I won’t forget the morning I had with humpback whales off the coast of Hawaii. They are astonishing creatures and I am so grateful they have been protected. Without such protection, they would be gone since the world lost nearly 95 percent of these mammals before their recent slow comeback. It is hard to imagine the world’s oceans without them.
Humpbacks are massive. They grow to nearly 40 tons and 60 feet in length. As big as a school bus, humpbacks live up to 80 or 90 years. They migrate up to 5,000 miles per year, more than any other mammal. The ones in Hawaii make the annual trip from Alaska to the warm tropical waters not only to feed but to calve newborns. Many people recognize humpbacks by their body shape as well as by the shape of their tails or flukes.
On the morning we were sailing and observing the whales, we were captivated by their movements, power, size, and grace. But it was when we lowered a hydrophone below the surface of the water we were most awed. It was then we heard one of the most unique sounds in the world. The sound of humpback whale songs. Click here for an example.
While both males and females make sounds, it is the male humpback that is known for making sounds that are song-like, can last for up to 20 minutes, and can be heard underwater for up to 20 miles away.
As I sat listening to the music of the humpback, I was struck by the realization that had it not been for the hydrophone, we never would have heard the other worldly songs of these magnificent creatures of God. We never would have heard their sounds if we listened, even intently, only above the surface of the water.
In some ways, in my own faith journey, hearing God has at times been like trying to listen to the sounds of a humpback whale. There have been passages in which I have stayed above the surface of the water, so to speak, and not put myself in a place or space in which I could hear God.
Distractions, noise, busyness, fatigue, technology, and the like all keep us above the surface of the water, where it is difficult to hear God. To hear God, we don’t need a hydrophone, but we do need to go deep and into places and spaces in which there is quiet, peace, and few interruptions. It could even be that in listening to the songs of whales that we are hearing an example of the incarnation of God’s voice in creation.
I invite all of us to frequently create the space, time, and place to make God’s voice more accessible. To that end, I ask us to contemplate how we each can go below the surface just to listen?
Happy New Year to each of you. I pray the year is full of blessings and joy for all. While everyone is different, many people look at the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to institute some kind of change. For some, resolutions are made and kept. For others, commitments with good intentions are made but follow through ultimately falters. We are human and life happens after all. Frankly, both kinds of experiences have been mine over the years. Some resolutions I have kept, others are distant memories.
As time has passed, however, I have come to view each day as a new beginning, a new opportunity, and fresh chance to go in another direction. I also believe that as God invites each of us to live right now in the moment, I encourage us to take on the view that every moment is ripe for change and transformation. We need not wait for a date on the calendar. Nor should a calender determine how we feel about ourselves and what we set out to accomplish.
In thinking about the year 2020, a thought came to mind. A few years ago while enduring some painful challenges, a friend shared an idea with me. At first it seemed a bit silly, but as I thought about it, the power of the idea grew on me. Sometimes simple ideas end up being quite helpful. Perhaps what follows is something you already do, perhaps not. But what my friend introduced me to is the idea of a “God Can.”
A “God Can” is a literal jar or can with a lid. Most people make their own. Attached to the can or jar is a label that states, “God Can.” Whenever we are confronted with something small or big, overwhelming or difficult, life impeding or painful, the simple idea is to write the issue down on a piece of paper and place it in the “God Can.” In other words, to visibly and tangibly turn whatever it is over to God along with a conviction that God will and can help.
There is just something about making the effort of writing whatever it is that is going on down and placing in God’s hands in a physical way. And sometimes having something we see can remind us of what we cannot see and prompt us to turn our lives over to the One for whom nothing is impossible.
So over this week of the New Year, I invite you to join me in taking stock of challenges and heartaches. To write those things down on pieces of paper. And to place those slips of paper into your own “God Can.” I’ll be dusting mine off. Over time, look back at what you wrote down and evaluate where things are and look to see the ways in which God was with you and worked through you.
This New Year, I pray we will take a moment, whether or not we create a “God Can”, to acknowledge and remind ourselves that no matter what, God can and will. And God can and will because we are all God’s beloved and treasured creation.
