A New Kind of Normal

Read Mark 1:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“When we were at Mount Sinai, the LORD our God said to us, ‘You have stayed at this mountain long enough.” (Deuteronomy 1:6)

leaving-normal-signNo matter how many times people talk about change, we never really seem to ever get to a place where we feel comfortable about it.  I have heard so many different sermons on the topic of change, and I have attended seminars on change, and have even preached on and taught the merit of change myself; however, change always seems to get us anxious and uneasy. We just don’t want things to change, do we?

I am certainly know stranger to change. When I first entered into community college, I was determined to get into web development. I focused on all of the things I needed to in order to attain an associates degree. Yet, before I could finish, my wife and I  ran into financial issues, as we were both in school, and I ended up having to leave school and pick up a full-time job, working as an Iron Worker with my father-in-law, in order to support our young family.  Boy was that change! Going from college to being an iron worker was a tough change to deal with, yet over time it all worked out.

When my wife finished nursing school and was able to pick up a full-time job as a nurse in a hospital, I left iron working to go back to school. I went to a technology Institute and earned a degree in business programming, was placed in a job and things all seemed to be going as planned; however, less than a year later, the company I worked for owed me $5,000, went bankrupt and left me home without a job. I tried desperately to get a job, but every company wanted at least five years experience before they even looked at your resume, and most of the IT jobs had been outsourced.

Boy, that was a tough change to go through as well. I had gone from a working man to being at home watching my children. I had to constantly endure questions of whether or not I was looking for a job, and if any progress had been made in that search. I had to come to terms with the fact that I could not get a job and I had to go through a period of soul searching before being able to see that staying home with my children was actually a blessing.  It was during that period that I also came to terms with the calling God had placed on me as a young boy…and then the CHANGE really began!

Jesus was no stranger to change either.  The Gospel of Mark purposefully starts of with Jesus down by the river Jordan. Many people were getting baptized by the prophet John, and Jesus went to be baptized just like the rest of them. Yet, as he was coming out of the water, he had a divine vision of not only his calling, but of his true identity as God’s beloved Son. There is no doubt that the theophany (or appearance of God) at the Jordan River profoundly changed the course of Jesus’ life, as well as the course of human history.

What gets us through change is the realization that things are always changing and there is nothing can do to stop it. In fact, when I look back at those times of change in my life, I wouldn’t “change” a single a moment! I would keep everything exactly as it is because it is each and every one of those moments that has helped to shape me into who I am. I’d imagine that if you take the time to look back on the moments of significant change in your life, you will see the value those moments have had. God has worked through those moments in our lives to promote growth and cultivate faith. So thank God for change, and when change comes embrace it as a new kind of normal!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

PRAYER

Lord, I have changed in order to become who I am today. Help me to embrace the change that is shaping me into who you want me to be. Amen.

 

It’s All About Pacing

Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

NikesHave you ever had the opportunity to run a 5k race? Right now, as I write this, I am in preparation for an upcoming 5k race. All summer long, in fact, I have been preparing for this by jogging as much as I can for as long as I can. As I have come to learn, running is all about the pacing.

When I was about 10-12 years old, my dad would take me running all the time. I wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of jogging; however, I would go out and run with my dad.  He would always tell me to slow down and to pace myself. “You’re not running a race son, you’re just out here to get in shape,” he would encourage me. “Slow down, take it one step at a time…don’t quit now…you’re almost there.” Before long, we were running for a couple of miles.

I remember, at one point, my dad signed us both up for a 5k run in a neighboring town to ours. I may not have finished in first place, or ran a record speed; however, at 10-12 years old, I was conditioned enough to run a 5k without even feeling the need to stop. It is amazing how much one can endure if one just paces him or herself. It’s not a matter about where one places, but about finishing the race.

