Saturday, April 25, 2020

What Does a Tree Stump Have to Tell You About Hope in These Days? A Lot and Here's Why.

Every weekday, I dread it’s coming.  I see it rising up ahead.   No matter what I do, I cannot get past it.   And when I hit it, it stops me dead in my tracks.   Until it passes, I have no other choice but to wait.   And the agony of it all, the struggle, the frustration.

I know I’m not alone.  Other surely face these challenges, including all those who face with me this exasperating place.   If you don’t face my particular place, you likely face one much like it.   Have you ever faced a red light that seems to never turn green?   Oh yes, all the other cars are going, but not you.   No, you wait and wait and wait.   This week I even timed my red light.   Every weekday I have to wait at that light for at least two whole minutes!

Now, I’m being a little tongue in cheek here.  But I’m also being honest.  I hate to wait.  And these days require a lot of waiting, waiting to see what the virus does, waiting to find out when we can reopen, waiting for the day, whenever it will be, when things get back to some semblance of normal.   And as I wait, I realize, I have a lot to be grateful for.  I’m not sick or in a hospital or caring for anyone who is sick.   I’m not facing as deep a financial crisis as many others are.  I’m not grieving the loss of a loved one gone far too early.   I can’t imagine how painful the waiting through those challenges and losses must be. 

But here’s the truth, all of us, in one way or another are waiting.  And waiting can be hard, and for a number of us, even terrifyingly hard.   And in the waiting, it can be all too easy to fear the worst, to wonder when we will come out, to even begin to wonder if we will.   And when those moments come, God points the way, the way to comfort and strength, the way to patience and hope, the way to a day when these challenging days will end.   And how do you find that way?  In those words, God tells you.  Let’s hear what God has to say.

Heck, this virus has messed everything up.  It messed Easter up.  It is messing with restaurants, theatres, even Disney World.   And worst of all, it is messing up the lives of thousands, even millions of people in awful, heart-breaking ways.   You read the stories of those who have lost their lives.  Or maybe you know it more closely than that.  You know a friend or family member that died or who is battling the virus right now.   And in the midst of it all, who doesn’t yearn for it all to stop?    Who doesn’t say to themselves?  Enough already. 

Yet, in one way or another, it seems that this virus will be hanging around a bit longer.   And as everyone waits for some good news, some signs of hope, some light at the end of this all too long tunnel, you can get discouraged.  You can begin to wonder.  How will we make it back?  How will things be different when we do?  Yet in these words, and not only these words, God gives us the perspective we all need.  God tells you.  Life always wins over death, always.   But you need to have the patience to wait for the life to come. 

In the days, that the prophet Isaiah shared these words, things did not look good at all.  The people of Israel had literally lost their country.  They weren’t even living there.  The empire that conquered them had exiled them to their capital city, Babylon.   And none of them had any idea if they would ever get to return, if they would ever have a nation again.   Yet in the middle of this awful moment, the prophet Isaiah writes these words.  

He faces the reality of what they face, how they thirst for hope, and yet seem to find none.  But then he says this.   This thirst, this dryness will not be the end of your story.  No, the waters will flow again.  Even in the mountains where water can be scarce, the water will flow.    Even the desert will have pools of water.  And then he gets to the climax.  He talks about the trees, and not just any trees, the trees that everyone loved.   He talks about the olive tree and the cypress and the pine, a hit list of the best trees of Israel.   He says.  God will place those trees everywhere, even in the desert, so everyone will know God did this, no one else.

Yet, get this, in sharing this vision, he is talking about a place thousands of miles away, a place that it looks like they’ll never ever get back to.   Is he delusional?  It can seem like it.  Until you realize, they did get back there.   It took a while, but they got back.  

And so, God is telling them, this exile, this loss will not be the last word.  God is saying.  My love, my faithfulness, my life-giving abundance will be that last word.   This too shall pass.  In fact, that word pass reminds me of one of my favorite preacher jokes.   It goes like this.

A preacher once asked an old farmer in his church, his favorite verse.  The farmer replied immediately.  Well, preacher, my favorite verse has always been.  “It came to pass.”   The preacher puzzled asks.  “Why that one?”  And the farmer replies, as if it was obvious.  “The Lord said it didn’t come to stay.   He said. It came to pass.”  

