Author Archives: rgotthardt

Good Friday- A Poem

Good Friday- A Poem

If it is true (and it is)

That there is no real love without real suffering,

Then it must also be true 

That the greatest Love

Must contain the greatest suffering.

As we look upon the One who suffers,
The One who is pierced,

Broken, even crushed for our sins,

We gaze upon the very face of Love.

Love bears all things…

And that bearing, by the Holy One,

Means the bearing of our greatest and deepest burden,

Our sinfully stained hearts.

Love suffers long…

And those six hours one Friday

Are not the limit of His suffering,

But encompass pain’s most vivid and central display.

Love endures all things…

And in Him, the Crucified God,

Endurance without limit

Is held aloft for all to see.

Love never fails…

But can truest Love be known, or seen, or tasted,

Without the Love of Christ taking into Himself

The depths of my own failure?

Here is Love

Vast as the ocean.

Not written in poetic verse

Or sloppy sentiment,

But etched eternally

On tear-stained cheeks

And thorn-pierced brow,

On blood-soaked limbs

Through anguished sighs

As the Beloved Son’s pulsing life

Slowly ebbs away

On a gruesome cross

Suspended in darkness

Between heaven and earth.

Here is love

Vast as the ocean

Displayed in suffering 

equal to Love’s measure.

May we look upon Him now,

The wounded and anguished One

And find in His tear-filled eyes

The gaze of truest and deepest love.

For without suffering,

Love is incomplete and insufficient to the need.

So let us not avert our gaze or glance away

From this holiest of moments

When vivid violence is enacted upon

Innocent flesh

And the purest of all hearts

Ruptures and drains away

The blood of the spotless lamb of God.

Look upon Him now, for

Here indeed 

is Love.

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Posted by on April 2, 2021 in Uncategorized


Thursday of Holy Week

Thursday of Holy Week

For today’s meditation, I’m sharing a poem I wrote reflecting on the love that Jesus displays on this day, in particular.

I want to love more,

            Really love.

The kind of love that serves without needing,
listens without interrupting,

cheers without ceasing.

Love like that.

I want to love better,

            really love.

The kind of love that tenderly pries open words,

                       thoughts and looks

                       to catch a glimpse of beauty beneath.

The kind of love that wills the deepest good of another,

 their best and truest self

                         invited to emerge from the shadows.

The kind of love that waits in hope,

                        wonders with kindness,

                        holds hands tightly, even in the dark.

Love like that.

I want to love like You do, Jesus.

Love that self-empties so others can be filled,

            bends low to lift another high

            that suffers with 

and suffers for

and suffers long.

A love beyond counting, without limit, freely and joyfully given.

            Love like that.

O Jesus, washer of timid and dirty feet, 

friend of faith-impaired deniers, 

forgiver of the angry and the violent,

protector of the confused, the frightened, and alone,

teach me to be more like You.

Teach me how to love.

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Posted by on April 1, 2021 in Uncategorized


Wednesday of Holy Week

Wednesday of Holy Week

Judas is a perplexing figure, isn’t he?  His name is synonymous with deceit and betrayal, so it’s easy to simply dismiss him as a kind of “necessary evil” in the act of Jesus’ narrative.  But if we’re willing to ponder a bit further, perhaps more can emerge.

As one of the Twelve, Judas was part of a tight circle around Jesus.  He spent the better part of three years accompanying Jesus everywhere He went.  He heard Jesus teach hundreds of messages, watched Him perform countless miracles.  He must have had dozens of personal and intimate conversations with Jesus- on the road, around a fire, over a shared meal.  Laughter, tears, insightful moments beyond description.  Seriously, think about having Jesus as your small group leader, except He’s the Son of God and you actually live together.  Just think about the depth of connection Judas had with Jesus. 

So what happened?  What went wrong in the mind and heart of Judas to lead him to such an insidious betrayal?  We could chalk it up to the fact that he was fulfilling a purpose that had been laid out for him.  But Judas was free to choose.  He had personal agency in his decisions.  We can gather some clues in what we’re told of a character flaw in him, a proclivity towards deception and theft.  As the keeper of the group’s funds, apparently Judas would help himself to some of the money.  I wonder what his inner dialogue was like about this.  How did he justify and rationalize this larceny?  Maybe he convinced himself that he was entitled to some extra, or that such pilfering didn’t really mean anything.   Whatever his reasoning, clearly this cultivation of a kind of double life became an opening for the enemy to exploit.  Sobering to reflect on.  Are there hidden parts of me- places of rationalization and entitlement- that open a dangerous window to my soul?

