241 years ago the course of world history changed, for on July 4th, 1776, the 13 colonies adopted “The Declaration of Independence” and proclaimed themselves to be The United States of America. Since then these United States have risen to become a world power and have been the source of many amazing world innovations. One innovation that seems to never be talked about or even noticed is this country's profound contribution to recognizing, appreciating and preserving the wonders of the natural landscape. Nature. It covers the world with its intricate complexity, its unfathomable beauty and its breathtaking majesty. For most of us, our park system doesn’t feel like an innovation; rather it feels like a common, scarcely noticed commodity – yeah, we have National Parks – cool! Today we stop for a moment and ask how did these National Parks come to be, what was the motivation for their existence and what does all of this have to do with Almighty God?
Nobody likes failure. Even when we have been told that failure is good for us, that it is a stepping stone and that you don’t learn from success nearly as much as you learn from failure, we still don’t like it! For many of us, failure can be discouraging, debilitating and even depressing. So, what do we do with this? We learn from it. We look into the lives of those whom we consider successful and study their failures and their reactions to those failures to see how we can use their experiences to help us navigate our own experiences. The Bible is full of great examples of faithful ones who had many failures, and the Bible is also full of their success stories afterwards. What are we waiting for? Let’s get started with this whole making-failure-work-for-me thing!
We all need to be heard, and we all need to be acknowledged. We all need that feeling of validation that comes with being personally recognized as having value, and all of this comes through the important tool of communication. The problem is that we have become terrible at both the giving and receiving ends of the communication spectrum. Somehow we think that posting, texting, tweeting and emojis can replace actual conversation, looking someone in the eye, feeling their emotions or touching their shoulder. Whether it is our lack of attention span, our need for convenience, personal laziness or simply not knowing what we are missing, we have seemingly deserted real true person-to-person communication and replaced it with cold and emotionless technology. So, what do we do? How do we relearn both the giving and receiving ends of this invaluable and necessary tool for a fulfilled life called "communication"?
Revenge – the desire for it can be a powerful and even overwhelming emotion. Sadly, thinking about revenge can be a fun motivating and bonding experience, as it occupies our minds with creative and yet often diabolical means with which to carry out our purpose. It is amazing how the development of such a negative action can spur such positive feelings. So wait – if all of these positive feelings come from planning revenge then can we rightfully label revenge as wrong? Absolutely! Just because something makes you feel good or empowered or focused doesn’t mean that you are becoming a better person because of those things. Remember, Satan felt good and was empowered and was focused when he rebelled against God – and we all know how that will turn out! Can revenge ever be good? How do we recognize, manage and direct our feelings of revenge?
So, have you ever been or have you ever known someone who has been a victim of fraud? You know, had their credit card number stolen or their bank account hacked or their social security number breached? It is all quite real and it is all quite unsettling. Now, have you heard the term “fake news”? Think about it – fake news is fraud as well, since in its reporting we are led to believe something is true that isn’t. This phenomena is quite real and it is quite unsettling. Now, have you ever taken something from work that is not yours or “padded” an expense report or “forgotten” some income on your tax return? These things are also fraud – they are quite real and they are quite unsettling. The bottom line is, fraud is everywhere and we as Christians can be victims of it and we can also perpetrate it. So, what do we do? How do we keep fraud from being a part of our lives
You want to be happy. I want to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy, I mean, who wouldn’t want to be happy? The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as being unalienable rights of humanity. What can we conclude from all of this? Happiness is a central objective and desire that belongs to all. Having said that...why aren’t we happy? Why are so many of us frustrated, disappointed and anxious about our lives? Why do we overeat, binge, eat chocolate, shop or do any number of other things to hide from our lack of happiness? Why can’t we just be happy? Why can’t we stop comparing, stop wishing, stop regretting, stop rationalizing and just start living today for the glory of it being our present? There is hope because happiness is attainable! We just need to know where and how to look for it and how to recognize it when we see it.
After the greatest act of love ever committed, Jesus lay dead in a donated tomb. His loyal companions and followers were stunned, sickened by what they had witnessed. But beyond the gory details of this death, they were hit with the uncomfortable thought that perhaps all they had known the past 3 ½ years was a lie, fake, delusional. This man Jesus they had trusted and loved was dead. He died like everyone else. There was no last minute fire from heaven to kill the Roman soldiers or the angry mob of his own brethren demanding his death. There was no angelic rescue team to pull him off that dreaded piece of wood. He was dead. For real. No one was coming to save them from the Roman rule. They would not be sitting on anyone’s right hand in the new government. They had seemingly been duped. Now what? Well, three days later, it was imperative that the risen Jesus convince them beyond a shadow of doubt that all he had promised was REAL and was happening. His followers needed to be 100% convinced and energized to tell the Good News at any cost to all who would listen. The man Jesus was gone forever, but the spirit Jesus would have life within himself, and power to restore all of mankind back to his Father. They needed to urgently tell that story to you and me. How did they go from feeling ultimate betrayal and grief to absolute certainty and joy?
We make choices every day. Some are easy choices that we don’t even need to think much about and there are others that require some on-the-fly time and attention. Then there are the choices that can be difficult and even agonizing. These are the choices that can make or break a life or shape a destiny, or at the very least, alter the near future. These are the biggest choices we face, but they may not necessarily be the most important ones. We probably don’t think about how often our really big decisions end up being a sum total of many small and seemingly irrelevant choices we have made without much thought. The point is that all of our choices carry a measure of importance! So, what guides us in the choices we make? Are we most often influenced by how we feel about things or by what our friends or family will think? What are the most important factors in successful Christian decision making?
When you think of compassion, what do you picture? Perhaps you see Jesus healing the multitudes or volunteers caring for victims of some natural disaster. Perhaps you see an individual patiently working with a disabled person or a soldier protecting children in a war torn region. Perhaps compassion makes you think of Doctors Without Borders or food drives for the hungry. Whatever it is, thinking about compassion probably makes you think about the best of humanity – it probably makes you think about that glimmer of hope that says we can get along. Now, when you think about compassion do you ever see yourself in the role of the compassionate? Wouldn’t you like to be in that role? Just what does it take to become a truly compassionate person and most importantly, what are the limits of compassion? Are there times when compassion is NOT appropriate?