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!
A word that can bring fear into students everywhere at any level – STUDY! Teachers and professors do their best to convey subject matter during classroom time, but work outside the classroom is needed to be successful. But try as they may, the professor just can’t get some students to understand it’s important to not only study classroom notes, but to also read the book!
Don’t think for a moment text books and instructional materials aren’t read. Students who are driven to achieve graduation honors will digest every page in the text. Professors will even pull one or two questions out of the text to place on test to reward those students who heed the warning to study. And of course, let’s not forget those professors who write their own textbook. They want a return on their investment of time and research to compile a tool for learning; to teach as much as they can to the students in their class.
I heard about a high school history teacher admit to his students “eighty percent of everything I told you in class is true, and the other twenty percent is made up!” The reason he admitted to this is history is elusive and no one has all the facts. Therefore, subjectivity comes into play in an attempt to fill in the gaps. History is like a paved road which has some of the pavement missing. We can see the trail, but some of the surface is gone forever from point A to point B.
Can the same be said about the Holy Bible? Some say it has been embellished in places and true in others. But how can we know if this is correct or not? To determine what the Bible is, we have to say what the Bible is not.
First, the Bible is very philosophical, but it is not a philosophy book. The Bible contains proven historical facts and events, but it is not a history book. It contains laws under which the nation of Israel was to live, but it is not a law book. It contains scientific facts as proven by leaders in the scientific field, but it is not a science book. The Bible is a book given to man from God revealing His Son, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man. Christ is the center and circumstance throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.
There is so much more that can be said about what the Bible is and what it is not. Suffice it to say, it is a difficult book to fully understand. But if we agree it was written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then one inarguable point remains – it is a spiritual book, one which can be best understood or discerned spiritually.
To read the Bible as an academic text is altogether possible. However, if we approach it in this fashion, we miss the intent of it, which is to come to a greater understanding and relationship with the creator of the universe – our Heavenly Father.
So get into the “Text” and study! We can learn a great deal in the “classroom” on Sunday mornings. But the Author wants us to study every day, and prepare us for the ultimate graduation to a place Jesus has personally prepared, and receive the riches stored up for us!
For the past 200 plus days I have been on a journey. I haven’t talked much about it, but right after Easter I made a decision to live a healthier life. Not only had there been little scare with my blood pressure, but I was tired of not being in optimum health. I had two vices that I needed to say farewell too; Diet Coke and Sugar. My dependence on these two things played a vicious role in my fully being my best self. I knew that it was time to say farewell to these habits. I had to start somewhere and so I picked the most evident.
The past seven months have been challenging, even hard at times…and yet it has been enlightening and encouraging as well. I have prayed for God’s strength like never before. I have had to learn to speak truth to what I am feeling. There have been days that my reflection of the past has brought gut wrenching tears as I realized how much of myself I have given away to harmful habits. But I have also learned that I can’t change the past…there is nothing to gain by beating myself up over the bad choices I have made…I can only correct myself from this point forward and give way to learning new habits.
This journey I have been on, and will continue for the rest of my life, has been more of a spiritual journey than ever being about a diet. The word “diet” is a bad four-letter word for the most part. We often talk about going on a diet, or blowing our diet…but the truth is that our diet is what keeps us alive. Food is fuel that gives us what we need to live and breath in this world. But so is prayer, silence, scripture, worship, community, love, grace, forgiveness…all of these are part of a healthy life of faith. A healthy diet in mind, body and soul give us the fuel we need to live life to its fullest.
While I have lost a sizable amount of weight, I have gained so much more in understanding myself and why I do the things I do. Putting perspective on the reactions I have to life and the curve balls it throws has been eye-opening. Giving God the space to speak into the whole journey has made all the difference. I have learned to treat myself with compassion, move outside my comfort zones, and to not let the past define my future. I may have lost pounds of weight, but I have gained a whole new lease on life. In fact its really more about what I have gained than what I have lost. I’m not missing those things at all.
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!