Archive for January, 2017

Lessons From Max…

secret-life-max-coverI recently watched “The Secret Life of Pets,” and I began to look for messages of hope and grace within the movie. I found a few, but there was one theme that hit me more than the others and it was this; “Change doesn’t have to be scary.” It really doesn’t. But so often, change is incredibly scary and difficult to deal with.

How do you handle change? Do you ‘roll with the punches’ or maybe fight it all the way, kicking and screaming. In the business world, I had to deal with a lot of change, as many of you probably do as well. Change is hard, it breaks us out of the shell that we call home. It pushes us to get outside our comfort zones. The “Secret Life of Pets” follows a couple of bad decisions by the main character, Max. During the movie, we find out what happens because of those decisions. What we learn from Max is what not to do. By the end of the movie Max eventually comes around with this major change in his life, but it is how he handled the change in the beginning, where we find out what not to do.

In the beginning we find Max, who is Katie’s first dog and he has been living a great life. Everything is just as he likes it, other than the fact that Katie leaves him every morning to go to work, but other than that, life is good. Life is perfect. Max is a very happy dog.

Enter Duke. Duke is this wonderful, large, fluffy, active dog who has entered Max’s life and turned it upside down. Max no longer has a bed to sleep in, Duke is eating his food, and it seems that Duke is getting more attention from Katie. Major change for Max, and Max doesn’t like it. So how does Max handle this change? He tries to sabotage the relationship between Duke and Katie by knocking things over in the apartment, knowing that she will assume it was Duke that made the mess. Max also becomes passive-aggressive in his relationship with Duke. He is not very welcoming to this new person in his life. He also begins to gossip and complain to all of his friends, especially Chloe, the cat from upstairs. Max also uses some manipulation when he knows he has the upper hand with Duke.

All of these things are terrible things to do when dealing with change. I’m sure that if we looked back and reflected on our lives, we could find times when we were faced with some sort of change where we handled it like Max did, not so well.

Becoming passive aggressive or unwelcoming, to start to gossip and complain, sabotaging or manipulating people are no way to handle change in our lives. These are not ways to move forward, to make a positive impact in our world.

Maybe we need to look to scripture to give guidance in our lives as we deal with change. Luke chapter 5, verses 37-38 gives us a keen insight into change and things that happen if we try to stay in the same old place that we have always been. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”

The imagery of the wineskins holds a wonderful truth. When the wineskins got old, they would become rigid and would burst if new wine was put into them, wasting not only the wineskin but also the wine. Jesus responds with this when asked by the Pharisees about one of the church laws, fasting. So we can assume that the old wineskins represented the Pharisees and the old laws. They were too rigid to accept Jesus and his teachings. Jesus could not be contained within the old laws or traditions, therefore this new movement of Christianity needed new traditions, new approaches, new wineskins.

We need to make sure that as we look at our lives, being the body of Christ, that we don’t fall into that same category as the Pharisees in our story from Luke, unyielding to the changes that need to be made as we strive to reach new people with the love of God and grace of Jesus Christ. We should not allow our minds and traditions to become so rigid that they no longer allow for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Spirit to move in our hearts so that we may we see each and every person in our lives as someone who needs a place to belong. May we truly reach out in grace, mercy, and love to our neighbors, no matter who they are.

529547-fc4d357c-ce24-423f-9a14-2fa8b6f7efc5lYesterday we celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary. The actual date was January 14th, but things seemed to align for this very special day of celebration. During the planning, my wife, brothers, and their wives all pitched in to help in different ways. Invitations were sent, a Facebook event was created, and people began to share with friends about this day.

I have to say that I wasn’t sure how many were going to show up, in fact I was a bit worried that we would not have that many arrive for the celebration. Well, the day arrived, and my brothers and wives descended on Beth Eden UMC to prepare for the party. Decorations were assembled, food was displayed, and we waited for guest to arrive.

I should have known better, I should not have ever doubted that there would not be that many guest would come. I was overwhelmed, as I’m sure my parents were, about the amount of people who arrived to share in their special day. I greeted so many that day, from family members that I had not seen in many years, to old neighbors, faithful church family members, past school teachers, and far more friends than would have imagined. Oh, why would I ever doubt that two people who cared so much for everyone else, would have not made such an impact on those lives that these people would not want to help them celebrate.

