He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
-Jesus, Mark 4:39
In the middle of a stormy sea, Jesus gave his disciples one of his most powerful sermons. And he did it with only two (Hebrew) words.
The message was direct. "Hey. Be Quiet."
Goodness. Whether I want to be like Jesus OR listen to what he said, it's the same conclusion either way: Less words. More stillness.
Isn't it remarkable that we can construct a self sustaining faith system, full of all the right actions and beliefs, requiring no quiet space with Jesus? This is a great tragedy, when there is more "us" than "God" in our faith.
In the passage above, you might note that Jesus was not talking to his disciples, but to a raging storm. You're right. Jesus was reminding his disciples that he, like Yahweh, had power over the waters of chaos to bring peace, calm, and order. But let's be honest... there's a whole lot of chaos inside most of us most every day. So I don't think it's difficult to picture Jesus looking at us, taking a deep breath in, and then saying simply, "Hey. Can you be quiet for a minute?"
Jesus says that some think God will hear them because of their many words. To others he says that they lack ears to hear. Stillness leads to receptivity.
I'm realizing more and more that it's impossible to listen well when one already has words ready to come out. It's impossible to be fully present and available to God unless one truly learns how to be quiet. And wisdom will never grow deeply in one whose life is not characterized by holy stillness.
Things can even look quiet on the outside, yet our minds and spirits are full of many words blasting at us through our brains and our screens. It may not sound loud, but the water is churning underneath the surface. This is far from the still waters that God leads the Psalmist to (23:2). Love will come in fullness when we take time to delight, enjoy, contemplate, and practice stillness with the living God. The gift is yours to receive.
So, I am yielding the remainder of my allotted time, (Mr. Chairperson). These reflections usually take about 4 minutes to read. Use the final 2 to pause and listen to Jesus as he calms whatever storms are raging in you, and speaks peace.
Jesus, let my words be few. I want to find refuge with you today.
Grace like a Birthday
From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
- John 1:16
Each year when May rolls around I notice how many friends have birthdays. It seems like it's happening all the time. It's on my mind because this week I personally hit a milestone birthday, which has brought about more reflection than I expected. Apparently, I do not feel accomplished enough in my life to be 40 years old. And yet, here we are. And that's sort of the thing that's been bouncing around in my mind for today.
People approach birthdays in very different ways. Some welcome celebration, others shy away from it. Their reasons are varied. Some people love to party. Some folks struggle with the attention of being celebrated at all. Others don't enjoy the reminder that another year has gone by, inevitably leading to a few more aches and pains and a slower metabolism.
I'm in this phase of life where I can understand both perspectives. Sometimes I welcome that celebration, and sometimes I would rather hang quietly off to the side without notice. Sometimes I celebrate the wisdom and perspective that comes with age, and sometimes I feel the weight of extra responsibility and a body that is slowing down with age. I've even had years where in response to someone saying "happy birthday!" I respond with, "thanks...I think?" It just doesn't always feel worthy of celebrating, you know?!
And yet, most everyone agrees that a person should be celebrated on their birthday. So today I'm thinking about what Jesus can teach us in all this.
A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with one of my preteens (who was apparently practicing to be a future nihilist) and he said, "I don't get why we celebrate birthdays. People didn't DO anything. They were just....born, and we throw parties for them and stuff." Way to make the world a better place, bud.
I mean, he's sort of right. Think about how undeserving a birthday celebration is. Isn't it both absurd and wonderful that we celebrate the fact that someone...happened?
Congratulations. You happened.
I imagine some black-eye-shadowed teen girl rolling her eyes sarcastically as she says this.
But in all seriousness. Isn't this really unique? It's one of the only times that we celebrate people because of absolutely nothing that they've done.
Maybe birthdays are a reminder of what the grace of God is like. Jesus helps reveal to us that in God's eyes, love is freely and abundantly given to humanity. Simply by existing, we bear God's image, reflecting something of the divine. Simply by existing, we are deemed worthy of mercy and redemption, with Jesus giving his own life to reveal the depths of God's love and heal the deep disconnect caused by sin and redundant religion.
Even in his own life, Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism and the voice of God mysteriously declares, "this is my son, whom I love." And Jesus hasn't accomplished one. single. thing.
