May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had...
On Saturday morning I went on a long trail run with some friends. My sons joined us for the first 6 miles of our large loop, which was great fun. It was only 13 degrees outside, so having good clothing and making sure we were always moving to stay warm was a priority. I had to do some calculations to figure out when exactly we'd be hitting a road intersection-- then I could ask Bethany to arrive there as a pick up spot for the boys so that they weren't standing on their own, freezing in the cold as we continued. It was only an 8 minute drive from home... but on a day like that, seeing a warm minivan parked up ahead as you emerge from a trail is not a small thing! I was really grateful she showed up on time. And it's led me to consider our need for people to show up consistently in our lives.
I've been realizing how much I've needed people to show up for me during the struggle of these last years. I've also been thinking about how much impact my smallest actions of encouragement have had on others' spirits during the times that I've shown up for them. And by "showing up," I simply mean an action or a gesture that shows someone that we care about them and that they are not alone.
Our world can feel like a very cold place many days. When someone shows up for us, it creates pockets of warmth and safety that can almost be indescribable.
We are deeply porous beings. When someone shows us even a small amount of care, it permeates our spirit and changes our outlook. Our need for encouragement is not a weakness, as we are so often tempted to think. It's a means of continuing to draw us into the power of shared life. God made us this way. That's why the early church was not simply marked by a shared belief system, but by radical community. We crave it, even if we're embarrassed to admit it.
If a kind word from a complete stranger at the grocery store can shift our attitude, how much more powerful is a helping hand, a text message, or a check-in that reveals consistent care for another's life.
Central to the work of discipleship is a commitment to keep showing up for each other, knowing that isolation and self sufficiency are some of the hardest obstacles that we face as a community.
Now, I hear perspectives from time to time about people feeling like no one has shown up for them, and that they are forgotten. This can, of course, be true. But it's all too easy for us to look at community as a thing we consume and receive, rather than something we each create. If we begin by taking first steps to consistently show up for those around us, we often find that relationships deepen and become more mutual, lessening our own isolation and discouragement.
So today I'm just drawn to remind us all (me included) that little moments matter. Only Jesus can help you know who needs you to show up for them and what it might look like. But why not spend a bit of time today praying about it? Maybe a person will come to mind, or maybe a new idea to show love will emerge.
It's not enough to have care in our hearts for others. It has to be expressed in some real way, or else those around is will never know how beloved they are.
And I know, that may sound exhausting these days. But take heart...
I love that Paul told the Roman church that the ability to offer active care and encouragement to others was not through their own strength, but God's strength. It's ok if you don't have much to give. God will provide it and multiply what you have. You are never too empty to offer encouragement when God is the one supplying it.
It's too much for anyone person to show up for everyone. But it's truly possible for an entire community with the right heart posture. Let's joyfully do our part for others, and be honest about our needs as well. This is central to the work of God's church.
Jesus, show me one way that I can encourage someone today.
It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose.
-Paul, Philippians 3:12
We have a growing pile of deer parts in the woods behind our house.
Ok, it's not the flesh and bone kind, but it can still feel creepy seeing a wooden deer head in the brush as you're going for a stroll.
Last winter I was inspired by a relative (thanks, Uncle Dan!) to make my own ornamental wooden deer with materials I found in the woods out back. I cut some logs to make a body and a head and then drilled tight fitting holes for the neck and legs, finding sticks on the ground to use. It was fun to make something festive and cheery in the dark winter. They turned out nice and we put a spotlight on them in front of the house. My family really loved them. The problem was, I used absolute junk wood. The fallen tree trunk bodies and heads were waterlogged and decaying, and the legs and antlers were brittle. So when my kids said, "they're cool, can we keep them and bring them out next year?" I was quick to let them know that those deer were already, quite literally, on their last legs. When it was time for tear down, I just put them out back in the woods and the weather did the rest. Old wooden deer don't die, they just fade away...
Let's jump to this winter. I wanted to make a mini-herd again. But as I walked around looking for better wood this time, something in me was drawn again toward junky stuff--- old fallen trunks that I knew wouldn't last. There was something meaningful as I thought about building them all over again as each winter begins. It would take extra work and time, allowing me to remember that there is great value in the process, and not simply the product. And rummaging through the forest again was time well spent, helping me intentionally welcome the winter and all that it would hold, with the right attitude. It's a vastly different experience than simply picking up the previously used deer.
