What do your prayers reveal about your relationship with God? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some moments of real surprise in my prayer life. Let’s see if any of this sounds familiar to you?
“Dear God, please be with my friend, Shirley. She’s going in for surgery on Tuesday at 2 PM MST and I’m asking You to please guide the doctor’s and nurse’s hands. Grant her Thy strength as she recovers and give her the peace that passeth understanding. May her insurance company be pleasant to deal with and please give her family patience and helpfulness as she recuperates. We come together to ask this in Thy name, because Matthew 18:19 clearly says, ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven’ and I know that Thou wilt honor Thy Word. In the powerful and effective name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.”
I began to notice that my prayers assume that…
- God doesn’t know about my friend Shirley or her surgery, so at least one function of my prayer is to raise God’s awareness.
- God only speaketh, understandeth, and respondeth to King James’ English.
- God needs a high degree of supervision – if I don’t give God detailed instructions, my prayer might lead to some very unintended consequences. Explanations need to be literal and precise and avoid anything that might be misconstrued, require interpretation, or lead to independent thinking on God’s part.
- God’s arm needs to be twisted before anything good will happen. God needs to be reminded about what the Bible says in case God was thinking about not following my detailed instructions.
- Prayers are a bit like a magic spell. You have to perform your incantations – I mean prayers – with the proper form or nothing will happen – or worse – the prayer could backfire!
Sometimes when I stop and listen to myself, I’m amazed at all of the things that my prayers reveal about my view of God. I see evidence of belief in a God who is angry, vengeful, capricious, mischievous, reluctant, recalcitrant, and probably worse. So how would I pray if I really believed that God already knows what I need and loves me and is working all things together for good?
Let me start by saying that I don’t like the idea of ending prayers to God. If God is available for us to talk to, why would we EVER want to cut off communication? Start your prayer to God, but don’t shut the door of communication with an “Amen” of dismissal – leave the door open. You never know when you need to hear from God. It’s okay if you are talking with other people. Let God be part of that too. Remain available.
A big part of this life seems to be about trust. Lots of things happen to us every day that unsettle and scare us. When we respond with fear and when we get defensive and when we counter-attack, we reveal our belief in a powerless god. What if we really believed in a God who is the Creator of the Universe with limitless resources and creativity? What would it be like if we had a different response to big scary things? What if we just tapped into our open link with the Creator of the Universe and said, “This thing just happened and it scares me, but I know you’ve got this – is there anything I can to help? How can I cooperate with your plan for this situation?” And then we trust and listen.
Some of us are probably still holding on to the idea that we need to have a relationship with God – not because God is the most interesting being in the universe, and worth the relationship – but because God is our ticket to heaven. I challenge myself (and you) to consider what it means to have an open link to a Being who is loving, available, helpful, creative, powerful, relational, and knowledgeable. I don’t know if our prayers change God, but I’m pretty sure that prayer has the potential to change us – and what a privilege that is!
Know that as you leave the Chapel grounds this morning and walk across the bridge and go back out into the world that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ goes with each and everyone of you. Let him lead you the quiet places of your heart where he will speak with you. Know that he loves you and listens to you with a gentle understanding, and know that he is with you always, wherever you are, whatever you’re feeling, whatever it is you might be enduring. And may God’s blessing and joy and peace and strength remain within each and every one of you now and always. Amen.
God knows that I can be a slow learner. He knows that I need to be reminded of the simple things just like that silly sheep that needs to be guided back to the stream. That’s what I like most about Robert’s benediction (above)— it reminds me of the simple truth that Jesus is with me always and it’s ok to cross the bridge… but that doesn’t mean that crossing the bridge will be easy. Life transitions and changes always seem to be challenging. However, they offer us a chance to take a second and look in the “rear-view” mirror. There’s something about looking back that allows me to see God’s footsteps more closely and his actions more clearly. In part, I am writing you to tell you that I am crossing a bridge in life. In June, I will be starting a season with the Youth Recovery Center as a therapist (don’t worry! I’ll still be working at the Chapel part-time). However, I also want to share what I am seeing in my rearview mirror as I reflect on the last three years at Snowmass Chapel.
Listen to the kids. I think most of the teachers reading this will know what I mean when I say the kids have as much to teach as they do to learn. When I read about the times that Jesus spent with children I think about how much fun He must have been having with them. One of my responsibilities at the Chapel has been to teach quite a few Sunday school lessons. In teaching these I find that I’m consistently impressed by the depth inside and the wisdom our little ones have. Their honesty and authenticity is continually challenging to me. I love the way children live without having their guards up. They simply are who they are and need not to pretend to be someone else. This has served as an example for me in my walk with Jesus. Thank you children of the Chapel.
Jayla and I hadn’t lived in the Village long before we had heard someone tell us to “trust your edges!” The whole idea of having long skinny things strapped to your feet while flying down the hill without a semblance of stability and trusting the thinnest and smallest part of the ski seemed like nonsense to me. Although it took me a long time to feel the confidence that comes from well-tuned edges, when I did I felt like a whole new world opened up. It’s a little ironic how skis require you to lean in and trust them before they’re really trustworthy. Similarly, I found that the further I lean into Jesus’ embrace, the more security I feel in it. The wisdom found in this silly skiing analogy has pushed me to challenge myself to walk through times that were uncomfortable, but just like trusting edges up on the hill opens up new terrain, trusting God in this way opens up a whole new lens for you to see the world. I challenge you all to trust your edges a little more everyday.
