking to the people of Judah in just such a difficult time said,

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 Jeremiah 17: 7-8

For Jeremiah, the heat will come.  However, what matters is where you are planted.  Jeremiah invites us to trust in the Lord when the heat is on in our lives.  When we trust in God, Jeremiah contends that it is like being a tree planted by water with roots extending into a stream drawing life even when life dries up around us.  Every person needs a source of life.  The question then to ask ourselves is “what is my source?”  In whom do we trust when the heat is on and the stress of living in the heat is bearing down upon us?  Where do we turn to for relief?  When we are thirsty for hope where do we go.

In the Gospel of John 7: 37-38, we hear Jesus speak, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  Jesus is the living water that we can turn to when we are thirsty for relief, hope, and life.  Indeed, Jesus is the only true source of life when the heat is on.  All the other wells of the world will eventually dry up and leave us thirsty.  In faith, we can trust in the limitless supply of life-giving water that is found in Jesus.  When we allow our roots to be planted in him, we can find life even when the heat is on.

Sometimes the kitchen is hot, and we just want to get out of it.  Life can leave us feeling stranded in the kitchen with our arms full of pot and pans, sweltering in the heat, and ready to give up.  Jesus invites us to trust in him during these difficult times and to receive the life-giving water he offers.  The heat is on, but so is God’s life-giving water in Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to live thirsty.  Jesus is always just a sip away.

Yellow Umbrella With Bright Sun And Blue Sky
Yellow Umbrella With Bright Sun And Blue Sky

Praying to the Devil

Jamaican singer and songwriter Bob Marley once said, “If you get down and quarrel every day, you’re saying prayers to the devil, I say.” I wonder what Marley, who died in 1981, would say today about the state of affairs in our society? Now things like Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets would be alien to him. But like anyone, it wouldn’t take him long to read over people’s comments on these platforms to realize how angry we have become as a society. Not only are people angry but we have become aggressive in our conversations seeking to pull others down, use sarcasm as a weapon, and to stir up others to join our voice crusade. Sometimes it feels like a free for all where we toss words and phrases around like hand grenades seeking to destroy as much as we can with the simple press of a computer click. It has gotten ugly at times; very ugly.

Now everyone gets angry at times. It is a real human emotion. And there are things in our world that we should get angry about. The problem it seems, however, is that we have lost our ability to talk to one another about the things that anger us without taking that anger out on others. Our language has become toxic and communication has crumbled under its weight.

In the scriptures, James in the letter that bears his name, writes about this communication breakdown among individuals. Even in the first century, individuals became hot under the collar and used words to inflict pain on others. In James 1: 19 we read these words of advice: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” It didn’t take James many words to sum up our shortcomings and offer some genuine guidance on communicating with others, but especially those we disagree with.

James first states that we should be “quick to listen.” Listening is indeed where true communication takes place. When we listen to others, we demonstrate respect to individuals even when we disagree with them. Listening involves attention hearing of what the person is saying and allowing it to move beyond our ears into our hearts and minds. What happens so often, however, is that we do listen, but while others are sharing their thoughts, our minds are already engaged in what our response will be. Their words simply get lost and we prepare our defense. We are working on our best comeback and counterpoint rather than truly hearing the other person. If true listening doesn’t occur, then we might as well give up on having real conversations. Listening takes discipline and intentionality. Thus, James says we should be quick to listen.

Following up on this, James then contends that we should be slow to speak. James realized, as we all do, how easier it is to shoot off at the mouth than to truly listen to another person. What happens is that we end up with a shooting match or shouting match where nobody hears one another. We tend to talk over one another, outdo one another with our clever use of words, or silence the other person with a barrage of comments that come out like machine gun fire. When you throw anger into the mix then it is often all out war. This is why so many people are suffering from battle fatigue and as the saying goes, “war is hell.” Perhaps this what Marley was suggesting that when we quarrel every day, it is like praying to the devil. The devil loves war whether it is with weapons of metal or weapons of words.