But what must, in the end, have led to Judas’ fateful decision was something we’re all vulnerable to.  Disillusionment.  Disappointment with Jesus.  Perhaps Judas had expected Jesus to be a different kind of leader or revolutionary.  Maybe he thought he was getting an inside track on a key role in a new administration.  Whatever his hopes, Jesus was clearly not lining up.  Likely the disenchantment started small- some frustrated thoughts or confused moments.  Unchecked and uncorrected, they festered and spread.  Eventually they became a raging fire that consumed him from within.  

Of course it’s not only Judas that gets disappointed and confused with Jesus and His ways.  We all do.  It’s what we do with the dissatisfaction that matters.  I wonder what might have happened if Judas would have brought those to Jesus.  Sat with him and had an honest conversation around the campfire.  Maybe that’s not just an idea for Judas, though. What if we brought ours to Jesus, too?

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Posted by on March 31, 2021 in Uncategorized


Tuesday of Holy Week

Tuesday of Holy Week

On this day of Holy Week, we find Jesus in the Temple- the place that He had just vividly purged of opportunistic moneychangers and their like.  In doing so, He re-asserts the Temple’s primary purpose, for it is to be  “A house of prayer for all peoples”.  And now on Tuesday, Jesus is being questioned and challenged; His opponents looking for any window to discredit and humiliate this threat to their entrenched status.  You might call this day, “Debate Day”, but it’s really not an even playing field.  Sure, it’s groups and sects of learned scholars conspiring together against a single man, but this is Jesus we’re talking about.  They didn’t have a chance.

But what is easily lost amidst the wonder at Jesus’ remarkable responses and brilliant rhetoric is His larger goal in these exchanges.  In our contentious and divided day, we often aim for the “killer line” or “takedown sound-bite” to embarrass or humiliate our opponents (or simply those who think differently than us).  Jesus certainly confounds and confronts His challengers— “Woe to you” is repeated 7 times at one point.  But Jesus is not aiming at shame or even trying to “win” an argument.  That’s more our style.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we will find that we’re usually motivated by one of two things.  It’s either pride:  that we’re smarter and “better”; or, more often, fear: a troubling sense that we may have missed it or gotten it wrong, or perhaps that we’ll be exposed or embarrassed in some way.  Pride and fear keep Jesus’ opponents- and often us- from Jesus’ actual message.

And that message is right there at the beginning of these exchanges.  In a stunning declaration, Jesus tells the upstanding, respectable and outwardly good people that whores and thieves are closer to God than they are.  Seriously.  Let that sink in a moment.  Remember, Jesus isn’t trying to humiliate.  He’s desperately trying to INVITE.  The “bad” people were deeply aware of their need for God’s grace and acceptance, and they found it in Jesus.  The “good” people were so busy following the rules that they couldn’t.  And so instead of being embraced in His outstretched arms, they would soon nail them to a cross.  But on Tuesday, Jesus is still trying to reach them, warn them, even welcome them.

So how about you today?  Think about “those” people- whoever they are:  people who look, think, or act differently than you.  Do you find yourself putting them in a category, like “wrong” or “less than”?  Do you have internal (or actual) “debates” with them to reinforce your own position and alleviate your own nagging fears?  Consider again Jesus’ intent for His temple and now for His people- that we would be a place and people of prayer and welcome “for all the peoples”.  Why don’t you have a talk with Jesus about this today?

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Posted by on March 30, 2021 in Uncategorized


Monday of Holy Week

Monday of Holy Week

Clearly something significant is brewing.  Yes, the crowds shouting at Jesus “Save us! Now!” the day before is a huge new development.  And clearly Jesus isn’t passive, because it was His order to go get the donkey, His disciples that began the shouts of Hosanna, His defense of this adoration in the face of challenge.  Tension with the religious leaders is clearly ratcheting up, as it now includes a plot to murder the recently-resurrected Lazarus.  Jesus is an ever-greater threat to their grip on control and He keeps pouring fuel on the fire.

But before the next confrontation in the Temple- which will be a dramatic and public table-turning and house-cleaning- Jesus does something odd.  He curses a tree. Seriously.  Just walks up to a green-leafed fig tree, hoping to find something to eat.  But apparently it wasn’t fig season and Jesus is left hungry and disappointed.  So He curses the tree! What is this?  A bad mood?  Hangry?  Seems so random of Jesus, doesn’t it?

