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spring has sprung

By any account, Spring has sprung. And it has sprung much earlier than normal. I have never mowed my lawn this early, nor can I remember the trees blooming this early.

For most of us that's a good thing. I suppose that there are some of you soggy people that like to milk the wintery rainy weather as long as possible, but for many of us, we welcome this early Spring.

This is a good reminder that the seasons come and go outside of our control; that sometimes we get to rejoice because the winter season in our lives has come to an early end and the spring of new life is here. Sometimes though, it seems that Winter goes on and on in our lives with no sign of Spring. We all experience both realities but we seem to remember better the long Winters more readily than the early Springs.

So, let's rejoice over this early Spring and look for what new things God is up to in our lives.

love your enemies

Last week I preached out of Luke 6:27 where Jesus commands us to love our enemies. I don't remember a time recently where a message garnered so much response. It seemed to be a challenge for us to get beyond the love that is based on the principle of reciprocity, which is loving because we have an agreed upon commitment for our mutual benefit. Jesus tells us however, that that kind of love is no different than what sinners do.
 
The kind of love Jesus calls us to is one that can't be done on our own strength, understanding, or ability. It truly has to be spirit driven and spirit empowered.

As I sit here typing this I have more questions than answers about how this command can be carried out in light of all the trouble in the world and all the hurt we cause one another. So, I simply have to live one day at a time in the light of Jesus' love for me. That is my best model for loving others.

one yard short

Many of us looked on in utter shock and dismay as we saw Russell Wilson's pass intercepted at the goal line with just 20 seconds left to play in the game. If they had scored the touchdown right there they would have won the Super Bowl for the second straight year. Seattle had driven the ball all the way down to the goal line and no one saw any other ending to the game but a Seattle victory. To be honest, I still can't believe that the game ended that way and yet there are so many similarities to life. It seems at times that we come so close to seeing our dreams and expectations fulfilled and then something happens or doesn't happen and it all comes to a halt and we are left disappointed, bewildered and filled with questions.

I know we shouldn't stretch too far to find spiritual meaning from a football game, but we can at least see that in the game of life much of what we seek to accomplish can seem at times to fall just short. The wonderful thing about our faith is that God is truly in control of every element in our lives and what appears to be over for us is not over with God. He gets the last say. He is eternal and so are we that are hidden in Him.

The clock may have struck zero and the game may appear over but with God all things are possible.
 

it's the most wonderful time of the year

You all know the popular Christmas song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". It was written in 1963 and first recorded by Andy Williams. It's still popular today and has been re-recorded by many others. It's what you could call a "feel good" song, celebrating all the traditional and positive things having to do with Christmas.

Of course, it's a wonderful time of year, first and foremost because we celebrate it as the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. However, today I saw several other reasons we can celebrate this as a wonderful time of year. While I was studying at Starbucks today, my daughter Abbey came in and showed me several gifts that Starbucks customers have donated to struggling families in their community. It's a toy drive that her store is heading up and it will result in hundreds of dollars in gifts made available. Then, while I was still there, a Trinity partner came in and walked up and introduced me to her granddaughter who was home from college in Los Angeles for Christmas break. I could see the joy on both their faces as they were out and about, reconnecting with one another and enjoying the day together.

Look around you today and see if you can't find some reasons to rejoice and declare that it IS the most wonderful time of the year. Just the sheer practice of trying to find, hunt for, or spot something wonderful going on around you is a healthy act that can change the course of your own day. If you don't see anything wonderful going on around you, recognize that you have the power to change it by one simple act of kindness.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

service

Annette and I just made our yearly trip to Chicago, as for the last 6 years Annette's work has sent her here for a radiology convention. Some 20,000 people descend on Chicago for this yearly event and make this big, beautiful city bulge with masses of people, not to mention all the locals that come out to shop on Thanksgiving weekend.

Annette and I love it; we love to try new things and this city is filled with great restaurants of all kinds. One evening, Annette found a place called Sundra. It's described as an Asian infusion restaurant. It was great food but ultimately the experience was shaped by our awesome server.

From the moment we sat down, she was engaging and helpful. She asked if this was our first time and then set forth to explain the way the restaurant works and what they specialize in. You could tell she loved her job and loved her restaurant.

She recommended a few things so we ordered two small plates to share. Once we finished those we wanted to try some other things and asked what else she would recommend. The coolest thing was that she simply asked us a few questions about the types of food we like and then she just smiled and set off to order for us without us knowing what we were getting.

When what she ordered for us came, it was amazing food! She nailed the order perfectly.
I have never had a server order for me without me knowing what I was getting, but her attitude, approach and knowledge of her restaurant caused me to trust her and have this unique dining experience.

What if we were that way about our Church, our work, or our relationship with Jesus?

What if we loved what we did? What if we had knowledge of what others would like? What if we paid enough attention to those around us that we could serve them in a way that surprises them by how well we know them? What if we left a positive impression even on strangers that we may never meet again?

The Food at Sundra was great. But our server made the experience.

thanksgiving

"We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your name is near. We recount Your wondrous deeds." Psalm 75:1

There is so much power in giving thanks and being thankful. Last night we had a prayer meeting at church that concentrated on giving thanks. I had everyone there list on a small card a few things they are thankful for. As part of my sermon preparation today I read through all of them. I found that even though they were not my thoughts or my expressions, just the reading of them lifted my spirits and gave me a sense of gratitude and in a funny way, energized me and pumped me up!

