Carrying the Load

Living in the community which I now live in, I have become much more aware of the number of semi-trucks and trains which carry freight around our nation. The semi-trucks were not all that new to me since I lived near an interstate highway which transverses from east to west coast and another which transverses down the middle of our nation. However, I thought transporting by train was from an earlier era in our country’s history. I can definitely say it is not since I now cross at least four train tracks to do a lot of my shopping. The number of times I am stopped at a train crossing is amazing. These observations led me to think about how the loads of life are carried.

Who carries your burden or load in life?

One of the items which I picked up when I did a lot of counseling of individuals is the importance of support systems. Life is clearly unpredictable. No life escapes challenges, hardships, and brokenness. During those periods in a person’s life, having friends and family who can offer support, a listening ear, or solicited counsel can make a tremendous difference. If someone is able to walk the path with you, then there is less of a feeling of isolation. Another person can assist you in putting your burden in perspective. While you still will need to walk the path and carry the majority of the load, having a support system can ease that load for you.

The gift of family and friends is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to provide rest for all who are weary and burdened. (See Matthew 11:28). The Lord understands the loads which we carry. We were never intended to live life alone. God saw the importance of having others to assist us at the very beginning of creation. The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” We are to have a helper or set of helpers to join in carrying our load.

I know that there are some people who try to carry their burdens by themselves. This type of person does not share with others those times when challenges come their way. The person may even place a lot of effort into presenting an image that they are fine. They may choose not to share out of shame, guilt, or because being self-reliant was modeled in an extreme way to them. For anyone who chooses this approach, I want to say this is definitely not what God intends. God has given others to carry the load with us. Do not let this gift go to waste.

So who assists you in carrying the load? Who are the individuals which have been placed in your life right now who can provide comfort, counsel, encouragement? If you have not, identify those people now. Utilize them to help carry your burden. You do not have to go through anything alone.

The Chains

One of my favorite Christmas movies is A Christmas Carol. I prefer the version with George C Scott playing Scrooge. For me to feel like it is Christmas time, I have to watch this movie. I think the reason is this adaptation of Charles Dickens story speaks to the heart of Christmas, the attitude of giving and being set free from those chains which bind us from appreciating life.

As a Christian, this movie also reminds me of the breaking of chains which accompanied the work of the Lord. Jesus shared the love which God has for every person and gave us the opportunity to be free from the chains which prevents us from appreciating life. In his teachings and actions during his ministry, he worked at destroying the chains which society placed on people. He held leadership accountable for putting burdens of rules and expectations on the people. Jesus taught that love, not oppression, was the intention of God. He redefined social norms. He confronted boundaries established by the world. Jesus taught and demonstrated that God’s love provides freedom.

Every year when I see Marley come to warn Ebeneezer about the chains which he is forging in his life, I wonder about my chains. What is it that is forging the chain which I wear? How am I contributing to the forging of someone else’s chain? This can be a very humbling self-reflection. I always think of the lessons Scrooge learned from the three visitors as I am reflecting on how I live my life and the comparisons.

Then after some self-reflection and recommitting myself to work at providing a better reflection of God’s love, then I am reminded of the promise which I have received. The Lord has promised to remove those chains which bind me. I am set free in the Lord’s love and grace. All I have to do is reach out and accept it. Then my reflection of God’s love is a response and not a requirement. In order for Scrooge to reduce his chains, he had to change his life, his view of Christmas, and the way he treated others. The Lord takes away my chains even before I change my life.

What chains are you forging in your life? Have you allowed the Lord to remove those chains or are you still clinging to them? Are you responding to what the Lord has already done for you or do you think you still have to earn the removal of your chains?

Let the Lord remove your chains forever and enjoy the happiness of life and love!

Cravings

I was in Starbucks the other day and on one of their signs said, “Feed your cravings.” The sign caused me to pause to consider the implications of what was written. Of course Starbucks was encouraging me to buy one of their specialty drinks but I began to think about other cravings and how they are fed.

One type of craving is for some specific food or flavor. Times occur when I have a craving for salty food. I want a snack that has salt detectably in it or on it. It might be popcorn or chips or peanuts. I go rummaging through cupboards at the house until I find an item which will take care of what I strongly desire. Other times I may crave not just a specific flavor but a specific food. I may be wanting a grilled hamburger with all the toppings. These cravings are pretty easily identified and often easily fed.

Another craving which may present itself but may not be as quickly satisfied has to do with human interaction. This may be a desire to have someone to hug and with whom you have physical contact. Or it could be the strong need to have an individual with whom you can talk. This craving usually requires more time to satisfy since it involves some level of relationship being established.

I am sure that you could list many other cravings that may need fed. Cravings for wealth. Cravings for fame. A craving to be noticed. All cravings require some level of effort to be satisfied. They may also require involvement of other individuals. If I followed what was on the Starbuck sign, after I made the decision to feed my special latte desire, I would still need a barista to prepare the drink so my craving could be fed.

