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.

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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)

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.

Kindness for April

Yesterday was one of my least favorite holidays of the year: April Fool’s Day. I have no problem with having fun in life and having fun with each other, but to play pranks on others and tell half truths or lies to people is just cruel on top of all that the world throws at you. I did hear one person’s rules on it for their kid that I could almost get behind and that was there could be no permanent damage, personal injury or cruelty in any of their pranks. That almost makes it OK but I’m still not a fan.

The past few days in my Lent and other devotionals there’s been a lot of talk of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Luke 15 also shares the story of a lost coin and a lost sheep. These devotionals reminded me of how much we can lose in life, from the seemingly small to the life-altering and how that loss affects each of us differently. Some may not have felt so strongly about a lost coin or sheep as the people in Luke 15 did, but to these people those individual coins and sheep were important.

We can screw up our lives on our own without help from anyone else. We rely on the honesty, predictability, and reliability of other people and businesses to run our lives as easily and peacefully as possible and with the least amount of stress. So when we’re faced with something like April Fool’s that gives the not-so-nice people of the world leave to play jokes (regardless of how many ‘just kidding’s’ that are said or sent with the joke), it almost makes me want to stay in bed all day and pretend the world doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, I think we’re a lot closer to getting rid of the time change than we are of April Fool’s Day (I’d like to get rid of both). So my suggestion to help with the darkness, bad energy and bad karma that was added to the world yesterday, is that we all share a little more kindness and compassion with the world for the rest of the week. We should always have it in our minds and actions to be helpful and considerate to others, but with how yesterday may have gone for some people I think it’s more important than ever.

Spring to Life

Today I am thinking spring. I’m thinking all things that come along with spring, from clearing out the clutter and cobwebs of winter to bursts of life to warmer weather and being more active. As I was reading through my Lent devotions for this week and the other regular devotions a couple of verses caught my attention:

Spring will have some dark days:
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” Psalm 23:4a

Spring is a time to be refreshed:
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:13-14 NIV

Spring is a time for thrive:
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Spring is a time to celebrate:
“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Spring is a time to search for God (and find Him):
“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!”” Psalm 70:4

This spring can be whatever you make it out to be. It’s totally up to you. My hope is that you would take inspiration from spring slowly (or quickly) coming to life and you would do a little spring cleaning on your life so that you get rid of the things that are holding you back or down so that you can celebrate, thrive and grow into the person God has created you to be for this season in your life.

Personal (Purim) Victories

Today the Jewish communities are celebrating Purim. Purim is an interesting spiritual celebration, because it’s one of the few that the story behind it crosses more than the usual spiritual lines (to all who read the Old Testament in the Bible). In case you forget, it’s the story of Esther, and how she becomes queen and is able to plead to the king to save her life and the life of her people (the Jews). If you haven’t read it [lately], I’d encourage you to check it out here.

Before you head off because you think this might be a spiritual post, no, I’m not actually planning to talk about Purim or the story of Esther. Because while it is a faith-based story, the story is one that many of us can identify with and is really a hero/heroine story that countless people read each day. One with true love, respect, victory, the defeat of a villain, and a happily ever after. It’s also a rags to riches story, and one that shows more bravery in a few short chapters than most of us will ever show in our entire lives.

So if this isn’t a spiritual post, what is it? It’s a reminder to myself and you that anything can happen to anyone. Anyone can get lucky. Anyone can totally transform their life from the bottom to a much better life. Anyone can find the courage to do the right thing. Anyone can make the world a better place. Anyone can be a leader. Anyone can work to create a happy ending.

If the future is that bright, why are people struggling? Some struggle because they don’t find the courage to try. Some refuse the help others are offering. Some get paralyzed by all the options and can’t pick one. Some don’t believe in themselves. Some don’t get out there and look for answers or do the work to get there.

What about you? How does your future look and what are you doing to make it better?

Ready for Blessings

Lent is a time for reflection, both on our relationship with God and on how we’re living our lives, and often that opens up to some very sobering realizations. But as I was reading one of the Lent devotionals I’ve subscribed to, they shared a passage and a perspective that got me thinking. The passage they shared was one of the many about the story of Abraham, or at the time he was known as Abram. The passage from Genesis 12 shares God’s promise to Abram, that God was giving Abram and his descendents the land of the Canaanites.

Abram/Abraham went through many tests and trials in his lifetime, he wasn’t perfect and made some cringe-worthy decisions and mistakes. But he was one of the few who had a very up close and personal relationship with God, and God gave him some of the biggest blessings anyone in the Bible got, including the blessing in Genesis 12, of lots of land.

Maybe the realization that you’re coming to in this time of reflection and evaluation, is that you’re not asking God for the blessings, especially the big ones, or expecting that God can send blessings your way. It’s not about being stuck in the challenges of this life, but about believing that even when life is challenging God is still sending blessings your way daily, including big ones. Maybe it’s time to remember that after these 40 days of searching and humility and the death of Jesus we get to the celebration of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection, which is a gift and promise of eternal life to all who believe.  I’m ready for some blessings, what about you?