There's something about the process of making that is exceedingly important in our faith. And I think we need to embrace making as a way of life, happening over and over again with Jesus.
A transformative life with Jesus doesn't simply stand on past work and pull out memorized information or old religious habits once in a while. Neither do healthy relationships rely on that one good connection from years ago. They are formed constantly, with regular work and activity.
Paul talks about not arriving, but continuing to press forward to grasp the fullness of God's love for him and the goodness of the kingdom.
The ongoing process is significant. We can obviously take that too far toward striving to be good enough for God's acceptance, but that misses the point.
Jesus invites us to get our hands dirty, over and over again, with the actions of love and discovery. Re-engaging with the process of discipleship is how God changes us, year after year.
I may not have answers for how exactly God works in the world… but I will continue the process of noticing God's presence rather than relying on my assumptions.
I may not know exactly what love looks like in a specific situation, but I will continue to humbly try, as I ask Jesus for wisdom and guidance. And that process is what honors God and helps me move toward a life fully formed in Christ.
I want to make, over and over again. To continue to work out my salvation, and to enter fresh into the sacred stories and seasons of faith.
Sometimes those actions of loving God and others may feel familiar, like building those deer each year. At other times it may feel like it’s a fresh and new project, as we discover new life-giving ways of relating to Jesus and exploring opportunities to work for compassion in our world.
We may be creating something new or renewing the creation of something familiar. Either way, as we go through the constant process of listening for Jesus and trusting the Jesus way of life, we'll always be building something beautiful in ourselves and for others.
Jesus, lead me again into the process of trusting you and building your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, every day.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
- Ephesians 4:27
This week I made a little mistake that became a bigger mistake that could have been a major mistake. And it nearly destroyed two things I hold dear....
My cup of coffee. And my laptop.
During a Monday meeting with LifePath's administrative sherpa, Melanie, I knocked over my coffee, creating a puddle directly on top of my laptop keyboard. It smelled wonderful. But it wasn't a great moment. I ran over to grab some napkins and quickly soaked up what I could. Then I nervously watched for a few moments, expecting the worst. And believe it or not, the laptop continued to work! Crisis averted!
So we pressed on in our meeting. And then 5 minutes later, the coffee reached the motherboard.
And then it all went dark.
First the computer... and then my soul. (Not really, but side note- I am tied to technology far too much).
It kickstarted a very frustrating 2 days, though. Trying to figure out what was wrong, how major the damage was, and where to find a place that could fix it was stressful. And on top of it all, I learned that if I had turned it off right away, there would really not have been any issue beyond needing to let it dry out.
And this, my friends, is our image for this week.
We all have spill moments in our lives that affect us and others. The question isn't really if, but when. We say something that hurts someone, or we feel hurt by someone else. We get upset at our spouse or family member, or we act selfish or foolishly. Unfortunately, this happens, and it's a part of our humanity.
The problem is more than the spill itself. I wasn't trying to be particularly reckless; it was just a mistake. The real issue emerged with how I responded. I let things sit rather than directly addressing the potential impact.
How many times in our life do we ignore little spills that need to be addressed with immediate reconciliation? Little moments when some of the darkness in our hearts emerges, some of our frustrations spill out in unhelpful ways, or some of our habits are revealed that don't reflect the beauty of the life Jesus longs to give us?
It's so easy to breeze past these moments as long as we don't notice any major consequences right away. But often, more work is needed or else the spill seeps under the surface and does real damage, eroding our hearts and undermining our relationships.
When Paul warns the early church to not let the sun go down on their anger, he's reminding them to not let things sit in their spirits that need addressing. They will become deeply rooted in us, and the damage will be great. Whether we've hurt someone or we're upset at another, Jesus is always moving us toward actions of reconciliation and wholeness wherever possible. The way of Jesus teaches us to stop and ensure that things have been made right rather than quickly rush past because we're busy or it's uncomfortable to address. When we ignore spills, seep starts to happen as more and more emotions build up under the surface. And eventually, things will break down badly in our lives because of unaddressed sin or conflict.
It's just little subtle things at first. But relational disconnection, blowups, breakdowns, and bitterness set in when things aren't made right quickly with an attitude of love and gentleness.