There is one craving which we have been born with but is not always acknowledged. Each person has been born with a craving to find someone or something bigger than self. It is as if there is a hole inside us that needs something beyond us to fill it. I consider this to be our craving for God. We were designed to be integrated with God. The hunger for the divine nature is real. Many people attempt to feed this craving with aspects of this world but find that the fulfillment is not lasting and soon the craving returns. I think this is what often drives individuals to want something bigger or better than what they currently possess. The feeding of this craving with anything less than God is futile.

So yes Starbucks, I will feed my craving. I will feed it through daily conversation with the Lord. My feeding will include time spent reading Scripture and the writings of other Christians. Quiet times to reflect upon my relationship with God will be part of my effort to feed my craving.

How do you feed your craving for God? Are you even aware of this craving in your life? When have you attempted to feed the craving with something other than God?

The Heart

I have observed over the years that most people want to appear to be good people. They desire others to see them in a positive light. Many will painstakingly do whatever it takes to present an admirable image to the world. I think this is strongly linked to our desire to be accepted, to belong, and to even be praised. This often leads to having a bit of a false self which is the one which we parade in front of others. When we are home, and or, alone, we act, speak, and think differently. Now having a public filter is often very wise because none of us have pure thoughts all the time, but when our false image becomes predominant, we have a problem.

As I have said before, I enjoy observing people. Since this has been a pastime for me for many years, I have become attuned to people’s nonverbal behaviors. I find that the nonverbals tell you about a person much more than their words. Because of this, an individual’s nonverbals can easily betray the true thoughts and responses. These betrayals give great insight into the true self, a glimpse into the person’s heart.

Some people have become very skilled at concealing their hearts. They have discovered how their nonverbal behaviors and their own words can give insight into their hearts. So they have learned skills which cover a large portion of their true self. However, there is one who can see beyond the skills and attempts to present a different image than that which is true. The one who sees directly into each person’s heart and knows every truth is the Lord.

The writer of Psalm 139 begins with this reminder: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” This author was very aware of the Lord’s ability to see into the heart. The Lord knows us completely. Not only is the Lord aware of those words we use and the actions taken which is visible to everyone, the Lord knows our thoughts and motivations. The Lord knows our attitudes and desires. Our good and our bad are laid bare before the Lord. There are no false pretenses or false images before our God.

While I am an astute observer, I must admit that some of my perceptions of others are limited. In some situations I speculate and use previous experiences to form opinions. This is not necessary with the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is able to connect with our spirits in fullness. Our hearts cannot be fortified against the infiltrating eye of the Lord.

Even with all of this insight into the true person who I am, the Lord still loves me. The Lord knows my heart fully yet accepts and claims me as a child of God. The love overcomes any of the negative found in me. The Lord declares me good.

Christmas Eve

Another Christmas Eve has arrived. This is one night that always carries significant memories for me. We had a lot of traditions in my family, Christmas Eve has always been full of them for me. When I was younger, it meant gathering with my Dad’s side of the family. We would eat a large meal, exchange gifts and spend the night playing while the adults talked and laughed. One specific year there was even a visit from Santa Claus. All the kids were herded into my bedroom. We were told that we were not to look out of any windows no matter what. Of course, that only encouraged us to try our best but parents always seemed to interfere with our attempts. Soon there was a knock on the front door, and we were allowed out of the room. In walked Santa Claus who proceeded to give us each a goodie bag and remind us to get to sleep quickly tonight, so he could return with our presents.

Attending worship services on Christmas Eve also has important memories and traditions for me. While living with my parents, our congregation only worshiped at 11:00pm on Christmas Eve. We would gather in a darkened sanctuary where we would sing Christmas carols interspersed with readings of Scripture. Holy Communion was celebrated during the service. We would close the service by singing Silent Night while we lit handheld candles. When it was time to leave it would be midnight, or shortly after, and we would wish each other Merry Christmas. I always walked out of the church and searched the night sky for the Christmas star. Some years there would be snow falling as well.

After leaving worship, we would return home. My parents would allow me to open one gift before going to bed. Of course, I was steered away from anything real significant. I would open my gift and then prepare the plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. Then I would head off to bed with the intention of staying awake, so I heard the sleigh bells on Santa’s sleigh. I was never successful in hearing those sleigh bells but would drift off to sleep thinking of what I heard at worship and what would await me in the morning.

This year is a year of new beginnings with Christmas Eve. Having moved since last Christmas and now in our new home for good, we are starting over. We are establishing some new traditions while we hold on to a few from our past. A worship service nearby will be our plans for this evening. While we have never attended worship with this congregation, we are confident that we will be reminded of God’s gift of love. I am sure that memories from the past will enter my thoughts.

