This Sunday is the second Sunday of Lent. Last week, I introduced the idea of Lent being a journey toward God’s heart for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first step of embarking on this journey is to embrace God’s heart for us. The Lord is calling us and will accompany us along the way.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
We start on a journey to reach a destination, but we often make discoveries as we continue along the path set before us. Sometimes these discoveries are serendipities, other times they are specifically sought after. One thing is certain, though, we need to have a heart that is open and willing to see what the Lord wants to reveal to us.
I pray that as we seek the Lord with all our heart and discover God’s unconditional love and empowering grace, we will lean into our Lenten journey, aligning ourselves with the Lord’s plans for us and trusting that we will find God’s heart.
I really struggled writing this installment in The Way Up Is Down series. The fact is that I am IN the process of “through.” It’s also true that I’m scared as hell doing the “downward” work, yet…
To get through, we must go deep.
We all can get through, but unless we go deep and address the issues that we are facing as we go through, we’ll be back here again before too long.
When I first posted this thought experiment on Instagram back in January, a friend of mine commented, “the enemy’s gate is down…” Immediately I began to debate in my mind the meaning of down in his comment, directionally down or functionally down. Of course, it is directionally down. But you can’t take down your enemy’s gate unless you go down to do it.
My next question was, “Who is my enemy?” I knew the answer to that right away. Me! I am my enemy. To overcome your enemy, you must know what makes him tick. That means I must discover and take responsibility for the actions and decisions that got me here.
“A lot of people…have a problem being true to they self. They have a problem looking into the mirror and looking directly into their own souls. The reason I can…walk around, the reason I am who I am today is because I can look directly into my face and find my soul.”
— Tupac Shakur
If I can “look into my face and find my soul,” then I will no longer be my own enemy. This takes courage. This is deep work. I may not like what I find, but unless I do the work, I will only be getting by instead of going through.
There is so much more to say, and I’ve left out a lot, but I will finish with this. Though this is personal work, it’s not solitary work. I have sought the help of friends and professionals to do this downward work. In a way, this is another aspect of going down, because it forces us to embrace humility. It’s allowing others to see our shadow side, trusting they won’t reject us, and taking their hand as they help us up.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 (NIV)
This is the hope of all of this. That we would find our way up. That we would rise with a new appreciation for life, love, and community, with our feet firmly grounded and our hearts centered in these realities.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
— Serenity Prayer
For Lent this year, I chose to do the Whole 30 eating plan. I wasn’t feeling well in the area of digestion. I never felt hungry, always a bit bloated, and quite lethargic. I knew something had to change in the way I was eating. The Whole 30 isn’t a diet, per se, rather a gastric reset. The goal isn’t weight loss, but digestive health. The Whole 30 prescribes eliminating all processed foods, added sugars, grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol. It wasn’t easy, but with the program being time bounded, 30 days, it was doable. I made it.
Even though I saw the program through, I don’t feel that I made much progress. There was more to the process than I anticipated. I think this may be true with anything we do to bring about change in our life. We start the process by implementing a program. We reach the end of the program, expecting to be done with the process, only to find out that the program was only the beginning of the process.
Programs reveal, empower, and relieve. They show us what needs to change and give us tools to make changes, which provide a sense of relief. If we are honest with ourselves, though, this is only scratching the surface of a much larger, longer, and deeper process of change.
I know that I need to revisit the Whole 30. I also know that there are a few other programs that I need to revisit in order to continue processes I previously started. This begs the question. Will I ever be done? Will there be an end to the process? I feel the answer is yes and no.
Yes. Most processes will come to an end. The process will have done its work. You will emerge in a better place, state, stage, etc. Even though the active work of the process will be done, you will continue to carry the work of the process. It will be assimilated into your life and will inform how you live your life. The work won’t feel like work, because it will just be life.
