Moments of Anger

One of the stories we don’t talk about too often is about Jesus clearing the temple (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19). It sometimes gives us the same uncomfortable feeling that we experience when we talk about or hear sermons about finances. We see a bunch of different versions of Jesus throughout the New Testament, from the one who loves kids, to the one who has a ton of spiritual knowledge, to the one who mourns the death of friends, to the one who dies on the cross, to the one who rises again on Easter morning. Most of the time the stories illustrate Jesus as someone who is mostly peaceful and laid back, but we don’t have any video of Him to really show us what He was like. We certainly have plenty of graphic descriptions about how bad a crucifixion was from different historical writers, even though we don’t have a lot of information on what Jesus specifically experienced. But then there’s the story of Jesus clearing the temple, and we’re introduced to someone who doesn’t really resemble the man we thought we knew.

That’s the funny thing about anger, it can take us over and show a side of us that most people never see. Anger is one of the many emotions we feel along with love, sorrow, hurt and joy. Most people experience all of the emotions at least once in their lifetime. Yes, some people do fit the “angry person” description, but most of us just have a moment (or realistically several moments over the course of our life) where our emotions just get the best of us. Maybe we’re tired, maybe we’re fed up, maybe we’re overwhelmed, maybe we’re embarrassed, maybe we’re scared, maybe it’s a defense mechanism; all of these things can lead to a moment of anger.

Anger isn’t just a human emotion, although it does help us relate more personally to Jesus, God gets angry too. Various passages throughout the Bible show that sometimes God does have anger burn against people who are sinning or have committed a serious sin against Him or those He loves. But again and again God stops, He doesn’t let His anger get the best of Him or let the anger stay in control for long. You can’t take things back when they’re said or done in anger, which is why it’s important to do your best to not let anger be the solution you choose or let things get to the point of anger too often.

So where does that leave us? Some things can’t be fixed, but 99% of the time we should be giving out second chances. We should try to understand the anger that others express because we want them to try to understand when we express anger as well. If we understand their anger, maybe we’ll see they have good reason to be angry, even if they should have spoken up before it got to a boiling point, and/or we should have listened better before it got to that.

But the majority of His Earthly life Jesus lived with grace, compassion and humility. Ultimately our goal should be to be like Jesus, and that means that the majority of the time we should be sharing love, care, compassion and help to those around us. Jesus could have been angry more often, He could have demanded royal treatment more often, He could have gotten frustrated more often, but instead He chose to listen, learn, build relationships and teach to the best of His ability on Earth. We may never stack up to His example, but we certainly should give it our best shot. What has your anger or the anger of others taught you?

Time for Something Simpler?

Going with the topic that I shared about on one of my other blogs, today I wanted to talk a little about simple things, including simple victories. I love layers of flavor, piles of pillows, the incredible way the world smells after a summer thunderstorm, the little surprises you find in your travels whether at the store or around the internet, watching the joy of school children on the playground together, or the satisfaction that comes from caring for a fair sized thriving outdoor garden. But there’s also a lot to be said for watching puppies innocently sleep, having a quiet chat with a young child, taking a walk with your partner holding hands, a simple cup of tea, or having a plan for exactly what you’re going to have for dinner every night for the next week.

Yes, I absolutely believe that the deep philosophical discussions have a place and should happen, as do those books and movies and theme parks that suck you in and keep you captive for hours or days on end. I think it’s important to spend time learning and really diving into the subject matter. I think it’s important to invest quality time and effort into your work and your relationships. I think we should evaluate things we’ve just accepted as “tradition” or “the way it’s always been done” and make sure it’s the way that’s healthy and relevant to our world today. I think that details and stories are great ways to communicate, necessary for culture and history, and helpful in selling things too.

But I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in our layers and details and embellishments that we sometimes miss out on some really simple pleasures or try too hard which makes us miss out on straighter, easier or less complicated happenings and paths to victory. Part of the reason I got to thinking about simple things has to do with Earth Day being in this month and lots of organizations talking about the importance of caring for the planet that we share and depend on for practically everything. Maybe spending some time experiencing the simpler things will not only remind us of how many awesome facets the earth has, but also help us come up with better ways of helping it last and thrive.

