Background Check

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:18-19

To say that the corona virus pandemic of 2020 has changed the world would be an understatement. The weeks and months ahead will continue to see us dealing with the impacts of social distancing, “stay at home” orders, closed businesses and schools, limited travel, and most importantly recovery. As this plays out, I am personally curious to see what things will continue to happen now that we have discovered by necessity that they are possible. Many people have grown to use and appreciate grocery delivery and curbside service at take-out restaurants. Teachers and parents have learned a great many new technologies that will help them educate children. We may even see a glorious return of the long hair of the 1970’s and big hair of the 80’s now that salons and barbershops remain closed.

From my perspective, the new thing that is most likely to stick around is the surge in using video conferencing technology. Most businesses and schools flocked to these programs to keep themselves communicating internally and with clients or students. How many of you celebrated a family event or a holiday on a computer screen? Television networks began utilizing it for interviews or even entire shows. The production quality is lacking, and it seems a bit impersonal, but today there are millions of people around the world who had never tried video conferencing using this technology daily.

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Of course, with familiarity comes the need to add to the mix. When a new user first started out, they were most worried about the functionality of the program and making sure they could see and hear and be seen and heard. Once that was mastered, they faced the single most important factor of any online video chat: the background. You might recognize this streak of vanity within you. Taking time to consider your surroundings so that when people see you on screen, they see something cool behind you. In fact, I’m pretty sure that some people care more about how the background looks than they do about their own physical appearance. At first you probably just wanted a space free of clutter. That’s like earning your bachelor’s degree. That quickly escalated to the master’s where you spent time finding a background that had something visually interesting that also shared something about your unique personality: bookcases filled with interesting books and figurines, pictures or artwork that showed off our interests or sense of style, perhaps a window overlooking a nice part of the yard. Just not an air vent or a light switch, or a boring wall. Finally, you earned your Ph. D. by actively looking at and critiquing the backgrounds of other people with whom you conference to see what behind them. You’ve graduated when you start reminding yourself that you need to stop looking at what is in the background of the people on your chat and begin paying attention to what is being said. Sound familiar? You do not have to answer that!

Truth be told, we are all probably guilty of spending too much time focused on the backgrounds on our video calls. That said, it is interesting how this mirrors real life for so many of us. We are very often finding ourselves trying to insert ourselves into the business of others, while at the same time trying to present the best possible image of ourselves for the world to see. It’s probably just human nature, but seeing that we are sinful by nature, this just becomes another way for us to self-promote all the while hiding the reality of our messy lives (and homes 😊).

All of us are sinful. All of us fall short of the expectations God has given us to worship Him, to do right by others and take care of ourselves. If our video backgrounds truly reflected our lives, we wouldn’t see books, sports memorabilia, and artwork. It would be filled with broken promises, failures, and missed opportunities. The stain of sin permeates everything about us, leaving us hurt and damaged. Our brokenness leaves us with no opportunity to change and therefore, without hope. Thankfully, our God is a God of love and restoration. Through His son, Jesus Christ, that brokenness that we feel is repaired, the shame that sin hangs over us is cleared away. Our sins have been paid for by the blood of the Lamb, separating us from our sinfulness and bringing us to a place where we can present ourselves to the Father without blemish. We can move forward into a new and right relationship with God.

The words of Isaiah 43:18-19 proclaim this new relationship by reminding us to keep our past where it belongs: in the past. The sins of yesterday are gone; forgiven and forgotten. The accomplishments of yesterday are also behind us, allowing us to focus on a new day and a new opportunity to let the Holy Spirit use us to further the work of the kingdom. It doesn’t matter what we are facing. God has provided the way, the means, the resources, and assures us of His continual presence to see us through. May we cling to this promise He made to us so that we can keep moving forward until we are given the eternal gift won for us by our loving Savior.

Photo Credit: https://www.videomaker.com/article/f04/17142-create-a-youtube-studio-in-your-room
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Dusted

On April 15, 2019, the world stood alongside the people of Paris, France, in shock and disbelief. Notre Dame, the medieval Catholic cathedral which for centuries stood as a landmark in the city had caught fire and was engulfed in flames. Many feared that the structure would be a total loss. Fortunately, thanks to the work of Paris’s fire department and the grace of God, much of the building was able to survive the flames. In fact, for the past year, Notre Dame has been undergoing a massive restoration project designed to return the masterpiece of French Gothic architecture to as close to its original condition as possible.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris fire aftermath

On the first anniversary of the blaze, I had the chance to read an article talking about the work being done to save Notre Dame. The article shared several interesting pieces information about the restoration and what the team had discovered as they began their work. One story was that of Claudine Loisel, a woman whose specialty was glass restoration. Her job was to test the lead levels of the stained-glass windows in the cathedral. What Loisel found was a most pleasant surprise: no lead contamination. The windows had been protected from the fire.

