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Peace! Be Still!

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Mark 4:39

Jesus had been teaching to a crowd on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Evening came and Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus fell asleep in the back of the boat when a “great windstorm” arose and threatened to swamp the boat. His disciples woke him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus got up and rebuked the wind, saying to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind stopped blowing and “there was a dead calm.” Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

How many times in life have we felt beaten and drenched by the winds and rain of life’s challenges and wondered, “Lord, do you not care that I am perishing?” Serious health issues, suffering loved ones, job insecurities, troubled relationships, bills piling up – name any issue and many people experience the feeling of drowning under that particular pressure. Difficult times seem to attract more difficult times. Old wife’s tails like “God will never give you more than you can handle” are discouraging, at best, if not patently false. Even so, Jesus looks out over our situation and says, “Peace! Be still!” In my experience, the seas have always calmed, although seldom on my timeline. During the calm after the storm, I hear Jesus patiently whisper, “Have you no faith?”

And yet, this is our journey. Iron is sharpened by iron, and our faith is strengthened by our challenges. Anyone can be faithful when life is easy. Life, however, is never smooth for long. Our emotions rise and fall like the waves, turbulent and rough one moment and smooth as glass the next. We tend to believe we have life under control during our moments of calm, only to experience something that sends us flailing in the waves again. We become victims of our emotions, unless and until we learn to rise above the turbulence of our surroundings to the dead calm of Christ.

A little-understood fact of life is that there is no security, no stability, and no calm outside of our total reliance upon the provision of God. There is no bank account large enough, no home solid enough, no body healthy enough, no relationship strong enough to stand against every storm that may come. There is no insurance policy comprehensive enough to assure the restoration of life to a previous state. Everything of the earth deteriorates and dies, as has been true for billions of years. Our world is in a state of constant flux as God creates and recreates new life in its stunning diversity. If we are unwilling to consciously change with our surroundings, we will be worn down like a boulder stubbornly fixed in the middle of a raging river. The wearing down over time, however, will not be the fault of the river or the rock – it is simply the nature of creation.

Perhaps when Jesus looked out over the stormy sea and said, “Peace! Be still!” it was as much a command to his frightened disciples as it was to the sea. “Trust me – I’ve got this,” may be another helpful translation. Yes, life will be rough. But it is our own resistance to what is that makes it so. It is our lack of faith that is on display, not God’s lack of care for who we are at our essence, which is eternal.

Some changes to our world – hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires – cause immeasurable suffering to many of the individual lives who inhabit it. But life, as a whole, survives and thrives. Individual life on earth was never intended to be permanent because the earth must continually redistribute the elements that compose our bodies and all of creation into new life forms. We are blind to the grace of every circumstance because we mourn what we believe we have lost instead of rejoicing in what is gained.

Jesus’ words, “Peace! Be still!” are a directive, calling us to trust God’s sometimes-raging river. When we strap ourselves in and commit to enjoying the ride wherever it takes us, we are less likely to be consumed by the seeming tragedies that occur along the way. We, too, will perish in God’s stormy sea one day. Paradoxically, only then will we truly know the peace of Christ. Until that day, faith is our best option.

This is the 38th in the series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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How Did I Miss That?

Part 7: Resurrection is a Reoccurring Reality

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

I do not know how I missed it, but resurrection is all around us, all of the time. To be sure, it is called by different names – the changing seasons, graduations, marriages, childbirth, death, sunrise, sunset – but the changing from one stage of life to another is constant. The cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth is forever present in us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As a Christian, I associate resurrection with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What I missed, however, was that the same pattern is repeated in all of life as a natural, ongoing process, albeit not always in as dramatic a fashion. The resurrection of Jesus is the core belief of Christianity, and the resurrection – having its central figure return to life from death – is the distinguishing feature separating it from other enduring religions.

Among Christians, we debate about how much of the biblical record we believe literally, but we tend to overlook how much of the lives recorded therein serve as a metaphor for our lives and the life around us. Science confirms that rebirth is an ongoing process. Every cell in our bodies is replaced at least every 7 years, so we are entirely remade many times over the course of our lives. Jesus talks about wheat in the passage from John 12. He says unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and “dies,” it will forever remain only a single grain of wheat. Once the seed dies, however, it grows into a plant that forms a seed head with hundreds of grains of wheat. When those grains fall to the earth and die, thousands of grains of wheat result. Knowing that, did the initial grain of wheat die, or did it transform its existence? Clearly, it was transformed, and so are we whenever a part of us dies. When Jesus rose from the dead, he was not the same person in the same body. He was transformed. Even his own disciples did not recognize him until he spoke.

