Although it’s snowing as I write this, the last couple weeks have been absolutely beautiful spring weather here in Snowmass Village. The sun has been so consistent and strong that a couple of the trails have gone from being muddy and half snow covered to dry as a bone in a matter of days. Incredible. I think one of the best things about living in an area that has four distinct seasons is that there is always something to look forward to coming around the corner. What am I looking forward to in the upcoming season? Mountain Biking. Everytime someone mentions summer I think about mountain biking. When I think about graduating I think about mountain biking. When I think about things I can do with kids that I can’t now I think about mountain biking. I think I may have some sort of fever…
Anyways, last week I heard that the South Rim trail was not only open for use but was also dry all the way up to the ying-yang. Could this be true? Could there be dry and open mountain biking trails in April? As soon as I heard I knew I would need to conduct a proper investigation myself. So the next day I set off on my dusty bike for the trails.
Within minutes I found myself thinking, “this sure is harder than I remember it to be…” Admittedly, I haven’t had nearly as much cardio in my life during the winter as I did last summer. So it would make sense that this ride would be more challenging now than it had been at the end of the summer— but nothing could have prepared me for how biking in early spring feels in comparison to late summer. You see by the end of last season I had started to not only enjoy the riding itself but also the passing people that came along with it. Even though I could see riders ahead of me on the trail I simply could not catch them. And to wound my pride even further there was this runner who seemed to be catching up behind me as I rode!
So why am I telling you this? Other than the fact that it is funny I have found that our motivations affect our outcomes. The reasons why you do something mean as much as what you are or aren’t doing. You see, most of last summer I went riding because I love it. However, towards the end of last summer I began to get a little faster and started to enjoy passing other people. As my pride grew I think I started riding so that I could pass people. In effect, I had changed from doing something because I loved it to doing something because I was good at it. It’s a small change that creates huge waves in why we do what we do and how much joy we gain from it. Additionally, I had gone from simply enjoying something to needing to compare myself to others to enjoy something.
I think this same bait and switch happens in our spiritual lives all the time. Think about prayer. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve begun to pray more regularly because I’ve seen something in my life that made me realize how much better everything is with Jesus as a close friend. Here, I’m praying simply because I love Jesus and want to know Him better. But somehow this good motivation can be turned into something prideful. Even Jesus warned us against praying for the wrong reasons in Matthew 6 (check it out).
So how do we keep from allowing our pride to creep into our daily lives and change the reasons we are doing what we’re doing? First, I believe we have to let Jesus show us the way. Even in the Matthew 6 passage where Jesus calls out the people praying for the wrong reasons, He goes on to show them how to pray Himself (this is where we get the prayer that we say all the time in church– it starts, “Our Father”). Secondly, we need to help each other stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Taking all these pressures off ourselves to gives us the ability to let God lead… and He leads to some pretty cool places.
I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write this week. I feel distracted, jittery, time-crunched and….sad. One friend said she knew it was bad when I texted her that I didn’t feel like talking but I was fine, just sad. Apparently I had never used the “s” word with her. Frankly, I knew it was bad when my husband showed up after work last week with flowers. Now, my husband is the BEST. He is my encourager, cheerleader and hands down the best hugger around. But the number of times he has brought me flowers? I could count them on one hand and still have some fingers leftover. It’s just not his jam. (For the record, Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs are his jam.)
I had some big losses last week — three in the span of seven days to be exact. Death is brutal, isn’t it? I know I am not alone in my grief, and I also know many of you have endured pain I can only imagine. My heart breaks for you.
But in the midst of it all this past week, I saw the most beautiful signs of God at work; what one seminary friend calls “God-sightings.” God-sightings are everywhere. Some of us see God in the spring green of the Aspen buds just beginning to poke out of their winter snooze. Some see God in the kindness of friends. Some in the way the dawn light dresses the very tips of the mountain peaks. Some in a baby who finally sleeps through the night (can I get an Amen?). For me, the God-sightings last week were specific and speedy answers to prayer.
If you’re anything like me (and I’m betting I’m not alone) you might find yourself saying to someone who is hurting, “I’ll pray for you.” I am always sincere in the moment and I would love to say I always remember but occasionally I find myself late into the night or the next day offering up an embarrassing, “God, you know there are people I’m supposed to be praying for. I’ve forgotten who but you never do. Please be with whoever it is that needs you.” I’m sure God has my back.
Last week I couldn’t afford to be so casual. So I found myself paying close attention to prayer because I was acutely aware of the pain in people’s lives. Three times I said, “I’ll pray for you,” but this time I dropped everything to do so. And every single time God proved to be right on the other side of the door. Each time I dropped everything to pray — and I mean fervent and specific prayer — the answer was so obvious, so glorious and so helpful to the people involved, I simply couldn’t pass it off as anything but God’s loving presence in our lives. My new mantra is “Stop, drop and pray.”
At some point this dark week someone told me they envied my faith. I remarked that it comes with practice. The more we seek, the more we see, the more our faith grows. God-sightings are there for us if only we acknowledge them as they gift they are. Not coincidence, not luck, not right-place-right-time. But the grace of God at work in our lives, walking alongside us, and dropping everything to hear our inmost pleas.
It was a difficult week, friends. But one thing I know for certain is that God was present and hard at work.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ if you look at it and live life through it, is a lens that changes the way we see everything. It changes not just how to view death, but how to view each and every day of life.
It is this story, this true story that tells us so much about God.
Jesus’ resurrection tells us that God is a Commitment Keeper.
Jesus, before He was crucified, said to the religious leaders, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Here He was not referring to a building, but to Himself. They did kill Him and He was raised in three days. God kept His word.
Jesus, before He was crucified, told His followers to go to Galilee, as He would meet them there after He had been killed. Jesus did exactly that despite the skeptics. God kept His word.
