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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

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Beginning Again

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”  Revelation 21:1, 5a

As an employer, I make certain my employees receive at least one performance evaluation each year. The process rewards a person for things done well, provides coaching in areas that need improvement, and encourages goal setting for the coming year. It is a time of reflection, as well as an opportunity to begin again.

It is common to mark New Year’s Day with resolutions for change. Some people want to lose weight; others decide to exercise more frequently, save more money, spend more time in prayer, mend broken relationships – you name the issue and someone wants to resolve it. For numerous reasons, few New Year’s resolutions actually succeed. First, resolutions are often made with little thought or research into what is required for success. Second, our sights are often set too high too quickly. Finally, having too many resolutions is a sure recipe for failure. Here are a few suggestions:

Research the desired change. Goal setting is a worthwhile endeavor, but goals need to be broken down into pieces that can be accomplished and measured in weekly, even daily or hourly units. For example, if I desire to lose 25 pounds in 2015, I need to research the types of foods I will and will not eat, the types and frequency of exercise that will be needed, and a reasonable expectation for how much weight I can successfully lose each week. Losing 25 pounds is a lofty goal. Losing 1 pound per week over 6-months sounds much more attainable. Prayerful research and planning is required for serious goals.

Set realistic goals and timelines. Everyone wants positive change, and everyone wants it now. Unfortunately, strategic changes that last seldom occur quickly. Rather, new habits must be consciously practiced over lengthy periods to become ingrained. There is no magic that happens on New Year’s Day that allows change to occur more quickly.

Focus. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. There are only so many hours in a day and success in creating positive change requires focused attention over time. The more we dilute our attention among numerous change projects, the less likely we will be to accomplish any of them. One project at a time is a good rule of thumb.

The writer of Revelation, referring to a new heaven and a new earth, writes, “See, I am making all things new.” I believe God will remake us anew; we can be born again and grow into better versions of ourselves. That sort of change, however, requires strategic planning and thoughtful participation on our part. It is easy to forget that God is our all-powerful partner in the change we desire. If we align our desired changes with God’s will and draw on that unfailing source of power, we will succeed.

Come home to church this Sunday. Begin anew in the New Year!

 

 

 

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The Morning of Christmas

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us. Matthew 1:23

 ‘Twas the morning of Christmas, when Love came to earth,

By way of a tiny and humble child’s birth;

His parents had traveled so far from their home,

For the census decreed by Augustus, in Rome.

Arriving in Bethlehem, with no place to stay,

The new baby slept in a manger of hay;

With cattle and donkeys and sheep at his side,

This animal stable was home, for a time.

Angels announced the birth on that night,

To seekers and shepherds and sinners alike;

“All glory to God!” the heavenly host chimed,

“And peace on the earth to all of mankind.”

Beneath a bright star, the news was proclaimed,

Of God come to earth in the form of this babe;

A child who would grow and remake us anew,

And cover the sins of me and of you.

On the morning of Christmas, the Prince of Peace came,

To reconcile souls with their Maker, again;

God with us, Emmanuel, forever to dwell,

On the morning of Christmas, and all year as well!

May the true light of Christmas find its home in your heart today – Merry Christmas!

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Relentless Love 

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20-21

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Doris.”

“Doris who?”

“Doris locked, that’s why I’m knocking!”

Love is the theme for the 4nd week of Advent. This is no ordinary sort of love, however. It is not an emotional, touch-feely, teenage-crush sort of love. The true love of Christmas has nothing to do with lights and trees, with presents and parties, or with friends and family – wonderful as they are. If these types of things and activities dominate our Christmas preparations and celebration, we will almost certainly miss the very personal and relentless nature of Christmas love.

This baby-in-the-manger, whose birth we celebrate next week, requires more than the obligatory oohs and ahs we typically shower on new babies. This is not a baby we greet briefly at church before heading home for lunch. It is not a grandchild we enjoy for a few days at a time. This baby needs a place to stay. We sing about the misfortune of having no room at the Inn for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. We lament that Jesus’ life began in a feeding trough for cattle, donkeys, and sheep. Although we sometimes romanticize the manger scene, there can be no doubt it was a smelly, dark, dungeon of a place. The baby Jesus, however, finds his forever home in us. What sort of home have we prepared?

There is a portrait hanging in many churches of Jesus standing at a door, knocking. The door has no outside handle, so Jesus can only enter if the person behind the door opens it for him. It is a visual portrayal of Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking.” He assures us that if we open the door and let him in, he will abide with us. Jesus will not enter, however, without a willing invitation.

Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. While we wait, we can prepare for the birth of the child. Is there room in your life for the Christ child this Christmas? Be assured, if we do not make room for the baby this year, Christmas will come and go, as it always does. We, however, will miss the relentless love the child brings.

Come home to church this Sunday. Jesus will be knocking at your door, soon.

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Glorious Joy 

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8

The theme for the 3nd week of Advent is Joy. When I think of joy, I think of my grandma Hildenbrand. Grandma had the most challenging life of anyone I have known – and she was the most joyful. Her mother died when grandma was a teenager, leaving her as the mother figure to her 4 younger siblings. Two of her 5 children preceded her in death. She lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and two world wars. She was a hard-working farm-wife and mother. Every challenge seemingly strengthened her faith, as I never knew it to waiver. She loved her family and made certain they had everything they needed, accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of love and encouragement.

With me, grandma always looked beyond my shortcomings. She never saw me as I was, but as the person I was capable of becoming. One of the strongest motivations in my life has been striving to become the person she gave me credit for being. Her joy in her first grandchild – me – took on extraordinary proportions, and I still feel her influence, 32 years after her passing. The ability for grandma to see and bring out the best in others was a manifestation of her joy in life. And her joy was the unshakable outcome of her faith.

It is easy to confuse joy with happiness. Certainly, being happy is a good and worthy feeling, but happiness is a cheap and transient imitation of joy. A joyful person possesses something deep inside that radiates delight, apart from the circumstances of the moment. A person who treats us poorly can leave us unhappy, but not without joy. Some people make others unhappy for the sake of perpetuating his or her own happiness, but a joyful person spreads his or her joy to others. There are circumstances where only so many people will be pleased with a decision or a situation. Joy, however, multiplies when shared because joy perpetuates in abundance. That is how grandma was able to see the best in me – she always saw the best in life. Her delight in me (and in her other grandchildren) was such a central part of her being that it could not be shaken by my occasional bad decision or unkind word.

The writer of the book of 1 Peter describes an “indescribable and glorious joy” that is the “outcome” of our faith. Indeed, if we have a strong faith in a loving, protecting, and faithful God who will never leave or forsake us, what could possibly steal our joy? Will we have difficult, unhappy days? Certainly so, but we need not lose our joy in life, nor our confidence that all things will work together for good in the end. Even in the hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas season, joy lies in wait – just beneath the commotion.

Come home to church this Sunday. Develop a faith that produces joy.

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Higher Truth and Endless Peace 

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace…  Isaiah 9:6-7a

The theme for the 2nd week of Advent is Peace, and I have been doing a lot of thinking about peace, lately. I participate in a number of national discussions relating to my profession, and the debates are not always civil. In fact, some of the comments become downright nasty. It is in this context of disagreement that I contemplate peace.

In my opinion, for peace to exist between two or more people (or countries), there must first be a foundation of mutual respect, as well as an acknowledgement that all points of view have value. I do not have to agree with someone to co-exist peacefully with them. I do not even have to like them. I do have to accept their right to believe as they do, however. It is clear to me that our core differences are exposed by what we cannot discuss civilly. Peace cannot be present when one or both sides are defensive. We become defensive when we feel threatened. As long as another person’s point of view on a particular topic threatens me, we will be unable to have a peaceful or productive discussion on the topic. Rather, we will argue about it. When defensiveness enters a conversation, minds slam shut. When minds slam shut, there can be no dialogue, because true dialogue requires giving and receiving. Closed minds cannot receive.

An open mind is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view. Open minds create opportunities to discover higher truths. A higher truth is one that encompasses both original points of view, but goes farther than either goes alone. It does not deny the truth of the individual thoughts, but it includes and then moves beyond them. This higher truth, once reached, is not threatening to either party since it includes what was important to both. Higher truths allow for civil interaction between people and countries. Only by doing the work to discover higher truths will we know peace in our lives or world.

Jesus modeled higher truths throughout his ministry. He accepted his followers as they were and sought to raise them up to his level. Consider the woman caught in the act of adultery, who was about to be stoned to death (John 8). Jesus invited those without sin to cast the first stone – and no stones were thrown. He pointed out the higher truth that all are sinners. Jesus intentionally sought out those that society rejected in order to bring them into his circle of life. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the authority of Jesus hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ birth, describing how his authority would grow continually and bring endless peace. We cannot imagine this type of peace in our deeply divided world. We can, however, follow the example of Jesus and seek higher truths that accept others where they are and lead us all to a higher, more peaceful co-existence.