No. We will never not be in some sort of process. Life is full of destinations and arrivals. Finally arriving, in which we will never need to be in process, is not for this life. Sanctification, enlightenment, or whatever you choose to describe this arrival, has within it a recognition of incompleteness. Our completeness is found when we realize that we are a part of a larger whole. We are incomplete, and yet we make whole that which is incomplete without us. These little arrivals empower us to continue on in the process of living this life and even encourage others to begin their own process.
The way out is through.
“Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me?’ Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
John 16:19-20 (NIV)
Seeing a process through can be very difficult. From the passage above, Jesus said you will weep and mourn. It will seem like you are the only one going through your process. It will feel like others are rejoicing. They’re not. Their life will just look different than yours. There will come a time when the process will come to an end. Your grief will turn to joy.
The way out is through.
Grace and peace,
I got this tattoo for my 45th birthday. It reminds me to stay engaged in my processes. When people ask me what it means, my short answer is, “My story is not finished.”
You know something’s got to give
A change needs to be made
It’s not just bettering for better’s sake
It’s not sustainable anymore and without change, it will only get worse.
Even though things are good, better is coming sooner than later.
Things are going so well, that space needs to be made for the real growth that is happening.
Like a child outgrowing her shoes or a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, the way up is forcing its way out.
Stress and pressure are powerful motivators for change. Even though stress and pressure are uncomfortable, and even painful, it is not all bad either. The above examples are two ends of a spectrum. These ends represent the need for change due to negative or positive stimuli. Moving toward the middle, the stimuli reduces. It has been said that the only constant in life is change. Even in the middle of the spectrum where motivating stimuli is minimal, change is inevitable.
We all find ourselves somewhere along this spectrum. The thing to do is to get a bird’s eye view of your situation. Where are you along this spectrum? And, if you find yourself somewhere around the middle, are you experiencing a respite, the doldrums, or are you like the frog in the pot, unaware that the temperature is slowly rising?
With last weekend being Easter, I’m reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples during his last supper with them before his passion. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 (NASB) In this Jesus reveals that in order for his disciples to make the greatest impact, he would need to step aside and let them follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, just as he himself had done.
Where do you identify in this story? With Jesus, realizing that he was the bottleneck for his followers’ development as leaders? Or, with the disciples, understanding that growth only comes when we push our limits, explore other paths, and follow the Spirit’s lead (John 16:13)? The way up is out.
As a personal example, my attention to this blog has been intermittent at best. I have been preoccupied, and at times even overwhelmed, by other more pressing things. This has led to a lack of output, which leads to a sense of stagnation. Yet, not a day goes by where I feel I have got to write something. I miss this. I miss writing for you and for me. My heart tells me that in order to get beyond this stuck, plateaued, and stagnate feeling, I need to put myself out there, start writing again, and open myself again to the flow of thought, creativity, composition, and correspondence. The way up is out.
Of course, this is only one of many areas in my life that need me to be brave and find the way out that leads up.
Enacting change doesn’t have to be drastic. The idea I’m trying to share is to be proactive. Evaluate, make a plan, and start. Start small, but start. The key is that the change we make takes us out of our old patterns that weren’t working and onto a new path with new goals and new outcomes. We can allow change to happen to us, or we can gain a bit of perspective and enact the change for ourselves. It’s all up to you, and it’s all unto me. My hope is that as we examine our situation, we find the areas that need change and the pathway out that will eventually lead up.
In this post I would like to expand the thought process I shared last week. This will be a high-level approach, with not much detail. I hope with this that it will provide an overview that will lead to more in depth exploration and discussion.
The way up is out
The way out is through
The way through is down
The way up is out.
Progress. Improvement. Development. Increase.
Not an exhaustive list, but enough to point out that as a species, humans are upwardly focused. This is all good, except when we try to go up with sheer effort. It’s no secret that the greatest gains and largest strides of improvement happen when we think outside of the box or take an outside perspective. To do this involves appreciatively setting aside our accomplishments and trusting the process, even when out looks nothing like up.
The way out is through.
