Today, I Remember

May 31st was Memorial Day. A holiday to remember those who have given their life for freedom.

That morning I decided not to start my day with a run. Instead I felt led to have a Sabbath moment. Just follow the promptings and see where they led.

To begin, I picked up my Bible reading where I was. It just happened that I was reading in Exodus where the Israelites were first instructed about Passover. I’ve read that many times. But on this particular day, it mattered a little more when I read this verse:

“This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.” Exodus 12:14

How could I ignore the connection, right? So, note to self.

I don’t remember how or why, but after I finished reading I came across a youtube video of Max Lucado sharing a personal story that I hadn’t heard before. The title read “Max Lucado Testimony: Jesus Healed Me From Sexual Abuse.” About three minutes into this clip, Max shared a unique communion experience he took upon himself to take when he was twelve years old. He described going to the refrigerator and finding what he could to observe communion right then and there. He felt like he needed to remember. He ended up with a glass of milk and leftover potatoes. And in his heart, he remembered and felt cleansed and embraced as he took that private moment to remember.

How could I ignore the connection, right?

Now it was more than a note to self. It was a call to remember right then. So I followed Max’s example and went to the refrigerator. I ended up with a bagel and a cup of fruit punch. Then with further scripture reading and listening to a playlist I put together of communion music, I had an hour or two of memorial and celebration.

It hit me that a further following of Exodus 12:14 could be that I make this a habit. I don’t have to wait on my church to dictate when I remember and celebrate. I can follow God’s direction and repeat this moment whenever I wish.

For now, I’m putting it on my calendar once a month. And this morning was that time. And I share this for you to consider how you might make remembering and celebrating a part of your home as well.

(From my time this morning) Today I remember that…

  • you were betrayed
  • you knew what you were doing
  • you desired to be glorified
  • through you your Father was glorified
  • envy was your enemy
  • you chose to give your life
  • you are the way to life now and forever
  • you knew the prophecies and surrendered to their fulfillment
  • you could have stopped it all
  • you were alone
  • you gave the charge to love one another
  • the shedding of your blood washes away my sin
  • you humbled yourself completely to the point of death

Photo by David Weber on Unsplash

Planting Seeds

It’s mid-morning and already a theme has emerged for the day.

The first reference came during our 7AM men’s coffee conversation. Two of the guys shared thoughts about how they have tried to follow nudges to help people in random or “not my job” situations. One expressed his perception of failure. We redirected him to consider that you don’t know if others have your same perception. Perhaps you did more good than you think, and it will reveal itself down the road. Consider your actions as a seed planted. You started the future of that seed.

The second reference came during our weekly staff meeting. Two staff members shared a musical performance of the hymn “Just As I Am.” Before they played, they handed out an article describing the story behind the lyrics. I just read it and had this thought. Ms. Elliott had no idea how many people would come to know her story and sing her song when she wrote it in 1834. Almost two hundred years later, people still are learning and growing because she planted a seed.

Planting seeds in other’s lives is pretty much a matter of following your heart, letting what’s in out. I believe it’s that simple. Trusting God can handle the future of seeds we’re given enables us to open our hearts and let the goodness flow.

May God bless your seed planting today.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Jumping Through Hoops

Hi. I’m John. I hate jumping through hoops.

Who else is in the circle? Where’s the next 12-step support group meeting?

Meditating on this life challenge, it crossed my mind to add to my musing Hebrews 4:15:

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (The Message)

So I seriously asked myself, “What did Jesus know about jumping through hoops?” And the answer was, “Sit down, John. You’re going to be here a while.”

One simple answer to this question is another question: Which one?

  • Becoming human
  • Teaching humans
  • Being a human son
  • Waiting for the “GO” sign to serve humans
  • Human praying
  • Observing human religious practices
  • Submitting to human authorities

More could be listed. Just one of these shut my mouth. But here’s the one that stopped my being.

  • Providing humans salvation

When moaning counting hoops jumped to buy a house, consider the number of Old Testament prophecies Jesus needed to fulfill to even get to Passion week. Scholars debate the number, but it’s safe to say it was dozens. Hundreds of items to check off.

