go on the way you mean to continue

2016-07-17 14.28.01

When it’s me vs. jet-lag, jet-lag seams to win. I don’t just mean the confusion about whether I should be asleep or awake at any given moment of the day either. It has to do with catching up with where in the world I am and what in the world I am supposed to be doing. Landing back in Dublin after travelling, speaking and catching up with people around BC and Alberta (Canada) for a couple of months left me feeling like I had just been on one of those spinning rides at the amusements that tosses you around just a little too much … Which way is up? Am I standing or am I falling? How do my legs work? What’s my name again?

My losing streak with jet-lag began in December 2013 when I boomeranged around the globe in a month, first to New Zealand for a wedding and then to Canada for Christmas. Gone are the days of perfect sleep patterns as soon as I land and an obscure ability to adjust back into normal life within 24 hours. In its place is this tilting feeling of being totally off balance.

One thing was different this time though. From the moment I stepped into my home I had one line on repeat in my mind:

“Go on the way you mean to continue.”

It’s hard to believe that one line can make so much difference but it has. It is a breath and a pause – How do I want to continue? What patterns do I want to develop? It is motivation and opportunity to change directions. A two month interruption, even if it is a very welcome one, is enough time to mess with all the normal rhythms of life: sleeping and eating, exercise and work, creativity and connection.

“Go on the way you mean to continue.”

It offers a moment of acknowledging the current reality and making a decision of which direction to head. It allows for problem-solving the mundane situations with the resources available right here and now.

Go on the way you mean to continue … in how you think, in what you say to people, in how you connect with friends, in how you plan your meals, in the space you give creativity, in how you interact with God, in how you do your work, in how you live in your home … go on the way you mean to continue.

Mosaics of Rome

IMG_7482

“Oh crap!” I held in further obscenities as I realized where the door at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica had led us. The laughter was stolen from my mouth when I stepped through it onto the narrow ledge that circled the inner-dome of the tallest Christian church in the world. One hundred meters below us people moved about like a small ant colony on vacation. Perhaps it was the slight dehydration the beautiful Italian weather induced in my sun-deprived, Irish-acclimatized body that made me somehow forget, again, that what goes up must look down … 

IMG_7483

I plastered myself to the mosaic wall and took a few steading breaths, reasoning through my fear. The ledge was not likely to crumble anytime soon because of the care that they give the building. The tall wall of heavy metal mesh was sturdy as it separated us from sudden death 1.5 meters away from the solid form I tried to insert myself into. Avoiding looking down, I began to inspect the small fragments of stone my hands were stuck to. Centimetre by centimetre they filled the entire wall. Looking up I realized they filled the entire dome creating stunning pictures that, from below, passed for detailed paintings. On its own, each piece wouldn’t have caught anyone’s attention on the street but together they told a story. I was finally able to go to the edge and take a look before walking as far as I could around the circumference of the dome. A quarter of the way around was another door leading us to the exterior platform with a sweeping view of St. Peter’s Square and all of Rome.

Rome. There it was, spread out in front of us, steeped in history and social change. A city representing a nation built for glory that fell to a level of very ordinary existence. Lines of greenery wove between the varying shades of beige buildings forming a very different sort of mosaic from that which we saw inside. Although beautiful, this view from a distance couldn’t compare to the vibrancy of detail that mortared its shape into place – the vibrancy of the people who fill the streets and buildings.

We descended from our birds eye view to spend the following day and half exploring the extraordinary view from below. Old streets and even older buildings filled our cameras while living works of art moved through traffic, walked in and out of shops, stood in small elevators and greeted us over the counter. Tucked behind eyes peering out into the world, just like mine, were dreams and hopes for the future mingled with histories of both joy and heartache. In that close up moment of eye-to-eye, strangers softened into momentary friends with pockets full of kindness without having to say a single word. We are not so different. We are made of the same things. Unlike the mosaic at the top of the Basilica, we were made to be seen and appreciated up close, instead of from a distance. If you find this terrifying, take a few steadying breaths and reason through the fear. The experience is worth it.

IMG_7480

what have you witnessed?

A walk of faith, a pilgrimage, requires two things. It requires looking to someone or something as our pattern so we move closer towards a desired destination. This destination can be a physical, spiritual or emotional place. The second requirement is that we actually move. A pilgrimage is not a passive act. Over Lent, Jesus is our pattern and our destination is closeness with him. Speaking with God is the force of our movement. In the end, we become witnesses to all we have seen and experienced along the way.