This summer I took my twelve year old and my nine year old out running with me, just as my Dad did with me when I was their age. At first they wanted to sprint out ahead, but would quickly tire out and have to walk.  I told them to slow down, just like my dad told me all those years ago. Once they listened to me, once they started to pace themselves, they found that they too could finish the run. In the end, my youngest ran a full mile and my oldest ran two full miles. They found out they could go the distance.

The same is true when we look at our faith journey. We often seek out God in order to better our lives in some measurable way. We look for success, for prosperity, for the world to see eye-to-eye with us, and for the world to change at the sound of “amen!” Yet, when these things do not happen the way we envision, when it seems that nothing is working the way we’d hoped, we give up and turn away from our faith.

What we as people of faith need to do is to learn how to pace ourselves. We need to stop trying to sprint off to the finish line and we need start learning to take this journey one step at a time. God has not called us into instantaneous perfection. God has not promised that the road will be short and easy. God has not promised that we will not pour sweat into the paradise that we strive for.

God simply promised that we would not have to run this race alone. That, for each step we take, God’s Holy Spirit will be there with us each step of the way. If you silence yourself for a moment, you will hear God calling out to you, “It’s not a race, my child…you’re just out here getting in shape. Slow down, take it one step at a time. Don’t quit now, you’re almost there.” Remember, that by the grace of God you can and will stay the course and finish the jog; in the end, you will look back at the course and know that God, in and through you, has accomplished much!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” – Marie Curie

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for being present with me as continue on the journey from where I am to wear you are calling me to be. I trust you to guide me there and leave the timing up to you. Amen.

 

Why Not Me?

Read Matthew 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

trafficEvery year around Spring and Fall, as the pollen starts to float ad nauseum in the air, I have been known to come down with killer sinus infections.  These infections come on like the Flu, literally, and I am rendered useless until I go to the doctor and get it treated. Every time, I get hit with such a sinus infection, I begin to look up at the heavens and question, “Why me? I mean, why do I always end up with these blasted infections! It’s just not fair!”

There are definitely other scenarios that cause me to ask the same question, “Why me?” When I get stopped at the traffic light…”Why me?” When I get behind a slow car…”why me?” When I get served the wrong food or the service is too slow…”why me?!?!?” The truth is that I am certainly not alone in asking that question! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that question asked and, of course, there are host of different reasons for people asking it.

If we are going to be honest, though, any “reason” we come up with for asking that question is superficial; rather, to be completely honest would be to recognize that such a question stems from a sense of entitlement, which stems from our own self-centeredness.  It is because I am concerned with “me” and the way “I” feel that causes me to ask the question “Why me?” I guess, the real question we should be asking ourselves is, “why not me?”

Why shouldn’t I get sick? Why shouldn’t I get stuck at a traffic light or behind a slow car? Why should I get served by only the most perfect people and only the most timely of manners? What makes me so special that I should feel entitled to stuff that no one else in the entire world is entitled to? Do I live up to the perfection I expect out of others?

When I went to the Bay of Bengal in India, I walked among the fisher people who lived in houses that were smaller than my office; they were sharing that tiny space with their extended family. There are children who have to walk miles one way to get to a clean source of water. No matter what country you are from, there are people within your very communities that suffer from poverty, malnutrition, abuse, addiction, cancers,illnesses and any variety of things. Is it okay that they have to go through such things? Are we thinking of them when we begrudgingly cry out, “Why me?”

Entitlement didn’t sit right with Jesus, who taught us to look beyond ourselves and to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Jesus stood up in opposition of people who felt entitled, who felt that they were in a better place than others. Jesus stood in opposition to self-centeredness; rather, he called for people to deny themselves, to pick up their crosses, and to follow him (Matthew 16:24).

The truth is that we should all be asking ourselves, “why not me?” Why shouldn’t I be challenged by life in the same ways that others are challenged? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to learn more patience? Why I shouldn’t I be in a position to acquire more humility? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to compassionately put myself in someone else’s shoes before judging them? Why not me? If we pause for even a moment to ask ourselves that, perhaps we will not only recognize the real hurt others are in, but we will also step up to do something about it. Today’s challenge for us is to set aside any sense of entitlement and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we feel impatient, we are agitated & unhappy in the moment. When this happens, ‘name’ it, breathe & release your sense of entitlement.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to a place of contentment and use me in a way that brings blessings to those who are in need of them. Amen.