Happy New Year!!!
Every Christmas season, I like many of you, think back to Christmases of the past. The joyful and happy ones. The carefree ones. Those experienced through the eyes of a child. Those that were challenging and the ones in which I deeply missed family members and friends who are upon another shore in a greater light.
Speaking of Christmases past. A bunch of years ago, my wife Regina and I, before having children, were living in El Paso. On a late Sunday September afternoon, we were in our car in southern New Mexico not far from our house. It was on a road surrounded by cotton and chile fields that a sign caught my attention. The sign read, “Baby Goats, 5 dollars.” I looked at Regina. She looked at me and we pulled into a long driveway, at the end of which was a pen filled with baby goats.
They were all so cute I wanted to get out 25 dollars because I knew not all the goats were going to be adopted as pets but rather for recipes. But alas, one would have to be enough. After handing my five dollars over, Regina picked up our little goat, and we got into the car.
As we got back onto the road, that little baby goat began to scream. It was a sound I’d never heard before. Not only that, the screams were so ear piercing, we had to roll the windows down. And it was at that moment our baby goat received his name. Flip. We named him Flip because he totally flipped out that afternoon. Well, Flip grew over those fall months that followed.
Our neighbor at the time was the manager of a local mall. We were having dinner together one night, not long before Christmas, and I asked her how things were going. As this was a long time ago, well before there was online shopping, she spoke about how busy and packed the mall was. She said the next day was going to be crazy because hundreds of kids would show up for pictures with Santa.
The next day arrived. We put a leash on Flip, as he was used to neighborhood walks with us. But rather than going for a walk, we put him in the car and drove straight to the mall. After parking the car, with Flip in tow, we walked across the lot toward the mall. Flip thought it was great fun. He made sounds like this. I’m not sure why but so many people stopped in their tracks and stared at us.
We then made our way through the mall entrance doors, to the escalator and headed down to the lower level of the mall. It was great, those little slats in the escalator steps. Well they collected Flip’s droppings perfectly. At the bottom of the escalator, we walked a few feet and stood in a long line. After all, we wanted a picture of Santa with our “kid”. The sign after all, did say, “Santa Pictures with your Kids.” We were just doing what the sign told us to do.
After a bit of time, finally it was our turn. Santa said something about how he didn’t want Flip to sit on his lap. I am not sure why. Flip was nicely groomed for a picture. He also said that he could not believe his eyes as he’d never seen a goat in a mall for a picture with Santa before. But we got that picture. Yes we did. Santa even smiled. Flip too was delighted. So was our neighbor the mall manager when she heard about it all.
I think Flip was a perfect name for our goat. He flipped out when we first got him. He flipped people out when they saw him in unexpected places like a shopping mall. And I just like the word Flip because it denotes all kinds of things, like doing a physical flip or flipping out like our goat did. But the word flip can also mean to turn over, to change, to adopt a completely different approach, or even to see something in an entirely new way.
Although our pet goat was named Flip, I invite each of us to remember that when it comes to flipping things around, God is the master. When we turn to God, God will flip the way we see things, what we expect out of each day, our outlook, how we respond to challenges, and how we choose to spend our energy. God can even flip how we talk to ourselves and the thoughts that enter our minds.
Sometimes we say to ourselves, “I don’t measure up.” God’s spirit says, “I love and accept you as you are right now.” There are moments when we hold grudges and venom. God’s spirit says, “Forgive, and let go.” There are days in which we might feel judgmental. God’s spirit says, “Walk in their shoes. Empathize. They too are my beloved.”
Sometimes we might engage in exclusion or division. God’s spirit says, “Include and build bridges with others.” For those times in which we are filled with overwhelming fear, God’s spirit says, “Trust me and release your fear.” There are passages in which we may believe we have reached the end of a road. God’s spirits says, “There are always new beginnings ahead of you.”
Many of us sometimes question the future. God’s spirit says, “This is my world. Hold onto hope.” All of us have lost those we love. God’s spirit says, “They are with me and eternal life is your future with us.” We each encounter tension filled days. God’s spirit says, “Receive the peace I give to you.” And there may be moments in which we wonder what the point of it all is. God’s spirit says, “Love is the reason. Love is the answer. Love is the purpose. Love me. Love others. Love yourselves and you will have it all.”
