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)

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

Conquering Fears

This week I read an interesting Bible verse, it was Psalm 112:7 NIV which says: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Let’s unpack this verse a bit.

The first thing this verse talks about is not having fear. I don’t think we can truly escape fears or not experience them, fear is part of the human experience whether we’re talking heights or spiders or of broken hearts or cancer or drowning. I think it’s one of the things that’s hardwired into us. It’s also a learning experience and warning indicator for us: when we feel fear we know that we need to take a step back and evaluate what’s going on.

But the difference is that fear doesn’t have to take over our lives or make us incapable of moving through the fear. God gives us the strength to experience the fear, recognize what is scaring us and move on. Sometimes moving on means a new path or new plan (you’re making changes as a result of the fear you’re experiencing), other times it just means we recognize the fear and move on (for example not jumping into the pit of alligators but rather walking past or around).

Fear can absolutely control us, so it’s up to us to choose not to let it have the final say in what decisions we make. Instead when you’re faced with fear I would encourage you to take a deep breath, take any immediate actions necessary and/or evaluate next steps before taking action knowing that God will be with you every step of the way, and then move on to continue in the plan He has for your life.

Believe God Can

Recently the phrase came to mind “believe God can.” I like the phrase because it’s empowering and encouraging at the same time. It is a reminder for us to have faith in God, to believe that God can, to believe in God’s power, and to believe in His engagement in our lives. It’s a hopeful phrase that gets us thinking beyond where we are and whatever we may be stuck in, to a healthier place hopefully with a better attitude which will help us keep going through our challenges. The phrase “believe God can” is a challenge to us, to trust in God and His plan, that He’s got it all under control even if it doesn’t seem that way to us with our mortal and limited ability to see and know.

With Martin Luther King Jr. day yesterday we were reminded of a man who inspired many others to believe, to take action and to hold out hope for a better tomorrow when we all work together. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of faith, beginning his work in churches and among faith communities. He was able to speak to the lives of many outside the church as well, but his work started with the belief that he believed God could do great things.

Psalm 20:4 says: “May He grant you your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” While God can and does do many things, including things we never see happen, most often we come to Him with a specific desire in our hearts and minds, hoping that He can (and will) do something for us. If you haven’t lately, I would encourage you to find time this week to check in with your heart and think about what you desire in your life, and if you’re working and praying to get to that point, or if the course you’re on is not going to take you where you truly want to go. God may be able to and plans may come to pass, but if they’re not truly what you desire you’ll be disappointed in the end.

Victory is a Journey

For the past few years I’ve been following the story of two twin boys who were joined at the head and separated in a very difficult and complex surgery in October of 2016. It was a trial for them, their parents and their brother, and we only got a tiny glimpse into all of it. Today I saw that an update had been posted on their story and it spoke to me about this new year we’ve entered, with both words of encouragement and wisdom.

The first thing that spoke to me was the fact that they’re both still alive, developing and growing, which is really a miracle. It’s also a miracle that we’ve made it to 2019 without killing everyone off or doing more damage to our world than we could ever try to fix.

Second, the one thing the parents said repeatedly was that some things just take time. Things weren’t perfect the moment the surgery was done, it’s been years and they’re still dealing with setbacks and challenges. That said, they can see the growth and improvements that the boys are making. We expect things to be so instant in this day and age, but that’s just not always the case.

Finally, the parents are thankful to have this time with their boys. It was a do-or-die surgery, 80% of those joined at the head die by age 2. So the only choice the parents had was to pray for a miracle, and a miracle they got. We can choose to leave this life, but I have so much more hope for the future than I am discouraged by the past.

The bottom line is I hope that in 2019 we’ve gotten through the absolute worst and only have some more bumps to contend with. I’m tired of always fighting the most extreme of uphill battles and would like to see a year in which more things go my way and your way, more things go the way of more people. I don’t expect easy or perfect all the time, but some less exhausting wins would be nice. I’m hoping for a year that shows we’ve finally turned the curve, what about you?