And then Jesus walks around turning the world in its head, declaring worthiness to all the people who weren't supposed to be worthy. He celebrates with people who thought they were outside of celebration. He forgives anyone who asks for it, and a few people that don't (try working that one out in your religious system!)
The Church was founded on the radical belief that grace is a completely free gift. We simply accept that there is nothing we can do to earn it and it keeps coming to us again and again. It doesn't matter if we feel worthy of having a birthday or not. It's still coming. Your mom worked hard for it, but you didn't! Yet you still receive gifts and are celebrated on that day. Likewise, you didn’t do anything to earn God’s grace, but you can simply receive it thankfully, leading to a fullness of life, now and forever.
It's just free. Because God has declared you worthy of celebration and relationship.
A few birthdays passed by this month of people I know, and I didn't really go out of my way to send a text or post on their wall or wish them a special day to communicate how valuable they are. I regret that. I'm going to do a better job at celebrating someone's worth simply because they happened. And from now on I am going to let every "happy birthday," given or received, be a holy reminder of the undeserved grace of a God who loves us and declares us worthy of celebration.
Jesus, teach me to rest in the beauty of your grace today.
"I have called you friends..."
- Jesus, John 15:15
A few decades ago, one of the summer camp songs that I used to sing went like this:
Jesus is a friend, he's a friend next to ya
Jesus is a friend so sing along
Jesus is a friend he's a friend next to ya
Jesus is a friend so sing.....
Sing a-HALALALALALELUYAH HALALALALALEELUYAH!!!
It was a SERIOUS, reflective song, which also included hit verses like "shake a friend's hand, shake a hand next to ya" and "bump another rump, bump a rump next to ya."
The early 90's were quite a time. I'm just going to leave it at that before we get off topic. I will say that there was a lot of laughter in that song, even if not everyone chose to participate in the rump bumping verse.
I'm thinking about friendship and what it means to relate to Jesus as friend. And why that can really be difficult.
When you're very young, friendship can feel fairly simple. Children are often quick to name friends. A friend is someone that you enjoy being with, that you trust, and that you can be playful with. And the reason for being with your friends was pretty straightforward. It was fun to play, and it was a good way to spend time. Not much purpose beyond that.
Greek Platonist philosopher Plutarch spoke of children possessing something called "first friendship" -- the ability to have playful and trusting connections easily, treating people like brothers and sisters. He also noted how this same characteristic was nearly impossible to find among adults.
Friendship gets harder and more complicated as we get older, doesn't it? We grow up and embrace more important tasks. Maybe we find ourselves unable to relax enough to embrace play. Or perhaps we are too busy to feel like we have time for friendship. Or our difficult life experiences have just made it too difficult to really trust other people. So our friendships dwindle and we spend less time in playful settings. The playground attitude is long gone. The desire for friendship may be there, but the openness and priority that it takes are often too heavy.
Similarly, as we grow older, we may find that embracing friendship with Jesus also gets more complicated. We've grown up, we've experienced some hard things. Perhaps faith and connection with God has lost its shiny, lighthearted beauty. And we spend a lot of our time thinking deep thoughts.
So we grow into an adult-like faith. Cerebral. Formal. Guarded. Playless.
And maybe, just maybe, sometimes.... Jesus is still just sitting there at the playground and waiting for us.
When Jesus told his disciples that unless they changed and became like children, the couldn't experience the kingdom (Mt. 18:4), perhaps he was suggesting that we become so complicated that simple trust and playfulness are almost impossible. Yet that may just be the type of interaction Jesus longs to have with us.
Jesus is called a "friend" of tax collectors and sinners and he refers to his disciples as friends multiple times, suggesting that he wants enjoyable shared connection founded on love, not simply work partners.
There's a shortage of delight in people these days. And I notice the slow fade in myself too. But what if, instead of feeling like playfulness is the mark of a juvenile and immature faith, we saw it as one of the gifts that Jesus offers? With Jesus we can actually lean back in delight, being at peace hanging out with someone we love and enjoy. Not every moment needs to be deep wrestling or "doing business with God," as it is sometimes phrased. We are invited to join Jesus in the light, simple moments too. It shouldn't all be work.
Jesus is Lord. Jesus is our example, our guide, our savior. Jesus is our lens to view the world. But Jesus is also our friend. And in those moments, there are no agenda items for the meeting and no shared tasks to work together to accomplish. Just swapping some stories and enjoying the afternoon together because we like each other, and he's easy to hang out with.
