Air Conditioning

air conditioning

I recently had to replace my air conditioning and furnace, and during the days when I waited for the scheduled installation, I sweated away in my home. I came to realize how much I relied on and took for granted the cool breeze of the air-conditioned air swirling all around me. Once the new air conditioner was installed and the cool air was back on, I felt instantly comfortable and relaxed.

Since we had just recently celebrated Pentecost, it came to me that my experience with the air conditioner is like what happens when the wind of the Holy Spirit is around us and surrounds us. We feel comfort, peace and relaxation when the Holy Spirit blows upon us. We are given a sense of calm and that everything will be alright. Without it, we are unsettled and uncomfortable. Consider these verses:

Jesus said to them … , “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” —John 20:21-22

[Jesus said,] “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” —John 14:25-27

Notice how peace and the power of the Holy Spirit are connected. The Holy Spirit is not something to be feared or ignored. It is not something we can live without. It is something to be embraced and enjoyed. We have a God who is with us through the Holy Spirit and we can feel its presence every day. Think about that when you hear or feel an air conditioner kick on. The Holy Spirit is on the move.

Shopping for Candy

candy

When we were children, my siblings and I enjoyed riding our bikes to the corner drug store to shop for candy. We could spend hours deciding what kind of candy we wanted. We also wanted to get the most candy we could with the little amount of money we had. The smaller, chewy, hard, sucking and sour candies often won out over the larger, more expensive and quicker-to-eat chocolate candy bars. I find myself buying these little candies now and then as a treat to myself at the end of a day and a nostalgic reminder of the joy of candy shopping.

What brings you joy these days? Is it something that reminds you of childhood? Is it something that calms you? Is it something that simply tastes good? Whatever it is, take a moment to treat yourself to something special. God wants us to enjoy the life he has given us, while at the same time he wants us to realize that life is fleeting. Candies disintegrate in our mouths. Sugar highs don’t last. Chocolate melts away in our hands.

The joy of the world, while wonderful, will not last. That is why we need to “seek first the kingdom of God,” as Jesus tells us (Matthew 6:33). We need to savor the forgiveness we have in Jesus. We need to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). We need to seek out the love of God that brings us to new highs in him. Candy may be sweet but our life with God is sweeter, and it will last forever.

Team Jesus

Team Jesus

I recently went to a baseball game in St. Louis where the Cardinals were playing the Milwaukee Brewers. My sister and her family, who were visiting from Milwaukee, came along, decked out in their Brewers shirts and caps. I was amazed by how many Cardinals fans were wearing red to support their team. There was such a sea of red in the stands that those in Brewers garb stood out and even waved at one another.

There are not too many places where people can so clearly see where you stand. I wonder what it would be like if people could obviously see that we were with Team Jesus, if you will. Would we stand out in a crowd of those who were rooting only for themselves or for no god at all? Would we keep our eyes peeled for others who were wearing Christ on their sleeves and seek them out? Or would we hide in the masses, not wanting to be noticed?

We live in a world that wants to pigeon-hole people and urges people to stand with the majority. A recent Gallup poll revealed that for the first time in 80 years the percentage of those who said they belonged to a church dropped below 50% (to 47%). Religious people, including Christians, are becoming the minority. So it is becoming harder than ever to show your allegiance to Team Jesus.

But the Bible tells us plainly: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). We must always follow God and his will for us in Jesus. No other team matters except Team Jesus and we must do all we can to cheer for him in our lives, celebrating his victory over all sin, over death and the devil. The game is over. The battle is won. Jesus is the winner, and always will be.

Today Is the Day

today

But exhort one another daily, while it is still called “today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13

So often we say, “Time flies,” without really considering the urgency in that statement. The writer of Hebrews recognizes the urgency and wants his readers to know in this verse above that time is extremely short and we have little time left to help and encourage one another in our Christian faith.

We so often put things off and say we will talk to this or that brother or sister in the faith tomorrow, next week or next month. No, the time is now. Do things to build people up in their beliefs today. Don’t wait around. Why? Because sin is working around the clock to make us jaded and skeptical and guarded when it comes to messages of faith.

We all need to remember that we are not in our faith journey alone. Our voices of hope and promise need to be heard often to drown out the voice of sin that seeks to entice us away from Christ and the Church.

While it is still called today, make a call to someone you haven’t heard from in a while. Send a text to a friend you see at church. Write an email to an old classmate. The simplest words can have the greatest impact on a person’s “today.” I know that I have been strengthened and enlivened in my faith on days when I get a “Way to go!” or “You are awesome!” or “Godspeed!” in my inbox or text thread.

In this time when we hear so many discouraging words, make it a goal to deliver at least one encouraging word each day this week, this month or this year. Don’t let today become yesterday without bringing some joy.

Why?

why

Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” Judges 6:13

I always marvel when a Bible verse jumps out at me and sounds so modern and indicative of our current state. How many of us have asked Gideon’s question (aloud or to ourselves) at one point or another in our lives? “Why has all this happened to us?” COVID, political unrest, mass shootings, high prices, job instability, supply chain delays, the war in Ukraine. The list could go on, not to mention any personal problems we may have within ourselves or with those in our families. “Why, God, why?”

The question of “Why?” when it comes to life’s troubles is nothing new, we realize, but that still does not take the initial uneasiness away when we, like Gideon, know in our heart of hearts that God is with us. God responded to Gideon’s question in a myriad of ways, revealing his power and strength over the things of this world. We need to open our eyes, as Gideon did, to the ultimate reign of God all around us, even if we cannot see it all the time. God is not out to get us. Sin and the devil are the ones still at work to cloud our vision and bring us to despair. But their hold on us and on all the world will come to an end when Christ returns to bring us home to heaven.