I think my only regret may be that we set the party from 2-4pm. This was certainly not enough time to catch up. Maybe this is an indication as to how much time we spend apart from one another, or it’s just that fact that our relationships really mean something and we need to maintain contact. But I digress…

Throughout the celebration, conversations, laughter, and smiles and filled the room. There were even tears of joy as mom and dad renewed their 50 year old wedding vows, a complete surprise by the way! I can’t begin to express my joy and pleasure being able to be the one to lead them in this renewal of such a sacred covenant. To see the love and devotion in their eyes inspires me as Sherry and I approach our 25th anniversary. Every time I hear of couples reaching these milestones, I am encouraged that the sanctity of marriage is still alive and well in this world. Thanks mom and dad for such a great example of love.

Well, after the celebration at the church, the immediate family gathered for dinner at my uncles house. Once again, laughter, smiles, and conversations abounded. I just wish it could have lasted longer. Why we wait for these special days to share with each other, I will never understand. I am grateful to my wife for helping with this special day, Matt and Kelly for the cake, punch, and beautiful table decorations, Don and Carrie for the wonderful food, and to all of those who attended and made this a wonderful celebration.

However, the most important thanks goes to two very special parents, Jerry and Jane Severing. Their example of what a marriage truly is, the devotion they have showed each other through some incredibly difficult times, and the love and respect they have instilled into their sons which will now extend through their kids, are truly a testament to the love of God manifested in a sacred covenant. May God bless them as they continue this journey of love.

I love you, mom and dad!

Release It

starting-over-release-itHow can we make sure next time won’t be the same as last time?

Have you ever met a couple or family and think to yourself, man they’ve got it all figured out? That’s a perfect family. That’s a perfect relationship. But then you hear about something that happened to them in the past, a divorce, they got fired, they filed bankruptcy, they lost a child, something troubling, horrific. Then you think to yourself, how did they get here? How did they make it through that experience and arrived at this place? You can’t figure it out. It doesn’t make sense. They should be one of the angriest people on the planet, but they’re not. How did they get here?

I have heard of some of those people, when asked about how they got to where they are today, through all of the horrible things they had to endure, would say this. “I decided.” I decided to not let the past define who I was going to be. They decided to not allow that bad marriage, that horrible financial situation, that loss of a loved one, being a victim of a crime; to define who they wanted to become. They decided that they would allow the past to remind them, but not define them. That’s a decision they needed to make, and maybe that’s a decision that you have to make today. Make up your mind to allow that past situation to only remind you, not to define you.

How can we make sure next time won’t be the same as last time? You have to release it. You need to release the past so that the past can release you. You need to release whatever it is in your past that is part of that story you like to tell, so that it can in turn release you.

So how do you do this? How do you release the past, and where would it go once you release it? Well, I’m sorry if you thought this was going to be something incredibly new, a new concept, a new process. It’s not. It’s forgiveness. When you forgive, you release.

Now, I’ve heard people say before that they can’t forgive some things. How could we forgive that cheating spouse, that person who took my promotion? How could we forgive thieves and murderers? How can we forgive them, isn’t that like saying that it was all alright? “It’s ok that you did this to me.” Is that what we are saying when we forgive people? No.

When you forgive someone, you are not saying that what they did to you was acceptable, that it’s ok. You’re not letting them off the hook. What you’re doing is releasing them from you and your future. You’re not allowing them to have any control over you, any power over you.

Ephesians chapter 4, verse 26 and 27 says this; “26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.”

The word used in the Greek language for devil here can also mean liar, slanderer, or false accuser. So we could insert those who have hurt us in the past right here. Don’t make room for whoever it was that hurt you. Don’t allow the person or situation that has caused such pain in your past to have a space in your future. How do you do that? By releasing them. By letting it go. By forgiving them.

If this is you, and you are dealing with something right now, or maybe you just got out of a situation that you want to leave behind, this is what I want you to do. Make a list of who you need to forgive in order to move forward. On that list I want you to write down what they owe you, or what you think they owe you. Be specific. Once you have that done, you need to forgive them for all of those things. Remember that by forgiving them, you are not saying that it was ok. But that you release them from your life and your future. You are no longer giving them a space in your life. You are releasing them. You are releasing the past and allowing yourself to make sure that next time will not be like the last time.