But pause with Jesus here a moment.  Consider the context.  What we see is a tree that looks lush and healthy on the surface but fails at it’s actual purpose: producing fruit.  Jesus has inspected the tree, found it wanting, and declared judgment.  A metaphor, of course, for what He is doing with the nation of Israel, particularly the religious leaders.  No matter how “good” they look on the surface, they are not bearing the kind of “fruit” God desires.  Not increasing in love for God and others, especially those who are “other”.  And Jesus has spoken this warning, this invitation and command often- from the Sermon on the Mount onward, throughout His ministry.  His example, His teaching, even direct confrontations- nothing has landed with them.

So today, let’s linger with Jesus next to the fig tree.  The tree/nation has been inspected and found wanting.  In a few short days, Jesus will once again tell His disciples- and us- to remain intimately connected to Him so that we will bear fruit— much fruit.  Only Jesus can produce the results.  Our part is to stay connected. 

What would it be like to ask Jesus to “inspect’ your life today?  Not as an act of condemnation or guilt-inducement, but as an invitation to draw near to Him.  To look below the surface and outward appearances.  What kind of fruit is Jesus producing in my life these days?  Greater love for Him, for others?  In what ways is He wanting to draw me closer?  

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Posted by on March 29, 2021 in Uncategorized


Truth and Help for Tired Souls

Tired. Weary. Drained. Even exhausted. These are the words, feelings, and realities that I’ve been hearing from pastors and leaders over and over in recent weeks and months. And let me tell you, it makes perfect sense. Just think about it:

• An “unprecedented” (don’t you get tired of hearing and using that word? But it’s just simply true.) season of a pandemic with no clear end in sight, exacerbated by polarization, conflicting sources of information, and no clear roadmap for how to navigate a time like this. We’re all just trying to figure this out as we go along, and anyone who claims they have it all down is not in touch with reality.
• The ongoing frustration of longing to be with people- not through a camera or screen, but an embodied presence with one another and Jesus among us.
• The racial injustices and pain that have been brought to the surface once more, in visceral and real ways. We want to “fix” and “do something”, but often we’re not sure exactly what the best way forward should look like, and how best to lead others.
• Add to that the “normal” stresses and concerns of life and ministry- walking with others through crisis, pain, and hardship. Planning for the next season of ministry, except we don’t know what the next season of ministry will even look like.
• And to make it even harder, political polarization that threatens to (and sometimes does) tear apart families, churches, and communities.

Of course we are tired and worn! Every single person you know (including the one you see in the mirror) is experiencing some form of trauma in this season. For many- especially those in leadership- that burden is compounded by our desire to help others who are hurting. It’s a recipe for burnout and soul fatigue, unlike almost anything I’ve seen in my life.

So what do we do?
• Take a really long vacation- like 6 months or so on a beach somewhere? Probably not an option.
• Just keep willing ourselves onward, head down and determined, until we “get past this” somehow? Not a great plan, if you want to lead yourself or others well.
• Quit? Sounds attractive some days, but I’m guessing that’s not your soul’s deep desire.

Instead, I want to invite us to return to this familiar passage that contains a life-giving, soul-filling prescription for times just like the one we are all currently navigating. For those who have been through SoulCare, you’ll hopefully find these thoughts a familiar reminder.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

First- Do some reflection

The author’s instructions invite us to start by asking ourselves a question: What in my life- in this season- is or has potential to trip me up or slow me down? “Throw off anything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Perhaps there’s a recurring sin, destructive behavior or a negative thought pattern happening. Even if it’s not about to take you out altogether, it is definitely adding to your burden and multiplying your weariness. To discover what “extra baggage” you’re carrying, you’ll want to engage in some reflection with Jesus. Remember the examen from SoulCare? The goal is not to beat yourself up or head out on a guilt trip. Rather, in the context of Jesus’ grace and infinite love, let Him show you what to repent of, release, or abandon.

Try sitting with Jesus with this question:

Jesus, what do you want to show me about myself (my life, thoughts, and patterns), in full awareness of your love and grace, that You want me to turn from, lay down, or let go?

Next- Turn your attention towards Jesus. Be with Him.

There are 2 key phrases in this text that tell us where to focus our mind and heart. The first is “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. The original language has the idea of looking away from one object to focus on another. In other words, rather than letting our minds dwell or ruminate on difficulties, challenges, or uncertainties, we are told to make a conscious choice about what we think about. We are learning more and more about the human brain, and a remarkable truth that’s emerging is that what we choose to repeatedly think about actually “wires our brain” in specific directions. By choosing to consciously turn our attention to Jesus: in quiet contemplation, in prayer, in holding a word or prayerful image of Jesus in our minds, we are shaping our minds in profoundly life-giving ways.
The second phrase is similar: “Consider Him”. This Greek word is used only once in Scripture, and it carries the idea of both thinking carefully as well as repetitively. In other words, think about Jesus over and over and over. Return your attention and mind to Him. This includes reflection on Jesus’ suffering, because this reminds us that we have a God who also suffers with us and for us, and that Jesus is never far off in our pain. Again, you may remember our time in SoulCare of companioning Jesus in His suffering (during the Lenten and Easter season). As we do so, we discover that the One we seek to companion is already and always companioning us.

