Jesus Is A Conqueror… Just Not the Conqueror We Expected

A Reflection on John 12:12-19

We need a savior. Trapped in our homes, we search for salvation from an invisible enemy. Our leaders give us daily reports on the progress of the virus, and our progress toward fighting it. It looks like we are losing ground every day. More cases and more death cause our spirits to fail. The enemy is winning, we need a savior.

However, our savior is not coming, at least not in the way we expect a Savior to come. Jesus didn’t come to free us from our homes, or to bring us a vaccine, or an antidote or our current circumstance, instead Jesus came to bring freedom from captivity to sin, freedom from the result of our missing the mark, and freedom to truly live.

I wish nothing more than to preach that Jesus came to conquer CoViD-19, and that we don’t need to stay in our homes because Jesus has made us immune from the effects of this nasty disease, but that simply isn’t true. Just as so many that were sitting on the side of the road as Jesus came into Jerusalem, thought that Jesus had come to kick out the Romans, and liberate the nation, Jesus has bigger plans than we do, a greater focus, and longer view on salvation.

Jesus didn’t come just to save the day, but rather Jesus came to save us for all eternity. Let us look at how the Gospel of John captures the moment that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeting as a conquering Savior and King.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 

“Hosanna!” 

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  

“Blessed is the king of Israel!” 

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; 

see, your king is coming, 

seated on a donkey’s colt.”  

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. 

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” 

Hosanna! Save us now! Jesus came to do that, but not in the way that the people expected as he rode into the city, as a Man of Peace, not a conquering warrior. May we too allow Jesus to conquer our hearts with God’s Peace on this Palm Sunday, allowing the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Peace show us how to be more than conquerors through the Peace that surpasses all understanding.

The Expectations

The people of Israel were shackled by Rome. They kept hoping that someone was going to break them free from the bondage, a bondage that was set upon them from a conquering government. Throughout history Israel rose up, and each of these rebellions was squelched, and resulted in a half-blood king put in control with the authority given by Rome. The government put in place was established to keep peace in the region. Even with these “peacekeepers” in place, it was still apparent that the people were under Rome’s control. 

Through the experience of being in the control of Rome, people are always looking for a liberator. The people have heard about Jesus, and that he was healing people, shaking up the establishment by spending time with the people that were cast aside, and even bringing back people from the dead. Jesus certainly had the power to throw out the Romans and bring freedom to the people of Israel.

Just like the people of Israel, we expect Jesus to swoop in like a Superman, and bring us salvation from all the evils of the world. This has only amplified in recent years. We look to the government to help, for the evils of the world. Whether the evils be seen as war with other countries, greed, corruption, hunger, illness, and oppression. Unfortunately, even the most powerful in the world cannot eradicate the source of this evil, because it lies within our sinful nature.

When we expect our heroes to save us, we need to make sure that we are no longer contributing to the problem. Sin gets in the way, it blocks our path to the Father, and leads to some horrific circumstances. Sin leads to war, hopelessness, hatred, pain, disease, famine, heartbreak, and ultimately death. Israel set up a system to deal with sin, but it involved death, and was a cycle that became never ending and unredeemable. The nature of the unredeemed sin contributes to further suffering and further death.

The world needed a conqueror to break us free, and the Justice League nor the Avengers would be capable of breaking the world free from the effect of sin. That is where Jesus stepped in to save not only the day, but our lives for all of eternity. Our first step away from the tyranny of sin, is recognizing that the conqueror we want is much much less than the role of conqueror that Jesus Christ came to fulfill.

The Reality

We got a foretaste of how Jesus came to show the world what His mission was in the world. Throughout the Earthly ministry of Jesus, people were healed, freedom from sin was proclaimed, the lame walked, demons were cast out, and even the dead were brought back to life. All of these miracles gave people the hope that Jesus was coming to change the world, and they got their Hosanna voices primed.

Jesus, however, did not come marching into Jerusalem with an army. Instead he came on a symbol that was the antithesis, a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of coming in peace, thus telling the world that he was coming to bring peace and not war, coming to make peace between man and God, coming to deal with sin once and for all.

Like many of you, I wish that God would make a single finger snap and this entire pandemic would all go away. That is the conqueror I want, but instead of giving us what we want God gave us what we needed. In Jesus Christ, God dealt with sin and death, God took care of the root problem, in order for God’s people to be able to rise up against the effects of that sin.

The people of God can then rise up and bring the Kingdom of God to the World and overthrow the oppression, the evil, the illnesses that run rampant. The people of God come armed with Hope, Peace, Joy, Mercy, Faith, and Love, and against these no weapon or disease can prosper, not even CoViD-19.

As much as we are frustrated that the effects of sin are still present among us, we have the knowledge that Jesus conquers all, and that death has already been defeated. This doesn’t make hardship obsolete or invisible, but it makes it manageable because of our faith that God is bigger than any problem we have on Earth, and that through the mercy of God, and the saving power of Christ Jesus we are saved. Saved by a loving God that sent Christ Jesus to die on a cross, and raised Him from the dead, so that sin and death would forever be conquered.