Christmas is not just about celebrating Jesus’ birth and God coming among us in person, although it is that. Christmas is about being reminded that we have a God who loves flipping things around. Flipping how we think, how we see things, our expectations, what we feel about ourselves and others, how we see God, and flipping us around so that we come to realize that love is what matters the most, for God is love. And love is why Jesus was born.
On Christmas Day, Advent ends and we begin the 12 days of the Christmas Season, which ends with the season of Epiphany which begins on January 6. As mentioned in this e-letter, Advent is a 4 week period in which we are invited to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming into the world at his birth. Advent is also the time in which we anticipate Jesus’ second coming.
A few weeks ago, I suggested Advent is a great time of year to pay attention to three words. Those words are anticipate, celebrate, and elevate. In our day-to-day lives, we can live with a sense of anticipation, celebration, and elevation. To help us remember the three words, I introduced the acronym ACE. A – Anticipate, C – Celebrate, E – Elevate. In Part 1 of this series, I focused on the A of ACE or anticipate. You can go to that blog here. Last week I explored the C of ACE or celebrate, and that eletter can be found here. To wrap things up, this week I will focus on the E of ACE, or Elevate.
The E of ACE living is elevating. This is an invitation to each of us to intentionally elevate ways of living that reflect a life that is focused on Jesus. In every moment, we can choose to live in response to Jesus instead of living in reaction to what is around us. We can choose to live responsively instead of reactively. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, each moment we can clothe ourselves in the presence of Jesus. We can elevate Jesus’ ways of being.
In the New Testament, we have two letters written by Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers. In his first letter, we find a lot about what an elevated life looks like. Here are some excerpts from the Message version of the Bible, with some of my comments.
Peter writes, “What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him… Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.”
Here Peter reinforces the idea that we are living in in-between times. Jesus was born and Jesus will come again. When Jesus comes again, Peter writes, we will have it all, life healed and whole. A good reminder to live with anticipation for that day. A good reminder to celebrate all that is right in the meantime, including that we have God and God has us.
Peter then writes, “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing…Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God…love one another as if your lives depended on it.”
Peter again reminds us to live with a sense of anticipation. He then encourages us not to live for ourselves, but for God and that when we live for God we need to love each other as if our lives depended on it. In other words with everything we have. And we live by loving because of God.
Peter continues. “So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people… you are God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you… Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul… Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God.”
Peter writes that our lives are no accident. Our lives come from God and we are made by God for God. As such, Peter states in essence, we need to get over ourselves, dispense with our egos, treat people with dignity and love, and work to rid ourselves of hard heartedness.
Peter finally writes, again in excerpts, “Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. Say nothing evil or hurtful; Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth…Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master.”
These words in Peter’s first letter certainly illustrate what Elevate means in the acronym of ACE. I am convinced that the more we strive to live like Jesus and the more we take on Jesus’ behaviors, views, and expectations, the more our lives will be transformed. When we do this, not only will we discover purpose, but we will also discover God’s peace that passes understanding.
The more we work to elevate Jesus’ way of being, the more and more love will become the focus of who we are and how we show up in the world. While this may cause us to feel, at times, out of step with others and their actions, we will feel much more in alignment with God and joy will come to define us.
In these waning days of Advent, I invite us all to ponder Jesus’ birth and second coming with a sense of anticipation. To celebrate all that is right and good and whole. And to elevate Jesus’ ways of being in our own lives. I look forward to seeing many of you at our Christmas Eve services at 5, 7 and 9. Blessings and love and prayers. Robert +
As I mentioned in this e-letter last week, Advent is a 4 week period in which we are invited to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming into the world at his birth and the time in which we anticipate Jesus’ second coming. We have far more details about Jesus’ birth than we do about Jesus’ future second coming. While the second coming is filled with mystery, what is clear is that one day God will set everything right and there will be no more suffering, pain and heartache.