So you might want to try this as well:

Sit with Jesus in quietness. Perhaps imagine a scene or moment of Jesus’ pain or suffering (His fasting and temptation in the wilderness, His prayer in Gethsemane, His trials and humiliation, the Cross). As you are “with” Jesus in these moments and places, what does Jesus want to say to you? What might He be saying about your current life situation?

In all of this, please hear these words as invitations, not something else you need to do or accomplish. Jesus, through the author of Hebrews, offers us so much more than “hang in there” and “you can do it!” sentiments and slogans. In His eternal and loving wisdom, God extends to us a lifeline for our souls. Yes, this season is hard and it is long. We feel it with you and we are here to pray with you, to listen, to enter in alongside. Please know that now, more than ever. But thanks be to God, even in a season of social distancing and relational disconnectedness, we are not– and never will be—left alone.

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Posted by on September 22, 2020 in Uncategorized


Reflections on my High School Reunion (that I didn’t even go to)

Most of us live somewhere near the intersection of unfulfilled dreams and limitless potential.


My 30th high school reunion was last weekend. Even writing those words makes me shake my head—30 years? It can’t be! Didn’t we just graduate a few years ago? How can it be three decades ago? I wasn’t able to attend, but it’s been on my mind a lot.  But what’s been churning in me the last couple of weeks is more than nostalgia, deeper than the truth that time carries us faster and farther than we imagined.

What’s been on my mind is more about trying to make sense of who I was back then and who I am now. The years have blurred my recollection of my former self and I feel oddly disconnected from that person. Who was I back then? My memory of High School Me was largely of an outsider (not by choice or design) who didn’t seem to fit cleanly into a group. If someone would’ve assigned me a category, it’d likely have been “nerd”, since I did well in school and took honors classes, and many of my school friends would likely have fit under the “nerd” banner. But I was also around cheerleaders and athletes (popular people), stoners and “ropers” (cowboys), though I didn’t fit cleanly into their groups either. And let’s face it, I was probably odder than I realized. Didn’t know how to dress right (nor did I have the money to), didn’t grow up with most of my classmates, so I didn’t have a shared history with them. I remember during homeroom my freshman year, I sketched a plan for a bank robbery that I showed to the girl behind me (Barrett). Who does that? I wasn’t a criminal, anti-social type, I was just bored. But seriously. My mind could be a strange place back then. If I had to pick a word to describe who I was to my high school, it’d probably be a Nobody.

But then we graduated and the future was so expansive- we could become anything! Something! Somebody! For me, high school became a fixed memory because I moved from Texas to Arizona the day after graduation. I did get to take a memorable road trip with two friends later that summer (great memories, Randy and Robby), but quickly lost contact with everyone from those years. High school became more than a fading memory, though. It became a source of wistful regret. As the “Grown Up Me (a very loose term, I assure you) emerged, with slightly more clarity about who I am and my place in the world, I looked back and wanted a do-over. I wanted to try again, with a slightly improved sense of self and a much greater interest in and curiosity about others. I wanted to have made better friends, to have lived more fully, taken more risks. I guess you could say I have longed for redemption.

In the occasional daydream, I’ve imagined what it would be like to make some sort of triumphant return. After all, I’m married to a beautiful and amazing wife and we have 3 incredible kids. I’ve been able to do more, travel more, “accomplish” more than I could have imagined. My life has been so much better than I deserve. But these daydreams are all so silly, because who would I be returning to try to impress? I imagine few folks from those days would even remember me, so there’s not much of a before and after “reveal” thing to pull off. And the truth is, though I am more at peace with Grown Up Me than I used to be, I’m really not all that impressive. Seriously.

So what to make of this odd combination of nostalgia and regret mixed with gratitude and frankly, amazement at the goodness of my life? I don’t know. I’ve been told (and believe) it’s important to “feel the feelings” and not try to stuff it down somewhere. Writing this is part of that for me. And I know I can’t go back and rewrite the past. As much as I’d like a time machine to step into, I’m pretty sure Marty McFly’s not coming around the corner in the Delorean anytime soon.