What It Means To Live

A Reflection on Romans 8:5-11

For many of us life looks different today than it did a month ago. For those that work, and are still working, the environment has changed. No more large meetings in person, which for many of us is probably a good thing, no catching up with co-workers around the water cooler, workspaces have been moved further apart, physical distancing has introduced foreign concepts and movements that we find different. Many workers have transitioned from the office environment to a virtual workspace where people connect through video conferencing and online workspaces, trying to manage working from home, while being home with kids or spouses or dogs and cats.

Our social lives have also changed significantly. We cannot go to that friend’s house and chat, or meet up for lunch, we are not allowed to go to Disneyland or the beach or even the mountains, but instead we are instructed that we are safer at home, and that we can only go out for essential items. Even our churches have shuttered the doors, and we encourage our congregations to listen to the advice of our health professional and stay home.

So much of what we LIVE FOR has been taken away, if even for a little bit, and it makes us question what is life if I can’t do these things that I love to do? We miss our friends, we miss going out of our homes, we miss the mountains, we miss the ocean, we miss Disneyland, we miss worshipping together in-person, we miss what life was like before CoViD-19.

One thing remains, God is present with us, and reminds us what we need to keep our minds focused upon Him, not just now, when we are cooped up inside our homes, but at all times. What does God desire of you? Our minds, our bodies must always be focused upon who God is in the world, and the person God desires each of us to be in the midst of His Creation.

The apostle Paul reminds us how we are supposed to maintain the mindset that there are things of the flesh as well as things set upon the SPIRIT, and that flesh fails and falls away, but SPIRIT endures no matter what happens in the world around us. Let us look at the words of Paul as we examine and choose how we are going to live and think.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 

Right away Paul reminds us that how we think, establishes our priorities and our focus. Therefore we must set aside our thoughts to focus upon that which is life-giving and eternal instead of those things that seem completely natural at this time. When we are focused upon the God that is always in control of our lives, we do not need to worry about whether we have enough, because God provides for us at all times.

Living According to the Flesh

If we think about selfish things, we will act selfishly, but if we think about serving God, we will act as God’s servants. Selfishness, like viruses, is contagious. Unfortunately, because of our sinful nature, we “naturally” act out in what we think is our own self interest. This mentality leads people to hoard in times of crisis, to elbow our neighbor out of the way when we are trying to get the last package of toilet paper from the shelf. It also causes us to think only about our own personal joy and happiness instead of the health and wellness of our neighbors.

Because of this, we should not be surprised that people have been flocking to the beach, parks, and trails even if they are being told to stay at home. Most people think that they are going to be affected by CoViD-19, and therefore they don’t need to change their routines, even if their actions may adversely affect those that they come in contact with, the selfish thought wins and they do what they want to do.

While it may be easy to look at people that aren’t following the rules and say we aren’t like that, we must understand that we are still sinners and because of our sin, our “natural” thinking will also lead us to the nature of serving ourselves instead of serving God. We think about the things we are missing out on, and we want to scream and shout at people that are not acting as they ought. Some of us engage in less than polite conversation on social media or in conversations with our loved ones. We get frustrated by those that we are stuck in the house with, and we are not the most loving people to those that are closest to us. These thoughts and actions are the outcome of the fact that we still are affected by our sinful nature.

Paul tells us that living according to the flesh leads to death. Some project that an outcome of the “Safer At Home” Order is going to be an increase in the domestic violence reports and the divorce rate. Projections like this are evidence that we indeed will see a lot of these “deaths” because of the sin that is pervasive in our life. While we may not be party to this overt violence in our homes, our anger, our thoughts, and our frustrations show us that we too have undealt with sin in our lives.

The law was established by God to keep our sinful nature in check, to be able to give humanity an ability to get right with God, to understand that our sin had a cost. The cost of that sin was sacrificing life, giving up the life of an animal so that we could be made right with God. Ultimately, humanity even perverted that system of sin and death through corruption, greed, and trying to use God’s law as a weapon against people. Therefore, God had to redeem us through His Son Christ Jesus to protect and save humanity from the virus that sin had become in the world. 

Our relationship with Christ is how we move from death in sin to a life in the Spirit, for the Spirit reveals to us the path to peace with God, and true living. We must, however, be willing to cast off the life of sin that leads to death and destruction, and move into life, because even with all our might we cannot please God by living in our own power, but rather we must be obedient to the Spirit that empowered Christ to shun sin, and make a path to forgiveness and life.

Living According to the Spirit

This new living according to the Spirit is available to us when we are willing to give up our sinful lifestyle, and submit our lives completely to God. When we allow the work of the Holy Spirit to instruct us how to live, and allow God’s Righteousness to wash over us so that we no longer seek to dwell in our sin, but rather step forward into living fully obedient to God’s instruction and law, and becoming people that bring peace, hope, and love to the world.