Before I came to the chapel I think most of the so-called communities I had been a member of were built out of common worldviews. What I mean is that those communities were made up of people who all happen to see certain issues the same way or believe certain things were true. One of my favorite things about the Chapel is the different perspectives that make up our community. I now feel like community is richer and much more fulfilling when you have diversity of thought, actions, and life experience. I love that we have seasonal employees that come from everywhere, second home owners that bounce in and encourage us all, and a real diversity of locals who live here. We may not all have exactly the same doctrine or the same political viewpoints but I love coming together and worshiping with you all on a Sunday morning. I’m thankful I’ve been able to be a part of this body with you all and experience the joy of having all the differences in one place worshiping the same Creator.
I think it was my second summer here that a friend of mine asked if I would be willing to help him pack out an elk if he got one during hunting season. He was new to hunting, so I figured it was a low-risk promise to agree. Little did I know, he would get a large mule deer and an elk in the same season… I also didn’t know just how large a fully grown Colorado elk could be! Somewhere between all of the many trips up and down the mountain I started thinking about how special it is to walk beside someone helping them carry a load. I think about when Jesus talked about His yoke being easy and His burden light I think about the grace He offers us and the freedom from the weight of all the ways that we are incomplete and all the ways that I do life halfway. I feel that freedom with you all at the Chapel because I feel free to be authentically myself. At many points you all have helped me carry my burdens and hopefully I have helped you carry a couple myself. However, more importantly I have been reminded by you all and by this community that it’s simply not my job to carry these burdens. Sometimes I need this to be reminded to me daily. I challenge you to ponder the burdens you’re carrying that Jesus says you don’t need to carry. Think about the things that weigh you down that you could be sharing with your Community of Faith. Then maybe try taking something out of your backpack… you’ll like the way it feels.
It’s All About Love. If you spent any time in and around the Chapel you’ve heard about love. You’ve heard about the passage in Matthew 22 that says to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul with all your mind. I hope that if you look closely you’ve seen that love in action. If you’re like me you’ve seen people give up chunks of their life to become Stephen ministers. You’ve seen people give up first tracks on powder days to come greet and welcome others into this community of faith and love. You’ve seen people sit and visit with others not because they have nothing better to do, but because someone else sat and listened to them when they needed it most. You’ve seen people give sacrificially so this Chapel could exist (and so that I had a job where I could focus on students, not funding). You’ve seen people be little Christs to each other. Only God could dream this stuff up. This Great Commandment is so simple that a child can understand it but so challenging that it may take your whole lifetime to pursue it. I don’t know about you all, but a lifetime pursuing what it means to love our God with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves, sounds like a life well-lived.
I want to thank you all for being a part of my Snowmass Chapel family. I want to thank you for teaching me all these lessons. I want to thank you for reading my rambling writing, and I want to thank you for loving me as yourself.
Years ago I wanted to get into shape. I said to family and friends, “I am going to get in shape. Being in shape is important to me. My health matters for many reasons.” Days passed. So did weeks. Even several months. My mantra was the same, “I am going to get in shape.” I soon realized that despite my words, I was not serious about my physical health, had I been, I would have exercised. Clearly being in shape did not mean much to me as my words and actions did not match.
This is a trivial metaphor of something tragic about America. We say we care for children, we say we love our children, we say children are important, but reality does not match what we say out loud. Millions of children are hungry. Millions do not receive adequate medical care. Millions do not have access to mental health care. Millions are in deficient academic environments. Millions suffer from abuse and neglect. And what is completely shocking is that every child in America could be killed any day in any neighborhood while sitting in a classroom. Twenty-two shootings have occured this year alone in America’s schools.
A February, 2018 NY Times article states, “Since a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide.”
Frankly, I am grieving not only the horrendous loss of life, but I am not proud that our nation does not care about children. If we did, the facts would be different. Elementary school children would not be slaughtered.
Caring for children will only happen when we and those in leadership positions are willing to be apolitical and put all and every option on the table for how to be a nation that cares about kids. Are there people that care? Yes. Are there great parents? Yes. Are there great ideas and programs out there based on those ideas happening? Yes. But as a nation, we have failed and are failing every child as long as there is hunger, as long as schools are danger zones, and as long as all the issues harming our children continue.
I am shattered when I talk to kids and drills for active shooters are part of their vocabulary. I am embarrassed to be part of a nation that is so incredibly uncaring and instead so agenda and partisan driven. I am horrified by the fact that my children have to worry about being shot every day they go to a campus.
As a religious leader I believe we need a national time of repentance. A time of listening and being honest. The facts speak for themselves. I am sick to my stomach over the state of children in America for the reasons I have outlined.
I am praying diligently about all of this and asking the Holy Spirit to guide and lead me to do something, somehow about caring for kids. And frankly I feel convicted that to date, I have not been part of the solution. Please join me in prayer. Pray that God will intervene and that each of us will be willing to put everything on the table and to shed our divisive partisan views with regard to our kids.
We overcame the evils of the Axis powers as a nation in the 1940’s and we did so because all Americans had the same goal in mind. We need such a shared vision and passion if we are going to say we care for children with any sincerity.
