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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Don't Miss the Opportunity Before You


We are right smack in the middle of the holiday season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas just past…as well as Hanukkah...and New Year’s Day fast approaching.  

As I write, the ground which is already white with snow and ice, is getting a fresh coating of the cold flakes falling and blowing outside.  I hope you, my readers, have had a meaningful Christmas celebration, even if it has been radically different from those you experienced before.  

Our Christmas was very different, with very few of the usual traditions available to us this year, but some new opportunities arose to fill the void.

The transitions and changes in holiday celebrations forced by divorce (or death, or moving, or job loss, or…) can be difficult to face, but bring with them opportunities for something new and fresh.  There is an old saying I like that says that, “The only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!”  (God excepted, of course.)  One can become so fixated on the fact that if there had not been this life changing event, everything would be the way it was, that it is easy to forget that this isn’t true…life always changes.  

We get older.  Finances grow and decline.  People move from one place to another.  Children grow up, go to college, marry and start careers.  

Life is a continuous flow of changes.  It may be necessary to mourn the losses of the familiar past, but it is unwise to live there.  Change brings loss with it, but it also brings something fresh, and opportunities for new memories, meanings and relationships.  The trick, it seems to me, is to be able to mourn the losses appropriately while embracing the possibilities that come with a changing future and turning them into something good.  

As you are experiencing this year’s celebrations and whatever changes have come in your life, I encourage you to be intentional about creating something special today that will become a special memory tomorrow.  Each day is a gift to use for God and for good.  Don’t miss the opportunity you have today.  Take hold of the changes that are thrust into your life, and shape them into a treasure for tomorrow.  

With best wishes for a blessed holiday to each of you…Richard

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Why do the Wicked Prosper?


Do you happen to remember the question, “Why do the wicked proser?”  It originates with the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 12 of his book.  The passage actually reads:  
Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?  (ESV)

It seems to me that, very often, this is the kind of question one asks during the process and aftermath of divorce, and holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving can often bring to the forefront this very issue.  One party may find themselves extremely financially strapped and really feel it during the holiday season, while the other party seems to go merrily on their way, even though their behaviors have been sinful or vicious.  One party may struggle with children who seem clueless about how abusive the ex had been, and find that the children continue to favor a parent who has been “wicked,” if you will.  One party may be frustrated as the judge rules time and again against him or her, when they know the requests are more than fair and that the other party is not being honest with the judge.  One party may find that honesty turned out to not be the best policy, and judge, friends, children, or even other family members have been taken in my the various misrepresentations promulgated by the ex.  

During the holidays, when family celebrations are the norm and memories of better days swirl around those family times, one can struggle with the justice of God when facing the holidays with a family splintered, divided and wrestling with a court mandated schedule.   These are just a few examples…many of my readers could add many other scenarios based upon their own life situation.  It can be very hard.  And it certainly can lead one to wonder with Jeremiah, “Why does the way of the wicked perish?”

The answer to the question is given multiple times in scripture:  you aren’t seeing the whole story.  We often take a short view of things, but when you take a longer view, then you will realize that God is ultimately working perfect justice, some of which you may not be able to see this side of heaven.  In addition, we must always remember that we are only seeing things from the external perspective.  From that perspective, it may appear everything is wonderful for that individual you think is prospering, but you cannot see the hidden hurts of their lives, or the struggles that may be there of which you are not aware.  In some cases, their hearts may be weighed down with a load of guilt and shame that is not obvious from the outside, a load that anything but fun to carry.  

Probably the best answer of all came from the lips of Jesus, when Peter was informed of how his life would end, and in response he asked Jesus, “What about John?”  Jesus response was, in effect, “What happens with John is between me and John….your job, Peter, is to follow me.”  You can read it yourself in John 21:18-23.  The point is, to effectively deal with the hurts and move on in our lives, we need to not worry about what is and isn’t happening with someone else, nor spend our time comparing with others, but simply follow Jesus the best way we know how, in the paths he leads us.  Then, we trust that he will do what is right and just, and that is enough.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nothing is Hopeless with God

Christo de la Concordia, Cochabamba, Bolivia
As we continue through the Christmas season, I am always mindful for those who will find it a very difficult time as they deal with loss, sorrow, fragment relationships or the aftermath of divorce that sometimes can linger for years.  I am aware of several this year who are finding this to be a difficult holiday.  

However, if you don’t mind, I thought I’d share some thoughts from this morning at church, more about Christmas than divorce per se, but with some thoughts that might bring some encouragement or meaning for any of my readers.

The focus for today’s message was on Zechariah and Elizabeth, when they were given the announcement that they would have a child, John the Baptist, who would be the forerunner of Messiah, even though they had already grown old and Elizabeth was well beyond the child-bearing years.  We examined their situation from a variety of angles, but there were a few points about their example that I think can speak to many of us, no matter what our situation in life.  Those are what I want to share tonight.