This type of living does not think of self, but rather moves through all the aspects of our life and transforms us into the people we need to be in order to proclaim the change Christ has made in us. We are called to bring hope to the hopeless. We have all spoken to someone that has lost sight of hope in the midst of this global pandemic. For those that read the newspaper or watch the news there are repeated stories that project gloom upon the world. Those that use social media there are people panicking and arguing on all fronts. Our world needs hope, our world needs the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, the Spirit that LIVES in you to bring lasting HOPE. It is this HOPE that proclaims that the Almighty God is in control and that we need to yield to God at this time.

Who do you know that is worried right now? Give them a call. Who do you know that is in need right now? Go help fill that need. Who do you know that is panicking and full of anxiety? Bring them the PEACE of God. Living according to the Spirit is listening to the world with one ear and God’s prompting with the other and allowing the Spirit of God to move you into places that you are needed to help bring forth God’s Kingdom to a world that needs a major dose of PEACE.

Just as Christ brought peace between us and God, so too are we called to bring peace to the world. Even in chaos, God provides peace to those that are struggling. The beauty of God’s Kingdom, is that He allows us to be a part of that peace making. In times of wars between nations, peace and restoration spark an end to the fighting and destruction, and similarly God’s PEACE seeks to end our hostility with God, and bring a fullness and wholeness to all of humanity through Christ’s saving power. No longer is there a need to bring one another down in a Twitter or Facebook argument, no longer are we to spread lies and misinformation, no longer are we to split and divide people, but rather we are to seek restoration and unity, wholeness and strength.

With this understanding of our role in spreading Christ’s life-giving peace in this world, may we think about the words we use with one another. The enemy gets a foothold when God’s people are divided and weak, but when we focus upon Christ, and upon the miraculous work that the SPIRIT of LIFE worked in raising Christ from the dead, we no longer dwell in the darkness and despair, but rather we remember that God is ALIVE, and brings us a PEACE that surpasses all understanding. 

Any scan of the situation we are in right now, we see a world that needs to understand that fear, panic, selfishness, anger, and hatred are not bringing any of us life. These are all paths that lead us to division, destruction, and death, because they all build upon each other and cause us to think that we are in charge of our own ability to live. This is a stark contrast to the understanding that Christ is the source of life, and not each of us. Christ brings us LIFE, and the way to this life comes through Righteousness and Hope and Peace and Love. These things should define the way we live, because that is truly living. 

The danger is when we start to think that life requires hoarding, acting out of our own self-interest, disobeying the law because it interferes with my happiness, and setting everyone straight. This is dangerous and leads to death. Not just death from any illness, but death from the worst type of illness, SIN. Sin doesn’t bring life, but rather it leads to separation from God.

Fortunately, Christ is the cure to this illness, Christ, through the power of the Spirit, conquers death to bring us LIFE, true LIFE. Living is checking on the elderly, giving to the needy, being a peacemaker in the midst of the arguing going on around us, giving hope to the hopeless, providing grace to those that have hurt you, and listening to the Holy Spirit to bring God’s Kingdom to the Earth. 

May this LIFE move through us, not only today, or in this time of pandemic, but all of our days that we may lean on the power of Christ and the SPIRIT of LIFE whenever we are in need of peace, hope, and God’s enduring love.

The Lord Shepherds Us Through Darkness

The Twenty-Third Psalm

Darkness, separation, isolation, despair, and hopelessness abound in this day and age. With pandemics, viruses, social distancing, selfishness, hoarding, and panic describing how much of the world is reacting to crisis, the church should be different, and offer a counter-narrative to the world. Hope, peace, charity, love, selflessness, joy, and faith need to be our hallmarks right now. Even if we are not pleased with the condition of the world, and we shouldn’t be, we must respond to the darkness with hope. 

David, a man after God’s own heart, saw darkness, experienced tremendous loss, and had his life threatened on many occasions. In the midst of these dire situations, he teaches us about this hope, through the way he addresses God. He never loses sight that God is in control, so we too should never lose sight that God is in control. This is apparent as we look at one of the best known Psalms, the 23rd Psalm.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Forever.

The Psalm reminds us that we have a God that loves us, cares for us, and instructs us in all times. There is nothing that separates us, pulls us away from the provision that is found in God’s grace. Even when the world becomes dark and it looks like evil is winning each and every day, God is beside us, gently leading us into places of peace and restoration. The Lord Almighty, creator of the universe, comes alongside us and shepherds us in our time of need away from fear and into hope.

Our Shepherd

During uncertain times, we find that we are desperate to be led. Unfortunately, the default for many is a descent into panic and fear. We see no exception today, with images of people rushing into the stores to buy up all the supplies, hand sanitizer, soap, toilet paper, and non-perishable food. The world economic markets are crashing because they do not like uncertainty, but none of us can tell what the future holds. The source of the uncertainty is our belief that we had control. Furthermore, it is our lack of faith that God is in control of our circumstance and our lives. While the adage states, that “nothing is certain, except death and taxes,” our faith must instruct us that nothing is certain except that God is in control.