How did this happen? The following excerpt from the article explains that, “[Loisel] told a BBC4 TV documentary…that some of the windows there had not been cleaned for a century, and that dirt may have helped save them from lead contamination in the fire. ‘The first thick layer [of dust] acted as a small layer of protection,’ she explained. ‘So, we just have to remove all these deposits to clean these windows.’”

I must admit that the first thought I had upon reading this was that I had found the best excuse for not washing windows ever. Maybe we underestimated the protective nature of dust. Perhaps my wife’s requests for a total house cleaning are really putting us at risk, while my procrastination and general disdain for wasting a day on cleaning has kept my family safe. Confident in the knowledge that I had discovered something incredibly important, I shared my findings and hypothesis with my wife. She never actually said that she agreed with me, but she did walk away rolling her eyes (undoubtedly because she too realized how much time we have wasted on house cleaning over the years).

All kidding aside, it is amazing how something as insignificant as dust could have protected these irreplaceable pieces of art. As amazing that that is, it is equally ironic that had the cathedral and its staff made any attempt to clean the glass at any time over the past 100+ years, it is very likely that windows would have been lost.

Amidst the beauty of the cathedral, it is easy to forget that this architectural wonder is first and foremost, the house of God. Ministry takes place here and by the power of the Holy Spirit, faith is fostered, and lives are changed. This is a very good thing. Imagine if the work of developing and strengthening faith was completely up to us? Would we be able to do what was necessary to overcome our sinfulness so that we could save ourselves or others? I can only speak for myself, but allow me to put it this way:

I am much better at house cleaning.

As believers, we give thanks to God for the great love He has for us. This is what led Him to send Jesus into our sinful world. He took the heat for our sins, suffering the consequences of our filthy lives on Golgotha’s cross. But just as the beauty of Notre Dame will one day be preserved, we too have had our relationship with God restored because of Christ’s resurrection. The only differences between the two are that Jesus accomplished his restoration work in three days, not the roughly six years that officials are estimating for Notre Dame. Secondly, our restoration in Christ is eternal; a claim no architect or builder could possibly make. Paul reminds us of this promise in the words of 2 Timothy 4:18 where he writes:

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

May we always remember this promise as we live our lives to the glory of our God. May we never choose to let the dust of sin cover the beauty that God created within us to be shared with others seeking His love.

That said, please excuse me. My wife just brought me a mop so I can prove my theory on the kitchen floor.

 

News Article:
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52280511

Image Credit: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201904/19/WS5cb932cea3104842260b71ec.html

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Cancellation Policy

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)

I travel a fair amount for work. Typically, I enjoy the trips I take. My travels allow me to see wonderful people and go to interesting places. Plus, by using a little common sense, I plan my trips so that I visit my programs in the southern states during the winter and my northern states in the spring or fall.

Lately, due to the closure of schools caused by the coronavirus, I have had the opportunity to learn about a less exciting part of travel: cancellation policies. Flights, hotel stays, rental cars; all needing to be cancelled. I’ve logged a few hours learning the ins and outs of how to cancel my travel plans. If there is a silver lining in all of this, it would be that the companies I deal with are being very willing to work with me to cancel without penalty.

Except one.

Before I continue, allow me to state for the record that this is not me bashing this company. Their policies are very clear and upfront. I use them because they offer a great level of value, but the downside is they will not work with you to alter your arrangements unless you pay an additional fee for “travel insurance,” which I never do because it usually takes a pandemic to stop me from taking a trip.

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Perhaps you have also experienced some cancellations in your life due to the coronavirus. Travel plans gone awry. Birthday or anniversary celebrations put on hold or held via Zoom. Maybe you had plans to have some work done at your house but the company you hired can’t do the work. Add to this the loss of sports, restaurants, bars, theaters, golf courses, shopping malls and church gatherings and suddenly you see that everyone is dealing with some form of a cancellation. In fact, as the church has entered Holy Week, there are some who are bemoaning the cancellation of Easter for the first time in our lifetime. To those people, I have a simple, one-word response:

REALLY?????

Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was born of a virgin. He was true God and true man. He lived a life totally free of sin only to be betrayed, mocked, beaten, and finally executed by crucifixion. Three days later, He proclaimed victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil by rising from the dead. Yet despite having knowledge of this and faith in the salvation He won for us through this sacrifice, some dare to think that Easter is cancelled.

I knew we should have paid extra for the Holiday Insurance!

If I might offer a bit of clarification, it seems to me that for the first time in our lives, we’re dealing with the commercialization of Easter instead of Christmas. Every December we spend time reminding people that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” It’s designed to get us to think less about the presents, trees, lights, ornaments, cookies, pageants, and Santa and more about the birth of our Savior. Well, for many of us this year, we will get to experience a similar phenomenon where Easter will be devoid of egg hunts, bunnies, jellybeans, fancy hats and dresses, big breakfasts and bigger ham dinners. But despite the loss of these things, the tomb will be empty. The debt of our sinfulness will be paid in full by blood of the lamb. Satan’s defeat will be proclaimed in the heavens and the earth, and our coming resurrection remains assured.

Isaiah 55 provides a clear picture of the futility of trying to limit or eliminate the word of God. As our Creator, God’s will can not be denied. Give thanks to Him that because of His great love, we have the assurance that nothing our sinful world throws at us can prevent us from receiving the grace and mercy He bestows upon us.

May God bless you and your Easter celebration. Though it may be simpler than any you’ve ever experienced before, allow yourself the opportunity to focus more clearly than ever on the love that Christ shared WITH YOU on Good Friday and the prize He claimed FOR YOU this Easter morning.

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Routine Maintenance

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

Most of us have a structured routine when it comes to work. We have an established wardrobe, a usual breakfast and lunch, a regular time to get up, leave the house, and to return home. We take the same route to work, so we learn the traffic patterns. We stop at the same stores for a coffee or soda, so we see familiar people in those places. On the surface, this routine might appear boring and mundane. In truth, our routines provide us a level of comfort that we grow to rely upon. That is why we work hard to maintain our routines every day. Disrupt the routine of our mornings, and it often creates frustration and stress that can carry on throughout the day.

Having established that as a reality, I can imagine that for the people impacted by the shelter in place orders and the closure of school campuses, life has become a new adventure with our routines tossed out the window. The first few days might have been novel, but by now you’ve probably started to grow frustrated by the change to working at home. At work, you have the tools you need and the people in place to get things done. Now, you’re piecemealing it together with your spouse, children, pets, laundry, dirty dishes and that bathroom floor that needs to get mopped all vying for your attention.

At least you’re saving money on gasoline!

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Working from home can be frustrating because there’s just so many things to get done. On one hand, you’re at home, so you should have time to get some of those things accomplished. But on the other hand, you’re at work, so you have many other things to do. But you’re not at work, so things that might have gone smoothly in your office or school take longer because you don’t have everything you need within arm’s length.

If I have just described your current situation, I would invite you to take a breath, pause for a moment and remember the story of Martha & Mary from Luke 10. You remember how Martha shared her frustrations with Jesus over her sister’s unwillingness to help her with the many chores that needed to be done. You also remember Jesus’s response to Martha, calmly reminding her of what was more important. “’Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Martha’s work ethic isn’t a bad thing. Neither is yours. We take pride in the things we accomplish, and for those of us who are serving our children in Lutheran schools, we feel a greater level of importance because we share not only math and reading, but the love of Jesus. This adds pressure to make us feel as though we need to do more to accomplish our goals. Now, when we struggle with changing plans or failing technology or one of the dozens of other things that can go wrong we have all the more reason to throw our hands up in the air and cry out to Jesus for His help.

Of course, you do realize that His message to us will be the same thing He told Martha.

Fact of the matter is that while we do important work, God’s love will be shared with us our without us. His power, His glory, supersedes anything we could dream of doing. It’s important that we remember our role in this grand plan is not only to teach and serve, but to also learn and receive God’s grace and forgiveness.

May the Lord continue to give you peace as you accomplish great things in the lives of those people God has entrusted to your care.

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New Every Morning

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” – Lamentations 3:22-24

I know that many people love winter and the many fun activities that come with it. I am not among that crowd. I tend to fall more in the group of people who start the “First Day of Spring Countdown Clock” sometime in late September. So, I guess you could say that the first day of Spring is a big deal for me.

This year, the joy of that great day was diminished by the global coronavirus pandemic. In many ways, it seems as though it may have been lost on many people that March 19 was the first day of Spring. This is understandable. There are a lot of stressful things happening in the world right now that are giving all of us reasons to be distracted, worried and a bit fearful. But what I find myself thankful for this morning are the little reminders that God has given us that He is still here and will with us to guide us through these difficult days.

