He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
Has your drivenness ever taken you beyond what’s healthy?
Earlier this year I was in Florida for a short retreat for soul rest and prayer. I keep things very unstructured during these times, focusing on stillness with Jesus and time to enjoy God’s beauty in nature. I spent my last full afternoon birding in some beautiful state parks. It was a blast. But I’ll be honest, when I'm identifying new birds I've never seen before, it can become a bit like a sport. And for someone like me, there is the tendency to go a little overboard (Yes, obsessive birding. Just roll with it).
Near the end of the day, after talking with another birder, I was told there was a special bird that had been seen nesting nearby. It’s rare in the US, and it’s called a Crested Caracara. Great name, right?! The crested caracara is only found in a tiny bubble of Florida and south Texas. And I was in the bubble, people!
Immediately I went looking all over the spot that I was told it had been appearing, but with no luck. At dusk I drove back to my lodging, wishing I had caught a glimpse.
The next morning I woke up with a couple of hours before flying home. I had carved out that morning to be still and invite Jesus to prepare me for the crazy months I was heading into.
But you know that the little voice in my head was saying?
You should go chase the crested caracara! That would be awesome to accomplish before you leave!
Have you noticed that there is always another task on the to-do list and always another adventure to go on? There’s always the next thing crying for our attention. Our lives of full of choices about what to pursue next. Some are fun, and some are obligatory. Either way, in the midst of the next pursuit, we have this tendency to steamroll the practices that we say matter the most to us. We want to rest in God, but there’s always a crested caracara out there to chase after.
We are getting deeper into Lent. You have every reason on earth to start chasing whatever your crested caracara might look like as the spring emerges. The honeymoon is over and those grand lent ideas of growing closer to God have given way to the to do lists. Amirite? Maybe they are fun, and maybe they are work. Certainly, many of our pursuits are worthwhile and honoring to Jesus. But do we understand when the best pursuit is to simply be still with God? When do we prioritize the deep places in our souls that need attention?
In our community this week we reflected on the phrase in Psalm 23:3, "He renews my strength." David imagines what happens when he rests under God’s loving care. That phrase in Greek can literally mean: he returns me to my substance.
God offers us limits of time and energy as a gift, not a constraint. We are given permission to stop endlessly chasing what’s next. We are encouraged to take a break from getting that next item checked off our list, however exciting or exhausting it may be. What good is it to gain the whole world if we lose our substance?
Beyond the voice pushing you to chase the next thing, there is another voice voice within you, spoken by the one who made you. That voice is trying to restore you to your substance. That voice is suggesting that you are allowed to dwell for a bit with no agenda but being loved.
You are invited today to breathe deeply.
You are invited to sit with Jesus.
Maybe we even need to make appointments with God on our calendars to help us move beyond the language of presence and into the practice of presence.
Is there something today that can wait until another time, so you can dwell in God’s restoring rest for a few moments?
In a rare victory of spirit that day, I didn’t chase after the crested caracara when Jesus was inviting me to be still and listen. I don’t regret that decision. You won’t either.
Jesus, return me to my substance today.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
-James 1:2-3 (NLT)
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them brought out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves."
-Jesus, Matthew 5:43-45 (The Message)
I’m so frustrated I’M GONNA SING!!! Said no one ever. Except my daughter.
Last Friday my 7 year-old daughter had a day off from school and was with me while I worked from my home office. Sometimes we let our kids use a creative color-by-number app, where they select colors that correspond with a picture and then tap on each tiny section to make something beautiful. They take time to complete, which is the perfect activity when daddy really needs to finish writing a sermon (spoiler: I did not finish the sermon that day).
So she’s sitting in my office on the other chair, quietly giving commentary on literally every. single. thing. she. does. That’s genetic though, so I have no stone to throw. On this particular picture, there were 29 different colors that she had to pick to finish her bird, and dozens of sections for each color. Each unique shade took a couple minutes to complete. And she started singing her way down. All the way down. For like 30 minutes.
At one point the project started to get long and frustrating for her. She made a few mistakes that needed to be corrected. Then all of a sudden she stops and shouts out,
"Agh! I’M NOT GOING TO STOP SINGING TIL I GET IT!!!”
. . . . . .
"...I only only have three left, three left, three leeeeeeeeeft...”