Did he keep a spreadsheet? Swipe his brow after #78? Celebrate every 100? Resist temptation to stop a couple short? Decide we weren’t worth it after all? “Are you kidding me, Father? Do you see what I see?”

It’s unfathomable. But, to give it a try, think more in detail about the hoop jumping he endured Passion week. To get you started, here’s a list of words:

  • Judas
  • Lies
  • Arrest
  • Betrayal
  • Shame
  • Cursing
  • Mocking
  • Rejection
  • Thrones
  • Trial
  • Spit
  • Slaps
  • Nails

I challenge you to keep adding to the list.

And after each one, pause.

Then in your pause, whisper a prayer.

And finally, allow the Master Hoop Jumper to enter the circle.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that a support group of two is just enough.

And it’s offered whenever and wherever you are.

Photo by Paul Zoetemeijer on Unsplash

Preach, Terry!

One of the best TV shows is Running Wild with Bear Grylls. I don’t keep up with when seasons start and end, so I catch the episodes On Demand. And Season 6 is available. I’ve watched three of the eight episodes.

Episode 2 was one of the best yet. His celebrity guest was Terry Crews, and Bear took him to Iceland.

Terry Crews reveals the seagull egg he’s kept safe for the entire journey to Bear Grylls. (National Geographic/Ben Simms)

In the scene pictured above as they eat Bear’s survival-cooked egg for breakfast on Day 2, Bear asked Terry what he tells his children about life. Here’s part of Terry’s answer:

You are no better than anybody else. You are not one ounce less than anybody else. Every problem I’ve ever had was because I thought I was worse than someone or I thought I was better than someone. Know you are equal. Balance.

Terry used the words superiority and insecurity. They stuck with me. And they resonated with Bear. He said that’s a message the world needs to hear, and Terry said he’s going to keep preaching it.

Preach, Terry!

Loss Ungrieved

Every loss in life deserves an appropriate season of grieving, whether you’ve lost your favorite person or you’ve lost your favorite pen. Grieving is a way in which we take the emotional upheaval and bring it up to the Lord…If we don’t let emotions up and out before God, those emotions internalize. They give us physical, psychological, and spiritual problems.

-Terry Wardle

Wardle calls these problems ungrieved losses. I heard him say this today in a podcast episode with ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations. It took me a long time to learn this, but I can definitely tell you he’s right.

Sure, we all grieve differently. But grieve we must.

Sure, we all attach in different degrees which determines our level of loss. But lose we do.

I didn’t grow up grieving well. And the biggest opportunity to improve came at age twelve (still growing up) when my father died. And for at least the next twelve years, I needed to let it up and out. The only avenue I took was the piano. I see it now, but I didn’t know it then that the hours I spent at the piano were hours of grieving.

What I know now that I didn’t know then was the sooner you grieve the better, the sooner you allow the emotional upheaval the better. Healing begins. The weight lightens as you name the loss, acknowledge the emotions attached, then invite God into your grief (read this blog post by Joshua Reich).

In the last year, we’ve all lost. Have you considered naming your losses? I encourage you to name them. They may feel obvious and unnecessary to name, but you may be surprised the longer you sit in them the more you have to name. And those internalized emotions will start rising, inching up and out.

Fear. Loneliness. Sadness. Disappointment. Confusion.

Meanwhile God doesn’t move. He stays with you. He begins to touch and heal your wound-that loss ungrieved.

Photo by Yanna Zissiadou on Unsplash

Mountain Notes to Self

Exodus 26:30; 27:8

30 You are to set up the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you have been shown on the mountain.

Construct the altar with boards so that it is hollow. They are to make it just as it was shown to you on the mountain.

Moses had memorable mountain moments with God. These Exodus chapters and others surrounding them narrate life-changing moments for him and his entire nation.

The wording of these two verses gave me pause when I read them today. We dream of mountain-top moments-moments that we fantasize about, wish we could have more of, or possible build our lives around.

If we aren’t careful, mountain-top moments will come and go, and the point of them is lost. The life-giving, life-changing truths may not take root or, worse, are totally missed.