Do people change? And perhaps more importantly, can people change? I think these are important questions because as I look around our world right now and listen to the news, I sure hope and pray transformation is possible for all human beings.
When I hear stories about parents hurting their own kids, or company executives squandering their employees’ pensions, or see people making a villain out of someone with whom they disagree, my prayer indeed is that people can change. When I see how ugly partisanship has become, or how opioids are taking over neighborhoods, or how some people treat others based on nationality, skin color, or religious orientation, I hope people can change. When I see scenes from the streets of Damascus, or hungry people on the Gaza strip, or scared looking faces in towns across the Golan Heights, I ponder whether things will ever be different.
Frankly, I not only hope that circumstances and people can change, but I pray I can too. As long as I have lived I have understood that change and transformation is not only what I seek, but what I pray for in various areas of life. But I know I am not alone in this. Most of us, if honest with ourselves, I believe have at least some dimensions, aspects, or ways of being we’d like to change or morph into something different.
And I think many of us would like to trust the words of scripture on this whole topic of transformation and change. Words like, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Or, “Behold, God is doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” For sure, scripture is full of verses and stories of people changing and becoming something new.
As I am out and about, I often hear people express a lack of optimism that people can change or that things can be different in a meaningful way. And when we are hurt by others or endure tough things in life, sometimes our scars make new beginnings difficult at best.
A week ago today was Ascension Day. The Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified and that He died. His body was then taken to a tomb. On the third day, His followers discovered that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead. 40 days later Jesus ascended into heaven.
However Ascension Day looked or however it was experienced by those there, what it means is that after Jesus was raised from the dead, and after appearing, teaching, and speaking to over 500 people on various occasions for 40 days, the visible Jesus went to be with God. Ten days after Jesus’ Ascension, the day of Pentecost occurred. Pentecost was the time that Jesus sent His Holy Spirit among human beings that would change the course of the early church and it is that same Holy Spirit that continues to transform our lives right now.
And it is immediately before His ascension that Jesus says something important that is recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 1.
Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. It is important to point out that the Greek word for power that is used in the Book of Acts in this verse is the word dynamis. Dynamis means power.
There are a variety of meanings of the word dynamis or power. As several people note, “dynamis means to be able to do something, to will, to have great ability, and possibility. It means having the power that leads to healing and to have the spirit of love and self-control. It conveys having the strength of God.”
Also note that our word dynamite comes from the word dynamis. While dynamite is strong and destructive, it pales in comparison to the power and healing of dynamis, or the power of God. The power that Jesus says lies within you and within me right now. Dynamis is in you and me. And I think that is Dynamite.
On Ascension Day, Jesus did not say to his followers, “Depend on yourself. Do it on your own. Live life through your own power.”
Instead Jesus said, “When you are muddling your way through life, remember that I am plugged into you. My power is within you. My dynamis surrounds you. And it is my power, the Holy Spirit, that will enable you to overcome, to move beyond, to heal, and surmount any difficulty you encounter.” Jesus also made it clear to his first followers that day that it would be his power, his dynamis that would empower them to go out into the world and spread the news of God’s unbounded healing love for all people.
In essence, on Ascension Day, Jesus said to His followers and I believe says to each of us now, “Never say never. Never say I will never recover. Never say I will never get it. Never say I will never learn. Never say I can never change. Never say my life can’t be different. Never say transformation, a new path, a new beginning, a new way of living in being is not possible in this life.” Jesus wants us to remember to plug into His power.
I love what one person writes about Ascension Day. She writes, “When Jesus spoke that day what he was saying was, ‘Believe in my goodness more than in your own badness. Have more faith in my power to make things new than in your own power to mess things up.’”
God never created us to function without being plugged into Him and His power. I pray that none of us will give up hope and that we will remember that change, transformation and new beginnings happen through the power of Christ that is within you and me.
There is a powerful image I first heard in the Alpha program that has stuck with me for years. It is an image that represents well what is happening at the Chapel. The image is told in the following short story that I’ve adapted a bit.
There once was a woman who felt that life was meaningless. She struggled finding purpose in her days and the faith that she once had felt empty. In her mind she believed in God but her heart was just not there. When she was faced with challenges, she tried to pray, but it often felt as if there was no one listening. One cold winter day she went to her pastor and described what was going on. He was glad to see her as she had not been seen for many months.
It just so happened when she met with her pastor that they met in a room with a roaring fireplace. As she began to share what was going on in her life, the pastor took some fireplace tongs and removed a red hot glowing ember from the fire and set it on the hearth. Over the minutes that followed as she continued talking, she noticed that the ember turned black as it cooled. Sometime later when she had finished telling her story, the pastor took the cool black ember and returned it to the fire. When he did so, the ember immediately heated up, turned red, and flamed back to life.
At that moment, the woman realized that she had been like the ember. She had taken herself away from the warmth, love, heat, and fire of Christian community and as a result her faith and trust in God had cooled. She now understood that to have a strong resilient faith that she had to get back into and be a part of her community.
As I think about this story, I think about the community that Snowmass Chapel is, a place for people from all lots of life. From the visitor, to the second homeowner, to the local who has been here 30 years, this is an amazing community and one in which people are being reignited with faith, trust in God, and a great care and love for each other. If you or someone you care about is in a place of being like a cool black ember, remember the fire of the Chapel. A fire that is here 24/7 waiting to warm and sustain you, whatever has been happening in life. And through it all, remember that the source of the fire is the unbounded love of God in Christ Jesus, a love we are all called to share with those who need it the most.