Over the last 40 days following Jesus through the wilderness brought us to first understand that God is with us there. We have a choice to invite the Holy Spirit to lead us through or to make our own way. The primary temptation we face in wilderness places is to not trust God’s love for us. The more we come to realize and accept his love, repenting for the times we don’t, the more we are able to follow Jesus fully and our lives resemble his. Repenting about other things becomes easier when we know that we are loved no matter what. His truth can be difficult to believe and along the way we are tempted to fall for the twisted truths and false promises that other things are more important and powerful than God. But following Jesus through the wilderness means to have an almost irrational belief that he will come through in the end! Evil will not win. Not only that, we will also be able to rest in the presence of our God as he leads us out of the wilderness and into lives that are witnesses to his goodness, to his faithfulness and to his kingdom come on earth.

The wilderness was the start of Jesus’ ministry years. Over three more years he would forgive sins, heal the sick, bring justice for the oppressed and live as God with us. When we want to see what God looks like, we need to look at Jesus. He didn’t just come to show us though, he came to take away all that doesn’t belong in heaven and deal with it so we wouldn’t have to. On Good Friday we remember how he took our sin and our disbelief on himself and died with it so we wouldn’t have to. On Easter Sunday we celebrate how he defeated death and got rid of everything that separates us from God, once and for all. Before he left earth he promised that the Holy Spirit would stay with us. We would be witnesses to who he is.

I don’t know what kind of wilderness you have been in this past month and whether it was one you chose or not. Many major aspects of my life hit extreme turbulence, very unexpectedly. At the same time, I saw people’s lives change from love. I saw pieces of heaven come to earth and restoration take place all around me. Following the Holy Spirit and trusting him has not left me disappointed. Instead, I have seen him work in ways that I couldn’t have even imagined half a year ago. I have seen him. I have witnessed who he is, not 2000 years ago but here and now.

This is where our pilgrimage leads us – to becoming witnesses. Over the last few days of this season, look for him and the things he has done. Ask him to show you. Wait for the Holy Spirit and become a witness to the things you see him do in your life and in the lives of people around you.

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my (Jesus) Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4-5, 8

the spring rains come

“Let us acknowledge the Lord
let us press on to acknowledge him. 
As surely as the sun rises, 
he will appear; 
he will come to us like the winter rains, 
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Hosea 6:3

Great movements of water forked out over the desert just in time for the tired and thirsty animals arriving for their yearly reprieve from draught and dust. Watching the Kalahari desert flood and life begin to flourish on BBC’s Planet Earth is truly breathtaking. As with so many desert stories, it began with animals trying to find their way back to their life source and ends with them joyfully paddling through flooded land green with vitality. It was a place the veteran’s knew would be there in just the right season. They could survive the desert journey because of the promise of what was on the other side.

Jesus could survive temptation and wilderness because he knew what was on the other side. On the other side of the wilderness he would begin to heal the sick, bring forgiveness into people’s lives, give dignity to those that society deemed undignified. He knew that he would be betrayed and killed, taking everything that we do that doesn’t look like God’s home and died with it so that we wouldn’t have to. He knew that death wouldn’t keep him and he would live. At end of the wilderness, the devil left him alone …

“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” ~ Luke 4:13

I crave those things – streets where people feel like the burdens of their lives are lifted right off them, where unworthiness falls away like a snake shedding skin and a life lived from love is revealed underneath. I want to do what Jesus did … heal the sick, bring forgiveness into people’s lives, give dignity to those that society deems undignified. I want to live in God’s home where love is unquestioned. This life is on the other side of temptation. More than anything else, the temptation to not believe that God loves us, that his truth makes us into more loving people and that he knows the way to heal the streets of our cities. If this is your first time taking this journey, make sure you follow someone who is a witness to these things.

When the devil finishes all his tempting, he leaves until an opportune time. Don’t give up in the wilderness and temptation. There will be relief.

This week we will be looking at resting in God’s presence. In the meantime, ask God to give you strength to trust his truth today.

the view from here is bleak but the future is bright

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: 
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  ” ~ Luke 4:9-12

At 70 meters in height, Church of Saints Augustine and John (John’s Lane Church) on Thomas Street is the tallest church in Dublin. If this had been the peak that Jesus would have stood on when hungry and tired, what would he have seen? Street markets, Guinness, Mannings Bakery, St. Catherine’s Church, the Digital Hub, the flats, NCAD, the Liffey, Smithfield Square, the Four Courts … a city that stretches north, west, east and south from there. Who would he have seen? And the building dedicated to his name, would it feel like his home? Or would he feel like a stranger passing through with the impossible responsibility of restoring all of creation to God who wants to speak peace over it, speak love, speak life.