Finally, James says we should be slow to anger. Society today has a short fuse. We tend to go off quickly and explode in anger in the blink of an eye. Rather than process things or try to come to an understanding of things, we immediately light the fuse and let our anger explode. Social media is like adding fuel to the fire because we don’t have to see the damage that is done. The Chinese philosopher Confucius would once say, “When anger rises, think of the consequences.” The problem is that we don’t often think of what will happen after we light the fuse.

mad formal executive man yelling at camera
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The question becomes then how in the world do we implement James’s words in our lives? Well, first we cannot do it alone. None of us can control our anger by ourselves and by our own strength. If we try to manage our own anger with our own resources, we will inevitably be disappointed and find ourselves blowing up over and over again. Rather, it is only by God’s Spirit that we can live is such a way that our anger does not rule over us. It requires a daily surrender whereby we allow God’s Spirit to be the guiding force in our lives. Anger is not a sin—it is what you do with it that becomes sin.

There is no answer to our sin other than God’s grace. Only God’s grace can free us from those things that enslave us in this world. Only God’s grace can lead us to live lives that glorify God and demonstrate God’s love to all people; even those we disagree with. When we see every person as someone created in the image of God it will cause us to pause and think before we get into a war of words. As followers of Jesus we must set an example by choosing to use our words with deliberate prayer and thought, as agents of healing, rather than pain. I wish I got it right all the time, but I do not. I am often very guilty of the things that James warned about. But I pray every day that God will give me his Spirit so that my words say more about my relationship to Jesus so that with whomever I find myself in conversation with, my words will be the ones that Jesus chooses me to use.

When Your Plans Fall Apart

A common question that we often ask one another is “do you have any plans for the weekend?”  The question assumes that with some weekend time approaching what is a person going to do with their free time.  How are they going to fill the hours, where are they going to go, and who might they be spending time with?  And of course, we have all had our weekend plans disrupted by bad weather, an unexpected illness, car problems, or some other unforeseen event.  What we had planned out for the weekend suddenly falls apart.  Yet, when our weekend goes south, we can usually recover because another weekend is only a week away.

However, there are times in our lives when some of our biggest plans fall apart that are not so easily forgotten or left behind.  When life’s plans come crashing down around you the impact can be so much greater than a rained-out weekend.  In the book of Job in the Old Testament, we have the account of a man’s life when his plans for his life completely disintegrate.  Job is a wealthy man living in a land called Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil.  In the course of one day, Job receives four messages, each bearing separate news that his livestock, servants, and ten children have all died due to marauding invaders or natural catastrophes. Job tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning. Job is then afflicted with horrible skin sores. His wife encourages him to curse God and to give up and die.  Everything that Job had planned out for his life is now gone.  Thus, in the midst of one of his prayers Job cries out, “My days have passed, my plans are shattered.” (Job 17:11)

Shattered plans.  It happens to all of us eventually.  Life takes a turn we were not expecting and all of a sudden we find ourselves stunned, stuck by the side of the road, and uncertain of which direction to turn.  Such events leave our heads spinning and our hearts aching as we try to regroup and figure out how to move forward.  It is hard to figure out which direction to turn when you don’t even know where you are.  Nina LaCour in her book Hold Still writes about recovering after a friend’s suicide.  LaCour writes, “My room is so quiet and empty it hurts.” It hurts when we are uncertain of how to move forward when life leaves us beside the road.

As a people of faith, we are not immune from having our plans sidetracked, changed, or abandoned.  Faith does not protect us from such experiences; just look at Job.  Faith does, however, call us to trust that God has a plan for each of our lives, even when we wonder if God knows what He is doing.  Job questioned what God was up to.  And like Job, I have often wondered the same thing.  But then I am reminded of the words from scripture like Proverbs 3: 5-6 which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  In faith, we are invited to lean on God and trust that God will straighten everything out.  Now, this does not necessarily mean some kind of instantaneous fix, because we all know life can be complicated and messy.  But these words from scripture, along with many others, teach us that God is busy working out God’s plans for our lives.  When our plans fall apart, God does not.  God would tell the prophet Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

So, what is God’s plan for our lives?  A future with hope.  There are no certainties about how our plans will unfold in our lives.  The only certain thing, however, is that God is still in control, working behind the scenes, never leaving us to ourselves, guiding us along the way, and offering to us a future with hope.  In a world where we have to let go of our best laid out plans, let us not forget that God will never let go of us.

notebook
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Too Tired to Pray

Most people will use the excuse “I’m just too tired” to do something that needs to be done.  I’m just too tired today to mow the grass, I’ll do it tomorrow.  I’m just too tired today to complete my income taxes, I’ll do them tomorrow.  I’m must just too tired to cook tonight, I’ll just order something, and have it delivered.  I know that that there have been times in which I did not have the physical, mental, or emotional energy to do something.  Rather, being so tired, I just can’t get myself to move in any direction about anything.  We might call it being exhausted, worn out, or just empty when it comes to drawing up any kind of reserve strength.  During these times it feels as though we cannot take one more step.

