It’s kind of funny, but right now I’m thinking about Monarch Butterflies. What has made my silly mind go there even though it’s the middle of winter? A couple of things. First, over the past few years my wife and I typically would have just gotten home from some warm tropical place. But because of Covid-19 and a change in her work situation, that little migration to the warmth and back didn’t happen this year. Like our migration to the tropics, the late-summer generation of Monarch butterflies migrates up to 3,000 miles each fall and spring as they fly to central Mexico and to the western coast of California…and then back to the north and east again. They are the only species of butterfly known to do a 2-way migration the way birds do (and people—lol).
That’s one reason why I’m thinking about these butterflies. The spring, early-summer and mid-summer generations of Monarchs live about 2-6 weeks, but the fourth generation of Monarchs are born after mid-August, and they live 6-9 months. The fourth generation is the one which migrates south, heading to a place in which they have never been before. They end up in the same specific places, returning to the exact same trees in the warmer climates, that were visited by Monarch Butterflies three generations back.
The second reason why I am thinking about Monarch Butterflies is because the last Sunday of March this year is what Christians recognize as Palm Sunday. Luke 19:28-44 describes the time when Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of his last week on earth. As he was headed toward the city, at some point along the way, the people recognize him as their Messiah King. They lay their clothing and palm leaves onto the road in front of him like a red carpet welcoming him to the Oscars. They’re singing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38)! But not everybody is singing the praises of Jesus. The Pharisees attempt to “cancel” the proclamations of the people, but Jesus says, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).
The STONES will cry out. I love the truth of Scripture which recognizes that all of nature in one way or another proclaims the goodness of our great designer God. And I appreciate that science helps us discover the fine details of how God has put together nature and its natural laws so that life can flourish. Scientists don’t know for sure how Monarch Butterflies are able to migrate like they do, but according to the research group Monarch Joint Adventure (https://monarchjointventure.org/monarch-biology/monarch-migration), they ascribe some of this ability to instinct, like how birds and whales are hard-wired to migrate, or like how infants know how to suckle or to pull themselves up to stand. They also ascribe some of the Monarch’s ability to know when to migrate to decreasing daylight hours, colder temperatures, and aging milkweed and nectar sources. They ascribe the Monarch’s ability to migrate south and north to their “sun compass” which involves the special make-up of their eyes to orient themselves in relation to the sun, as well as to a “magnetic compass,” which is part of the make-up of their antennae allowing them to orient themselves in relation to the earth’s magnetic field.
As I think about the uniqueness of how God created the Monarch Butterfly, I am reminded that we are in a unique season leading up to Easter. This is a unique time to draw closer to Jesus as we think about his death and resurrection, and what it means to our life both now and into eternity. Use the month of March to intentionally grow spiritually. Perhaps you could join the Sunday morning (9:30) or Wednesday evening (7:00) Bible study. Or perhaps you could make it your goal to worship as the church each Sunday (10:30). Or perhaps you could step up your prayer and Bible reading time by reading through one chapter of Matthew’s gospel each day in March. If you started on March 1, by the time Palm Sunday rolls around, you will have read through Matthew’s entire account of the life of Christ.
Praising Jesus with you…and all of creation.
Last year I attended a preaching conference and picked up a book that is structured by passages from the New Testament that are focused on the ridiculous love of God that was exemplified in the life of Jesus. For example, in 1 John 4:19 we read that “we love because he first loved us.” In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples” …if you love one another. Then in John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That doesn’t mean we are to love everything, however, since 1 John 2:15 notes, “Do not love the world or the things of the world.” The book, structured along verses like this, challenges readers to live like Jesus in a love-starved world.
In the book, Ridiculous: Living Like Christ in a Love Starved World, J.K. Jones observes that developing the habit of “holy examination” can be beneficial in helping us to pursue and practice God’s love, even though it sounds impossible to do at first blush. Just as going to the gym to work out your body can help you to stay strong and healthy physically, the habit of holy examination is part of a spiritual workout at God’s gym that makes it possible for you to more consistently share God’s love with others as you begin to look more and more like Jesus.
