The power of perspective

The newest internet debate struck with a force yesterday as people everywhere debated whether they heard the word Yanny or Laurel in this audio clip (Listen Here).  This was likened to the 2015 Blue or Gold dress debate. This morning I had my whole family listen to the link, and while I heard Yanny clear as day, several of our kids only heard Laurel. How is that possible?!

These little phenomena bring to light a real-life truth, perspective matters. In the case of this audio clip, some simple modifications (type of speakers, frequency level) can change what you hear pretty miraculously. It’s not so different in real life. We may feel so strongly one way about something, but if we shift our perspective just slightly, we have a completely different view. 

The Israelites struggled with this repeatedly after Moses brought them out of Egypt. God did the miraculous through Moses, showing signs and wonders and sending plagues to Egypt and finally convincing Pharaoh to let the slaves go, parting the Red Sea, and even conquering Pharaohs army as they pursued them. Yet the people of Israel quickly changed their perspective as soon as they faced trouble in the wilderness. They began complaining to Moses, they’d rather be back in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh where they ate plenty, than the comfortless freedom they now had. Repeatedly, they grumbled and complained about their circumstances, instead of trusting that the God that led them out of Egypt, would continue to provide for them. Often this distrust led to more than just grumbling, and into blatant sin as they attempted to take matters into their own hands. For this, God kept his covenant to bring Israel into the promised land, but no one in that first generation (save Joshua and Caleb) would ever see that day.

I fall into this same trap of perspective in parenting. For years it was the greatest desire and prayer to become parents.  Everyone seemed to be getting accidentally pregnant around us and for almost 5 years we remained childless. Finally, through foster care and adoption we became parents for the first time. Now years later, those struggles sometimes seem so distant, and I take for granted the gift of parenthood, as I complain and grumble about the daily needs and demands of our children. If I shift my perspective, I can see the gift and joy of caring for little ones, even amidst the hardships. 

Whenever you are tempted to get frustrated about your circumstances, consider the perspective you are viewing them through. Are you trusting in the Lord or feeling defeated? Do you have a sense of hope or despair? Are you acting in faith or fear? Do you have a spirit of joy or discontent? Even small adjustments can lead to a real shift in perception. The bible gives us a perspective that offers joy, hope, and faith in light of our circumstances even when things are hard. When you sense a need for a shift in perspective, consider going to the Lord in prayer or to Scripture to see how you may view your circumstance through a different light.  

They’re Huge and They’ve Gone Sting Crazy!!!

Springtime, when the leaves come back to the trees, when people with allergies can’t breathe because the air seems to be 80% pollen, and all the bugs reveal that they have indeed survived the winter. It was around this time last year that I was attacked by a wasp. I was driving home with the music up and the windows down. I reach my destination turn off my car and reach to unbuckle my seatbelt. It is a motion I’ve probably done thousands of times, but this time it was different. Instead of push button, exit car it was feel something weird on the button then an intense pain in my finger.

I don’t like bugs of any kind, and for one to be in my personal sanctuary I react as anyone would in this situation and freak out! I jump out because, in my mind, the only way a wasp could be in the car is through a covert wasp nest that has gone unnoticed in my car for months. If there is one there must be a thousand more, right? It couldn’t be that she just flew into my car as I was driving around.

I am not being swarmed so I realize that it’s just a one-on-one battle: giant human me vs tiny mean stinger lady. I open all the doors hoping she’ll fly away but she doesn’t so I go on the offensive and defeat my opponent. I generally don’t like killing anything, but she drew first blood so that justifies it. Or does it?

From the wasp’s perspective she was just hanging out, minding her own business when this enormous thing almost crushes her, so she defends herself the only way she knows how by getting all bite-y and sting-y. There are times in our lives that we come across people like my wasp. We are going through life doing our normal everyday actions and someone lashes out. 

When this happens, our reaction is usually to respond in kind. We think, “They yelled at me, so I better yell louder,” or, “I don’t get even I WIN!” Neither of these attitudes do more than raise our blood pressure and cause division. We have been called to bring peace into the world.

Colossians 3 says, 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If you should come across someone that reacts like my wasp, take a breath and try to see what they are actually reacting to. Was it you? Or was it a situation in their life that you could help bring peace to with your compassion?

But I Liked The Old Way

Last night at, Theology at the Taproom, a group of guys started talking about how different the world is now than it was in the past—especially in the context of how we do our jobs. One of the more, um, experienced members of our conversation was telling us about how he learned to do basic computer programing using punch cards. You would punch the correct physical holes in dozens of cards, hand them off to someone else, they would physically load your cards in the computer, and it would run your program until it hit an error.

