Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Plank and the Speck

Dear friends,

First, some random notes:

1-     The birds are emptying my feeder at an alarming rate!  Their calorie intake is on the verge of exceeding my budgetary output for black oil sunflower seeds.  But it’s so cold outside; they need the fuel just to keep their little cold blooded selves going…
2-     David John Smith is rocking the funhouse with his states and capitals memorization, and he can tell you the first 16 presidents. Won't get him a high paying job, but it's fun. In addition, when we went to Dr. Kari for his physical today, I was unsolicitously informed by 3 people that my baby is now taller than me.  Thanks, I got it.
3-     Smitty turns 50 on January 31!  Fine looking fellow, isn’t he?  Of course, he’s one of those people who neither looks nor acts his age (in a good way!)  On his 49th birthday he couldn’t walk. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about see that other blog notated on the sidebar to the lower right). Now he’s working out (at 5:30 am!) an hour a day.  What a chap!  (I prefer the electric blanket workout.)
4-     I will see the positive side of winter, I will see the positive side of winter, I will see the positive side of winter…no…bugs!
5-     I had everything timed out today, everything planned…then, the cat threw up on my bed.  “Man makes his plans but God orders his steps…” 

Hope all of you are noticing the beautiful quality of winter’s light and eating pot roasts and potato corn chowders and chili.  I am on record as saying February is the nadir month, the shortest, longest month of all, trying to make us happy with Valentine’s Day, but that’s really false dice.  It’s cold.  It’s gray.  And snowmen are losing their appeal.  I’m really making an effort not to complain, because it doesn’t help.  And I’m looking for the lovely in the tundra: the Technicolor red cardinal on the bare branch, the rosy cheeks of my kids coming in from outside, the wonderful smell in my front yard while a fire burns in the fireplace.  Help me out friends.  Send me some good things about winter.  If you don’t like to comment, just email me.

Here’s something I noticed in the Book the other day that I’ve been pondering. Good for any season…

 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Mt. 7:3-5

Think about how you deal with a grain of dirt in someone’s eye.  How carefully you take that thing out.  How gently you perform that delicate operation.  After we’ve dealt forcefully with our own sins (you can’t remove a plank delicately), then we’re in the right spiritual place to help someone with theirs. Gingerly.  Tenderly.  With all the compassion of someone who knows the aggravation and heartache poor choices bring. (It takes a long time for a speck to turn into a plank).  So often Christians are accused of being judgmental.  And so often they can be.  But Jesus was not so (even though He is the only righteous judge!).  He was brutally honest about the need to root out sin in ourselves because He knows the darkness into which it will inevitably land us.  But His command to us toward others is always “hate the sin” (it’s a destroyer), “love the sinner” (because God does).  That picture of someone removing a speck from someone’s eye says it all.  Go easy.  Be kind.  Remove to rescue, not to harm.

Feed the birdies this week.  They like stale bagels.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Greed is good." ~ Gordon Gekko, Wall Street

Dear friends,
If you've never seen the movie "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", get on your Netflix que and order it up.  (Thanks to my dear nephew serving in Afghanistan, we've got Netflix for the whole year!)  Starring the inimitable Humphrey Bogart, this movie is the consummate example of the devastating power of greed.  Bogie plays an American expatriate in Mexico, who gets wind of a shot at a gold stake, and the rest of the story documents his downward slide into the pit of hell.  It's really a great picture.  I got to thinking about it again while David and I were studying the California Gold Rush.  Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to strike it rich.  Then I get educated on those who have made a fortune the fast, easy way,  and I see very few who weren't ruined by it one way or another.  Most likely I couldn't handle the stuff. 

The comedic portrait of greed is depicted in all its hilarity in another classic for a long, snowy Saturday afternoon..."It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World".  Please find a few hours to watch this one if you're feeling blue.  The bumblers in this classic include Spencer Tracy, Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney and a host of other stars, some with cameos (like the 3 Stooges!).  Greed lands this group of goofballs in some spectacularly stupid situations, and in the end...well, I just can't give it away.  You'll laugh till your gut hurts, especially when Ethel Merman gets shaken down for a set of keys.  But as usual, I digress...

