It was this time of year when I was a young boy when hope flowed more so than the rest of the year. The Christmas catalogs began to populate the mailbox, and the hardware store began to put up decorations in the store windows. Even the little town where I spent much of my childhood began to put decorations on the lamp poles lining main street. It was a sign of the fast-approaching holidays and all the celebrations and parades to come.
I remember one Christmas season vividly. Christmas day had come and gone, and the family was standing in the airport. The mood of the family matched the cold, rainy, and dreary weather outside. My father was about to board a plane for his first deployment to Viet Nam. As the oldest son, he pulled me aside away from my siblings and charged me with taking care of my mother , my brother and sister. It was a heavy responsibility for a ten-year-old boy. But my father whispered words to me that I’ll never forget; he said, “I’ll be back son.” They rang in my ears day after day, week after week, and month after month until his return a year later. His words gave a young man hope.
It seems there are very few sources of hope these days, with all the turmoil in our nation and even around the world. We recently celebrated Veterans Day, a day in which pride and admiration abound to those who are and have served. But we need a sense of hope daily in our lives.
Pets sit patiently in windows, waiting on the return of their owners. And when they see the car pull into the driveway or hear their voice, excitement fills their entire bodies! They even have hope in an event; one over which they have no control. We can take a big lesson from our pets.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, scripture says two men in white appeared beside the apostles. The apostles stood and watched as Jesus rose from the earth and disappeared into the clouds, no doubt with the mouths wide open! These two men asked them a very pointed question – “”Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.'”
After all they had been through in recent weeks and months, their hearts had to filled with hope. They had been on a roller coaster of emotions, but they stood there witnessing a physical act of their Savior ascending into the clouds. The words of these two angels gave them hope.
Jesus is coming soon. His words should give us all hope, a hope in glory. Revelation 22:20 Jesus said, “Yes, I am coming soon.” We need to prepare daily for this promise to be fulfilled!
All of us must admit, it’s nice to be recognized for doing a good job. We feel good about ourselves as well as the accomplishment of a task well done. There are other types of recognition that can be difficult, while another can be invaluable.
In the work environment, scrutiny abounds. This scrutiny can come from the “higher-ups”, from those we serve, from our co-workers as well as those we supervise. Positive recognition can be the most effective and cost the company virtually nothing. A simple “thank you” or “job well done” from the boss can go a long way. But let rumors get started, and people begin to draw conclusions about what they believe to be true. Suddenly, we are recognized for some things that were either misleading or totally contrived. We could all use less of this type of recognition, as it tears down reputations, our sense of self-worth, and harms the company or corporation in the end.
Another type of recognition can be fun. Remember the last time you attended a high school reunion? Pictures from the Year Book are flashing across the big screen as you walk into the room, and your task is to try to match the youthful classmate with the, let’s say, more age experienced! Look at them in the eyes and their smile, and you still see friends from long ago. Even their laughs give them away. They’ve changed, but haven’t we all?
We all change as we go through this life, both in a good way and some not so good ways. We are a product of the environments we live in, work in, and play in. Our actions or behaviors are shaped by the experiences we have. If those are pleasant experiences, we develop a good attitude as a result. If those experiences are not as pleasant, our developed attitude is exactly opposite. Both positive and negative attitudes then produce an emotion, which then drives our behavior.
It can be easy to recognize people’s behavior from their experiences, e.g. a combat veteran. Wonderful bonds are formed through controversy, but they can also leave indelible marks on our spirits. To fully understand these and other marks, one must have experienced the same or closely related situations.
Another type of recognition which can be invaluable comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Does Jesus recognize the trials and temptations we go through daily? Yes, He does. Does Jesus understand what it’s like to go through them? Again, yes He does. Jesus felt pain, He felt sorrow, He felt joy, and He felt temptation directly from the father of lies – Satan. We might think we are in this world alone. However, Jesus not only recognizes all these things, He recognizes with us. As a result, we should be recognized along with those who have trusted Him to save us from this world as well as from ourselves.
Jesus told a group of religious elites who claimed to do His work, but did the works to puff themselves up, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”
None of us want to hear Jesus say those words to us when we one day stand before Him. Regardless of the recognition we receive here on this earth, we should act, talk and walk daily in a way so we can hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant!” That is the type of recognition which should drive our daily talk, walk, and especially how we treat others. Amen!
Messages and opinions seem to abound these days. Or it might be more accurate to say they take up most of the news cycle and talk shows. Everyone has an opinion about issue “du jour” and are all too ready to give it to the listening public. As a listening public, we need to be keenly aware of several aspects of the issue, such as the message, the messenger, and sadly the motive in the delivery. Suffice it to say we need to be an educated listening public, taking in as much data as possible before forming our own opinion.
In the scientific and research community, a research design must first be established that will discover new theories, test or validate old ones, or the findings used to set new policies. There are many other uses of research, too many to go over here. The reason for setting the paradigm in the beginning and then gathering data is to test your theory with the interpreted findings, not determine your findings and write out a theory that validates your paradigm! There are many ways to ensure research is done in a proper way by setting a good paradigm, but such is not the case with the issue “du jour.”
So many times on our news programs, a subject matter expert is brought on the broadcast show to give their opinion of a past event and speculate as to its impact in the future. The credentials of the expert are usually seen on a banner below them to add reliability and validity to their message. But it sometimes seems opinions are given by these experts that are neither valid nor reliable, because the news program wanted to be the first to break the news story or push what they think matters. As a result, very few actual details are given and the majority of their opinion is speculation. I would call this “data blindness” or “knowledge malpractice.”