When we begin to submit our lives to God, we then will seek God in the midst of everything. The Psalm opens up with a clear statement about God, and our relationship with God, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” This is a two-fold recognition about the character of God, as a shepherd God cares for His creation and desires for His people to remain safe, and fulfilled, and it recognizes that we have no need that God is not able to provide. 

Therefore, it is imperceptible to have God’s people, those that are part of His flock, go out to the stores and stockpile supplies at this time. If we truly believe that God is in control then we should be gathering what we need for a week, and not being the cause of shortages. If anything, we should be looking out for one another, and be aware that there are many people that simply cannot afford to go out and stockpile. We need to be looking out for one another, and if anything we need to help those of us that need assistance at this time.

The Lord, as our shepherd, instructs us where to go and what to do. This is not because God is ruthless or self-serving, but because it restores us and keeps us safe and whole. Lay down in the pasture, find restoration along the still water, receive the healing that we need in our bodies, these are all the desires of a shepherd that loves His flock. There is a calm confidence and knowledge that God leads His people with, a calm confidence that desires for us to live lives fully in line with God’s law, because He knows what is life giving, and what is destructive. 

The calm and stillness we are all called to do in this Psalm is life giving. God calls on us to bring this peace to the world around us, and not react to the world by ramping up anxiety, fear, and panic, but rather we must be calm, rational, and healing. 

As churches throughout our community have made the decision to not hold regular services, there has been some criticism that we are being fearful of the virus, and contributing to the fear and panic. However, this is far from truthful, the church instead is responding to this out of love and care for our congregations, as we want to help keep people safe, and as such seek to allow God to shepherd us at this time, and follow God’s example to be sacrificial and caring to the congregation. That is why we have implemented the necessary physical distancing as suggested by the government. This does not mean that we cut off communication or connection, but rather because we serve a God that is not confined by physical space, you joining us here is worship, and the Holy Spirit is present. Our obedience to the orders of the governmental agencies is keeping the flock safe, and as such is done not to inhibit the work of God, but rather to show how powerful God really is at this time, that even though we are physically distant, God’s Name will still be praised.

In Darkness

It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to remind us that darkness is all around us. The temptation to fear the future and worst case scenarios are always present. The enemy is out there trying to destroy the church, out there trying to destroy our bodies, out there working against our best interests. Our vulnerability to deceptions and lies is heightened at this time, as we are tempted to think we need to gain control over our circumstance. 

This darkness seeks to turn us against one another, it seeks to take advantage of our distancing and makes us feel as if we are alone. This seeks to isolate us and tear us apart, and when this happens fear and panic are easier to access than faith. Both of these feelings acknowledge our lack of control, but one grasps at anything to attempt to gain control, while the other yields control to God. When we yield to God, our mindset is transformed into one that focuses upon hope rather than fear.

The promises in this Psalm are safety, protection, comfort, restoration, and abundance. Like a good shepherd, God protects us even in the face of death and darkness, even in the face of a global pandemic. Though we are in the place of ultimate risk, where the darkness protects those who do evil and death casts its shadow, our fear is eclipsed by the presence of God. Where God uses His power to fend off the attacks on us, and God protects us by pulling us back from the areas where we wander into harm’s way.

In life, God doesn’t prevent evil from happening, but rather God offers us a response to the evil around us. Instead of fleeing from evil, God allows us to safely navigate our way in our enemies’ presence. Even going as far as preparing us a table, providing for us in the most turbulent times. When there appears to be little reason to hope, God gives us an abundance of hope, and casts out all fear.

At this time God is here to provide us with all that we need, and more. Out of the abundance God provides to us, we must in turn share that hope with one another. While you may not be able to physically be present with one another, there are an abundance of ways you can provide this hope. Call each other, pray with one another, be socially present for one another while you are physically distant.

So What Now

Now is the time to be directed by our faith. Respond to the panic and fear that is abundant in our world with God’s love, peace, and hope. While we physically cannot be close, we can socially connect with one another through phone calls, prayers for one another, connection through social media outlets, and sharing our excess. Some of us may not be connected through all of these outlets, but we must continue to pray for the needy, the sick, and the brokenhearted.

We must continue to strengthen our relationship with God, seek his grace and mercy, and continue reading the Word, keep praying, and be present for God’s mission in the world. This requires listening to the Holy Spirit. Many of us have so many voices and noise rolling through our ears, especially now that we are going out less. We should take the time now to turn off the noise, and listen better to one another, and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit

Our enemy seeks to hurt us, distract us, and lead us to believe that we are self-reliant. We are tricked into seeking our own self-interest first and foremost. However, we look at the world, and need to recognize that we cannot rely upon anyone other than God. We need to recognize that God is present with us at all times, and that at this time we need to allow our own self reliance to fall, and our dependence on God to rise.

