Another version of the road less traveled

As much as I love to hike locally, hiking in Boulder is a “get out early or deal with crowds” type of hike. There are usually a lot of people out on the trails – and for good reason! The view is great, you can find trails of any level, and … well, it’s Colorado.

Last week I was itching to hike, but it was a last minute decision after having slept in on Saturday. The forecast predicted rain at 60% by 2pm. It was 10am. By my calculation.. it was not a good day to start hiking late. Oh well. I grabbed my rain jacket, a water bottle, my new waterproof hiking shoes, and headed out. I figured I would hike as long as I could and leave if it got too wet.

Sure enough, it started misting about a half hour in – but nothing like what the forecast predicted. It was actually nice and cooling. Thank goodness!

For the first hour I saw a good number of people. It’s summer, after all 🙂

As I got closer to the top of either the 1st or the 2nd Flatiron (still trying to figure out the difference between the two to be honest), the number of people still hiking grew fewer and fewer. The trail got a little more slippery because of the mist, but my shoes held steady. They were made for this.

My mind drifted as it does when I am alone, knowing how often the Lord uses everyday things around us to speak about spiritual truths. I thought of how many people collected around Jesus in the early days. They sought him out, they listened to his blessings, his reminder that they are salt and light, and they brought their sick to receive healing. They stayed through the challenges of their religious leaders, knowing Jesus was different. Yet, as time went on, the road got harder as a disciple. More was required….. and less and less followed.

The parallel wasn’t lost on me.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High…”

You can’t be serious Jesus. You actually expect us to forgive our oppressors and the ones in power? They are in the wrong. They are misusing it and all of us regular folks will have to pay for it.

“…because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked….”

Um.. what about all that wrath stuff that the prophets talked about! You’re supposed to deliver us and punish them!

Be merciful, just as your father is merciful” – Luke 6:35-36

Then he went on to explain just what mercy looked like for those who wanted to follow him: don’t be so quick to judge, check your heart, watch your motives, forgive if you expect to be forgiven, don’t just listen and give lip service. Be different, actions matter.

Later, John tells a story of how Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow him, they had to “eat” his flesh and “drink” his blood (John 6:53+). For good Jews who knew that God didn’t want child sacrifice and that they were not to drink blood (both condemned in Torah) – I’m sure this sounded like sacrilege. John said many left that day and couldn’t follow him any more. But to those that did, the mystery of this teaching must have caused them to search and understand what he meant.

I thought about after his resurrection, when Jesus challenge Peter to feed his sheep, Peter looked back and asked “But… what about that guy?” (meaning the disciple John). Jesus’ answer was essentially this:

What is that to you?

If that doesn’t speak to the fact that we all have our own path to follow, I’m not sure what does. And I don’t mean it in that generic attitude of “I’ll do my own thing” that we tend to have as westerners. We have to be careful not to look at others who are walking with Jesus and compare or wonder why we can’t do what they can, or how come God didn’t do that or ask that of us.

Some things, we are all “called” to. The good news, the gospel, is that God has come to invade the earth with his promise of redemption, restoration, and shalom. Tell that story. Live into that reality.

If you’ve headed down the wrong path, made wrong choices, there’s forgiveness. If you have been denied justice, He knows. That belongs to Him, because sometimes it’s not given in this world. Yet he offers His very presence as a trade. He gives real joy, life, and strength in the middle of every part of life, in a way only you will be able to explain once you experience it.

Those who choose to walk in the way of Jesus – you all have a story. You are, like the disciples, the ones who get to – even in your doubt (Thomas) and denying (Peter) and misunderstanding of what might be best (Martha) – be a living representative for the reality of God in your corner of the world, your job, your neighborhood, your life. It doesn’t have to be huge or something that is big and flashy to be real. You don’t need your social media “followers” to like it if you post about it. You know what He has done, you know how He has called you to love others and serve them. So do that.

For some…. like the fact the trail thinned out for me near the top…. You may find there are places in your life that Jesus may ask you to go, and no one else seems to be going that way. He may have put a specific burden on your heart to reach a particular people group, start something new that fills a need, or love someone that no one else wants to. He may have asked you to give up something that’s hard, or that you feel you have a “right” to because you’ve worked for it. Take that risk. Talk to trusted friends, and trust He’s in it. Stay in conversation with Him about it, and He’ll give you the wisdom you need.