If you don’t recall the story, you might want to refresh your memory by reading over Luke 1, where the entire story is recorded.  One thing we observed is that in the birth narratives of Jesus and John, Elizabeth was that, of the four adults (Joseph, Mary, Zechariah and Elizabeth), Elizabeth was the only one who did not receive God’s message through the voice of an angel.  She, apparently, got her information only from her husband, Zechariah.  In addition, she and Zechariah were promised, not the Messiah as a son, but kind of “second best,” the forerunner for Messiah.  In spite of these things, Elizabeth had no complaints, but humbly and gratefully received the gift God has chosen to give, in the manner God chose to give it.  Elizabeth was a person who was simply thrilled to be any part of what God was doing.  And, in spite of the risk of childbirth at an advanced age, she never made excuses, simply trusting that what God has called her to do, he would also give the strength for her to do, that God never asks more of us than he will enable us to face with his help.  Some of you may be facing some pretty hard things right now in your lives…Elizabeth set us a pretty good example, wouldn’t you say?

When the message from God came, Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old, and would have long since given up on the dream of having a baby of their own.  In a culture where passing on the family name and inheritance is a very important thing, it would have been tough to have had to let go of that dream.  But God had other plans for them.  Even though they thought it was all over, that their chance had long since passed, God did not think so.  Instead, God thought it was the perfect time in their lives for him to bring them a child.  And when he did, Zechariah and Elizabeth were able to embrace the work that God was doing on their behalf and through their obedience.

Are there areas in your life where you feel like it is too late, that your prayers have gone unanswered, causing you to give up hope?  The experience of Elizabeth and Zechariah remind us that God’s timing is never too late, and nothing is hopeless with God.  God is not bound by our perspectives of the limitations in our lives.  He can do things that seem impossible, he answers prayers in his own time, and his work is always perfect.  Elizabeth and Zechariah probably felt like they were nearing the end of their lives, the end of their usefulness.  They learned that they were just on the verge of the greatest work of God they had ever experienced.  

If you are a person who has areas of struggle and hopelessness, let the story of this godly couple rekindle in you the hope that God does know what he is doing, and that you are never beyond the hope and possibilities of God.  As they experienced, perhaps you, too, are on the verge of something you can’t imagine at this time, and the best days of your life are yet to come.  Don’t give up until God says it is over and you are through.  God’s plans transcend our limited understanding, and it is always a mistake to try to place our limits on his possibilities for our lives.  

As you move toward your celebration of Christmas, I encourage you to open yourself up to the voice of God, to hear from him as they did, the possibilities that God has in store for your life.  

Listen for his voice.  

God is always doing incredible things around us if we can but just recognize his hand at work, and then, best of all, let yourself be part of that great work.  Then you, too, will have an incredible story to share.  

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Richard Returns to Blogging

Hi all!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog…it’s been an extremely busy fall, including a 10 day mission study down in Bolivia in mid-November.  I’ll include a shot or two of some of the beautiful scenery I enjoyed there.  Let me tell you, just that short time down there provided ample evidence that God is on the move in that country!  I met some great people, and some very impressive and dedicated pastors and missionaries while there.  

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving…for many who have suffered a divorce in their families, we are in the midst of the hardest time of the year.  Family gatherings become reminders that your family has been fragmented, often because of the empty spaces at the table where the ex-spouse sat, or where the children might have been if they weren’t over celebrating with your ex.  Traditions that had become familiar can seem hollow, or instead of bringing back fond memories, become painful reminders of the loss and disappointment.  For some, it is just the opposite…as they experience a sense of opportunity they did not have before to embrace a new future and create new traditions that are more reflective of who they are and what they want their lives to be.  It’s just too bad that having new options is something that has was the byproduct of a broken relationship and love that died.

So I have a simple question for you as you enter this holiday season, a question that applies regardless what your family situation is.  

Here is my question:  How are you planning to make a time and way for you and those you love to remember and celebrate what these holidays really mean….the giving of thanks to God and the day God came to earth as a child in a manger to change lives for all eternity? 

Answering that question well is what will determine the real success and joy of your holiday season.  

It is so easy to get caught up with the hectic activities, with the mad pace and misplaced priorities, with planning all the things that don’t really matter and then finding that we have no time left for the tiings that really do.

At my church today, the message focused on King Herod and the fact that he was given an opportunity of a lifetime

…the opportunity to see the newborn Messiah, 

the opportunity to really worship God, 

the opportunity to have his life changed for good with eternal consequences

….but he chose to ignore, reject, and even fight against that opportunity.  

That is the same reaction many will give to the true meaning of Christmas and Thanksgiving this year.  God will be ignored, invitations to bow before the Christ of the manger will be rejected, and, I am sure, once again there will be those protesting public displays of Nativity scenes in our communities.  But for those who decide they DO want to be a part of what God is doing, there is meaningful and eternal adventure just around the corner.  

I found it an interesting contrast that, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, prominently and proudly displayed on a hill dominating the city was a giant statue depicting Christ, visible throughout the city.  What a great reminder I had at the start of the holidays!  What a great reminder those Bolivians have on a daily basis…at least, those who take the time to look up.  In fact, there was a fountain and light show by the city’s family park which featured multiple times images of that Christ statue.  Imagine THAT happening here in the U.S., instead of the protesting and lawsuits by people who loudly reject the Christmas message of peace, love and God with us.  

Well, it’s good to be back in touch again…hopefully my schedule will return to normal and I can post regular blogs.  In the meantime, if you come up with a really good way to keep your focus where it should be through the holidays, I invite you to share it here on the blog or facebook page…it might just help someone else who is looking for some answers of their own this year.