This is a healthy dependence. Such dependence upon God makes us independent in this world. When we find our identity and our security in Him, we are free to deal with life and not cave in. Our heavenly Father longs to meet our dependency needs, so that we can be mature and healthy in this world—a sign of the new humanity redeemed by our Lord and invested here for His glory.

Simplify: Time

There is never enough time to do everything, or is there?

Looking through our days we have time when at work, time at play, time spent with others, time alone, time eating, and time sleeping. However, every day has the same number of hours included. Well, almost every day in the places that still observe the practice of “Daylight Savings Time”, because they get one 23 hour day and one 25 hour day a year. Many of us got to experience our 23 hour day this past weekend. However, no matter how we try and manipulate it, there are simply only a set number of hours to do the things we want to accomplish.

Time always seems to slip away like the sun at sunset

This fact requires us to assess what items for which we have time. If we try and do everything, ultimately we will only be able to set aside a small amount of time for each, and as such they may not bring as much joy, or not worth the sacrifice needed to make room for it. For instance, if you want to start taking an art class, it meets at a certain time, and you need to make the time necessary to take the class and do the work required. If art is something you are only marginally interested in, then you have to decide whether taking that class is worth the time.

Sometimes there are things that you know you need to add into your life such as: prayer and devotional time, exercise, church, Bible Study, work, sleep, etc. Adding this requires us to trim something or eliminate something to allow the space in our life. It is never as easy as we might think, because to start a new pattern requires us to break old patterns. It is the pattern of life that often leads to complexity, and the inability to make the necessary adaptations in our lives.

In the book, Love Wins by Bob Goff, he details how every Thursday he quits something. This practice always allows him the space to add something that may be life giving and fulfilling. Understandably, most of us are not as eccentric as Bob Goff, but the simplicity of the task of quitting something to make space is something we may all learn from. Most people have devotional time and exercise time in the morning. To put this practice into place, the space needs to be made in the morning, which means wake up earlier. This doesn’t just mean set the alarm to go off earlier, because that would be sacrificing sleep, which is essential to our health and wellness, but rather we need to go to sleep earlier. That undoubtedly requires quitting something in order to get to bed at the required hour to get a full night’s sleep.

Ultimately, if you are like me, and many people I know, I like to do everything. I run all the races, I work multiple jobs, I volunteer to help, I love spending time with friends, I love going on every vacation, I am go go go, never saying no, no, or no. When I do this I fill up the calendar, and I make my life very complex. Fortunately, I married someone that keeps me in check, and before I say yes, I need to check with her. This is the governor that God placed in my life in order to control me overly complicating my life.

To follow this path to simplify my life, I will take on the task to quit things and say no. Nothing but making space in my life for the things that matter most. I admit I have not been successful at this to this point in Lent, but I seek out the simple life, and offering to God, my time is my fortune, and in this offering I seek to glorify my Creator.

Simplify Social Media

Living a certain way for a great amount of time, develops habits that become innocuous. Social media thrives upon us keeping these habits up and encourages us to get “engagement”, and even as I write this, I realize I look at my page views too frequently, and I want you all to like me. While our purpose for doing a task may not be to get the maximal views or likes or comments, we easily fall into the trap of looking at them for approval, for increasing our social score, and when we reach a certain level our task, our accomplishment, our writing is then validated.

The problem with this type of living, especially as a Christian, is that we seek the approval of others first. Most of us are not attention hounds such going after social media approval, but if we don’t get that validation, we wonder why someone didn’t comment, or like my post. In turn, we reciprocate by liking everything, because our thinking become if I like their stuff, they are going to like mine. This pattern can easily become a time consuming, and add to the complexity of our lives.

For Lent, in a quest for simplicity, let us walk away from the little numbers in the corners that grade our social media validation. Some will choose to fast completely from social media, and that is great, but most of us just need to let that engagement go a little, and simplify our interaction with it. By simplifying these interactions, we make more room to seek our validation from the Almighty God, rather than each other.

Ultimately, that is the ultimate goal in this quest for simplicity. Where do I find my affirmation? If it is in anything other than God, then I have to really question whether it is edifying or not. This does not equate to living as a hermit in solitude, because God does want us to have joy, and we were given bodies to enjoy life, and people are brought into our life to enhance that joy, but God is the source of that joy. Since God gives joy, it is God’s approval we are called to seek.

Welcome to Lent (Ash Wednesday)

The party is over, and today we begin the journey to the cross. This is the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days (not including Sundays), before we get to the celebration of the resurrection. This is a time of deeper reflection and a season to put aside those items that interfere with our relationship with our Creator, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit. As we reflect upon Christ’s sacrifice, we understand our mortality, and offer ourselves to God as an act of repentance from the sinful lifestyle we live.

Although there are no poppies… yet, God’s promise is evident, even on the bleakest days.

Why Ashes?

