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Friday, September 19, 2014

Making Room For Grief

Grief, more than anything, touches the deepest part of who we are.  What we do with grief can either tear us apart or open our eyes to hope we never knew existed.

            Grief happens when we lose something of value to us.  All of us live with unvoiced expectations.  Sometimes they are unvoiced because we don’t even realize we have them.  Expectations we will not have to bury our children.  Expectations our marriage will last.  Expectations we will live a long life.  Expectations our community of faith will hold together.  Expectations we will always have beauty around us.  Only when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected do we realize how deeply we held onto these secret hopes and dreams.
            Right now we are helplessly watching the largest fire in recent memory in El Dorado County ravage the wilderness we have taken for granted.  There is a sense of relief that the fire has so far been turned back from destroying homes and taking lives  Once that relief is over the thought of the loss of the beauty we have taken for granted has overwhelmed many people.  The most common emotional response has been anger – especially directed toward the person who was arrested for starting the fire.  If you want to get an idea of what unbridled anger sounds like, read what people are saying about him on social media sites.  This type of anger is what will destroy us.  James warned us about this:  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, ESV)
            James lets us know there is an anger in us that isn’t any good.  It is the anger that turns into bitterness.  Bitterness destroys us and those we come into contact with.  But the Bible also tells us there is an anger that is righteous.  It is right and understandable to experience anger when beauty is destroyed, when cancer or mental illness destroy a life, when families disintegrate under the weight of divorce.  It is not as God intended and God grieves over the brokenness in the world we live in – a brokenness we unfortunately are part of perpetuating.  And yes, God gets angry about it.
            There is another path on the other side of anger.  We don’t have to go down the path of bitterness, we can choose to go down the path of hope.  But it requires us to look to the One who is bigger than our circumstances.  Paul was trying to get this across to the early church in his letter to the church in Rome:  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)
            Paul reminded them (and us) that there is something beyond what we can see and sometimes comprehend.  Hope in this world will always disappoint us.  If your faith in Jesus is only that you will have a “good life” it isn’t going to work out very well for you.  In fact, it is almost guaranteed you are going to go down the path of bitterness.
            An essential part of the Jesus story is that he is going to make all things new.  From beginning to end the Bible is full of examples of this storyline.  We screw up, evil seems to win, everything looks hopeless, we are crushed.  And then, a flower blooms in an unexpected place.  It is the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
            You’re going to experience grief in this life.  But are you willing to look for the flower and embrace the hope of renewed beauty in your grief?  Make room in your grief for the grace and beauty of Jesus to show up.  I don’t know how long it will take, but I know it will bloom.  And one day, it will be forever.

Peace and grace,


Thursday, September 11, 2014


            I recently took a solo backpack trip into the Desolation Wilderness.  I just needed to get away for some “me and Jesus” time so I loaded up my backpack with the essentials on a Sunday afternoon and 3 hours later I was all by myself watching the sunset at 8,000 foot elevation next to a lake.  It was beautiful and peaceful.  And I was tired.  The tiredness was from lugging my pack full of “essentials” a couple thousand feet uphill.
            I am an Eagle Boy Scout.  The motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”  That was drilled into me as a kid and has come in very hand throughout my life.  However, at times I have acted like “Be Prepared” means carrying with me any tool I might need in any situation.  The problem is, all that “stuff” gets heavy!
            As I went through the stuff in my pack at that lake, I kept finding things I really didn’t need at all.  I had too much food, too many clothes, too much extraneous gear.  I could have left a lot of things home and lightened my load.  It would have been an easier trip, for sure.  But I had a good reason for every item I put in my pack – I might need it.
            Mark records for us a story of Jesus sending his 12 closest disciples on an important mission to tell people about this new kingdom Jesus kept teaching about.  Look what Jesus says:  And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” (Mark 6:7–9, ESV)
            Now, clearly these instructions are descriptive of a particular event and not prescriptive of how everyone is to go out and about.  But we shouldn’t dismiss the significance of what Jesus communicates.  He said it and it is recorded for a reason – there is something we should pay attention to in these words of Jesus.  And I think it is this:  When we are following Jesus, we need less than we think.  The unnecessary things in life become distractions, weigh us down and slow us down  – in mind, body and soul.
            This week we are starting an adventure called Simplify where we are going to take a look at the things that clutter our soul.  This isn’t going to be an intellectual exercise, it is going to be a practical journey that will challenge all of us to be less encumbered with “stuff” so we can live life more fully – the life Jesus invites us to live.  Each week we will look at a critical area of life.  You will have a Bible verse to meditate upon and practical actions steps to remove the clutter.  Some will be fun, some will be painful, all will be freeing.
            I have to be honest, I’m looking forward to this with mixed emotions.  I know I will be personally challenged with some of my “stuff” I have been hoarding.  But I’m excited about the freedom it is going to bring.  I hope you will join me as we Simplify so we can live the life Jesus promised.

Peace and grace,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)