I own a puppy whose idea of sleeping in differs greatly from my own. This gives me frequent opportunities to wake up early and greet the coming day in its infancy. This morning, as I opened the door to let her out, she was startled by an unusual noise and didn’t want to move. Knowing she needed to get outside, I decided to step out and face the scary noise with her. Reassured by my presence, she agreed to go out and do her duty in the backyard. So, what was the sinister sound from which I was protecting her? The morning songs of the birds in our maple tree. One cardinal was in a very good mood as he chirped to celebrate the coming of the sunrise.

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I laughed as I thought of my dog’s fear of something so harmless and simple, but the more I thought about it, her fear made sense. We adopted her in December. Every morning she has gone out at our house featured the tranquility of winter. She is learning something new about mornings. I am sure that in a day or two, she’ll recognize the chirping as normal and it won’t phase her. But after processing all of this, something finally dawned on me as well.

Spring is here. The birds have returned to their active morning patterns. The sun is rising earlier. The grass is starting to get a bit greener. The trees have buds and the crocuses and daffodils are starting to emerge from the ground. The long winter is coming to an end. Warmth and light are returning.

With that in mind, allow me to share a similar thought as we face the uncertainties of this pandemic. God is here. He always has been. He always will be. For a time, our patterns and routines are going to change for us to stay healthy and safe. But this change, like the winter, is only for a time. Soon we will return to our active patterns. Soon we will be celebrating warmer temperatures, blooming flowers, and the resurrection of the Savior God sent forth to save us from sin and its consequences.

Keep your faith firmly planted in the garden of our Lord. He will keep His promises and will deliver to us the warmth and light we seek in all things.

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Spirit Animals

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” – Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)

Take a moment and go back with me to a time when life was simpler. Back when toilet paper was in such plentiful supply, we would use it to decorate the trees of our enemies. Back when social media was being utilized for its originally intended purposes: narcissism and political fights. Ah yes, those good old days that we all call……. February.

It’s been a long few weeks.

I hope you will forgive my humor. I don’t mean to make light of our situation. I only wish to point out that not too long ago, our thoughts, plans, and priorities were vastly different. So, while social media has transitioned a bit into a community of people sharing information, humor, and compassion for others, I would enjoy our world returning back to normal and allowing us to go back to online quizzes telling us which member of the cast of a TV show we are based on our birth month and first letter of our last name or which critter is our spirit animal.

That said, perhaps we should look at the spirit animal question more closely.

A spirit animal is a metaphor. We choose them based on perceived character traits that the animal has that we emulate or admire. Are you athletic and fast? You might choose a cheetah. Are you determined and persistent? You could be a turtle. Are you intuitive and wise? You would likely pick an owl. Finally, if you demand constant attention and frequent feedings, you’re a dachshund (sorry, personal observation based on a four-legged member of my family).

Why discuss all of this? It’s because at this moment in history I think we as Christian educators can all relate to two animals whose traits would serve us well: The chameleon and the leopard.

chameleon and leopard

Why a chameleon? I think that’s easy. Chameleons have a unique defense mechanism of changing the color of its body to blend in with its surroundings. This adaptability reflects the mood of the chameleon, and it also helps to protect it from predators.

Why a leopard? Well, it has less to do with the leopard than it does with the common phrase associated with them: “A leopard never changes its spots.” People say this about the leopard to demonstrate how deep down, we can not change who we are.

So, what do you get when you combine a chameleon and a leopard? A ridiculous contradiction! True, but let me explain.

Right now, your profession has you acting like a chameleon. You’ve adapted to a rapidly changing educational landscape. Online platforms, video conferencing, and mailing packets of work have suddenly replaced our classrooms and desks. At least you had a day or two to prepare for this! You have accomplished a tremendous amount in a short time, and you will continue to adapt because your students’ needs demand it. I thank God for you and for your dedication to the ongoing success of your students, no matter what the world throws at you.

But more important than being an occupational chameleon is the need to be a faithful leopard. In a time of travel restrictions, supply shortages, a volatile economy, and shelter in place orders caused by the coronavirus, we must stand firm in the knowledge that God remains in control. Our faith in Him and His promises does not waver. Despite the challenges that we face, God’s love for us remains constant and unchanging. As we adapt to the rapidly changing world in which we live, we cling to the firm foundation that is our God.