All Ears

Read Matthew 15:21-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“My child, listen and be wise: Keep your heart on the right course.“ (Proverbs 23:19)

earFamily time has always been important to me. As a child, I grew up in a home where both my parents valued and encouraged family time. One of the ways that we spent time together as a family was at the dinner table.  My mom and/or my dad would cook dinner and we would sit together and eat. Our dinner time was not just about eating; however, it was very much centered on good, ole’ fashioned conversation.

As an adult and a parent, I still hang on to that value. If you ask my wife or my children, they will tell you how important it is to me for us to be spending family time together, including but not limited to the dinner table. And at the dinner table, aside from my egging them all on about how unhealthy their food is (I mean I have to have some fun as a vegan), we spend a lot of time listening to each other. We listen to how each of our days were, we listen to all of the things that excited us, we listen to all of the things that upset us, we listen to each other express ourselves in a variety of ways.

Perhaps what I just wrote above strikes you funny, or perhaps you didn’t pick up on my wording at all, but the key action that ties our time together as a family is listening to each other.  One of the most important, yet most neglected, things in our culture is the art of listening.  In today’s world we are so inundated with our own personal soundtracks, our own agendas, our own judgments, biases and egos to silence ourselves. No one really seems to care to listen anymore. Rather than take the time it requires to listen to what others are saying, to what they are truly expressing, we head off into rash judgments and close the doors to any sort of beneficial dialog.

In Matthew 15, we see Jesus being urged by his disciples to not take the time to listen to the Gentile woman who was begging for Jesus to heal her daughter. They wanted him to send her away, after all, she was bothering them with all her begging. The disciples were not truly listening to her, they weren’t compassionately putting themselves in her shoes. In some ways, even Jesus didn’t truly listen to her at first, as evidenced when, in essence, he told her that it wouldn’t be right for him to heal her daughter since she was a Gentile. Yet, in the end, Jesus did listen and, in her expression, Jesus saw her heart and her faith. Rather than pushing her away, rather than silencing her plea for the healing of her daughter, rather than invalidating her need for his help, Jesus listened to her and, following that, a miracle happened.

The point of all of this is that God is calling each of us to speak less and listen more. Whether we need to take the time to listen to others or we need to pause and take the time to truly listen to ourselves, listening is an essential component to the human relationship. It is through the art of listening that relationships grow and prosper. It is through the art of listening that we gain understanding of others and of ourselves. It is through the art of listening that we find ourselves open to the miraculous things that God has in store for us. Be still and learn to listen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.“ – Bryant H. McGill

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to be a better listener to other as well as to myself. Amen.

 

Go with the Flow

Read Philippians 4:4-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Imacon Color ScannerMy family and I just recently went on a vacation down to South Carolina. The first four days of our vacation were spent at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort. One of the things my wife, daughters and I did was go on a two hour kayaking tour of the bay. We all have been kayaking before and we thought that it would be a relaxing way to spend the last morning of our stay at Hilton Head. As we got into our double kayaks, paired up with our children, we quickly realized that the kayaking tour was not going to be a “relaxing”, lazy river experience. The winds had kicked up and the current became rather strong.

At one point, my youngest daughter and I started to get pulled in the opposite direction from the way that the group was going.  I started to paddle harder and harder, but it was to no avail. The current was simply to strong. My arms got tired and I became panicked and concerned that we were in a hopeless situation. No matter how hard my daughter and I rowed, we just could not get our kayak to turn around and head in the right direction.

