This last Sunday I shared a story with the children who were in attendance at the Chapel. On Saturday, Cub Scout Troop 224 of Snowmass Village and Aspen made a trip down valley to El Jebel to a very large grass covered park. It was a spectacular spring day and just perfect for the purpose of our adventure, which was to launch model rockets.
There were about 20 scouts and a larger number of adults and young siblings who showed up. The scouts had been working on building rockets for the previous several weeks so that there was much anticipation and excitement about our Rocket Day.
The boys brought every conceivable size, color and shape of model rocket. When launched, some zoomed fast into the sky, others a bit more slowly. Some shot straight, others mimicked North Korean military rocket capability. With five launch pads going at the same time, it was quite the scene in El Jebel, enough of one to even entertain local law enforcement officers who came by to watch.
Peter and I together built two rockets over the last several weeks. We could not wait to see what would happen. The rockets were put together as instructed, painted fun colors, and we were prepared with the right engine fuel, igniters, parachutes, and all the other assorted parts.
When the time came, we set everything up as we thought we should. We moved away from the rocket we set up on the launch pad and Peter began his countdown. “3, 2, 1.” When he hit the button to ignite the rocket engine, nothing happened. So again, Peter called out, “3, 2, 1.” The cycle of counting down with nothing to follow repeated itself five times.
It was then that we both recognized in the same instant that we had failed to attach wires to the power source for launching. No power, no lift off. If the engine igniters are not connected, a rocket won’t go anywhere.
What a great metaphor for we who are people of faith. If we are not connected to God, our ultimate power source, it is pretty clear we won’t get very far and certainly we won’t be able to do what each of us is uniquely designed to do by God. All of us were made by God to be directly attached to our Creator, our source of life, and the One Who makes all things possible.
It could be that if we find ourselves getting nowhere or struggling in some mighty way, that we may not be as connected with God as we need to be.
The experience with the rockets reminded me that God wants us to check in with ourselves and with Him regularly and take stock of how attached we are in the midst of our day in and day out challenges, joys, successes, and failures.
Like a model rocket, we have each been made by God to stay connected with the ultimate source of power, not only for living, but for launching past whatever it is that is keeping us down.
What a surprise to wake up to 5 inches of fresh snow on May 1. Despite the fact the mountains are closed for skiing, it is beautiful and many of us have been praying for continued moisture in the parched Rocky Mountains.
Earlier this week when it was still Spring and in the 50′s, Regina and I spent an hour fly-fishing on the Roaring Fork. Water levels were just about right as the snow-melt has not yet begun in earnest.
After collecting our gear, putting our rods together, and selecting what we hoped were the right flies, we made our way into the chilly water. With the first cast I was overwhelmed with the delightful realization that summer in the Valley is just around the corner.
As I continued to cast, I didn’t care if I caught a thing, as it was just great to be back outside in the warm sunshine with the sound of the river rushing over rocks and boulders. A slight breeze turned into a period of sporadic strong wind gusts. Casting became more difficult and soon, sure enough, the two flies I had on the line were entangled on the end of my rod in a large wind knot.
One minute turned into five and needlessly I started to get frustrated in not being able to untangle the mess. Regina came alongside of me and said, “Remember, persistence and patience are the key.”
Immediately I relaxed and thought of those two words as I continued to work on the line. But after another five minutes or so, I said to myself, “It is time to cut this line and start over afresh.” I indeed cut the line, re-tied a new line with some flies and went back at it.
Later that day three words came back into my mind. Persistence. Patience. Cut. While these three ideas are helpful in fly-fishing, they certainly are important to remember when in the midst of all kinds of life situations.
Sometimes, patience and persistence are called for. We can make a terrible mistake when we either give up too easily or don’t put in the necessary effort to succeed in a situation that is proving to be difficult or more challenging then we had anticipated. Patience and persistence are the keys to success in just about any venture in life. Great things tend not to happen without these two ingredients.
On the flip side, sometimes, despite our best efforts and regardless of our patience and persistence, it is best to cut and seek a new start. Some situations, conflicts, relationships, and happenings are not going to either change or get better and we are better off cutting the line, so to speak, and begin anew.
The challenge is to know what is called for. This of course is where God comes in and certainly, if we pray with diligence and ask God for guidance, are truly open to God’s wisdom, are willing to be brutally honest with ourselves, and are open to adapting and being flexible in our approach to things, whether to persist, be patient, or to cut will become clear.
It is my prayer for each of us that when we find ourselves in some tangled up mess, whether on a river or in some other far more significant situation, that we will pay close attention to what we are doing and either have the courage to persist and be patient or to be open to another way.
