Sprout: Inspiration for Emergence

SproutWhat is holding you back from emerging from the depths of the dirt and living in the power of the light?

Many of my messages and reflections have given a great deal of attention to all things garden related over the past few moment. There is a simple reason: my son and I planted our first garden this past Spring. We really had no idea what all we were doing, but we had a fun time figuring our way through it and forging new friendships with people who wanted to help us in our efforts!

(Aside: Our first efforts for germinating seeds was pretty hilarious. You can listen to the story in this message from the series The Life of a Seed.)

There have been many blessings that have come from our gardening experiment: watching the plants produce fruits, eating the fresh vegetables, and sharing our vegetables with others! Of course, the greatest blessings has been the opportunity to spend time with my son…

Among all of the blessings, there was a most spectacular and awe-inspiring moment that helped me see the true beauty in farming! — A couple of weeks after my son and I placed the seeds into the germination cells, small sprouts began to emerge from the soil!

The emergence of these sprouts was, well, almost magical…better still, it was divine!

As these sprouts pushed through the soil, they began to unfold into the light. The first leaves opened up and exposed themselves to the light of the sun (or, in our case, the heat lamp). They made themselves vulnerable, accessible, but also receptive to the light that would nurture and sustain their growth!

The sprouting of a seed is a perfect image for a new found faith of a Christian believer.

Faith is like a seed sown into the heart. The seed begins to sprout and grow. As the sprout emerges, it (ought) to open to the light. The light serves the health of the sprout by nurturing and sustaining its growth into a productive plant!

The Word of God is sown into our hearts by the proclamation of Jesus. Those who receive and respond to his proclamation will see faith founded upon the Word begin to grow and emerge. The awe-inspiring beauty of the whole thing is faith emerges and begins to open to the light of the Son, which nurtures and sustains the faith through the power of the Spirit.

The Word of God has been sown into your heart through the proclamation of Jesus! What will you do? How will your heart receive and respond to this proclamation?

My encouragement to you today is to simply be inspired to emerge!

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Elevator: Awkward Encounters of God

Riding the elevator with a stranger is awkward. Bottled up inside a confined space with someone you do not know — very uncomfortable.

I do not like awkward situations, because – obviously – they are uncomfortable!

I usually attempt to break awkward tension in any given situation with a joke or some light-hearted comment! My friends know this about me. They think I am a kidder, who likes “to stir the pot,” but really, I’m just super uncomfortable in awkward moments. I guess making a joke or making a light-hearted comment is my attempt at taking control of the situation.

Inside an elevator with a stranger is a whole other level of awkward, though! I wish I had a standard comment on the ready to ease the awkwardness – something like, “Random fact: Hippos secrete red sweat when they are upset.” That type of knowledge bomb would certainly destroy any degree of elevator awkwardness!

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I once rode in an elevator with James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul.” I do not think I said anything to him. I remember staring at his teeth – also, random. Maybe that should be my elevator ice-breaker. “Hello, my name is Ross. I once rode an elevator with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. And, now, my new friend, you can say that you’ve ridden in an elevator with a man who rode in an elevator with James Brown!”

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All of this to say, I rode in an elevator with a stranger today. A young man, with tattoos all along his arms and multiple piercings. I stepped into the elevator with him and the awkward tension. How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

I went with the standard head nod and, “What’s up, man?” — You know, alpha male material.

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Apparently, that’s all the guy needed to start telling me his story – His father was in the hospital with a surgery, he was hoping to be released later in the day, he had come down from New York to help his mother with his father, he sold clothes for a living, and he was headed to Florida before flying back to New York.

Y’all, I was only taking the elevator to the 3rd floor! He told me like ten stories within 2 stories worth of an elevator ride!!

I guess the reason we feel awkward – the type of awkward we feel in an elevator with a stranger – is because we all have a story to tell. We have this inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others. The awkward tension we feel in the elevator with a stranger is not the discomfort of sharing a small, confined space with someone we have never met. The awkwardness results from our resisting the need to relate to others.