I think what I’m wanting to lean towards is greater compassion. Compassion for that insecure, nerdy kid from 30 years ago who was just trying to find his way and not make a fool of himself all the time. Compassion for others from those years who were trying to figure things out too, perhaps almost as unsure and uncertain as I was. Compassion for others who struggle to reconcile the gap between Who I Used To Be and Who I Am Now. Compassion for those who have made mistakes that have taken them away from who they wanted to become, but are trying to find their way back home. Compassion for us all.

And I suppose that’s probably enough emotional gooiness for now. Before you know it, I’ll be grabbing hands with someone and trying to sing “We Are the World” together. Because that song came out my during my senior year. Really. Man, I do feel old.



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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


Meditation in Nicene Marks

Ripples, tumbling and gurgling,creek

spinning and spitting,

the pleasing, magical, hypnotic song

that is a flowing creek.

Shallow flow amidst accommodating stones

brings the babbling chorus to life

and nature sings it’s laughter

without ceasing.

Ranging shadows flit among trees,

earth and rock.

Reflections of flowing, dancing

water flirt with fallen logs

and precious few eyes take in the dance.

For they are Yours, all these,

all this,

all things.

Your limitless imagination

and endless delight

drinks in the undying beauty

of a broken but beautiful creation.

From meandering creek to

raging sea,

all flows to your glorious end.

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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


On faith and doubt


What an interesting word.

I say I believe—that God is real, that He’s not just “up there and interested” but actually Here and Now. I really do believe God is real. And loving. And powerful. And purposeful. Not just in the whole big world but in my life, too.

I do believe these things, because they’re in the Bible and I believe the Bible is true. And I’ve experienced God’s nearness and faithfulness in so many ways, again and again.

And when I teach the Bible, I believe deeply and passionately what I’m saying is fully true and right and good.

But I also wonder sometimes. I do. I wonder how it’s all going to work out- in the world, yes, but also in my life. I wonder if God is up to really good things in my life or just hard things that will lead to good eventually, someday.

I believe God can and does heal people- I’ve seen supernatural healings and I’ve seen “natural” healings that God also provided. But I’ve also seen lots of people not get healed, in this life anyway, even some who believed they would, even some that were sure God had told them they would.

I wonder about my own belief. I see some people who possess a seemingly unshakeable confidence, who don’t seem to wonder or wrestle with doubts or uncertainties. I’m not one of those people.
I see others whose doubts escalate to the point of crisis and despair. Whose doubts end up crowding out faith and eventually they just check out on God. Sometimes they walk away from church and God. Sometimes they keep going to church but really don’t believe it anymore. I’m not one of those people either.

I guess I’m like a lot of people who identify with the desperate father in Mark 9 who says to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” I get it. I believe, but I struggle. I want to believe more, though. I want to act in a way that demonstrates belief and trust, regardless of my emotions, which rise and fall so easily.

And the truth is, I want my faith to grow. I want to be like one of those many people in the gospels who believed Jesus could and would do what they needed most. I want to be the kind of person who believes Jesus more, who believes Jesus for more.

Who believes not only that Jesus is good, but that He’s good to me, always.

Who believes not only that Jesus is real and the Bible is true, but that He’s real to me, in every situation, right here and now. Especially now.

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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


Make a Better Resolution this Year

I love the Bible. Not a shocker, I suppose, coming from a pastor. But there is nothing like the Scripture. No other book that even makes the claims that this one does: “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)bible1

The Bible teaches us, corrects us, encourages, rebukes, directs, guides, and helps us. We find both examples to live by (Jesus) as well as cautionary tales in abundance (Samson, Solomon, and Saul, for starters). Stunning narratives. Gorgeous poetry. Timely wisdom. World-altering biography.

And yet, for all of this, we struggle to read this book. Yes, we’re a post-literate culture. And the Bible is an ancient text written to people long ago and far away.   But come on. Multiple, reader-friendly translations abound. You can listen to audio in your car and on your phone, tablet, or computer. Tools and reading plans abound- even devotionals written by your favorite pastor or personality. It’s all there.

So what’s missing? For some, it’s having a purposeful plan and others to encourage them to stick with it. For others, making the effort to learn how to understand and apply what they’ve read is a missing key. But mostly, I think it’s about what we believe will happen when we open God’s Word. Reading nice thoughts and interesting stories isn’t enough, even from this sacred text. No, I believe we need to revise our expectations- to believe that we will actually encounter the Living God in His Word. That as we soak in these words (yep, I’m talking about biblical meditation), something powerful occurs. The Spirit and our spirits meet. Our soul enlarges. Our lives change.

Yes, it’s that time again- a new year. Why not make this year different? Choose to do more than just make a better effort to get into the Bible. Instead, let the Bible get into you.

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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Uncategorized