There's mystery to all this. It's different from a physical friend that you can text memes to. But this week, I invite you to let your guard down and enjoy some playful moments with Jesus, whatever it might look like for you. Rekindle the friendship, and see what happens.
Jesus, help me let my guard down to enjoy walking alongside you today.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
- Jeremiah 29:13
For the past few months, a construction project has been blocking the lower entrance of our neighborhood. There was a drainage system that needed to be updated, so the entire road was closed and ripped up. It just finished up this week.
The lower entrance is the main entrance for most people in our neighborhood. Many who daily took that route had to find a new way to get home. I'm sure it was frustrating to some, but in reality, there were other accessible ways to get to where they were headed. When the first route was forcibly shut down, new habits developed. I'm pretty sure that a few people in our neighborhood had never even driven out our upper entrance, and were surprised to find out how pretty and accessible it was!
Road closures happen. It’s a part of life. There always seems to be a new construction project in our city, requiring some sort of detour. But this happens in our internal worlds as well. We have seasons where our ways of finding God seem to break down or dry up. Things are thrown into upheaval and our preferred routes are impassible. They limit the directions we can go to get home. And that's alright. Because God still meets us.
In the 29th chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet is speaking to a people who have been living in exile after the Babylonians have carried them away. They are longing to go home to the safety and rest of Jerusalem, and also to once again be restored to their God. But God meets them in the limbo. Yes, he promises them that he is working to bring about justice and restoration, but it will be a windy road (70 years!) to get there. But then comes a reassurance- that even during their displacement, they will find him in the new places and pathways they are walking, as they seek him. They will find God in the detours.
Sometimes we need reminded that God is in the detours. Many of us have used practices over the years that help us in our connection with Jesus. Sometimes it’s more typical ones like reading the Scriptures, sitting in prayer, or singing. Sometimes it’s something else, like experiencing nature, making art, listening to music, or having meaningful conversations.
But what happens when one of your primary ways of experiencing God closes for a season?
How do we respond when the thing that used to be a direct pathway to connection shuts down? When we try to take the route we’ve been taking, but we find that it has lost its meaning. It's a roadblock.
One way the early saints described this was to call it a “dark night of the soul.” There wasn’t always an explanation for why it happened, but the reality was that God just seemed absent. Prayers were prayed, verses were read, sermons were heard, and faithful actions were lived… yet the feeling of God being distant remained. If you’ve had moments like that in your journey with Jesus, I want to encourage you today. It's far better to explore detours than to just park at the roadblock.
The promise of God is that God is never far from us and longs to connect with us. And often it's in new avenues that we experience unexpected growth in love. Often we Christians lack the creativity to explore fresh ways of being with Jesus when some of our ways of seeking God have lost meaning.
Here are a few simple routes to dwell with Jesus if you find the need for new pathways during this season.
Jesus, meet me on the journey, even when it feels impossible to arrive at a destination.
Who are you?
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
- Acts 9:3-5
Disclaimer: This is not in any way about the 1978 classic single from the band The Who, but if you've already started humming "who-who, who-who," go ahead and hit this clickbait link and it'll offer you 5 minutes of nostalgia. I had to stop and listen before I could go on, too.
Ok, now for the real stuff. Good questions are the root of profound growth. Jesus seemed to know this, since he posed over 300 questions to his listeners throughout the gospels. But today is a reminder that some questions are so transformative that they may just change the course of our lives.
Diana Butler Bass, in her book Freeing Jesus, reminds us of the story of Saul's (Paul's) conversion. This is the moment when an extremist for violent persecution and religious purity would become an extremist for love and grace. Saul is on his way to raid synagogues and capture anyone who belonged to The Way, which was the first name for the people of Jesus. And while he's heading toward Damascus, the post-resurrected Jesus meets him in a wave of blinding light that knocks him over.
Bass notes how interesting it is that in the midst of this overwhelming encounter, the first words out of Saul's mouth aren't What do you want?? or What are you doing?? or even, What's happening??? AHHHHHHH!!!
Rather, it's this: Who are you?
