Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Job: When You're Feeling "Done Wrong"

Dinner table talk somehow rounded the corner to the biblical story of Job.  My much beloved first born summed the story up to his girlfriend this way:  "Job was this guy in the bible who basically got done wrong on every level." A fairly accurate appraisal, painted with the bold strokes of "black and white" first born's are known for, and without the nuances that come with being older than 22.  Still, in the grand scheme, nail on head. 

Since the darling girl wasn't familiar with the drama of Job, I tried to sum up the saga from beginning to end.  Even as I outlined the story of Job's life, I felt inadequate to express the pathos, tragedy and hope in this complex story of a man done so wrong...and so right.

Job was a righteous man.  God points out to Satan in a rare, inside look at a cosmic face off, just how proud he is of this particular mortal: "Have you observed my servant Job.  There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright; a man who fears God and shuns evil." ~Job 1:8

That foul enemy, however, is summarily unimpressed.  To paraphrase his response : "Job loves you because you give him life's candy.  Take away the goods, and he'll curse you for sure.'"

And as most of you know, God does that very thing.  Job loses his wealth, his children, and eventually his health.  His wife turns on him and his "friends" twist themselves into pretzels trying to find some way to sort this disaster (including accusing Job of some hidden sin) so it makes sense and somehow protects them from a similar fate.  Job shows enviable patience with his lot for awhile.  But as with any of us, his suffering leads to understandable complaining, and eventually to accusations that God is unfair.

The persistence of the trial wears Job to a thread.  He, like the fictional Frodo in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is "... naked in the dark, with nothing, no veil... between me... and the wheel of fire!" 

Then the unthinkable happens.  In response to Job's demands for an audience with God, the Almighty descends to speak to his prized son.  What comes out of God's mouth is completely unexpected to the first time reader.  

God does not chide Job for his complaining.  He does not hammer him with laws or commandments.  And most notably, He does not explain to Job the number he's doing on the prince of darkness through this dreadful trial.  Instead, God simply shows Job Himself.  In a whirlwind of poetic language, The Holy One describes His supremacy over nature, His unfathomable creativity and His vast reach.  Regaled with the greatness of God, Job is overwhelmed.  "My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.  Therefore I retract, and repent in dust and ashes."~ Job 42:5-6

It's unlikely that any of us have experienced a Job kind of grief.  But in a fallen world, and as fallen folks ourselves, we have all suffered and known sorrow... even agony of body, mind and soul.  The remedy for our confusion and bitterness is found via the same portal Job went through...passing from hearing to seeing and knowing.  

In these latter times, God has graciously given his dearest and best, Jesus, to experience in His own suffering every possible "done wrong" that ever has been or ever will be.  He became one of us so we would be able to see Him and know Him, and to persevere as He did, with the hope of eternal life where "every tear will be wiped away."  

It wasn't enough for God that Job be righteous and honorable.  God wanted far more glory for his beloved than that.  God wanted to give Job Himself.  

And it's not enough for God that we spin our wheels, in a back breaking effort to be moral and upright.  First of all, how's that working for you? No, the letter of the law brings shame and accusation.  True righteousness is forged in the furnace of grace. The cosmic plan is to make Love the be all and end all.  To put an ultimate end to all the "done wrong" of this weary planet.

In the end, Job had his fortunes restored (multiplied), had more children (although the wounds of those he lost surely remained...) and every earthly gift was again his to experience.  Still, it's my bet that in the great eternal future, Job will not give two whits about the sufferings he endured or the blessings he enjoyed.  To see God, to know that burning love beyond all our greatest imaginings, that will be Job's treasure.  He will not see himself as a man "done wrong."

Persevere friends.  Look for Him in every shaft of light, in every warm embrace, in every beautiful thing that proves there is Amazing Grace.  There are no formulas, no quid pro quo's, no trite and easy answers to the sufferings of this world.  It can't be neatly sorted and categorized into  some heady theological equation. 

But there is God.  Himself. Love incarnate, full of grace.

He was done wrong, so in the end, we can all be done incredibly right.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mick Jagger, Jonathan Edwards, and The Great Longing

It sounds cliche in a way, but it's true: I can't get no satisfaction.  Thank you, Mick Jagger.

I read a friend's comment..."I have everything I want".  And I wonder at that life.  Because that has never been me, and I don't think it will ever be me.  It's lovely, but it leaves me scratching my increasingly threadbare head.  I most assuredly don't have everything I want.

I have stepped into the river of God, and the deeps keep calling.  Despite the hindrances of my own addiction to safety and pleasure, it cannot be shaken.  The holy discontent remains, and I think it will till I die.

The mystics reach far for the presence of the Holy in the land of the living, but even they in their enviable nearness to the One, admit they have barely scratched the surface of the eternal. Even they, the world's great seekers, admit to The Great Longing.

Satisfied?  No.  Content? Sometimes, but always with the longing for more beauty, more purity, more saturation of grace.

