He Knows Your Name!

The theme song for the award-winning American sit-com, Cheers, goes like this:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got 
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
 

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came. 

You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name. 

You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

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P3050243 (Photo credit: PeraltaC775)

The sentiment echoes a feeling shared by many a newcomer settling in a foreign land, adjusting to new norms and different expectations. But even once settled in familiar surroundings with familiar faces, one might experience a similar wistful longing from time to time.  When those feelings begin to rise, we can be comforted with the assurance that there is one who knows our name. Worshippers throughout time have found much consolation in their beliefs that, not only does God know our name, he also knows our every thought, and he keeps a record of our tears (imagine that!).

We do need a certain degree of faith, especially in the times in which we live, to be persuaded that such notions were not merely thought up by some philosophically astute minds, but inspired by something—someone—far superior. If we doubt at all that there is a God with a keen interest in each of us on a personal level, maybe we can find some confidence in the faith that has sustained others in times past. Then, when we feel lonely or alienated, like a “fish out of water”, unsure of ourselves because suddenly the rules of the game have changed and we now find ourselves at a disadvantage where before we had the upper hand; when the tide has turned and we no longer find ourselves ahead, but struggling to stay afloat, we may find strength and courage to carry on, as others have before, trusting that there is someone who knows, who cares, and who is more than able to give us peace during our times of uncertainty, insecurity, and emotional unrest or turmoil. Listen, reflect, and take comfort.

 

 

A Level Playing Field

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Since the beginning of time, people have been conscious to some degree of a constant striving within themselves to do good. We first experience this struggle as children, when we realize how much easier it is to do wrong than to do right. It’s the reason that, as young as one year old, even before we’re able to speak full sentences, one of our first words is “No.” It’s the reason we all, barely out of diapers, need to be taught culturally and socially appropriate behaviour.

Being imperfect human beings, it’s an impossible feat for anyone to do the right thing all the time; and when we mess up in any way, our conscience wastes little time letting us know it. We may try to make amends somehow for poor behaviour, and usually we’re successful in restoring peace within ourselves and in our relationships.  In our WIIFM, rights-obsessed, do-whatever’s-most-convenient-and-least-painful-for-you world, while it seems less importance is placed on the practice these days, it remains a noble thing to acknowledge and admit one’s wrong and to make some attempt to set it right if we can.

Throughout history, believers in a higher moral authority have offered sacrifices to the gods they worship to make amends for their wrongs, and those sacrifices have taken various forms depending on one’s system of beliefs. Even today, one doesn’t have to search too hard to find evidence of human or animal sacrifices being carried out somewhere in our world. But all human effort, however well-intentioned, falls short of the standards of a holy God whose thoughts and ways are far superior to even the most morally upright among us. No sacrifice on our part will suffice to land us in God’s good graces. If we were able to attend our place of worship every day of the week, it would not do. Nor would all the fasting and praying we could manage to fit into our hectic schedules. Nor would giving all our possessions away to the poor, nor any amount of good works, whatever that might mean to us personally. Sounds unreasonable? Yes, it would, to our human ears. But the fact is, no matter how much we can do, there’s always someone capable of doing better. In God’s eyes, at least, no-one can ever win if we compare ourselves to others because none of us are perfect.

When we finally tire of the uncertainty of knowing whether or not we’re making any headway in our own personal efforts to measure up, we can find rest in the knowledge that God, being an impartial and fair judge, leveled the playing field about 2000 years ago by providing the ultimate means whereby all of us, through faith, might find peace with Him, with others, and within ourselves, as well as forgiveness for our wrongs. His name is Jesus Christ, of whom the following was said:

He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.

But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong [and ever will do wrong],
on him, on him.

—–

Isaiah 53:3-6 (The Message)  //  Image credit: frenta / 123RF Stock Photo

Love (Ideally)

Pure, unconditional love can be a challenge for most of us mere mortals on our best day, 

but with God all things are possible.