The “exercise” of holy examination comes from 2 Corinthians 13:5-6, where Paul says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” Paul desired that followers of Christ be so devoted to him that they lived godly lives. He invites and encourages us to take a good look into our relationship with Jesus to make sure we are not merely being “fake” Christians. Self-examination can help us to have a healthy relationship with Jesus by helping us to become intentional about growing to look more and more like him. This isn’t a self-absorbed kind of introspection which asks, “Does God still love me?” or “Am I still saved?” It’s more about asking yourself questions that help you evaluate whether or not your thoughts, words, and actions have been pleasing to the God you love.
A good habit to develop might be to ask yourself specific questions that relate to your spiritual walk with God at the end of each day. Here is a sampling of questions you could ask yourself to “test” whether or not you are growing in the practice of sharing God’s love in a way that makes him irresistible to others.
1. Am I closer to Jesus today than I was last week?
2. Have I been gracious today or have I been critically harsh?
3. Did my family see God in me today?
4. Can I be trusted, and have I been trustworthy today?
5. Did I spend time in the Bible today, and did Scripture live in me today?
6. Did my passion, personality, and giftedness work together today to bring God praise?
7. Did I stay in touch with God today through prayer?
8. Was I self-pitying, self-justifying, or self-conscious today?
9. Was my time under God’s Lordship today, including my free time and the little things?
10. Did I grow in awe and wonder of God today?
Although it sounds ridiculous, a little test now and then can help us be intentional about loving God and others more.
2020 has shown us that no matter how well you plan for the future, things don’t always go according to plan. I had to laugh as I read about a prediction made back in 1967, when experts predicted that by the turn of the century technology would have taken over so much of the work we do that the average American work week would be only 22 hours long, and they stated that we would work only 27 weeks a year. As a result, one of our biggest problems would be in deciding what to do with all our leisure time. Wow! I don’t know about you, but that prediction certainly missed the mark as far as my life is concerned! In fact, most of us seem to be overly busy. We’re always in a hurry. We walk fast, and talk fast, and eat fast. Then after we eat, all too often, we stand up and say, "Excuse me. I’ve gotta run."
Well, it’s that time of the year again when we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions and setting goals for a new year. Only thing is, things often don’t turn out as we planned because most people aren’t so good at following through on their goals for very long. So what should we do? In one survey by psychologists at the University of Washington, the researchers found that most people keep the promise they put at the top of their list, at least for a while. But the most interesting result of the survey found that people are more willing to do something they know is right than give up something they know is wrong: 84% of those surveyed vowed to start doing something like exercising, but only 14% vowed to give up something. In a 2003 article by Bryan Eisenberg that still makes a lot of sense, he offers these tips for keeping at your New Year’s goals:
- Make only one or two resolutions.
- Choose resolutions you’ve been thinking about for a while.
- Adopt a new good behavior rather than trying to shake an engrained bad habit.
- Choose realistic goals you feel confident you can meet.
- If you don’t succeed, determine the barriers that blocked you, and try again.
So here we are at the end of 2020 moving into 2021. I wonder how we’ll do this year? Will we be busy? Will we make better use of our time? In 362 days, when this year is over, will we look back with joy or with regret? Will we look to the future with anticipation or with dread? I want to add one more recommendation to the tips listed above as you consider goals for a new year. Ephesians 5:15-17 tells us: "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."
Let’s get intentional about our spiritual life this year, reading and studying the Bible as we commit to worshipping together as Community Christian Church. It will help you “understand what the Lord’s will is” for you.
Celebrating 2021 with you,
Here's a little thought (because little thoughts are all I have) from Tyler as we enter into a New Year. Happy New Year and may God bless you some way somehow!