Is there ever a time when greed is good?  Since there lives within the human soul a craving, a longing, an endless call for something more, mustn't there be a satisfaction for that deeply primal desire?  Greed for material things, or power, or control all seem to end in disaster, either physically, emotionally or spiritually.  There can be no doubt though, that mankind is thirsty.  Desperately thirsty for something to bring on the thing that the scripture points to as being at the bottom of all this want.  The thing we really want is joy.  So I got to thinking that maybe greed is not bad, only the object of our greed.  C.S. Lewis puts it perfectly (as he usually does):

"Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased."

I think this captures what I'm trying say.  There is a right answer to our innate "greed".  The Great One Himself doesn't chasten us for our longings in and of themselves. But He knows the folly of our looking for satisfaction anywhere but in God.  All the wonderful gifts of this physical world are a blessing, something to be grateful for, something to share, something to enjoy.  But they lose their savor so quickly, don't they?  The next fashion, a different vacation, some new technological toy - none of them do the trick.  The misdirected greed remains.

While you make your way on the pilgrim road today, you will most likely get hungry.  Not for a sandwich.  For that "something more", or should I say "Someone more" you were created for.  He is rich beyond all measure, and generous too.  He gives millions of temporal blessings, but what He really wants is you.
And what you really want, what Bogie's character really wanted, couldn't be satisfied by all the gold in all the ancient Aztec burial grounds.  I'm reminding myself while I remind you.  Get out of the slums.  It's time for a holiday at sea...

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, January 14, 2011

Despair, Complacency and Hope: The Power to Choose

Dear friends,

"Let not your hearts be troubled; trust in God, trust also in Me."  ~John 14:1

Winter definitely brings out the more melancholy side of my nature.  The sadness of "this present darkness" is harder to shake.  There is plenty of hope, always, amidst the backdrop of of an ill world.  This week, though, I seem to be finding many folks struck once again by the sudden way sin brings ruin and disaster.  And if we don't keep our wits about us we might fall into one of two evils: despair or complacency.

A nine year old child, along with several other living, breathing human beings were struck down this week by what the bible simply calls "wickedness".  Other people were hurt, terribly hurt, and must now climb up a mountain of recovery they never expected, with all the physical and psychological wounds that come from the perpetration of evil. Another mother and father will suffer anguish over their son, who was sucked down into a dark abyss they never saw when they taught him how to ride his bike for the first time.  The shadows of the shooting in Tucson run dark and long.  How shall we respond?

I've listened to people talk about this on the radio, in my office, at school, in the grocery store, on TV.  The ancient groans of a fallen world are written all over this thing.  Many emotions are ricocheting about: anger, disgust, sorrow, and a mixture of feelings that are difficult to find a name for.  Has God seen all this?  Was He somehow asleep at the switch when this horrific event occurred?  You know what I'm going to say - but I'll say it anyway.  The book of Job says "A man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward."  How true it is.  God is indeed sovereign.  And if you understand where His sovereignty and our free will blend, you have a far better mind than anyone born thus far.  The world was not meant to go this way, folks.  Written all over the word of God is His stubborn desire for peace and joy for His creation.  But the price of love is freedom to choose.  Which of you would ask the Great One to take that away in order to have a perfectly safe life, free from the risk of evil and destruction?  Which of you would choose to be a puppet on God's string in order to protect yourself and those you love from the possibility of a wreckage like the Arizona shooting?  The power to choose is a great gift. It allows the potential for both lofty acts of charity and despicable acts of cruelty.  God sees the whole picture from beginning to end and can still make the thing turn out for His purposes in the end.  He's got the power.  But one thing He won't do is turn us into automatons.  We were made for Love.  It's not possible without choice. 