Well, my work came to an abrupt stop, and I think I caught a glimpse of Jesus. That is most definitely not what I would have done to express my frustration. Sing until you get it? Letting off steam by singing my song?
What can we learn here, friends?
What if our perseverance in the midst of frustration sounded more like singing than complaining? What if it sounded more like a melody than a litany of accusations? Sometimes our songs are sad and sometimes they are joyful, but isn’t singing so much better than shouting or complaining?
As Jesus people, we live lives committed to eradicating all that breaks shalom (peace) in our world. That goes for what’s inside each of us as well as what happens in our broken world. And both of those areas can bring anger and frustration on our part when things don’t change like we want them to. It’s especially tough because there will always be broken shalom in us and in our world. We will never reach the ultimate shalom of God on this side of eternity. The task will feel never ending. It can be unbelievably frustrating.
But where is our hope? Jesus walks with us. God is at work to make all things right one day. Therefore, our exhausting work can be pursued with the grace and awareness that God is love and God working with us. We are simply making bricks that will one day be a part of God’s ultimate city. What if we whistled while we worked? What if we lived with the conviction that we were not going to stop singing until we get it? That might just transform us and change how the world sees the people of Jesus. We are working on unfinished pictures. We’re in it for the long haul. There is beauty in the process, not just the final product.
I’m not suggesting there is no place for anger at injustice or brutal honesty during the struggle. But sometimes we act as if there is no reason to be hopeful in our world as we struggle. If our spiritual brothers and sisters could keep singing to God through various generations of slavery, oppression, persecution, and loss, then surely we can recognize God’s goodness today even as we struggle to bring God’s kingdom to bear on earth as it is in heaven.
Don’t stop singing today, even if you’re at the end of your rope. Jesus is with you.
Jesus, help me hear the music even when my heart is heavy.
We have freedom now, because Christ made us free. So stand strong in that freedom. Don’t go back into slavery again.
-Paul, Galatians 5:1
Yesterday Lent began. If you need a reminder, Lent is the 40 day season of the Christian calendar leading to the Easter celebration. It parallels the very human journey of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days in Luke 4. I used to ignore Lent, but now I see it as one of the best opportunities for growing closer to Jesus.
Hundreds of years ago in the villages of medieval Europe it was common to mark the beginning of Lent with a huge bonfire in the middle of town. The fuel for the fire was whatever people could find that wasn’t needed. Bonfires were made of old broken wheels, dead bushes, furniture with missing parts, and other useless items left over in everyone’s houses after being cooped up all winter. I can also imagine that there were clothes and items that had become covered with the diseases of winter, which needed to be cleansed for the health of everyone. The fire was a statement of passion in direct opposition to the drudgery of winter's dirt, disease, and clutter. It was time to look forward to spring.
Lent is a time for self-reflection and slow transformation. I keep going back to the bonfires of Europe because in the northeast this year, most of us are feeling the effects of the long, cold winter. It’s been cold and dark for too long. We are so ready for a change! But the change is indeed coming with the approaching spring. The earth will become new again, as the dead branches give way to new buds and the chill is removed from the air. That will all happen in a few weeks, regardless of what we do.
However, the clutter and numbness that builds up in our spirits are a different story. That only gets burned off and warmed up if we make a choice. The weeks of Lent are the time to choose what needs to be put in the bonfire. When you think about celebrating the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, what are the distractions and hangups in your life that need to go in order to really party on April 21st?
What needs to be tossed out?
What are the diseased clothes to be burned?
What needs to be forgiven? What needs to be turned from?
How can we prepare ourselves for the beauty of God’s coming season?
What are the things that bring you immense joy to imagine burning away?
(You could go in a really dark direction with that question. Don’t do that.)
Bonfires are a passionate expression of life. In the flicker of the flame there is often laughter and dancing and food and celebration. That’s how it still is every Lent in Belgium and Northern France. Something gets freed in the letting go of things that have gotten in the way.
When I was a kid I burned stuff in my garage all the time. Most of the time my parents didn’t know. Gel deodorant gave off a dazzling blue dripping flame. Socks mostly just melted and made a lot of smoke. It wasn’t a great habit, but it sure was fun.
What if you did something a little quirky today? What if you marked a new season with a concrete action?