Christ himself asked “Why?” from the cross. “Why have you forsaken me?” he said to his Father (Mark 15:34). He experienced complete abandonment on Calvary that we might never have to face the hardships of life on our own ever again. There is an end in sight. Jesus assured us, “In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). No trouble can take away the triumph that Christ achieved when he rose from the grave. So take every trouble to Jesus and let him restore in you the sure and certain hope that there is nothing you and God cannot handle together.

Family Dinner

family dinner 2

It has almost become a joke, but for those of a certain age (me included, I guess) Friday night is “Blue Bloods” night on TV. It is a show about a multigenerational family most of whom are or have been in law enforcement or the legal field. At the end of each episode, all the members of the clan gather together for a Sunday night family dinner to discuss, debate, commiserate and joke with each other about the events in their lives in the past week. Each show ends with everyone joining in the common mealtime prayer: Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It warms my heart to see collective prayer portrayed on TV, but I also find the idea of family dinner a good one. Close friends of mine have been having family dinner every Sunday night with their extended family for decades, but overall I would say that we do not gather in this manner much anymore, which is sad to me.

In many ways, the concept of family dinner is very Christian. In Acts we read that in the early Church: they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42). Sounds like all the elements of a family dinner to me. Dining together is a very personal experience and indicates a connection with the people you are sitting next to. It also allows us a time to decompress, learn and grow. Such experiences are encouraged in Scripture:

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10).

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (Colossians 1:9).

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).

Even if you are not able to have a family dinner like this, consider incorporating “family dinner” aspects into your weekly routine: Do you have a time to touch base with a member of your extended family regularly? Is there a moment when you can express to a loved one how you are doing really? And is there an opportunity to share with those close to you a realization that has come to you? In the end pray as one, since we are all members of God’s family.

Do Your Part

teaching

In our society, we tend to laud those who can multitask and do it all, and while that might be something that is valuable in certain situations, it is not something that is required in the kingdom of God. The people in the church at Rome must have wondered how much each of them should be doing. St. Paul answers them in this way:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:6-8).

In other words, play to your strengths in your discipleship in Christ. Focus on what you do well, and leave other tasks you are not as good at to your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith who have talents in those areas. There is no shame in saying, “That is not where my gifts lie.” God created us in a particular way to grow and strengthen the Church, and if our God-given gifts are not being used or are pushed down because of other tasks, then we are not following the plan of God for us.

Take stock of your skills and abilities and what you enjoy doing, and then compare that list to jobs you know of in the Church that need attention. Find what fits you best and let God do the rest.

Back to Fishing?

fishing net

A short time after the resurrection of Jesus, we read that Peter said to four of his fellow disciple friends, “I am going fishing,” and the four said, “We will go with you” (John 21:3). There is something that seems very normal about this exchange in the midst of abnormal circumstances. It is like Peter is saying, “I know that Jesus is risen and I can’t quite get my mind around that right now, but I am going to do what I know, and that is fishing.” It seems the four disciples are eager for normalcy too, since they are quick to tag also. They are fishermen, after all, and that is what they want to be busy doing again.

We have a tendency as human beings to want to get back to regular living and what is familiar and comfortable and satisfying. That is why we have hobbies, job routines and nights out with friends. Keep to the schedule. Do the things you are known for. Fall back on what feels right.

But this particular fishing trip did not go as planned. They could not catch any fish all night long. Only when Jesus arrived on the shore and suggested putting nets out on the other side, did the fishermen catch anything.

The story reminds us that we might have plans about how to take control of our lives when things change or are up in the air, but we cannot count on going back to business as usual when the risen Jesus is involved. He has a life mapped out for us that we cannot even imagine or understand sometimes. And we need to be ready for that new direction that Jesus is calling us to.

Pull from a different side of your abilities. Look at your life from a new angle. Feel the Spirit at work in you to get out of your perceived comfort zone. Get moving with Jesus as your day planner. Who knows what great things he has in store?

Paths As Yet Untrodden

graduation

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The above prayer first appeared in a book called Daily Prayer in 1941, but since then has appeared in liturgies of Evening Prayer and is used at retreat centers, and I just recently learned that it is spoken every year at the end of the Baccalaureate service for graduates at Valparaiso University.

Originally entitled “The Call of Abraham,” the prayer seems to be the perfect prayer for this time of graduation when students step out into unknown territory, as Abraham did long ago. Consider praying it over the graduates you know or writing it in a card or note.

The truth is, no matter what phase of life we are in, we really have only one thing to hang onto: the hand of God. With faith, we trust every day that he will lead us on the path that is best for us. Have good courage, graduates and all of us, and hold tight to him!

Stooping Down

stooping down

When the Resurrection Gospel from Luke 24 was read this Easter, a word stuck out for me that hadn’t before: The word was stooping. When Peter ran to the empty tomb of Jesus, he had to stoop down and look in to see the linen cloths but no Jesus. He had to physically lower himself to see what had happened. I don’t know about you, but stooping down is not something I like to do very often, whether it is to pick something up off the ground or get something from the back of a bottom shelf. It is an uncomfortable position and can make you feel awkward. So it must have been for Peter, but he was more than willing to stoop down to discover the empty tomb for himself.

I think of times when Jesus stooped down in his life. He got on the ground to wash his disciples’ feet. He bent down in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He was hunched over when he was whipped by the soldiers. But the most dramatic way in which he stooped down was when he came down from heaven and took on human flesh to save us by dying on the cross.

We cannot imagine how far our Savior had to go to humble himself to save us all from sin and death. Jesus came down to us so that we might be raised up to him. No more stooping is necessary from either Christ or ourselves. We will stand in glory with him and lift up holy hands in praise to him, who is exalted evermore.