Christians are not immune from such exhaustion as a result of the stresses and burdens that come with living in the world.  As Christians, we do not possess superhero like strength by which we can jump tall buildings in a single bound.  Rather, sometimes we can’t even get our feet off the ground.  Indeed, this kind of exhaustion can spill over into our spiritual life and our relationship with God.  As a result, sometimes I find myself too tired to even pray.  I don’t know what to say to God as life has left me stunned like a boxer in a ring who has just taken the blow of a sharp undercut from his opponent.  I feel stuck, dumbfounded, and speechless.

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he acknowledged the reality of sometimes standing before God speechless where words are in short supply.  It is to these times that Paul confesses, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  Even when we cannot find the words to our prayers, we have the assurance that the Holy Spirit is intervening on our behalf to communicate our silence and loss of words to our Heavenly Father.  When we are too tired to pray, the Holy Spirit can lift up our silence to God in prayer for us.  God’s Spirit searches the deepest parts of our hearts and lives and brings our needs before God.

We may be too tired to pray, but God is always alert, attentive, and aware of our deepest needs.  The prophet Isaiah would confess this truth when he said,

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40: 28-31)

God is never too tired to hear the prayers of his children.  Even when we are speechless, the Holy Spirit is working in our lives to bring our hearts before God.  We may become too tired to pray sometimes, but God is always active and engaged in our lives even when we are silent.  So, when life stuns us and drains us, and our spiritual gas tanks are empty, we can trust that God will not faint or grow weary, but in God’s strength God will lift us up and causes us to mount with wings like eagles.  So even when are too tired to pray, the Holy Spirit is already working on our behalf to take our weary lives and lift them to heaven.

adult dark depressed face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Stay Within the Margins

I remember in school, especially the early years when I was learning to write that it was important to stay in the margins on the notebook paper.  I don’t know if I understood what the word “margins” meant, but I did recognize I was not supposed to write past the vertical lines that went down the side of the paper.  Sometimes these lines were even a different color than the lines you wrote on.  I didn’t question it because that was the rule.  Somebody knew better than me so I didn’t cross the margin lines.

As I grew up older into my days of youth, I also learned there were margins in life that I shouldn’t cross as they could be places of trouble and danger.  Thus, there were parts of downtown that I should avoid and certain kinds of people who could be dangerous.  There were no red lines painted across town as warnings, but I had been conditioned to know where the margins were and to stay safely behind them.  Some places and some people simply could not be trusted.  Margins kept me in my place and others in their place.

In the days of Jesus, margins had been established in the Jewish religion that were there to keep you right with God and keep you from getting involved with those who might somehow affect your relationship with God.  So there were margins.  Margins between Jews and Gentiles, men and women, clean and unclean, healthy and infirmed, righteous and sinners.  These clear distinctions were there to guide you as you journeyed through your life.

But then Jesus showed up and didn’t pay attention to the margins.  Now Jesus knew the margins that existed, he just refused to write the story of his life within the margins.  As a result, Jesus crossed the margins and entered into encounters with women, Gentiles, the sick, the unclean, and even the sinners as they had been labeled.  Jesus simply disregarded the historical markers that had been set up over generations.  And as we can imagine, not everybody was happy with Jesus, but especially those who sought to maintain the margins.  Thus, Jesus was constantly condemned for going to the wrong places and hanging out with the wrong people.  Didn’t Jesus know that if he lived outside the margins then it meant he was saying that those people on the other side of the margins were equal to those who stayed on the right side of the margins?  Jesus’ answer was yes.  That is exactly what he was saying.