May our Father send you the extra measure of strength and perseverance you will need to face each day with renewed faith and purpose, now and always.

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Fear Not, For I am with You

The spread of the corona virus and its impact on society has been like nothing we have seen in our lifetimes. The rapid spread of the virus from its origins in China to what now seems to be every corner of the globe has created a frenzy in the media, a rush to buy certain supplies in our stores, and prompted the closures of many schools and other public buildings. The numbers of people allowed to gather in any one place have been limited and many of our most beloved hobbies and entertainment activities have been suspended or cancelled. Some people seem to be panicky. Others seem blasé about it.

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Image Credit: https://www.keckmedicine.org/coronavirus/

There is no shortage of people who are offering advice, predictions, and opinions about this crisis, so I will not join them by telling you what I think about any of this. Instead, I will remind you of the things that we know to be true that will help us maintain our perspective in this most unique of situations.

God is with us. Amid the most difficult of situations, God has been here since before time began. He is here now and will be for eternity. We are His creation, living in a world that He designed. His power is greater than any force on earth. He holds an intimate knowledge of everything in existence on a molecular level. His love surrounds us and provides us with the strength, comfort and peace we need for anything COVID-19 or our sinful world could bring us. God’s words to Isaiah serve as a wonderful reminder of this for us:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 40:10 (ESV)

So, as we face this pandemic we can do so without fear, relying fully on our God whose love for us is greater than anything this world could produce to come against us. Be safe and at peace as we care for one another until the day we return back to normalcy…

and for that matter, for the rest of our lives!

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Don’t @ Me!

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

If you spend any time on Twitter (or other social media outlets), you’ve probably seen the phrase “Don’t @ me.” It’s a message that accompanies somebody’s opinion requesting that the people reading the post would not feel compelled to respond to debate what was originally shared. The word “at” or “@” is in reference to Twitter’s use of the @ symbol as a heading for your Twitter handle. For example, I might say something like…

Dachshunds make the best pets ever. Don’t @ me!

I know this isn’t exactly a contentious statement, but for those of you who own a bulldog, a cat, a lizard or a chinchilla, you might be tempted to reply to me and set the record straight. Of course, it’s nothing more than an opinion on my part, but social media is designed to encourage others to share and when necessary debate. So, if a statement regarding a favorite pet can lead to a discussion, imagine what a strong comment on a more controversial topic might produce. In attempting to avoid an unwanted debate (or the list of countless people explaining why they disagree) people will disinvite others to respond.

On one side, I understand the point of this. Sometimes you just want to share what you think without opening yourself up to criticism or a lengthy discussion. However, by denying other people the opportunity to share their thoughts, it makes the person who posted it seem self-important or disinterested in what others might think.

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We live in a world where many people want to be heard rather than hear; to speak and not to listen. Our social media driven society is fueled by the desire to tell others what we have to say, to show others what we’re doing, and to promote our own personal brand. This is who I am. This is what I do. Disagree? Don’t @ me!

Thankfully, this is not God’s approach to us. God welcomes us into His presence with open arms. He wants us to come to Him with our praises and our worries, our thoughts and our frustrations. He reveals Himself to us through His inerrant word – a concept that doesn’t sit well in a world that values individual truth and personal ethics. But even in the face of our world’s selfishness, God’s love has been vitally important to us. From the moment He created us, God’s love for us exceeded anything we have ever experienced. Our sinfulness drove a wedge between us, but in love God shows us the way back to Him. The blood Jesus shed on the cross paid the price of our sinfulness. God sent to us His Holy Spirit to bring us to and keep us rooted in our faith.

Maybe that’s why God had millions of followers long before Twitter!

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Work in Progress

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:3-6

Do you ever struggle with things in life that are frustratingly contradictory? The term for such occurrences is oxymoron. At first glance, you may think this term would describe a dim-witted person with an acne problem, but thanks to our friends at dictionary.com we learn that definition of an oxymoron is actually…

“a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect…”

Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I guess that’s why most people define oxymorons by giving examples of them. Things like “jumbo shrimp,” “deafening silence,” or the one I demonstrate most often; “clearly confused.” You can add your own favorite oxymoron to the list, but I think most of us would agree the most frustrating oxymoron we encounter is found on the side of the road. It’s written on a bright yellow, diamond shaped sign, placed at the beginning of a construction zone proudly declaring: Work in Progress!