There are times in life when we bump into God like a stranger in an elevator. We encounter God in the midst of our life and we have no idea what to say – “Hey, God! Hippos sweat turns red when they are mad, but you probably already knew that!”

God has a way of showing up when we least expect it and when we are least prepared for God’s presence. It can be a little awkward – How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

The awkwardness we experience when we unexpectedly encounter God in the midst of our life results from the same inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others.

Specifically, at the core of our heart is the inherent need to know God and to be known by God.

“Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by Him.” — 1 Corinthians 8:2-3

Any awkwardness experienced when encountering God is normal! What to do? How to stand? What to say/not say? These uncertainties are the result of a natural need to exist in relationship with God. You have a story worth being told; and, God has a story for you to live. The awkwardness is simply the assurance that you are meant to know and be known by God.

Watch out the next time you step into an elevator. Who knows, you might find yourself riding with God the Father of your soul…not to be confused with the Godfather of Soul.

Live Bolder: On Turning 35

fontcandyI turned 35 last week.

I realize 35 may not seem old to some of you, but turning 35 feels like a milestone in the years. Technically, I am no longer considered a “young adult.” Perhaps, this transition of categorization is what seems so upsetting!

After all, if I am no longer to be considered a “young adult,” then it means I am supposed to be, well, an “adult” — and, quite honestly, I am not sure if I am ready for the responsibility! I have kind of enjoyed the privilege shrug off my mistakes with the comforting realization that I am still trying to figure out this adulting thing…

Not so much now!

Now, I’m not supposed to lean on the excuse that I am in the process of becoming an adult…because, well, it happened somewhere along the way.

And, I am already feeling it.

I had a fun birthday afternoon with JE. We blew up water balloons, threw them at one another, sprayed Solomon with a hose, and then went to VBS where we got to go down a huge waterslide and play in a jump castle…you know, a normal kind of 35th birthday.

But, while I was jumping in the jump castle, my foot slipped out and my knee buckled. I fell awkwardly to the mat with a grimace of pain.

JE laughed, because he thought I was playing around.

I wasn’t!

It hurt.

But, that’s just it – living exposes you too the rick of pain.

Embracing the life given to us can be a blast — it can look a lot like playing with water balloons, jump castles, and water slides! And, embracing life may expose you to the risk of pain, but the joy felt is always greater!

So, here is to being 35!

I’m not going to worry so much about getting older, but about living bolder – embracing the life God has given me with the expectation of being overwhelmed by joy and not so distracted by the risk of a little pain!

Speck: Choosing to See with Compassion and Empathy

fontcandy“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. — Matthew 7:1-5

I got a speck of saw dust in my eye yesterday. The speck posed an annoyance yesterday evening as Ginny and I sat down to watch America’s Got Talent. I did not mess with my eye, figuring the speck would be flushed out when I slept later that night.

I woke up this morning in a bit of discomfort. The speck had not flushed out. Worse, the speck was rubbing against my eye forming tiny scratches. I tried a couple different approaches to remove the speck: rubbing my eye (not a good idea); wiping the eye lid; eye drops; and, flushing my eye with water. Nothing seemed to help. The speck remained and the discomfort increased as my eye became more bloodshot.

While delivering his “sermon on the mount,” Jesus asks his disciples, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

The question is asked so Jesus can further encourage his disciples to first remove the log from their eye so they may see clearly to take the speck out of their neighbor’s eye.

These words are likely familiar to many of you. Jesus uses the imagery of speck/log in reference to the human tendency to judge others. The point of Jesus is to first attend to one’s shortcomings before addressing the shortcomings of others. Or, a more strident reading of this teaching suggests Jesus commands his disciples to attend to their sinful tendencies against the tendency to judge the sinfulness of others. And, of course, this is a teaching that speaks beyond the Twelve to all followers of Jesus — Judge not, lest ye not be judged! 