The practice of the imposition of ashes can be found to date to the 10th or 11th century. When the church leaders stated, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth.  Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.”

The use of ashes in a Christian sense is found throughout scripture during times of
mourning, mortality, and penance. The during Job’s suffering he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, as an act of repentance the people of Nineveh put on sackcloth and ashes, and Daniel in his earnest prayers put on sackcloth and ashes when prophesying. These are only a few places where this practice is found in the Bible, but it should not be construed as an extra biblical idea that ashes are a part of our devotion to God.


Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Giving Up

Often during Lent, people turn to giving something up, or fasting from a joyful experience or thing. This is a Christians way to mimic the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert prior to the beginning of His ministry on Earth. It is well known that many Catholics practice giving up eating meat, and even McDonald’s, among other fast food chains, capitalize on this practice by advertising their Filet-o-Fish heavily during Lent. If you have practiced “giving something up” for Lent, that is a great practice, but it must also be something that you don’t do for public consumption, but rather as a practice of private devotion, because we must hear Jesus warnings not to be like the hypocrites.

Many years I too practiced giving things up. Among the fasted items were: soda, sweets, Starbucks, social media, fast food, among many other items that do not immediately come to mind. These were just things that I gave up temporarily, and “celebrated” the Resurrection by engorging myself with them. At times, I joked with the idea of giving up sin for Lent. In this attempt at humor, I might have been closer to the true intention of the fast. Giving things up is a great introduction to the practice, but if we just wait for Easter to dive back into our old ways we miss the point.

This act of giving something up is better expressed in the practice of burying our Hallelujah during Lent. This means that during our times of worship and praise we put away the songs that are upbeat and filled with Hallelujah language. We do this for a time, so that when we bring them back on Easter it is a jubilant and joyful reintroduction celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We don’t pretend that Christ is not risen, but rather we put these types of praise away for a time, so that we appreciate them even more when they are out. The UMC site compares this to having our Christmas lights out, and that we don’t appreciate that neighbor that has them out all year, but when they come out in December we get a special sense of joy.

A Simplified Season

At the beginning of this season, the Holy Spirit draws us deeper in, and asks us to put aside those things that get in the way of our relationship. Let go of the other voices pulling us in different directions, and fully embrace our calling to Jesus, and to follow Him. This may mean giving things up, but it may not just be for 40 days, it may actually mean give things up. Use this season as a season of simplicity. Give up what you need to, and don’t give into the temptation to give up. Simplifying, like Sanctifying, are processes and may not be mastered overnight.

This is my drive this season to simplify, not just as an act of penance, but as an act to bring me closer to the man God wants me to be. Also, I have already messed up, but I don’t stop working on it. May God be your spark of joy this season, and may we use this season to draw closer and closer, getting rid of everything pulling us in every and any direction.

May you find blessing today and this season.

Standing with the Accused

The world is full of less than perfect people trying to figure out how to best cope with the imperfections in the world all around. When we all approach situations we have to make serious decisions about whether or not go one way or another. Some decisions made are right, some are wrong, and still others are ambiguous. The world is full of people doing wrong or regrettable things. At the same time there is a crowd waiting to pounce, waiting to tear the people apart that don’t have the power to hurt them back.

We live in a world where the powerful do wrong, and then when caught in the act they shrug it off because very often the people that accuse have no power over them, and no ability to enact change in their lives. When this happens we cry and yell about the injustice of the act and that something needs to happen to upend the power structures. In politics, this often turns into the imbalance of the power structures that lead to divisiveness that our political systems thrive upon these days. Power makes you think you can get away with anything, and if that power is not checked you become more bold in doing wrong things. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and any number of tech companies have all been caught in the same traps, that people will follow you and use your product, no matter what you do, because the followers or users feel powerless against the powerful companies doing things that are detrimental with their data, with their privacy, and with their loyalty. In this environment, we feel about power and wrong-doing, when we find wrong-doing that we can affect change upon we pounce.

Unfortunately, this leads to the mob mentality that wants to burn the house down of those caught in the act. You have no power to do anything to me, therefore I will destroy you. This has happened too many times in our society, especially in the social media age. One person gets accused of something, and then their social media accounts get published on the internet, and sometime worse their physical addresses get broadcast, and then the physical safety of the person standing accused is put in danger. The mob justifies the actions based on the accused gave up their freedom when they did wrong, but this justification is truly toothless. Rather, it is just an excuse to get release and try to establish justice in a world that is often devoid of justice, but this justice is not truly justice. Justice is essentially life giving, but the actions of the mob are truly destructive.