And as strange as it may sound, this too will pass.   But it won’t pass tomorrow. It won’t pass on any timetable we set.  But it will pass.   And that’s the problem, human beings get impatient.  We want things to change quickly, whether it be red lights or viruses.   And when they don’t, we get impatient.  We get discouraged.  We lose perspective.   But in these words that you just heard God gives you the perspective you need to have.   You need the perspective of the myrtle and of the olive and of the cedar.  You need the perspective of trees. 

You see.   Trees live a long time, as long as 5,000 years.   That means. Trees have perspective.  Tees are willing to wait.   In some deep way, they know, if you wait, life come.   They know even life comes in the worst that the world throws at you.  That’s why I put up on the screen, the picture of this stump.  Do you see what is growing out of it?   It’s a little tree.   You can cut a tree down, and it will still live.   Trees know. Life will always win out if you’re willing to wait. 

In fact, one tree did that for two thousand years.   In the early 60s archeologists were excavating the great fortress of Masada in Southern Israel.  That fortress lies a thousand feet above the Judean desert, as barren a place as you can imagine.     And there they found a jar containing date seeds.  They did some carbon dating and discovered they were about two thousand years old.  Then they stuck them in a drawer and forget them for about 40 years.  Then someone had a crazy idea.   “Why don’t we plant them?”   

So, they did.  And go figure, with a little help, the seeds sprouted.  The palm not only grew, it  became a daddy.  It pollinated a female date palm, and now they have date palm children.  They call the tree Methesulah, who was the oldest man in the Bible.  Here’s a picture of Methesulah.
  As of February, he’s grown to be about 12 feet tall.  Don’t you get it, God is a god of life.  And life always win, if you are willing to wait. 

And you don’t need to go back two thousand years to realize that.  You can go back to thelast time something like this happened, 1918.   That’s the year a flu pandemic hit the world.  It killed at least 50 million.  That’s 5 out of every 100 people on the entire planet at that time.  But it gets worse.    Let me just paint the picture. 

Before that flu happened, things had been going bad already.   When World War I erupted in 1914, it messed up the economy so bad, the stock market closed for four months.   And then in early 1918, our nation got in the war, and then the pandemic hit.  In fact, the war helped spread it.  It likely began in a military camp in Kansas, and when the soldiers left to fight, they carried the flu with them.   And that flu, when it got really bad, in a space of six months, killed 30 million people.  And it didn’t kill old people.  It killed the young those in their 20s and 30s.     

And then after that pandemic ended, our nation went into a huge recession followed by a depression.   Over three years, our economy shrunk by almost 40%.  And the government made things worse.  It didn’t raise spending.  It cut it by 20%.    And the Federal Reserve didn’t cut interest rates.   It raised them.   And on top of that the Ku Klux Klan rose up and caused hundreds of thousands of African Americans to flee North. 

Yet in the next five years after all of that, what happened?  The mass-produced automobile happened.  The airplane happened, as did the radio, the assembly line, the refrigerator, the electric razor, the washing machine, the jukebox, the television, and I could go on.  The stock market went up 500%!  America entered the Roaring 20s, one of the most vibrant, dynamic decades in our history.  And when those blacks fled north, many ended up in Harlem.  And there they created the Harlem Renaissance, that created some of the greatest music and literature in our history.  Now it wasn’t perfect.   It did end with a big crash.  But holy smokes.  Don’t you get it?

Life came back from a war, a pandemic, a recession, a depression.  It took time. But it came back.  Because life always, always wins, if you are willing to wait. 

And thank God, that God is willing to wait.  God has the patience, after all, to wait on us.  For, why did Israel end up in exile?   It ended there because again and again, they refused to listen to God, to care for the poor and needy.  Yet God never gave up on them.  God promised them that life would return, that his love would never leave.

And sadly, in the years 1918 and before, much of that death and heartbreak came because of terrible decisions that people made.  Yet even there, life found a way even in the midst of death.  Doctors and nurses gave their lives to care for those sick.   Deeds of mercy and courage occurred even in the midst of a senseless war.  And people of faith found ways to move forward in hope even in the darkest of those days. 