We laugh at how archaic the idea is now, but at the time this was cutting edge technology. It got me thinking about how difficult it can be to accept change. We hear about the laborious nature of this process and think that it would be easier to do your computing by hand rather than mess with this clunky machine’s punch cards, and I’m sure many people chose that option. Hindsight being 20/20 we realize it was the wrong choice; computers and the internet, with their slow and clumsy beginnings have grown to revolutionize how almost every area of our lives.

I’m sure if we think about it we can see a time in our lives when we’ve made the wrong choice. We want to stick with what we know rather than reach for something new. We think, “I’m used to the old way, I liked the old way, and I know how to make it work.” We see this all the time on the internet, your email provider or favorite social media changes their layout and people cry out, “YOU IDIOTS! IT WAS PERFECT THE WAY IT WAS! YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING!” Then we use it for a while, get used to it, and don’t even remember the old version.

This is how the Hebrew people felt when Jesus showed up. They thought, “we have Moses, we have the law, and the ‘real’ messiah would be supremely powerful over our oppressors.” To some Jesus was spitting in the face of the old way. They thought Jesus was disrespectful of the law and the prophets. But he told them in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Jesus interrupted their plans. They knew the law, how to behave, and to certain extent how to circumvent those laws. Often times Jesus presents us with opportunities that interrupt our plans. In times like this we must trust in Him even if it means taking a risk. God has called us to be bold followers of Jesus that are willing to do the things even if they scare us.

Who Should We Be?

In Matthew 5 Jesus starts His Sermon on the Mount. Over the next few chapters he gives insight into how we as believers should act, the things we should support, and the type of people we should strive to be. Jesus saw the crowd that had gathered and starts out his message with, what is called, the Beatitudes.

Matthew 5:3-12

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
4Blessed are those who mourn, 
   for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, 
   for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
   for they will be filled. 
7Blessed are the merciful, 
   for they will be shown mercy. 
8Blessed are the pure in heart, 
   for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, 
   for they will be called children of God. 
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Each of these statements is packed to the brim with theology, weight, and meaning. Whole books have been written expanding on the content of these verses. However, many of those people miss the point of what Jesus was talking about. The Beatitudes are not “if-then” statements. 

The temptation in reading the Beatitudes is to treat it as a step-by-step guide in how to gain blessing. We want to look at verse 5 like it’s saying, “try your best to be meek then you will be blessed, and you will inherit the earth.” We get things twisted when we try and coerce God. We mistakenly think that by acting kind, or being pious, or appearing charitable that it puts God in our debt. I did something good so now God owes me something good in return. This is not how it works.

We have already been given the greatest gift of salvation. It is not through any actions we have performed, any good works we have done, or because any of us just turned out to be good enough. We are blessed beyond measure because of the love God has shown us. The Beatitudes are a great reminder of the blessings that come to us as the children of God, and they are all great ideals for us to chase. 

However, we all must remember that God loves us first, God loves us completely, and all we can do is share the love we have received with those around us.

Rest or Toil?

“What I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun...” - Ecclesiastes 5:18

I was cleaning out my garage the other day of all the mess winter gathers and I found an as-yet unused two-person travel hammock that I received at a Yankee Swap from a family Christmas party. It’s unlikely to ever be used by two people, but I’m thankful for the added security. I pulled it out and set it aside, hoping that the day would come when I could lay in it and take a rest.

Rest. That’s what the hammock symbolized for me.

It probably doesn’t strictly needto be warm outside to rest. But I feel like it does. I’m not going to hang the it out in the cold and bundle myself up in blankets. I’m going to rest by swinging from the maple branches, the leaves forming a canopy rustling ever so slightly in the warm breeze.

All of this came back to me as I was driving, and the sun came out from behind the clouds. It provided immediate warmth, reminding me, it’s April. Warmth is coming, it’s just a little late this year. With warmth comes rest, and the thought of it brought an almost immediate sense of comfort and contentment.

Why was that? I think because I felt an immediate sense that things were going to be okay.

I should note, it’s not like anything particularly stressful or difficult or out-of-the-ordinary was going on. There wasn’t some impending sense of doom. It was just normal, run-of-the-mill tiredness. It’s the tiredness that comes from feeling like we’ve just been at it too long, like everything depends on us, like we’re responsible for all of the things.

This past week in church we talked about contentment. God wants us to “find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun,” but that contentment and enjoyment is directly related to how much we trust God with our future. The teacher of Ecclesiastes was relating it to our finances: how much we enjoy the wealth God has given us will be in direct proportion to how much we trust that it came from Him. It’s true of other areas, as well, especially our daily toil: our contentment, enjoyment, and satisfaction in our daily toil will be in direct proportion to how much we trust him with our future.