The moral of resurrection is that change is good and necessary. New life cannot begin until an old life passes away. This is rebirth, and death is its prerequisite. It is what provides second chances and new starts. Much as we may feel safe and secure in our current life, nothing remains the same for long. We are designed for change, and we are led into numerous transformations over the course of a lifetime. We can change willingly, or we can go kicking and screaming. Either way, we will die to our old self and be reborn to a new one.

Resurrection is a reoccurring reality. How did I miss that?

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Graduation: Death and Resurrection

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Luke 24:36-37

Last week, my son moved out of his fraternity house. After four years at the University of Kansas, after completing the many celebrations, and after the honors and congratulatory hugs, it was time to move on. When I asked this ever-optimistic young man about it, he declared it a sad day. He said goodbye to the Beta house and to the 22 members of his pledge class, and while he will undoubtedly see both again, it will not be the same. Although Reid was ready to move on, there was a somber sense of nostalgia that lingered, as is often the case whenever we move from one phase of life to another.

We are not always ready for the graduations of our lives. Some just happen in the normal course of living. Some are expected, while others catch us unprepared. College, for my son, was a four-year experience. That was the way it was planned, and that was the way it happened. He did not necessarily seek a life change, nor did he seek to avoid it. The change just happened, and the end came quickly enough that perhaps it caught him off guard. Many milestones in our lives are that way: marriages, job changes, health challenges, the losses of loved ones. Ready or not, we “die” to one phase of life and are born into another – like Jesus, we are resurrected into a new version of our world.

Starting over can be exciting and it can be hard – both at the same time. I remember the transition from elementary to middle school: transitioning from the biggest, smartest, and most in-control in the school to being the smallest, dumbest, and least in-control – at least that was how it felt. When our surroundings change there will be a degree of discomfort. Moving on due to a graduation of some sort, however, should also involve moving up. We find ourselves in a new situation, but with the knowledge and experience gained from the past. We are changed, and we will never be the same.

It is interesting how Jesus, following his crucifixion and resurrection, appeared to his disciples a number of times and was usually not recognized. It was Jesus, but it was the resurrected Jesus – the graduated Jesus, if you will. I imagine it was similar to seeing a formerly close friend one has not seen for many years. We must look twice and consider carefully to remember who this is and in what context we knew them. The person has changed, although vestiges of their past remain. We are products of our many graduations. Life moves on and invites us to do the same. Death and rebirth are the cycles of life, as inescapable as the cycles of day and night, winter and spring. It is life, and though sometimes sad, life is good.

May our graduations, deaths, and resurrections carry us to ever higher levels of being!

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Life Notes

The River, a Sugar Maple, and Jesus

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:2

The image of time as a river is powerful for me. A river, like time, flows in one direction and is always on the move. Sometimes the surface is rough and choppy, other times it is smooth as glass – not unlike the way we experience our days on earth. The river eventually flows to the sea, where the water is reabsorbed into the atmosphere to fall as rain across the land, replenishing the rivers. And on and on it flows.

The season of autumn also reminds me of the passage of time. As leaves that were bright green only days ago turn red, orange, and yellow, and then fall to the ground, I am reminded that everything we know as life goes through its seasons and eventually dies. Certain life forms go out in a blaze of glory, like the leaves of the sugar maple in my backyard. They refuse to pass without creating a scene. Its river of time flows froSugar Maplem the soil to its roots, through its truck, and into its leaves each year. Another river carries the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere through its leaves, converting it to sugars, then down into its roots to be stored as food for next season’s glorious resurrection. And on and on life goes.

The amazing circle of life is always on the move. Jesus modeled this cycle for us. He lived, he died, and he was resurrected. There is nothing to fear in death, he tells us. Look and see; I was dead, and yet I live! It is the same message as the river, as the sugar maple, and of all creation. We live, we die, and we live again. Most of our deaths are not physical, but transitions from one stage of life to another. Eventually, our physical death does come, and we cannot know what lies beyond. We can know, however, that there is more life. That is the message of Jesus, and the river, and the sugar maple.

I wrote a song some years ago called The River of Time. I am pleased to share it with others contemplating the passage of time: https://contemplatinggrace.com/music/the-river-of-time/. Whether we view the passage of time as a river, a tree, or a Savior, life is passing through and from us. And as time passes by, we are transformed – older, wiser, more frail perhaps, but always reborn into a new being. The river flows. The sugar maple grows. Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus lives again. True then, true now and forever.