Come home to church this Sunday. Reaching for higher truths will bring peace.

 

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Giving Thanks by Giving 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:14-17

This past Sunday, I sat through two equally disturbing sermons given by the pastors of my church. The sermons were not troubling because of weak delivery of the messages, however. The sermons got under my skin because they revealed aspects of my being that I prefer not to acknowledge. The theme was judgment, as described by Jesus near the end of the 25th chapter of Matthew. In verses 31 to 45, Jesus describes the identification process by which those who enter eternal life will be separated from those who will enter eternal punishment. The factor distinguishing one group from the other is how they treat and care for the least privileged in society.

At least by biblical standards, I am a selfish person and a stingy passer-along of my blessings. I have been known to pat myself on the back for being a good person, which is to say I do not commit a lot of sins overtly. Sins of commission – those sins directly committed – are not where I fall so short by Judeo-Christian standards. Sins of omission – the good I am capable of doing, but fail to do – well, that is an entirely different matter.

Like many of you reading this Life Note, I will sit down at a table overflowing with an abundance of wonderful food today, and in the presence of family and friends, I will eat myself into a long, luxurious, Thanksgiving nap. Meanwhile, Pastor Tom told us that about 13 people in the world die of starvation every minute. Later today, I will consume more food in one meal than some people eat in a month. And in the time it takes me to eat my way to desert, another 400 or so of my neighbors will starve to death.

My purpose is not to ruin everyone’s Thanksgiving with an extra helping of guilt-casserole, however. The point is to remember the critical needs around us, even in this country, and even in our town. Yes, it is appropriate to celebrate and be thankful for the rich blessings we have been given. Is it sufficient, however, to simply give thanks, eat ourselves silly, and then go to sleep? Maybe this year we will commit to doing something more to show our gratitude, perhaps by sharing from our abundance for others who lack. Pick up an extra turkey and give it to a food kitchen. Help prepare and serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Visit a nursing home. Donate. Most of us have so much more food, clothing, money, time, and other resources than we need. There are many places where our excess is accepted and passed along to those less fortunate. That is giving thanks by giving away. This year, all year, let us not forget the giving part of Thanksgiving.

Enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving; and then give to a world that needs your leftovers.

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Ebbs and Flows 

Then I got up and walked in the field, giving great glory and praise to the Most High for the wonders that he does from time to time, and because he governs the times and whatever things come to pass in their seasons. –2 Esdras 13:57-58

Kansas is in the middle of what has historically been considered Tornado Alley. Tornado watches and warnings are as much a fixture of spring here as are Robin songs and Red buds. Like most self-respecting, life-long Kansans, when the sirens wail, I am more likely to be on the porch looking for the tornado than in the basement hiding from it. The past couple of years, however, Tornado Alley seems to have significantly shifted, much to the chagrin of our mostly basement-less neighbors to the south and east.

Last winter, Kansans learned the meaning of a Polar Vortex, where bitterly cold Arctic air pushes farther south than normal and stays for an extended visit. This unwanted imposer arrived again this year, much earlier than last. In the Midwest, we normally take the ebbs and flows of the weather in stride. We say the ever-changing seasons keep us healthy (cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze). We accept the alternating cold and hot temperatures like coastal dwellers accept low and high tides. We observe the patterns of Nature’s rhythms – some as predictable as the moon’s phases, others seemingly random – and we endure. As I observe a weather map showing the expected push of the current Polar Vortex, I wonder how far south I would have to travel to get out of the bitterly cold air. Everything around us is constantly changing, but most humans insist on staying put and being victimized by the conditions around them. Some mobile beings react to the natural ebbs and flows of nature by fleeing, while others go into hibernation. Not us, however – we stand, firmly planted, trying desperately and vainly not to change.

Perhaps nature’s ebbs and flows mirror our spiritual and emotional lives. Different environmental forces come and go, washing over us like the current of a river, before rushing on to points downstream. Boulders residing in midstream wear down over time, and so do we. Like the sedentary beings we are, we stand firm in the stream, fighting the natural tendency to float with it.

I am not suggesting we should roam like wandering nomads at the first sign of difficulty. Perhaps we could become a little less rigid, however, a little less proud, and a little more flexible. Perhaps instead of standing stubbornly in the muck of our own biases, we could move a little to the left or to the right in order to ebb and flow with the times, as well as to restore a sense of harmony – harmony within our being, with our environment, and harmony with each other. In life, as in music, harmony is beautiful when done well.

Come home to church this Sunday. Let the ebbs and flows of the Spirit wash over you.

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