Stepping out is probably the most difficult aspect of this process. It goes against everything in our nature. For the most part, our survival depends on security. Moving outside of our comfort zone challenges the very notion of security. For this very reason, we need to go through this process in order to see security for what it is, what it does, and what it hinders us from doing. Walking through will bring us face to face with our values, passions, commitments, and messages. This will be painful. It may feel like it will never end. Our demons will scream louder than our angels. You may even die to things you never thought we an issue. Just when you think you can’t go through any further, you will find out that you are not alone in this process. The community gained on the journey will make the pain of the process worth every tear.
The way through is down.
We relate the negative with going down, negative thoughts, actions, relationships, and events. The reality, though, is that no one is immune from negativity. The negative provides the opportunity for us to ask questions that can give us a deeper understanding of ourselves, our relationships, and our world. This depth of understanding gives us the foundation to realize a depth of living we never thought possible. Few would say that personal and interpersonal depth is negative or down, rather positive and the source of life’s highlights.
This thought process has come full circle. It gives us a view of the terrain ahead. Having walked through this process a time or two, I don’t wish it upon anyone, but discovering its benefits, I do encourage all who are not willing to settle with whatever the world gives you to embrace this process.
While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:6-7, CEB
Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.
This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful for you and everyone that makes up our dear church family, locally and abroad. I trust that you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. All I have is a simple encouragement to share with you this week.
When you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, take a moment for yourself and sit off to the side, but in view of where everyone is gathered. Pause, and with a few deep breaths, take in what you see with a heart of gratitude.
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous, your whole body also is full of light.” – Jesus, Luke 11:34, NIV
Let the transformative power of gratitude can give you a fresh perspective on the moment as you breathe in God’s love and grace for you today.
I had the privilege of offering a prayer at my friends’ wedding last night. As I was saying a few words of introduction prior to the prayer, I quipped to the wedding couple, Michael and Stacey, that it’s difficult for me to do anything without making a theological statement. Below is the prayer I offered.
Deliciousness! Courtesty of Chef Cesar Alvarado.
Lift up your heads. Unfold your hands. And, look around at the wonderful people you are sharing this moment with, especially Michael and Stacey.
God, we thank you for this beautiful day and this beautiful new family, Mike and Stacey Reed.
We also thank you for this meal that is set before us, and the honor to share in it with Mike and Stacey, since it is their first meal together as husband and wife.
God, you established the sharing of a meal as more than just replenishing our bodies with the necessary nutrition for the next few hours.
And we thank you that when we sit down to eat together, we are not only sharing food with one another, but a bit or ourselves as well.
This is why eating together is enjoyable and something to be cherished.
God, you gave us Jesus as an example for our lives, even how to share a meal.
We see that during his life time, Jesus showed us the importance of sharing a meal together. At the wedding feast in Cana, he allowed himself to be revealed as more than just a tradesman, but as your son, bearing your glory as he provided better wine, which was only moments before, water in stone vessels. That must have been a great party!
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he chose to eat with those whom he cared for, whether they be a high ranking religious leader or a street level outcast, that in his day would have been called “unclean.” By eating with them, he declared their dignity as your sons and daughters by cherishing them as individuals and enjoying the moments they shared together.
Lastly, when Jesus was preparing himself to go to the cross, he shared a last meal with his disciples. This last supper revealed your love for us with the bread being a symbol of Christ’s broken body and the wine as his shed blood, both for our healing and restoration and a reminder of your enduing covenant to be integrally involved with us in every aspect of our lives. For you, God, are most often found where you are least expected, even down to the simple and routine moments of life.
God, we know that when we sit down together to share a meal, we can trust that a few things can happen. We can learn a bit about one another as we allow ourselves to be known. We can experience a sense of the divine when we honor the dignity of the ones we’re with as your children. Lastly, we can be nourished in body, soul, and spirit as we take the time to allow this meal to be all that you intended it to be for us.