A thankful person not only obeys the commands of scripture, they receive the benefits of gratitude which are too many to list and in the end have a powerful impact on those around us.

So, here is my list:

I'm thankful for Jesus' saving grace
I'm thankful for my heritage of faith in God
I'm thankful that I have an amazing wife who has always been there for me and loves me as I am
I'm thankful for my three amazing kids who God has blessed beyond my ability to provide
I'm thankful for the opportunity to preach
I'm thankful for my church
I'm thankful for my team at church
I'm thankful for coffee
I'm thankful for the changing seasons

I could go on but I'm probably starting to bore you.  Anyway, make your list this week as you prepare to celebrate this Thanksgiving Holiday.

falling leaves

I love Fall. I love the weather cooling at night; I love the leaves turning bright colors; I love the freshness of the wind and the rain. But then it happens. It happens like it does every year. There comes a windstorm and one moment our trees are a flood of bright colorful leaves, and the next, the leaves are on the ground, blown into all different directions, gathering in corners and under bushes. What is left is a bare tree that is well on its way to Winter.

This part of Fall always makes me a little sad. Leafless, colorless trees don't have the same magnificence or beauty. But as we all know, it's all part of the process in the life of the tree. Annette and I have a tree in our backyard that we will soon go out and prune so that it can continue to grow in the manner we desire it to. I am sure the application to our lives is not lost on you, but a reminder doesn't hurt.

Our lives have several seasons. We go through multiple changes that include times when we experience "Spring",  when all seems to be bringing fresh life. Then there are the green, warm days of  "Summer", when all seems to be strong. "Fall" follows with the colors and changes of scenery that we so welcome. Finally comes "Winter", when all seems to be dormant and cold. Along with these changing seasons in our lives come storms that challenge us, and pruning that shapes us.

Outside it is Fall turning to Winter. For your life, it may be the same or some other very different season. Whatever season you are in, be assured it will change soon. It always does.

anxious

"Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing....and which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to your span of life?" Luke 12:22,23,25

This is a scripture that many of us are well aware of but it is also a scripture that is very difficult to keep true to. We live in some crazy times. Ebola placing a chill over our medical industry; ISIS slaughtering Christians in the middle east; out of control storms in one region and severe draught in another region; a Houston Mayer subpoenaing 5 Houston pastors' sermons, speeches and communication over gay and lesbian lifestyle legislation. And that's before we get to any of your individual challenges, fears or worries.

Jesus never promised this life would be easy. His sure was not. We are promised testings and trials. They cannot be avoided. But what we do have at our disposal is the choice to trust Him in spite of the circumstances. We have the power to choose what we focus on and how we respond to these things that are out of our control.

That chapter in Luke that I started with goes on to say this. "Seek first His kingdom, and all these things will be added to you." Luke 12:31

We cannot put our heads in the sand and pretend these troubling things do not exist, but we can determine what we focus on FIRST before we stop to dwell on anything else. And that simple choice, scripture tells us, will change how these other things impact us.

remembering 9/11

I have read several posts today of people remembering the tragedy that took place on September 11th 2001, when Islamic Terrorists flew civilian aircraft into the Trade Towers, the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania. I also saw a sight that posted 30 pictures from that day. It was really startling how it all came back to me, where I was and what had happened on that day.

 Annette had left early for work and called me at home because she had begun to hear about what had happened. I quickly turned on the TV and watched in shock and dismay as the tragedy unfolded before me and I found myself continually muttering, "Dear Jesus, Dear Jesus." Those were the only words that came to my mind. Then my kids got up and I helped get them ready for school and was helpless to try and explain what had just happened. In their young minds it was unfathomable and beyond their ability to comprehend. I felt the same way, but I knew better. I was reminded then of what Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Clearly on that day some deceived and sick hearts inflicted much pain on some 3000 people and thousands more who were affected.

In light of this being 9/11, say a prayer for our nation and world. Call upon the Maker of Heaven and Earth to save us. Remember the encouragement of the Apostle Paul who said in 2Timothy 2:1-3, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior."

summer fun

I saw a friend of mine post a picture on Instagram of her little girl playing in the fountain at Seattle Center.  The caption read: "Squeezing every ounce of fun out of these last days of Summer."
I loved the quote and the thought it conveyed! We are certainly drawing close to the end of summer which means we are also drawing closer to Fall.

Personally, I feel that I know this friend well enough to know that the statement about Summer coming to an end is not a complaint but a statement of appreciation for this time of year. There is a hint there of anticipation for what is to come. At least that's how I read it - and is actually how I look at it. I always regret it myself when I have fallen into the negative place of whining about something I’ve enjoyed drawing to a close. It seems like a grumpy way to live. I think we should always strive to live in the awesome tension between appreciation for what is coming to a close and anticipation for what is to come.

It’s not always easy to do. It often requires us disciplining our thoughts and words. But how would you choose to view it? I think living in the tension between appreciation and anticipation is a much better way to live than the alternative of sadness over what is ending and anxiety or fear over what is to come. Don't you?
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