Have you ever heard a voice in your head that is hard to ignore and lets you know that something is up. The voice that says something is missing in your life or that things could be better? Well if you have, it means not only that you are part of the human race, but serves as a reminder that something is up and going on within.
Such a voice can mean a variety of things. It can mean that God is trying to get our attention. That we are not using our gifts to their potential or that our lives are out of balance in some way. That we need to get healthy through what we eat and how we exercise. That we need to work on communicating with other people more effectively or constructively. That we need to spend more time with our children or aging parents. That we have some unresolved stuff going on inside. It might even mean we would benefit from some therapy to work through some painful issue or struggle.
But when we hear that voice in our head that tells us that something is missing, we had better pay careful attention and be very cautious before taking action, because acting on such a feeling without checking it out can get us into a heap of trouble. You see, sometimes when we feel that something is missing, there really is nothing missing at all. Sometimes we feel this way because we have caught a very nasty bug. And this bug will lead us astray and mess us up if we are not attentive. This bug has a name. Perfectionism.
A quick caveat before continuing. Having goals, seeking higher standards, going after success, striving for financial security, desiring to be more healthy, wanting more of something in some area of life are obviously not necessarily bad things and may not reflect perfectionism. Such things may simply reflect we are motivated and reflect our knowledge we need to work on something to bring about a positive change. And I hope we each are motivated in various areas of our daily lives. But motivation and positive change is not what I am talking about.
With this caveat in mind, however, I do believe that some of the times when we think that something is missing in life it is because we are consumed by perfectionism in some area of our life. We think we are not making enough money. We feel like our current partner is not the right one. We live in a bad climate and are certain that life in a warmer one would be naturally better. We begin to blame others or ourselves and then we act.
We switch jobs to make more money, change partners to obtain greater bliss, or move to the warmer place expecting that 15 degrees will make all the difference. But often when we are in the new job, infatuated with the new partner, or basking in the sun, we discover that the nagging feeling that something is missing is still with us. And the perfection seeking cycle repeats itself again and again.
As a result, take classes, read books, and chat with friends in the exercise class looking for ways to fix what seems out of whack, and our search continues. And I believe that when we think something is missing, it may very well be the call to not change a thing, but rather to give others and ourselves a break and simply accept who and what we are. Sometimes when we believe we are falling short in some way, it really means we need to lighten up. Brennan Manning in his book the “Ragamuffin Gospel,” says, “The trouble with our ideals is that if we live up to all of them, we become impossible to live with.”
Then there is another person who wrote, “We are not perfect, but neither is there anyone out there more perfect than we are. What a pleasure this realization is. We are not more and no less than wonderfully ordinary, imperfect mortals. So why not give [others] and ourselves a break? Why not celebrate our blemishes, our imperfections, as the very qualities that make us human?…We all have a fault line, and usually one with many branches…Instead of apologizing, we can choose to enjoy ourselves just as we are, no upgrades necessary.”
But there is another problem with perfectionism with other troubling consequences. When we seek perfection, we not only diminish others, and ourselves, but we end up closing the door in God’s face. When we go for perfection, we stop looking for God, because who needs God when we believe that ultimate power and perfection is to be found within.
When we seek our own perfection, we become blinded to what God can do in our lives, and cease entertaining the idea that God at times does amazingly new and creative things in unpredictable new ways.
I love what Brennan Manning writes. He said, ““When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’”
He goes onto write, “While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift.”
One person who came to understand all of this was St. Paul. Paul was born into a Jewish family. He was sent to a famous rabbinical school in Jerusalem. He was immersed in the deep study of scripture. By the year 35, Paul was a self-righteous Pharisee and he was rabidly anti-Christian. Paul’s mission in life was to eliminate and punish his fellow Jews who were followers of Jesus. But one day Paul met the Risen Jesus and everything changed.
Paul then knew first hand that life is not about our perfection, but about God’s. He was clear that faith has less to do with getting it right and everything to do with God’s grace. Paul also understood that when people strive for perfection, it inhibits them from accepting their own weaknesses and their need for a power greater than themselves. Self-prescribed perfect people don’t understand the need for a savior.
And what often upset people about Paul, was when he told the people that if they would stop taking themselves so seriously, they might just start taking God more seriously.
Growing up in the desert Southwest, I was exposed to lots of Native American literature, art, and rugs. The Navajos are fascinating people and one of the most interesting characteristics of Navajos is that they frequently did not complete things, whether it was a basket, a blanket, a song, or a story. It is not because they were lazy, it was because they never wanted anything to be too perfect.
If something was too close ended or perfect, they believed it cramped the spirit of the creator and sapped the energy of life away. When Navajos created anything, they often would leave little gaps or imperfections in their work. To them, perfection was suffocation.
It is amazing what Navajos did when they made beautiful blankets. When creating them, they frequently left a slight imperfection in the weaving. Often this took the form of a single thread that originated from the center of the blanket and extended all the way to the edge. The Navajos called this imperfection in their blankets a spirit thread or spirit outlet. They believed such a thread gives the creator room to breathe and to create and serves as a reminder that only God is perfect.