This is not the dissatisfaction of not having, but of not being.  Not being what we're made for...perfect union, perfect love, perfect freedom. To be poured out and poured in freely to the unique mold for which I was born, to truly know Jesus Christ - this is the yearning and passion that will not be quieted by all the delights earth can offer.  I would no more trade even the longing for God Himself, as weak and broken as it is by my own sin and folly, than I would sell my first born for all the gold in the world.

If the longing is that magnificent, how earth-shatteringly joyful will the fulfillment of that longing be?

Listen to Jonathan Edwards:

“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.” 

I love so much on this earth - my children laughing, the glorious changes of my crab apple tree, the overwhelming fresh vastness of the great Atlantic, and so, so much more.

But they are "but scattered beams".  God is the sun.  

Some of you reading this are dissatisfied.  There's a good kind and a bad kind of dissatisfaction.  The good kind is a thirst, but a grateful thirst. It drives you to the River of Life.  The bad kind often comes when you have plenty of the world's blessings, and you're satisfied with a spiritual cup that's dry. As my kids would say "that's the worst...".

As always, I write from a place of far too much understanding of getting it wrong.  Still, it's the grace of Christ that won't let His beloveds get true joy from any other source but Himself.  And it's that very grace that keeps me asking for more, and keeps me in that good kind of dissatisfaction that won't settle for the best of earth without the best of heaven.

We'll get our total satisfaction come one of these days... I'll be able to say with my dear friend, "I have everything I want".  I'll do all I can to bring the kingdom of God to this planet, to bring "up there down here" as John Ortberg says as an ongoing life theme. But this life is a vapor, and I'm not ashamed to say that I'm going for something a lot more solid and lasting.  Then we will step out of the shadows, into the substance.  In the meantime, I'm content to be discontented.  I'm grateful for grace that makes me see "these are but drops, but God is the ocean."

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tangos, Waltzes, and the PICU/SICU Shuffle

YouTube features a video of a ballet dancer swaying sadly to melancholy music.

Some cultures do dances of mourning when somebody dies.

Sure, dancing happy is a common thing.  But dancing, like living, finds truth of expression in a variety of forms.

This quote landed headlong into my soul:

"Maya Angelou languaged and danced her way through suffering into a more equitable future."

Dancing as a metaphor for living is ripe fruit for the picking.

 (OK, that was a mixed metaphor!)

Shakespeare saw the world as a stage.  Life has been described as being like a river.

An onion even.

I'm really liking the dance metaphor these days.

So many folks are in a difficult way this very moment.  Some are at war with a disease that threatens them day and night with scary premonitions and everyday pain.

Some are drowning in debt, wondering how this thing is going to play out when there is no more way out.

Some are in relational hell, with a spouse, a child, or some other beloved, carrying the weighty agony of loss on their weary shoulders.

There are a thousand scenarios that can wring the life out of people.

But what if we could look at the sorrows and dark stretches of our lives, and decide to dance to them?What if, with courage and a bit of counter-cultural determination, and faith in a good and sovereign God, we could "accept the things we cannot change"? Not only accept them, but see them as part of the drama of our lives. Beautiful in context, part of the whole.

Instead of resisting and railing, we trust and hope and keep moving.

This is not the way of our cynical world.  On our fallen planet we run and hide and put up walls.  We get bitter, and sit the dance out, angry that it's a tango when we wanted a waltz.

But how much has the way of the wallflower worked?  Drown it in alcohol, drown it in overwork, drown it in TV, drown it in food, drown it in sex, wear a mask, be wildly angry, be a religious legalist, avoid people, avoid God...

How's that all been workin' for ya?

As always, first and foremost I look in the mirror.

Of late, I have had to let go of something very dear and important.   There have been excruciating losses.  I have had to say the words of life, knowing that they are true regardless of how things appear.

Sometimes, I've gone to cookies instead of friends, TV instead of the Psalms, and to other substitutes for life I won't even share here.  But I'm learning, and growing.

And I write this because I know, I KNOW, there are so many souls perched on the ends of their own seats deciding whether to go bitter or dance.

By grace, we can dance.

Five years ago, when Smitty and the darling daughter were hit head on by a drunk driver, (who himself must now choose to dance or die) I coined a little phrase that has meaning to me and nobody else.

I refer to those early days of the accident as my PICU/SICU shuffle days.

The PICU/SICU shuffle is the dance nobody wants to do.

I would spend most of my time by my daughter's bed in the Pediatric ICU, watching for signs of recovery from a subdural hemorrhage of the brain.  The people who danced with me would sit with the child while I descended the stairs to the Surgical ICU, where my husband struggled to survive the mangling effects of several tons of metal running into his flesh and bones.

Those were days of a dramatic dance, ones that forever changed me and caused my relationship with God to enter deep places of both assurance and perplexity.

But this I will say for sure: I look back on that time, and know for certain it will one day make the whole dance stick together.  When my dancin' days are done on this earth, those dancin' days will have been significant for the big picture.  As will all of them. And all of yours.

I gave my firstborn a little motherly advise the other day.  (At 21, he's just getting in to the thick of the dance).  I let him know he has 2 choices when things go south in life: bitter or better.

