For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
-Jesus (Luke 9:24)
A movie that I despise has become a memory that I love.
I helped out at a "Frozen" themed kids event several years ago that left me changed forever. I ran the karaoke machine as a long line of 5 year old girls sang "Let it Go" 26 TIMES STRAIGHT. After that (seriously), I had a bit of trauma surrounding the musical Frozen. But when my daughter was a part of a local performance of Frozen Jr.last week, I tried to “let it go” and enjoy the musical once again. And I did.
Something beautiful about the storyline struck me in a fresh way. When the young sister becomes accidentally struck in the heart with an ice spell and is slowly freezing to death, she learns that only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.
It’s assumed that this act of true love is something that needs to be done “to her”. Perhaps it will be a kiss from her love, perhaps someone will act dramatically to rescue her. We don’t know.
But at the end of the story (SPOILER ALERT), though dying herself, she throws herself in front of a sword to protect her older sister. Though it appears at first that she becomes a frozen statue, moments later she begins to melt and is whole again.
It’s her own act of love that thaws the heart. It’s her effort to bring healing to another that enables healing in her.
In our faith, we absolutely trust Jesus to be the one who brings ultimate healing and wholeness. But within that life, sometimes we go through seasons of frozen hearts where hurt, bitterness, anger or loss take over. During those times, we may be waiting for an act of love toward us to help thaw us out, when what we really need is to move beyond ourselves and act selflessly. When we look around the world and continue to love and serve radically, putting others first, we often find that there is healing in that journey. Indeed, perhaps we cannot be healed until that happens.
Maybe this is why Jesus said that if we don’t forgive others, our heavenly father won’t forgive us (Mt. 5:15). Instead of God holding a grudge or trying to teach us a lesson, maybe Jesus is hinting at the fact that until we lay down our own lives for others in forgiveness and service, we will never be able to grasp the depth of Jesus laying down his life for us. By participating in the healing of others, we open ourselves up to God’s healing.
The famous prayer of St. Francis, which I have come to value so much that I speak it aloud every morning, speaks of this beautiful truth in its final three lines.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sew love,
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.
To seek to be understood as too understand.
To seek to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Part of our own healing process, over and over again, is learning to love and act redemptively toward others in spite of our own wounds. And many times, as we practice that love again and again, we find that we are not only a healing agent in the life of another, but that God uses that humble willingness to do something miraculous in us as well.
Where are you frozen right now, standing paralyzed and unable to move on? Choose today to look up and look out, laying down your own life, and you just might find that Jesus picks it up and restores it for you in a new way.
Jesus, give me courage to love well today, even when I feel weary myself.
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them.
The "sons of thunder" are at it again. Rain down the fire, Jesus! They deserve it!
Some early manuscripts of the book of Luke include a final phrase on the end of Jesus’ above statement. “Jesus turned and rebuked them,” it reads, “and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of…’”
They are excited about Jesus bringing the revenge. Jesus decides to hold up a mirror.
Isn’t it just the worst when we’re full of righteous anger toward another, and then Jesus asks us to look inwardly instead and evaluate our own character?
Our world is full of constant battles between good and evil. If only it was clear who fits into those categories! Why can’t life be like our superhero fantasy movies? There's good and there’s evil. It’s straightforward. Sometimes they even color code the light sabers to help us out.
And yet, standing before Jesus and in simple honesty, we cannot deny the well-known words penned in 1973 by Soviet dissident and Christian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that amazing truth illustrated the other day when one of our littlest LifePath kids picked up two plastic light sabers at a park and found a way to shove them together and turn it into one giant morally ambiguous toy. That’s us, isn’t it? Some light, some dark, right there in our hands. The struggle is real.
Jesus leads us to the uncomfortable truth that the first step in making the world right is to be personally transformed in the deep places. To have the selfishness, the greed, the anger, and the violence in our own hearts replaced with grace, life, compassion, and love. Then perhaps we can know how to handle the darkness that we encounter.
Jesus is deeply powerful, and he gives us power. But the purpose of that power is often misunderstood. At the risk of undermining my comment about how movies lack the complexity of actual life, last week I saw one that succeeded. My wife and I watched Dr. Strange, which is a Marvel Universe film about a former star surgeon who begins to understand that there is a mystical and powerful reality beyond what he has believed. In one conversation between Strange’s future mentor and a current student, the mentor shares her reluctance to teach Dr. Strange, because he may become lost in the temptation to use that power incorrectly. The student responds by asking her to remember his own journey...
"You didn’t lose me. I wanted the power to defeat my enemies. You gave me the power to defeat my demons…”
That’s a pretty good Jesus statement right there. Sit with it. We may desire God’s power to be used to change everything about the world that we don’t like. But most often, God’s power comes through self-giving grace, changing us in such a way that the world changes, just a little. Until it happens over and over again. Then the world changes a lot. This is such good news. Jesus has come to save us from the power of sin, and also to save us from the systems of revenge, violence, and enemy-making that we have learned to live by. We all have demons that we fight. And we all are tempted to take those hurts and pains and project them onto those around us instead of allowing Jesus to deal with them directly.
So maybe we need to start with the basics again.
We acknowledge that we have both light and darkness within us.
We hear the words of Jesus offering grace but also calling us to be transformed inwardly.
We then receive the spirit of Jesus as we look around our world, so that compassion leads us to offer an alternative, rather than just getting upset.
Isn’t that good news?