That’s the thing about rest: it’s not just a future reality. It’s a present reality, and one that we can only experience when we believe that things really are going to be okay.

Every now and again we need a reminder. The warm sun was my reminder. What’s your reminder?

What makes you happy?

I’ve been pining for some warmer weather for a while. I bet you can relate. It’s been one of those winters where the cold just seems to drag on and on and on. I sort of remember what leaves look like, and I’m starting to remember that my yard has grass in it.

A couple of days ago at a diner, I overheard a patron tell her friend that last year at this time it was 83 degrees. Christi checked her Timehop and discovered that it was actually only 65 degrees. Close enough. It was warm.

Today, though, I can look out my window and see the forsythia starting to bloom (I insist on calling these plants “For-Cynthia’s”, which never gets a laugh, but I keep it going just in case). The yellow buds are coming in strong. If I look closely enough at the trees, I can see little buds that will eventually turn into leaves; the slightest bit of green is visible on the branches.

“Oh great”, I thought, “allergy season.”

That’s how long it took me to go from “I hope there is warmer weather afoot” to feeling discouraged about the allergies I haven’t even experienced yet, simply because I saw a bloom as I stood in the sunlight shining through my windows. All in all, it was about three seconds.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly our minds can move from one circumstance to another, from hope to despair, in a matter of seconds? It’s safe to say that our emotions at any given moment are directly tied to what we’re thinking about at the time–and if we’re not careful, our minds can direct us to some really unpleasant thoughts.

The verse from that old song kept running through my head, “This is the day that the LORD has made / let us rejoice and be glad in it / this is the day / this is the day that the Looooord haaaaas maaaaade”. That’s a direct quote from Scripture. The author of Psalm 118 includes it for the people to repeat regularly: Psalm 118:24This is the day that the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Take note that he doesn’t say, “this is the WARM day” or “this is the ALLERGY FREE day”. He says, “this is the day.” No qualifier. This day, the one that you woke up to, this is the day. God made it. We should rejoice and be happy about it. 

One reason (and it’s a big one) the author says that is because, in vs. 22, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. It’s a reference to our salvation, and how we attain it. Jesus was rejected, but has now become the basis for the rest of the church. The very fact that we are aware of our salvation on “this day” makes today worth being glad about!

What makes you happy today? God made today, and you woke up and got to live in his creation. That’s a pretty good reason to rejoice.

He is risen! Now what?

John 21:3 - Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.”

Wasn’t Easter Weekend awesome?

Good Friday service was a somber reminder of what Jesus did for us. Benny and Eric led us in a time of acoustic worship where we could reflect on how all we bring to the cross is a mockery compared to what Jesus accomplished. We closed considering Christ’s victory, while remembering that his body was still in the grave. Then, on Easter Sunday, we had the stark contrast of celebratory worship as we considered that Jesus Christ, on a defined day in history, actually got out of the grave!

One of the things that I love about Easter is that it’s the one Sunday of the year when everyone who considers Restore “home” shows up on the same day. As our staff reflected on the weekend, we were struck by the commotion that comes with the number of kids in our church. Did you know that there are 51 kids under the age of 11 at Restore? That’s about 25% of the people who were in church on Sunday! The energy in the room, especially when all of our kids are in there with us, is palpable and matches the significance of the message of Christ’s resurrection.

The church calendar builds to a crescendo at Easter. It’s Holy Week. The most important week. Easter Sunday, the day when victory is declared. And then, if I’m being honest, Easter Sunday is awesome, and then I get a feeling of, “now what?”

I think the disciples felt like that, too. Imagine following Jesus around for three years, seeing him work miracles, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, listening to him teach and preach as if he was literally speaking for God himself(because he was). They watched as the number of people who followed Jesus continued to grow. Then, in a few days’ time, he was arrested, condemned, crucified, dead, buried, RISEN! “Now what?”

Each of the Gospel writers includes a couple of post-resurrection stories to make a point and show that the disciples really did see Jesus, but none of them cover it extensively. Our tendency is to think that the appearances occurred in very quick succession, but in reality, there was a reasonable amount of time between some of them. The disciples suddenly had a lot of time on their hands wondering what they were going to do now.

Peter thought, I guess I’ll go fishing.The disciples with him thought it was a pretty good idea. Might as well do something.

I think that’s how we’re supposed to feel after Easter weekend. I think we should look at the cross, see what Jesus accomplished, look into the empty tomb, embrace the risen Savior, and think, now what? That’s exactly the point. Now what? Now nothing. It’s been done. Completed. Finished. Victory. You’re free.

Go and tell someone. And then maybe go fishing.

Where is the Body?