Dance or die.

Whatever it is friend, turn it into a dance.  Though you weep through it, keep dancing.

One day, all the dances will be tearless.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, April 3, 2015

Lent: Christianity 101 And The Superbowl Of High Holy Days

It's good Friday, the first half in the Superbowl of Christian Holidays.  The second half is of course Easter Sunday.  Both together compose the colossal foundational doctrine of the ancient faith of our fathers.  Everyone has heard the rock star scripture of the New Testament:

"For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16

Those words are so familiar.  Have they become too familiar?

I woke up wanting desperately to give some consolation to the saints in this upside down world where "the love of many has waxed cold".  So here on Good Friday it is my simple hope to unpack Christianity 101.  So many folks have the gospel backwards, twisted and watered down that the great truth of Good Friday and Easter Sunday have become some quaint religious exercise, stripped of the high and holy doctrines of redemption, justification and glorification.

We are all bollixed up in our gazillion denominations with our pet emphasis on one thing or another.  But the bottom line of the Christian faith is this (not my idea of it, mind you - but the ancient, sacred truth from the word of God):

People have fallen short of God's glory and eternal purpose of a love relationship with Him.  The 3 letter word for the problem is SIN.

God worked through a particular race of people to make known His holiness, righteousness and profound love.  Out of that race of people He would bring a deliverer from sin for EVERY race of people.

Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God, gladly took on the limitations and sufferings of men and spent about 33 years on this planet.  He spent the bulk of the last 3 years of  his short earthly life to tell folks about the kingdom of God...a kingdom unlike all earthly kingdoms, where love and justice never fail, and where God and His people live in love forever...

On Good Friday, this Messiah, fulfilling the justice of God in paying the penalty for sin by dying a bloody, excruciating death on a cross, made a bridge between man and His maker.  No longer would we strive to be good in hopes of earning God's favor.  Now, by faith, we believe we are favored and so we desire to live righteous lives of good.

Still, if Christ had only died, we too would be dead in our sins.  But here it is: the grave could not hold Him!  Because He is risen, we too who have believed in His complete work of redemption, and not our own rags of righteousness, will rise too!

Jesus Christ died and rose for sinners like me and you.  He did it for one reason alone: to demonstrate the love of a Father who is completely just and completely loving.  So that with the gift we have of free will, we might see and experience the love of God and embrace Him as He does us.

This is the gospel.  We are saved by grace, through faith.

God doesn't love us because because we're good. No, we long for goodness BECAUSE we are loved freely and completely by God.

It is finished.  The debt is paid.

That's what Good Friday and Easter Sunday are all about, Charlie Brown.

That's Christianity 101.

Be consoled by this wonder my dear brothers and sisters as you carry on in your pilgrimage toward the kingdom of love.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lent: RISE

Thinking alot about rising these 40 days...

Driving home from the 9 to 5 today, I watched the folks leaving those places where they spend a good chunk of their lives.  I tried to look beyond the tired shoulders, the weary countenances and the external appearances to the eternal people inside those bodies with about an 80 year warranty.

I wonder if they're thinking about rising too.

Did that one feel at all appreciated today after doing the thankless task of billing and posting so the rest of us can get a paycheck?  That woman who trains the new recruits, was she distracted knowing her little girl is at daycare with a rotten cold today?  The man who just found out he has a malignant tumor, is Easter even on the radar of his invisible suffering?  What about the Dunkin' Donuts lady making 9 bucks an hour and trying to figure out how to get stuff for dinner and a haircut for her son.

And the beat goes on.

Billy Joel had a phrase in a song (about a hundred years ago): ..."I've found that just surviving is a noble fight."

So it is.

Still, I'm compelled by the Passion of Christ to believe for so much more.  I know it seems way to Pollyanna for our cynical world, but I'm stoked with hope for abundant life.  Jesus the hero, bloodied and maimed, beautiful, innocent lover of all of our souls, He rises.

Dies and Rises for our sake.

"For you know that it was not with perishable things like silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but has been revealed in these last times for your sake."  1 Peter 1:18-20

The empty way of life handed down to us through our spiritual DNA is in no way a bad hit on our parents. No one can help it.  We "reproduce after our own kind".   But Jesus, the most alive human being ever to walk the face of the earth, looked upon all of the generations of time, from ancient days to the days to come, and gave all He is for all we need.  So that life would be more than just surviving.  That somewhere beyond our vocations, our chores, our family duties, and all the rest of it we would grab hold of real life.  Beginning today but really culminating when we too die, and RISE.  Everybody gets the option of turning in the empty way of life for abundant life.  From the richest man in the world to the lady from Dunkin' Donuts.  From the neurosurgeon to the video game aficionado.  From the west side, to the east side.  From the mountains to the valleys.

Christianity isn't about making bad people good.  (Although that process most certainly is a byproduct...over a lifetime).  Christianity is about making dead people alive.  About waking people up from the coma of finding artificial life until their 80 year warranty is up.  It's about wild, eternal joy for all.  It's about rising.