This last week I traveled by car to Santa Fe to spend a few days with my two brothers and our first cousin. It was a great reminder of what true wealth is all about. The relationships we have with family members and friends are priceless, especially when not strained by betrayal, lack of forgiveness, or a rigid approach to others.
One down side of traveling to that part of New Mexico this time of year is that Independence Pass is closed, meaning it takes about 8 hours to get there. The good news is that the country between Snowmass Village and Santa Fe is exceptionally spectacular and awe inspiring.
During the drive both there and back, I had a lot of time to reflect, ponder, and pray. Hours were spent without the radio on in silence, a precious gift. As the miles clicked on my odometer, I passed countless roads, some with signs, others without.
Each road had a destination and I had the freedom to take just about any of them. That is a great thing about a road trip, and one of the best God-given dimensions of life. With rare exceptions, every moment is filled with choices.
We can choose to go this direction or that, relate in one way or another, use our time for countless purposes, and even when such options are limited, we posses within the option to choose our attitude.
In my own life I have chosen roads that led to places that were not so great. I’ve even made decisions to get on ones that were dead ends. But even when the consequences of my choices haven’t been a lot of fun and the road has been hard, the choice to choose an attitude has always been mine, as it is yours.
It is my deep and continual prayer that more and more people will embrace right choices and attitudes. One that gives joy and love to others. One that assumes personal responsibility. And one that recognizes that this whole gig called life is an astonishing gift from God.
One of the most poignant stories in scripture is found in the Book of Job. Within the 42 chapters of Job, the reality of human suffering and its nuances, along with the questions we all ask when tragedy happens, is portrayed.
The suffering and loss that Job experiences along with his innocent family members is hard to take. While the book does not explain why bad things happen in a satisfying way, within the second chapter is some detail about how Job’s friends respond at first to Job.
In verses 11-13 from the Message version of the Bible we find the following.
“Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. Each traveled from his own country—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuhah, Zophar from Naamath—and went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him.”
“When they first caught sight of him, they couldn’t believe what they saw—they hardly recognized him! They cried out in lament, ripped their robes, and dumped dirt on their heads as a sign of their grief. Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering.”
Job’s friends basically do four things. They get up and go to their suffering friend. In other words they show up. Along with Job, they grieve for the horrendous tragedy that he is enduring. They are fully present with Job for an extended period of time. And finally, they don’t speak and allow the time to be one of silence.
Although Job’s suffering is great, Job’s friends do exactly what is needed. The trouble is, they don’t stop there. Instead, they begin talking and trying to offer all kinds of explanations and attributions for responsibility of why things happened.
As human beings who are digesting not only the evil in Boston, but the continual violent events and killings in America, there is good counsel to all of us to be found in the second chapter of Job. While we may or may not know victims of violence in America, the one thing we can do is spend some significant time in silence and to use that time of silence for rigorous, continual, and passionate prayer. Prayer not only for those who are suffering, but prayer for God to lead us as people of faith as to how to best respond over time.
Solutions are not easy, they are multifaceted, and frankly there is too much empty senseless talking going on that gets us nowhere. What we need most of all is prayer. Prayer must proceed action. Turn the TV off and pray instead.
It is in the midst of an extended time of prayer, however, that I pray that we will remember at least five things. First, while there is rampant evil, the truth is that good is more prevalent and more people want to help than want to do harm. There are phenomenal people all around.
Second. The recent acts are not of God, but are the result of human brokenness, evil and sinfulness. Human kind needs and has a savior.
Third. God’s heart, I believe, is broken, shattered, and full of grief when such things happen. Free will costs God more than we can imagine, including the death of Jesus on the cross.
Fourth. Sometimes there are not clear answers as to why innocent people suffer beyond description. The why questions are those that have been asked since human kind began to think.
Finally, in the end when it is all said and done, love wins. Love is more powerful than hatred, anger, revenge, killing, and even death itself. It is this last point that lies at the heart of Easter and the empty tomb. Love is the last word, nothing else.
These are exceedingly tough days in America. It feels as if the basic fabric of what we have been is daily being torn apart. During such a time as this, it is imperative that we turn to Jesus. Attend church each week. Commit to participating in your community of faith. Make a difference right where you are. Stay focused on Jesus as all other distractions can lead us astray. Invest your resources, energy, and time in love.
And remember, Jesus came to us first as a baby to demonstrate that God sits with us and is fully present in the innocence of human kind, even when it feels as if such innocence is lost and overcome.
This week at the Chapel, something important began. Our confirmation class, for those who are ready to affirm their Christian faith, started. To this day, I still remember my confirmation class in Pasadena, California. It was an important time of connecting with other kids and pondering deep and profound questions.