Jesus, in John 8, shows us a better way. Here a woman is caught in the act of adultery and the mob is seeking to destroy her and make her pay the price for her misgivings. However, Jesus doesn’t simply allow the mob carry out their intended action, but rather he makes them contemplate and asks if they have no sin then carry on, but if not then drop the stones. He doesn’t do this to point out their sin, but rather to stand in between the woman and the angry mob. Obviously, the only reason they pulled this woman out was that she could do nothing to defend herself, where was the man? Adultery takes at least two, but the man probably had too much power, too much voice to bring out into the light, therefore the justice they wanted to carry out was incomplete and destructive.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of people in our world that are willing to pull the woman out for public scorn, but unwilling to stand up to the mob. Jesus calls us to stand with the woman, and to stand with the accused, even if they have done something wrong, even if they are guilty. There is no chance for reformation, and no chance for shalom if the person is destroyed and stoned and broken, and Jesus came to bring shalom not shame, He came to bring love, and not blame, and we are all invited to join in the Kingdom of God to defend the defenseless.

One last aspect of this is that we encourage those to go and sin no more, and it is vital that we do this. We need to do whatever we can, in order to help them carry this out, but if the mob wins, they do nothing but carry with them the Scarlett Letter and are not granted grace, but surrounded by scorn and ridicule that leads them to feel and know that it doesn’t matter if they turn their lives around, they will always be that of which they are accused. We want to defeat and enjoy the grace that God gives us, and share it with everyone, especially the accused.

My Team, My Family

This past weekend was filled with dirt, sleep deprivation, wind, cold cold wind, freezing temperatures, calorie deficits, cold, port-o-potties, but mostly running, laughter, encouragement, craziness, eating, and a whole bunch of love. Our running OHANA brought two teams to the Ragnar Trail Los Coyotes Event this past weekend, one team was eight-ish members that ran three different trail loops once a person, and an Ultra team of four members that ran the same loops, except they did it twice per person. This is a relay style event where each team runs around the clock until 24 loops are completed. This is the third year that these teams have participated in this event, and the fourth consecutive year I have done one of these in the fall. This has become the event I look forward to all year long, because it is a mixture of difficult running, spending time with my best friends, and growth as a person.

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Throughout my later in life running life, I have many accomplishments having run ultramarathons, marathons, half marathons, obstacle course races, among other races, but I would have to say the accomplishment of running this race with three of my running beasties (spelled that way on purpose), covering over 112 miles in a little over 30 hours, is one for which I hold in a special special place. This was hard, probably harder than I had given it credit, but I believe we need to do hard things to push us and mold us into being better tomorrow than we were yesterday. We are better having done this, when the soreness wears away, and I ask them if they are ready to do it again, I know without hesitation the three of them will reply, “Let’s do it!”

I am proud to be their captain, but I am filled with joy that they call me friend, and family. We have been on many adventures together, some running related, others not as much, we have rejoiced together in our successes, and been there for one another in our failures. This group is my blessing, they push me beyond what I thought I could be, and they make me want to constantly strive to be better. A better runner, a better friend, a better human being, just better. I am thankful for them, and that is why this medal will always mean more because I didn’t earn it alone, I earned it with them.

Running in an event like this breaks you down because you get deprived of sleep, the elements are something to contend with, and you are not at your best. It is setup to throw you off schedule, run at crazy hours, always trying to figure out how to get enough calories in your system, and push you to your breaking point. However, when you have the right family behind you, they tell you when to sit down, shut up, and let yourself get taken care of. That is what I experienced with this crew, and because of them I am blessed.

I raise my proverbial glass to you my Crazy.Ultra.Love and Crazy.Slower.Love Ohana! You are a blessing and I thank you for letting me be your captain!

Stress and Embarrassment

My life has many stresses on it right now, as most of us live with some sort of stress at one time or another. However, my constant focus has always been to allow the stress of the situation make you stronger, but don’t let it break you. Unfortunately, it almost broke me last night, as I drove home in tears, sad, disappointed, and grasping for control. The signs were there that I was allowing the stress to pile on without a valve to release. My blood pressure was high, my emotional control was waning, and I was feeling isolated in a room full of friends.

The thing about stress is that it can either break you, or make you stronger, but if you just allow it to pile on without a release valve, then it will break you. I was beginning to crack, and even though I always tried to put up the facade that I was alright, my body was physically rejecting that, and was telling me I needed a relief valve pulled. I have always had running and exercise as a valve to give me relief, but with a leg injury that has finally sidelined me, I needed something else as a relief valve.

Sorrow and embarrassment clouded my mind last night, and I was not my usual jovial self. I was not a person that anyone would want to be around. I was lost in my own mind while my body was paying the price; my relationships were paying the price; my sanity was paying the price. I felt out of control, I felt for the first time since I had lost my weight as if I was the unhealthy person, which was too much for me to handle. My pride broke. The stresses were mounting, and my blood pressure was spiking.

I ultimately did something I had to do, and I sought solitude. Ironically, I had just preached on how Jesus needed solitude after feeding the 5000, but I literally had a hard time practicing what I preach. The mounting stress had caused me to isolate myself even among a group of people I call friends, and the only way to break from this isolation was to find solitude. To find a place where my mind was free, and I could commune with a loving God that wants me to simply raise my arms and cry out, “Save me!”