And they found that hope because they followed a God who knew his way out of the grave. They found that hope because they had experienced the love of a God who in Jesus went to death and beyond.  They found that hope in a Savior who even as we killed him prayed for us, even forgave us.   They found that hope in a God who never, ever gives up on us, who never leaves us even when we leave him.  For with God, his love always has the last word.  His love is always a word of life, a word of hope, a hope that nothing, not even death defeats.   So, in these days, live in that hope.  If God can create a tree that can grow and have tree babies after 2000 years, if God can give his life and defeat death for us as he does it, then God will bring us through these days.   It may not happen on our timetable, but it will happen.     God will bring life out of this crisis.  God always does.   So, until that day comes, live with the perspective of trees.  Wait and hope.  Love and care.  Serve and work.  And trust in this God whose way always leads to life, even in these days.   

Monday, April 20, 2020

How Do you Find Peace and Joy in These Challenging Days? Believe it or Not, Trees Point the Way

To be honest, I’m kinda surprised.   Every day, Monday through Friday, I broadcast on Facebook Live, a walk on the labyrinth right behind our sanctuary.  And go figure, folks actually watch it.  In fact, way more folks watch those walks than watch this worship, sometimes 3 or even one time, 10 times as many.   I don’t know.  Maybe that has to do with the fact they only have to hear me talk there for about six minutes!  

And if you’ve been one of those folks that watch those walks, you’ll know when I get to the center of the labyrinth, I take a moment to look around.   And as I’ve done so, one thing I see in that look around always captures my attention.   And every time it does, just seeing it gives me a little bit of awe, along with a sense of comfort, even peace.  I think I notice it more now because I realize.  That thing I see each walk gets more attention in the Bible, after God and people, than any other living thing.  You’ll find it on the first page of the Bible and on the last page.  You’ll find it in the very first Psalm and the first page of the New Testament.   Every major event of the Bible has this living thing in some way connected to it. 

As cool as that is, this living thing shows up in all those places, because God knows it has power.  It has power to connect you more deeply to God, to each other, to the world around you.  It has power to even give you a profound sense of peace and hope and joy even in the worst of these days.   So, where can you find this living thing that has such power?   In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Have you guessed it?  Have you guessed what living thing carries such power that you find mentions of them everywhere in the Bible?  What I just read probably gives you a pretty good idea.   The living thing, beyond people, that gets more mention than anything else in the Bible is trees.   But now that you know that, so what?  

Sure, it gives you the right answer to a Bible trivia question.  But what does it do for you beyond that?   What does it matter that at the beginning of the whole story, the key choice that the first human beings face is choosing between two trees?   It matters a lot.  In fact, in that choice, you not only find the way to a life of peace and joy, of a life that is truly life.   In that choice, you find also what leads you away from that life.  You find what lies at the heart of the brokenness and pain of the human condition.     

But before you get to that choice, you need to first understand just why God focuses on trees in the first place.  Trees don’t just a central place in the Biblical story.    Trees have a central place in your story, in the whole story of this planet. 

Living on this planet, we take it for granted that stuff lives, from plants to bugs to our pets to us.  But as far as we know, all that living stuff, all of it exists nowhere else in the universe except here.  Sure, we guess something living must be out there.  But we haven’t found it.   We have found nothing else alive, not even something microscopic, anywhere else but this planet.   But on this planet, sheesh.  Life happens everywhere, even under our fingernails.   And in the Bible, when God wants to focus on the plants that lie at the center of all that life, God focuses on trees.  And that makes sense.

Right now, wherever you are, you are breathing trees.  Up until a few hundred years ago, no human being got that.  We had no idea where the stuff we breathe even came from.  One idea is it came from rocks.  People saw mist rising off the rocks and thought.  Oh, that’s where it comes from.  But if you talked to any scientist 300 years ago and said that trees were powering every moving thing on the planet, they might have laughed at you.  But go figure, it’s true.  In fact, you likely learned about that in elementary school.  But do you get what that means?   If every human being died tomorrow on this planet, trees wouldn’t be bothered a bit.   If every tree died on the planet tomorrow, every one of us would die soon after.  