Finally, a light went off in my head. I realized that the whole time we were trying to row against the current. We were trying to rely on our own strength to turn ourselves around and row upstream.  Yet, the forces of nature were simply too powerful for my arms and the arms of a 9 year old to row against.  But what if I began to row with the current, what if I let go my desire to go against the current, what if I stopped fighting so hard to do what was ultimately impossible?

“Row right, row right,” I called out to my youngest daughter! The second she heard me she caught on to what I was trying to do and began to row with the current in synch with me.  As we began to pick up speed, I plunged my paddle into the water on the left side of the kayak and began to feel the vessel turn around. “Shallow ro, shallow row,” I called out! With those words, my daughter began to row quickly on both sides using the double paddle. As she rowed the kayak picked up momentum, turned and before we knew it, we were paddling quickly upstream. With in a moment or two, we caught up to the group and, shortly after, were able to see a pod of dolphins swim gracefully by us only a few feet away.

What this experience taught both my daughter and I is that, often times, we find ourselves caught in a current. Rather, than letting go of our fears and going with the flow, we often find ourselves fighting the current. At best, we find ourselves paddling in place and never going anywhere. At worst, we find ourselves exhausted, lost and hopeless.

If you find yourself in such a situation, if you find yourself rowing against the stream, if you find yourself fighting the current, today’s challenge for you is to let go. Allow yourself to go with the flow and to gain momentum. Remember, you do not have the strength alone to fight the tide. But if you let go of your fears and go with the flow, through the grace of God, you can build moment enough to turn yourself around and paddle to where God is calling you to be. With God, there is no such thing as hopeless. Remember that, let go, and let God take you to those rewarding, refreshing waters.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Don’t stand about on the edge of life afraid to venture in. go with the flow of circumstances. Follow the voice within.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, help me to realize that I have little control over the circumstances in my life; however, I do have the choice to hand my desire for control over to you. Guide my life in the direction you see fit and lead me to where it is you are calling me. Amen.

In God’s View

Read Amos 8:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.” (Zechariah 7:9-10)

Prince William and Kate Middleton Attend Harry Meade And Rosie Bradford's WeddingWhile I am not one to get caught up in celebrity or royalty, it is hard to do anything in this day and age without getting a glimpse, whether one wants to or not, into the lives of famous people. The latest story to be gripping the news and the world is the royal family’s newest addition to the list of heirs. “Baby Cambridge” as people are affectionately naming him until his name is officially announced, has been born to Prince William and Princess Kate and the world is going “goo goo ga ga” over the idea that this little prince has been born.  It is easy for anyone, myself included, to find themselves getting caught up in the excitement of a newborn baby.

Let’s pause there for a second. How many babies were born in the world today? How many were born in your particular part of the world today? How many babies were born in your town today? Who are those babies, what are there names, where are the cameras, crowds and global celebrations over their births? We give so much of our attention to the birth of this one child and nearly no thought, let alone our attention, to the countless children born around the world.

Beyond that, what about the children who were not so fortunate to be born into a royal family. How about the children that weren’t even fortunate enough to be born into a middle-class family? How about those countless children around the world that were born into abject poverty? Why is it that we are so glamoured by celebrity and fame that we will celebrate the birth of royalty all the while turning a blind eye to the countless births into a seemingly endless poverty?

The point of this is not to begrudge the royal family or to take anything away from their celebration, in which I am sure they could only wish for some privacy; rather, the point of this is for us to pause and think about the nameless, faceless babies out there who will be lacking almost everything they need to survive, let alone thrive, in this world. The point is for us to pause and take note of the babies whose births mirror that of another “king”, who was born into abject poverty nearly two thousand years ago.

That “king” grew up in a world that didn’t think twice about him either, even as it nailed him to a cross. Yet, prior to his humiliating death, this “king” would teach us that the economy of heaven is much different than the economy of humanity. In God’s view, the only royalty is born of humility. In God’s view, the master is numbered among the slaves. In God’s view, the winners are those who are counted by the world as losers. In God’s view, the rich can only be found among the poorest of the poor.