That single starting point, she suggests, becomes the basis for the next 3 decades of Paul's life. In each missionary journey, in each attempt at starting small and messy church communities, Paul continues to work out that same question... who are you, Lord? And, at the risk of sounding like a heretic, I'd suggest that Paul comes to many different answers as the years and letters go by. As he should...because Jesus is so many things. Go ahead and read the New Testament to see what he concludes.
The reason that Who are you? is such a powerful question is that it is about connection before anything else. Who is the one question that we must have an answer for before a relationship can begin, and certainly before love can flourish. We may have many other questions, but humans can only feel safe and grounded in relationship when we feel like we know who another person is. It's foundational for trust. It's deeper than basic information, and it's a question that requires ongoing exploration. I certainly know that who I am is not the same as it was fifteen years ago.
In our discipleship, allowing ourselves to constantly ask "who are you, Jesus?" opens the door for ongoing growth in the deep places. Rather than simply quoting recited creeds, we are invited to pursue and experience Jesus in fresh ways throughout our entire lives. If we think that getting the information right about Jesus is more important than growing in formation with Jesus, we may go our entire lives never actually encountering who Jesus really is. And if we never get there, we may never get to the point of being so changed by that relationship that it carries over into a life of love, mercy, and grace to the world around us.
What if you sat for a few prayerful moments this week and asked that profound question...
Who are you, Lord?
Perhaps it would provide an opportunity to notice where Jesus is meeting you in this chapter of your story. And perhaps you'll be surprised.
Jesus, draw me into who you are, not simply to gain information, but so that I can walk more deeply with you.
Revolution // Evolution
"Thinking he was the gardener....”
On Easter Sunday, I shared about an often ignored detail in the resurrection story. Upon seeing the risen Jesus for the first time, Mary mistook him for a gardener. And I offered the perspective that perhaps, rather than it being a mistake, she was exactly right. Maybe the death-conquering, resurrected Lord of the earth was also kneeling in it, carefully preparing the soil for the slow process of bringing forth life.
It seems appropriate to continue with this image for a little while this spring. People are emerging from their homes, the weather is warming up, and yards and gardens are once again coming alive. Now is a season where growth is a little more noticeable, though for several months, it's been all but invisible in the fields and forests around us. But all along, things have been happening.
The resurrection is certainly a revolution- a flipping of the narrative of death and condemnation! But our subsequent journey with Jesus is often more evolution, if we're honest. We don't particularly like that part; a microwave-ready experience is easier than simmering a stew all day long. And talking endlessly about all the information we know is certainly easier than sitting quietly with Jesus, letting him slow us down and cultivate our character. But discipleship is a process and not a destination. And we often get stuck when we expect a revolution experience all the time.
We need to embrace how Eugene Peterson described Christian discipleship: a long obedience in the same direction. That really doesn't sound like a revolution. That sounds like an incremental journey of lifelong movement. Perhaps we struggle with this process of growth because we've been sold a false narrative that suggests that if you're going to change, God will make it easy and pretty instantaneous. If we've been trained to only look and talk about revolution, we may miss the primary work that Jesus does as the resurrected gardener of our souls.
Walking with Jesus can be both restful and difficult work. It requires intentionality. Becoming more aware, more compassionate, more grounded, more emotionally mature... these things are not instant coffee. They are cold brew. They are not supermarket purchases. They are garden cultivation. They are not a podcast listen. They are authoring a full length novel. It's slow, evolution type stuff.
Jesus brings transformation to our spirits, our minds, and our actions. Sometimes it happens in significant jumps. But most of the time, it happens in microscopic little moments of obedience, where humility is more important than ego. It comes when we make the choice to love with a word or action in the smallest of ways. When we choose generosity at a moment when looking out for ourselves and our stuff would be easier. It comes in the moments of sitting with the words of Jesus even when we don't feel much. These are small seeds that Jesus will bring fruit out of. And before you know it, you might just look back and realize that in Christ you've become a new creation, as Paul stated it. Maybe our evolution is more revolutionary than we think.
Let's intentionally lean into the process of discipleship with Jesus. And let's do better at celebrating the tiny moments of growth with the family of God around us. It can be incredibly inspiring to hear someone say, "yesterday I chose to turn off my phone for five minutes and write a prayer in my journal, laying down my stresses." Incremental moments bring fruit over time, and we need to share them! Resurrection takes many forms. Let's hang out in the garden with Jesus.