So, when God talks about planting a tree of life, God isn’t just giving you a nice image.  God is telling you something profoundly true.   In fact, right inside you right now, you have a sort of tree.   Until recently, scientists weren’t able to really grasp what the inside of our lungs looked like.  But now we know.  This is what they look like.  
 Does that look like anything you’ve seen before?

And in this scripture, and in the wonders of these trees that surround us everywhere, God is telling you something absolutely, crucially important.   Everything is connected to everything else.   There is no such thing as independence anywhere, in nature, and even among us.

If we didn’t realize it before we sure realize it now.  This crisis has taught us just how interdependent we are.   Every day now we realize how many thousands of folks we depend upon to simply live, not just the folks who check us out at the grocery store or who deliver those groceries to our door.  We depend on the thousands growing it, picking it, packaging it, and then driving or flying all that stuff to us.  

And that’s where that other tree comes in, the tree that God warned Adam about.  What makes that tree so bad?   What’s wrong with knowing the difference between good and evil?

Years ago, two writers, JohnEldredge and Brent Curtis shared an insight that answered that very question.  Eldredge and Curtis wrote this: “Satan’s seduction of our heart always comes in the form of a story that offers us greater control through knowing good and evil rather than the unknowns of relationship.”  And why do we want that control?  Why do we want to know?  Well, because with relationship, it feels like you can’t really know.  Instead you have to trust, and trust can feel scary.

But in that tree and the command not to eat of it, God was asking the human beings exactly that question.  Do you trust me?  Do you trust me enough to believe what I tell you about the tree?   Are you willing to depend on me, on the wisdom I’m sharing with you, even if you don’t completely understand it?  

And these days, we’ve had to do a lot of trusting.  We’ve had to trust that when folks tell us we need to socially distance or wear masks or wash our hands we need to do that.  Now we may not completely understand all the reasons behind that.  But we simply trust that they’re telling us those things to save our lives, to save the lives of our loved ones, to save the lives of everyone.    And trust, more then you realize, holds everything together.  Trust holds marriages together. Trust holds families together. Trust holds nations together.  Now to a large extent, trust holds the whole world together.  But if you know the story, Adam and Eve didn’t trust.  They didn’t trust this God, God who had given them everything.   They wanted control.  They wanted to be the ones in charge. 

And this desire for control, this unwillingness to trust God or each other or even our very selves this lack of trust messes the world up all over the place.  And why do people not trust?  In the end, it comes down to fear.   Adam and Eve didn’t trust God because they feared.  They feared that God was holding out on them, that God didn’t want the best for them, that God didn’t really love them.  

And ever since, people have been caught up in that same fear. They have believed that same lie.   You can’t trust God.  You can’t trust anyone really.   But here’s the painful truth.   No can get away from trust.   You’re depending right now on the trees outside your window for the very air you breathe.   You’re literally living on that trust right now.  Every day, you trust countless things outside of your control just to keep you alive.

As scary as this coronavirus is, it can obscure the miracles of protection that happen every day inside your body.   Literally every day, your body kills off something that could harm or kill you and you don’t even know it.  Your antibodies along with other cells notice it, attack it, and get rid of it, and you’re none the wiser.  And fairly soon, at the most a year or two, with a little help from science, your antibodies will figure out this virus and protect you from it too.   But right now, those antibodies are already protecting you.  Every day, in countless ways, you live on trust.  And you can do that because the God who created this world is trustworthy.  You can trust, because this God does really love you. This God loves you more than you could ever imagine.   And you know that because of a tree too.

About 400 years ago, the extraordinary poet, George Herbert wrote a poem called The Sacrifice.  And in that poem, Herbert, created a work where he imagined Jesus talking to us, helping us see the suffering he willingly endured for us on the cross.  And in the middle of that poem, Herbert wrote these lines.    
O all you who pass by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;
The tree of life to all, except to me:

In Jesus, God gave up the tree of life, so he might give that tree back to you.   In Jesus, God gave up everything so you might have everything, so you might know this God does love you, even more than life itself.   And because everything is connected, that sacrifice, that gift, has changed everything for you.  It means, right now, if you are alone in your home, you are not alone.  You are never alone.  You are always connected to God, and through God, to those around you, to even the trees outside your window.  And you live in a world shaped and ordered ultimately by that love, a love you can trust, a love that has even defeated death.  And as you trust in that love, you will see it more and more.   You will behold it all around you, in the folks walking on the street, in the words of scripture that nourish you, and even in the trees that surround you.   And as you behold it, you will discover God filling you more peace, with more joy, with more love that you could have imagined possible.  So, trust in the love, for as you do you will discover life, a life more abundant, even in these days, than you could ever imagine.   