Yeah, I'm thinking alot about rising these days.  And despite my thousands of failures, I believe the nail pierced, crucified, stone-rolled-away Savior was telling the truth when He proclaimed "it is finished."  He declared an end to death for all who would believe.  Thieves, whores, hypocrites, fools, adulterers, liars... Indeed, the beat goes on.

Take this wild offer my friends.  Make this Easter really personal.  No matter your external circumstances.  This grace in which we stand was costly.  Don't just survive.


Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, March 9, 2015

Lent: Maybe Especially For Mondays

Lent is really a beautiful thing at the end of a Monday.

Because some Mondays you need a reminder of the ocean load of grace you need.  Some Mondays, you get off to a bad start, and there's a vaccuum in your soul needing the rush of something fresh and clean and beautiful to remind you that one day, there will be no more blue Mondays.

I had a talk with myself today, not totally out loud but under my breath. Still, my lips were moving as I made my way across one of those hallways of healing where I make a living and strive to make a life.  "Stop your lousy attitude"  I told my soul.  I thought of how C.S. Lewis said "Sometimes you have to tell your feelings where to get off."  One of the doctors laughed when she inquired about my apparent schizophrenia, and said she loved me, and I had to smile with the affectionate thought of how I love her too, despite the fact that everyone is getting under my skin today and I don't have enough time to get my work done and it feels like I'm at the DMV the way EVERYONE is complaining.

I myself being exhibit A.

I took a lunch break...at 2:30... about 2 hours after I really should have walked away from that pile of paper my desk hides under.

And out in that 40 degree air that felt like summer for crying out loud,  I thought about the person I am to God, under the pile of grumbling and fussing and worrying and wondering.  I got outside and the birds were tweeting and it was actually over 35 degrees for the first time in 100 years, and I remembered how beloved I am to my Jesus.  How he saw the mess that doesn't define me and the trials that wouldn't kill me because He made a way through a lonely garden and up a brutal hill onto an execution platform for my sake.  Death couldn't even hold that blessed God-man.  He burst out of the grave with the keys to death and hell and said "Let everyone who is thirsty COME!"  Oh baby, and I went running, dying of thirst, and no matter how many bad Mondays I have left on this earth there's good to be found. There's grace and mercy and love to be found! The well is always flowing with fresh water on the stalest of days....for whosoever will just get off their confounded high horse and take the free gift!

There outside in front of that mammoth health care complex at the near end of an endless winter, Jesus Christ shows up alive and well in my parched soul.  The kingdom of God cometh!  Here in this messy heart, here in the 21st century, here where hope rises up again and the stone rolls away again, here the gospel lives.

On a Monday, no less.

Grace is found in the most ordinary places, on the most ordinary days. Lent seems mostly about a Friday and a Sunday, but it was meant for all the other days as well.  Maybe even especially Mondays.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lent: How Not To Wreck It

It's still remarkable to me, how twisted up we people of faith can get things.

We have our eyes opened to see the unmatched, untamed love of an uncontainable God, and still find a way to turn the whole thing into a dead religion.  I'm not sure how it happens...perhaps the insidious call of a human nature that wants to be "righteous", perhaps a fear driven motivation to avoid the ugly excesses of a world gone mad.  Maybe it's a deception dangled by the ancient enemy of our souls.

Perhaps it's all three.  The world. The flesh. The devil.

(Them ain't new concepts, friends.  There is nothing new under the sun.)

Lent is a time to glory in the grace of a wildly beautiful Savior.  Every discipline, sacrifice and self denial ought to be aimed at grasping an ever greater vision of His perfections and His limitless love.

When these things become and end in themselves, the outward practices make men into Pharisees.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."  Mt.23 :25-26

Christ calls us to dance with Him.  To open our self up to the vulnerability of love, with the attached risks of loss, disappointment and trouble.  A relationship with God is the point of Lent, Easter, Christmas...indeed the point of every ordinary day.  Religion is not, and never has been the point.  Jesus Christ had a PASSION.  It was rife with agony, and exploding with "the JOY set before Him."  He did not suffer thus to create "nice" people, people who follow rules and look dapper in their freshly pressed clothes on Easter Sunday.

His wild "hope", (if that's not a heresy), is that His beloved creation will be "liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."  (That last part is from Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 8 verse 21.

Every work of Lent...fasting, self denial, good works - are all a Pharisaical whitewashing if the ultimate aim is not a passion to know and love Christ, and all He loves, more fully.  But if those motives are in place, even if we don't have them 100% pure and right, we are dancing and not primping.  Liberation, freedom, joy, a life of love.  That's the aim of a breathtakingly beautiful God.

I say these things because I myself need them most of all.  I could and have tried to make myself look better than I am, rather than confessing the pure, lovely grace of Jesus as my banner.  I long to be authentic, and I know you do to.  Sometimes we just need a reminder of what the thing is really all about.  It's far better to fail in our fasting and cry out "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me", than to get it all right for 40 days and miss the point entirely.

Let every effort of Lent be one to draw you toward the love of your Savior.