Advent is a season whose purpose is to get us to focus on all of these things and, as such, it is a season of expectation, preparation, repentance or turning back to God, joy, and a time to get refocused.
Last week I suggested that this is the season of the year to remember three important words. Those words are anticipate, celebrate, and elevate. Over these Advent weeks, I invite you to join me in taking each of these words, one at a time, and to ponder and pray about what each word might offer us in our journey in faith.
To help us remember the three words, I introduced the acronym ACE. A – Anticipate, C – Celebrate, E – Elevate. Last week I focused on the A of ACE or anticipate. You can go to that blog here. This week, however, I’d like to focus on the C of ACE, or celebrate.
In the midst of all that confronts everyone of us in life, health challenges, loss, paying bills, making a living, children struggling with this and that, transitions of all kinds, uncertainty about things or people that are important, and everything else that makes up living, there clearly is a lot for us to celebrate, for which to give God thanks.
Think for a moment about all of our blessings. And not just the big things, but all that is good we often take for granted. Water. Food. Shelter. Air we can breathe. Intact bodily senses.
On top of this there is the huge blessing of people who love us and whom we love. People who care. The fact that we have hearts and minds that experience emotions. The opportunity to work. Great people who are passionate about issues and are doing something about them. Smart people out there solving all kinds of problems. Selfless people in a variety of positions making a difference. People with great integrity in all kinds of leadership positions. The list of blessings is boundless.
But in addition to celebrating blessings, there is much more for which to give thanks. Think for a moment about all we have overcome at various points in life. The times we did not cave in and not only survived, but moved on. The moments we were resilient. The days we got out of bed, even though we were faced with a ton of stuff. The passages through which we persisted. The obstacles we got through. Those things we feared but conquered.
Ponder the many things in life that have gone right. How about the fact we have the freedom to worship when we want. Or that the people at Snowmass Chapel care about you. On top of this, we are adored and cherished by God just as we are right now, without conditions. We have brains that enable us to feel good things, joy and pleasure, not just the hard. The minds we have that enable us to wonder and even engage in questions that seemingly have no answers.
How about celebrating that God’s Holy Spirit is all around us, within us, and that nothing can separate us from God, nothing. Right now, in the year 2019, between Jesus’ birth and second coming, there is much to celebrate.
While celebrating and giving thanks, it is important to remember that such things are not a denial of what is amiss. Nor are they a minimization of the diffuse evil that impacts this world. Rather celebrating and giving God thanks is an expression of something that is absolutely true in the midst of it all. That is, there is much that is good, right, and the way it should be. Much that is wonderful, and beautiful, and loving. Much that reflects how God wants things to be. So, in this season of Advent, I invite us all to keep the idea of celebrating front and center as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth while anticipating His second coming.
On December 1st, the season of Advent began. The word Advent means coming and Advent offers each of us profound opportunities to deepen our faith life and walk with Jesus. Advent is roughly a 4 week period in which we are invited to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming into the world at his birth and the time in which we anticipate Jesus’ second coming.
Because it is Advent, there is a great word in scripture to ponder. It is only found once and it is in Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. That word is Maranatha. Some people think this word means, “Our Lord has come,” referring to Jesus’ birth. Other people think the word means, “Come oh Lord,” referring to Jesus’ second coming.
Finally, a lot of folks think the word carries both meanings. That Maranatha means Christ was born and Christ will come again. I fall into this camp and therefore think that the word Maranatha is a fabulous word to think about during Advent.
If indeed Maranatha refers both to Jesus’ birth and second coming, it means that you and I, like everyone since Jesus’ resurrection, are living in, in-between times. In between the time Jesus lived among us and when God will make everything right with Jesus’ second coming. Although there is much mystery, as people of faith we are invited to trust that when Jesus comes again, there will be no more suffering, pain, heartache, and we will be free from all that is currently askew.
I believe Jesus’ second coming is great news. I am overjoyed at the thought that one day everything will be as God wants it to be. As God is love, I can’t wait till love is the essence of our existence without anything that gets in the way of such love. I long for such a time in which, as scripture describes, there will be no more tears and the lion will lie down with the lamb.