I realize it can feel lonely. It can make you question if you heard Him right. You might not get a ton of people to join you, or others might not seem to understand the level of commitment you have in whatever it is… but do what He has put on your heart. Do it faithfully, being fully human, but filled with his Spirit. You won’t do it perfectly because He’s the only one that is, so have grace for yourself. He’s got you!

You never know what the result might be.. the seeds sown, the lives changed. One day, you’ll find out!

Blessings, my friends – and don’t stop seeking!

Easter thoughts

I really cannot imagine how the next generation will hear about 2020, or what they will think about the pandemic, or if they will really laugh that it was toilet paper that was a “hot” commodity for the first 6 months. I know we’re not fully back to our “normal” but we’re getting there in some places. I know it’s had an impact on us in different ways, but I’ll be honest that it’s taken a while to admit to the impact personally.  My kids are out of the house, I have worked remote for nearly 20 years before all this, and I was already going to grad school online….so in my mind, I didn’t have as much adapting to do as everyone. I realize it was a monumental shift for most, and my hat is off to everyone who has to navigate it different than I did!

That being said, I’m an extrovert. So in spite of having worked from home for all these years, not being able to gather – specifically at church – has probably had the biggest impact on me. Not that I don’t know how to seek God or learn on my own – I do. But in gathering, that truly is where I find so much joy, being with others whose lives are also being transformed by the life and way of Jesus. I know doing things digitally and “fellowshipping” remotely has taught us in new ways to be the Body of Christ scattered– and I so much want to hear what we all have learned in the midst of it!

Today, sitting in a common space that once used to be bustling with people having coffee and lunch after church… I realized something. I miss the feeling of all of us having BEEN in the presence of God – and having worshipped and been taught — together. Maybe bored sometimes – sure. Maybe challenged, maybe not. But seeing each other, seeking God, seeking to learn. I miss that.

I miss it because being together is a good reminder that we are not on this journey alone. Some of the videos I have seen this past year of people singing, together, across continents and countries has been just beautiful and healing. This one from Zimbabwe singing the Blessing song just about brought me to tears, especially given much of the hurt our country is feeling over racial things right now. It felt like my brothers and sisters from across the ocean singing healing to our wounded places, reminding us that in Christ… we ARE ONE.

https://youtu.be/OA1tVs7VNcY (you might have to copy and paste this, or just look up “The Blessing Zimbabwe” )

So as we step into Easter this weekend, regardless of whether your church is meeting in person, if you are still watching it at home…. If your church is big or small, or you are one that feels like you are on the margins and have been pushed out of the body of Christ for some reason (you know who you are, and let me remind you – you still belong)…. I offer you this humble thought on Good Friday, when we remember that our lives have been changed forever.

My dear family in Christ:

Remember that we are a force to be reckoned with, when we put ourselves in the presence of our God, then we walk forward in the love and joy and freedom we have found knowing Jesus. There is no depth of love that can every compare. You ARE the city on a hill, you ARE the light that is meant to shine hope and share an anchor we have.

It’s not that we huddle in our little groups and worship (which I’m sure folks think is strange) because we are proud, or exclusive, or want to perpetuate an “us-vs-them” mentality

It’s not that we have checked our brains at the gate, or been duped into believing some tale that gives us an escapist perspective that nothing matters

It’s because we’re willing to admit there is mystery in what we do not understand

It’s that we have been through knock-down-drag-out fights with the stuff of life and are STILL HERE

If we’re still in the dark, still in the hard stuff – it’s that we know there is a way out, because our God is not made of darkness

It’s that in spite of cultural messages that tell us we have to have the latest and greatest to stay relevant – we know we are being made new every morning when we talk to the One who created us.

(I guess that means I’m on v48.353… )…. hahaha!

It’s because in spite of bodies that age and break down, in spite of old injuries or surgeries or glasses or maybe a bout with cancer or two – we know and have experienced the Source of life – and that keeps us young forever

It’s because we haven’t settled for the subtle message that “everything will be ok”. We have wrestled with the God that created us and we know He’s real, and his promise to not abandon us is true. THAT’s why it is well with our soul

It’s because our faith is built on the stuff of wilderness and wandering, of calling back and of knowing we are here to live into a kingdom of forgiveness, mercy, grace

It’s because we too, may have at one time thought we didn’t need God, or his power living in us…But now we know it’s more important than anything else that lasts in this life

It’s because we know this is for everyone else too…. And we know the story isn’t over yet

That’s why we gather. That’s why we worship

That’s why we celebrate a leader, a master, a king….one that is not an idea, or just someone in a history book, or just a moral leader

It’s because the very life that brought him up from the grave brings us to life IN ALL THINGS.