Perhaps that is how God designed us. Beautiful, yet imperfect. And maybe God made us this way so that we would have room for Him. Room for Him to act in our lives. Room to create, to transform, to guide, to lead, and to heal. Room not so much for predictability, but surprise.
Maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect beings so that we would hopefully come to the place that we realize that we need a savior. And maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect so that we would learn to give other people a break and to lighten up with our expectations.
As I wrap up today, I’d like to invite us each to do something. And that is anytime we hear a voice in our head telling us that something is missing, perhaps we can pause for a moment and think about the fact that you and I both are like a Navajo blanket. Beautiful, yet imperfect, just as God made us.
Like those blankets, we too have a spirit thread coming from the center of who we are. A thread that reminds us not only of who we are, but who it is that put us together. I pray that that that thread, our imperfections, help us remember that Jesus Christ is not finished with us yet, nor anyone else who annoys us with their imperfections.
And let us all remember as Brennan Manning wrote, “Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.”
If we pay attention, it is fairly straightforward to see whose lives have been changed by “it” and those who seemingly embrace a take it or leave it attitude toward “it.”
When a person chooses to have “it” in his or her life, “it” is something the person carries with them all the time. Such a person will respond to “it” at a moments notice, even if doing so requires an interruption of the current focus, conversation, or task. When a person has “it,” more often than not, the person feels anxious, upset, or discombobulated imagining life without “it.”
Frequently, when a person’s life is built around “it,” the person goes through each day knowing that needs will be met through “it.” “It” often leaves a person feeling empowered because turning to “it” fosters the ability to do many things at once.
“It” offers direction, answer questions, creates a sense of connection, and gives a person the sense of being in touch. Go out into a public setting, and it is fairly easy to see who has “it” and who does not. Whoever has made a choice to live with “it” has been profoundly changed by “it.”
Decisions, ways of thinking, how one relates to and engages with others along with word choices all are dramatically impacted by “it.” How life is approached and hurdles overcome are affected by “it.” For many, “it” has become the lens through which life is lived day in and day out.
If you re-read the paragraphs above, “it” could be replaced with the word God. But there is another noun that can be inserted instead. The word, “iPhone.” I invite you to re-read the paragraphs once through using one word and then the other.
I have an iPhone and use it throughout the course of each day, but if truth be told, without intentional effort, I can slip into a life that looks much like the one described above. iPhones are an extremely valuable tool and are an enhancement to life in many ways.
That said, an iPhone can become consuming. How often have we walked into a restaurant and seen people not engaging with one another, but rather with the screen in front of them?
While technology is a God given blessing, too often I experience people talking with one another as if texting and I frequently see folks unable to sit still for a few minutes in order to have a conversation without repeatedly checking their iPhones.
It strikes me that if person’s life can revolve around an iPhone, the same can certainly be said of God. While I know first hand that intentionally infusing each day with God consciousness can be challenging, it is not only doable, but a life changing option for us all. And the good news is that God does not need to be recharged.
Originally published for The Chapel Mountaineer, April 14, 2016
A traditional reading during the Easter season is the story of the road to Emmaus found in Luke’s Gospel. This magnificent reading is found in Luke 24:13-49. It is about two people who had put their hopes, dreams, and aspirations into Jesus.
We don’t know exactly what their relationship with Jesus had been, but whatever it was, it’s evident that they felt as if they had lost it all after Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
For a moment, let’s dissect this story just a bit. It was Easter morning and two companions were walking down a road away from Jerusalem toward a town called Emmaus. Scripture says that the two were downtrodden, their faces were downcast, they looked sad, or they were gloomy, depending upon which version of the Bible you read. It’s clear they were having a tough emotional time as they walked.
As they journey toward Emmaus, Jesus comes up and asks them what is going on. Although it is Jesus, they do not recognize him. Why they don’t recognize him is a bit of a mystery. Whatever the reason, they did not know it was him.
As they walk along they tell the stranger, who is actually Jesus, about Jesus. After the two companions stop talking, Jesus teaches them about the scriptures and tells them that the ancient prophets predicted all that had recently happened. Later, when they get near Emmaus, Jesus acts as if he is going to leave the two companions behind and continue on down the road. But the two insist that Jesus stay with them as darkness is approaching. Jesus agrees and it is during the course of a meal, that they suddenly recognize their guest. Jesus then vanishes.
Even though it is late, the two quickly get up and head back to Jerusalem to share their encounter with the risen Lord with the remaining apostles. Upon arriving in the city, they tell the apostles what happened, and as they do so, Jesus appears among them. Despite the fact that Jesus is standing right there, the apostles are filled with fear and doubt.
Jesus then teaches them about the scriptures and even eats some food, a bit of leftover fish. It is here that he tells them to stay put until the Holy Spirit comes upon them. At this point, Jesus once again disappears and the Gospel of Luke nears its end.
This story from Luke’s Gospel is about many things and it is rich with layers of meaning. On the surface, the story is simply about the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he appeared to his followers and the two companions on the road to Emmaus. It, like the other post resurrection appearances to hundreds and hundreds of people, was recorded and written down so that we too might trust the events of Easter through eye witness testimony.
The story of the walk to Emmaus, however, is also about the fact that God does things in surprising ways and how our expectations can affect our ability to see God acting in our lives. What we expect of God often influences how we see God. But aside from a description of eyewitness testimony. Aside from the fact that the story illustrates how expectations influence what we can see. The story of the walk to Emmaus also has to do with something else.