Thinking about the significance of Christmas Eve in my life, I am reminded that it is in the celebration of the incarnation of God that I first encountered the depth of love God has for me and all creation. The idea that I am loved so much leading God to take human form so that I could relate to God in a way that makes sense to me is amazing.

I hope all of you have a meaningful and Spirit-filled Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  

Expressing Gratitude

This month every year in the United States, people are encouraged to pause in order to express thanks for blessings which have occurred in their lives over the year. A specific day has been set aside to do exactly this. The roots of Thanksgiving Day are found in the story of English settlers experiencing their first harvest in the new world.

Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to a well-recorded 1619 event in Virginia and a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter from the London Company, which specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with native Americans, who helped them pass the last winter by giving them food in the time of scarcity.

Wikipedia

Thinking about the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving once again in three weeks prompted me to consider what it means to be thankful and show gratitude. To be a bit more specific, I have been thinking about gratitude in the light of my faith. Especially since the above words found in Wikipedia make mention of prayers and ceremonies among almost all religions.

There exist a variety of ways to express gratitude. Most often we think of using words to express gratitude. This may be as simple as saying, thank you, or may be longer by expressing exactly what prompts us to be thankful and how our life has been impacted. At other times, actions we take may be an expression of our gratitude.

So how do we go about expressing gratitude to God?

As a Christian, I believe that all I have and all that I am are gifts from God. God has chosen to bestow material items, means to purchase material items, talents I use, and knowledge which I have obtained upon me. God gives to me even the breath which I take and the food which sustains me. Nothing in my life exists except through the giving of it to me by God. So how do I express gratitude for my very life and everything within it?

Scripture contains suggestions which might be helpful:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micha 6:8

Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:34-40

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

John 4:11

Many other passages can be found which prompt us to give thanks to God. I lift these passages up to you because they talk not about words, or even worship, but about attitude and action. God warns the people that they can do all forms of worship and abide by the sacrificial laws which existed for ancient Israel but that without the correct actions and attitude, their expressions are hollow. (See Isaiah 1:10-18) This warning leads me to think that the best way to express gratitude to God is through our actions and attitude. I think God finds this most pleasing.

So as you pause this month to consider those aspects of your life which generate gratitude in your heart towards God, I encourage you not to just express your gratitude in words but more importantly in actions and attitude.

Bigger Than Me

Is that really all there is? How many times in your life have you been disappointed by a site, an experience, or a person? Maybe you had prepared in your mind something large, or even grandiose, only to come to the point when you encounter what you had built up in your mind and walked away disappointed. Each one of us has had at least one experience in this arena. I think it is because we each have a desire to encounter something bigger than ourselves.

In life there truly are experiences which are bigger than I am as an individual. A few summers ago, I was able to pay a short visit to the Grand Canyon for the first time. Standing on the rim of the canyon, I was amazed at how expansive and deep it truly is. There have been times when I have been at a gathering of peers or fellow believers and been awed by the reality that this group of like-minded individuals is so much larger than me as one.

The concept of something bigger than me has led me to consider the reality of God. I am drawn back to my statement at the end of the first paragraph here, I think we are wired to seek out something bigger than oneself as an individual. This desire for me stems from the acceptance of my limitations. I am limited to a specific time, place, set of thoughts, set of experiences, gifts, and talents. My resources and experiences are limited. I need something in my life which transcends my own personal limitations. God is exactly the reality which transcends.

The limits of human existence and ability are not limits within which God exists. God is not confined to a specific time or place. The thoughts of God go beyond my understanding. The prophet Isaiah delivers this message: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8). There exists no end to God’s abilities and power. In short, God is much bigger than me.

This is important because it gives me comfort. When I feel I am not able to control, fix, or overcome aspects of my life, I know that there is something bigger than me which is able to regain balance. Those occasions when I feel alone and small, I am reminded that something bigger than me surrounds me and supports me. During times when I feel that I am uncertain about the future or sense that I am lost on my path, something bigger than me assures me of tomorrow and shines a light on the path.

Everyone craves to find that which is bigger than the individual. I have found it and the name is God.

The Bridge

One of my mom’s favorite songs was a Simon & Garfunkel song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Here are the lyrics from that song if you do not recall it or have never heard it:

When you’re weary, feeling small

When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all (all)

I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough

And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

When you’re down and out

When you’re on the street

When evening falls so hard

I will comfort you (ooo)

I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes

And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Sail on silver girl

Sail on by

Your time has come to shine

All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine

Oh, if you need a friend

I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

Source: LyricFind

Songwriter: Paul Simon

Bridge over Troubled Water lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

This song was originally written to convey the support of one lover or friend to another. However, I have come to see it also as a song in which I envision God singing these words to me, and all God’s children.