Jesus, cultivate my spirit today so that my life reflects your heart and hands just a tiny bit more by nightfall. I trust you for growth.
Surely Not I?
And they were greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”
The drama of Holy Week takes a step up in intensity today. As we enter Jesus' final days, today we remember the exchanges in the Upper Room, as Jesus shares his final meal with his disciples. Today is called Maundy Thursday, from the root word meaning "command" (or mandate). It's the day that we remember Christ giving his great command to selfless service, shortly after he humbles himself to wash his disciples' feet. Love one another.
But that's not an isolated moment. The entire evening balances on a knife-edge, with political and relational tensions high. It seems clear that something is about to go down, and Jesus has alluded to his own capture and death multiple times. And then as they're eating, Jesus drops a bombshell: One of you is going to be betray me.
What happens next is sitting in my mind. The disciples get really anxious. But then they go around the room, and each one says the same thing. "Surely not I, Lord?"
Now, it's difficult to read tone, but I'm imagining these questions aren't so self-assured as Peter's loud refusal to let Jesus was his feet a few minutes earlier ("You'll NEVER wash my feet, Lord!)
No, I'm hearing a creeping worry approaching in each one's question.
You definitely don't mean me, Lord.
Why would each disciple be so concerned? It is perhaps because each of them knew that it was indeed a distinct possibility? Is it because they knew that fear and doubt and self-preservation was already right at the edge of their consciousness, waiting to jump right in front of the commitment to love each other and trust Jesus? (picture for a bit of levity)
Some Christian traditions have used the cross to point a finger directly at people, hoping to change folks with the eternal power of guilt. While I don't believe that forceful guilt actually draws us to Jesus, I do relate deeply with the insecurity of the disciples. I know that I'm capable of turning my own way instead of toward courageous love and discipleship. I know that I am often complicit in systems of injustice. I know that if I was sitting there with Jesus, I'd want to assume it was that other guy he was talking about, but I'd have a sneaking suspicion that it might be me. If you never have that suspicion, you may want to do a little further reflection. What if your toxic trait is that you're sure it's always everyone else who has a toxic trait?
In the coming two days, we have the opportunity for this sort of honest admission to lead us to freedom. There is great power in "admitting." We admit that we have the temptation to run and hide too. We admit that we've done harm instead of embodying the fullness of love. We admit that we've moved toward self-preservation rather than faithfulness, and it sometimes feels like we've betrayed Jesus.
When we allow ourselves to admit that surely it might be I (I know, bad grammar), then we open ourselves up to the healing journey of Jesus. In fact, it's in the admitting that we move to where we need to do be for Jesus to do his work in us.
James Finley reflects on "the power of admitting" frailty in his course on Mystical Sobriety:
"The admitting then brings us to a place in which, if this is up to me, it is not looking good. As a matter of fact, if this is up to me, I think it’s despair. But the very fact that I’ve risked despair opens up a whole new possibility because maybe it’s not up to me. Maybe there’s another way."
One of the great tragedies of the gospel is that Judas never had the chance to see Jesus take his failure and despair to absorb and transform it. It would have been an incredible redemption story. I can't imagine how many lives he would have touched when he told of how Jesus had enough love and forgiveness even for him. He would have gone around in such joy and grace, committed to doing good work.
As we consider the meal, the towel, the cross and the silence leading up to Sunday, let's not be afraid to admit our own frailty. There is life, grace, and hope on the other side of our honest vulnerability.
Jesus, it might be me. So I ask you to take my fear, my weakness, and my sin, and remind me that your love is still larger.
"We have to pray"
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
I've had a few opportunities to learn from strong and amazing women this past month (actually, I get to learn from strong and amazing women daily, but that's a different story). Several weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a special lecture here at the University of Delaware to hear the stories of Dr. Loretta Prater and Ms. Sybrina Fulton, the mothers of Leslie Prater and Trayvon Martin. Both of their sons were killed unjustly by excessive police force. The conversation focused primarily around compassionately understanding the experiences of these black mothers and the need for implementing just systems that protect life.
It was heartbreaking, infuriating, and inspiring. Yet I was struck how from the stage, when asked about how she handles this ongoing loss and what advice she can give others, Dr. Prater began with a comment that you don't hear very often in a university lecture. "You have to pray," she calmly stated. She shared that even when we do everything right, we can't always control what happens, and she would not know what to do if she didn't pray all the time. Praying for change in systems, for change in hearts, for strength to make it through the next few moments. It was completely appropriate sharing in an interview format, but it left the crowd quieted. This was an academic professional who has dedicated her life to working for justice. And the first thing she mentions is prayer.