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Road construction is a necessary evil. We despise driving on roads that resemble the surface of the moon, but we share an equal disdain for having to wait or be rerouted by the road closures caused by repair work. But what I think irritates us most as drivers is when we come upon a construction zone on the highway that lasts for several miles, creating traffic backups and slowdowns, only to find that nobody is doing any actual work.

Before I go any further, let me say clearly that my intent is not to criticize construction workers. These people work hard in lousy conditions and get little credit for the work they do. The real issue goes back to our human nature of wanting a perfect road that allows us to have a perfect trip without any hint of trouble. When we must wait, merge, slow down, or let people into our lane, we tend to give a response that varies between mild irritation and irrational rage. Makes you wonder if the “work in progress” is referring to the condition of the road or the attitudes of the people driving on it!

We are all works in progress. God created us with unique interests and abilities. We also have been created with unique levels of patience and triggers. Some people can effectively manage minor day-to-day issues but panic when facing a major crisis, while others are at their best in an emergency, only to lose their cool when simple things go wrong. This is only one example of the many struggles people have when it comes to managing their emotions, controlling their impulses, and generally being on their best behavior. Add fatigue, frustration, failure or fear and our reactions become even less predictable.

Thankfully, we have a reliably predictable God. The love that He has for His creation has no bounds (Jeremiah 31:3). This can be confirmed in many ways, but none more clearly than in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from our sinfulness (Romans 5:8). This undeserved gift brings us back into a right relationship with God, who sends His Holy Spirit to sustain and strengthen our faith. This action allows us the ability to share the word of God and to model our faith to others who may not know Christ and whose interactions with us may be the catalyst to seeking His love and grace.

My prayer for all of us mirrors that of Paul in his words to the Philippians. May God, who began this good work in us, bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

And if He can do all that, He can probably help us to tolerate road work with more patience too!

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Allegedly

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’” – Luke 2:10-11

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Since the stroke of midnight on November 1, it seems as though the world has gone into a Christmas frame of mind. The pumpkin-spice was replaced by peppermint sticks, and except for that turkey eating Thursday known as Black Friday Eve, we’ve been told that we’re simply having a wonderful Christmastime!

This is evident as you drive around town seeing people pay homage to Clark Griswold by stringing more lights on their houses than most airport runways. It’s evident when you hear people feeling bold enough to admit that they enjoy watching the Hallmark Christmas movies in public. But perhaps it is most evident when you scroll down the radio dial to that one station which has for nearly two months played nothing but Christmas songs.

NOTHING.

It’s not to say that I am opposed to Christmas music. I tend to prefer choral or instrumental Christmas carols. What I do not like is popular music artists and their attempts to ensure royalties for the rest of their lives from the playing of their renditions of classic carols, or worse, an original Christmas song. There simply aren’t any original songs worth a darn. NONE! You can argue with me on this point for the rest of time, just know that I am right. Think about it, if someone gave you their heart last Christmas and the very next day you gave it away, you wouldn’t care to whom he gave it to this year!

And why are you letting him waste your time singing this to you anyway?

But despite my logical and indisputable opinion on the matter, Christmas music continues to be played repeatedly on stations for weeks and weeks on end. I guess people must like it or they wouldn’t do it. I think it’s a conspiracy to convince people that despite the cold, snow, ice, low humidity, lack of sunshine, limited daylight, and hyperactive children losing their minds over Santa, it really is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Because for some people, it isn’t.

Many people love this time of year, but some people don’t, and with good reason. The holiday season can be difficult for people who are separated from loved ones, estranged from their families, or forced to spend time socially with people they don’t like or who don’t like them. Some people must spend their holiday dealing with illness or disease. Some people are preparing for the first (or next) holiday without a beloved family member. So while some people love the season and other (like me) love to poke fun at it, many people struggle with the festivities and long for January to come and return life (and the radio stations) back to normal.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the schedule and traditions we place onto Christmas. But in love for those of us who dread the holiday with the most understandable of reasons, allow me to quote the angels message to the shepherds:

 “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Christ has come into a world filled with pain, suffering, and the very worst consequences of sin. Why did He do this? Here’s how it was explained to Joseph in Matthew 1:20-21:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Pray for those people who are struggling this year as Christmas draws near. Remember that the pain that we feel, the hurt and disappointment that comes from life, and the anxiety and despair that feels like it could consume us are swept away by the love and peace that can only come from the Savior of the world coming into His creation to save it. Jesus began this work in the manger and completed it in Easter’s empty tomb. Seek His comfort. Know His peace. Feel the joy that can only come from heaven above as we join in the chorus!

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

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