Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy New Year, Sans Resolutions...Well, Maybe One...

Dear friends,

I don't make New Year's resolutions.  I gave that up quite a while ago, mainly because my resolutions made me feel like a failure, when a month, or a week, or most often a day later, I renegged.  Willpower doesn't run strong in this puppy.  I've made my peace with it though.  The Great One says His mercies are "new every morning".  So living out change can be a daily affair.  Much more manageable for a fickle soul like mine.  Sometimes, I'm living out change one hour at a time. Sometimes one minute.  And always, always it's by the power of the Spirit of God.  Not to sound falsely humble, but I really can't run this show (my life!).  I seem to make much more of a dent in this stubborn, sinful, apathetic nature when I surrender to God rather than try to muster up my flimsy willpower.  Let's face it: there's no fighting the power of this world's ugly side when you can't even say no to an Oreo.  And since fighting that darkness is part of what life's really about, one must have the courage to trust God and act on His direction.  All eggs in one basket.  Yikes.

At any rate, today I bumped into a quote by Clyde Kilby, a late professor of theology from Wheaton College, and decided this year I will make one resolution he made for his life.  It goes like this:

"I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood."

I really like that resolution.  And as with any other transformation of outlook, it can't be done on personal steam.  The Great One alone can stoke the engine of change. The good news: it's exactly what He's looking to do.  We take the step, he clears the path for the next one.  We grab the handle, He opens the door.  It's a mysterious cooperation between our free will and His sovereign grace.  Getting past our own unbelief and stagnancy is the biggest hurdle.  Don't I know it....

It's not the 1st yet, but today while I'm driving kids, going to work at Albany Med, cooking chili, overcoming personal obstacles, wiping slush off my kitchen floor (for the 5th time), handing car keys to my 17 year old driver, and a multitude of other mundane, (sometimes scary) acts , I will be mindful that this is a "unique, event filled" 24 hours.  Take the crummy thing you have to do today and suppose it is a "ladder to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood".  I'm willing to bet it will make cleaning off the car, dealing with a difficult customer, or far more serious trials come alive with meaning and truth.  Of course, we learn this stuff a little at a time.  The Captain of our souls knows the best track to get us there.  It's not often smooth and linear.  I'm asking for grace simply to leave the Oreo alone for a start. 

Sending many prayers your way, friends.  If you have any New Year's resolutions I'd love to hear them. 

Your friend on the last bit of the 2010 pilgrim road,


Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Brotherhood - Semper Fidelis

Dear friends,

Christmas greetings and salutations!  My heart is indeed stirred by a noble theme: God with us - Emmanuel!  It really is stunning.  Across the miles, across the ages, across time and space, God fulfills His great wish: the redemption of and resulting friendship with the human race.  And not just for some, but for "as many as would believe on Him..."  God and sinners reconciled.  It doesn't get any better than that.

We had the honor of hosting Christmas today (with a much smaller group than the Thanksgiving gang of 26!), and one of our dear guests was David G., better known a "Sarge", a double purple heart Vietnam Vet, and as he would never let you forget, a Marine.  Sarge formed a friendship with our nephew Daniel, a young Marine stationed in the southern desert of Afghanistan.  Sarge received a gift today that illustrates a point I want to make.  (If you think I tend to spiritualize everything, I'm afraid you're right!)  Anyway, Daniel called me a few weeks ago (technology - WOW!), and said he was sending something for Sarge.  It arrived this past week, and I don't exaggerate when I tell you I was nothing more than a puddle when I opened it.  Folded in that familiar military triangle was an American Flag.  In a separate FedEx envelope was a certificate.  The flag was flown on Sept. 11, over a fort in Afghanistan, during Operation Freedom.  It was dedicated to Sergeant David G. by Staff Sergeant Daniel Champagne and signed by two Marine Majors.  When Sarge opened the thing (nicely put together in a beautiful double frame display by Smitty), well, that about made my Christmas...his too.

I realized that the marines have a bond of brotherhood that extends way past age, time, race, gender and any other qualifier.  These folks are tied together with cords that touch something primal inside, something I believe we all long for, and are supposed to experience.  What The Book calls "the body of Christ" was meant to be a brotherhood even deeper and more tenaciously tied together than the Marines.  How beautiful it must be to our Father when we defend one another to the death...when we honor one another from the youngest to the oldest...when we willingly sacrifice our own comfort or blessing or even reputation for the ultimate good of our fellow "soldier".  I was moved by the love of one young man in the midst of battle toward an older man who had travelled the road before him, and the reciprocal affection of the seasoned, tried Sergeant to his "little brother" in the thick of it.  How it inspired my soul to have that kind of sweet dedication toward those walking the pilgrim highway with me.  No matter their station in life.  Not envying those of greater faith, but honoring them.  Not judging those of weaker faith, but encouraging them.  And determined more than anything to stick up for them against the enemy lurking in the shadows to injure their precious souls.  How I need that kind of help along this wild road!  And how I pray I will grow in being that kind of Christian.  Semper Fidelis.

Not a typical Christmas blog, I know.  But it was Jesus' present to me this Christmas.  Way too big to fit in any stocking.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


P.S.  That's Sarge in front of the tree.  Beloved brother and worthy of honor.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Heard the Bells...Despite My Squishy Kitchen Floor

Dear friends,

It was a day of baking cookies and eating way too many of them.  (The jeans are definitely on the snug side.)  The kitchen floor has those yucky spots where the beaters went mad (or was it the cook?) and cookie dough landed and got squished before a wash cloth made an appearance.  The cat has been knocking things off the Christmas tree, and the shiny silver beads lack those lovely, symmetrical drops you see on TV trees.  There was a coke can ( left by one of the THREE teenagers in this house) in front of the wise men in our manger scene, and when I tried to listen to the Christmas carol that's the subject of this blog on YouTube, I kept getting that annoying pause where the circle thing in the middle of the screen spins round and round.  Here in Smitty Land, we do not do Martha Stewart Christmases.  But then again, the first Christmas was messy business too.  We're in the best of company.