For Jesus, in the Kingdom of God, there are no margins or boundaries or borders that separate people into categories of worth and value.  Rather, Jesus saw the infinite worth of every individual even those who had been written off by society.  Jesus would not live within the margins because he knew that God’s love had no margins.  God’s love could not be sectioned off like a city block.  Rather God’s love was lavish and flowed in every direction.  Every person mattered to Jesus.  But he also knew that some lives didn’t matter as much in his day, and as a result, he stepped beyond the margins to where the forgotten and ignored had been left for so long.  And when those inside the margins began to say, “what about us” Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matthew 9: 12).  Like a medic on the battlefield, Jesus saw the greatest need and that is where he went.  Those on the margins needed a friend and the good news of God’s love right then, right there.

God invites us to live outside the margins of our world.  It is so easy to grow comfortable and complacent in the safety of the margins with others just like ourselves.  It is easy to think that if those people on the other side of the margins would just get their lives together they would be welcomed where we are.  This is not the way of Jesus nor should it be the way of his followers.  Like Jesus, we are called to cross the margins, work to remove the boundaries that have been there so long, and offer God’s love and grace to all people.

Unlike teachers who checked our papers to see if we stayed within the margins and graded us accordingly when we stand before God at the judgment, God will not look for a nice, tidy, safe life story, but a story that was willing to be lived outside the margins where the greatest needs were.  For when we minister to the “least of these” we will have ministered unto Jesus himself.  (Matthew 25: 40)  I am guilty at times of staying safe behind the margins.  However, I pray every day that God will give me a greater vision to see the world as God sees it; a wide-open world where there are no margins, but only people to be loved.

 

 

unnamed

My Kingdom Come

At times in my life, I have thought to myself, “I just wish Jesus would do what I want him to do.”  Most of us as followers of Jesus struggle between living in the Kingdom of God and our kingdoms.  It seems we can do our best at times trying to get God to do what we think is best, or as Frank Sinatra might sing, “My Way.”  Although we pray as Christians in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we often do so as long as God’s way doesn’t interfere with what we know best.

On the night when Jesus was arrested in the garden, we are told in Matthew’s Gospel that one of Jesus’ disciples drew his sword, swung wildly at Jesus’ enemies, and cut off the ear of a servant.  Immediately Jesus responded in what had to be a tense situation.  In Matthew 26: 52-54 we read, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”  Jesus’ disciple was eager to take control of the situation, make his move, dictate the action, and bring about his desired result.  This disciple had a plan, Jesus just needed to get on board.

We all have plans for our lives.  We all think we know what is best.  I know that I am quick to act, much like the disciple, sword drawn, and make my will be done.  Hopefully, Jesus will get the “point” and join me in what I know for sure is the best way forward.  “Just follow me Jesus and I’ll show you the way.”

We live in a tension between the Kingdom of God and our futile attempts to take charge, call the shots, and carry out our plans.  Jesus calls us back to himself at such times.  This is what Jesus did with his disciple.  Jesus commands his disciple to put away his sword.  Jesus also tells him that he can do the very thing the disciple wanted to do by calling down twelve legions of angels.  Instead, Jesus tells the disciple that the scriptures will be fulfilled and must happen in this way.  Jesus had submitted to living out God’s will even when there might have been an easier way.  Jesus had early on surrendered to God’s will and Jesus would be faithful to God’s Kingdom.

Every day we must surrender to God’s will.  It is a challenge as our kingdoms will always want to take charge.  But as Jesus told the disciple, we must trust in God’s will and way.  In Proverbs 3: 5-6 we read, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  We have to trust in the way of God’s Kingdom.  Even when we are tempted to take over, we must let go and trust in the One who is Lord over all things.  God’s way will always be better than my way.  I just have to put my Kingdom away and trust that God is up to the task of leading the way forward.

mywaygodsway

 

A New Normal: It’s Not Just About Me

As we now find ourselves several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, hopefully, we have learned some lessons along the way.  With the world turned upside down, our lives altered, and uncertainty the daily norm, these days have been fertile ground for growth in our lives.  What have we realized about ourselves, others, and life in the midst of a global pandemic?  What insights do we have now that perhaps we didn’t consider much prior to everything?