Jesus, speak the words that I need to hear today, whether they be grace or rebuke. Search my heart so that humility and compassion characterize my life.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Paul, Philippians 3:13-14
The NFL season has just started, and people will often use the phrase, “Defense wins championships.“ Yet we all know the truth in sports: if you don’t score points, it’s impossible to win. Hunkering down and keeping everything out of your net/endzone/goal will never lead a victory.
Recently I was talking with a friend who provided a helpful metaphor on a subtle Christian attitude that seems common these days.
He said that he notices a defensive approach in many people as they live their faith in Jesus. Not defensive in terms of defending one's faith from antagonistic attacks, but defensive in terms of a passive approach to the Jesus life. In other words, the primary benefit of faith becomes simply to handle the challenge of life without being beaten. Like when the U.S. men play Germany in soccer and don’t push forward because they just hope for a tie. In this mindset, Jesus helps you deal with everything coming at you, which you feel you have no control over. Life is stressful, it’s overly busy, and there is little you can do except try to fend off the negative stuff. Now that’s certainly the reality sometimes… but it’s not the whole story.
The presence of Jesus is absolutely foundational in our journey with God... but it’s hard to read the New Testament and conclude that “handling what life brings” is the endgame, isn’t it?
Paul’s message to the Corinthian church is about pressing on… trying to win, even. That’s not a very defensive approach.
The early church had such confidence in Jesus transforming them as a starting point, that it led them to take risks for the sake of the mission. The goal wasn’t just to survive. It was to go out and actually do something. It was to move the ball forward, seeking after the kingdom, being unafraid and unashamed to do wild and risky actions of trusting Jesus and offering radical love and compassion to the world. They went all in. They broke social assumptions and ran toward the people that others ran away from.
Sometimes I wonder where our (my!) theology of risk has gone. Are we eager to pursue new things when we sense Jesus calling us? Are we willing to actually change our schedules? Are we willing to meet new people, step into new places, and open the door to new directions? What about changing a career if Jesus stirs? What about praying boldly for direction and a faithful trusting heart?
Paul reminded Timothy as a young leader that God did not give him a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline. It propelled Timothy. Timothy was only half Jewish and as such felt rejection nearly everywhere he went. It would have been so easy for him to not pursue his ministry calling because it seemed too risky. But he trusted God and stepped out, and became a building block for one of the most influential young churches in the New Testament. Its effect is still felt today.
We know we have the amazing God of comfort who meets us exactly where we are. Today, for a moment, let’s consider the God of challenge who invites us to trust him as we lay our lives down for one another and this kingdom of love that Jesus died to express. There is such joy in winning at life by losing ours.
I want my life to be about pursuing the kingdom of immeasurable worth, not just sustaining regular life with an upbeat attitude. Don’t you? I’m trying to learn how to take new risks. Will you join me?
Jesus, lead me in whatever direction you want. Open me up to trust you and step out in new directions with new joy and boldness.
We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
-Hebrews 4:15 (MSG)
There’s a difference when someone thinks they can see where you’re coming from, as compared to having been there themselves. Does that make sense?
If my kid is nervous the day before school, I can say, “Yeah, I get it, but you’ll be fine.”
But that’s vastly different than me saying, “You know, I remember a time that I was scared to walk into a new place, and it was hard. Let me tell you that story.”
In the middle of fear and pain, one response feels distant. But the other makes us feel known.
Of course, it goes deeper than school butterflies. When we walk through pain and trauma, many of us have learned that there are no words that can describe the struggle. It’s only when we meet another who has experienced something similar that we can access a glimmer of peace. We don’t even need to have our issues “fixed.” There’s simply something hopeful about being understood.
And yet, even when we encounter people who experienced similar pain, fear, or heartache, there is still a limit. Every person is different, and we are complicated. So even when someone has been through similarities, they can’t truly understand at the most profound level, simply because they are not you. They are not able to see into your heart or your head. Not fully, at least.
I was having a conversation recently with a friend of mine who has been through a lot of hard moments during the past few years. He was sharing how his difficult circumstances have been leading him toward Jesus more and more. He made a simple statement that continues to bounce around in my head, about a conviction that he’s come to hold recently.
"I have a Christ who suffered, and that’s how I know he identifies with me."
So simple. So life-changing.
We are given a confidant. A friend. A Lord. A brother… who has the ability to see into the depths of our pain and struggle. But he has also experienced all the emotions we could ever imagine. And he hurt. He hurt hard. He gets it.
Maybe that’s why Jesus is called “God with us” as his nickname in the Bible.
Jesus looks at us squarely in the eyes, seeing past our walls of insecurities and our silent arguments with nobody in particular about how hard life is, or parenting, or dealing with this heartache, or that disease, or this addiction, or that uncertainty, or this responsibility. And instead of telling us to get over it, we hear a voice of gentle humility.
Do we believe this? That Jesus understands? Or have we completely stripped away the humanity of Jesus to the point where we say he was human, but what we think is “well, I mean he was mostly God so obviously he wasn’t really like us. Maybe like 60/40?"
When we embrace the extra-ordinary humanity of Jesus, that’s actually when his divine nature explodes into our lives. That’s the moment that we realize that we are truly, entirely, and impossibly… understood.
More than your parents understand you.
More than your spouse understands you.
More than your best friend understands you.
Even more than google understands your needs and wants.
When we begin to trust that Jesus understands our struggle, I mean really trust it…
Then we can let him lead us toward the way of life, however difficult that might be.
Because you’re not alone.
You are understood. And you are loved.
Jesus, meet me where I am today in a way no one else can. Lead me on from there.