So rather than despair, we bring our heartache to a Father who can rightly say "I'll make it all right in the end - trust Me".  And when you know His character displayed through ages and ages of those who have walked with Him, you can believe it.  In the midst of the shipwreck He sends islands of refuge.  Courageous souls who lay their bodies down to prevent more death.  Kind, caring people everywhere who pray and encourage and help.  Just and righteous men and women who will pursue the good in the face of countless obstacles.  He won't control us. But He will help us. 

On the other side of the coin is the tendency to walk away and shrug, thinking it's all too big and "what can I do about it anyway".  That's another foul road, one wrought with its own terrible peril.  By engaging in a dark world, first by dealing repentantly with our God and our own shadows, we poke holes in the suffocating blanket of sin.  Listen, I don't know what your ugly thing is in the closet, but I do know my own, and I'll never, ever just accept it.  I must bring my junk out into the light of God's presence so it can be hit head on. Lest I get to the terrifying place where I don't care anymore.  Lest I lay down on the side of the pilgrim road and watch simpering as the world goes from bad to worse.  No way, friends!  We are not going that way!  We have the power to choose...

Bring all your feelings about this to the Great Comforter.  He is here in the thick of it with us.  He bides His time (and we should be glad He does), waiting for as many as will come to receive His grace and mercy.  One day the curtain will close on man's power to sow destruction.  The day of His choosing will begin.

Mercy, mercy for those devastated people in Arizona.  And keep us, Lord, from both despair and complacency.

Look up, friends.  Trust in God.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, January 8, 2011

The prince of darkness grim (I refuse to capitalize!)

Dear friends,

I am not a woman who sees devils around every bend.  The temptations that trouble me are most often of the kind that come from within - those "fleshly" sins that are a result of the guerilla warfare going on between  my old human nature, and the new, redeemed nature I recieved by faith in the justifying power of the risen Savior.  (That was a long sentence.  I think I've been reading too much 16th century history lately...).  But these past few days I have actually identified a temptation coming from that enemy of the soul, who can not harm the Great One Himself, so picks on the apple of His eye instead.  I want to share this difficult time with you, because you may be going through something similar, or have, or if not, you will. 

The tempter's dangling carrot for me at this time is from the creeping crud family.  Bitterness, given any kind of rope, will most certainly hang us, and in the most vile, ghastly way.  A circumstance in my life that has been persistently painful, has been brewing under wraps for a while.  This week the tentacles of the deciever crept into my mind...  "You have the right to be bitter."  I kid you not, I heard those silent words in my head.  I wanted so badly to be rail at God...to complain and fuss and state my rights in this matter.  Having walked with God for 25 years now (often stumbling, often going backwards), I was thankfully not ignorant of the direction this warped mindset could take me in.  Once again by the mercy of the One and Only, I was able to clearly see the source of this attempt to take me down some dark lane on the pilgrim road.  Believe me, part of me wanted to go.  There is some pleasure in sin, otherwise no one would ever do it.  Feeling sorry for myself, envying those who don't have this particular sorrow, cursing the cause of my ache, these have in them a moment of false triumph.  But only a moment, and then the whole ugly thing gains more and more ground and swallows up all the light and truth God wants to bring out of the mess.  In the legendary C.S.Lewis novel, "The Screwtape Letters", a senior devil coaches a young upstart in some of the finer points of temptation.  This passage was useful in keeping my perspective:

Screwtape to his nephew, a junior temptor:
"You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere.  The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming  the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives, and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it- all of this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition."

The Word of God, as always, gives the needed dose of truth and sanity:
"Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  James 1:2-4

Friends, whatever the slithering thing is that tempts you to despair, (which of all sins is the saddest), get a grip on yourself and send the blasted thing back to the pit!  It may not be easy, but far harder is the road back from the battering of self indulgence.  Part of the reason I'm writing this is to beat back the darkness.  For me and for you.  Don't look for devils around every corner. (And certainly forget the story book horns and pitchfork thing!)  Neither dismiss them altogether.  But for heaven's sake, remember the One who gives power and might to defeat the foe.  Martin Luther said it perfectly in the hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God":

"And though this world with devil's filled,
May threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God has willed,
His truth to triumph through us
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him,
His wrath we can endure
For lo, his doom is sure
One little word will fell him."