What did he see from the heights of the temple? Did it already make him sick that people were using that very building for their own gain instead of to come near to God, who planned for all people to find worth and wholeness in him? He knew he was there to die and defeat death. Wouldn’t a practice run be good? Jump just to make sure that his Father would catch him. Then the next few years wouldn’t be so bad. He wouldn’t end up in excruciating inner turmoil right before he would be arrested and crucified. He could go boldly and confidently into the plans for his life. Test God, test his identity and then decide to continue or not.

The more I speak with God, the more I see how incredibly full of grace and mercy he is – loving all people equally and filled with nothing but good intentions for them. When he shows me this city and world from the top, there are people and places that stand out to me and I see how far they are from the experience of heaven. When we follow him through the wilderness we see how different we are from who he is. We see how different our communities are from an ideal that can’t be bought. “Give me proof!” we might challenge God, “That a life lived for you will be worth it in the end.”

Walking with Jesus through the wilderness means learning to have an almost irrational faith in God that he will come through in the end and that he is who he says he is in spite of all we see and experience, even in the buildings and structures that are dedicated to him. Today, talk to God about the faith or lack of faith you have in him and his goodness that lasts and lasts and lasts.

This week we will be looking at all that God dreams for our world and the promises of heaven, both now and for eternity.

possibility

IMG_0089.jpg

Paint stained, memory stained, tear stained shirt is her heart inside out in the only room where she is right side in. Blank canvases hang limply on the wall waiting for her touch. “What do you see?” they ask. “What do you make of us?”

Tall windows testify to a world outside that is no more complete than the bleached fibres her fingers slowly make their way across. “What can I give to you?” she asks.

A shape, an image, a dream rasps softly against the surface. Possibility.

Her colours come out, the only ones she has. Tubes half empty, worn at the edges, shaped from years of use. And then the edges, the tools to mix and shape. Her tools. The ones that feel at home in her hands. She holds them like old friends and trusts them to work with her like so many times before. Her arms remember the movements even when storms of grief strip away her shoreline.

Colours dry for days, for weeks, no changes. She returns.

Paint stained, memory stained, tear stained shirt is her heart inside out in the only room where she is right side in. Colour carved canvases hang limply on the wall waiting for her touch. “What do you see?” they ask. “What do you make of us?”

Tall windows testify to a world outside that is no more complete than the stained fibres her fingers slowly make their way across. “What can I give to you?” she asks.

A shape, an image, a dream rasps softly against the surface. Possibility.

twisted truths and false promises

Luke 4:5-8 The devil led him (Jesus) up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ 

I received a phone call from my internet provider this past week. The man on the other end of the line promised me that he would offer me deal that would really benefit me. Before he could continue I asked him if it would save me money. He ignored my question and kept saying that he wanted to ask me a few things first. I pestered him enough until he told me “yes.” So, I listened to a long explanation about how much faster my internet would be and how many more international minutes I’d have for calling. Unfortunately, in order for me to save money on my internet bill I would have to take their deal for a tv package too. Sometimes advertisers twist their truths and give false promises so that we think we need what they are selling us.

A second temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness was something similar … with much bigger consequences. Jesus knew his purpose was to bring restoration between God and us again. He knew it would cost him. The devil caught him out when he was exhausted, both mentally and physically. “I’ve got a great deal for you!” he says, “It will really benefit you.” Jesus wouldn’t have to go through the next three years that we call his ministry years. He wouldn’t have to travel from town to town while putting up with a bunch of moaning people following him. He wouldn’t have to have the responsibility of saving the world. He could just coast his way through life. All he would have to do was one simple and seemingly harmless thing – worship the devil, just once. For one moment, take a look at the destruction that Satan has caused on the earth and say he is the greatest. It’s twisted. It’s false. To us, it’s obvious.

Recognizing the twisted truths and false promises in our own lives is far more difficult. What do we believe that is so close to truth that we don’t even see it? What gets in the way of worshiping God and serving him only? Who or what do we think is more powerful and great than God? The easy answer is: “Nothing.” But what about our fear? What about our boss? What about our hunger? What about our suffering? What about our pride? What about our money? What about our hobbies? What about our religious beliefs, or lack thereof? What about our work ethic? What about our jealousy? What about our hatred? It is easily done … and so obvious when we are looking back at it. Seeing God as bigger and more worthy of our thoughts just because of who he is, is tough.

Walking with Jesus through the wilderness means worshiping God alone and recognizing false advertisements that come our way. Adam and Eve missed it the first time around. They took the devil up on his boasts about the benefit of knowing good and evil. Jesus didn’t. We don’t have to either.

Talk to God about the things that have become more important and powerful in your life than him. Ask him to show you his truth about those things. When you are done, take a minute of silence and think about the greatness of God.

This week of Lent will be dedicated to learning what it is to worship God and serve him only.