It Is Finished

Today we take a moment to be quiet and remember the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for all of us. It’s humbling and sobering that death is the only way to be saved, and not even our death, but the death of another. Jesus’ death on the cross is one of the final steps of His mission on earth. He has worked through childhood, teenage years, young adulthood and 3 years of active teaching and ministry. The events leading directly up to Good Friday include visiting the Temple and ranting against those trying to take advantage of people there to worship, riding the streets of Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowds shouting ‘Hosanna,’ one last Passover supper with His closest friends, betrayal by one of those friends, trial in front of the spiritual leaders, trial before Governor Pilate, carrying His cross to be crucified and then the actual crucifixion and death.

Jesus lived more in his 30 some years that some of us do in 3 times that many years. He certainly endured more in these weeks and days than almost all of us ever will. Jesus had a closer relationship with God than any of us ever could, and yet on this His darkest day He felt like some of us do, that God had forgotten Him, was ignoring Him, or didn’t care any more about Him.

The book of John in the Bible shares that Jesus’ last words were “It is finished,” and for 3 days He was dead. It seemed like the story was over, there was no victory to be had. Everyone was shocked that He died and that it didn’t seem like He was who they thought He was, who He said He was.

In some ways His work was completed, He had finished the task He came there to do, dying for our sins. Being free from our sins is a huge deal, it’s not something we can do for ourselves and not something just anyone can do for us. It’s not something that can be taken from us, it’s a gift to us at the price of Jesus’ life. But Jesus went and did one better, He rose Easter Sunday morning and gave us the gift of eternal life.

So today I encourage you to reflect on the sacrifice Jesus made and how He has freed us from our past, closing the book on those chapters of our lives.  We don’t have to look back, we don’t have to let the past dictate our futures.  Maybe today is the day to let go of something that you’ve been holding on to for too long, or something that has been holding you back.  If Jesus was willing to go through death to free us for all eternity, surely we can work through the discomfort or fears that we feel about breaking from our past.  After all, Easter Sunday followed Jesus’ death 3 days later, so we should have hope that our free futures would be just as bright.

Advertisements

Standing in Sacred Spaces

As we head towards Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Passover and Easter Sunday, it’s a time when many people are planning to attend church, even if it’s not something they do on a regular basis. Some will make a point to check in with a TV or online church service, while many others will take the time to go to a physical church or synagogue. During this “Holy Week” people attend church more frequently than they normally do, some going 6 or more times. And that’s great, if you have the opportunity and feel moved to attend church you should.

But the Bible doesn’t talk about Jesus going to traditional church services. Yes, He did lead many spiritual sessions and taught in front of many crowds in a whole variety of places from boats to hills to water wells. But the two most notable times that Jesus spends specifically alone in God’s presence are the 40 days that He wanders the wilderness, and the hours He spends in the Garden of Gethsemane the night He was arrested. In preparation for the biggest hours and days of His short life Jesus takes time in a garden to stop, reflect, and pray. For Jesus this simple olive garden was the sacred space where He felt closest to God.

Yes, go to church this weekend, be with people who share the faith with you, celebrate the resurrection with other believers in the space you all call God’s home. But I also encourage you to spend some time in the places and spaces that feel sacred to you, where you have personally connected with God. Maybe that’s going to a church during an open prayer time where people are allowed to just come and go and say prayers or just sit in God’s house. Maybe that is a park or garden or other outdoor space where you go to be alone and let it be just you and God. Maybe it’s a dedicated spiritual space like a retreat center, monastic or other spiritual community that people spend their days and lives in and welcome the community as well. Whatever your sacred spaces are I encourage you to find time to visit them this week and connect with the God who gave you life, has forgiven you and has given you eternal life.

Life Fulfilled

Lent is only part of the story, and leads to the good stuff, the main event, the finale if you will. Lent is all the studying you do before that big test, all the prep you do before that big meeting, all the cleanup you do before the guests. It’s important because of what it leads to, what it prepares you for, not because of what it itself is.

Each day with each choice we make, each interaction we have, each step we take is all writing our story. As people of faith we have God helping to guide the story, leading us to meet the people we need to meet and be there for those who need to meet us, bringing us through the experiences we need and others need us to have, and generally supporting us through the humbling, sobering, heart breaking moments of real life.

And that’s what it comes down to. What would people say if they were to read your story? In one of my Lent devotionals that just finished were the following words:

“At the end of His life, Jesus says” ‘it is finished.’ He looked back on His life and decided to lay down His life. It as if this reflection now takes Him to a place of contentment where He can die. This is significant. Jesus died as He lived – fulfilled.” Mosaïek Church

Good Friday and Easter are both crucial because they do show that Jesus fulfills His life purpose and the promises He made when He came to earth. But technically Jesus only had to do the 3 days of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter to fulfill that promise: He lived, died and rose again. It’s those 30 some years in between those 3 days that Jesus intentionally chose how He wanted to spend His time, and as the quote above says, He chose to live every moment to the fullest.

I believe that what we read in the Bible is only a fraction of the amazing things Jesus did on earth, the personal interactions He had with people, the lives He touched. Jesus may have only been on earth for 30 some years, but He made the most of each day, experience, relationship, interaction and opportunity, especially the last few years. But even with all the ways that Jesus lived, I think the way He really filled in the moments were best seen when He took a moment to talk with someone one-on-one, or in taking time to love on the children, or never giving up on the Pharisees, and even in the moments when He was so very human like when Lazarus died or He took a nap on a boat.

Life is made up of countless moments big and small. Just like Jesus you’ve got a choice: you don’t have to live a fulfilling life, but if given the choice why wouldn’t you?

(This is a bit of the weekly devotional I sent out this week, click here if you’d like to learn more or subscribe)

Reality Reflection: Whose Responsibility is it?