The story sheds light on what happens whenever we are on our own road to Emmaus. Whenever our hopes and expectations seem for naught. Whenever we are struggling with confusion or pondering questions that don’t seem to have an answer.
And what happens when we are on such a journey is that Jesus shows up.
Just like he showed up on the road to Emmaus as the two dejected companions walked. Jesus shows up whenever we travel a similar road. The good news is that when Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus, his presence was not dependent on the expectations of the two companions. His presence was not dependent on what they were feeling. What they were thinking. What they believed.
Jesus’ presence that day did not depend on the nature of what was going on, the level of faith held by the two, or even on the choices they had made.
And it is the same for you and for me today.
Jesus shows up no matter what and his presence has nothing to do with where we are in our journey in faith or what is in our head. In fact, Jesus shows up even if we could care less about his presence. Even if we believe his presence doesn’t make a difference. Even when we can’t see that he is right there with us.
And finally there is one more thing, I believe, the story invites us to think about.
For those of us who may be in a place of waning faith, of struggling with believing, of wondering, of having lots of questions, I believe the story of the two on the road to Emmaus invites us to ask some questions.
Questions like, “What if it is really so? What if Jesus really did rise from the dead? What if because of that there is an amazing life beyond this one beyond our comprehension that exceeds what we could hope for? What if we can trust the story? What if we can really trust Jesus? What if it is really so?” And if it is so, how might that impact my life today in the face of my current challenges?
Think of what is causing you fear today, ask yourself, what if it is really so that Jesus rose from the dead? What might that have to say to me about my fear? As you look at what is causing you stress at this moment, ask, what if God really has that much power to raise someone from the dead? What does such power have to say to me about what is making me feel out of sorts? As you think about those you have lost in life, ask, what if there really is something amazing beyond this life? What might eternal life have to say to me in my grief? As you think about a big transition you are facing, again ask, what if it really is so. What might Jesus’ resurrection say to me about the transition I am faced with?
The point, if it is so, Jesus’ resurrection has a lot to say to us not just about what happens after this life, but about what is happening to us right now in our daily lives. And the Great news of the Gospel is not, if it is so, but rather, it is so.
It is so! Jesus Christ rose from the dead and because Jesus Christ is Risen we too shall one day rise as He did. And that, my friends, makes all the difference in how we live this short journey we call life right now.
If you were with us last week at Snowmass Chapel you know that we had a special performance immediately after the worship service. One of our young parishioners, Emily Garcia, is home for a brief visit from the school she attends for students with special needs, and she shared a message with us using sign language and set to the incredible song, “This is Me.”* The song’s lyrics are a powerful reminder that every single one of us is EXACTLY who we are meant to be. If you could have all seen Emily up on that chancel last week – oh my stars you’d have been proud. Like, weepy-smiley-jump-to-your-feet proud. When Emily finished, the congregation erupted in a standing ovation. YOU ALL STOOD UP for one of our own like nobody’s business and made me so proud. Love God, love people – it’s what we do.
Never one for much nuance this girl cut right to the chase in her introduction: “In the past I’ve been bullied before for who I am, and this song brings me a lot of joy.” No wonder. Talk about powerful lyrics:
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.
Truer words don’t exist my friends. We have all been subjected to sharp, cutting words that are meant to hurt us. But we cannot be defined by that. Don’t you think for one SECOND that someone else has the power to define who you are with ugliness.
In our schools around this country, one in four students report being bullied. Students with disabilities – like Emily who has high functioning autism and epilepsy – are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers. Just to be clear in case you missed the point: those who need our support and compassion THE MOST are the ones being teased, tormented and bullied. What in the world has gotten into us?
Emily says the problem is with compassion. “To the students with no disabilities, I would say, you need to know that people with autism, ADHD, or mental health issues have a struggle with social skills and with life. Show some empathy. Ask them questions like, ‘Are you ok? What’s happening that is upsetting you?’ Stick up for them,” Emily calmly suggests. And most importantly, she offers this age-old wisdom: “Put yourself in their shoes.”
Emily admits she is not perfect. Because of her diagnosis and learning style, she had to learn many of these lessons the hard way but adds that her school (a private residential program out of state) taught her “how to make friends in a polite, appropriate manner, and I learned boundaries.” In other words, she is learning how to stick up for herself as well as others. Emily thinks these are things ALL schools should spend more time teaching. Amen to that, sister!
Emily, serious and focused throughout the song as she performed on Sunday, finally relaxed at the very end, threw in a little dance hop for good measure, and literally beamed at the crowd. Just: be still my heart.
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.
I had the chance to catch up with Emily this week and this feisty, articulate young lady (who, by the way, gives AMAZING HUGS), is the definition of grace and love. I’d be honored if you scroll down and read her beautiful words shared with me during our conversation. Then do yourself a favor and watch the moment the cast and crew of The Greatest Showman knew their anthem song, “This is Me,” was destined to be something special.
Excerpts from Emily:
I first met Emily when she and her mom, Cecilia, attended a Mother-Daughter retreat hosted by Snowmass Chapel in 2012. Her smile is huge and her heart even bigger. I found her honesty and directness refreshing, though it’s easy to see how some peers might have been overwhelmed by her at times. People with autism don’t have all the social cues all of the time, let’s just say.