The way toward life is simple, but hard: We confess. We ask forgiveness of others. We ask soul searching questions and invite Jesus to identify the root of the issue. And then, we can walk forward in both grace and resolve for the future. It isn't about shame or poor self-worth. God's love for us is not up for debate. But if we don't honestly address these moments as soul-shaping opportunities, we will not grow in the image of Christ.
By the end of the day I was fortunate to be able to find a great laptop mechanic, and the coffee seepage didn't destroy the whole machine (future metaphor: Jesus can fix our internal circuitry). But it did require some new parts because I didn't stop what I was doing and act fast enough. And it was definitely more costly than it needed to be. Next time, right after a spill, I'll be stopping what I'm doing to give it the attention needed. But I'm keeping my coffee a bit further away, just as a precaution.
Jesus, give me grace and courage to make things right, right away.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. [...] And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
-1 Corinthians 13:8,13
Welcome to 2022, friends. A new year. I always feel this weird obligation to write something really inspired and focused for the first TFG reflection of the year. Something that drives you to go out there and get things done!
You know what I mean right? The whole Go-change-the-world-Lay-it-on-the-line--Believe-in-Jesus-and-yourself kind of stuff.
So let me encourage you with this mic drop of deeply inspiring wisdom:
A lot of what you do this year won't amount to much.
I know. After reading that, I expect you are now bursting with motivation and inspiration.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
No, really. I'm not trying to be pessimistic, just honest.
You'll probably waste a good bit of time and energy on ideas and goals that won't pan out. You may build a friendship that fizzles. You may step out and try something new, and it won't be like you imagined. It could be wonderful! And it could be.. meh.
And that, my friends, is called life.
But does it need to be?
Sometimes I wonder if we simply slap a Christian label right on top of the human desire to accomplish and be successful and get recognition... and we somehow convince ourselves that that's what matters most to God. The final product. The big accomplishment. The result.
This year for Christmas, my daughter Sariya got one of the most unique gifts that I've seen. It's called a Buddha Board. It's a beautiful white standing canvas and brush for painting, with a couple noticeable distinctions...
First, you are painting with water, not paint. And second, the specialized canvas dries quickly and your work disappears about 5 minutes after you create it.
The Buddha Board: Master the Art of Letting Go.
What a tagline! I hope whoever thought of that is getting paid.
For those focused on results, this thing will drive you mad. But for those focused on the process, and learning to be fully present, it's a gift of absolute freedom. How can you get frustrated when you'll have a blank canvas again in just a few minutes? Mistakes aren't permanent; neither are masterpieces. It's all to be embraced moment by moment. Even someone like me can't walk by without wanting to pick up the brush and paint something wonderfully ugly. It's extraordinary.
But let's not assume that nothing is being accomplished here. An aspiring artist, spending hours working on this disappearing canvas, may not create any wall hangings from it. But when the time finally comes to dip her brush into paint, the work they make will reveal the growth that she's experienced.
Jesus invites us to live a life fully present to God at each moment, and fully present to the people in front of us with a heart of love. Our job is to listen for the spirit and spend our days learning to build God's kingdom through the unique ways we've been wired. And as we step out and try new things and think new thoughts and love new people... some of it will not lead to great results. And that's ok. And some of it will be wonderful, but we'll have little to show for it. And that's ok too. Because the beauty that we create each moment matters, and we will be changed in the process.
In life, you cannot force any outcomes. But who you become as you create things, as you grow... that will remain.
Big actions and impressive moments will come and go.
Spiritual disciplines may bring great connection with God one month, then go dry the next.
Your retirement accounts may rise and fall with the economy.
Your attempts at reconciling with a family member may be rejected.
But the faith that is forged in the hard moments, that will remain.
The hope that is forged in both beauty and heartache, that will remain.
And the love the God gives as we learn to fail fabulously and succeed humbly... that will only multiply and grow until it spills from us to each person we meet.
That love will remain for all eternity.
I'd like to leave you with this very unique blessing that's been inspiring me today. It's from Celtic Daily Prayer, book 2:
“Be content to live an
misunderstood life among people...
Let Christ transfigure the darkness in ourselves & in the world.
Let there be great care to maintain the simplicity of presence...
Love what is obscure & little for there you will find Christ.”
Let's be people who are so deeply rooted in Jesus this year that we are more concerned with presence than performance, and more concerned with gracious hearts than great achievements. Let's entrust ourselves fully to Jesus, and be formed in humble love.
Jesus, set me free.