So tonight, may things be surrendered at the cross that need to be surrendered. May we take the cup He offers, however hard, and say “your will, not mine”, knowing our Savior is right there with us.

And come Sunday… oh Sunday……may you worship with abandon, however you do it. May you delight in the body God gave you, however young or old. May you know your worth as a child in a kingdom that has been wrestling to make itself known since the day He walked the earth, but one that will never cease to be built as long as His story is told in us.

Hallelujah!

Silent Saturday

I don’t think I’d ever heard the term “Silent Saturday” until last night when I was watching a sermon by Max Lucado on Good Friday. Silent Saturday is the day after Jesus crucifixion (well, when we remember it) before we celebrate his resurrection on Easter. It’s when all those that knew Jesus and followed him mourned his death, because they lost their beloved teacher, the Messiah they had been waiting for. Its because they didn’t know what was going on in the big picture, because this isn’t how “The day of the Lord” and the coming of his kingdom was supposed to go, in their minds. Yet it was Sabbath, and so they followed the command to observe it, spending the day in their homes, not working, just resting…. and grieving.

I cannot imagine what that might have been like for them. They couldn’t even get closure. Yes he was buried in a tomb, but no ceremony, no corporate time together to process. No “what do we do now” discussion…. they just had to wait.

As I see the death toll now from those who have lost their lives due to the corona virus, I have a feeling they get what the disciples must have felt in a way none of us do. My heart has been heavy for them in this time.

But it actually got me to thinking. I have heard tons of sermons, read posts and devotionals, and sang songs about Jesus the Passover lamb, about how his blood was symbolically applied to all of humanity on the cross. Its beautiful really, when you think about it:

God delivered Israel out of Egypt and essentially said – I will be your God, and you can be my people, and we can go and change the world if you let me be your God. All the world will be blessed through you and the light I bring as you live in covenant with me. That is exactly what Jesus message was too: My kingdom is here, are you with me? Do you want to help make things right? Learn my way. Follow me. Live differently. Return to Yahweh.

So here is what struck me this year. Keep in mind, I have been knee deep in Old Testament scriptures the past 2 1/2 years, and so as we talk about kings and kingdoms, I come into this knowing that both in the Ancient Near East (ANE) world, and even in Israel, when a king came to power, they generally killed off any threats to the throne first off. It’s just how they did it. Then they built temples and palaces. If they were a good king, their nation and its inhabitants thrived. If they were not, everyone suffered and eventually they were taken over by another ruler…. and the cycle continued.

When John wrote his gospel, he tapped into a kind of cosmic battle idea of light vs dark. He speaks of Light coming into the darkness in the first chapter, he quotes Jesus saying he is the Light of the World in chapter 8, and then he talks about the ruler of the world being driven out in chapter 12.

From an ANE perspective, and from a cosmic perspective, this is fascinating to me. In his triumph on the cross, Jesus did what every other king had done until that time as well – he battled against the enemy that would ruin his kingdom. Only this time, the enemy he fought was an invisible cosmic one that destroys lives, ruins families and nations, causes greed and pain and war and deceit and addictions and every other horrible thing we can think of . This enemy says “protect yourself, you’ve all you’ve got, take what you want, who cares about anyone else” – when God has always said he was right there, if they searched for him… and that there was a good and right way to live. Jesus battled an enemy that wraps the human soul in chains and keeps it from even choosing what is right and living in radical love.

So tomorrow is day we as believers will celebrate Jesus resurrection. We will remember it is the day he took his throne as king – again – having gone to the kingdom that was being ravaged by an unjust ruler and fought and won. His citizens were declared free now, from the sin that had eaten at them since right after creation.

Earth and humanity – reconciled. Still suffering the effects of abuse and torture, of greed and power struggles, of failure and pain – but finally with a king who will forever be a good Shepherd to those who will follow him. Finally, One who can lead the citizens of His kingdom into healing his world, and making things right, one by one.

As to temple building and palace building… God had already declared the whole world to be his temple through the prophets many times earlier. But what Jesus did? He cleansed the human heart and built a temple right there.

That, my friends, is the beauty and wonder of the resurrection. The cosmic battle has been fought, and we have been invited to take our place as citizens of a kingdom with a good king.

Silent Saturday might be a day we remember the disciples grief and loss… but in reality He was just off fighting a war on our behalf. How can that not make you pause in gratitude?

Blessings my friends!