This phenomenon is not new in our day and time. During Jesus’ day, there were several groups who refused to see prophetic writings of the prophets being fulfilled before their eyes. They believed their knowledge to be perfect and complete, and anything to the contrary was just plain wrong. This led to the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees experiencing spiritual blindness. They just didn’t believe what was going on in Jesus’ ministry, nor did they want to because it threatened their power and authority.
In the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus has returned to his hometown of Nazareth in the region called Galilee. As was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. On this day, he stood to read and was handed the scroll which contained the writings of the prophet Isaiah. The words he read very vividly described the reason and ministry for which he was sent by the Father. Once completed, he told those gathered the words he had just read were fulfilled that day before their very eyes. But all they could do was ask “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” The leader’s failed to see the outcome of all the data they had been studying for years! They wanted a different outcome regardless of all the evidence; one where they stayed in power and control!
It’s easy for us to form opinions about a great many matters, even using other’s opinions as our own to serve our own means. When in question, we should go to God’s Word to see what He says about matters, because in the end off all things, it’s only His opinion that really matters!!!
We see many things in our daily lives, some minor and some major. We get so complacent in our regular travels we sometime realize we don’t remember the last few miles we’ve driven, especially on Highway 5! Our mind wanders and we relegate the task at hand – driving – to second-level cognitive processing because we’ve become too used to traveling a certain road it’s almost like muscle memory, or as some would say second nature.
At one point in our lives most of us have been a witness to an automobile accident at an intersection. Even though we see the crash clearly, others standing on the adjacent and opposite corners see things differently. They have a perspective different from ours. For this reason, those conducting the accident investigation try to keep all witnesses separated before the statements are collected. It’s in this fashion the police can piece together the accident like pieces of a puzzle.
A courtroom is no different. Witnesses are kept outside the proceedings so as not to hear the testimony of other witnesses. They are brought in, one at a time, sworn in, and questions are then posed in a congenial way from counsel and a not so nice way from opposing counsel. Suffice it to say the experience of being a witness in a courtroom can be a daunting and sometimes traumatic experience.
Sharing your faith or “witnessing” to another can sometimes be just as daunting, and sometimes traumatic! The experience can be so unpleasant some have stopped sharing altogether. We’ve had doors slammed in our faces, been verbally rebuked, or had backs turned to us. It is not the reaction we had hoped for. But when someone is eager to listen, things go miraculously smooth. Words and scriptures pop into our mind like a script in a well thought out play, like someone was speaking the words into our ears. But just how can we determine beforehand how the encounter will go?
The sad thing is we can’t. When things go bad, we feel alone and like we’ve said the wrong thing. The opposite is true when things go well. Jesus called His disciples to do one thing above all others – witness. When Jesus called His first two disciples, Peter and his brother Andrew, He told them He would teach them how to be “fishers of men.” Jesus spent many hours teaching His disciples how to spread the Good News. He allowed them to stumble and learn. At the end of His earthly travels, Jesus gave all of them this charge – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We are commanded to share our faith to others by Jesus. So always be ready to share your faith so much so it becomes second nature to you. Study the Word and God will train you to spread the Good News. Sometimes we will stumble just like the disciples. But we can rest assured we can witness with authority, and we will never be alone; Christ is always with us when we spread HIS Good News!
One of my mentors has taken on a new exercise routine, and was recently talking about how his trainer was teaching him to breathe. I, too, have had to learn the value of breath when I’m exercising. I can remember back in the day when I wanted to start running and the hardest part of running was to gain control of breathing. It was my brother who taught me that you should inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If we breathe through our mouth while exercising, we tend to work much harder and find ourselves in that “trying to catch your breath” place. The more we exercise the more we learn that our breathing is crucial to the whole process.
We can also find ourselves needing to just breathe when life seems busy and chaotic. I have a couple friends that tell me many times to “just breathe”. It’s a statement that carries way more meaning than just physically breathing….it reminds us to stop, look and listen and to breathe in that high-quality oxygen that fills us and and when we do things can somehow change dramatically. In the few short seconds that it takes to inhale and exhale we create enough space to re-orient us in how we might respond or act in those times when we seem to be out of breathe.
One of my all-time favorite praise and worship songs is “This Is the Air I Breathe”. The composer writes; this is the air I breathe, your holy presence living in me, I’m desperate for you, I’m lost without you. These words speak to how one cannot live without God’s presence in our life, that God is the very breathe we take to live and survive in this life. There are so many references to breath in scripture that connects us to God. We read how God’s Spirit is described as a breathe that breathes on us to assure us of God’s presence, God’s sustaining love and grace, a breath that gives us life.
Psalm 150 encourages us to praise God in all that we do, wherever we are…and it’s the last verse of the passage that captures the essence of our need to breathe;
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord !
If we can learn to breathe it seems that so much of our day-to-day living takes on so much more clarity and meaning. Whether it be learning to breathe as we exercise our body, or taking the space to breathe deep when faced with a challenge…or simply breathing in the air we are given each day. This air we breathe connects us to something far greater…its life-giving…it sustains us and creates in us a holy space where our breath is God’s breath living in us. When we can visualize this while breathing, it seems to make each breath more purposeful, have more meaning, and equips us to be God’s blessing to others in this world. Just breathe!