At the beginning of his twenty-eighth chapter, Matthew records the events of Resurrection morning when “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (v.28:1) went to see the tomb. The Bible says there was an earthquake and an Angel of the Lord came to roll back the stone at the opening of the tomb. The Roman guards who were charged with guarding the tomb were terrified and fainted, or “became like dead men.” (v.28:4) This is when the Angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (v.28:5-7)

What strikes me is something I read in a footnote of this passage. I honestly don’t think I ever thought about: The stone was not rolled away, so Jesus could get out. The stone was rolled away, so others could get in and see that Jesus was not there. I just thought that the Angel rolled it back, Jesus gave a nod and a fist-bump as he strolled out. Jesus just defeated death, did I think he couldn’t roll a heavy stone?

This whole story, the whole of Christianity, hinges on one thing, and that is the empty tomb. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then all of this is foolishness. But where is the body? If the Religious and political leaders wanted to make sure that this movement was quenched and dispersed, wouldn’t they want nothing more than to produce Jesus’s body? The Roman attachment stationed at the tomb was charged with guarding the tomb with their lives. The Roman government had a zero-tolerance policy for abandonment of post or failure of mission.

It seems clear to me that if the Resurrection was a hoax, Christianity as a whole would not exist. Surely the message of the Gospel would not have spread from the backwoods town of Galilee around the world and back again. The burden of proof fell on those who denied Christ’s deity. The tomb was empty.

Death has been defeated.

Resolving Conflicts

How do you resolve conflicts? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” I don’t know about you, but I am tired of Facebook. Facebook has become a place to throw ideological grenades with no thought as to what may happen. Friends and family will post inflammatory statements and not want to engage afterwards. Over the last year we have seen it get so much worse and often it’s our Christian friends who are the worst offenders. What can we do?

When Jesus gives his most famous sermons (Matthew 5-7) you have to understand something. What He was sharing was revolutionary and at times downright scandalous! This was the beginning of his earthly ministry and Jesus was definitely becoming known. Jesus had been traveling throughout Galilee teaching and healing. Word of this spread throughout the area, to Syria, and beyond the Jordan and crowds have gathered.

Jesus went through the foundations of Hebraic Law, contrasting the people’s mistaken ideas with His Godly truth. Many of the topics Jesus would teach on would begin with, “you have heard it said …” and the he would correct it with, “But I tell you…”

I want to focus on this idea of peacemaking and dispel some myths. First, let’s define a term. Blessed is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. Peacemaking is NOT the avoidance of conflict. Peace in the Bible is never to be confused with pacifism. Peace is not avoiding strife. Peace is not appeasing parties. We must remember that just glossing over problems, acting as if everything is alright when it is not, is not being a peacemaker.

Peacemaking can be messy work. It takes time and emotional energy. Jesus, our best example of a peacemaker, established healing relationships of peace the people around Him. It’s harder for us. We will fail, and we will get bruised, but we are called to love one another.

Next time you are checking your newsfeed and find yourself confronted with a post that bothers or upsets you think of the acronym ENATA. ENATA will help us to respond rather than just react. Before you respond, ask yourself is what you want to say Effective, Necessary, Accurate, Timely, and Appropriate? If you cannot answer yes to these, perhaps you should just listen and not add to the noise and vitriol. Remember, God is the God of Peace (Heb.13:20) and Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), when we are peacemakers, we are partaking of God’s nature.

The Significance of the Real Gospel

If you are a Christian and someone were to ask you why, what would you say?

I have had some difficult conversations with non-believing friends. These become even more difficult in the aftermath of tragedy. Over the last week I’ve seen so much calamity in the lives of friends and family: family members have passed, tree limbs have fallen on cars, houses burned down. Looking at times like this my nonbelieving friends would ask, “why does a loving God allow that?”

Too often I hear preachers talk about how God wants us to be rich or simple steps you need to take to accomplish x, y, or z, and I get bothered. If you are trying to talk people in to faith by saying that they will always be happy, or wealthy, or that it’s easy, I think you have it wrong. We can get so caught up in this idea that as believers we are somehow immune to tragedy.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus plainly states to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) Anyone who tells you the Christian life is easy or always happy is either living in a bubble or is blissfully ignorant. There are people starving, dying, and being oppressed all over the world and even right in our backyard. There is injustice everywhere. Where is God? It is easy to look around and feel like God stepped out for minute and I don’t blame non-believers for their skepticism. But there is something that they miss.

The verse I referenced above reads, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” As Christians we can take solace because we know how the story ends. We know that Jesus conquers sin and death.

In our lifetime, we may not see all the ills of the world eradicated. But we as Christians have hope for a better tomorrow and are charged with being Christ to those around us. We are to show the love of Jesus to those around us. When communities come together to feed and clothe those in need, when we speak out for those without a voice, when we provide for the least of these, we are living out the true gospel. As Christians we are, unfortunately, not immune to tragedy, but when bad things do happen we know that we don’t have to face them alone. We have the hope of the world. 

