Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.
I've found myself seeking wide open spaces lately (cue the old Dixie Chicks tune). Something has been drawing me to locations where I am just a speck in the midst of something much bigger. Sometimes it's alone, sometimes with my family. Sometimes while I'm driving, and sometimes it's on a walk or a run. So I've been thinking about how big the world is, and how small I am. And that's not a bad thing.
Have you ever really entered into a news story from another country? Or spoken with someone whose work and sphere of relationships is completely independent of yours? If you do that enough, at one point you will begin to realize that you can live or die, and it will have zero impact on that country. Zero impact on those people. Zero impact on so much of the world. After all, your'e one of about 8 billion people. That's a whopping .000000013% of our world. But don't get depressed...
There's something about stepping back from our current climate of out-of-control stress, anxiety, and hyper-divisive thought patterns that a little insignificance can help with. It can remind us that our role is that of supporting cast and not starring character.
I've often thought David's words above were about asking God to remind him to "seize the day" and make the most of every opportunity. But David was a king, with incredible stress and strain. Maybe his prayer was not simply about asking God to help him make the most of his short life, but about asking God to give him perspective when his stress or self importance got out of control.
My friend Lori has been sensing the same thing as me in her own life, and this week she used the phrase "small in a good way" to talk about how God is keeping her soul intact as she does the incredibly vital work of caring for homeless families day after day. I like that phrase. If we think it all depends on us, we'll miss the good news of Jesus.
We are each the center of our own universes. But we are very much not the center of THE universe. When we acknowledge that we're like a grain of sand, a blade of grass, a vanishing mist... we are invited to live well with Jesus in new ways. We are set free to receive the gift of limits.We are allowed to really rest, trusting that all of reality and the success of the future does not depend on our 24/7 connectedness. The news stories will still be reported tomorrow. And are you really that indispensable that you need to check your email at 11pm?
Embracing our lives as a breath also helps us realize that our cares and stresses and joys and sadnesses are not more significant than our neighbor's. Acknowledging our smallness becomes a way to help us "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves," as Paul encourages in his letter to the Philippian church. We love better when we know that we're not all that.
Life in Christ is a life of walking beyond the dualism that we are presented with. As we mature in faith, we learn to hold things in tension that seem like opposites at first glance.
We are both incredibly insignificant and infinitely valuable as uniquely and personally loved children of God.
Our lives are both a short breath and the prelude to life forever with God.
The things we accomplish are both limited in scale and participating in building the very Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated!
These are paradoxes. And grasping them in a time of stress and turmoil helps remind us that we are small, but in a good way.
So rest. And work. What do you matters so much. And yet the world is bigger than any of us, and God is trustworthy in it all, even without you. Receive the peace of Jesus.
Jesus, help me do what is mine to do today, and rest in being one small part of your glorious creation.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."
-Jesus (John 14:1)
This week, for the first time in our 15+ year marriage, we purchased a television. This one is an upgrade from the decades-old technology of our previous hand-me-downs. I was pleasantly surprised that as a smart TV perk, it came preloaded with a number of free channels (we don't do cable, so you can just imagine the excitement from the kids).
Most of the free channels are rubbish, but after channel surfing for a few minutes we stumbled upon The Bob Ross Channel.
Twenty four hours a day. All Bob Ross. All the time.
For the unaware, Bob Ross was an iconic painter whose gentle spirit and accessible teaching style captured millions of people through his PBS show in the 80s and 90's. I liked him then and I love him now. Thinking it was all nostalgia, I was shocked at how my kids were absolutely spellbound watching this man create paintings of "happy little trees" and quietly reminding people that on the canvas, "we don't make mistakes, we just have happy accidents." For a generation that is overstimulated with ever shortening attention spans, it bordered on miraculous to see them peacefully engrossed in the slow beauty and quiet attitude of this painter. They've continued to go back to that channel whenever they're allowed, and I'm even tempted to get out some paints and practice "happy accidents" myself (to be clear, the entire painting would fall in that category for me).
Bob Ross was in the Air Force for 20 years before becoming a professional painter. In his own words, he was the one who was tasked with "being tough." He was "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work." When he left the military, he decided that he never wanted to shout or raise his voice again. It appears he succeeded in that goal. I read stories this week of people who put Ross' vintage videos on repeat at night to help them sleep. Such is the value of a non-anxious presence.
Jewish Rabbi and family therapist Edwin Friedman says that any system-- family, church, or otherwise-- will break down unless there is a non-anxious presence there.
More and more I see the need for Christians to let Jesus be our non-anxious presence.
More and more I see the need for Jesus to form us into non-anxious presences for others.
It's hard to read the gospels without finding a disciple freaking out about something. They think they can't heal people, they think they can't enter the kingdom, they think they're going to die in a boat during a storm, and they think they don't have enough resources to feed others or survive themselves. And again and again, Jesus tells them to slow down. He is with them. They will be able to stand firm. They'll be able to do all these things. They'll even be allowed to rest when tasks are still left undone. Jesus is the non-anxious presence in their lives, and he's also the one who teaches them how to think about God so that they become a similar presence for others.
