Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gethsemane: The Linchpin

In Gethsemane
You wept for sin's sure toll on all things good.
Struggled, in clean white beauty 
the filthy horrors of perdition...
striving to destroy you, striving to destroy yours.
Your Father, firm to keep light for darkness.
Relentless with His "no" to your plea:
"Let this cup pass."

You bled through pores your own hand formed for cooling
While white hot fire from ugly death pressed, burned
shaking all your primal, human flesh.
All God, all man in the valley of decision...
The fate of every man
on One man.
Who can bear such loneliness?
"Let this cup pass."

The acid of distress, scalding, ablaze in your chest, your heart.
Fear, rage, murder, envy...all OUR vice laid hard on you.
Gethsemane, the linchpin of the ages...
where God meets God and all hope rests on this:
"Let this cup pass...
yet not my will, but Thine be done."

Onward to Calvary.

My gratitude for His reckless love and mercy is unbounded.  The God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth, made His body the bridge to God.  Blessed be His name.

Perfect justice cannot tolerate sin.  Perfect love cannot tolerate separation. Jesus became sin, sacrificed Himself and endured the unmitigated monstrosity of separation from the Father, which no living soul has ever experienced.  In this, He satisfied the justice of God, so all men who rely on His righteousness can be ever satisfied in His GRACE.  That's what Good Friday is all about, Charlie Brown.

Thinking of you here on Holy Thursday.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Little Did They Know

Life unfolds in a "little do we know" way.  It can all feel so mundane sometimes, like we're treading water and going nowhere.  It can seem, despite our most fervent hopes and small, but strenuous acts of courage, that it all won't ever really mean much in the big picture.  The Book of Ruth, toward the beginning of that best selling compendium of all time, is a window into the "little do we know" drama of simply putting one foot in front of the other.

From the get go, there is a famine in the land.  Little did anyone know THAT was coming, or how it would alter the worlds of a pleasant Jewish lady, her husband and sons, and the foreign daughters in law who would be swept along by forces they did not control.  To cut to the chase, Elimelech and Naomi must face the reality of a lousy economy in Bethlehem, Judah.  They take their beloved sons and relocate to Moab, where, little did they know, Elimelech would die, followed by his two sons.  Naomi is left with Ruth and Orpah, the daughters in law who are both the kind I hope to get.  Ruth is the real gem, though, and one of the stars of this wild love story.

Naomi is returning to Bethlehem.  And without spelling out the whole, beautiful 1st chapter, here's the crux:  Ruth refuses to leave her mother in law, despite Naomi's urging that she stay and find a husband among her people.  This is where we get that famous biblical quote heralded at many a wedding:

"Where you go I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.  Your people will be my people, and your God my God..."  Ruth 1:16

Little did Ruth know that her devoted words to her grieving relation would be the truth spoken for thousands of years between men and women locked together in a no-matter what kind of love.

Naomi and Ruth are in pretty desperate straights there in the town that would one day birth the answer for every desperate heart to come.  Naomi's loss leads to bitterness, to the point where she tells her friends not even to call her Naomi ("pleasant") anymore, but to call her Mara ("bitter").  This can and does happen when sorrows so deep suddenly change the landscape of our days.  But little did Naomi know, that all of this trouble would be part of a master plan for God's glory and her good.

An empty stomach is a huge motivator.  Ruth takes advantage of one of the customs to care for the poor of her day and gleans grain behind the threshers in the field of a wealthy landowner. But little did she know this one act of desperate survival would lead to the salvation of the world...sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

It turns out the owner of said field is Boaz, just about the nicest, most appealing man along the entire highway of scripture.  He's a middle aged guy, good to his workers, fair and decent, and a distant relative of Elimelech, Naomi's dead husband.  Boaz sees this poor, lovely young woman scraping up a living and instructs his men to leave her alone and his girl servants to keep her close.  He finds ways to provide her with extra grain without shaming her, and shows her the tenderness and affection every red blooded woman wants.  

Fast forward, and a grateful and loving Ruth offers herself as a servant to Boaz, in a custom involving sleeping at the man's feet and being covered by a corner of his blanket.  Today it sounds odd, but it was how it worked back then.  Boaz was a kinsman redeemer, and had the right (after the first guy in line let it go) to buy Elimelech's land and marry Ruth.

Little did Ruth know she would become a Jewess, and go from poverty to riches,  materially, spiritually and emotionally after a period of great loss, pain and separation from all she had known.  Little did she know she would be the great grandmother of the greatest earthly king ever (David), and the great, great, great.....and so on grandmother of the King of All Kings.

Little did Naomi know her bitterness would turn to joy as she held her grandson in her lap, restored to her homeland and in the company of a loving family.

Little did Boaz know that his acts of kindness would give him the woman of his dreams when he was getting gray in the temples, and land him smack in middle of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

Little did any of the people in this story know that their lives would impact mine, 3,000 years later in an American suburb, where the hearts of all remain desperate for courage and hope and meaning and faith.

Keep doing the next right thing.  Practice loyalty like Ruth, perseverance like Naomi, and love like Boaz.  And know this:  God is always at work, in the unseen, in the unraveling, in the undoing.

