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.
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.