So, I guess in that way, Bob Ross kind of reminds me of Jesus. Is that sacrilege? Both knew of multiple ways to use their influence. Both choose to do so in a way that took the pressure off of people, rather than putting more pressure on them. The result was fresh peace and freedom in making something beautiful.
Religion places burdens and expectations on people to follow the rules and get it all right. But grace invites people into spacious places of delight, where we want nothing more than to build something beautiful with God because the pressure is off and we are already enough.
Christ's non-anxious presence in our lives settles us and then equips us to exude that same presence in our families, our workplaces, and our spheres of influence. So our efforts for compassion, justice, and reconciliation are not categorized by worry and fear, but by love and peace. This is the eternal perspective that God is at work for good all the time.
Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic, heard God's spirit speak to her with the now famous words: All is well and all will be well. That doesn't always feel true. But having Jesus in our lives allows us to trust this conviction.
So our family is going to keep watching 30 year-old episodes of The Joy of Painting. And I'm going to keep thinking about how Jesus is making a beautiful world and inviting me to participate- but I can be at peace with however my work turns out. Such is the calming power of grace.
Jesus, reframe my thoughts and settle my spirit so that I can join you in creating beauty today.
**If you'd like the next 3 minutes and 26 seconds to become the highlight of your day, click here.You're welcome.
For he himself is our peace...
God, how could this happen? That’s what some of you are thinking right now. Others are exclaiming, “Thank God! What a disaster that would have been!”
I don’t actually know what happened. I decided to write this on Monday before it all went down. Likely, we still don't know who the next leader of our country will be. But those above thoughts are on the way, regardless.
I don’t want to do creative writing today. I don’t want to be witty or eloquent. I want to think about how we keep our souls in this moment.
Nearly every one of you reading this lives in the United States. And I know everyone reading this would like to see our country thrive. But whether you are pleased or discouraged by the outcome, there are things have haven’t changed. Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that it doesn’t matter who is leading. It does. Many lives will be affected by who is in the White House for the next few years. Both policies and leadership attitudes will have real impact on the people of this country and beyond. But. Some. Things. Haven’t. Changed.
America is still not the kingdom of God. It wasn’t in 2012. Or 2016. And it’s not in 2020.
America is still not the hope of the world. That role has already been filled.
President ________________ is not our Lord or Savior in any way, despite any claims that he or anyone else makes about him.
If you think that because the right guy got elected (or will soon), that all is well in the world….. you’re wrong.
If you think that because the wrong guy got elected (or will soon), that there is no hope in the world….. you’re also wrong.
By all means, it's ok to be discouraged or be pleased, for a few minutes.
And then return to your calling.
Our work remains the same as it did in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019…. well, you get it.
Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. (Micah 6:8)
Forgive our enemies. Love our neighbors. (Matt 5:44/22:39)
Practice hospitality. Welcome the stranger. (Romans 12:13)
Keep ourselves from being polluted by the powers of the world. (James 1:27)
Wash each other’s feet. (John 13:14)
Give to those in need. (Acts 2:45)
Do not work for food that spoils, but food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)
Grasp that the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, free or in chains... is the peace of Christ. (Phil 4:12)
Live as citizens of the Kingdom of God and God’s ambassadors in the kingdom of America. (Phil 3:20)
I’m tired. The compounding factors of this season have taken more out of me personally, and many of you, than possibly any other season in our lives. Tears flow pretty regularly these days. And it’s not over, not at all. But our energy comes from God, and our hope remains in God. And that is where the strength continues to come from to live faithfully in a world divided. Empires rise and fall. It happened with Babylon, Persia, and Rome. The US is not exempt from history. Yet we live with the knowledge that we are citizens of an unshakeable kingdom- a kingdom that has given hope and perseverance to generations across history and across the globe with far more difficult experiences than most of us have ever experienced. God is faithful and will continue to work in our world- in and through us, and sometimes in spite of us (thank God).
So I ask you right now- beg you, actually, to be known by the characteristics of Jesus, and not the pseudo-Christian identities of right or left. It's not that good and kingdom-like things can't happen through political action (they can), it's that the third way of Jesus transcends tribalism and protectionism. It moves toward working for love and justice and integrity that speaks truth to all sides. And it rejects the notion that the only way to change things is to have all of the power. We cannot read the temptations of Jesus and somehow believe that “our party" (yuck) in the white house is the main way that the kingdom of God will advance.
Remember, Jesus’ political platform was a wooden cross.
Christians have joined in some unholy alliances, and we must walk carefully. As Tony Campolo said of a Christianity that becomes enmeshed too closely with political allegiance… it’s like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t do much to the manure… but it sure ruins the ice cream.
So friends, neither gloat nor despair as you consider your feelings on how our government ought to function and who our latest Caesar is. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17). You know what Jesus meant with that, right? Caesar can have his money and power with his image imprinted on it. It will eventually be worthless. But God’s image is imprinted on your very bodies and souls. You belong to God. Never forget that- and give yourselves fully and completely to the work of God in your life. God has placed his image on something far more valuable than anything our government could give or take away. You are sacred to God. So is your neighbor. So is your enemy.
Come, Lord Jesus.