That's what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lent: Unraveling The Ancient Plot

Lent is about the conscious contemplation of the uncontainable truth of the gospel: the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It's rather like trying to hold the Milky Way in a teaspoon, this pondering of the unfathomable condescending love of God.  It's very different too from our everyday thinking...there's a Crucifixion, blood sacrifice, miraculous empty tomb.  These do not fit in to the typical thought life of the average American.  We don't even see animals slaughtered anymore. (Here is where I thank God for placing me in the 21st century).  But these thoughts, odd though they seem, are rightly centered on the lofty unravelings of the plot of a foul enemy to destroy the souls of the human race.  Lent retells the dramatic story of Jesus and His masterful hoodwink, His high and mighty crushing of the head of the snake, and the unmerited restoration that this unraveling of sin has wrought for ordinary folks like you and me.

If you've never seen an episode of Columbo, starring Peter Falk as the detective from which the show's title is derived, you haven't really experienced the best of character driven television.  In most TV detective programs, one spends the entirety of the episode figuring out who committed the crime in question (usually murder).  But Columbo twisted this formula like a pretzel.  From the beginning you witness the wicked fellow or femme fatale conniving and ultimately perpetrating a murder.  You know the motive, you know the opportunity, you know the method.  You see all the details.

Columbo, meanwhile, arrives on the scene.  And typically within moments Steve and I will look at each other and say "He knows."  The joy of Columbo is watching him unravel the mystery before our eyes, finding the proof, and slowly tightening the noose around the criminal's neck in the politest of ways.

Now I know the analogy here is faulty, but I think it's fair to say that Lent is a mental replay of the inevitable demise of the ancient enemy of mankind.  The story's already written, the hero wins with great alacrity, but the scenes must be played out for all to see. The world is clearly still in a state of chaos, with sin run amuck on all fronts.  But the gospel truth is this: the crime has already been solved, prosecuted and judged.  The felon is already sentenced, goose cooked, doomed to death.  This ancient foe's only hope before the prison door is permanently sealed is to drag as many of God's beloved down with him as possible.  But the pardon for man has been signed in Christ's blood, and it is only for each of us to bow the knee in gratitude and repentance and accept the aquittal.  The noose is tightening and there is no doubt how the thing's going to turn out.  It's simply a matter of unravelling the lies and landing square in the safe harbor of a loving God.

The cost of this undoing to the Trinity was more than we can comprehend.  Again, the Universe in a thimble.  But just because we can't get it all, doesn't mean we shouldn't jump for joy for the bit we can understand. That's our call during Lent...to let that message rise up out of us, that crazy hope that sets us free from sin, darkness and the grave.  No matter how it looks in the moment.  Like Columbo, He already knows.  It is finished.

So while you change the diaper, bless the one who graced you with the child in it.  While you study the next geometric proof, contemplate the beauty of an ordered world.  While you serve the customer, fix the pipe, dress the wound, feed the cat, count the pills, suffer the loss, count the gains...while you do everything, give praise to Him who unraveled the crime for your sake, who took the judgement for your benefit, and who rose from the dead for your future.

Lofty thoughts for Lent indeed.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lent: The Good Ache

I've got an aching heart this second Wednesday of Lent.

Aching for the world of hurt right outside my front door, my office door, my church door.

Not to mention the sorrows inside those doors.

All around me are souls at unrest.  If we could see the invisible, we'd find there are so many people walking about in chains that we would think Charles Dickens was a prophet when he invented Marley's Ghost in his great imagination.

I get shocked in this cold weather when I touch something that is charged.

I get a shock to find out a co worker lived in a foster home because her mother was schizophrenic and her father couldn't care for her and her brother.  Another jolt when I discover a friend's son has been arrested.  Zap...a woman sobs in the waiting room, terrified of a diagnosis.  A friend's sister suddenly loses her job because of her lingering post stroke symptoms.

And the secrets...mental illness, domestic abuse, alcoholism, abortions...You could curl up in the fetal position and stay in bed forever.

Cheery little post, isn't it?

But really, it's getting to the end of ourselves with the overwhelming darkness of the fall that is the heart of Lent.  We fall to our knees in repentance, in desperation...but in HOPE.  Though we do not have the strength to remedy the ills of this world, Christ has the power to redeem it.

"In this world you will have trouble.  But take courage, I have overcome the world."  John 16:33

Pain is a powerful thing.  People with leprosy can't feel pain, and their infections end up killing them. They don't notice the destroyer.  They never saw it coming.

The ache brings me to the doctor of my soul.  In fact, I get more afraid when I feel nothing.  Those times I am cold and numb to the wretched state of a suffering world are the times I most need the powerful gift of repentance.

Jesus turned his face into the wind of a depraved and pained world.  He tenderly received the outcasts and the losers as friends.  Children of schizophrenics, parents of outlaw kids, stroke victims...these folks he relieved of their sense that they simply didn't belong.  He continues to do that to this very hour...and he does it through a motley crew...that would be you and me.