I am not through this trial.  I am still in the middle of it.  But "lo, his doom is sure."  In fact, with a little gratitude, a little of the laughter that comes from a sense of proportion, and the sweet fact of His grace, this will be another strengthening obstacle on the road to maturity.  I'm praying for you, friends.  I mean it.  We're going to not only make it, but display His splendor along the way.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


PS:  The snow made my yard an absolute wonder.  Look outside and keep your perspective!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sermon from a Cleaning Lady

Dear friends,

I had an inspiring conversation with my friend Carol B. last Sunday.  She’s the kitchen maven at DFG Church, and I had the happy assignment of helping her get the stuff together for Bagel Sunday.  I missed the sermon (very sad, especially at the beginning of the New Year) but sometimes the Great One has another kind of sermon in mind for us.  So we roll.  We adjust.  We remain flexible…

Anyway, Carol has more energy than a dozen Kentucky Derby winners straining out of the gate, and exhibits a completely unique charisma – totally real, no hypocrisy, plain folk.  Cutting bagels for her wound up being a rich experience.  Her stories and passions filled me with delight, and I did not cut my hand. That, my friends, is truly miraculous.

Carol has some heavy duty boulders on her pilgrim road.  The obstacles that make up the landscape of her life are daunting.  She makes a living as a house cleaner.  She has no paid sick days, no vacation days, no company sponsored IRA or benefits.  She is responsible for the economics of her household.  Without spilling all the beans on her personal affairs, suffice it to say she’s up to her neck troubles.  But her faith is as brick like as her determination.  She’s my fellow pilgrim, and I’m mighty glad.

Now here’s the sermon her life spoke to me on Sunday.  She was describing these cleaning cloths she uses.  “Microfiber – the only way to go!” says she, with her typical vigor.  She went on to share with me and another traveler how fabulous this product is to clean just about anything.  She whipped one out from the kitchen drawer, and showed us the different benefits of both sides of the cloth, and how to wipe with them.  She smiled broadly when she remembered she had picked some up for a gentleman in church, and he found them useful.  She described how much she likes getting her clients’ bathrooms spotless, and how fussy she is to make sure they are 110% satisfied.  She was delighted to let us know these gizmos could be purchased at Family Dollar for a great price. 

Now how was this a sermon to me?  First of all, it lead me to examine my own life, and repent of my lack of zeal to do my jobs, any of them, with complete excellence.  Secondly, it inspired me to want to truly follow the scripture, of which Carol is a living example :”whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.  Third, in light of her difficult circumstances, it reminded me of what gems we walk around with every day - people overcoming their pains and giving glory to God in the simple acts of daily life.  My friend made me see Jesus in her joy.  That’s a perfect sermon.  That’s the kind of “living epistle” I long to be.   

It’s a new year.  You will have troubles.  Accept it.  Make the troubles your spiritual work out in becoming all the Great One wants you to be.  Go to the gym that really matters long after your body is a done deal.  Trust in Him while you do the work required of you.  Find joy in your labors, whatever they are.  And when you are weary, “cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”  How I love preaching to myself!

As for Carol, she’s way, way more than a cleaning lady.  I’m sure you have people like her in your life.  Listen to them. Bless them.  Enjoy them.  Pray for them.

Pick up your cross, and your mop, pencil, hammer, phone, or whatever, and follow HIM!

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


PS  I added DFG as a link on the side bar.  Also, I’m hearing it is very hard to post comments to this site.  I’m going to speak to my tech angel, Peter the Great, and see if it can be fixed.  You can always email me at smittythanks@gmail.com