Jesus’ second coming serves as a foundation for great hope, the hope that comes from realizing one day God’s kingdom will be fully present and everything will be as it should be.
Advent is a season whose purpose is to get us to focus on all of these things and as such, it is a season of expectation, preparation, repentance or turning back to God, joy, and a time to get refocused. In fact, I think it is the time of year to remember three important words. Those words are, anticipate, celebrate, and elevate. Over the next three weeks, I invite you to join me in taking each of these words, one at a time, for one week each, and to ponder and pray about what each word might offer us in our journey in faith.
To help us remember the three words, I introduce the acronym ACE. A – Anticipate, C – Celebrate, E – Elevate. For this week, let’s focus on the A of Ace or anticipate.
You may remember the story of a woman named Florence Chadwick. Florence was born in the San Diego area of California which is probably why she set her sights on swimming between Catalina Island and the California coast. In July of 1952 she made her first attempt, but failed to make it to the shore. When she was rescued, what Florence did not know because the fog was so thick was that she only had a half mile to go when she got out of the water. She later said, had she known that her destination was so close, she would have continued.
Because of this, two months later, she tried again on an equally foggy day. This time she made it. She said that the second time she attempted the crossing, she kept the image of the shore in her mind. In other words, she took each swimming stroke with where she was headed in her consciousness.
As we live in this in-between Maranatha time, between Jesus’ first and second coming, Florence’s story can be incredibly helpful to you and to me. If we know our destination is God. If we keep our eyes on Jesus. If we trust that all will be well when it is all said and done.
If we embrace the truth that one day everything will be as it should be and ultimately we have nothing to worry about. If we accept that God is love and love prevails. If we anticipate these things and if we keep such ends in mind, I believe, we can move through each day with a sense of peace, release, anticipation, and hope because we know how the story turns out.
All will be well. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But one day, one day, all will be well and we can live with this end in mind. We can live each day keeping this unifying simple idea that one day all will be well front and center. So in the meantime, we can let go of a lot of worry and angst and live with a sense of joyous anticipation and in fact hope.
Jesus has come. Jesus will come again. In the meantime, I invite us all this week to anticipate with joy and hope what happens when it is all said and done, that all will be well. All will be more than well, thanks be to God. Happy Advent!
Recently I saw the new movie about Mr. Rogers, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Heartwarming. Delightful. A superb feel good. These words certainly describe the film. But as I have thought about the film and more importantly Mr. Rogers, the essence of his ministry to children reflects, in my mind, the hard work of what it means to strive to be more like Jesus. Here are the words from one of Mr. Rogers’ well known songs.
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, Since we’re together, we might as well say, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you please, won’t you please, Please won’t you be my neighbor?
These words are not nostalgic pablum. They don’t reflect just a nice concept. They are not representative of unrealistic mush. These lyrics go to the heart of the story of the Good Samaritan and the countless stories and verses about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
These lyrics are not to be relegated to an off-air children’s show. Rather I believe they set the standard for every single human being on the planet regardless of position, status, or power. Nor are these words intended to induce guilt or feelings of being less than, quite the opposite. They are meant to shine light on what we are to strive for, however imperfectly.
Because we are God’s beloved, God invites us to treat every single human being as just that, God’s beloved. These lyrics get at the essence of Jesus’ words that all that matters in the end is love. Not sometimes. Not on some occasions. Not with regard to only some people. Not for only certain aspects of life. But love is the whole deal.
God invites, encourages, gives us what we need as we begin the season of Advent on Sunday, to become neighbors to everyone. When we commit to following Jesus, again however imperfectly, it means neighborliness becomes our key primary priority.
While it is hard, being a neighbor to all really is quite simple and can become a unifying principle that undergirds everything. When Jesus comes again, everyone, I mean everyone will be our neighbor, like it or not. So we might as well get started. Jesus has come. Jesus will come again.
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. I am so grateful that you are part of the Chapel family whether you live nearby or far away. Your engagement with us is an enormous blessing for which I give God thanks everyday. I thank each of you. Know you are loved beyond comprehension, just the way you are right now.