One of the lessons that I have learned or at least have been reminded of is how we are all interconnected.  Our actions and behaviors affect other people’s lives.  With the COVID virus being so contagious how we live can have huge implications on other people.  Hence, through it all, I have chosen to wear a mask and do my best to practice social distancing in order to protect those around me; family, friends, and strangers.  While there are some who feel as though things like “wearing a mask” is some kind of a violation of their freedom, I see it as an act of compassion toward others.  If my doing something might benefit another person, it just seems that it is the right thing to do.  This is especially true as followers of Jesus who taught us that loving our neighbor was one of the greatest commandments.  The apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi would speak to us of this truth when he wrote, “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.” (Philippians 2: 3-4) Paul simply reminded us that we are called to live lives that place the interests and needs of others above ourselves.  In fact, as Christians, we shouldn’t even need government authorities to ask us to do it; we should have already been leading by example.  I wear a mask during these days because Jesus would have worn a mask.

Mr. Rogers, who knew a little about being a good neighbor, once said, “The underlying message of the Neighborhood is that if somebody cares about you, it’s possible that you’ll care about others. ‘You are special, and so is your neighbor’ – that part is essential: that you’re not the only special person in the world. The person you happen to be with at the moment is loved, too.”  COVID-19 has reminded me that I’m not the only person in my neighborhood.  As Christians, we have a responsibility to those around us, not just because our government instructs us, but because our Lord has already told us the way to live in this world: love one another.

Hopefully, when all is said and done with COVID-19, we will not forget the lessons that we have learned and live our lives spreading a little more love to those around us and considering the needs of others before our own.  That’s the kind of living that makes a difference in the world every day.  Or as Albert Einstein would say, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”  Maybe this will be the new normal.

jesus-coronavirus-final

Finding Peace in the Pieces

person-falling-apart-t

Sometimes life falls apart.  Yet, you did not need me to tell you this.  We have all had those experiences which cause life to become broken; a death with its grief, sickness, unemployment, family division, depression, and disappointment which only begin the list of such things that can shatter a life.  We can suddenly find ourselves standing over the pieces of our broken lives wondering how we can ever begin to put it back together.

When life leaves us standing in the rubble it is easy for despair to settle into our hearts.  Hopelessness can find fertile soil to grow during these times and bitterness can harden our hearts.  The question becomes then how can we keep from surrendering to hopelessness and giving into bitterness?  How can we find peace in the broken pieces of our lives?  The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said it this way,

Our life is full of brokenness – broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives?

The key to finding peace in the pieces is to realize that God stands in the pieces with us.  God does not scatter when we shatter, but rather God remains with us no matter what our situation looks like.  God never tosses in the towel or considers it hopeless but God can take our broken pieces and bring forth something new.  Trusting then in God allows us to have peace even in the pieces of brokenness.  The prophet Isaiah would confess, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you.”  (Isaiah 26:3)  When we keep our minds focused on God, even in the messiness of life, we can be grounded in the message of God’s peace.

As Jesus prepared to leave his disciples, he realized that they were troubled about what their future looked like.  Thus, in John’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)  The future seems uncertain most days for most people as we wonder what tomorrow holds.  In faith, we hold on to God’s peace, or rather it holds on to us and reminds us that we are not alone.  Indeed, life sometimes falls to pieces.  God, however, never does.  God’s peace is solid, unbreakable, and eternal.  God’s peace can always be found in life’s broken pieces.

End Road Work: Journeying with Jesus

You’re driving down the road when suddenly you see the orange sign which reads, “Road Work Ahead.”  At that moment you realize your journey is about to change.  You will have to slow down your speed, perhaps merge into one lane, drive on a rough road, or even come to a complete standstill.  The next part of your journey will be guided by orange cones and barrels that direct you.  However, eventually, you will see the final orange sign that says, “End Road Work.”  Your traveling will return to how you began.

Our lives are often described as a journey.  From the moment we are born to our last breath on this earth we are on a journey through life.  Where life takes us, we do not know.  What our journey will be like is an unknown and each day can bring totally different experiences; some good and some not so good.  Life is a journey.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Journeys begin and journeys end.  It is the in-between time that our lives are lived.  It is during this journey that we are shaped, molded, and develop as individuals.  How we will look at the end of the journey only God knows.

Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi states, “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) As followers of Jesus, God is always shaping us into persons that reflect his son.  Paul would also write in his letter to the Corinthians, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) In our journey with God, God is working to bring us to the place we need to be and to become the people God desires.  And God’s desire is that we look and live like Jesus.  It is, indeed, the journey of a lifetime that only finds its completion when we went enter into God’s heaven.                                                                      end-road-work-construction-works-260nw-1429712777

That is where the sign will say, “End Road Work” or as Jesus promised, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)

The joy of our Lord is our ultimate destination.  It will be a joy that has no end and where we will experience the reward of a life journeying with our Lord.  But until that time, God is working on us.  Even when the journey is difficult, we can have faith and assurance that God is still in control.  One step at a time, this is what God asks of us.  In each moment and in each experience let God take the lead.  And when God takes the lead, we can make the journey because it is in God’s hands.

 

 

Words Matter

Research shows the average person speaks at least 7,000 words a day, with many speaking much more than that.  And most of the time, we don’t think about the words that come out of our mouths.  They are just part of our daily conversations.  However, there are also those times in which we are reminded to choose our words carefully.  Words can make a difference in others as well as ourselves.  Words can heal and words can hurt.  Words can build up and words can tear down.  Words can bring hope as well as communicate despair. There is power in the spoken word.

The words we choose to use often reveal much about who we are.  In Matthew 12:34 Jesus says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  What Jesus meant is that often the words we choose to use are a good indicator of what our hearts look like.  If we use words that are hateful, demeaning, judgmental, or just plain ugly, then they come forth from hearts that are the same.  The words we speak often reveal our character.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to love Jesus with all our hearts.  As a result, our relationship with Jesus should be the source of the words we choose.  We can’t claim Jesus as Lord of our hearts while still spewing words that speak the opposite.  The Apostle Paul would write, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)  Our words are called to give grace to others.  Graceful words which seek to build others up, not tear them down.  Words that lift people’s spirits, not drag them down.  Words with affirm the worth of persons, and not degrades them.  Graceful words demonstrate hearts that have surrendered to Jesus Christ.  Thus, excusing the negativity that some people speak as “oh, that’s just the way they are” is not a valid excuse.  This is especially true for those who follow Jesus.

Hence, in everything we speak we should ask ourselves, “would Jesus say it?”  If we ask that question before we speak, then some of our words and conversations might look a lot different.  I wish that I could confess that I have always chosen the words that would please my Lord.  My sin still seems to control my tongue sometimes.  Yet, every day I pray that my words may be acceptable to my Lord.

My words matter.  Your words matter.  The words we choose to use reveal something about where our hearts are.  May we all be better at choosing our words, whether spoken or posted on social media.  May our words be saturated with God’s grace so when we speak others experience this grace.  There’s already enough garbage spoken in the world, let us commit to speak grace.

man holding a megaphone
Photo by Pressmaster on Pexels.com

Finding God in the Equation

At some point in school, I remember learning long division in math. In math, long division is a method used for dividing large numbers into groups or parts. Long division helps in breaking the division problem into a sequence of easier steps. Just like all division problems, a large number, which is the dividend, is divided by another number, which is called the divisor, to give a result called the quotient and sometimes a remainder.

composition creativity desk education
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Upon seeing the problem, you know that there will be several steps to come to a final answer.  Now in today’s world, we can easily find the answer to such a math problem by simply using a calculator or asking Siri or Google for the answer.  These programs will do the work for us and just leave us with the answer.  Just like that, the problem is solved.

Life is full of problems.  However, answers are not always easy to come by.  Problems can be complex, painful, and difficult to find an answer.  We can struggle to find a resolution to the problem.  All of us have experienced those times where sleepless nights are followed by uneasy days where we are not certain how things might turn out.  These can be fearful times.  Sometimes in fear, we retreat from the problem, deny that exists, or try to change the subject.  Problems do not go away.  M. Scott Peck was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author who wrote the book The Road Less Traveled.  Peck once wrote, “Problems must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.”

To grow as individuals and as people we have to face our issues and problems or we end up stuck in the same place and never move forward.  These problems take thought, time, and deliberate action.  And as people of faith, we must face our problems in light of God’s love and presence.  Oswald Chambers in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, writes “All worry is caused by calculating without God.”  When we leave God out of the problems in our lives we will never come to a complete answer.  We might have an answer, but it will always end up not bringing us the resolution we desire.

