Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

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,