While judging others is certainly the central issue, Jesus makes a comment towards the end of his teaching, which brings another point into view. Jesus instructs his disciples to remove the log from their eye so they might see clearly to remove the speck out of the eye of their neighbor (Matthew 7:5).

Jesus does identify the ability to assist in the removal of a speck from the eye of a neighbor. The emphasis is a matter of one’s approach: do not seek to call out (judge) others for the specks that limits the view; but rather, approach your neighbor with compassion and empathy as one who knows the pain of having one’s sight blinded by a log!!

A little speck of saw dust is still floating around in my eye. It is uncomfortable; and, it is limiting my ability to see clearly.

Our tendency towards sin is no different. Sin limits our ability to see clearly. Sin blurs our view of God and it disrupts our ability to see and live into our relationship with God through Jesus. Life lived out of rhythm with God through Jesus Christ can be extremely uncomfortable.

That is the point we often miss!

Judging others is not just unhealthy, because it points out the flaws of another without acknowledging the faults of our own. Judging is ineffective! (Dare I say, negligent?)

When we choose to judge, we are choosing to withhold compassion and empathy from our neighbor. We forget the smallest speck can cause a great deal of discomfort and limit one’s vision.

When we choose to judge, we miss the opportunity to serve the well-being of our neighbor – to honor the pain they carry; to comfort them in their distress; or, to offer them a guiding hand.

I guess, at the end of it all, its a matter of the way you choose to see things…

Are you able to see clearly with the love of God? Or, is there a speck in your eye blurring your vision?

Blessings,
RC

Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way

Not able to make it to a worship service this morning?

Feeling a little uninspired?

That is okay!

Because, sometimes we just feel a little uninspired.

But, have a listen to the message Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way.

Because, there is peace for us still…!

 

Wilted: Exhausted of the Spirit

WiltedEver feel like you are wilting? Does it ever seem as if you’ve been exhausted of the Spirit?

The issue of “spiritual wilt” was the topic of a message from a few weeks ago – Rivers of Living Water.  The message covered the words of Jesus in John 7:37-39 — where Jesus encourages those who are thirty to come to him and those who believe him are invited to drink. For a more complete consideration, I would encourage you to have a listen to the full message.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a post about my new adventure into gardening and how this new adventure has begun nurturing inspiration for my spiritual growthMuch has occurred in the garden (and, I am sure a few more reflections will arise in the coming weeks).

Something very interesting happened about a month ago: my family and I returned from a 48-hour trip to discover our largest plants in a terrible way. Both of the plants were beginning to wilt. The leaves had no life in them and the stems were already limp.

I took a quick inventory of the garden and soon realized the plants were completely out of water. While I drench the garden the morning we left, the following 48 hours were extremely hot. The plants had fallen into distress with the two largest plants already beginning to wilt.

The lives we live are often big and busy – we try to do all we can and as often as we can.  And, quietly frankly, living this way is exhausting.

Even when the betterment of others is our aim, we are susceptible to exhaustion. Sustaining our family, supporting our friends, serving our clients/patients/students is all very exhausting!

Living big and busy lives can wear you down, physically.

For many of us, the exhaustion is more than physical.

The exhaustion is something else; something different.

The exhaustion brought out by our big and busy lives is felt from within — within the body, within the heart, within the place where joy is supposed to thrive.

When our lives gets a little too big and a little too busy, the thriving of joy feels a lot more like a wilting of the heart and the wilting of the spirit.

Back to my plants…

One was of a squash variety and the other was a zucchini.

They were in terrible shape…serious exhaustion, serious wilt.

Over the course of an hour, I began to slowly add water back into the containers. An intentional offering of water was contributed to the roots of these distressed plants.

The response was almost immediate as the stems began standing tall and the leaves became firm within an hour.

The water restored life to the plants.

The water offered to these plants would further sustain their life.

And, most amazingly, two weeks later those plants were producing “fruits” (vegetables) that would sustain the life of my family.

