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.

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?

Getting through Lent with Grace

We’re a week into our journey of Lent for this year and I’m working through a couple of different Lent devotionals. I’ve been enjoying them because they each bring a different perspective to this journey that we’re on and to spiritual life as well. One of the things I struggle with regarding Lent may be something that you struggle with as well, and that’s the continual focus on our sins. I know it’s important to recognize our sins, to ask for forgiveness of them and to make changes in our lives based on not living those sins, but it’s not exactly encouraging to talk about our failings all the time.

Maybe it’s my fault because I’m immersing myself in Lent and not just reading one devotional each day, since it gives me a lot more exposure to the topic of Lent and those that go along with it like looking at your failings. On the other side of the story sometimes it’s good for us to really take a solid look at all aspects of our lives. About how we treat people, how we use our resources, how we treat ourselves, how we think, how we worship, how we go through our day-to-day lives. Taking 40 days out of 365 to make sure we’re leading lives God would be proud of isn’t so bad.

Since we’re human we know we’re going to mess up as we go through life, it’s a consistent messing up-seeking forgiveness-healing cycle. The reason we can do the solid 40 days of Lent and reflecting on our imperfections is because we know that after doing the hard work there will be a great reward, and that’s the celebration of Easter and the promise of God’s eternal love. Whether this Lent journey speaks to you and invites you to take time for reflection more frequently throughout the whole year, or you just take this time to experience God’s grace and love, I encourage you to be open to whatever God will be showing you.

“Lent is a time for us to take an honest look at ourselves and receive the grace of Jesus’ healing love.” Loyola Press

Live with Heart

Tuesday on my family and business blog I shared a little inspiration from one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, and today I thought we’d talk about another bit of his wisdom.

“There never was any heart truly great and generous, that was not also tender and compassionate.”

As we head into the Lent season and eventually reach Easter, it’s a time of both personal reflection as well as an opportunity for us to work on our spiritual health and deepen our relationship with Jesus. This bit of inspiration from Robert Frost is a great way to start the journey and give us a positive perspective to focus on, rather than one of loss, sacrifice or quiet introspection, which is often how we approach the Lent season through Good Friday. It’s a reminder of who Jesus was and who He continues to be, as well as an encouragement to follow His lead.

If you really want to make an impact in this world, one of the best ways is by being a person of and with heart. Having heart can give you a major edge over others because it gives you the opportunity to connect with them on a very human and personal level and allows people to connect with you in the same way. It reminds you that no one is perfect, that sometimes people have bad days, that sometimes people get down on their luck, that sometimes people make mistakes, that it’s easier to get cooperation and support with honey than a stick, that listening should come before talking, and a smile can make all the difference.

Having more victories in your life could be as simple (and challenging) as choosing to live with heart. If you’re looking for something to work on this Lent, I would challenge you to work on living with heart like Jesus did. Choose to let your thoughts, words and actions be of compassion, humility, generosity and thoughtfulness.

Preparing for Easter

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Easter journey. It’s an opportunity for us to prepare our hearts for Easter, 40 days (not including Sundays) representing Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. It’s a great time for us to dive into the Bible and read or re-read the stories of the life of Jesus and learn about His life and learn from His wisdom. The Bible may have been written many years ago, but so many of the lessons and experiences in it are relevant to our lives today, especially the teachings of Jesus and the ways that He lived His life. Yes, we take time to learn about Jesus all year long, but I think Lent is an opportunity to journey along with Jesus and really dive deep in His life, and with 89 chapters in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you can read 2 each day (including Sundays) and get through all 4 books and read all about the life of Jesus before Easter.

Why is Jesus so important to the spiritual journey and our spiritual studies? Not only because He’s God son and not only because He lived and died for us to save us from our sins, but because He was human just like us. He’s someone who experienced our struggles exactly as we do, He knows what it is to live and survive in this world, and knows how to do it all while staying true to God and living a life of faith. Each day we have opportunities to live our lives like Jesus did on a regular basis. He taught lesson after lesson about caring for the body, having healthy relationships, caring for others, choosing love and compassion, listening to others, listening to God and the treasure that life is. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to do the miracles to share God and Jesus with the world, that in our little actions, daily tasks and regular interactions we’re able to make a difference in the lives of others and share the love of Jesus even if we don’t say we’re sharing love because of our faith.

We can’t forget that He performed miracles, that God is still doing miracles today, and that Easter is one of the biggest and best miracles, but we don’t live life miracle-to-miracle. We live life far more often in the day-to-day life that Jesus did, doing normal things like eating, traveling and sleeping, those actions reveal how human He was, and how closely we can identify with Him.

I encourage you to join me during this Lenten season, preparing for Jesus’s death and resurrection, celebrating His life, both how human He was and how divine. What is Jesus calling you to learn and prepare for these 40 days?

“Jesus changes our image of God. Jesus immerses himself in life — eating and drinking, walking, and working, and weeping, and resting, touching and feeling, and pointing to the very ordinary stuff of life as being revelatory: revelatory of what life is to be and of who He is to be for us.” Brother Curtis Almquist