Monday, April 13, 2020

Even in the Midst of These Challenging Days, Peace and Joy Can Come. Here's How

Ok I know.  I know.   No one expected this.   No one imagined six weeks ago that not only would thousands of churches be empty on Easter.  No one imagined that those same churches would be telling you not to come.   Ok, well not exactly that.   Churches are still telling you to come, just not in person.   But still, who’d have thunk that?

Yet here we are, an Easter of empty pews, of empty stores, empty theatres, empty restaurants.  And yes, let’s be honest.  It’s been a little scary, more than a bit sobering.  So much seems uncertain.  You can’t help but wonder.  When will this end?  How many will we lose?  And when it does, what then?   But what better time than this to hear this story, in these days of empty pews and empty streets to hear this story of an empty tomb. 

When Jesus died, for his disciples, their world came crashing down.  His death shattered the future they had hoped for.  It stopped the future they thought Jesus was going to bring.   But in this story, a story that has changed everything, they see the truth.   And the truth they see changes everything.  And that truth has continued to do that, even in crisis after crisis, for two thousand years.  That same truth if you see it, if you trust it, will bring you through these days.   So, listen and hear on this day of empty pews, the story of the empty tomb.  See how that story still changes everything.          

How does this story change everything?  It shows you that the end of the story has never been about a grave.   The end of the story has always been about a garden.   And when you see that, it changes everything. 

At first, no-one gets that.   All they can see is the grave.  But when Mary gets there, the grave doesn’t have the very thing every grave needs to have.  It doesn’t have a body.  Jesus has left the tomb.   But of course, no one leaves a tomb.  Someone must have taken Jesus’ body. Imagine it.  Someone you love is brutally killed.  You bury him.  You return to the grave. Why? You simply want to be with this person you love, this person now lost to you.  And you discover.  Someone has taken your loved one.  Someone has desecrated their final resting place.  Can you imagine the pain, the horror Mary felt? 

She reaches out to two of Jesus’ closest friends, Peter and John, to tell them the news.   They come.  They see it too.   They see the empty tomb.  And they believe the only thing they can believe.  The enemies of Jesus have not been satisfied with simply killing him. They’ve taken his body too.    In that empty tomb, they don’t see a victory.   They see an overwhelming loss, a grievous, even crushing one.   And defeated, they go home.

But Mary stays.   We don’t know why she stays.  But something inside of her seems to be saying. This can’t be the end of the story.  It can’t end like this.   And indeed, as we know, it doesn’t end like this. 

But when did Mary get this? When did she know?  Strangely, it doesn’t happen when the two angels show up.   Here Mary is crying at the grave.  And two angels just all of a sudden show up?  Sheesh, you’d think she’d have a clue.   And honestly, it seems the angels think that too.  They ask her.  “Why are you weeping?”  Don’t you get it?    

But even before she can answer, she realizes.  Someone is standing behind her.  And she turns around.  And that’s when things begin to change.  

The empty tomb doesn’t do it.  The left behind graveclothes don’t do it.  The angels don’t even do it.   Why?   Mary is looking in the wrong direction.   She’s looking at the grave.  But the grave is the one place where Jesus isn’t.   So where is Jesus?  It seems he’s walking in the garden, the garden that surrounded his tomb. 

Every day I find it such a disjunction.  I listen to the news, the death toll, the struggles to find equipment and ventilators, to get enough people tested and all of that is frighteningly real.  But then I walk outside, and well, it’s beautiful.   The sun is shining.  Trees are blooming.  And I think.  Wow, it looks so normal, heck, even better than normal. We’ve had some awesome weather.     And at first, I thought.   Well, all this beauty it’s not real.  What’s real is the crisis.  But now I get it.   Both are real.  But one is far bigger than the other. 