I'm sure many expected to hear the opposite. "More change, less prayers!" But Dr. Prater humbly refused to place these two options in opposition to each other. And let me tell you, after seeing the spirit in that woman, all I wanted to do afterwards was sit in her living room chair with a cup of tea and let her wisdom just soak in. Prater for president?
Then, just this past week, I was talking with one of you dear ones in our community, who teaches. And we spoke about managing the complex challenges of teaching in schools. And as we talked about how overwhelming it all is, you told me, "You just have to pray. All day long. In the car, in between classes, at lunch. You just pray all the time, that God is with you and helps you. You pray for the kids, their families. You just have to pray, all the time."
That sort of faithfulness, trust, and desperation moves me.
In this lenten season, I am being drawn toward the centrality of prayer in those who are truly grounded in living out God's kingdom in real ways.
Both of these strong women are committed to transforming our society for the better. With their lives, they are trying to make our world more whole, more beautiful, and more like Jesus imagined it. Prayer is not separate from the real work. It's the starting point to keep our souls intact as we do it.
We walk through lent imagining Jesus in the desert, praying unceasingly, day after day. Far from passive, he would emerge ready to do the work he was called to do. And in just a week, we'll remember Jesus walking into the garden at nightfall, to wrestle in prayer. He would emerge, ready to absorb all the ugliness and violence and corruptive power that this world had to offer. He would defeat it with love and reveal a better way forward.
So in this week, as we continue to long for resurrection but maybe aren't seeing it so much... I want to encourage you to learn from Jesus and the strong women who have been teaching me lately.
In our anger, may we always ask God for love.
In our sorrow, may we always ask God for comfort.
In our confusion, may we always ask God for wisdom.
In our exhaustion, may we always ask God for strength.
In a culture of death, may we always ask God to bring life.
In the windy and stormy spring, may we always cling tightly to the vine.
In our living, our loving, and our working for good, may we always be grounded on Jesus.
And may unceasing prayer lead us to courage, conviction, mercy, and love.
As I envision Jesus' heart heavy with the realities of a broken world, yet still believing that the kingdom was unfolding, I am drawn to lean in close to the Spirit, for I feel no other option. I want to encourage you to join me. So in a tone without force, without guilt, without inaction, and without passivity, I invite you to bring everything to Jesus, today, all day long. Let your living flow from there. Full of love, I implore you: We have to pray.
Jesus, let this moment be a starting point for a day of complete connection with you, leading me to the fullest expression of working for good.
Tree of Life
You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.
Friends, we are getting deeper into the Lenten season, exploring our own frailty and need for Jesus, even as we consider the journey of Jesus himself. Today I'm simply sitting with an incredible image that I stumbled upon a few days ago.
This photograph was taken in Kenya in 1993 by French Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It's an aerial view of an acacia tree in the barren savannah in Tsavo East National Park.
Take a moment and receive the beauty of this image.
The network of lines you see spiderwebbing from the tree are animal trails, worn deep from years of daily pilgrimage. In a harsh landscape, all sorts of animals are drawn to the acacia tree, seeking the shade of its branches and nourishment from its leaves. This tree is such a profoundly important destination that the entire area surrounding the tree itself is worn bare. So many thoughts here.
This thirty year old photograph is stunning on its own. But it's also provocative as we consider this image in light of our discipleship journey.
Throughout the scriptures, God is a refuge in times of trouble. God is a source of life, making a way in a barren landscape. God is our sustenance. Protector. Shelter. Our rest. And Jesus is the full embodiment of this living God.
So today I'm looking at this image and seeing Jesus in the center as the destination of my journey when I am dry, thirsty, or in need of refuge. When I am seeking rest in the intensity of the desert, or sustenance for the days ahead, where do my well worn paths lead?
If I charted my life from above, would I see this many trails to Jesus?
If we charted our lives from above, would we see this many trails to Jesus?