I invite you to choose one specific thing that you're asking Jesus to burn away in your life. Identify some soul clutter that is hindering you from moving around freely with God.
Then, find something to actually burn as a symbol of that. Seriously.
Don’t do it inside, though. And apparently garages count as inside.
Of course, you could do all this in your mind if it sounds juvenile. But lighting something on fire is so much more fun.
Jesus is leading us from winter into spring. It’s time thaw out and come alive in a new way. So, what’s one place to start?
Jesus, help me identify what needs releasing, and give me strength to do it.
For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
My wife is an actor. She recently finished a production playing the mother of a 15 year-old boy who is very special. Christopher lives with autism spectrum disorder, and the Tony award winning play is told from his perspective. Though the story moves through the difficult relational complexities that emerge due to Christopher’s uniqueness, it’s not ultimately a story about autism. The play is about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing new way, thanks to our opportunity to enter into Christopher’s reality and experience life has he does.
Christopher is quite brilliant, and his mind never stops working. He remembers facts and figures meticulously and is rigid in his understanding of truth and lies. But his commentary about noticing things in ways that others do not is truly profound. He makes this clear during a monologue on a train, when the audience is able to hear his thoughts...
"I see everything. Most other people are lazy. They never look at everything. They do what is called “glancing,” which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction. And the information in their head is really simple. For example, if they are on a train looking out of a window at the country side it might be:
'There are some cows in the field’ […] And then they would stop noticing anything because they would be thinking something else like: ‘I wonder if Julie has given birth yet.’
But if I am sitting looking out of the window of a train onto the countryside, I notice everything. Like: There are 19 cows in the field. 15 of which are black and white and 4 of which are brown and white…"
Christopher makes note of all that he is seeing, rather than simply taking a glance and moving on. It got me thinking about a life of glancing from one thing to another.
Regardless of if we should know better or not, we are constantly drawn into frenetic ways of thinking and doing. We can have 17 different thoughts race through our heads in just a few minutes. Our attention bounces off of one thing to the next and we don’t even notice who we're walking past. And often, at the end of the day, we haven’t really thought about anything because we’ve thought about so many things.
Are you with me?
In the passage above, James is urging his ancient readers to hear what God has said (through Jesus) and sit with it long enough to be changed, rather than hearing and simply moving on to the next thing. He follows his comment by challenging his readers to use words to bless and not curse, and to use energy to care for widows and orphans rather than acting religious in a superficial way. They had already heard those teachings of Jesus before, but they had glanced off of them without changing direction toward loving action.
If the central gift of life with Jesus comes from loving God and loving others, we need to do more than glance. Perhaps our lives should be described as people who are always taking notice of God and others in new ways.
Take a long look at Jesus this week. Read his teachings. Let them change the direction you’re traveling. Be filled with hope and love and purpose as you rest in the your identity as a dearly loved child of God.
And take a long look at others today. Don’t just glance (but don’t actually stare either because that just freaks people out, and I think you might be missing the point). Notice the people around you long enough to consider what they might be going through. Let God’s love fill you with love for them. Notice them long enough to be aware of what’s beyond the surface, so that you can treat them with the depth and dignity that every human being deserves. Every person is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
It’s easy to go about our world glancing at things and glancing off of things. But be inspired to see things differently. Take notice of details that draw you to love God and love others. And if that means you don't always fit in, remember: that's ok.
Jesus, slow me down enough to really notice.
(photo credit: Scott Serio)
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
-Jesus, setting the bar high (Matthew 5:48)
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
-Paul, keeping it real (Romans 7:19)
I rarely mention the writing process itself, but I sit here at the end of a snow day filled with frustration at my children because they’ve distracted me from writing about spiritual formation. Yeah. The irony is not lost on me, either.
I need to be godly, kids! STOP BUGGING ME.
I made mistakes today. I’m serious, and I really dislike admitting it. I didn’t nail the whole this-is-God’s-ideal-character-for-me. Maybe some days you feel the same. It's tricky for most of us to figure out how to deal with mistakes. But we make them a lot, don’t we?
A unkind comment that was intended to hurt.
A selfish decision that overlooked someone we care about.
A thought or judgement that was unnecessarily critical.
A temptation given into.
A small lie told to protect ourselves.
A story shared about another that wasn’t ours to share.