You see, when Mary saw that tomb, she was seeing something real.  Jesus had died.  That suffering, that injustice, all that ugliness had happened.    But that’s not where she found Jesus.  She found Jesus in the garden.   In fact, at first, Mary even thinks Jesus IS the gardener.

But is she so mistaken in thinking that?  After all, what do gardeners do?       They take what looks like nothing, barren soil, and bring life out of it.   They bring beauty and abundance.  After all, where does God place the first human beings?  God places them in the garden that God created.  And when God brings about a new beginning, what better place to do it than in a garden? 

And in that garden, that garden where Mary finds Jesus, God is showing you something.  Yes, the grave exists.  It is real, far too real in these days, full of far too much death.   But the garden is far bigger.   And in the garden, God can and will bring life out of even the greatest griefs and losses.

And because Jesus’ followers saw that, Jesus led them to change everything.  And they did.  When epidemics ravaged the Roman empire, killing millions, all that many could see was the grave.   And so, they fled, leaving their friends, even their family behind to die.  But one group of people stayed, those who followed Jesus.  They knew too that the grave was real.  But they knew the garden was bigger, that the one that they had saved them could bring life out of death.  And so, they stayed and cared for the sick.  Christians even established places to care for the sick, places of hospitality.   And soon, these places simply became known as hospitals.  And because Christians looked beyond the grave, they saved thousands of lives, at times at the sacrifice of their own.  But their sacrifice became seeds.  For in those epidemics thousands upon thousands began to follow Jesus.   They wanted to know this God who could conquer the grave, who could place them in a garden even in the darkest of days.

And Christians have been doing that still.  These days, we celebrate doctors and nurses, their skills, their learning.  But did you know that up until the 20th Century, a doctor was more likely to kill you than to cure you?    In fact, you didn’t even need a college degree to become a doctor.  All you needed was the money to pay the tuition.  You didn’t even need to know how to write.   In fact, when someone suggested that the students enrolled at the top medical school in New York City should have a final written exam, the lead professor protested.   He said.  “Half of these students can’t even write.  How could they take a written exam?”  

So, when did that change?  It changed when a wealthy Christian, a Quaker decided to leave behind his wealth when he died to start a school that would do things differently.   And his fellow Quakers who oversaw that gift made that happen.   They recruited a devout young doctor named William Welch to help them start a medical school.   And William Welch went on to recruit the greatest set of medical minds that had possibly ever assembled in one place.   And together with Johns Hopkins wealth, and their passion to bring life out of death, to turn doctors from butchers to healers, Webster and his fellow doctors changed medicine forever in this country.  

And twenty-five years later in 1918, when a horrific pandemic that killed millions hit the world, Welch joined with others to stand on the front lines, and save thousands, maybe millions of lives. In fact, Webster went on to direct the first school of public health in this country to stop such loss of life from ever happening again.  And is it any wonder that Welch and many who stood with him did it because they followed a God who they knew had conquered the grave?  They knew that the grave wasn’t the end, that their God wanted them to bring healing and life into this world.   That God created not a grave but a garden, a place where life could grow and blossom. 