I think that at our heart most of us want to help others and make the world a better place. Sure, we look out for our own interests and we occasionally completely miss what’s going on around us (and cause issues for others), but I feel like if we were given a choice that was win-win, we’d agree to it more often than not. Then you’ve got some people who are people-pleasers. They’re people who go out of their way to try to make others happy, almost always without thought to their own happiness. Then you’ve got the helpers, they’re the people who try to help others even when/if they’re not willing to help themselves. It’s this last one that I got to thinking about today.

I think with our win-win hearts we can often give people the motivation or encouragement, and certainly provide them with the opportunity to step up to the plate and do something good/better for their lives. That’s one of the best ways that we can help each other. It goes in line with the ‘teach a man to fish’ quote. For those of us who have that heart it’s tough to see people who aren’t willing to take that hand and get the help they need.

While there’s not set time on how long you should try to help someone, at some point you may have to step back and just let the cards fall where they may. Your job is to be responsible for your life and the lives of anyone who is physically dependent on you (a child, elderly individual or individual with special needs). It’s not your job to be responsible for the whole world. It’s a tough and disheartening lesson to learn.

Even when you decide to take a step back (or another one), that doesn’t mean you have to give up hope, it just means that you’re not going to step up either when the other person won’t.  There’s nothing wrong with helping others, in fact it’s essential to all of us thriving in this world.  But you can’t force people to change or become someone or do something they’re ultimately not willing (or don’t care enough) to do.  Do you need to take a step back today?

Exploring the Heart of Nature

I was recently reminded of a poem and thought I would share it with you today. It’s by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.”

For me this poem speaks to connection. It talks about our connection with the world and nature as well as how small of a part we have in that world. It encourages us to reconnect with the world that we live in: the ground that we walk and build and drive on, the trees and plants that shelter and feed us, and the quiet but true way that nature grows and changes over the years. It also reminds us of what people used to know, that nature is and should be our friend and we should enjoy connecting with it.

When was the last time you really spent time in nature? Maybe you will observe nature explode over the next few weeks from the allergy-free zones of your house or car, but I would encourage you to find time in the next short while to work on reconnecting with nature. People who spend time in nature often have naturally healthier immune systems, lower stress and feel better about themselves and life.  Getting out in nature is also a great way to connect with your neighbors, learn more about your community and meet new people (and dogs!).  What part of nature will you explore this spring?

The Party Before The Win

Today I have more of a question to think over with you than the usual reflections. I’m thinking about the fact that the celebration of Palm Sunday (which is happening this coming Sunday) comes before the sobering events of Good Friday which are followed by the celebration of Easter. How often do we celebrate before the sad event and after it? Why did it happen this way?

Let’s start with a bit of context and a timeline so we’re all on the same page. After being on earth for some 30 years, and doing public ministry for 3 years Jesus’ time on earth is wrapping up. In the Bible Palm Sunday (also known as the Triumphant Entry) happens less than a week before the Last Supper (the time of celebrating the Passover and the initial event of the Lord’s Supper) which comes right before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, which comes 3 days before His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. During Palm Sunday there was a large crowd that gathered and shouted “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord” while they spread garments and leafy branches on the road for the donkey to walk on that Jesus was riding on. Then a week or so later we get to Easter on which a few women find the tomb Jesus had been buried in empty, they have a brief encounter with Jesus and then they tell the apostles what had happened (Jesus eventually appears to them and others before going back to heaven some 40 days later).

So back to the question: why this big Palm Sunday celebration? It almost feels like you’re celebrating the winner of the big sports event of the year before the event is played. Maybe because God knew how much cover-up from the government there would be after the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, so there couldn’t be as public an event. Maybe because Easter was meant to be a more holy celebration and not a party. Maybe because Palm Sunday was for everyone but Easter is only for those who believe. Maybe because God enjoys a good celebration as much as we do and saw an opportunity to reveal (and celebrate) the truth. Maybe it was to just give Jesus the proper recognition of who He was.

I invite you to share your thoughts on the party before the party, and to remember to celebrate the King this Palm Sunday.

Let’s Make Decisions

One of the most important skills we can work on are our decision making skills. One of the worst things you can do is actively choose not to make a decision, because then the decision is taken out of your hands. Which is fine if you’re OK with any decision that follows, but in most cases we really have a preference on what happens and how things develop (or which way you don’t want things to go).

In the Lent devotionals I’ve been reading they’ve been sharing some different stories from the Bible of both Jesus and others making decisions. From Adam and Eve to the prodigal son, to Jesus walking on water, speaking to the woman at the well, to the days and hours leading up to His death on the cross, there are people who make decisions in every chapter. Sometimes those decisions are good, other times they’re clearly influenced by someone or something else, and sometimes you can see that they’re wishing they could pass the decision on to someone else (or had a larger number of options they could pick from).

When you start to work on your decision making skills and you actively make more decisions, yes, you’ll make some not so great decisions. Just like many other things, it takes practice to get good at making decisions, and you’ll never always get it right, although you’ll get more right than not. But using the knowledge and experience you have as well as letting common sense, instinct and your gut help guide you, with a little courage of course, you should be able to face most situations and decisions successfully.

I think the thing to remember is that over the years some people have screwed up on their decision making in some rather serious ways and yes, some people have died as a result, but the vast majority of people are able to recover from even some epically large poor decisions. You’re never out until you’re dead, so as long as you’re still here and breathing you’ve got the time to fix your mistakes and make better decisions.

When you’re making the decisions, you’re in control of your life, and that means that even when life seems to be going out of control or you’re limited as to how much control you have, those decisions are what give you back at least some of your power. What decisions will you make today?