Jesus brought a dead girl back to life. Quieted a furious storm. Fed thousands with a small amount of food. Called people to follow Him not based on their resumes but their willingness. Jesus did such things and countless others, like dying on the cross, because He keeps his word, despite consequences, hatred, or even doubt.
Aside from being a Commitment Keeper, God is an Assumption Breaker.
Jesus sure looked dead on Friday. The assumption was that His death was a permanent done deal. Wrong assumption. His death was not the end of it all but a glorious truth-shattering new beginning. Yes, Jesus broke assumptions.
People assumed a woman whose life was broken was beyond starting over. Wrong. She met Jesus and her whole life changed. People assumed Mary Magdalene’s mental struggles were insurmountable. Wrong again.
Or that the child who was critically ill could not be healed. Or that a man who had made his living in a dishonest way could not change. Or that enemies should be hated. Or that bad people aren’t capable of profound transformations. Or that 12 people can’t change the world. Wrong, wrong, wrong again.
God is an Assumption Breaker. But God is also a Power Generator.
Listen to what Paul has to say about this in his letter to the people living in Ephesus. “How very great is God’s power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which God used when He raised Christ from death.”
Talk about power. The same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead is within us. God’s power is within us. We have God given power to overcome adversity. God-given strength to keep pushing on through. God given energy to go on when we want to give up.
This is not magical power. It is not power for self-serving purposes. It is the very presence of God given to us who believe as a gift from God for living right now. When the power of self-help runs out, God says turn to the unlimited well of His power.
God is a power generator, but God is also a Life Giving Healer.
If you look at the life of Jesus, one thing He did was heal people. Not only from physical diseases, but from the crippling effects of mistaken views and ways of looking at things. He healed people from attitudes that were life-diminishing, perspectives that were confining, and outlooks that were limiting.
He healed people in a vast array of ways, and I believe that the passionate healing nature of God continues, even though we sometimes can’t see it. And if God brought about new life for Jesus through his resurrection, God will certainly heal us from the consequences of death in the same way.
This is why Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” And why Paul wrote, “Nothing can keep us from the love of God. Death cannot.”
The bottom line. Death is not the end of existence, it is a doorway into a reality that already envelops and surrounds us right now. God is the ultimate life giver. Because of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection, our lives are eternal, even though they will morph and change in wondrous ways when we die.
God is an amazing, passionate healer. But God is also a Bottom Line Clarifier.
Over the last 20 years in ministry, I’ve learned some things that have not been easy to look at. I understand why so many who are not Christian have a problem with Christians. I get why religion is often a root problem in so many conflicts within families, friendships, communities and nations. I grasp why lots of people who go into ministry don’t last long in the vocation. Jesus understood all of this and in part He came among us to remind us of something.
Something not everyone likes to hear. That something. At its core, our walk with Jesus is not about learning to be a better person, or learning to do more things right, or gaining the ability to think properly. Christianity is not about learning to feel good enough, it is about learning to feel loved enough and to live life reciprocating God’s love.
Jesus said, all the scriptures, all the laws, everything every great prophet said, can be summed up with one word. Love. Loving God with all our hearts, minds, strength, and souls, and loving all other people through action.
Jesus rose from the grave not only to free us from the fear of death, but to free us to risk everything for love. And when we learn our walk with Jesus is about love far more than being right, then we are liberated not just from the grave, but from a world that pushes us into divisive self-serving corners of self-righteousness.
The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, is not a movement of right thinking, but of unbounded loving. And Jesus went to the cross and rose from the dead precisely to show us this truth.
This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week with the celebration of Palm Sunday. There has never been a week like the days between when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt through Easter morning. I’ve often thought about what it must have been like to be one of Jesus’ closest followers during that time. I’m confident they experienced every human feeling imaginable.
Central to Jesus’ story is that those who were closest to him were often the most broken. And it was through the imperfection of His followers that the power of God was revealed, the strength of God demonstrated, and the healing and transformation that comes from a relationship with Jesus was shown.
Jesus used the brokenness of his followers to spread the Gospel message and start the church. And the good news for us is that our Lord will use our brokenness too, if we will follow and trust Him.
Being a Christian is not about perfection, it is about openness. It is not about being good enough, it is about letting go. It is not about what we do, but about what God does through us. It is not about how righteous we are, but about how forgiving God is. This is why I am mystified by those who believe our Christian walk is about behavior and rules ahead of the hard work of love.
The invitation of Holy Week is to allow God to take us, bless us, use our brokenness, and to allow Him to give us to the world to do His work.
And the work we are called to do was made clear that first Maundy Thursday during the first Holy Week. The word Maundy comes from the Latin word meaning commandment. The commandment Jesus gave the last night of His earthly life was, “To love one another as He as loved us.”
If we want a glimpse of what such love in action looks like, we only need to see God himself, washing the feet of His broken and imperfect apostles.
It is interesting to me that many churches are named after the apostles, named after those who in the midst of their failures and weaknesses came to Jesus. Churches are named after those who understood that a relationship with Jesus starts not with our fullness, but at the heart of our emptiness.
Given that our churches are named after broken people who found a new life in Jesus, it is pretty clear to me who it is that Jesus seeks. He seeks busted apart and broken people that look a lot like you and me.
While the events of Maundy Thursday, which led to Good Friday point to the forgiveness we receive through Christ’s body and blood, to God using us precisely because we are broken and imperfect, and to the centrality of love and service, they also point to something else.
God wants His church to be the place where there are many ways to get in and where everyone is invited. There is room for all and no one should ever be left out.
When Jesus’ broken and bloodied body hung on the cross, He was doing it so that everyone might come within the reach of His saving embrace. And it is this kind of love, my friends, that we are called to show as we live our days imperfectly following Jesus and serving others.