It is this vantage point that Jesus calls us to embrace. It is from God’s view that we should be seeing things. While we ought to be glad that another life has made its way into the world, we should also be sad that such a life would be held in higher regard than anyone else’s. After all, aren’t we all created EQUALLY in God’s image? What is more royal than that? Let us celebrate every life on this this planet, not in mere words and festivities, but through fighting against all forms of oppression and inequality, and by bearing the hope, healing and wholeness that God has to offer.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.” – Robert F. Kennedy

PRAYER

Gracious God, forgive me for the ways in which I have been a part of a system of inequality and use me to tear down walls of separation wherever they may stand. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Seeing Beyond the Big Wig

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year.  Today’s devotion was written on Friday, August 24, 2012. I hope that, though this was written last year, in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:

Seeing Beyond the Big Wig

The Big Wig

A LOOK BACK: Filled For Eternity

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year.  Today’s devotion was written on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. I hope that though this was written last year, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:

Filled for Eternity

Blueberries

 

A LOOK BACK: Proving God?

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past year.  Today’s devotion was written on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. I hope that though this was written last year, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click below to read:

Proving God?

Michelangelo's "God Touching Adam" segment of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Unanswered Prayers

Read Matthew 6:7-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26)

Garth-Brooks - Unanswered PrayersWhile I am not too much of a country music listener, I have always had a liking for Garth Brooks. His flashy, rock-like performances, his charismatic charm and his wild and crazy persona have always captivated me and millions of others.  But beyond all of that, he also happens to be an incredible song writer and has, as a result, befriended and worked with many other worthy songwriters such as Billy Joel.

One of my favorite songs of Garth’s comes from his album, No Fences. On that album is a song called, “Unanswered Prayers.” The song tells the story of a man who goes to his old high school to watch a football game.  While at the game he runs into a woman whom he had a fling with back when he was a teenager, which triggers a flood of emotions and memories.  I am sure he remembered the good times he had with her, all of the things they used to do together, how she smelled after putting on her perfume, or how she looked on their first date. I am sure he was flooded those memories and more.

He also recollects how he used to pray to God, begging him to keep them together. Perhaps he prayed for the relationship to go further than it had. We can certainly use our imagination for the things he was praying for; yet, there he was, years later at a football game with a different woman…his wife. In looking at his old fling, and looking back at his wife, he realized that the woman he had prayed for all of those years ago, didn’t turn out to be who he had thought she was; whereas, his wife was everything he ever needed and/or wanted in a loving partner.

Brooks sings, “Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers. Remember when your talking to the man upstairs, that just because he may not answer doesn’t mean he don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” I can relate with these words. There are many times I prayed for things to happen one way or the other; however, looking back on those things that I wanted, I am glad that they never happened. People pray to win the lottery, yet when they do their lives are often ruined by the sudden rush of wealth. People often pray to be come famous only to find themselves more empty than they were before the world knew them. We often strive and pray for what we want; yet, what we want is seldom what we truly need.

And there is one more point to make regarding “unanswered prayers.” God is not some magic genie in the sky that appears to bestow three wishes to us every time we rub the lamp.  God is not some catchall spiritual inbox for every request YOU need to make. God is the source of all of our lives. God is the very breath we breath and the very life we feel coursing through our veins. God is both in us and transcends us and it is this God who calls us to live in LOVE…to live in the very essence of GOD. Thus, if our prayers are self-centered and all about US, then chances are those prayers will remain unanswered.

Rather than pretending that we know what we need and what is best for us, rather than seeking our way, our truth and our life, let us turn to our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer and remember that God will provide exactly what we need. Knowing this we will not need to ramble on and on only to find our prayers go unanswered; rather, our prayer will simply be: “Lord, let your will be done in me and on earth as it is in heaven. Use me in the way that you will.” If that is your prayer, I guarantee you it will NOT go unanswered!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER
Lord, let your will be done in me and on earth as it is in heaven. Use me in the way that you will. Amen.

A biweekly devotional