Jesus cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now [Jesus] said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive. — John 7:37b-39a

The more complex our lives (and, by here, I specifically mean the more we attempt to do, the more frequently we attempt to do it, and everyone we attempt to serve), the more susceptible we are to wilting of a spiritual nature.

“Out of the believer’s heart will flow rivers of living water,” which is true. But, the believer must first go to the source of the water and drink. The believer must receive and be filled by the water that sustains authentic life. Then, and only then, will the heart nourished by the Spirit grow and bear fruit.

Discover the hope in these words of Jesus for all who have or may be feeling a little wilted…

You are not meant to be the source of water that sustains, supports or serves.

You are invited to come; and, you are meant to drink, to be filled, and to allow the Spirit to work in you and through you.

The fruit produced by you (through you) may sustain the authentic life of another, but you are not the source of the water that restores and sustains. You are simply a witness to the power of the Spirit at work in you.

Feeling a little wilted?

Has life gotten a little too big and a little too busy?

Do not be discouraged!

Your exhaustion does not signal your insufficiency. Your exhaustion is simply a reminder of your need to pause before his presence, to receive the restorative and sustaining power of the living water, and to joyfully experience the power of the Spirit at work in you and through you.

Side Note – I encourage those who have time to listen to the message related to this topic. Properly understanding the full significance of the invitation of Jesus “to drink” requires consideration to a key detail in the passage – Jesus spoke these words “On the last day of the festival, the great day.” (John 7:37) The message takes the timing and the setting of Jesus’s words into account for a more complete interpretation of the significance of this Scripture. 

Lifted Up: Overcoming the Isolation of Weakness

Jlifted upesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up… — Mark 1:31a

Illness holds an incredible power over the human body and spirit – illness is exhausting. The illness starving our bodies and spirits could be physical or mental. Either way, illness has the same debilitating effect. The ill are drained and forced into the isolation of weakness.

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up,” (Mark1:31a) provokes a hopeful image. Jesus’ extending of a hand to a woman who is at her weakest signals a message of hope for anyone who knows this exhaustion. Offering a hand of strength, comfort, and assurance transfers a power untouched by modern medicine. Reaching out to another in their weakness is transformative.

Jesus offers his hand to the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. While this miracle story is not the first of Jesus’ deeds of power in the gospel of Mark, the care and concern he shows to this feeble woman is the first of his “healing miracles” in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry.

A fever had overtaken this woman. Her illness brought her to fragility, confining her to the bed. Jesus sees the woman in her weakness and he reaches out to her.

Mark seems to make a statement with this first healing miracle. He offers his audience a clear impression of Jesus of Nazareth: Jesus is a man with the authority of divine power, who chooses to reach out to people when they are at their weakest; and, therfore, we can all trust that God reaches out to us in our weakness through Jesus. 

Jesus takes the woman by the hand. He holds her. He connects himself to her in her weakness. He believes for her. He believes in God and the power of God to heal. But, Jesus also believes in in the woman. Jesus believes in her potential to be moved from weakness to strength. He believes in the power of God to deliver this woman from her fragility and to raise her to a newness of life! He believes in her ability to be lifted up!

In faith, he took her by the hand and…

He lifted her up.

Accepting the hand of strength, comfort, and assurance offered to us in our weakness is not easy. Relying upon God, trusting in the power of God, believing in the freeing power of God’s love is not easy for all of us. Believing God would determine us worthy of this hand of power is even more of an obstacle. And, yet, in your weakness you will discover this hand of God is not only being offered to you, it has already taken hold of your hand.

Accept the hand that is holding you and know the power it provides.

Be lifted up…

But, allow yourself to be lifted up to a newness of life so that you might become the hand of God for another, who is drained, feeble, and forced into the isolation of weakness. Reach out to others in their weakness with the hand of strength, comfort, and assurance that you know possesses the power to lift up.