So I was asked by Brother Bob D. to write a little background for the song he's singing at our Christmas Eve service at Delmar Full Gospel Church.  The song is the well known "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".  I've listened to the Casting Crowns version of this carol quite a few times now, and never without tissue in hand.  I thought I'd share a streamlined version of the the story behind the song with you.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was our nation's premier poet back in the mid 19th century.  He is probably best known for penning "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."  As with many great literary works, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was born out of great suffering and a mighty struggle.  In 1861, Longfellow's beloved wife was burned to death attempting to heirloom a lock of her daughter's hair.  Shortly after that, the Civil War began.  HWL was vexed by the brokenness of his country, and the abomination of slavery.  Then came news that shook his faith to the core: his eldest son suffered a crippling injury on the battlefield.  Longfellow grew angry and despaired.  He would spend the next year sorting out his rage and sorrow.

Longfellow's restoration to hope came as the Great One gently lead the sensitive poet from darkness to light.  When the church bells rang on December 25, 1864, Henry wrote the poem which would later be a song for the ages...  The song I sob to as I sit in front of a computer screen hearing his profound words put to music: 

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor does He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men...

Listen to it for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0 Be blessed to know that there is always hope.  And don't worry a bit about having a perfect Christmas.  When God crashed through the boundaries of Heaven and Earth to inhabit a human body, he left all that was perfect to live with us in our mess.  So we would know for certain "God is not dead, nor does He sleep". 

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


P.S.  So glad to be back with you!  Of course, I won't be writing daily as I did for the previous blog, but I will try to post something at least once a week.  I also plan to have some contributing bloggers along the way. Thanks for the kind words, comments and emails I've already received!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A New Landscape on the Pilgrim Road

Dear friends,

Over a year ago, I began writing a blog because of a catastrophic event in the life of my family.  When Delmar Full Gospel Church initially put up that blog in cyberspace for the purpose of keeping folks updated on the progress of the Smitties, neither they nor I had any idea it would take on a life of its own, and become a source of joy and consolation to my soul.  Most surprising of all, especially to me, those daily entries seemed to encourage a number of folks who, like me, were learning how to walk the wild, unpredictable road of life with a great, untamed, relentlessly faithful God.

I ended those daily writings 11 months after I started.  I knew the time had come to close the door on that particular endeavor, for many reasons - some which I was able to articulate, and others that were deeply private.  But that experience encompassing the disaster, recovery and indeed the writing, was profoundly rich in my life.  And I found it brought me to the place of humility and grace over and over again, in the company of community, where the Great One does much of His work within us.

So here we go again - except not really. Because this blog isn't about the fallout of a terrible car accident.  (In a way neither was the first blog - but you can check that out for yourself on the side bar if you like).  The accident will live in my soul forever, and has certainly transformed me in countless ways.  I am grateful for all I have gained so far as that process continues.  This time around, my goal is simply to share the pilgrim road with you.  My hope is that my stumblings and risings will encourage all who read here to follow hard after Jesus Christ - the Way, the Truth and the Life, and the Lover of our broken but immensely valuable souls.

I don't think I'm a font of wisdom, nor do I claim to understand deep, spiritual truths in any unique way.  I do believe heartily though, in the wisdom of the scripture which says "You must encourage one another each day.  And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called "today". ~Hebrews 3:13  This "present darkness" as the bible calls it is a mine field of distraction and folly.  The walk of faith was never meant to be done solo.  We must look after one another.  We must be our "brother's keeper" if we are to withstand the onslaught of "the world, the flesh, and the devil".  Of course Christ alone is the Master of our ultimate keeping.  But He himself instructed us to love one another.  He was dead serious with that command.  We have to be too.  God help me to get there!

Like that other blog, I hope this one keeps me honest along my pilgrim highway.  I have no idea what is ahead for you or me, just as I had no idea calamity would come careening into my life on a warm November day in 2009.  But just as sure as God continues to lead me and love me along the winding way, so he will for all who trust Him, until the pilgrim road culminates in the heavenly city, whose "architect and builder is God".

Once again, I write with no expectations, and if no one reads a word of my travellin' manual, that's ok.  To set myself up any other way would be foolish.  Any effort to please man damages our souls in profound ways.  How do I know?  I've done the stupid thing.  (You'll find most of what I know I've learned the hard way...)  But my passion is to learn and grow and be transformed.  And that would be impossible without the saving grace of a great Savior.  But yahoo!  I've got one.  And it's His heart's desire that every man, woman and child on the face of the earth taste and see His goodness and mercy.  Not just know it from a book, but experience it in the reality of our present moments.

Each of us has something to express that reveals the light of God.  Some do it with words, some with music (I wish that was me!), some with gentle healing, some with building things, some with tearing things down, some with teaching, some with preaching, some through buying and selling, some by wielding justice, some by distributing mercy.  It is in the mundane of everyday life that the spectacular work of the Great One is performed in us.  He does the work.  We cooperate.  Or don't.  That give and take is what makes up the landscape of the pilgrim road. 

In every aspect of life on this highway, God can, and ought to be glorified.  He is supremely worthy.  May every word I write on these pages bring Him honor and you encouragement.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


P.S.  Now I'm a total technical knucklehead, so be patient with me as I work out the glitches on this new venture.  So glad to be communicating with you again.  Pure joy!