The Savior saw a hurting world and dived in to save.  He wants us to do the same.  All the while He knows we have no strength to do this.  He understands our utter sense of being overwhelmed, unequal to the task...even the task of trusting Him in our own suffering.

He gives us more grace.  He supplies, one moment at a time, the necessary strength to do the next right thing, think the next right thing, and carry on.

Lent brings us low to raise us up.  In humbling ourselves and confessing the truth of our empty ways, we open our clouded windows to the light and life of an ever giving God.  The ache is good if it leads to the bowing of the knee.

So today, I know there will be an ache. But there will also be hope.  And, God help me, courage to extend a hand of tenderness to help some chained soul out of some prison of shame.

This is the way for the people of the Way. Ask Him for that one chance to extend mercy today.

There are only about a million opportunities on every inch of this earth.

Let the ache lead you to the cross.  Let the cross lead you to the many.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, February 23, 2015

Lent: Headless Snakes And Deadly Diseases...Not Your Light And Airy Topic

The brilliant 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon recounts a story in one of his sermons told to him by a missionary from some remote third world jungle.  In the story, the missionary's wife is in the kitchen preparing a meal when a large, venomous snake slithers in, scaring her half to death. One of the locals hears her calling, runs to the rescue and machete's the head off of that viper.

Perhaps this part is exaggerated, but it serves to make my point: apparently that snake continued to thrash around that kitchen for an hour in its headless state, wreaking havoc and damaging the rudimentary furnishings.  Snakes must have some sort of weird nervous system, much like the proverbial "chicken with its head cut off", still able to slash and crash for a little while despite the fact that the are indeed, dead.

These times we live in, they may be modern but the ancient war rages on that has since the beginning.
The fault line of sin runs deep within our race...deep within each one of us.  There is no human cure.  There is no trying hard enough to be good, no meditating our way out of it, no amount of the milk of human kindness that can overcome it.  There is only one antidote, and it can't be purchased for any amount of money.  It must be received as a free gift, killing all hope of human pride and ego.  

On top of the problem of sin there is a headless snake thrashing about on our shipwrecked planet, doing all manner of evil in hope of destroying his arch enemy's ultimate plan:  the saving of the fallen race, the restoring of the broken planet, the redemption of the world He made.

Lent is a time to take a serious look at the hard fact of our personal fault line.  Repentance is not self flagellation, but a turning.  It is recognizing sin for what it is: that which separates us from our Father. There's nothing for it but to man up and call it what it is, take the medicine of the forgiveness and mercy of Christ, and TURN.

This is not a popular topic, I know.  I'm not enjoying writing about it.  Especially since I have an offense of my own bothering me at this very moment.  The turning will require apologizing and that age old companion of men, pride, has its grip down pretty tightly.  There will be a tearing. Repentance hurts while it heals.

As for the snake, he continues to seek who he can devour.  He tempts us to justify ourselves and thus lay aside the need for repentance.  He thrashes and lies and wars begin.  He thrashes and lies and families break up.  He thrashes and lies and men compromise for gain, gossip for pleasure, lust for what will kill them.  This has been the plan of God's enemy from the beginning.  To destroy that which God loves.

Lent is all about the counter intelligence of God in Christ.  When the innocent Son of God died on the cross, the serpent's head was cut off forever.  In the words of Martin Luther..."lo, his doom is sure."  There is no venom left in Beelzebub.  He can make a mess, but the cure for the deadly disease of sin is done and done.  All that remains is for us to go to the hospital and take the serum.  Sacrificial love destroys even death.

Self and Satan...both have been confronted by the One who loves us.  He cut off the snake's head and He continues to administer the cure for our deadly disease. One day too, the snake will be still.

No, not a light and airy topic.  But one I need today.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, February 20, 2015

Lent: Focused, Resolute...Yikes

To be focused for 40 days on one thing.

I wonder if I can be focused for 40 minutes...  um, ok, 40 seconds.

Jesus was focused for a lifetime.  And near the end of his earthly life, His focus took on a sniper's aim.  He knew why He was here, and God help anyone or anything that got in the way of His mission of extreme mercy.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  
Luke 9:51

Some translations use that unparalleled word, steadfastly.  The Latin and Ethiopic versions say "He set His face as flint..."

I wonder how many of us are going to get out of the shower today and say "I'm going to go out in the world today and bring every thing within me to those around me to be a help to them.  I'm willing to sacrifice my pride, my time, my money, indeed my very life to help people see the grace of God.  No matter what it costs me."


No one becomes steadfast overnight.  And no one becomes truly spiritually steadfast without the divine work of the Holy Spirit within.  To be focused on the right thing takes a work of grace.  If we try too hard to be virtuous, we will likely turn into Pharisees.  No, the way to become steadfast is to set our face like flint toward Jesus, to look to Him, to follow Him, and to be at the ready to receive everything He freely gives.  Then our focus will be right, without the dangerous companion of pride tagging along.  

Lent is the perfect time to turn around and see where our focus has been wrong. Or where we haven't really been focused at all.