And that garden can appear anywhere even in a war zone.  This past week, I was listening to an interview with David Nott, a surgeon, who for years volunteered to as a doctor in some of the most terrifying war zones on the planet.   And in the interview, the person interviewing him ended with a question about his belief in God.   And Nott said this. 
And it's quite funny that there is no doubt in my mind that there is a higher being there. There's no doubt because on occasions where my life has been almost on the line, where I've felt that within, you know, split second, I'm going to die here, that I do turn - something happens in my head. And I start to pray. And I feel like I have a frequency band on the radio in my head that I turn onto. And I do go onto that frequency and I feel that I am able to talk to God. And I do feel that he is listening to me. And he's listening to my severe anxieties that I'm discussing with him. And it gives me enormous comfort to realize that I am talking to him and that he is giving me some strength back.
Even as David Nott faced death, felt it coming for him, he turned to God.  And God brought him from the grave into the garden, even in the midst of a war.   And in these days, if you but have eyes to see, you can see that garden too.  You can see it in the folks here who shared palm crosses with their neighbors or fed Hollywood’s hungry last weekend.  You can see it in those who have reached out to Marlene, one of our church family who has gone through unspeakable loss and who provided her food and friendship and a safe place to live in this crisis.   You can see it in the countless stories of everyday sacrifice and heroism that have blossomed forth in these challenging days.   But most of all, you can see it in a God who has conquered the grave, who is walking in a garden, who even when in our moments of despair, we can’t see him, he sees us.    And he reminds us that he is the resurrection and the life.  He is the beginning and the end.  And he, Jesus has the final word.   And that word isn’t a grave it’s a garden.  It’s life not death.   It’s hope not despair. 
For Easter reminds us always what time it truly is.  It’s resurrection time.  And that means.  It’s not death time.  It’s new life time.  It’s not virus has the last word time.  It’s Jesus has the last word time.   It’s not crying at the grave time.  It’s get up and help your neighbor time.   It’s not despair time.  It’s hope time.  Because it’s resurrection time.   In resurrection time, you don’t find Jesus in the grave.  You find Jesus in the garden, bringing new life, new hope, a new beginning even in these days.   So, don’t get stuck in the grave.  Because Jesus isn’t there.  Jesus is in the garden bringing new life.   So, join him there.   After all, what is it?   You know.  You can say it right where you’re sitting right now.  It’s resurrection time.   And even in a Sunday of empty pews, that is true.   So go forth and share the new life that Jesus brings, and join him in making this world a garden, a place of life and joy and beauty, even in these challenging days. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

What Is One True Thing That Can Open you To Greater Peace in These Days? Check It Out Here

I gotta admit it.  I love that my phone gives me directions.  It’s not because I don’t like asking for directions.  I don’t mind that all that much. No, what I love is now I don’t ever have to hear four words I always hated to hear. 

In the past, before GPS came along, when I didn’t know how to get somewhere, someone would invariably share these four words.   I’d say.  “I don’t know exactly where that is?”  And someone would reply, “oh don’t worry”, and then those four awful words would come. “You can follow me.”   And I’d do it, but I hated it each time.  It always stressed me out.   I’d wonder.  “Were they going to dash through a yellow light, and leave me hanging back at the red?”  Or would they suddenly cross three lanes on the highway to take an exit, making me risk life and limb to stay close?”  

Now most of the time, people didn’t do any of those things, but they could have!  I hated that feeling of dependence, that I needed them to get where I needed to go.  I wanted to be in control.  

I think about those days as I struggle to live with all these directions in the era of Covid 19, singing Jingle Bells to make sure I’ve washed my hands for 20 seconds, or making sure I’ve waited long enough for the hand sanitizer to take full effect or on those dangerous trips to the grocery store making sure I don’t touch my face. Heck, I get frustrated that I have to talk to you through this camera rather than see you face to face.   Now, I still do those things and more, but I don’t like it.   I don’t want this little virus dictating my life   I want to be in charge. 

But of course, that virus has simply told us something that was true all along.   And honestly, only when you realize that truth, only when you accept it, will you become open to a life of true fulfillment and peace.  What is this truth.  In this story, Jesus shows you.  So, let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

Life can seem to feel better when you know you’re in control, when you are in charge.  But here’s the truth, even when you think you’re in control, you’re not.  And only as you realize that, as you accept that, will you find the very life you’re seeking.  In fact, only as you become willing to let go of control and become willing to trust, will the life you yearn for truly come.   Just look at this story.   These disciples had to let go and trust Jesus in a pretty bizarre way.   

Put these words into your context for a minute.   You and Jesus and the disciples are going to go to Miami, but you don’t have any wheels, so Jesus says, “Go into Hollywood, and right by the McDonald’s you’ll find a Red Honda.  The door will be unlocked and the keys right in it.  And drive it over here.  If anyone asks anything, tell them don’t worry the Lord has need of it.”   Sounds a little crazy. 

Yet it works.  But still, you might think.  Jesus, you’re asking a lot here.  Can’t I just do it my way?   My cousin’s buddy has a donkey.   Why don’t I borrow his, Jesus, rather than trust your wacky directions?   Even if Jesus’ directions would work, it might just feel better to be the one setting the agenda, taking charge, making the decisions.