Life is definitely not easy. Throughout life, we face times when there are very troubled waters which we are trying to navigate. Jesus made it abundantly clear that during the stormy times in our lives, God does not abandon us and encourages us to not worry:

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Luke 8:23-25

I find so much comfort in the words expressed in this song. I think this is exactly what my mom experienced when she heard these words sung as well. The comfort becomes even greater to me when I think of God singing these words rather than a friend or lover. God is always faithful and trustworthy so as much as a friend or lover might try very hard to live out these words, I know that God always does.

The next time you hear this song, I encourage you to listen to it with the idea of God singing these to you. God’s love truly does create that bridge over troubled water.

No Mistakes

A person’s junior high school years can be some of the most difficult years in their young life. The ages of twelve through fourteen are the time in your life when you are trying to figure out a lot about yourself. Add to this the reality that you are physically experiencing many changes and a whole new set of hormones are flooding your body. At this point in my life I had an amazing English teacher, Miss Becky Schmelling. One of my greatest memories of Miss Schmelling was that she had a poster hanging on the wall of her classroom by the door. It was a cartoon image of a boy surrounded by old cans, books, and a variety of other items which appeared like they might be junk. The caption in big, bold letters said, “I am okay because God does not make junk.” I read that caption every single day I was in her classroom since I was feeling like junk trying to maneuver through my early adolescent years.

When I became an adult, I ran across a quote which carried the theme of Miss Schmelling’s poster a little farther. I honestly cannot tell you the originator of this quote or even where I first read the quote. If you do a Google search, you will find these words, or similar words, echoed all over the internet. The quote is this — “I am okay because God does not make mistakes.” I do not think I am the only one who needs to hear these words, and hear them often. There are many in our world who feel like maybe God made some mistakes, or a big one, when God created them. There is no one who can honestly say that they feel everything about them is perfect.

According to figures released by the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017 (the most recent set of data) there were 47,173 deaths listed as suicide among all ages in the United States. This made suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the United States that year. If you look at the age groups of 10 to 34, there were 14, 717 suicide deaths which makes it the second leading cause of death in those age groups only behind unintentional accidents. What these startling and sad statistics tell me is that there are a lot of people who feel their life is a mistake, and they have no hope. These statistics do not share the number of individuals who attempted suicide that year but the attempt did not result in death.

I share all this with you to impress upon you two important points. The first is that each of you need to remember that God does not make mistakes. There is not one of you who is a mistake. God created you with a purpose and exactly the correct combinations of physical, mental, spiritual, and creative traits. You are unique, there is not now or ever any duplicate of you. You fit into all God’s creation in a way which no other being could ever fit. Your role in this world is very special. God loves you exactly the way you are right now.

The second point is that each of you must share this truth with others. Whether you have a poster hanging for others to see, or you share the message in words and actions, you must communicate to others that they are not a mistake because God does not make mistakes. By sharing this message, you may have an impact that you will never be aware of but an impact nonetheless. This may be the message that prevents someone from choosing to attempt suicide. Sharing of this may also be just the words that gives a person renewed purpose, meaning, or a sense of value. When you communicate this message, you demonstrate the love of God which went into the original creation of a person.

Let me tell you this one more time, you are okay because God does not make mistakes!

Need Patience

I struggle with being patient most of the time. If I decide to buy an item, I do my research, I spend some time going back and forth, I work through the financial aspects, and then I head to the store to make the purchase. Once I have gone through these steps, I expect to walk out of the store with the item I have chosen. If for some reason I do not have the opportunity to get the product or I have to wait for some reason, then I become extremely frustrated. My patience does not hold out well for me at this point.

Recently, I was reading a passage from Habakkuk. In this passage, the prophet complains against God because he feels that God is not listening. He has made request after request for life changes but the changes are not coming. He is losing his patience with God. The prophet is speaking for the nation of Israel but I could relate to the complaints on a personal level. Like my shopping routine, if I take a request to God, I have the expectation that the request will be fulfilled in the time frame of my choosing.

Following Habbukuk’s complaints, God responds. In God’s response, God reminds the people that relief will come but it will be according the correct timing. The people are told that they are to await this right time. God tells them that the source of their agony has not escaped notice. If the people will wait and remain faithful, the relief will arrive.

The words recorded in Habakkuk often convict me. I am reminded that I need to have patience. The message of God’s faithfulness and listening to my requests comes through these words clearly. I need to remember to wait on the Lord and I will not be disappointed.

This is not a new message to me. While I can understand the message and I believe the words to be true, putting them into practice in my life is not easy in any way. As I stated at the start of this post, I struggle with patience most of the time. I am convinced that this will be a lifetime struggle for me. Reading this passage often will be a valuable reminder to me. Being reminded that God’s time is much better than my time will assist me in my efforts to be patient.

How do you do with waiting on the Lord? What do you use as reminders of God’s faithfulness?