These things and more can leave us walking around either ignoring our failures or constantly disappointed in ourselves. There’s an entire arm of Christian faith that revolves around using guilt to shape behavior. But it’s a crapshoot, because we all know the reality: we will never live perfectly.
One problem with that whole line of thought is that the goal of perfection isn’t actually a biblical idea. There is no Greek or Hebrew word for perfect. When we talk about perfection, what westerners most often think about is being without flaw. That’s simply not a Hebrew concept. Goodness is, but perfection isn’t. When “perfect” is used in the Bible, the root words are not about flaws, but about completeness and maturity and health. Honestly, it would be sort of nasty for Jesus to command us to be perfect, when being flawed is in our DNA. So rather than Jesus demanding that we attain the impossibility of flawless perfection, Jesus is urging his followers to move toward maturity as they trust God completely.
But the way we achieve maturity is the beautiful irony. We grow spiritually by doing things wrong far more than by doing them right, don’t we? If someone has never failed, come face to face with their weakness, or realized how much they’ve missed the mark….. they’ve also never experienced the depth of God’s grace and God’s love that leads to maturity as disciples. Every mature person I know is deeply familiar with failure. It’s what made them mature.
Richard Rohr brilliantly explores this counterintuitive reality in his challenging book, Falling Upward:
If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A ‘perfect’ person ends up being the one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection. […] In fact, I would say that the demand for perfect is the greatest enemy of good.
None of us want to fail and fall short of God’s desire for our lives. But if we see that God’s hope is for us to move toward the maturity of love, perhaps we can begin to welcome our failures and imperfections as tools and opportunities, rather than foes that require our complete focus to defeat. If our mistakes become gateways to trusting Jesus in new ways and being transformed by grace, then they are not our greatest enemies after all.
We need to have a little more grace for ourselves in our mistakes. We need to hear the voice of God declaring his love for us in our messes that covers a multitude of sins. It enables us to walk through life like Jesus intended, free and joyful. But, (life hack!) it also is the exact thing that will move us toward more complete maturity, if we let it. By the way, this is why Jesus tells his followers that two groups of people will have a great deal of trouble being disciples: The very rich and the very religious. Both attempt to deny or avoid the reality of weakness to rely on their own impressive abilities. Don’t be like them.
Today, take the opportunity to breathe in deeply. Apologize honestly for mistakes and move forward. Be honest before God. And don’t be afraid of the transformative power of perfect love as it collides with imperfect you. That’s how this thing works.
Jesus, forgive me when perfectionism or guilt derails me. Use my imperfection to connect me to your heart.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there is any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
-David, Psalm 139:23-24
When I was a kid on trips to the beach, there was always one big goal while playing in the sand just out of reach of the waves. The mission, and we always chose to accept it, was this: create a fabulous ocean view hot tub to soak in. Now granted, the tub would not be hot. It would be quite cold, full of murky, foamy water with lots of little floaties in it. And rather than a tub, the sand walls would constantly cave in and mix with the water. The result was tiny little sand particles jammed in every crevice of the human body, with no real hope of a pearl ever emerging as a result. Honestly, it was pretty gross, but we didn’t care.
The real key to this project was the digging down. We started in the dry sand and we dug as deep as we possibly could until we hit water and couldn’t dig any more. If we didn’t dig deep enough, the hot tub would just keep draining out. The deeper we dug, the more likely we could actually keep water in it and even fill it up. And that was hard work.
The hard work always lies with digging deep.
American author Ann Dillard writes about the necessity of “riding the monsters of our violence and terror” deep into the depths of our souls. When we do, we eventually break through them and find something good. Essentially, we find water and we can start to fill up. I think she’s pointing to the deep internal longing for God’s grace, whether or not she has that language for it.
If we do not go inward and downward, then the darkness within us will always be projected onto those around us. It's fascinating that in Psalm 139, David is proclaiming God’s love and constancy, but he gets distracted by those who cause him stress, and his prayer becomes full of hatred and revenge. He cries out to God to kill the wicked, and states his absolute hatred for them.
But then he pauses, as it seems the Spirit nudges him. And he immediately turns inward, because he senses that his righteous anger is quickly overtaking him... Search my heart, God. See what’s deep within. Where there is ugliness, lead me out toward the way you’ve designed.
What an amazing prayer.