Come home to church this Sunday. Celebrate the river, celebrate autumn, celebrate life!

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Life Notes

Resurrection

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

Lately, I have been contemplating resurrection. Among the images conjured up by the word are revival, rejuvenation, and rebirth. Earlier this week, I got a call from a police detective. He was at my brother’s apartment and called to tell me my brother was dead.

There was a time when Wade and I were best friends. We learned to snow ski together. We vacationed together. We played basketball, golf, and mud volleyball together. He was the best man at my wedding, and I at his. He had a quirky sense of humor and was always fun company. And then about 20 years ago something in Wade’s brain chemistry shifted, and he ended up in a mental institution for the first of many hospitalizations. At first, his illness was something we dealt with together. As the years passed, however, a wedge developed between us – a wedge due in part to his illness and in part to my anxiety. There was the day in court as his wife and I sought to have him involuntarily committed. There were several nerve-wracking drives, taking him to the hospital as his psychosis raged. A part of Wade became suspicious of me, as if I were looking for any reason to send him back to a mental ward. A part of me resented the need monitor Wade’s mental state with every encounter. Was he in a common realm of reality, or was he only pretending? When he was pretending, he could be unnerving. Perhaps my biggest fear was that his illness would incapacitate him and I, as his oldest sibling, would need to become his legal guardian.

Today, as I reflect on my life with Wade, I realize the discomfort, the anxieties, and the challenges of the past 20 years are gone. The wedge between us has been removed as surely as the stone of Christ’s tomb was rolled away. They, along with his body, now belong to the earth where they can sprout into new life. Wade’s soul is once again free to be the truest and freest version of itself — funny, quirky, loving life and those with whom he shares it. In a fit of unexpected resurrection, I have my brother back.

And this is the essence of resurrection — making things new and better, restoring what is good, healing what is sick, removing that which stands between us and love. In the sadness of losing my brother as a physical presence, I have regained the unfettered memories of the brother I loved dearly. And I can immerse myself in those memories without worrying about when, where, and how the next manifestation of his illness will occur. Part of me always knew those episodes were the illness and not my brother, but sometimes it was difficult to separate the two. Not anymore. Wade’s human frailties are committed to the earth, and he is free. For that, and for the extraordinary experiences, I rejoice.

Godspeed, my brother!

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Never Forget 

This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

Luke 22:19 

One tragic moment can turn life around, in ways so painfully new;

But in our sorrow, in a thousand ways, we will remember you…

Excerpt from Never Forget

I work in the air-medical transport community and over the forty-plus years of its existence, our industry has lost more than 300 of its associates in the line of duty. An air-medical accident – most commonly a helicopter crash – usually occurs because of poor decision-making on the part of one or more people. Of course, we all make poor decisions, but some decisions have more severe and irreversible consequences than others. In most public-service endeavors – EMS, fire, law enforcement, military – losing a comrade in the line of duty creates sudden, long-lasting, and violent shock-waves that reverberate far beyond the family and friends of the ones lost.

Remembering is important. Near the end of the last meal with his disciples, Jesus blessed and broke bread, poured wine, and told his closest companions to remember him every time they ate and drank. This request was not made out of a narcissistic fear of being forgotten. Rather, the request was made out of a knowledge that his friends – and us today – would need to remember, not for his sake but for ours. Whenever we form a close bond with another – through marriage, friendship, or profession – we become a part of a family that is larger than our single existence. When we lose a person in that family, we often need to re-member, to reestablish and celebrate that bond, and to have that person in our presence again, if only in our memory.

Some are reluctant to dwell on memories of loved ones because they find it too painful. In reality, it may be more painful not to remember. In his book The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton writes, “The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.” Cherished memories may hurt by reminding us of what we have lost, but repressing those memories will hurt more.

Keeping the memory of a loved one alive helps our healing process. Indeed, when someone close to us passes, remembering is a primary way to reconnect with them. We cherish items they valued; we return to the scene of the accident; we linger over their pictures. By remembering, we bring a past reality to the present again. While the memory is not as tangible as the reality was, it often allows for a renewing of our focus on today and tomorrow. We remember the sacrifice and the love of others who valued us enough to put their lives on the line for us. We remember our spouse, our friend, our co-worker, our Savior; and the memory of that bond strengthens us today. When we remember, we honor our loved ones and keep their impact upon us alive.

Come home to church this Sunday. Re-member into the family of God.

My song, Never Forget, can be heard at my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.Com.

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