Rethink It!

starting-over-rethink-itEver ask yourself this question; “What was I thinking?” I’ve said it many times. At work, at school, in my marriage, with my friends. We do so much in our lives that we regret. During those times we even wonder about the decisions we are making. They don’t make sense to us, which is probably where this question comes from. What was I thinking? I remember a song by Dierks Bently by that name. He was getting himself in all kinds of trouble on a date with a girl and continually asks the question, what was I thinking? He gets in trouble with the girl’s dad, a guy at the club they went to, the sheriff. He was constantly making bad decisions, all the while asking, what was I thinking? He knew what he was feeling, but what was he thinking? Maybe he took the time the next day to reflect on those decisions. Maybe…

But you see, answering the question of what was I thinking, takes time. We have to stop long enough to answer the question. If we don’t we will continue on our lives in the same manner, making bad decision. So here’s what I want us to see today. Here is what God’s word is telling us today.

Romans 12, verse one says this; “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Present our bodies, not just our minds, not just our time on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but our bodies, our whole lives, as a living sacrifice to God, this is our worship.

In verse 2 we find one of the biggest struggles to us living our lives as this sacrifice to God. Here is what it says; “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.”

Do not conform. Conformity is not what God is looking for. We are all different members of the body of Christ. We don’t all look the same, act the same, or have the same gifts. God wants us to be different. He doesn’t want us to be a cookie cutter version, stamped out like all the rest of the world. God wants us to be transformed. So how do we become transformed? How do we live this life as a living sacrifice? This is where our topic of rethinking comes into play. We do this, as Paul describes, “by the renewal of your mind.” Now renewal takes time, and remember that time is your friend, so this will not be an overnight thing, although with God all things are possible. But usually this process takes time. It takes time to reflect on “what you were thinking.” It takes time to remove those things that don’t belong. It takes time to listen for God’s call on our lives. All of this takes time.

Think of it this way, renew equals restore. If you are renewing your mind, your life, you are restoring. Maybe we are restoring it back to factory settings, back to our creator’s settings. Now, when you restore things, what is the process? Like when you restore a piece of furniture or maybe a kitchen, since I have a little experience with watching one of those. What do you need to start with? You have to remove the old. The old finish that is on the piece must come off. If you don’t strip away the old stain or paint, what ends up happening to the new finish that is applied? Right, it comes off. It peels away when the old finish lets go. There is no real foundation, nothing for the “new” to really stick to. Then you find yourself back at square one, needing to restore again.

It is the same with the renewing of our mind, the renewing of our lives. We need to take the time up front to make sure all the old things are scraped off, so that the new way sticks good. The process of renewing our mind found here in Romans is done through testing and discernment. This is how we know what is God’s will for our lives. And this takes time. Time is your friend, not your enemy. So take your time, rethink your situation, your life. Make good decisions based on the discernment of God’s will for your life. Don’t be a conformer, be a transformer.

“Own It”

starting-over-own-itWe at Lanark United Methodist Church are beginning a new worship series called “Starting Over” where we are looking at how to answer this question; “How can we make sure next time won’t be the same as the last time?”

Have you ever noticed that when it comes to learning from our past mistakes, we have a tendency to learn from our mistakes in the areas where it matters the least? But we seem to repeat our mistakes in the areas that matter the most. Why is that? Why can we learn from those things that really don’t matter that much, but when it comes to the stuff that we really want to get right, we end up screwing things up?

Well our first topic we will discuss is “own it.” This is all about taking responsibility for our part is our mistakes or failures. Now, I’m not saying that it is all our fault, but we certainly had something to do with the outcome. What I am saying is this; don’t play the blame game. It’s too easy. I know, because I’ve done it. I’ve blamed others for things that I had some control over because it was easier than admitting what really happened. It wasn’t all someone else’s fault.

But let’s think about the blame game just a little bit. As human beings, we have been doing this for a long, long, long time. As Christians, we tend to blame everything on Adam and Eve. In the story in Genesis, we find the origins of this blaming. Let’s look at the story a bit.

In the beginning God created, everything. Everything was just the way God wanted it. God saw that it was good. But in the garden there was one rule, just one. There were no ten commandments, no law of the land, there was just one rule. As we all probably know, Adam and Eve broke the one rule. They ate some fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Sounds like such a simple rule. How hard can it be to keep it? But anyone who has kids knows, that when you tell them they can do anything they want, just not this one thing…what’s the first thing they do. Right, as soon as mommy and daddy leave their sight, they make a bee line straight for that one thing they were not supposed to touch or do. It’s in our nature.

So after Adam and Eve broke the rule, what happens? Let’s look at Adam’s conversation with God. God knew they broke the rule, and he searches for Adam in the garden. He finds him and asks him a couple of questions. Verse 11; “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree?” Verse 12 gives us the response of Adam. He says “Yes I did. And I take full responsibility for my actions. Do with me as you will, but leave Eve out of this, she’s innocent!”