The inward journey is uncomfortable and scary. Inviting God to dig deeply into our lives means that some walls will start to cave in. We will come face to face with our weakness and insecurities. It’s easier to remain on the surface.
The insightful Christian leader Parker Palmer, in Let Your Life Speak, writes about the challenge of inviting God to dig deep within.
“Why would anybody want to take a journey of that sort, with its multiple difficulties and dangers? Everything in us cries out against it— which is why we externalize everything. It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls. We like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a cakewalk compared to our inner lives!”
Preach it, Parker.
There is truly no way to hide from the inward life. It will eventually catch up with us, so it’s better if we get into it and move through it. Jesus says that unless we die we won’t find life. It’s only in facing our shadows of false identity, fear, self-reliance, and competition that we can move through them to the other side of value, love, trust, and humility that Jesus provides. That’s the sort of place I want to sit and soak in.
We’ve moved away from the contemplative life. Let's move back toward it. Sit in silence with Jesus a bit this week. Invite a holy inspection of your shadows, but delight in the reality that you are dearly loved through all of it. Be unafraid to invite a friend or family member to walk with you in the inward journey. And in it all, ask Jesus to lead you in the everlasting way. It’s worth the effort.
Jesus, draw me deeper.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…
And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.
-Paul (1 Cor. 11:1)
Babies are kind of stupid. I mean, I love them and I think they are wonderful and cute and immeasurably valuable…. but they can’t reason well at all. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with one? They just stare at you. It’s like they don’t even know what you’re talking about.
Until you smile.
Then, something really interesting happens.
They smile back. Why? We used to think that it was just because our joy was so contagious. And maybe it is. But now we know something else. We are all mirrors. And we have a hard-wired tendency to imitate what is in front of us. Facial expressions. Behaviors. Values.
It’s called mimetic desire, and it’s how we learn most things in life (for more, study Rene Girard).
So maybe those of us who are parents should stop emphatically asking:
WELL IF YOUR FRIEND JUMPED OFF A BRIDGE WOULD YOU DO THAT TOO?
Statistically speaking, yes. It’s likely.
Something in us is hardwired to copy. We see something in front of us and it immediately becomes more real and possible.
In the mid 1900’s running experts didn’t think the 4 minute mile barrier could ever be broken. It stood at 4:01 for a decade. Then Roger Banister broke it in 1954. Six weeks later, someone else brought it down another two seconds. Thirteen months after Bannister, three more runners broke four minutes- in one race. How is that possible?
When we see someone do something, two things happen.
1- We believe it’s possible.
2- Something in us is drawn to copy it.
We are mimetic people. Imitation is our reality.
This is why understanding discipleship is so important. In the Hebrew world, it was about so much more than knowledge. You didn’t want to just know what your Rabbi knew. You wanted to become who your Rabbi was. Discipleship was learning the actions and the behaviors of one who knew how to walk with God. That could only happen by imitation.
So when Jesus calls disciples to follow him, he does far more than talk. Over and over again he models a life that can be imitated. And he tells them clearly that part of what they are learning is to live the way he is living. We need a concrete example, so Jesus doesn’t simply talk about compassion. He shows it. He doesn’t just talk about prayer. He models it. He doesn’t wax eloquently about a self-giving life. He dies in front of them.
It’s no surprise then, that the writer of Hebrews implores his readers: “Fix your eyes on Jesus! He is the one who is creating this faith of ours!” We need to keep the life and behaviors of Jesus in the world so that we can believe they are possible, and have a real model to work with. And, like Paul figured out, we also need living examples right in front of us so that we can see something in order to practice it. The model of Jesus is good, but a living breathing person brings Jesus to life in a new way. We need people to imitate as they imitate Jesus.
What might it look like to move toward that this week? Maybe you need to dive back into the gospels, reading them and paying close attention to the actions of Jesus. Maybe fixing your eyes daily on Jesus will remind you of what love really is.
And who is in your life that you can learn Jesus from? What real models do you have around you that are worth imitating? They are deeply flawed individuals, as we all are, but maybe we need to walk a little more closely with other people walking with Jesus. And maybe, like one of those little mirror funhouse rooms, we can just encourage each other exponentially into eternity.
Keep smiling at babies, even when they are terrible conversation partners. And keep your eyes on Jesus, so that you can keep believing that all of this wild “on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven" stuff is really possible.