Sometimes it’s in backing away from the complicated and trying a few simple things that can help you get the breakthrough you’ve been looking for. If nothing else, backing away from the complex into the simple for a bit may provide you with the break that you needed to help connect those complicated dots after all. What challenging or simple victories have you celebrated lately?

Questions and Hope of Easter

When December 26 rolls around I’m a little disappointed that Christmas is technically over, but there’s still so much excitement and it does seem like the celebration continues for a while after the day that we celebrate Jesus’ birth (December 25). But with Holy Week and Easter being done, it seems like the door just closes on all things celebration. Jesus died on the cross saving us from our sins and rose again on Easter morning to give us new, eternal life, and that’s it, right? But the first Easter wasn’t that simple, nor is it that cut and dried. It happened with a whole lot of confusion, heartbreak and hope, much of which still sticks around today.

Having the gift of 2000 years between us and what happened that special week means we’ve got a better overall picture of what happened, and we know how it all worked out and how it all works together. But as we’ve talked about recently, rarely do we get the whole story of what happened; it would be impossible to carry around the whole Bible if we had all the details and stories of what happened. So to the details that we don’t know, add the confusion of what actually was happening that first Easter, especially since they didn’t have all the communication technology we have today. How could they be expected to figure everything out in the span of 3 days?

We do know the most important details: Jesus died, rose again and interacted with people before going back to Heaven until He comes back to us again, but that leaves lots of questions and all of our emotions to be considered still. Just because Jesus is now alive doesn’t mean you forget the pain of experiencing His death on the Cross. Just because you know Jesus is alive doesn’t mean you lose that feeling of fear that you experienced when you thought all was lost. Just because Jesus rose again doesn’t mean you forget the feelings of being left alone when He died. Just because you accept the miracle of all of this doesn’t mean you don’t still have questions about how it’s all possible. Just because Jesus promised to come back again doesn’t mean we know when that second coming will be.

We may never have all of the answers and we should always feel a mix of feelings about Holy Week and Easter, because it wasn’t just a bunch of joyful events. But we shouldn’t let our fears and sadness, or even the unanswered questions, outweigh the hope and the reality of eternal life that Easter brings. Because Jesus is alive, He does love us and because God cared for us enough to send Jesus so we can have hope even when life seems to be going all wrong.

Is it the End?

Today is Good Friday. One of the most common explanations for the name of this day has to do with the idea of ‘pious’ which has to do with being holy, and if you’re holy you’re considered the best or truly good. This definition of good doesn’t line up with the good of having presents under the tree at Christmas or the good of new life in spring (or any time during the year), but it is a very holy day, one of the most holy days in the entire year. Holy can be a day of celebration, but it can also be a very serious and somber occasion, like today is.

But as I was reflecting on Holy Week and the many people who played a role in the original Holy Week and how we honor it today, I read a devotional about Jesus’ last words: it is finished. Jesus said those words before He died and I know many people believed that was the end. After all 99.99% of the time, once you seem dead, you are dead. Even with all of the medical miracles today, death still usually is the end. But then I got to thinking about it, and about how it certainly wasn’t the end of Jesus’ story, He rose from the dead 3 days later and appeared to hundreds of people before He returned to Heaven.

Now, Jesus absolutely is a special case, but the truth is that the end is rarely the end. The Mona Lisa, the famous painting on display at the Louvre in Paris was completed in the early 1500’s, and people are still talking about it and people are still studying it 500 years later. Abraham Lincoln was one in a relatively long line of men who became president, and while he’s been dead since the mid 1800’s, we still benefit from and apply the decisions he made and ways he lead today. Mother Teresa died in 1997, but the stories of how she helped, the ways that she saw the world, the teachings she shared, they’re still being shared and learned from today. You may have finished reading that book or watching that movie, but you’ll likely think about it for days if not years to come. Jesus may have returned to heaven some 2000 years ago, but He also still speaks in various ways to people today.