Love and prayers – Robert
I have just wrapped up a two week sermon series on how to manage anxiety, stress, and fear as Jesus followers. The reason I got into this series is because many studies show that we as Americans are more anxious and stressed than we used to be and many of us are buzzing with anxiety and fear. The causes are varied, numerous, complex, yet are all coming together in a tipping point that can lead us to feel like we are going over the edge.
We, like those long ago in scripture, deal with the unexpected, have to respond to sudden changes, need to overcome 180 degree shifts we did not anticipate, have to endure being let down by something or someone we thought we could count on, sometimes need to take a chance and go out on a limb with no guarantees, or have to live without knowing what lies ahead in our life or in the lives of those we love.
Angst, fear, and stress does not mean we don’t have faith. It means we are living out our faith during challenging times. But is also means that as people of faith there is a lot we can do to cope, overcome, and remain resilient during periods of understandable angst, stress, and fear.
A quick caveat. Stress, fear, anxiety are not always all bad as they can be great teachers. They can lead us to deal with things we need to confront. They can expose our doubts and questions. They can help us know how much we need God and other people in our lives. They can lead to vulnerability and humility leading to greater intimacy with others.
Angst and stress can lead us to realign our priorities and to make beneficial changes physically, relationally, and vocationally. They can help make us more empathetic with others. And as anger is more often than not an expression of underlying fear, dealing with such feelings can help us reduce being reactive and angry.
While the ways in which we can cope with the frailties of life are numerous, some of which I touched on in my series which is on our website, I’d like to invite us to think about just one thing, and that is courage.
Scripture is full of stories of courageous people like Esther who took major chances to do what was right. Take Ruth, who despite grief and fear took risks many women would not have considered. Take the woman who gave her last bit of food to the prophet Elijah, during a drought when there was nothing left. Take Hanna turing her son Samuel over to someone else to raise him with no real certainty. Take David stepping up to Goliath. Take Peter who gave up everything to follow a promise without proof at first.
It is worth taking the time to read and explore the stories of courage of these and other people in scripture. And I believe, with God’s help, we too can step out in the midst of our fears.
What if Dale Carengie was right when he said, “Most of us have more courage than we ever dreamed we possessed.” What if, as one person said, we have the courage in the midst of being afraid to go on anyhow. What if, as another wrote, we have the capacity to move ahead despite despair. What if Reinhold Niebuhr was right when he encouraged us to pray, “God grant me the courage to change the things I can.”
What if we are to take the following verses in scripture seriously. “Be strong and courageous for it is the Lord that goes with you. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Arise for it is your task. Be strong and do it.”
And what if when we are faced with something fear inducing that we too are like Esther, that we are made and equipped for the time right in front of us with all of the challenges. If courage was easy it would not be courage as courage is acting when filled with angst, not when experiencing its absence.
I invite us all when experiencing tough times to pray and ask that God will give us not only faith, but the courage to act upon it.
Many sources note that we, as Americans, are increasingly anxious. While this clearly has been the case in prior episodes of history, there is little doubt in my mind that many of us are filled with angst. The reasons are varied. We live with great uncertainty as volatility characterizes many domains of life. Technological, social, scientific, and cultural changes, some positive, others less so, are constant and frequently upending.
With this in mind, it is important to note that even those who were with Jesus faced difficult and anxiety-producing circumstances. Take Mary and Joseph. How they envisioned the future, the likely well-ordered plans they had in mind, their ways of doing things, were suddenly and radically changed. Although the circumstances are vastly different, how many of us have also been confronted with a 180 degree life turn around?
Take the woman with the bleeding disorder. Ill for 12 years, financially devastated, socially ostracized, one day she decides to put it all on the line and literally reach out for Jesus. Now, centuries later, we face something. Solutions are seemingly nowhere to be found. Despair sets in. We go out on a limb and take a chance. We are questioned. We question. Yet we put it all on the line. We are challenged and uncertain.