Who Set Your Foundation?

I’ve been involved in church for as long as I can remember. I used to joke that I was born on a Friday and was in church the next Sunday. It has always been a big part of my life. I can’t remember a time in my life where I missed more than two Sundays in a row. One of the greatest areas of impact on my faith journey was made by the men and women that gave their Sunday mornings to teach me about the Bible. As far as I know, none of them were Bible scholars or highly trained teachers; they were just people who knew how important it was for young kids to be introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, Jim and Lisa, Tim and Dawn, Sheri and Terry, a man called Tater, and every other great children’s ministry leader, though you may never read this, thank you. Thank you for spending time with us on a Sunday morning. Thank you for not just babysitting us but for truly investing in us. Thank you for helping to lay a strong foundation for my faith. Thank you for pointing me towards Jesus on a weekly basis. And thank you for helping me hide God’s word in my heart.

By investing a trivial amount of their time each week in me these people have ministered to countless others through me. However, they were never worried about some far off future legacy. They just wanted to make sure I and my classmates knew that we were deeply and truly loved by God. That God was there for us and that no matter what we’ve done or think we’ve done we can be forgiven. And I’m sure many people reading this have similar stories of people they could thank.

At Restore we have a lot of children. According to our records about 20% of Restore is under the age of 11, and a third of that is kids under the age of 3. This is wonderful. We love having kids being active members of our church. They bring an energy and a creativity most of us lose once we realize the fridge doesn’t get filled by magic and our laundry doesn’t wash itself.

As any parent can tell you having kids changes things. Kids adjust your priorities, they can change your goals, and most obviously kids change for whom you are now the most responsible. We as a church need to step up and accept the words of Jesus found in Luke 9:48, “Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.’”

We believe children are important. We believe that it is our duty to introduce them to the faith. Christi, our Children’s Ministry Director, does an amazing job preparing and equipping our teachers: preparing rooms, selecting and preparing curriculum, and so much more behind the scenes. But she can’t do it alone. If you know someone who would do an awesome job pouring into the lives of Restore’s children would you please let her know. (Christi@restoreworship.org)

We all think these kids are special and important. Let’s get together and show them.

From a Culture of Busy to a Culture of Rest

There’s an epidemic of busyness. From oldest to youngest, we all suffer from a society that reinforces the idea that busy is better. We don’t take the long holidays in summers, and instead of a time of leisure or renewal weekends become packed with errands, engagements, and chores.

The strange paradox of all this busyness is that there is some pretty convincing evidence that we aren’t actually that busy. What we call “busy” is more often wasted time that wasn’t set aside to NOT be busy. On average, Americans have more time than previous generations, according to an article in Johns Hopkins Health Review. Yet we feel as though we are always busy. But are we really? If you need a quick check, ask yourself these questions: How full is your DVR? Have you recently binge-watched shows on Netflix and seen that little “Are you still watching” screen pop up? What does your social media or internet use look like? What you may realize, is that you do have access to free time, but you fill it in ways that don’t resemble rest.

So the question we must ask is, what does real rest look like?

From the very beginning of his relationship with the Israelites, God calls His people to a Sabbath rest. It is a theme throughout all of Scripture, from God resting on the Seventh Day of Creation, to the Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and continued throughout scripture even to Jesus observing the Sabbath.

If we look to scripture, there are a few key ingredients to rest that we must implement if we ever hope to be rested and refreshed (Exodus 31:7) the way God intended. First, it is a scheduled an appointed time. After creation, it was the seventh day. This is the same day God instituted for his people in Leviticus (Lev. 23:3). It is to be a specific time set apart to not labor or work. If we WAIT for a time of rest, or for our work to have an end, it won’t happen. We need to plan for it, to make it happen. If you want to meet someone for coffee, you don’t just hope to run into them at Starbucks one day. You schedule it. You set reminders. You block off the time and don’t plan anything else during that time. We need to approach the Sabbath the same way.

The next piece is how we spend our Sabbath. God calls his people to be a holy people, set apart (Lev. 23:2). This means we will look different that the rest of the world. He doesn’t just tell you to rest. He tells you HOW to rest, and that typically means a time set apart for the Lord, for feasting, remembering his good works, and worship. Jesus was found teaching at the temple on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16), healing occurred on the Sabbath (John 5:8), and people feasted on the Sabbath (Acts 20:7). It’s not just a call away from our regular busyness to catch up on our chores or favorite shows, but a time set apart for renewal and rest in the LORD.