The cross looked like the end.  Little did they know, that it was really just the beginning.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


This one is for my dear Pastor.  Little do you know, brother...

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Ship "Even God Couldn't Sink"

A Titanic replica cruise sheep.  Really?  Billionaire Clive Palmer must have lots of time on his hands, and an alleged 40,000 people have expressed interest in advanced tickets.  This whole thing seems so bizarre to me, but has served to get me thinking ("a dangerous pastime, I know" to quote Gaston from Beauty and the Beast), and examining myself and our culture once again.

I swore I'd never go on a cruise.  I get horribly seasick, and thought being on a ship in the middle of the ocean would make me feel like a caged rat.  I was picturing enclosed cells and ropes hanging everywhere, and miserable looking starved dogs...too much Disney "Pirates of the Caribbean" for sure.  Of course I knew that cruise ships were extravagant and luxurious, but the imagination can be more powerful than fact to the mind, hence my considerable hesitation.

After the devastating, exhausting experience of the car accident in 2009, and the subsequent fallout, we told our kids we were going to take a special celebration trip of their choice.  Our vacations have always been to our rented 2 bedroom Cape Cod cottage for a week every summer, so this was extravagance in the extreme for our family.  I wanted to drive the coast of California.  They wanted to cruise the Caribbean.  Guess who won.

We spent a week on the Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. No one was as surprised as I at how much I loved the experience.  My favorite part: the warm wind blowing through our balcony cabin every day in the middle of February.  This was a once in a lifetime trip.  Wildly expensive (we went during school break!) we felt like Solomon when we set foot on the sparkling Allure.  The whole thing was exceedingly restorative, with the sun shining down on the upper deck, a book in hand and rest for a little while from the world of hospitals, orthopedic surgery, brain injury and lifelong challenges and heartaches that must still be reckoned with.  I was grateful, grateful, grateful.  And a little uneasy.

There will always be, and I think always should be, a tension that comes with extravagance.  The truth is, there are people in this world who barely have enough to eat.  A cruise ship is an orgy of food.  There are folks in this world wearing rags.  The Allure hosted parties where people were wearing outfits worth more than my car.  There are men and women laboring without vacation time and for subsistence wages, while on a cruise ship money is gambled away, drunk away and thrown away.

I feel the tension as a Christian every day with all I have compared to what others lack.  Smitty and I evaluate and re-evaluate what God is calling us to give.  We must continue to do this, to find our way, to grapple with it, and to keep on giving.  C.S. Lewis, when asked about the subject of giving, challenges me again:  ”I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us,… they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.”

Clearly, wealth is not an evil, but a blessing.  The bible is replete with grave warnings about the LOVE of money, but some of God's most heralded children were the billionaires of their time.  Job.  David.  And of course, Solomon, whose discourse on the disappointment of riches is documented famously in the book of Ecclesiastes.

I will be turning this one over for the rest of my life, but it's a subject worthy of continual re-evaluation.  More important than what one gives, though, is Who one gives one's heart to.  This is the ultimate question for every life ever lived on planet earth. 

There is a scene in the movie Titanic which grafted itself into my consciousness-I hope forever.  (No offense to the hoards of people who loved the movie, but I found the narrative, well, dumb.  The stuff with the ship, however, was unforgettable).  Anyway, while Jack and Rose are off in some freezing cold hold of the sinking behemoth, there is a shot in the dining room that is a metaphor for the celebrity and glamour of this temporary world.  There in the 1st class banquet hall, where earlier the rich and richer nearly flamed with pride and arrogance, float the vestiges of vanity.  Gorgeous china dishes bob along littered waves of seawater, furniture crashes down in smashed, soaking heaps, elegant chandeliers flicker until they die out completely.  And God, who speaks in a thousand places, reminds me "Don't call the worthless precious or the precious worthless." 

I'd be a real pharisee, not to mention the world's biggest hypocrite, to imply that no one should ever enjoy a marvelous vacation.  But in America we've got this thing backwards.  We're living for vacations, living for comfort and ease, looking forward to the day we can finally put our feet up and relax for good.  While people are out there, neighbors, friends, strangers, or maybe it's you...without hope and without purpose and without God on this sinking ship.  Vacation is a week or two, not a life. 

Fame, fortune,pride,...they're all going down folks.  But what a real adventure to live the life Jesus said was the abundant life.  To find the ones who need your help, your money, your love...and give it to them in the everyday, right where you are!  Your coworker who's gasping for kindness.  Your next door neighbor who can't keep afloat and doesn't even have the strength to mow his lawn.  The kid  in Haiti who won't drown in ignorance or wear rags if you take the $40 a month you spend on coffee and send it to him.  (Samaritan's Purse or Compassion International can help you with this).  Oh, I love preaching to myself!

As for me, I'll skip the new Titanic. I'd have to ride in fourth class anyway, and I know I'd need to mainline Dramamine if I was stuck down there.   But mostly, this mind has to dwell on the lovely, or I'm sunk.  Thank God for His Son, my lifeboat, and the anchor in every one of my storms.  I'd rather ride a raft with Him through a hurricane than be king of the world.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,