There's a famous quote that says "The unexamined life is not worth living."  I wonder if the unfocused life is?  What I would give to get back the hours wasted on foolish things!  I don't mean there's never a time for fun and frolic!  These are part of a balanced life.  God commands us to have times of joy and feasting and rest.  No, I mean those worthless pursuits of dissipation (the opposite of focus) that rob our very souls.  Thank God for the cross of Christ, a bulwark never failing to pull us off the rails of the runaway train of ruin.

In the never ending noise of our 21st century (a century I am blessed and thankful to live during), the quiet truth of the gospel remains.  Our steadfast Savior took the nails, took the abuse, took on death itself to make us sons of God.  He set His face like flint for ordinary folks like you and I, so we could find our true North.  The Kingdom of God.

Avail yourself this day to his grace. Step out of the noise.  Turn off your phone (now I'm treading on dangerous ground!) Take one little step toward focus.  Look to the One who loves you so.  Get out of the shower, and determine, in the words of the great song (Jimmy Durante style):

"Make someone happy...make just one someone happy.  Then you will be happy too..."

Set out resolutely to your Jerusalem.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent: Clearing Away The Muddle

The 21st century is not the poster child for self denial.

With four hundred brands of cereal, countless TV channels and 50 shades of gray (God help us), our generation will not be remembered for our restraint.  And it's done us a world of harm,

I preface all this by saying I'm the worst at fasting.  I still drink coffee when I fast, I often don't make it all the way through the day, and I'm the furthest thing from Francis of Assisi in his beautiful grace of doing without.

But I'm not quitting.  I have tasted some of the rewards of self denial.  Because really, fasting, of any kind, is good for the soul.  We have become so gorged with the things of this upside down world we've almost forgotten what it means to simply say no to the physical for a little while in order to tune in to the breathtaking, invisible world of the spirit.

The mistake most folks make with any kind of self denial is this: they forget that it is for the sake of something greater that they temporarily turn their backs on the lesser.  Self denial is not for self denial's sake: it is for the sake of removing the rocks on the road of love.   Love is the ultimate purpose of the fast.

How quickly I see the sins that lie below the surface when my usual crutches are removed.  For me, the distractions of media and food are the big hindrances.  By leaving them behind, even for a limited period of time, I take some of the weight out of the backpack I'm always carrying about that slows me down in my pursuit of God.  It is for the love of Christ that we deny ourselves.  To gain what is already ours but which we have no room for in our cluttered, muddled lives.

The ancient discipline of fasting stands like a rock while the waves of modern superficiality wash over us.  I believe each individual must seek God and ask how to begin.  For each of us the way will be different.  And we must not give up when we don't reach the mark.  Every effort to lay off the worldly and embrace the eternal is a blessing.  Start small.  Leave the radio off in the car and have a conversation with God.  Leave your lunch in the fridge at work and take a walk devoted to praying for 1 person.  If you mess it up, try again tomorrow.  Saints are forged in the fire of everyday life, with small choices.  Self denial was part of Jesus' everyday life.  Not for its own sake, but for the sake of relationship with His Father.  Really, that's what the thing is all about.

Because something has been misused, doesn't mean the thing is bad.  Many folks through the ages have taken self denial and fasting to places it was never meant to go.  Some have even espoused the idea that the physical world is evil, and all pleasure is wrong.


God went wild when He created for us the pleasures of garlic, cool streams on hot days, the smell of lilacs, the beauty of blue jays, and on and on.  We should embrace with gratitude every beautiful gift from the hand of a magnificently generous Creator.  They were made for us to enjoy.  That's a fact.

Self denial is for a time, and for a greater purpose.  I'm no expert on this subject, but the scriptures certainly do express the benefits letting go to gain something better.

During Lent, perhaps we can grow a little more in this lost benefit.  I'm hoping to clear some cobwebs from my internal attic so I am better able to:

"Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God."   Micah 6:8

One word of warning: Don't turn this into a law, or you'll kill it.

Go slow, and with grace.  And keep it to yourself.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dust To Dust: Lent, A Time To Man Up And Consider The Cost

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust... Lent began today.

The time to repent.  The time to consider the brutal beauty of the Cross of Christ.  The time to ponder the timeless truths of sin, forgiveness, and redemption.

By grace are we saved, through faith; and this is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God.  Ephesians 2:8

Make no mistake though...this is a pricey grace.  Not some cheap, often strictly Western notion of the happy, prosperous Christian, looking too hard at our naval's and self actualizing ourselves to spiritual death.

I'm not judging anyone but myself.  I'd still be on that wide road had not the severe mercy of Christ allowed that which is evil to do its work of good in my little life.  Believe me when I say I'm still in first grade with this.

Before the Rude Awakening, (which came many years after the Great Awakening), I had a pretty shallow view of life with God.  Everything was going to come up roses now...now that I was heaven bound and delivered from death and hell.  (Hallelujah, by the way!)

Thank God for His mercy on fools like me.

Lent reminds me of the great cost to the Father in sending the beloved son to His obscure birth and bloody death. All the wealth of all the ages of men is a grain of sand on the great beach of the credit union of our redemption.  And we get mad when something in life goes wrong.