But here’s what people don’t often see.   When you are going through your life, seemingly setting the agenda, taking charge, you’re not really.   All sorts of things outside of your control impact you every day.   You don’t control the weather.  You don’t control the traffic.  You don’t even control your own body.   Try stopping your heart, or just try to avoid blinking.  Heck, haven’t you discovered how hard it is to not touch your face?    And even the things you think you do control, you don’t really.  

This past week, as I headed into work, I couldn’t find the hot cup that I put my tea in.  It wasn’t in the car’s cup-holder.  I thought.  Maybe I left it on the kitchen counter. I’m still not too far down the road.  Let me turn around and check.  But the hot cup wasn’t there.  It wasn’t anywhere.  I looked through the whole house like three times, no cup.  Then I thought.  I know where it is.  I got in the car. I slowly drove along the road.  And there my poor cup lay, beaten yet somehow intact on the side of the road.  I had brought it to the car, yet not inside it.  But here’s the deal.   I don’t ever remember any of that happening.  I’m still amazed that driving along, I didn’t even notice the thing falling off the car.  Sheesh.       

Have you ever had a moment like that?   Here’s the truth.  Our sense of control is kind of an illusion.    But still, even if it is, why give up the illusion?    But here’s what our current circumstances have reminded us of.   Not giving up the illusion can kill you. 

When things started shutting down, you started hearing the objections.  Is this really necessary?   People are losing their jobs.  The stock market is crashing.  Let’s get back to work.   But then the deaths started piling up.  The projections of what could be began to be heartbreakingly real.   And everyone realized.  No leaders or country can set this agenda.  No, the virus does that.   And if we don’t accept that, millions could die. 

Still, letting go and trusting scientists, doctors, people like that.  That makes sense.  But why does it make sense to let go and trust someone like Jesus to point the way?  Why did the disciples do it? 

They realized.  Jesus’ directions didn’t need to make sense to them. What mattered is they made sense to Jesus. I mean.  Over the years, they’d seen Jesus do lots things that made no sense.  Yet when he did them amazing things happened.  Jesus took five loaves and two fish and feed thousands.  Jesus had rubbed mud on the eyes of a blind man and made him see.   So they think.  If Jesus tells us there’s a donkey in town that’s ours to take, we’ll do it.  All we need to know is trust that he knows more than we do, to trust he has a plan even if we can’t see it.    

In these days of Covid 19, I’ve started a daily weekday practice of walking our labyrinth outside on Facebook Live.  Now as I’ve shared on those videos, a labyrinth, it’s not a maze.   You can’t get lost in it.  If you follow the path, it will always lead you to the center.  But it won’t always make sense.  The path will seem to be taking you away from the center, but if you keep trusting it, it will get you there.   And that’s why we put it there.   God works in your life the same way.   And if you walk the labyrinth path, it has the power to remind you of that.   And that’s why I do it each weekday.  It reminds me that if I trust the path, that God will bring me, will bring you, will bring us, where we need to be, even in these uncertain, unpredictable days.   You don’t need to know where that will be.  You just need to trust that God will somehow, some way, get you there.

After all, when his disciples took this winding path to the donkey, it probably didn’t make sense to them.  Then, after his death and resurrection, they went back and looked at the prophecies from the Old Testament and realized.  “Oh, that’s why he did it.”     

And as they realized that, they realized this.  Jesus was following too.   Jesus was following a path that would lead to his death.  And on that path, Jesus, God in the flesh, willingly gave up all his power, even power over his very life.     And why did Jesus follow that path.  He did it because only letting go like that would bring healing, would wholeness, would bring joy and peace not for Jesus but for you, for me.  He let go like that because God loves you like that.  God loves you so much he let go of his life itself so you might have it, so you might it, in abundance and forever.     

For Jesus’ letting go didn’t end in death.  It ended in life, a life that defeated even death forever. And if God’s letting go has done that for you, you can let go and trust that God too.  You can let go, and trust in God’s love for you.  You can let go, and trust that even in all this fear and uncertainty God is still working.  After all, if God was working in the awfulness of the cross, then God can work anywhere.   So, wash your hands, do the social distancing.  Control the things you can.   Accept the things you can’t.  And trust that this God,, who loves you more than you can imagine, is still at work even when you can’t see where that path leads.  And in that letting go, in that trusting, you will discover the very life you always yearned to have.