Eventually, Emily’s mom made the gut-wrenching decision to enroll Emily in a residential school 8 hours away so she could have the education she needed – in addition to academics, Emily also receives instruction in life skills, behavior therapy, and social skills. She and I caught up after church last week on a rare visit home, and our conversation was just too rich not to share. Here are some excerpts of wise words from our Emily:
On bullying and school culture:
“Bullying is a real issue for kids with special needs. Some kids cope with bullying through self-harm. The bullying causes anxiety and depression and then can lead to more serious things like cutting.”
“Most bullies just want to get a reaction. Don’t give it to them. Ignore them. And if ignoring doesn’t work, then learn to step away from the person and say, “Stop it. You are really hurting my feelings.” If someone is bullying you, be firm and respectful and ask them to stop. If that doesn’t work then go find a staff member or teacher.”
“But teachers (in most schools) need to help students more. They need to help students process their emotions, not just ignore kids who are upset or hurting. Teachers dismiss things by saying, “She didn’t mean that,” or “Go sit somewhere else.” Teachers should be compassionate and consider students’ negative feelings (validate their feelings). I think all kids on IEP (Individual Education Plan) should have a life skills class to help them socialize better and integrate into the school population better.”
“I had to learn a lot of things like how to make friends in a polite, appropriate manner. I also learned boundaries like sexual, emotional, physical, verbal and rigid (too strict). I learned how to have boundaries and how to respect others boundaries.”
“There is no such thing as ‘normal.’”
On helping teens accept each other:
“OK. For kids with special needs: Be who you are.”
“For kids who don’t have special needs just know that everyone with a disorder has different ways of expressing themselves. Kids with mental illness such as bipolar or schizophrenia don’t read cues as well, like body language and other things, so they might have outbursts and get angry. My advice is don’t fight back. They just get angry because they can’t always see what is really happening.”
“People need to know that kids with special needs have a struggle with social skills and with life. They take things personally and get anxious or have outbursts. You can help by showing empathy. Ask questions like “Are you ok? What is happening that is upsetting you?” instead of just teasing them or not wanting to be near them. Stick up for them. Put yourself in their shoes.”
“The same is true for people who are transgender (or LGBTQ). They are just expressing themselves. Put yourself in their shoes: if you were trying to express yourself by the way you dress or wear your hair and people put you down, how would that feel?”
On faith and religion:
“I will get my diploma in a year, and it will come from school AND from God. Because God helps me move forward. God helps me do things I don’t think I can.”
“I want to be a spiritual counselor for other people who are struggling. You can talk to God about anything.”
*This is Me Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek, performed by Keala Settle
Cemeteries are interesting places. While I don’t particularly savor attending funerals for someone I have loved, there are aspects of cemeteries that are quite compelling.
Have you, when visiting a city or town with lots of history ever spent time in a cemetery because you knew there would be many things there that might shed some light on history? There is an amazing cemetery on Tremont Street in Boston. It dates back to 1660 and folks like Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere are buried there.
Then there are other cemeteries, like Arlington, that are so poignant, it can be hard to do anything but walk around in silence. And cemeteries like our own Hidden Valley Cemetery in Snowmass Village is a magnificent place to reflect, pray, and give thanks for those who have been part of our lives.
But it might surprise you to hear that I’ve had quite a few chuckles at cemeteries as well. Perhaps because I’ve officiated hundreds of funerals, for years, I have spent time reading epitaphs on headstones. You can even find lists of epitaphs that have been verified that are a bit off the wall.
For example, there is this epitaph on a gravestone. It reads, “Tried milking a cow that was really a bull. Milk can is empty but the grave is full.” Or this one. “Here lies the shell. The nut is gone.” Or this one at the grave of an auctioneer from 1876. “Going, going, going. Gone.” Then there is this from a gravesite in New Mexico. “Here lies Johnny Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.” And finally. “Ma loves Pa. Pa loves wimmin. Ma caught Pa with 2 in swimmin. Here lies Pa.”
I guess cemeteries came to mind these last few weeks for me because on Easter we talk about a tomb. Granted, not an ordinary tomb, but a tomb nevertheless. And the tomb I’d like to talk about does not have an epitaph. It does not need one as the person who was buried there is not there.
I believe if we spend enough time thinking about Easter and the fact that the tomb was empty and Jesus bodily rose from the dead, and if we can get to the place of trusting that the tomb was empty, even though we can’t see over the wall of death, Jesus’ resurrection tells us we have nothing to worry about and we can let go of any concerns anytime we come alongside of death.
Jesus’ resurrection, in fact, gives us much more than just a peek about what is ahead and on the other side. Jesus’ resurrection offers us tremendous hope, can affect how we live each day now, and offers us some solid things to hold onto about where we are headed in the future.
I love what one person says about Easter referring to Jesus’ empty tomb. This person writes, “The world often offers promises full of emptiness. Easter offers emptiness full of promise.” Indeed, the empty tomb is full of promises for each of us.
To help us explore what I mean about these things, let’s first for a moment take a look at the story of that first Easter morning and the days just before. On Friday, Jesus was nailed to a cross and died and by three that afternoon he took his last breath. A man named Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate, who governed the land of Judah on behalf of the Roman emperor, if he could have Jesus’ body and take it for proper burial. Pilate agreed and Joseph along with another took Jesus’ body and placed it into a tomb. After they laid Jesus’ body in the tomb, the tomb was sealed.
Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night passed. Then early the next morning, around sunrise, or just before, some women got up early and went to the tomb. They hoped that some folks would roll away the stone of the tomb so they could go inside and anoint Jesus’ body to prepare it for the long process of decay. But when they arrived, they discovered the stone had already been rolled away.
If you read the four Gospel accounts of Easter morning in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you will quickly notice that some of the details of that morning differ. Clearly different people who were witnesses focused on different aspects of that Easter morning.
But what is intriguing is that the four Gospel accounts all share the basic facts that Jesus’ body was not present that Easter morning. There is also a consensus that the women were told that Jesus had risen from the dead. And indeed he had. That they were told not to be afraid as they would soon see Jesus so to run and tell the others, namely the disciples, what had happened.
We also know from early eye witness accounts that Jesus did indeed appear to his disciples and to others in Galilee, Jerusalem, and on a road to a place called Emmaus. We are also told that Jesus appeared, on a variety of occasions, to well over 500 people after his resurrection. While Jesus was bodily raised from the dead as those early eyewitnesses attested to, what we don’t know is exactly what Jesus’ resurrected body looked like. That said, we do know that his resurrected body was such that people recognized him.
As one writer says, “The resurrection is not some legend. It is not a symbolic event. It is not something that represents some spiritual higher truth. When Jesus shows up he says, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is me. A ghost does not have flesh and bones. Do you have something to eat?’
In saying these things to those who saw him, Jesus in essence is saying, ‘I am not a symbol. I am really here. I am not just an impression in your mind. I am not just a kind of spiritual presence. I am here. Flesh, and bone. Touch me.’ Why are these details recorded. Because it happened.”
I love what another writer has to say about this. Here are some slightly adapted excerpts from Tim Keller. “Jesus’ resurrection tells us with certainty there is a future for us beyond death. It also tells us that the future we have beyond death is personal. We all want to be loved. We all want to be with those we love. The one thing we do not want is to lose those we love. Remember that Jesus shows up in resurrected form and says, ‘It is me. Look at me. It is me.’ So the future we have after death is personal and those we love are part of it.”
He goes onto write, “But the future is not only personal but certain. Why do we know this, because of Jesus’ resurrection. Our certain and personal future is love without parting, surrounded by love in which you and others are together. And the future is not only personal and certain but wonderful, unimaginably wonderful. The resurrection means we are going to miss nothing. This world, sunsets, symphonies, rock concerts, mountain beauty, friends, love, are but whispers, a prologue to a grander story.”
Here is what the theologian JJ Packer wrote, “On earth, people say I don’t want this to end but it does. In heaven people say I want this to go on forever, and it does.”
Easter and Jesus’ resurrection tell us all that we can trust and count on the fact that there is a future when we die, that such a future is personal and relational, that it is astonishingly wonderful, and that we can be certain of all of this. What great news. Christ is Risen!!
But as I mentioned earlier, the news of Easter is not just about the future, but also all about how we live now, day in and day out, with a sense of purpose, joy, and confidence.
A number of years ago there was a study done at UC San Diego. Here are some excerpts from an article published by the University about the study.
“Many of us go to extraordinary lengths to avoid learning the endings of stories we have yet to read or see, plugging our ears, for example, and loudly repeating ‘la-la-la-la,’ when discussion threatens to reveal the outcome. But we are wrong and wasting our time, suggests a new study done at the University. Spoilers don’t spoil stories.
Contrary to popular wisdom, spoilers actually seem to enhance enjoyment. Subjects in the research study significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories and mysteries. This was shown in three different experiments. One researcher said, ‘Once you know how a story turns out, it is cognitively easier, you are more comfortable processing information, and can focus on the deeper understanding of the story.’”
I love that last line, “Once you know how a story turns out, you can focus on the deeper understanding of the story.” So maybe Jesus’ resurrection is not just about what happens next, but perhaps God, in part, gave us the resurrection as a spoiler alert so we can not only focus on the deeper understanding of why we are alive to begin with, but so that we can get to work transforming the world right now, knowing we need not worry about the future.
Said another way, “If I know I am going to be ok in the long run, I can get to work much harder today with all my strength, because tomorrow is taken care of.” As NT Wright once said, “God wants us to work to overcome all the wrongs there are in the world knowing what is ahead.”
Because of the resurrection, we can be filled with hope, not only for the future, but for what we can do today. The resurrection tells us once and for all that despite how things might seem at a given moment, God has been in charge, continues to be in charge, and will always be in charge. So we can trust God and get to work on God’s behalf.
Remember earlier I mentioned several epitaphs from a variety of gravestones. There are some great ones at the graves of some celebrities. On Rodney Dangerfield’s headstone it reads, “There goes the neighborhood.” On Mel Blanc’s headstone, the man who had the great voice for so many Disney cartoons, it says, “That’s all folks.” But there is one I really like. It is on the headstone of Frank Sinatra. It simply reads, “The Best is Yet to Come.”
What a great epitaph because it reminds us all that beyond this life there is an amazing, wondrous, and beautiful future for us all. And with this in mind, we can live each day making a big difference in the lives of those around us, by loving God and loving people by what we do, with boundless hope and without fear. Happy Easter!!!