So yes, it is finished. Today Jesus is done with the hard work leading up to this lowest point in His life, today our sin died a horrible death on a cross, but it’s not the end of His story because it’s not the end of our story. As long as there are people alive, stories will continue to be told and people will continue to be remembered long after they lived. Jesus will continue to forgive us of our sins when we come to Him for healing and salvation because our stories aren’t done yet and we’re not finished with the impact we can make on the world. Don’t give up if you’re at the lowest point in your life, have hope that something better is yet to come.

Women of Courage

As we finish up this month and our focus midweek on women’s history, I actually want to go back many years to a woman who doesn’t need much introduction during the December months if you’re of Christian faith, and has a big connection to the person that’s focused on this weekend: Mary, Jesus earthly mother. Throughout the Bible God spoke to people (or sent Angels on His behalf) and told them about things He needed them to do or the ministry opportunities in your life. One well-known example is of God asking Noah to build an ark and ride out a flood that wipes out 99% of everything on earth. We get into detail of Mary’s story in Luke chapter 1, where we meet both her and the Angel who comes to tell her about how God wants to bless her. Overcoming her initial fear, Mary courageously says “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

It’s not every day that a woman is asked to carry God’s Son, to be the woman who raises Him on earth, but every day women are choosing to be courageous. Whether it’s in stepping out into the world as a woman of color, running a global business, raising the next generation, speaking up for those who aren’t confident enough to or able to, overcoming abuse, or staying true to their religious or cultural beliefs, every day women are stepping up and being courageous.

You may not be a woman whose name ends up in the history books, has some special honor named after her, or is well-known for decades to come, but that shouldn’t discourage you from stepping up with courage and commitment to being the best woman you can be. I certainly can’t name all (or really any) of the mothers of famous artists, musicians, or leaders whether in the present or throughout history. History doesn’t usually remember the women who were the teachers or role models who helped the people who are in the history books become the memorable people they are.

Yes, we should honor people for the things they do and contributions they make, but everyone doesn’t get credit for everything they do and everything they are, but that shouldn’t discourage you from choosing to step up and participate in life. Whether you do an act of kindness, treat others with love as often as possible, speak up when something is wrong, stand up for what you believe, or say prayers daily for your loved ones and those you know are struggling, you choose to an impact as a woman.

Are You Missing Out?

Holy Week has officially arrived for 2021, with the celebration of Palm Sunday yesterday. This year one of the things I’ve talked about a bunch of times both here on the blog and in my newsletters and devotional is how long Lent is. It’s longer than Advent, and for some it’s a really long time to be considering sacrifice, sin, faith and healing, and maybe that’s why not every church spends as much time on it other than occasionally on Sundays leading up to Easter. So here we arrive at Palm Sunday and Holy Week, yet another stop and stretch to the ultimate celebration of Easter. Why? One reason why I think it’s there is because God wants to give us every chance not to miss out on the blessing of a savior.

I was reading a devotional the other day that talked about how all 4 books that tell Jesus’s story in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) all tell the story of the cross and Easter, but with the book of Mark is a little different from any other book that tells Jesus’ story or any other book in the Bible because it doesn’t have a hard and fast ending like the others do. It has a couple of endings, separated by the phrase “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.” It brought me back to the thought I’ve had many times of how much wasn’t included in the Bible, how much are we missing out on? After all, we’ve only got small portions of people’s lives throughout the Bible, we certainly don’t know exactly everything that happened in Jesus’ life. Of course I’m thankful for all that we do know, but what are we missing out on?

The good news is that we didn’t miss out on the events of this most important week of Jesus life. We get some really personal glimpses into the heart of Him when He upset the temple and prayed in the Mount of Olives, we also got an opportunity to celebrate with Him as many thought we should have been able to do all along on Palm Sunday, and we’ll get an opportunity to learn from Him as a teacher in the Upper Room for one last Passover celebration. If you haven’t read through the whole story lately, I encourage you to start at Palm Sunday (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12) and read through to the Resurrection. It may be a story you’re familiar with and you may not see anything new in the text, but you never know how God wants to speak to you or how He’ll use your devotional time. Don’t let another Easter Sunday pass without taking time to connect with God, with the story of Jesus’ incredible sacrifice for our sins and gift of eternal life to all who believe.