Jesus, give me the strength to imitate you.
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
-Paul, writing to his disciple Timothy (2 Tim. 1:7)
Last week on the east coast, we got the rain. All of it. I don’t think there is any water left in the atmosphere.
One afternoon during a particularly strong downpour, I had arrived back at my house near the end of the day. The rain wasn’t letting up, and I was in no mood to walk through it and get soaked. Can you relate? So I turned on the radio for a bit. Then I checked my phone and scrolled meaninglessly for another 4 minutes. Then I looked up again. Still raining. I didn’t care that the weather report said this would continue all night. I can be stubborn in these situations.
But it wore me down. The driving rain didn’t subside. Nothing had changed. And as I looked around from my comfy driver’s seat I was faced with a couple of choices.
Option 1: Hunker down for the long haul. I found a granola bar wedged into the passenger seat. That could totally get me through til morning. I can put the kids to bed using FaceTime.
Option 2: Actually stop avoiding the thing I knew I needed to do. Just open up the door, and walk into my house. It’s water.
Some days we feel strong and bold, ready to rock and roll in this world. And other days we just feel like wasting gas, idling, and staying dry for the moment. It’s much more comfortable than facing even a few moments of getting rained on. But we miss a lot by staying in the car.
Nearly every day, there are decisions that hang over us, that are easier to avoid than deal with. They are little things to do- things that we know would help us live more of the Jesus life. But it takes opening the door. And that short walk might be uncomfortable, so we put it off. But instead of doing the trick, our stress levels rise, and deep down we feel off. Yet we stay in our comfort zone.
But across the yard, there is comfort and joy.
Which feels better? Staying dry inside a small car on the street for a few minutes, or drying off and warming up in your home, knowing that know you can be at rest all evening? Isn't it worth walking through a little rain to get to this point?
Some of us need to have an important conversation with someone that would only take a few minutes, but we save it for another day.
Some of us know that offering an apology would take an enormous weight off of our chest, but we are afraid to call and say sorry.
Some of us are struggling with things that a trusted friend could help us move through- but we don’t share.
Some of us desperately need God’s gift of restorative sleep, but we waste time on screens at night.
All of this and more- they are moments of sitting in the car, hoping we don’t have to get wet. There are practices that you’ve been neglecting that could help you move closer into God’s love- but you don’t feel like it.
Movement toward these things feels like walking through rain, and we like staying dry.
Indeed, much of the ways of Jesus feel uncomfortable at the moment of surrender. But on the other side, there is rest when we take the steps that align our souls with Jesus and work toward God’s shalom (wholeness) in the world.
And honestly, the tomb is empty, so the pressure’s off. Take a walk in the rain. Do the thing God is stirring you to do. We have his Spirit in us. Anyways, even a rainy day with Jesus is far better than a sunny day full of fear. So this morning, sit with Jesus. Then get out of the car.
Jesus, help me be bold and full of your love today.
Be still and know that I am God.
Have you ever seen a Saguaro cacti? They're only found in one part of the world: the Sonoran Desert in northwest Mexico and the far southwest US. They are breathtaking to behold. Some grow up to 40 feet high, with thick stems and arms that extend like huge pipes. But there is more than meets the eye. Every towering saguaro tells a story. They didn’t start like that. When they took root, you weren’t born yet. After 10 years of growth, a saguaro only reaches an inch in height. A century later, at 90-100 years, it will grow its first arm. Standing in front of a saguaro is amazing. It gives you a strange sense of rootedness. You are looking at something that was alive well before you and will likely be alive after you. And it’s been rooted in place the whole time. Grounded. Consistent. The picture of stillness.
We have trouble fathoming something as steady as the Saguaro. We move around a lot. Not just in where we live, though that is certainly true. We move around in our minds. We move in our emotions. We move in our priorities.
Not all of this is bad. In fact, many forms of movement are a part of the growing and living experience.
But there’s something compelling about the saguaro. There’s something beautiful about slow movement when the rest of the world is spinning out of control. It’s consistent.
In Psalm 46, the Psalmist speaks about how scary the world has become. Everything is shifting sand. He writes of mountains quaking and falling into the sea. The earth is giving way. Nations are in uproar. It feels like chaos. But in the midst of his head spinning back and forth, looking at everything going wrong and how scary it all is, he hears the whisper of God’s voice: "Be still and know that I am God.”