For those who were in church on Sunday, you may remember that I spoke about building fires, the necessary ingredients of a fire, and that if you want a fire to burn rigorously, you not only have to keep adding wood, but you must get up out of your chair and stoke it.
As I mentioned, relationships are much like a wood fire. If continual action is not taken, if the relationship is not cared for through action, then much like a fire that does not get stoked, such a relationship is likely to turn into ash over the course of a relatively short period of time.
Confirmation classes, at their best, are a way for young people to stoke their relationship with God. To engage with God in deep and meaningful ways and to spend time, through action, of caring for the most important relationship we have in life.
This is a good reminder for all of us who are not in the confirmation process. God wants us to stoke our relationship with Him through action whether such actions include more vibrant and passionate prayer, bible immersion, a commitment to weekly worship, engaging in some ministry, or through a whole host of other possibilities.
God wants us to engage with Him and get out of chairs of spiritual complacency, stoke our relationship with Him, and allow our hearts to be set on fire for Him. So a question this week for each of us to consider is how we will each stoke our relationship with Christ and keep the relationship front and center and burning hot?
This last Sunday we celebrated Easter with two magnificent and very different services. One was at the Chapel, the second was way up the mountain at Gwyn’s High Alpine. It was a spectacular day.
As we continue to celebrate Easter, it is my hope that each of us will continue to ponder, pray about, and live lives based on the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and that on 11 occasions, over 500 people encountered the resurrected Jesus.
On Easter, I spoke of just some of the reasons for the Easter miracle, a few of which are outlined below.
For starters, God raised Jesus from the dead to show the world Who is ultimately in control, Who is in charge, and that ultimately we have nothing to be afraid of, especially death.
God raised Jesus from the dead to show us that death is not the period at the end of a relatively short paragraph, but rather the launching point into something incomparably beautiful, wonderful, and eternal.
God raised Jesus from the dead to proclaim to the world that while there have been and will continue to be great teachers with tremendous wisdom worth listening to, there is only One that is God Himself and only One that was raised from the dead.
God raised Jesus from the dead to say to us, “Pay close attention to what Jesus said, to what He taught, and to how he lived.” To remind each and every one of us that God is not somewhere out or over there, but within us.
God raised Jesus from the dead so that we would recall when we are mired in guilt, regret, anxiety, or other places that impede us from living fully, that God is here to set us free with new beginnings every day. That we need not buy into the empty promises of materialism, nor get into the polarized fray, nor get worked up over things that in the end really don’t matter that much.
God raised Jesus from the dead to say to a wayward and sometimes very self-absorbed human kind that there is another way to live and another way to die.
And we get to this other way through a transforming, life-altering, hold onto your hat relationship with Jesus that will knock your socks off and change the reasons you get up every morning, why you do what you do with your life, how you look at everything, how you relate to other human beings, how you feel, what you think, where you invest your energy, and how you approach life in those passages that hurt and leave us depleted.
God raised Jesus from the dead so that we would seek out, embrace, and hold onto a relationship, a one of a kind relationship unlike any other that changes everything.
It is so important to remember that whoever you are, wherever you have been, whatever you have done, Jesus’ door is open to you because God raised Him from the dead and the tomb was empty.
Life is an incredible gift and many of us are blessed with abundance. Most of us have food to eat, safe shelter, and relationships with people who love and support us. We have much to be thankful for and we are compelled to live our days from the perspective of deep gratitude.
Despite our profound blessings, however, each one of us experiences sorrow, difficulties, and trials. As I write this, the sun is hidden behind clouds and it reminds me of the cold frigid days that we each go through.
Whether it is the loss of a life long partner, the despair of a teenage child, the anxiety of tenuous employment, loneliness, or simply the pressures of day to day living, the chances and changes of living challenge us all.
It is my prayer that we will be sustained and encouraged by Easter.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 28 we find, “After the Sabbath, as Sunday morning was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look in the tomb…an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow…The angel spoke to the women. ’You must not be afraid,’ he said. ’I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised…’”
The words, “he has been raised,” are, perhaps, the greatest words in Scripture, for it is in these words through which we learn that God has power over everything, even death itself.
If God can transform death into eternal life, then there is nothing on this earth over which God cannot overcome and transform in our lives. When the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that first Easter morning, despair was transformed into hope, and doubt into trust.
It is my prayer that we will each receive the gift of trust and hope this Easter. Trust that God is in charge regardless of how outward circumstances appear and hope that God can mold any situation into His purposes for our lives.
The fundamental reason I get up every morning is Easter and it is through Easter that you and I can be assured that God is in charge of everything, no matter what. Fear not, my friends, for He has been raised. Happy Easter!