Take the 12-year-old Jesus. He and his folks travel to Jerusalem for a big deal religious event. When it is over, Mom and Dad and a crowd of other folks head home. Little do they know that Jesus decided to stay behind to do some work on his own spiritual journey. When Mary and Joseph are about a day’s travel time out of Jerusalem they ask, “Where’s Jesus?” Like Waldo, he is nowhere to be found. Three days later they find him in the temple in Jerusalem. They admonish him and tell him they had been filled with worry. Their fear elicits anger.
Similarly, we don’t know how someone we love is doing, emotionally, physically, or psychologically. We don’t know what to do or where to begin. Overwhelming?
These stories and so many others highlight that people who had heard about Jesus, were around Jesus, turned to Jesus, all had moments of tremendous fear, anxiety and consuming stress. And we who have heard about Jesus, turn to Jesus, yet have no opportunity to be around Jesus’ presence in the flesh, have had, have, and will have such moments as well.
These stories of giants of our faith tell me that when we feel as they did, we need to stop questioning ourselves, putting ourselves down, or being critical of ourselves in any way. Their experiences tell me that what they went through is part of what it means to be human and there is nothing wrong with us when we have such experiences.
Their experiences, our experiences, are part of what it means to be alive in our bodies before we are alive in other ways with God after this life. It is part of what it means to have faith. It is a signal that we are on an amazing journey of faith and that, just like God called each of those I described above to trust and let go of fear, God asks us to do the same.
As I have mentioned, is gritting our teeth and trusting God hard? You bet. Absolutely. But it is what we are called to work on day after day. That said, however, there are a variety of things we can do to help us let go of fear. I’d like to mention just a couple of them here.
Our mind goes where we place our attention. What we attend to determines our emotions and reactions. Given this, there is a beautiful passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Paul writes in chapter 4, “6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Here Paul invites us, when we are filled with angst and fear, to focus our minds on God by praying to God. Letting God know what is on our mind, what is happening, what we need, and to thank God. Note the components of how Paul suggests we pray.
Secondly, Paul invites us to focus our minds on what is “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
If we choose to pay attention to what is ugly, all the divisiveness, all the rancor and anger on television and in discussions around us, violent movies and stories, hatred, and everything that is the opposite of what Paul mentions, the result will be the opposite of peace and release. If however, we make the decision to spend most of our energy on the things Paul suggests, “then the peace of God will be with us,” as Paul writes. What we focus on and the resultant feelings and actions are 100% our decision.
Finally, I invite you to join me in doing something over the days ahead.
Get to a quiet place. Turn off technology. Give yourself some open ended time. Get quiet. Get silent. Listen to the silence for a bit and then pray. I invite you to pray something like the following.
God. Here I am. I am coming to you in this quiet place wanting and needing to hear from you. While I may or may not hear your voice, I ask that you at least help me to sense your thoughts in my thoughts. Here is what is happening that is causing me great worry and stress and fear. I know you already know all this but I just want to share what is happening.
I ask that you help me trust you. I ask that you give me this gift. I ask that you help me let go of fear and worry and anxiety. God, the thing you say more often than anything in scripture is, “Trust me and don’t fear.” Help me to trust you. Help me to let go of fear. Help me to trust and not fear regardless, no matter what, despite what happens or does not happen. Help my trust and letting go of fear be outcome independent. Please help me trust you right now. Please fill me with your peace that passes all understanding. Please help me let it go and let you take over. Give me your peace and trust.
Pray using your own words, but give yourself plenty of time in this quiet place. The more you invest in doing this kind of thing, the more trust and peace and release will fill you.
Indeed, these are troubling times but, as followers of Jesus, there is much we can do in response to help us in our journey in faith.
A couple of weeks ago the Aspen School District had a fall break period of a couple of days. My wife Regina, our son Peter, and I headed to Grand Junction as many do to get some stronger sun and warmth as it had been so cold. We decided to spend some time at the Colorado National Monument. If you have not been, go. It is spectacular and a treasure. The plateaus, monoliths, cliffs, and red rock are striking and awe-inspiring.
Regina arranged well ahead of time for us to meet a guide one morning. I was game and not too apprehensive even though the guide we were meeting was a rock climbing guide. Our guide was not sure what to make of me when I told him, after meeting him, that the last time I was on a cliff, helicopters and a dozen or so mountain rescue members got involved. But that was then and this was now I assured him.
