The World's Going to Heck in a Handbasket

Does it seem like the world is going to heck in a handbasket?  Then it may be time for a reality check.  It’s been a summer of rough news for America.  Racism, riots, and political violence.  Communities on the Gulf Coast continue wading through the devastation of hurricane Harvey, and now another storm is bearing down on Florida.  We have plenty of reasons to be praying and doing all we can to alleviate suffering.  There’s cause for grief about the news but not for pessimism. 

Writing at The Guardian, Olivier Burkeman suggests that despite a dragging civil war in Syria, heart-rending photos of drowned refugees, North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling, disasters, terrorist attacks, and racial violence, the world is objectively better now than its ever been.  Hard to believe?  Well, here are the facts: Swedish historian Mark Norberg breaks down global indicators of human flourishing into nine categories: food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the state of the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, and the conditions of childhood.  And in nearly all of these categories, we’ve seen vast improvement in my lifetime.  Despite the fact that nine out of ten Americans say worldwide poverty is holding steady or worsening, the percentage of people on this planet who live on less than two dollars a day—what the United Nation’s defines as “extreme poverty” - has fallen below ten percent, which is the lowest it’s ever been.  The scourge of child mortality is also at a record low.  Fifty percent fewer children under five die today than did thirty years ago.  Worldwide, 300,000 more people gain access to electricity every day.  In 1900, global life expectancy was just 31 years.  Today, it’s an impressive 71 years.  And violent crime rates in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in half a century.  Nicholas Kristof wasn’t too far afield when he called 2016 “the best year in the history of humanity.”  This year may see even more progress.

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I’m able to write this post after the solar eclipse because I am way past deadline.  Wow!  Was that amazing or what?!  That was one of the coolest experiences - physically, emotionally and spiritually.  That we could exist in a time and place to see this and be in the path of totality is a blessing that I hope we haven’t taken for granted.  Some folks I talked to prior to the event didn’t seem too excited about it.  Like, what’s the big deal?  It's only 1 minute and 40 seconds of the moon being in front of the sun.  I wish it had lasted longer because it was a surreal moment unlike any I have ever experienced.  Even better was the joy that came from experiencing it with the love of my life, Denise!  We were like kids - laughing, cheering, and just really in awe of the spectacle.  It was so much to take in that you didn’t want it to end so quickly.  But it did and that’s okay.  To have experienced it all is so much better than to have never seen it.

God has blessed us with an amazing planet on which to live.  He put the perfect amount of oxygen here for us to breathe. He put us at the perfect distance from the sun for us to experience warmth and growth without being too warm or too cold.  He put us on the perfect rotation and in the perfect tilt to have everything we have.  If the earth was just a little off either way, there would be chaos and life could not be sustained.  But our God is an amazing creator, sustainer, redeemer, and friend.  He has given us so much to be in awe of and a solar eclipse is just one more reminder of just how big, awesome, and powerful our God is.  “The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created.  He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.”  Psalms 33:6

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What Matters Most

"For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ.  It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes - the Jew first and also the Gentile."  Romans 1:16

I would like to pass along my thoughts on what matters most, not just to me, or to our church, or to our community, or even to our country, but to every living person on this planet.  The most important thing that everyone can know is that God has created each one of us in His own image.  He has gifted each one of us for a specific calling and purpose that only we can accomplish.  God gave an ancient people instruction to shine on those around them, and to share that their God is the one true Lord, and that all are to love Him and Him alone with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.  To know Him is to know how much He loves us and wants us.  Even though we are a fallen people living in a broken world, He still calls us to reflect His image as we trust in Him and allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to counsel and guide us.  He went to the extreme of sending His Son, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, into our brokenness to redeem us and to repair our relationship with Him so that nothing could ever separate us from His love.  That true love is shown to us in the person, fully man and fully God, Jesus Christ.  We did not earn grace and we don’t deserve grace, but it was, and is, freely given.  It is not dependent on you to create this relationship, but only to receive it as your true compass for your purpose here.  We were created to worship and adore God, and unless we do this we will never be content.  So I pray that as we approach life each day, we will know what matters most - God loves us unconditionally and He has raised us to a new and everlasting life.

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United We Stand

The events that we have seen recently in our country influence this article.  The shooting of congressmen and others at a baseball practice in Virginia has reminded those elected officials that there is more to unite us than to divide us.  It is unfortunate that it takes a tragic event to remind us of that, but we are people of strong opinions and those who oppose us can be seen as enemies.  The rhetoric following this year’s election of a new president and the main stream media’s attempt to elevate everything that is divisive have fueled the fire of hate and division, in my opinion.  We live in a society where it has become acceptable to accuse, berate, and belittle others who are not in agreement with our opinions, and I guess I'm not much different.  There are those who will disagree with my comment on the "main stream media," and that’s okay.  It’s just an opinion.  The problem arises, though, when we use our opinions to justify attacks - verbal, emotional or physical -  on those who have differing opinions.

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Mission Opportunities

Where do you find your mission?  Is it in the people closest to you?  Does your immediate family know the truth of Jesus love?  Has a spouse, a child, a sibling, or a parent been your mission for years?  Don’t quit and don’t allow them to ever get away from you without showing them the goodness of God revealed to us in His Son, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who dwells in you!

Maybe your mission field is at your work.  Do you enter your work place with an attitude that you’re grateful to have the job you have and everyone can see that?  Are you working for your employer as though you are working for God?  Do you show those around you that everything you have is not your own but a blessing from God?  Are you generous with your speech and time toward your coworkers?  Do they know that God has given us the responsibility to manage everything He has created for us here?

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Achievement, Celebration, and Transition

May is when we normally celebrate our graduating seniors.  Our Grill Masters competition was birthed out of this celebration and we’ve now added the Sweet Treats prize as well.  It’s a milestone that for a lot of us is a distant memory.  But for Olivia Thomas it’s just over the horizon and I know she’s excited and prepared for what lies ahead of her.

I have the privilege of working with young people usually from their middle school through their high school years, but I’ve known Olivia for most of her life.  What a blessing it has been to watch her grow up and go through all the stages.  We’ve shared a lot of life here from VBS to Great Escape to Fall/Winter Retreats to Mission Trips to Chrysalis and much more.  It’s been one of those journeys when you know the young person is in it for the right reasons.  That’s been the case with Olivia.  Her heart is tender, her attitude is humble, and she has a great work ethic that she has shared on so many occasions with our group.

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Lent to Easter

Most of you have been in this for a while.  By this, I mean you have been followers of Jesus and the Way for several years.  On Ash Wednesday, we had a service where we began a journey over 40 days leading up to Easter.  It’s a time of self-reflection, a time to contemplate your life and your personal journey with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.  For several, it’s a time to give up something that may be getting in the way of that relationship.  Or you may have chosen to add more prayer time, scripture reading time, or time serving others.  The journey, though, is not just limited to 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  It’s true that this is a time when we reflect, but what about before and after?

On March 3rd and 4th we hosted a youth retreat here for middle and high schoolers from 5 different churches in our Presbytery.  We spent a good amount of our time together going through an exercise of self-reflection on where we feel we are in our individual journeys with God.  To be honest I had high expectations of what God would do during our time together.  When you work with teenagers though, what you expect doesn’t always happen the way you think it should.  And that’s okay.  Over the years I’ve learned that God is in the business of touching and changing hearts.  My job is to point them toward Him.

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