More than thoughts and prayers

This past week our country experienced another national tragedy. I won’t recount the details and events, because we know this is not the first tragedy, and will also not be the last. As the impact reverberated through the nation, many people offered up “thoughts and prayers” as has happened before, but instead of the welcome it usually receives, the thoughts and prayers came up so empty. Many memes were created to tell people that it wasn’t enough.

As Jesus gave the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) he said among the beatitudes “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.” Personally, this resonates on many levels. I want peace in my home, in my town, in my relationships, and certainly in my country. When people are yelling we often ask them to “calm down” or not get so angry. When a fight breaks out, we want it to be stopped. This is peacemaking, right?

Recently I read an article that made me reconsider whether as Christians we are actually pursuing real lasting peace or not. It argued that often what we mistake as peace MAKING actually resembles more of peace KEEPING. A peace maker is defined as “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries”. This term involves a conflict of some sort that needs to be brought to resolution. Yet as Christians often we just try to keep the peace, rather than actually get into the real business of entering the conflict and MAKING peace.

In peace keeping, things are already peaceful, and we just work to keep it that way. In peace making, there is a conflict that needs to be resolved in a manner that results in peace. The process of peace making involves getting to know the issue, not being afraid to enter the conflict, and working to disrupt the status quo to bring about a solution that doesn’t KEEP peace but MAKES peace.

Any honest look at the news should inform the Christian that there is conflict, and tragedy in the world. And in fact, this should not surprise us! “Nothing is new under the sun!” the author of Ecclesiastes says. Until Jesus returns sin will be a part of living on this Earth. OUR task, as Christians, is to enter into this conflict and tragedy with open eyes and awareness, not shrinking away in shock, or feigning support from afar, but offering tangible ways to help usher in the peace that Christ offers us. Maybe you can do this on a global scale, through legislation or involvement. Maybe you can take measures in your own community. Or maybe, it means being an advocate for peace in your own home. We each have a role to play as peace MAKERS. This is an action and a call, and while we continue to offer our prayers because we believe that God can and WILL intercede in miraculous ways, we can also take action to pursue peace in whatever context God has placed us in. 

Love Letters

Somewhere buried in the basement bins and boxes I have the very first Valentine I received from a boy in 4th grade. It is a handmade card with a big red foil doily heart pasted to the front, and a few other heart stickers around it. I didn’t remember that I kept this particular card until I came across it years ago in that box of all the things you take from your childhood when you move out. In a drawer in my closet I also have tucked away all the first love letters from Jeremy. Almost 20 years ago and I haven’t thrown away a single word he wrote to me.

Genesis through Deuteronomy are commonly believed to be the first letters that God wrote to the Israelites through Moses. They recount the beginning of God’s relationship with his people, the stories, the laws, the promises, and the covenants that God made with them. Over the next few centuries the rest of the letters were written, carefully copied by hand, preserved, and passed down from generation to generation.

Have you ever considered that the Bible is like one long lover letter from God to his people? It’s the single most important document recounting God’s relationship with his people from the very start. I had a professor once say that the entirety of the Old Testament can be summed up in this “Israel is unfaithful, God is faithful”. Over and over the Israelites rebel against God’s law, and yet His love never fails. It is the same today! While we are still sinners, Christ died for us. Even as we fail Him, even as we make mistakes and wander and become lost, God constantly draws us back to Himself though His unending love. The bible reminds us that when everything else in our world seems to be temporary, even relationships, Gods ultimate sacrifice and unfailing love for His people is constant.  

Whether you are having the best day ever or you find yourself lonely or distracted you can rest daily in God’s love by simply opening His word. I’m not saying that we don’t also yearn for relationships here on earth. I am saying that you are loved beyond measure, and you can rest in that assurance much more than just one day a year.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Too Busy To Rest

Come all you weary with your heavy loads
Lay down your burdens find rest for your souls
‘Cause my yoke is easy and my burden is kind
I'll take yours upon me and you can take mine

                      - Thrice, Come All You Weary

There are a lot of tired people in the world today, maybe you’re one of them. And this isn’t a normal “I got a lot of work done today” tired. This is a “deep in my soul” weariness type of tiredness. These are the times when life feels unfair and the things we want never turn out the way we would like them. The fatigue of life feels all encompassing, and if we are not careful we feel like it could overtake us completely.

At times, it can seem like the rest of world needs you to be this tired; with work commitments, family commitments, sports commitments, volunteer commitments, and all the other little things that seem to eat up the meager hours we have in a day. The idea has crept into our collective heads that if I am not busy it means I’m lazy, so I better tell everyone how busy I am. Some people wear their business like a badge of honor saying, “look at me I’m so busy and therefore important!”