Keep Looking!

mendhak / Beach Photos / CC BY-SA

When it was released in 1987, U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” really struck a chord with me. At that time, I hadn’t yet consciously embarked on my search for peace and purpose, but I sensed, as I always had since childhood, that there was something far deeper, richer, and far more meaningful to this life. It took another 7 years until I found what I was looking for, and it wasn’t in the religious trappings that had been my experience growing up. Those rituals, though they hinted at something more profound and potentially attainable, were more like an exasperating tease than an invitation to keep searching.

Like an old friend that unexpectedly but pleasantly pops back into one’s life after a period of absence, I heard the song playing recently, and since for some reason I wasn’t able to shake it off, I soon found myself reading the book, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, in which the singer freely shares with a music journalist friend his views on family, faith, and justice, among other things.

At the time the song debuted, the members of U2 already held fairly strong positions of faith; and Bono, concerned with the question of poverty even then, had already begun to develop a sense of his greater calling in life, which he can be seen actively pursuing today.

Considering that they grew up in a region of the world that has witnessed countless acts of  violence carried out in the name of religion, I find it interesting that neither Bono nor his fellow band members ever used this as an excuse to avoid seeking God for themselves. Interesting, because we all can probably think of at least a few people who have rationalized neglecting their own spiritual pursuits on the basis of a great deal less than the violence that has been carried out there and in other places under the guise of religion. (The occasional run-in with the “hypocrites” at the local church is generally off-putting enough).  But perhaps being the offspring of a Catholic father and Protestant mother who enjoyed a good marriage in spite of opposition to their union had something to do with Bono’s open-minded, mature outlook on issues of faith even during his youth; and although by his account his parents didn’t take religion too seriously and felt it was an obstacle to reaching God, their evident commitment to their children’s spiritual development clearly demonstrated that they saw a certain value in planting seeds of faith in their lives.

As Bono tells it, his late father admired his son’s faith—he had a wistful envy of Bono’s relationship with God, a keen interest in his spiritual journey, and seemed more impressed by the band’s faith than by their success. According to Bono, given that his father typically saw him as the family idiot and expected less of him than he did of his older brother, on some level he was proud of Bono’s success, but not outspokenly so, and only as long as it didn’t intrude on his privacy. (Bono shares the amusing story of his father standing up and waving his fist at him when the spotlight was turned on him after Bono unexpectedly announced his presence at a concert.) I find it admirable that his father had such a healthy respect for his son’s faith. Quiet introspection must have led him to the conclusion that his one-way conversation with God could not compare with his son’s two-way faith experience, yet he didn’t appear threatened or intimidated by it; he was simply curious.   It’s not clear whether the father ever found what he was looking for before he departed this life, but it’s evident that the son has.

And you?  If you haven’t yet found what you’re looking for, I encourage you to keep searching. We are promised that we will find God if we search for Him with all our heart, so may none of us allow the actions of a few misguided, overzealous, wayward, or mentally unstable individuals to stand in the way of our efforts and to dictate our own spiritual destiny.  We need only reflect on our experiences over the past 24 hours to find the shocking evidence that, even when motivated by the most well-meaning intentions, the best of us are just like the rest of us—prone to error. It’s in our DNA!

Until next post, I leave you with this brief trip to the past. Click below to enjoy!

Where Does your Hope Lie?

Yesterday was “Blue Monday”, supposedly the most depressing day of this year (a quick online search should turn up more information for those interested in finding out more about its origin). This morning in Toronto, we experienced frigid winter weather with a wind chill of -25 degrees Celsius, but we’re getting off easy compared to some other areas of the country! It’s also the time of year when SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms are most prevalent, particularly for those living in colder climes.

Given post-holiday blues, below freezing temperatures, challenges with finances and personal relationships, etc., etc., etc., what motivates us to get up out of bed every morning? For many, the answer is obvious. There are responsibilities to fulfill, whether it be getting the kids off to school or ourselves off to work, etc., etc., etc. A sense of purpose can be a great driving force, but is there anything more that encourages us daily to keep pressing on in spite of our trials in this life? Despair, after all, drives some to suicide and others to various forms of self-destructive behaviour. What convinces the rest of us that we have something of value to keep living for?