Facing our problems requires faith and fortitude.  Prayer must always be accompanied by an action to help create the end result that God desires for our lives.  Prayer and action require hard work on our part.  And when we are faithful to this calling, God will guide us to the answer that we need regardless of how long it takes.  And God’s answer will always be the best answer for our lives.  As the apostle Paul would remind us in scripture, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  God has a purpose for our lives and God is the answer for all.

 

 

No More Tears

As long as I can remember Johnson and Johnson have advertised their Baby Shampoo as “no more tears.”  According to Johnson and Johnson, “This baby shampoo’s No More Tears formula cleanses gently and rinses easily, leaving your baby’s hair soft, shiny, manageable and clean while smelling baby-fresh.”  Having raised two children, I can remember the bath times where keeping the shampoo out of their eyes was always a goal.  As adults, we’ve all had that experience of getting shampoo in our eyes and feeling the immediate burn in our eyes.  Indeed, it can sting.

Life stings sometimes.  We learn pretty soon in life that some of our experiences can sting and cause our eyes to tear up.  The irritants are many:  sickness, death, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, failure, rejection, disappointment; just to name a few.  Life can suddenly bring us to a place where our eyes water and the tears roll.  The French Enlightenment writer Voltaire said, “Tears are the silent language of grief.”  The dictionary defines grief as “deep sorrow.”

Deep sorrow.  These two words together even seem heavy written on the page.  And when the pages of our hearts are filled with deep sorrow, the pages can be difficult to turn.  When we are stuck in some form of grief brought on by the trials of this world, we are often wonder if this is simply the sad tale of human life that has no end.

In the Book of Revelation, the apostle John, while a prisoner on the Isle of Patmos, received visions of God that recognized the pain of the present but with an eye looking to a future of hope, peace, and life.  In John’s vision of the Christian’s final destination, he recorded these words, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 3-4) God promises that when all is said and done that God has prepared a place for us with God where every tear will be wiped away.  There will be no more tears.  Imagine that; no more tears.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Our faith does not promise us a tearless life, but it does point us toward a tearless eternity.  This truth does not ignore the difficulties of this life but reminds us that when all is said and done there will be “no more tears.”  This is the hope we hold to when the tears of this life fall.  With this hope within us, we can then reach out to others who find themselves in deep sorrow and offer them the compassion, kindness, and presence of Jesus who wept himself when he witnessed the deep sorrow of friends.  We must be willing to step into the sorrow and pain of other people’s lives with God’s love in Jesus Christ. Sorrow can be deep, but God’s love will always be deeper.  Tears now will one day give way to a life of “no more tears.”

 

Guidelines Moving Forward

We hear and read a lot about guidelines for living as we continue to live amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has guidelines about how to return to life: schools, businesses, sports, church, etc. These guidelines are offered as a way of living that will offer the best way forward while the COVID-19 virus is still around. The list of do’s and don’ts can be quite long and detailed.

In the days of Jesus, the Jews lived under strict guidelines. While most people are familiar with the Ten Commandments, Jews also followed over 600 laws and rules from what they could eat, wear, do on the Sabbath, etc. In the Gospels, Jesus was often challenged by the religious leaders on his understanding of the law and the commandments. In Matthew 22: 34-40 we read:

“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

For Jesus, the best way to live one’s life is by loving God and by loving others. If we focus our lives on loving God and loving those around us, then we will be truly following the way of our Lord. These commandments cannot be separated. That is, we cannot love God but then hate our neighbor. The apostle John would write in the letter that bears his name,lovegod (1 John 4:20) We don’t get to choose between the two.

Indeed, one of the best ways to see what a person’s relationship with God is like is to see how they treat others. Our words and actions toward others reveal our character as a person of faith. When we grounded in a relationship with God through Jesus, then there should be a natural flow of our relationship into the lives of others. Likewise, when we love others then we are demonstrating how much we love our Lord.

Well until there is a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 it is probably best to follow the guidelines. We don’t want to spread the virus if we can help it. And when it comes to living out our faith, we also want to follow our Lord’s guidelines, so that God’s contagious love can be shared with all people. One day the virus will be gone. God’s love, however, is eternal.