That’s what he should have said. But what did he say? The first thing both Adam and Eve did after they got caught, was to blame someone else! Here is what Adam really said; “THE WOMAN whom YOU GAVE to be with me, SHE GAVE ME fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Adam’s blaming both Eve and God. Now notice this, what Adam is saying here is actually the truth, it’s just not the whole truth. There is no mention of Adam’s part in the decision making process of eating the fruit. Adam is not taking any responsibility for his actions.

We, like Adam and Eve should have done, need to accept our part in our pasts. We need to admit to ourselves where we played a part in them, otherwise it will be incredibly difficult to move forward and make the next time not be like the last time. The blame game needs to end. Blaming will never allow us to learn from past mistakes because blame doesn’t admit mistakes. It was someone else’s fault, not mine, so what do I have to learn from this?

We can’t blame our way into a better future. It just doesn’t work. In fact, blame allows us to smuggle our past issues into our future. Since blame doesn’t admit that we had anything to do with our problems, the problems remain unresolved, under the surface and easily smuggled into the future. They are a part of us, whether we like it or not, and if we don’t really take a look at who we are and how we got to where we are today, we will find all the same issues at every turn.

We need to own our issues, our pasts, our mistakes, and our problems. Maybe not all of it, but certainly our part that we played in it. It will take some time. It will take time to reflect on our responsibility, but it is worth it. By owning our piece of the past, we gain clarity, and when we have clarity, we make better decisions.

Our Pioneer

2012-09-10_18-42-47_556“It was fitting.” It was appropriate. It was right and proper. It only makes sense. It makes good sense. Different translations of the beginning of our passage in Hebrews. I guess we could add, “it’s obvious, isn’t it?” or “it’s common sense” even “why would we think it any different?” This is what God needed to do. Maybe taking it a bit further for all you “Big Bang Theory” fans, it could be God’s “Bazinga” to his reasoning to his actions.

In order to bring us all to his glory, this is what he needed to do, and it was fitting, appropriate, proper, obvious, and certainly made good sense. But what was it, what did he need to do? To make the pioneer of our salvation “perfect” through his sufferings.

Let’s break that down a bit. What do we mean by a “pioneer?” The dictionary defines this person as one who is the first to explore or settle a new country or area, or to be the first to use or apply a new method. This is someone who is a trail blazer, one who takes risks and leads by example with their lives. Throughout our lifetimes we have heard of many pioneers.

Certainly Lewis and Clark could be considered pioneers along with the many others who ventured out across this country to explore. But what about other pioneers like Rosa Parks in civil rights, Jackie Robinson in baseball segregation, Susan B. Anthony in women’s rights, Louis Pasteur in science, George Harrison Shull in hybrid corn production, and so many others. All pioneers in their own field, all making great contribution to society through their lives.

All of those listed were some of the first to blaze a trail into their respective fields, to become people who take risks with their lives so that others may follow in their footsteps. They are innovators of change, inventors of new products, things that help us, keep us safe, and allow us to live fuller lives.

Think of pioneers this way. There was this small ship, sailing towards their goal. They sailed for months trying to locate the port that would take them home, to a place of peace and comfort. A place they all dreamed to be. I guess you could say the place that was flowing with milk and honey. Well, after months of travelling on this cramped boat, probably getting on each other’s nerves. I’m sure the kids said a certain phrase over thousands of times; “are we there yet?” When finally, the lookout from the crow’s nest yelled out, LAND!

Everyone rushed to the top deck of the boat to gaze upon the wonderful sight of dry land, a symbol that they were home. That they now could relax in the peace of home, sweet home. The celebration could begin as they gathered together with all of their family that was waiting for them, but there was a slight problem. Surrounding the beach was about hundreds of feet of jagged rocks. The ship couldn’t make it through without being torn to pieces.

The captain steered the ship up and down the shoreline to find a place where they might dock but none could be found. Then the captain decided to do the only thing possible to get the rest of the passengers to land safely; leave the boat, swim to shore alone and secure a lifeline. This lifeline would then allow the rest of the passengers to safely follow the rope until they got to shore. The captain needed to take all the risk to blaze the trail, to make the path, to show the way home. He was their pioneer.

This story reminds me about the most important pioneer that we have. Jesus Christ, the pioneer of our salvation. He is the one who blazed the trail for us to follow back home, to the relationship that God wants to have with us. Through is life, death, and resurrection, Jesus provided the lifeline that we need to return home. Jesus Christ is the way!