Reality Reflection: Sometimes You Can’t Go Back

I was listening to a sermon the other day and the pastor was talking about the tough choices we sometimes have to make in life. The Bible doesn’t encourage divorce, but yet we know that some people throughout the Bible did go in that direction, and some of them still had their story shared in the Bible, and people today get divorced and God still blesses them and uses them for His purpose. Sin is something that all of us experience and since we’re not perfect, we’re going to experience it for the rest of our lives. The Bible encourages us to forgive others, even if forgiveness is really challenging, so that you have to try to forgive someone 70 x 7.

We choose divorce, to work on the marriage, to stay together even though we’re miserable. We choose to sin, sometimes with more awareness than others. We choose if we’re going to forgive someone, to forgive them and begin to heal, or hold onto the hurt for a time. Yes, all of those are choices, but as important as those choices are, there’s another choice that’s super important, and maybe even more important that has to be made. The choice of what happens next. For instance: if you do decide to divorce, what happens next? Do you try to love each other as God does, or stay angry and hurt and fight anytime you come into contact with each other? Once you’ve forgiven someone, do you protect yourself as best you can from any similar situations or do you trust God with what the future might hold?

You can’t go back to the time before, but you always have the choice about what your future holds. We can’t go back to before the pandemic and virus swept the globe, although I do hope we can get back to hugs and spending time with more than our circle soon. But we can choose to be bitter about the sacrifices and struggles of the time with the pandemic, or choose to move forward wiser and with hope that the future will bring new opportunities. We absolutely can say this has been the worst time of our lives and still learn from it and love the people in our lives and care for each other going forward. If you know you can’t go back, what do you absolutely want from the future?

Victories with Heart

I’ve been enjoying taking a look at the lives of different women this month as we go through Women’s History Month, today I thought we’d look at a bit of wisdom from Dorothy Day. She was born over a century ago in 1897, and was a journalist, social activist, pacifist, and a devout Catholic who practiced what she preached and lived her values. I bet she would have fit right in with our world today and being passionate about, and good at, getting people to listen and respond to some of the issues that we’re facing about race, voting and climate change. Dorothy Day said:

“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”

Everyone experiences challenges in their life and everyone has the same choice: do I step up to that challenge and try to conquer it or hope that not facing it means my life won’t be too poorly impacted? Ignoring challenges is usually the wrong choice to make, because more often than not it will come back around and you’ll have to face it later, it will only get worse and not better with the passage of time, or you’ll have to miss out on something else because you’ve not dealt with that challenge.

I’ve seen and experienced time and again how attitude can make a huge difference in how successfully you face the challenge, and as much as attitude is a mental thing, it stems from the heart you have. The challenge of Dorothy Day’s day is also one that we face, and makes a really good point about what may be the difference some of us are missing when we’re facing our challenges. I think it’s easy to put a number to climate change or race/gender topics, to health issues or even financial issues, but numbers don’t speak to how it feels to experience something, to struggle, to have your life or livelihood taken from you, to experience failure after failure, or to speak up multiple times and just not be heard.

I think if we all put a little more heart into our lives we’d all have healthier, happier, more fulfilling lives because we’d remember that none of us are just a number, just a statistic, but we have cares, concerns, and passions, and should all be given the same opportunity to make something of ourselves. We’d also do better with nature because we’d be more considerate of our impact. We’d do better in our relationships, both with those we know personally as well as those who are part of our world however far away by distance, because we’d think about their families and their needs, not just our own, and be willing to really hear and understand their stories. What impact will having a little heart have on your life and victories?

Renewed by Lent

We’ve been working through this year’s season of Lent for 5 full weeks now. That means that some of us have been sacrificing certain things for 5 weeks now, and some of us have been contemplating and working through our sins and shortfalls for 5 weeks now. I often think that Advent is too short with just 4 weeks of time to prepare for Christmas, yet when we’re handed 7 weeks to contemplate, Easter yes, but also the road to the cross, it sometimes seems like too much. But Easter wouldn’t be the same without the cross and Jesus’ death. Sure God could have done something miraculous and Jesus could have just conquered the world, but that’s not what God knew would be best for us, and so we take time to remember the cross and resurrection each year while we wait for what comes next in God’s plan.