Now, as our stomachs are grumbling in anticipation for this wonderful meal prepared by Chef Cesar Alvarado, we again give you thanks for Mike and Stacey, their marriage, and this honor to enjoy with them their first meal as a husband and wife.
We pray this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.
You may be like me, curious about the song we hear sung just after the stroke of midnight of New Year’s Day – Auld Lang Syne. When I was a kid I thought the words were “Old Anxine,” and that people were singing about not having anxiety anymore about what happened last year. Once I learned what the words actually were, I just said to myself, “Oops!” and didn’t give it much thought, except on New Year’s Eve.
“Auld Lang Syne” was originally a Scottish poem that was later set to music. The phrase “auld lang syne” translates literally to “old long since” in English and means something akin to “times gone by.”
The song refrains that, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” I feel that it is generally agreed upon that taking or lifting a cup, as in a toast, is for the purpose of remembering. Since we actually only sing the first verse and chorus on New Year’s, the song for us is about remembering old friends and times gone by.
I think it is noteworthy that this song is sung at New Year’s celebrations, because the new year is synonymous with “Out with the old, and in with the new!” at least in western cultures. So, what would an appropriate response be as the calendar date turns from 2015 to 2016, and how shall we treat the previous year?
First of all, we let go. There is nothing we can do to change the past. Second, we remember. How has the previous year shaped us, for good or not, through experiences, and by people and God? Remembering is important, because it helps us to take stock of what we learned, how we’ve grown, who we loved, and who loved us. Lastly, we move on. Here we choose what we take with us into the new year (new season, new day, next moment). By this, I mean, “What do we choose to focus on?” “What do we let fall to the wayside?” and “How do we walk with those who are closest to us?” *
This can all seem quite overwhelming, but it reminds me of what Jesus told his disciples during his last evening with them.
“The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.”
(John 14:26, CEB)
As they were edge of a new season, Jesus comforted them and reminded them that God, through the Holy Spirit, will help them move on into the new day before them and as the people they have become by spending the last three years with Jesus.
As we step into the new year of 2016, I pray that we have hearts to listen to the Holy Spirit as we seek to let go, remember, and move on into the new day that God has created for us to enjoy. And we can also sing with confidence the traditional song, Auld Lang Syne, knowing that remembering is a part of living life to the fullest for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.
Grace and peace,
In all reality, nothing is ever left behind. Everything we have experienced has brought us to who we are and where we are in life. It is our choice, though, what we do and how we live now, so that we become our best for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.
Three days per week I get to drive my daughter, Lydia, to Fremont High School. As the days shorten, the sun is usually rising as we drive. The sunrise is at our backs as we drive to school, but when I head over to my office, the sunrise is right in front of me. It is always a gorgeous way to come to work! Most mornings the sunrise is brilliant oranges and yellows. This morning I was treated to a show of blues, grays, and pastel oranges. The photo doesn’t do it justice. I saw colors I’m not sure I have ever noticed before, particularly a blue that was like a pale robin’s egg blue with hints of aqua. There was also a pale peach color, warm, soft, and reassuring. As you can tell, I was taken by the morning sky!
This sunrise reminded me of a passage I read earlier this week.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
(Psalms 104:1-3, NIV)
Whether we acknowledge it or not, God is amazing! God’s handiwork is magnificent! God provides it for our enjoyment, encouragement, and as a vehicle for our praise. I already touched on the enjoyment piece above. The aspect of encouragement comes from the fact that we can hold these images in our minds as memorials to God’s greatness, faithfulness, and love. Even though we can’t see a sunrise at will, we can remember and gain confidence that the same God that created this glorious sunrise lives within us and through the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us. We just need to pause, remember, reflect, and allow God’s loving words to settle in our hearts. This is why the Psalmist reminds us to “Praise the Lord, my soul.” Praise opens our awareness to the beauty of God’s creation and the greatness of God’s love, setting us on course to receive the grace made available to us if we, again, pause, remember, and reflect.