You end up prioritizing the things you must do and are left with no energy to do the things you would like to do. Today I would like to give you one important thing: permission. You have permission to rest. You have permission to lay down one thing that you have been holding onto for too long.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says,

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Too often we hold on to our problems with both hands, never asking for help, and trying to hide it from everyone around us. My hope is that you have people around you that you can talk to about your problems. A burden is easier to carry when it is shared. Jesus in Matthew 11 is trying to say that he is that person. He is accepting of our burdens and is only disappointed when we’ve held on to them too long. If we can trust and lay down some of our burdens we can find our much-needed rest.

It’s okay to not be busy.

Go and Reconcile

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

[Reconcile – v. to bring into agreement or harmony; make compatible or consistent]

When you’re a kid you get told that you can be anything you want, but that is rarely helpful advice. If anything, it can be discouraging. Having so many options locks you up worrying about perfection. You start asking questions like, “How can I change the world?” But you can take a deep breath and step back and find freedom in the idea that Jesus has done the heavy lifting of changing the world. We don’t have to.

This means we can ask much smaller questions. Instead of asking “what should I do with my life?” ask “what can I do tomorrow to bring more reconciliation to the world?” And then do it. Ask again the next day and the next day. For some of us this path will lead to big important global work, and for others it will lead to big important personal work.

It doesn’t matter if you paint houses or paint canvases, you can do if for the glory of God. It doesn’t matter if you are an author or an accountant, you can do it for the glory of God. It doesn’t matter what you want to be when you grow up as long as the work of your hands is being done to the glory of God.

You were created for a purpose. You are a new creation through Christ.

“It is your job as a creator to accept that the work will be very, very hard; to understand the importance of deep reflection, and to fight the forces of fear and resistance, all in the name of filling blank pages and creating beauty.” – Blaine Hogan

Use It Before You Lose It

I have some bad news. Someday you’re probably going to die, but it’s okay so is everybody else. Don’t freak out. What this means for us is that we have a limited amount of time to use while we are on the Earth. This leaves us with a choice, we can either use the time we have to create, or we can sit around and wait for the inevitable.

Imagine you were given an all-expenses paid dream vacation. Three weeks in the greatest destination on the planet. The beach, the mountains, the cities, hot, cold, literally anywhere you want to go! Would you sit and wait at the airport because you know you’ll need to go home at the end? Or would you spend every waking hour trying to enjoy it to the fullest? No one goes on vacation to just hang out at the airport.

God has given you a limited amount of time on the Earth so don’t miss right now because you’re too busy worrying about tomorrow. Get out there and do something great.

In John 9 Jesus heals a blind man’s eyes. John 9:4-7 Jesus says,

4 “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam.” So, the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

The best part of this? Jesus got his hands dirty to help the blind man. He saw a problem and created a solution using what He had around him.

We all want to peek at the end of the story. We all want to see where our hard work takes us in the end. Unfortunately, we can never see where we will end up if we are unwilling to grind it out to get there. And the grind is not glamorous. The first thing you make is probably not going to match the ideal you pictured in your head. “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” Even if you are an underdog the hurdles you must get past to create something have never been lower. You just need to start!

What Would You Give?

The year was 1561. Many churches in the Netherlands were being persecuted by the government because of their Protestant faith. The government, controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, was seeking to rid the land of these protestors; these so-called “reformers”.

A group of thinkers, led by a man named Guido de Brès, formulated a document that defended these reformed Christians, outlining not only that they were good and law-abiding citizens, but that they were observing the faith in a way that they believed was consistent with the Scriptures. The hope was that this document would cause the persecution and oppression to cease, but it did just the opposite.

As I read the Belgic Confession this morning, I was struck by the attitude of the authors. They were clear with the government, and King Philip II, that they would obey the government in all matters, provided that the government was acting lawfully. They would not, however, deny the truths that were expressed in the document, even if it meant choosing death. Many of them were indeed given the choice, including the author, and he chose what he had promised.

It made me consider the question, what would I die for? Or, perhaps a better question, and one that we have been considering in the book of Ecclesiastes–what would I give up my life for?

Each of us are given a finite amount of time on this earth. Our life has a beginning and an eventual end, and in the middle, we are given this resource called “life”. We have to decide what to do with it. Many people think of it in terms of an investment: what can I invest my life in that will bring the biggest returns for me, my family, and my dependents? Others think of it in terms of spending: that you “get out what you put in”. Life is a transaction, and the more you spend, the more you receive.

The Bible, however, uses that word, giving. Giving implies no return; indeed, it implies no expectation of return. There are two reasons we might give our lives like that. One is if we count our life as having so little value that we simply don’t believe that it is worth much. (That’s not the Biblical picture, though. Life has tremendous value!) The other is, if we have already received so much, that our life, regardless of value, pales in comparison to the reward we have already received.

