Find a Reason to Celebrate

balloons

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Psalm 98:4

This devotional writing is the first in a series on the subject of celebration. I decided to write a few devotions about celebration to help us find the good in the ordinary, the painful, and the unanswered mysteries. Often, the good doesn’t show up unless we know how to seek it out. It is my prayer that these devotions will help us do just that. Celebration is closely related to gratitude and worship, so these themes will also emerge and enrich our growing understanding.

When the word “celebration” is mentioned, we may think of a special occasion, or a reason to throw a party, or an opportunity to have a good time. Lots of times a celebration requires us to dress up and eat food we don’t usually eat. Maybe we even spend time with people we don’t know well or see often.

The grand celebrations, like a graduation or a wedding or a milestone birthday, happen only a few times during someone’s life. The party is larger and the desire to make it special is greater because we want to honor the new season of life the occasion represents.

Whatever the word “celebration” may mean to each person, everyone comes away from the event with a longing to carry it with us; to find a way to take the merrymaking into the upcoming hours, days, and years so we remember. No one wants to forget the feeling of being included in a party and the way people looked on that special day. We form traditions and find ways to preserve photos of family and friends before age and sickness changes them or distance and the passing of time steals them away.

And yet, nothing remains the same. So the question becomes how do we live in the present while staying attentive to the vibrations joy sends through our experiences?

This is the essence of the spiritual discipline of celebration.

Calling celebration a discipline means that it becomes an intentional habit. Parties don’t happen by accident. Every celebration takes months of careful planning to pull it off. So it is with our hearts. Living with joy and celebrating the good must develop into an intentional habit. In the spiritual life, this starts with finding ways to focus on our relationship with God. Celebration as a practice invites us to slow down and enjoy the here and now. It asks us to step back and view reality. To give thanks. To offer unhurried love.

Do we celebrate? Have a reason to? Know how? Want to? If I were to answer honestly, I would say to all those questions, “sometimes.” This is mostly because the hard dark times hide from my view the real, near presence of the Lord. When my heart chooses to celebrate, my fear lessens. Celebration shines light on God’s care, his love, and his promises. That’s something–like the loved ones in a photo–I never want to forget.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Do Something Dangerous!

danger sign

One of our family’s favorite movies is Dudley Do-Right based on a cartoon with a Canadian Mountie as the main character. The Canadian Mountie is a legendary figure with “Maintien le Droit,” or “uphold the right” as his motto. The responsibilities of the Mountie call for bravery. Heroism. Strength. They were fearless, and they were the Law; worthy of authority and respect.

But Dudley is anything but these expected Mountie qualities. He is spineless, clumsy, and intimidated. As the movie progresses, we see Dudley surrounded by a whole gang of bad guys. Robbing the local bank and taking over the town, these surly characters in black jackets and face masks are moving fast.

Dudley finds himself out-witted. He loses his job and stumbles across a bum up in the mountains. The bum takes Dudley under his wing and teaches him how to be a hero. The bum’s last words to his foundling student are, “get out there and do something dangerous!” Bruised and confused, Dudley stumbles away in search of adventure.

Get out there and do something dangerous. This sounds an awfully lot like the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:10-22. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the enemy’s schemes…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Paul is cheering on a new church intent on advancing the gospel in the pagan Roman Empire. Paul himself sits in prison bound in chains as he writes. He knows what is at stake for the church if they do not heed these words. The Christian faith will die out. Justice and righteousness according to God’s Law would no longer be maintained. Yet, Paul knows what is at stake for the new church if they do heed his words. Persecution. Imprisonment for daring to worship anyone but the Caesar. Maybe even death. It was a tough choice. One that needed to be made in spite of the danger and hardship it would invite.

Following Jesus is dangerous. In his book, The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith says, “Jesus observes that those who pursue righteousness are going against the grain of society, and that will result in persecution. Following Jesus is dangerous–if we lead the kind of life he calls us to. When we choose to fight for justice and peace or not to lie or judge others, we will face backlash. The promise in the last beatitude is the same as in the first: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When we align ourselves with Jesus and observe his ways, we are in the kingdom” (pp. 61-62).

The kingdom. The territory where God reigns. The place where we are called to live dangerously. Go on a mission. Dare to be a serious disciple of Christ. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Live by values. Pray.

Don’t we often feel like Dudley Do-Right? Intimidated in the face of evil or hardship and bumbling along in confusion hoping that something we did today counted? It is in times like this when Jesus calls us to an adventure. His adventure. Living life in the kingdom. Because it is when we are taking the risks and counting the cost that we are in the safest place of all–his plan for our lives lived out under his protection in his strength with his armor firmly in place.

 

Keep the Silo Full

barn and silosI pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Ephesians 3:16

The month of June falls during storm season. For a stretch of two weeks in June 2015, the National Weather Service issued a new watch or warning for some area of the state almost daily. As a storm brews, the air gets heavy. The clouds darken. The wind picks up.

Sometimes storms catch us off guard. “Tragedy happens to others,” we think, “not to me.” And we go on living our lives with the presumption that reality is keeping time with our imagination.

On a Saturday evening, Father’s Day Eve actually, of June 2015, a storm caught a community of farmers in southern Iowa off guard. No one saw it coming. A thunderstorm warning was in effect, but a tornado warning was never issued.

A tornado touched down and followed a five-mile path southeast destroying rooftops, electric poles, barns, and silos along the way. At one farm, the twister needed only ten seconds to cross the yard. In those ten seconds, every building, including two silos, were demolished. Several more farms sustained similar losses. When the storm had passed and the farmers in the area were assessing their damage, it was noticed that only one silo in the entire region was left standing.

“Why?” I asked one of the farm owners on Sunday afternoon.

“Because that silo was filled to the top,” he answered. He went on to explain how only 90 minutes before the storm hit the young farmer who owned the silo, along with his dad, had finished filling it to the brim with chopped hay. Screaming winds at 110 miles per hour failed to shake it.

Filled to the top. These are the words Dr. Luke uses to describe Stephen in the book of Acts. Chapter 6:5 says, “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Also, in verse 8, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”

The Apostle Paul wanted the same thing for the church in Ephesus. “I pray tht he may strengthen you through his Spirit.” Stephen was full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit. He was also full of God’s grace and power. The result? Strength.

If the farmers of Paul’s day would have used silos, I wonder if he may have pointed to one and asked, “Is your silo full? Do you have Christ within strengthening you? Can your faith withstand the storms that are sure to hit? Are you, like Stephen, filled to the top with God’s grace, his power, and his Holy Spirit?”

He would ask the same of us today. Are we filled to the top with Christ’s presence? Are we filled with God’s grace, power, and Holy Spirit? Can our faith withstand the storms?

Those southern Iowa farmers never expected a storm. They never expected tragedy to happen to them. But it doesn’t really matter anymore. A full silo, just like a full heart, can stand strong through the worst of storms.