When we had hiked for 30 minutes or so up a canyon with backpacks filled with equipment, our guide said, “We are here.” Looking up at the surrounding sandstone cliffs I asked, “Where is here?” “Up,” he said. “Here? You mean there,” pointing toward the sky. “Yes.” Above us was at least 100 feet of a flat wall pictured on the front of the bulletin.
Soon, after we hiked around some more to the other side of that cliff to set up anchor points, we received instructions, and put on harnesses and helmets. Our son Peter went first followed by Regina. They both made it look easy and when they repelled down, it was apparently my turn.
After running the rope through the harness tie in points and attaching the carabiner to the belay loop, terms I still am learning, I was ready to go. I stood at the base of the cliff. I turned around and asked, “Where do I put my hands and feet?” “Really” I said in response to what the guide told me.
Somehow, someway, I made my way 30 feet or so up the cliff when all of a sudden I yelled, “There is no place to put my hands or my feet.” The guide replied, “Yes there is.” I retorted, “But I feel like a hippopotamus ice skating; this is not possible.” “Yes it is,” he said. “Look for tiny places to put just part of one foot and places to pull yourself up with your fingertips.”
Somehow, someway, I continued. About half way up, with cut hands and bloody knees as I was dumb enough to wear shorts, the guide yelled out, “Take a break.” “Where?” I asked. “Where you are; just lean back.” I won’t repeat what I whispered to myself.
Anyway, I did what I was told. I relaxed and leaned back from the cliff securely held by the rope. And as I did so, I looked down to see where I had come from, up to see how far I had to go, and all around to take in the view. I felt very blessed and asked myself, “How many people get to hang off a cliff today, voluntarily?”
After a few minutes, I continued climbing upward, falling now and then, but quickly caught by the rope. Eventually I made my way to the top, exhaled, and took in the glorious view of the canyon and the ants of Regina, Peter, and the guide below. Soon I repelled down planting my feet firmly on the ground. I was met with cheers.
Whether or not you have rock climbed with ropes, I was yet again reminded that day about what trusting God is all about when challenges abound. Hopefully not carrying this metaphor too far, we all have cliffs to go up. They are as varied as there are people, but we all have them. It can seem impossible at times to scale what we need to move through. It can indeed seem that there is no place to put our hands or feet and there is nothing to grab a hold of. We all go through this.
But we have a guide. We have God. And God is completely trustworthy. Even when it seems impossible, our feelings don’t determine what God can and cannot do. Even when it feels that God is nowhere to be found, our feelings, once again, don’t determine God’s presence. We’ve got to trust God. We have got to find those places to put our hands and our feet with God’s guidance.
And whether or not we realize it or accept it, there are people around us as we make our way. People to encourage us. There are always people around even if those we thought we could depend on don’t show up, others will if we reach out. And just as it is important to pause when we are in the middle of a cliff climb to rest, and to see where we have been and what is ahead, the same is true of those passages in which there are mighty challenges.
I’ve been thinking back to some of my cliffs. Parents dying. Friends dying. Illnesses that people I love have to endure. Times of incapacity due to serious injury. Struggling children. People I love whose time is limited. Not knowing what the future held with this and that. The cliffs I’ve been through over the decades as a pastor.
Cliffs, we all have had them, have them, and will have them. But Jesus’ message, God’s message to each of us is precisely the same. Make the decision to trust the guide and climb. Make the decision to move forward. Make the decision to pause and reflect. Make the decision to emote and share feelings with God. Make the decision to grit your teeth and trust.
And one final thing that is so important. Whenever we are not on a cliff, let us all take the time, make the intentional effort, to reach out in concrete ways to those who are on the ropes. Let us encourage them, applaud each movement they make, love them, grit our teeth and trust God on their behalf, when they are not in a place in which they are able to do so.
Sometimes it is our turn to trust. At others, it is our time to trust on behalf of others. But regardless, a theme that runs throughout the Bible and an invitation from God that runs throughout our lives is clear. Our guide is not going to let us go regardless of what cliff we are on and attempting to climb.