 

tillit: Nurturing Inspiration for Spiritual Growth

Slide3Spiritually misplaced is what I will call it…

The way I have been feeling for the last couple of months…it is like I am spiritually misplaced.

It is not the feeling of being lost; it is something else…

Feeling spiritually misplaced is a little like forgetting where you put your cell phone when you walked into the house.

You know what I mean?

You know the phone is there. It is still working – beeping, buzzing, chiming! But, you don’t know remember where you set it down.

You know that frustration?

That’s what I mean when I say I have felt spiritually misplaced. I know my faith is still there, working – beeping, buzzing, and chiming – but it feels like it is just out of reach. The calls are going unanswered because I can’t remember where I set the phone down!

Frustrating!

Have you ever felt spiritually misplaced?

Have you ever felt like your faith was working – beeping, buzzing, and chiming – but it felt just out of reach? Have you ever felt misplaced because you can’t answer the calls?

My spiritual misplacement has had me searching, but I haven’t been searching for my faith, per se. I have come to realize I’ve been searching for something intrinsic to my faith…

I’ve been searching for inspiration.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration supplied by my faith.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration that gets me over doing life so that I can live life – and live it immersed in the abundant grace of God.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration that nurtures my spiritual growth – a growth away from the self and into the presence of God in Jesus Christ.

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One of the most influential teachers from my time in divinity school was Dr. Ellen Davis. She is an Old Testament scholar. Her teaching and instruction was a blessing to my classmates and me.

She brought our attention to a verse in the Bible, which changed my life: “The Lord God placed the man in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.” – Genesis 2:15

She encouraged her students to consider the meaning of the words translated “till it” and “keep it.” She argued a compelling case for translating the verse to read: to serve it and to observe it. (For a closer examination of her argument, I would encourage you to read her book Scripture, Culture, Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible.)

Without getting into a full discussion about her argument, she influenced me to reconsider my view of creation! She encouraged me to reconsider the relationship God intended for humanity to have with the dirt. She influenced me to question God’s intent for God’s creation, the responsibility God entrusted to humanity, and the blessed ability to encounter the beauty of God’s presence in my life by valuing life around me.

To till it no longer meant to work the ground  for my own delight, or to exhaust the earth of her resources! To till it meant to care for the dirt that nurtures and sustains life! To till it meant to relate to God by valuing, serving, and observing God’s creation.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? – Psalm 8:3-4

How does the dirt of the earth relate to my spiritual misplacement? How does the glory of God’s creation speak to my lack of inspiration?

In the midst of dealing with my misplacement, I decided to till it and keep it.

Literally.

I started a garden.

My son and I went to the local feed and seed at the end of February and bought some seeds, a bag of plant mix, and a couple planting containers. I thought it would be a fun activity for him. He could learn about plants and eat the vegetables he grew.

We returned to the house and tried to figure out how to make plants grow, which is when I discovered I did not know what I was doing!

So, I did what any good millennial would do – I got on youtube and watched videos on germinating seeds, transplanting, and gardening for beginners!

Our initial afternoon activity became a daily opportunity for my son and me to explore and learn together.

We learned how to germinate seeds.

We learned how to transplant seedlings.

We learned how to start a garden, build a raised bed, and create row crops.

In the midst of our new adventure, my inspiration began to emerge from the dirt.

The emergence of inspiration within a garden is not surprising. There is a prayerful quality to considering and caring for the dirt, to watering and tending the plants, to tasting the sweetness of the fruit.

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My son showing his mother the first snap pea.

The garden is not the only place to discover the inspiration that nurtures spiritual growth. The location is not the issue; rather, one’s approach to faith is what matters. It is a matter of perspective. It is a matter of how you choose to see things and how to respond to situations in your life.

What can you do when you are feeling spiritually misplaced?

tillit.

I don’t mean go start a garden (unless that appeals to you). Consider the meaning of “to till it and keep it” for you.

What are you tilling and keeping?

Where are your giving your time, energy, and spirit?