All fingers may point this way.

I'm sobered in the affection I have for my Egyptian friend, a Coptic Christian who arrived in this country about 10 years ago to escape persecution from Muslim extremists in his home country.  He tells me how the family members of one of the 20 Egyptian Christians beheaded this week expressed to the world how happy they were for their brother.  Happy, through agonizing tears of grief.  Happy that he stood firm to the end, and now was receiving the goal of his faith: life eternal with His beloved Jesus. Happy that the costly gift of grace was not in vain.

Don't get the idea that I'm minimizing the pain in our lives because we have the comforts of a culture nurtured and planted with blessings from the very hand of God Himself.

I'm just saying, while we anticipate the crushing price tag of our spiritual pardon, let's man up a bit with the complaints about our sufferings, and rest assured that like our biblical ancestors our "light and momentary troubles aren't worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  It's unlikely someone is going to march you about in an orange suit and chop off your head because you are a "person of the Way".  Oh, how I love preaching to myself!

Blessings friends, in this most Holy of seasons for us who believe.  We are thought of as fools by many.  A small price to pay.  Some of us are positively shunned for our trust in Christ.  Still, what does it matter?  Others are paraded on national television and martyred before a yawning audience. Hebrews 11 says it all for those beautiful Egyptians: "the world was not worthy of them".

Grab hold of your great worth during this season.  The Savior paid an indescribably price.  We were not worthy of the cost.  But He paid it joyfully and completely.  Blessed be His name.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hurry Up With That Bucket List

“Hurry ruins saints as well as artists.”  ~ Thomas Merton

It’s an easy trap to fall into at the beginning of a new year.  I've heard a few people talk about their “bucket lists”.  There are things to be accomplished, projects to complete, dreams to be fulfilled.  It all sounds very ambitious, productive, exciting…spiritual even.  Does not the Great Creator want all of us to experience more, see more, grow more, live more abundantly?  Shouldn't this be the year of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, starting a bible study, getting my finances in order, forging relationships with new people?  Shouldn't it be the year I get more organized with my time and money?  Do more for others?  Put some more more into life?

Again I am stirring an internal pot of choices and options.  Always wanting to be more, do more, know more.  But there’s merit to that old saying…  “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”   I am already sick in my soul from the two enemies that most plague me: hurry and fear.  Always these have bit me with their slow-death kind of poison.  The antidote to hurry is foreign to my nature – the twin syringe loaded with slowness and contentment.

Here I am addressing the hurry component. (Fear needs a 10-blog series of its own).  And here, with forced deep breaths and attentiveness to one thing at a time, I believe there is the uncovering of what’s missing: the joy and gratitude of living in the present.

My dear friend told me a story this morning that is a metaphor for the ridiculousness of all of our rushing about.  On a long awaited trip to Disney’s magic kingdom, my friend was savoring the sights and sounds:  Cinderella’s magical castle, the smell of cinnamon rolls from a Main St. USA bakery, the old- fashioned music and the sparkling delight in the eyes of visitors.  In the midst of all of this, her travelling companion spent the bulk of time on the magical Main St. talking and surfing on her phone, planning her next vacation in February.  We can all gasp and murmur at the stupidity of it all, except that each of our days offers us beauty and wonders that we continually forfeit in the quest for the next “fulfilling experience”.  We are in a kingdom of boundless grace every minute of our lives, and we miss it while we multitask our way to productivity and accomplishment. 

Dreams, goals and even bucket lists are important in planning and moving forward.  After all, it is also true that “Without a vision, the people perish” ~Proverbs 29:18.  What I’m wrapping my dissipated head around though is this: if the goal (destination) becomes all, what of the journey?  Full as it is of the taste of cranberry bread that gets swallowed whole on route, or the sound of a cat purring on a warm radiator while the 6 o’clock news drowns it out.  Is it possible there is some irony in planning a “ministry night” to reach out to folks feeling empty and dry, when there’s no time for slowly sipped coffee with God Himself in the morning?  Since when did the sum of life matter more that the quality of its parts?

 I write these words from the place of far too much understanding.
Hurry ruins saints, as well as artists.
For today, I have decided to shut up and slow down.  When my children speak, I want to hear their every word…without a need to conjecture or advise.  I want to look into those 3 sets (in age order) of brown, green and blue eyes, and savor these moments with them, moments of pain as well as pleasure, these God redeemed moments of the only earthly life I get.  I want to move slowly in the kitchen, cutting up the slightly wilted zucchini into my week’s-worth of vegetable soup, to smell the onions cooking, to enjoy the feel of the wood spoon against the pot.  

 I choose to live in this very moment.  That is the one item on this year’s bucket list.

No matter what your plans and goals are, you dear precious people, don’t be the fool I have so often been.  While you travel to your dream, feel the cold, prickly wind on your face, cry the big tears of grief, laugh hard and long, and give thanks to Him who is always living in the present.

We fret not, for God is the Artist who, in perfect time, turns ruin into resurrection.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,