Too often these questions have been used to induce guilt or beat us down with all the areas we aren't good enough. But it's far better to use them as reminders and invitations. God promises rest and renewal if we continue to find our identity deep God's love and care, rather than wandering around in the desert and hoping to stumble upon something that will sustain us. We all have well worn paths in our lives. But the deepest sense of wholeness will only come when those paths all move toward the source of life and love at the center.
And, (here we go!) what about if we view this as an image for the Body of Christ in the world? Followers of Jesus are called to be the embodiment of God's love, compassion, and redemption in the world. Are people drawn to the refuge and deep life that they experience when they are among Christians? Are we creating that sort of atmosphere as a Jesus-centered movement, where people are drawn to us because they clearly sense the compassionate, other-oriented love of God? We all know that the answer is not always a resounding yes. But rather than give up, perhaps today we sit with this image and ask ourselves:
What can each of us do to ensure that others who are walking through the desert find the love and care of Jesus when they meet us?
The desert journey is something that all of us are familiar with in one way or another. But let us not forget, as spring continues to approach, and resurrection is beginning to come into view on the horizon.... that we always have a profound source of life- to both receive and to offer to others.... if we choose to move toward him.
Jesus, lead me toward your presence throughout my day today, so that I might find rest, and be a refuge to others.
This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
On Sunday the east coast dropkicked our clocks by one hour, which was simultaneously called "losing an hour" and "moving an hour forward." Not sure which it really is. All I know is that in one moment, millions of us just changed the reality of how we track time itself, and then just carried on like it wasn't super weird.
That's a good segue into something I've been thinking about. I recently watched a recorded interview from the 1980s with Frank Zappa. Zappa was a legendary guitarist and improvisational musician for three decades. His music was odd and memorable, rarely conforming to what was popular or expected. But it wasn't the (impressive) music that he played that caught my attention. It was how he understood the very act of playing it.
He was asked if he was a great guitarist. "I'm just specialized," he responded. "I do a lot of things that aren't typical of other musicians." He went on to describe that many guitarists follow the same rules: they rehearse the exact same solos over and over again until they are flawless. They go from one concert to another, playing the same thing in the same way every time, with little variation. But then he spoke of the music he has learned to make. He shared that when the time comes in the song for a guitar feature, he simply uses the skills that he has cultivated and the gifts he has been given to make whatever fits most beautifully in the moment, in connection with his other musicians. He talked a little more about improvisation, and then he looked up at his interviewer and said this:
"It's a game where you have a piece of time.... and you get to decorate it."
Oh my. I just found a new favorite concept. Thanks Frank.
I wonder what it means to decorate time?
I've been personally reflecting on my relationship with time for weeks. We live in a rushed reality. Being a contemplative requires intentionality to slow down and be still, learning to listen and look for the fingerprints of God. But it's bigger than just stopping. A larger question is this: In God's world, how do we view our time?
I often go in one of these directions:
I run out of time (too much to do!)
I lose track of time (time to stop scrolling...)
I want time to move faster (how long til vacation?)
I want time to stop (where are the years going?)
I want to be better at managing my time. But time management is such a utilitarian word, isn't it? It's as if you go to work and it's your job to make sure that no minutes get out of control or take a smoke break before they should. You've got to manage that time, dang it!
But an artist goes to work in a different way. Their goal is to imagine and create beauty. No one manages a blank canvas. They decorate it.
Rather than constantly viewing time as something to manage, make more of, or get through.... perhaps a fresh metaphor can help in our discipleship. Perhaps we should look to Jesus each day and ask, "How can I decorate my time today?"
Jesus decorated his time by looking up, looking in, and looking out. He had interesting and diverse conversations with people, showing love and care. He found beautiful places to pray and he spent time helping people move toward wholeness. He decorated his travels by seeing distractions as opportunities to love and heal. He lived fully present, in hope of the future.
His time was beautiful and unexpected. It was decorated well.
Just imagine. "How was your day today?"
"It was beautiful. I decorated my time with all sorts of colorful things."
Oh, family. This could be a wonderful way to think about God's kingdom growing in our world.
As Christ followers who have hope in God's eternal life and God's renewal of all things, time is a gift to receive. Maybe we should spend less energy managing it and more time beautifying it with the gifts, skills, and creativity that God has uniquely placed in each of us to further the Kingdom? It'll look different for me than you, with lots of improvisation. That's the point. So then, how will you decorate time today?
Jesus, lead me into a beautiful expression of your abundant life today.