If you are feeling spiritually misplaced, maybe God is urging you to redirect your efforts. Maybe it is time to tillit…to serve and observe the things God values. Maybe it is time to give yourself to the thing or the person you otherwise overlook.

Maybe if you learn what it means for you to tillit, you might discover the emergence of the inspiration that nurtures your spiritual growth.

Hope is Healing

Hope is HealingHe is risen!

In his being raised from the dead, all of us are able to discover the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The hope born on this day of resurrection is a hope infused with the grace of God.

The hope extended to us on this day of resurrection possesses the divine power to create a newness of life.

May your Easter be filled by the joy of the resurrection and its hope for a newness of life.

May you experience the strength, comfort, and joy it offers.

If you are not able to make it to a church service this morning, I would like to invite you to listen to Hope is Healing, which is a message prepared for Easter of 2015.

Blessings to you all on this wonderful day of resurrection. Alleluia!

Missing: The Empty Tomb and Our Struggle to Discover Jesus

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“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were [at the burial of Jesus], sitting opposite the tomb.” — Matthew 27:61

The death of Jesus was horrific. The final exhalation of Jesus did not give way to peace on earth nor a sense of tranquility. Pure chaos erupted as Jesus exhaled his last breath – the curtain was ripped, the earth began to shake, the rocks began to split, and the tombs began to break open.

Many women were at the crucifixion of Jesus and witnessed his death. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of James and Joseph) were among these women.

These women remained with Jesus as his exhausted body hung from the cross. They remained with Jesus as his broken body was lowered to the crowd. They followed Joseph of Arimathea as he carried the body of Jesus to its final resting place.

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were [at the burial of Jesus], sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:61) These two women witnessed Jospeh place the body of Jesus in the tomb and roll the large stone in front of the entrance to the sepulcher. Evening was dawning as the sun slipped below the horizon. It was the Sabbath day; they would need to hurry home and return the following day to continue their vigil.

That Holy Saturday following the death of Jesus was marked by silence. The followers of Jesus had retreated to hidden quarters. Many of the disciples and the other followers of Jesus returned to the room were the Passover was shared. They hid from the authorities in the room where they previously recalled Israel’s escape from Egypt. They hid within the room where Jesus pointed to his body and his blood as the source of their liberation from the punishment of sin.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary must have sat unsettled. They had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and the burial of Jesus. These women, however, had not fully observed his vigil. During the early hours of the morning, as the sun began to rise on the third day, these women left their place of hiding and went to see the tomb.

They intended to pray, to grieve, and to pay their respect to Jesus.

They returned to the place where they knew Jesus would be; or, at least, they returned to the place where they expected his body to be at rest.

Only, Jesus was not there!

The tomb was empty.

Where was Jesus?

If there is one thing we can appreciate, it would be the reaction of the disciples following the death of Jesus. Like many of the disciples and followers of Jesus, we spend the majority of our time in hiding. The disciples were not hiding because they felt differently about Jesus. They were in hiding, because they believed Jesus was dead and they feared the consequence for associating with this man. We hide, as well. We hide sometimes, (though we may not want to admit it), because Jesus feels dead to us…

Do we really want to face the consequences of associating with a dead man?

At our best, we have moments such as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. These women returned to the place where the body of Jesus was laid to rest. They went to the place where they believed Jesus would be…only he is not there. Jesus was not in the one place he was supposed to be.

Do we not share this experience? Have there not been times in your life when you stepped out from your place of hiding so that you could go to Jesus only to discover he was not there? Have you never gone to place Jesus is supposed to be and discovered his absence?

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in church, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in others, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in prayer, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in Scripture, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in all the right places only to discover he is not there!!

What are we to do? What are we to do when the right places prove to be the wrong places? Where are we to find Jesus?

What an interesting question…

What an interesting question to consider over this Holy Triduum as we prepare for Easter Sunday, when followers of Jesus will join together in celebrating the presence of the Risen Lord!!!