I’d rather not waste the climb. To avoid that tragedy, I made these notes to self:

  • There’s more to receive on the mountain that just a great view.
  • While on the mountain, after I’ve recovered from the climb and taken in the view, listen. And take notes.
  • Before starting the descent off the mountain, submit and commit to the Mountain Maker’s words.

Now Hope (book review)

If you use the Bible reading app YouVersion, here’s a tip you may not know:

Many of the devotional plans are based on books, many written by pastors. Often, this is how I find books that I haven’t heard of and end up reading.

That was the case with the book I just finished, “Now Hope” by Paul De Jong.

This book is very accessible by all readers. I would describe it as a book of 19 devotionals designed to provide “tools to develop a hope-filled and expansive future.”

Although each devotional is good, the best tool of the book is the introduction. De Jong makes clear how foundational hope is to life, particularly the life poised to receive God’s promises. Quoting 1 Corinthians 13, he discusses the links between faith, hope, and love. His point is all three are needed “to reach the finish line and experience God’s promised outcomes.”

The devotional that provides the best mindset for pursuing hope is in Part Two: Hope Confronts Survival with Significance. In Hope Develops Expectation, De Jong outlines four levels of living:

  • simply survive
  • live an average life
  • commit to impact the world
  • influence the world by fully engaging the gifts God gives

Expectation means you’re going to believe for more, turn up earlier, resist giving up, and focus on the God who can. You’re going to be looking for more in every day and in every season. You’re going to be thanking God for the little things. Make a decision in the now to live on the higher ground of greater levels of expectation.

Hope Rising (book review)

Many years ago while working on a personal values exercise, the word hope surfaced as a personal guide. So it’s no wonder that two connections (work and church) I’ve made in the last year carry that same guide.

And it goes to reason that the book I just finished reading stands out as meaningful. Hope Rising by Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman hits the mark in explaining much of the challenges our country wrestles with daily. Many people have low hope, and therefore their lives follow down the road to hopelessness.

Hope is a verb involving action and the ability to change the future.

The crust of their objective is to help readers grasp the importance of goals, pathways, and willpower in what they call the science of hope. They recite many research results (there are over 2,000 published studies on hope) that indicate how the concepts move people from low hope to high hope, thus hope rising. The book contains numerous stories of people with low hope working on rising their hope.

We act based on what we believe not based on what we know.

In order to know where you are on the hope scale, they share several examples of domains (academic, health/fitness, family, romantic relationships) where you can assess your hope level. Quite insightful. To take the general evaluation, follow this link to hopescore.org.

They make a believable argument that hope impacts education, work, and health, which certainly impact families and personal growth. This has led them to focus on providing support for children and adults who have experienced trauma in their lives and struggle with hope.

Hope is not a step in life; it is a stance.

Who should read this book?

  • It wouldn’t hurt anyone to read it
  • Anyone who has had any hint of trauma in their life
  • Anyone who works with children
  • Anyone who works with trauma victims
  • Coaches
  • Ministers
  • Counselors/Psychologists
  • Anyone desiring hope to rise

Bring On The Hope!

I’m giving myself a double dose of hope these days in my reading. First, with this book…

Second, with a youversion reading plan by Paul De Jong entitled “Now Hope.”

This quote stood out to me in my reading today:

The level of hope we have today is an indicator of the level of character we’ve developed.

He believes that based on Romans 5:3-4 where Paul wrote that “tribulation produces, perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

We don’t like it, but we know it’s true. So what if we decided to like it? Like spinach. I didn’t like spinach as a kid. Now, I’m a fan. My taste buds have developed.

Given the right time and attention, we can choose to embrace hard times. Rather than run or sulk or wallow, we can declare, “I’m all in for whatever is about to be developed. Bring on the character. Bring on the hope!”

Photo by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

In The Middle: Where Healing, Conversation, and Change Happen

Tyler Perry’s acceptance speech resonated with me because his story and language align with an affirmation God gave me last week.

Not everyone is called to be in the middle. One could argue that, so maybe a better way to put it is not everyone is ready to come to the middle.

If you are in the middle, know that your hope isn’t in victories. Your hope can’t be but in one person, the One who put you in the middle. He has lifted you up. Keep pointing people to the One that can lift them up.