Hope can spur us on to do many things, from the mundane to the most remarkable, but hope is better placed in a source that is consistently reliable rather than in things or people, for once they’re gone, our hope quickly dissipates along with them. Like an anchor that securely holds a tossing boat even in the stormiest weather, our hope must be based on something sure, or when the worst trials come we will surely fold under their pressure.

Whatever mood this post finds you in, may you find encouragement in the words above and in the video below.

Blessings!

Here’s to a Healthy Spirit, Mind, and Body!

In a society that places immense value on physical appearance and intellectual ability, we’re bombarded daily with ads that prompt us to enhance our physical appearance, and we regularly hear of people who are constantly altering their God-given physical attributes in efforts to “perfect” themselves. (Who hasn’t heard about those Ken and Barbie look-alikes?)

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We’re advised daily on how to tighten up all our soft spots and smooth out all our rough spots.  There seems to be an ideal body weight that we should strive for when we step on the scale or figure type that we should see when we look in the mirror. In times past, one could maintain a certain blissful ignorance about one’s attractiveness or lack thereof, but today’s technology, which allows us to freely share all kinds of information, has taken things to a different level. (Know of any singles who’ve applied to the online dating service, BeautifulPeople.com and been successfully voted in?)   

 

We can be just as obsessed with the workings of the mind. There are as many people seeking intellectual prowess as there are on a quest for physical perfection. The ideal person, according to societal standards, is endowed with both beauty and intelligence, and usually doesn’t require much more to be placed on a pedestal by others.

 

Unfortunately, because the spiritual essence of one’s being can’t be gauged quite so easily, it is generally seen to be of little significance and of lesser value. The tendency is to place a higher value on that which is visible to the human eye, even though it is the spirit, at the center of our being, which determines greatly what we choose to do with our minds and our bodies. Both the evil and the good that we see and experience in our world reflect the spiritual condition of its citizens.

 

Just as our physical body requires proper nourishment to grow, the same is true with our spirit. If we want to live a well-balanced life, we should seek to be healthy in spirit, soul, and body – and in that order, not the reverse. After all, we can be certain that our physical bodies will one day cease to exist, and we have no idea how long we will be able to rely upon our minds, but it doesn’t take much to see that almost everyone, regardless of the nature of their faith, believes that our spirits will live on forever.

 

My paternal grandmother, whom I visited just a few months before her passing away in 1993, was an excellent illustration of this. Little did she know how great an example she was to me during the brief time I spent with her. With little understanding of any of the goings-on around her, she repeatedly asked my grandfather who I was, and nodded and smiled at me with a blank look each time he replied that I was her granddaughter visiting from Canada. She was bedridden and had a nurse who attended to her physical needs daily, but I was impressed by her peace, joy, and the degree of her spiritual devotion as, at different times throughout each day, she looked up, smiling, at the ceiling of her room, singing or reciting spiritual songs and thanking God with incredible (perhaps supernatural?) energy.

 

I saw a similar display of passion and confident expectation with my maternal grandmother less than a few years later. She, too, had deteriorated physically and mentally, but remained strong in spirit.

Due to their faith, both women seemed peacefully assured that they had much to look forward to upon departure from this life. According to the Bible, God has placed a sense of eternity in all our hearts, which could explain why so many people throughout history have believed in some sort of afterlife, regardless of the nature of their faith.

 

When we trust God with our lives, we find that our love for the things of this world diminishes as we see less and less through human eyes (naturally) and increasingly through the eyes of God (spiritually). Consequently, our priorities change and we are no longer quite so obsessed with worldly, temporal issues, but rather with matters of a more spiritual and eternal nature. It is God who imparts to us a desire to please Him and to appreciate the things He values. We are otherwise more concerned with pleasing ourselves. If we’re ever in doubt that we’ve got the right priorities (according to God’s standards), we need only ask of God; He reveals Himself to willing hearts.

 

Unlike the world, God does not accept or reject us based on our appearance or abilities. His love for us is not shallow – it far exceeds our wildest imagination; for in His eyes, we are valued far more than the human mind could ever conceive.