It is a word of trusting God, but it is also a word of challenging the frenetic pace of his mind. It’s about living a consistent life with God.
Being still is harder and harder.
It’s hard to slow down our bodies enough to be rooted in meaningful tasks.
It’s hard to be aware that God is God and we are not.
It’s hard to give even a few minutes of time to prayer and move beyond interruption from our phones and surroundings.
And it’s really hard to slow down our minds enough to be still and really know God.
We are in a society that bounces from one stress to another in our own lives. Then we listen to the news or look on social media and see mountains shifting and nations in uproar. We are embedded in a world of constant outrage and indignation. We walk around so angry and hyped up that we can miss the daily opportunities God gives us to love each person in front of us… which is one of the clearest ways to begin healing the world. If we can’t be still and know that God is God, we will never be able to discern what is ours to do. And we certainly won’t be able to do it consistently over the long haul.
It’s in the stillness that we learn to know God. It’s in the rootedness that we truly grow arms to do good work.
This week, in the moments that you feel mountains quaking in the world around you or in the world within you, take a moment to be still and know that God has given you an unshakeable kingdom of Love. That’s what we live out of, and that’s what we invite others into.
Jesus, teach me to be still and know you.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
-1 Samuel 16:7
Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Yesterday I nearly skipped breakfast and needed to grab a banana as I headed to work. I looked on the counter and the only option I had was one that appeared, shall we say, “undesirable.” The peel had dark spots, the stem was dried up. This one had long ago bid farewell to dreams of starring in a Chiquita commercial. The glory days were past, and brown was the color of the moment. My first thought was to send that guy right to the compost bucket. But I decided to check inside just to make sure.
Upon a second look, I saw that the inside of the banana was beautiful! Interestingly, the outside peel had not been a sign of how ruined the inside was… and I nearly missed breakfast because of it. So I did what millions of millennial hipsters do every day: I took pictures of my food. Confession: I am neither a millennial nor a hipster. But I did sense a Jesus metaphor coming on.
It’s a simple, overplayed idea, right? We’ve got these famous sayings...
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Looks can be deceiving.
Don’t toss a banana because of its peel... seems like it is also destined for greatness.
At first glance, this message seems almost juvenile in how obvious it is. Yet theory and practice are not the same. The truth is that I’ve meet very few people who truly have the capability to go beyond exteriors and offer inherent value to a person. We need Jesus to teach us how to do that over and over again.
It’s tempting to use first impressions of someone in order to pass judgment.
It’s tempting to use limited knowledge about someone's past to make assumptions about their future.
It’s tempting to take someone’s ugly moments and make it the totality of their character.
We have this human inclination toward competition over cooperation. And we also have a need for control that tempts us to deal always in absolutes, rather than layers. But Jesus teaches us a better way. He teaches us compassion and engagement. He teaches us to make gracious assumptions. And he releases us from the responsibility of passing judgement. This example does not just transform how we see others. It’s changes how we see ourselves.
So how do we achieve that heart of God for others?
We have to receive the heart of God for us.
Frequently, our inability to practice value within others is rooted in our personal inability to be loved as we are. Our experience of God’s grace has been rather anemic, so we communicate our disease to others.
Listen friends. Stop singing about God’s grace being enough. Start actually letting God’s grace be enough. Start welcoming God’s love in fullness. Start seeing yourself as fearfully and wonderfully made, worthy of love and redemption. Start seeing yourself as created in God’s image. You are beautiful despite your failures. You are worth dying for.
And the only way to come to grips with that is to sit with Jesus until the love sinks in.
When you are tempted to assume rottenness in yourself or another this week, may you be reminded that God sees beneath the hurts and failures to the core of who a person is-- and loves them. Yes, God’s image in us can become corroded and marred. Sometimes we lift back the peel and what we see is mushy fruit. But here’s where the metaphor reaches its limit. Not only does God look at the heart, but even the heart reveals pride, greed, and ugliness… God loves us anyway and is powerful to transform. So even the rotten fruit in our world isn’t beyond restoration in God’s kingdom. Today is a good day to start living like that’s true.
Jesus, help me receive your grace in a way that really changes things.
**If you want to take the metaphor farther, apparently you can shop for ugly produce here.