That’s what Jesus is getting at in Luke 17:33 when he says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” The transaction has already happened. We’ve already received everything of value there is to receive. When we are willing to give up even our life, that’s when we discover how much real life we already have.

I think the authors of the confession understood that truth. It’s the reason they didn’t defect even when the government was persecuting them, and it was the reason they were willing to give up their life when they were forced to choose: death, or deny?

They chose death, because they had already received what really mattered, and it was a life that could never be taken away.

That January Feeling

I was getting ready to drive home from the church in Goshen, NY where I had just finished leading an evening service. I started my car hoping it would warm up a little before my drive, and was in the process of saying my goodbyes. As I began to head out the door someone asked me when I’d be back next.

“Sometime in July”, I responded.

“July?!”, he said, obviously confused.

“Oh, uh, I mean January.”

And then I was disappointed. Because for a second, July seemed like a really good month to return. It would be warm. It would only be 8:30pm, and would still feel like early evening. I’d have either recently returned from, or shortly be going to, a vacation on a beach or a lake. July...

But it wasn’t July. It was January. And that meant that instead of being hugged by warm summer air as I walked out the door, I was punched in the face by winter chill. It was already dark. I’d get home, sleep, and wake up tomorrow and it would still be dark. And cold. And gross. We laughed when I made the mistake, but our laugh was colored by longing. “Sure, would be nice if it was July,” we thought.

There’s something about being in the dead of winter–even the phrase itself is ominous–that sucks the life out of us if we let it. Everything about the post-Christmas blues comes crashing in on us. What does one look forward to when they are in January? January feels like getting back to the grindstone. Paying off Christmas. Setting (immediately breaking?) resolutions.

That’s part of the reason why we’re going through the book of Ecclesiastes. The teacher in Ecclesiastes wants to help us think about what life is really like. What is the meaning of it all? And he doesn’t want to gloss over those moments that feel like the “valleys”, or feel like just going through the motions. He wants us to know that sometimes, life stinks for no apparent reason, and sometimes, we have to find the good in the bad. He also wants us to know that, when we feel like “January”, we still need to find a way to enjoy it.

In fact, it’s one of his main points and one we’ll consider this coming Sunday–hey, I’ve seen July, he says. And it’s not quite as exciting as you are hoping for. That can either be depressing, or it can be liberating, when we realize that it’s far better for us to live in the moment that exists rather than the one we fantasize about.

In the meantime, we can keep on hoping for July, as long as we don’t let it rob us of enjoying the moment’s that we have now–even if it is only January.

10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1!

We all shouted out the numbers as they flashed across the TV. Our family, gathered around, counting down with Mariah and the gang as they stood in a historically cold Times Square as the ball dropped. All night we had waited for this moment, when for a millisecond, we’d get to see the date change and we could say “goodbye 2017” and “hello 2018.” Now it had happened, and I just felt...

Well, I felt exactly the same, to be honest. Maybe a little more grateful that now I could go to bed. One of my kids, full of enthusiasm at being able to stay up this late an hour earlier, was now curled up on a chair fast asleep. Another one fell asleep on the concrete floor in the basement, and two were already in bed.

Was this how Jesus felt when he went to go pray in the garden and his whole crew fell asleep, leaving him alone? (Matthew 26) I guess that was probably a little more intense.

The New Year offers us an opportunity to reflect on what has occurred in the past year, for good or bad, and what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. But there’s something sinister about it. Chris alluded to it last week in the weekly update. Kendall noticed it in his sermon on Psalm 16 this past Sunday. We’ll look at it again this coming week in Ecclesiastes 1.

If you take a step back and actually consider the change of date, or back out and consider the change of years, or seasons, or whatever, you realize...it just keeps on going. 2016 became 2017. 2017 became 2018. And unless Jesus comes, 2018 is going to become 2019. On, and on, and on, and we celebrate milliseconds and then they’re gone and we’re left wondering, what did we just accomplish?

Maybe there’s a better question: what did God accomplish? Maybe that sounds like cheesy, church-cliché. But it’s actually one of the fundamental ways that God describes himself: unmoving, unchanging, steadfast, and faithful. They are all pointing towards the same thing. The God that created the universe sustains it and keeps it in motion. It’s in the on-and-on pattern of the universe that we see God’s power and his handiwork, making the sun rise and set every day.

We can get fixated on the fact that January 1st feels exactly like December 31st, and get depressed. Or we can consider that God’s going to do it again. Every day, new mercies. Every year, consistency. Faithfulness. God guiding us and protecting us, even in the everyday, same as yesterday, probably the same as tomorrow, moments of our lives.

That’s something to celebrate in 2018.