But often, that’s what we get stuck on: that we do have to contemplate the cross first and we do have to talk about sin first before we can get to the “good stuff” and our time of celebration. As I was re-reading one of the Lent devotionals for last week I was reminded of one of the biggest reasons why we have to start with the cross and working through our sins. The simple answer is that sometimes (often) you have to get through the tough stuff before you can get to the better stuff. You have to do the dishes or buy more plates if you want to eat on a clean plate. You have to clean the dog after it’s sprayed by a skunk if you don’t want to smell skunk forever. You have to turn the soil, plant the seeds and water if you want to have plants grow. You have to work out and practice before you have a chance at becoming a world-class athlete. You have to be freed from your sins and find forgiveness (from God, yourself, and/or others) before you can find healing, peace and renewal from God. You don’t get to Easter as we know it without going through the Cross first.

Although we can (and should) work to do better towards each other and ourselves and sin less, we’re still human and sin will continue to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future. But I don’t think we should see Lent as the only time during the year that we face our sins, although facing them yearly is better than not dealing with them at all. Lent can be a time of incredible healing, rest, renewal and rejuvenation, all leading up to the celebration of Easter and preparing us to share the Good News for the rest of the year until we reach Advent again.

As we head into these last few weeks of this Lent season with Holy Week beginning next week, I encourage you to find some time for rest and reflection, even as you contemplate the tough days that are ahead for both Jesus and us.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him.” Psalm 91:1-2

Reality Reflection: Spring and Healing

Someone reminded me that Palm Sunday is just over a week away and Easter just over two weeks away, and of course spring officially arrived today! I know that the change on the calendar doesn’t necessarily mean all the cold weather and snow is over for the year, at the very least there will still be some very cold nights, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction towards weather that means we can be outside and nature thrives again. This push-pull time in nature is a very similar one to the journey we live: for every little bit of ground we gain, so often it seems like something else sets us back again or another responsibility is added to our stack.

If you’ve been here for a while you know that I have nothing against little victories or celebrating victories that happen in the progress of our main victory journey; I don’t believe in celebrating only the big victory. But in this season of Lent that we’re exploring some of the things that challenge us and help separate us from Jesus, I read the words of Ephesians 4:31-32 says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

I don’t know too many mammals that don’t react in some way when someone insults them or says/does something that’s hurtful. Think about how big cats don’t like when other animals try to steal the food they’ve got, or primates care for each other until one of them does something another doesn’t like, or how the parents protect their animal young, and you can probably come up with some examples from your own life about how you react when someone does something that hurts you. One thing that sets us apart from most other mammals though is that we can also feel the same way when someone hurts someone else, for example when a child is trafficked into slavery or someone is shot because of their skin color or culture.

But most of us aren’t evil and we don’t spend all our time on activities and words that hurt each other. Most of us say them when we’re hurt or upset or not thinking straight or when we mishear something. And sometimes we’re right in those reactions, but all too often at a point in time later we have to have a discussion about ‘overreacting in the heat of the moment’ and apologize. It’s human to feel hurt, even Jesus felt hurt in His years here on earth. So I don’t think it’s wrong to be hurt and to tell others that you’re hurt, but rather our ability to hold onto those feelings and let them affect us in various ways often for much longer than we should.

As we work closer to Easter and process the journey that Jesus went through in His time on earth especially as it lead up to the Cross, one thing we can work on is getting better at finding a balance between being honest about how we feel and letting go of our hurts. It doesn’t really do us any good to hold onto the pain and hurt for days, weeks and years, although sometimes we can benefit from remembering how we got hurt so that we don’t get ourselves into a similar situation in the future. And while the healing process can be challenging and take time, it’s easier to treat others with kindness and care when we’re not held back by hurts we’re holding onto. As spring erupts around us, I encourage you to work on finding that freedom, forgiveness and healing for yourself that Jesus led so well with.