Stress can only make me stronger if I manage it, and admit that I need help dealing with it, dispersing and relieving it when necessary, for that I need to acknowledge I am mortal and I need saving. When I need solitude, I need to go and seek solitude. When I need relief, I need to seek relief. Life is a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, but I don’t ride this ride alone, God is with me. When I forget; I embarrass myself, I lose control, and I begin to break.

Driving Out Fear

When I was younger, I was a timid person, and had many things that I feared. I didn’t want to go on roller-coasters, I avoided anything that had to do with heights, which often puzzled those around me since I have been more than six feet tall since I was twelve years old. “Are you afraid of standing up?” was a question I would often receive from my peers. However, as I grew older, I began pushing myself a little more, and even though I feared them, I pushed myself to go onto them, or maybe it was the peer pressure, either way I went on them. At first I would close my eyes tight, and not allow my eyes to increase or validate that which my mind feared.

However, simply closing our eyes, locking our doors, putting barriers between us and that which we fear, don’t keep us “safe”, but rather they give us a sense of security within which we are willing to live. The idea that there is always someone bigger, someone faster, someone smarter, someone stronger, is true, and if that person means to do me harm, them no amount of fortification I attempt, there is always a vulnerability.

Even the Empire, in Star Wars, thought they had built a SUPER weapon, THE DEATH STAR, a weapon intended to bring mass destruction, and with this weapon they would bring the universe to bow down before the power of the Dark Side. However, in two different episodes of the story, the Rebels were able to destroy this because of its vulnerabilities. While this vulnerability was exploited for the Light Side and Rebellion against the Empire, we too have darkness that seemingly overwhelms us at times.

Jesus disciples were not immune to fear, and they thought they could keep the Roman Empire out by simply locking a door behind them. Fear gripped them, fear kept them from doing what they were called to do, and fear made them act and think small and timid. That is how fear wins, by making us think and act timid.

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 20:19–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The disciples feared the Romans, their eyes had seen what the Romans and enemies of Christ could do, they feared that they would meet the same fate, they feared the Jewish leaders would push the Romans to root out all of the followers and kill them. However, Jesus had plans for his disciples, and first gave them PEACE, or Shalom, to rest their minds and allow them to set aside fear. This PEACE was power to set aside fear, and become their true and complete selves, no longer slaves to the fear that had once gripped them.

While fear should not take hold of us and be the cause for our inaction, the circumstances leading us to fear are real. The Romans crucified Christ, Jesus shows the disciples the results, his hands and side were pierced and broken. The things we fear are often real. We can fall from great heights and hurt ourselves. We can get bitten by a spider and get sick. We can get cancer, and that cancer can break us down, and make us weak. These things cannot be taken lightly, or treated recklessly, but they are opportunities where we can make a stand and say “NO” to fear. Much like Jesus showed the disciples that crucifixion was real and not a joking matter, in showing up before them he also stood up showing that even death was conquered with perfect love. So too, the things we fear, while real, can and will be conquered by love.

This indicates that the things that potentially cause us to fear, more than just being scared about going on a frightening roller-coaster, something that really invokes petrifying fear, such as a loved one facing cancer, or needing to speak up in the face of injustice when there will be almost certain consequences of doing so. We are called to answer that fear with LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbor must be that which we answer these real fears. We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect systems, and often time there is the temptation to just take a step back and wish for somebody else to step up.

I admit this is often my default response. Somebody else can step up and take this head on, I will give support, but not really stick my neck out and take it on. A few times I have stepped up and said something, but it doesn’t really go that far. I have even seen a couple friends really make some bold steps as to take on injustice in our country, and have risked future employment to speak out against injustice in our country. Other friends and families have done the unpopular task of going and standing with and/or fighting for those that are powerless in our society. I dearly admire these leaders and fighters.

Some, like my dear friend and sister, Jackie, have, in the face of a cancer diagnosis, bravely looked in the face of cancer and proclaimed, that it cannot win, it cannot break her spirit, it messed with the wrong woman! Her bravery, her boldness, her fight reminds me, and instructs me that I cannot be silent, I cannot be someone that sits on the sidelines and allows someone else to take this, I will respond to cancer, with LOVE. I will stand for, I will fight for, I will show cancer that LOVE will win the day. I may not be medicine, I may not be a surgeon, but I can pray, I can love, I can help in any number of ways. AND I WILL.

It is this Spirit, the HOLY SPIRIT, that Christ blows onto his disciples. No longer a spirit of fear, but THE HOLY SPIRIT, a SPIRIT of POWER, a SPIRIT of MOVEMENT, a SPIRIT of STRENGTH, and most importantly a SPIRIT of LOVE! With this SPIRIT we drive out fear, we are more than conquerors, and we allow God to utilize us to our full potential. This SPIRIT brings with it power and strength, and with this SPIRIT injustice is rooted out, cancer is defeated, and GRACE wins!