Monday, February 27, 2012

pilgrimage

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Weeping,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
(Psalm 84:5-7)

This Lenten journey is very much a pilgrimage.  It is the time where we, like Jesus, set our face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 ESV).  It is a journey to the cross; a journey that passes through the Valley of Weeping, but ultimately ends up at a place of springs—of new life, of resurrection.  So what does it look like to set my heart on this pilgrimage?  Does it mean to follow wherever the hard and lonely path may lead, trusting that Jesus knows the way to life?  Does it mean to embrace, rather than avoid or deny, the struggle and pain and brokenness of the season—and my own heart—knowing that this is the soil in which new life is born?  Does it mean simply putting one foot in front of the other as we willingly follow our Savior into a scary and vulnerable land—the land of denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him?  Does it mean being stripped down to the core of who we really are, and who He really is, in order that we may really become all that He desires us to be?  Does it mean a putting off of all that is false within us, in order to put on all that is genuinely true?  Does it mean the putting to death of the false self, that we may live and be the true self we were intended/created/dreamt to be?  If that is indeed what it means, then by all means, O Lord, set my heart of pilgrimage—as you set your face to go to Jerusalem—that I may really know, and really love, you and you alone.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

lent

Lent begins tomorrow.  It is that hard, but incredibly good season that begins the most sacred part of the Christian year.  It is the time where we journey with Christ to the cross.  It is the time where we see both the enormous cost of our sin, and the enormous love of our Savior.  It is the season where we celebrate the incredible mystery that life always follows death; resurrection always comes after crucifixion.  It is a time where we celebrate the truth that, for God’s people, suffering and sadness and pain and brokenness—and death—do not have the final word, but life (God) does.  Thus, it is a season where we are invited by God to “come and die, that we may live."

Lent is a forty-day period (not including Sundays) that is meant to echo the forty days Jesus spent in the desert; as well as the forty days Moses spent on the mountain (with God).  It begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Easter Sunday. Sundays are not included in the forty-day count because every Sunday is a joyful celebration of our Lord's resurrection—a Little Easter.  The word Lent is derived from the Old English lencten, which means “spring”; that transitional time between late winter and early summer in which our world begins to wake up from its slumber and come to life once again. 

Ash Wednesday (from the Latin Dies Cinerum, meaning "Day of Ashes") is the first day of Lent. On this day, we focus intensely on our utter and complete sinfulness and the necessity of Christ's suffering and death to purchase our salvation.  Ashes are referred to often in the Old Testament as a sign of sorrow, mourning, repentance, and mortality (2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1-3; Job 42:6; and Jeremiah 6:26). Many churches use ashes during Ash Wednesday services as part of a rite called the Imposition of Ashes. According to this custom, ashes (traditionally made by burning palm fronds used on Palm Sunday of the previous year) are mixed with a small amount of olive oil and applied to the forehead of each worshipper. The smudge mark made by the dirty ashes is a powerful reminder that we are all going to die; because death is the high cost of our sin. The fact that the ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross focuses our hearts on Jesus, the only way to forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal. 

So as we begin this holy journey to the cross, here's hoping that your Lenten season is rich and meaningful.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

a new normal

you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.
(Psalm 66:12)

You let it happen—this riding over our heads—whoever or whatever it may have been.  You didn’t cause it…but you could have stopped it.  I mean, I know it doesn’t happen every day, but I have seen you spring into action and miraculously come to someone’s aid or defense; come to protect or deliver.  And yet, for some reason, in this case you didn’t.  You allowed it.  Does that mean you sat idly by and watched?  Or does it mean that—although the brokenness of this world is its cause—that you are big enough to bring beauty out of the tragedy?  You saw it coming, and let it stand, because of what you knew it would do within us.  You knew that the groaning it would produce would have an effect on us like nothing else could or would.  So where exactly were you when we were going through the fire; being consumed by the agonizing flames of grief or sadness or mourning or pain?  What were you doing while the mighty waters rushed over us and swept us away; as we struggled and fought to survive—to keep our heads above water?  Were you with us in some mysteriously hidden way that we were not able to completely comprehend at the time?  Were you in the midst of the fire with us; shielding us from the fury of the flames?  Were you in the middle of the raging currents beside us; holding and sustaining us—keeping us afloat?  After all, you know what the groaning is like; in fact, you know it like no other.  Did it break your heart to have to watch the riding over us unfold; to know the depths of the pain we were going through, and not intervene?  How hard that must have been for you.

When we are in the midst of the groan it is hellish.  It is hard to believe, or even consent to the fact that something good might possibly result from the chaos and brokenness.  Much less to think that it could be some strange path to a place called abundance—that is almost unimaginable.  Yet all of us, on the backside of the riding over, usually have to admit that something took place within us—or among us—that could have happened no other way.  We would never have chosen the path in a million years—not then, and most likely not again—but we can’t deny the beauty of the new place at which we eventually arrived.  How in the world did we get here?  Who would’ve imagined that the groans and cries and tears and struggle would have brought us to this place; this place where our hearts have been both broken and expanded, where our souls have been both crushed and deepened beyond measure.  Who could’ve dreamt that the effect of the fire and of the water would have been to make us more like Jesus—he who suffers with and delivers; he who weeps over and heals?

There has been a lot of groaning going around lately.  It seems to be coming from every direction.  I guess it is true that “each one of us sits beside a pool of tears.” And it is so hard to watch the groaners groan and the mourners mourn and the strugglers struggle and not be able to do anything to help.  It is so tempting to try to come to the rescue, but rescue is not really possible, or even preferable…because something much deeper is going on.  In the words of Gerald May, “There is no way out, only through.”  Something deep and wonderful happens in the going through.  So we must resist the urge to provide an escape—if that were even possible—because the struggle, or the groaning, or the grief, or the pain is the very thing that is able to do a beautiful work within.  All there is for us to do is trust.  Trust that God really is in control.  Trust that God really is up to something, in spite of all appearances.  Trust that God really is big enough to sustain, to comfort, to deliver, to heal…and ultimately to transform.  Trust that through the fire and through the water lies a place of abundance.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

a do-over

Did you ever wish you could have a do-over? You know, like when you get to the end of a conversation or an event and you think, "I really missed it there." As a matter of fact, in your desire to be helpful—to whoever it was that you were speaking to or sitting with—you were actually anything but that.  The desire was a wonderful thing, and came from a beautiful place, but it actually kept you from creating the space for them to be.  For some reason you talked a little too much and listened a little too little, so that the time became more about you than about them.  So, you look back and long for another chance, not for your sake but for theirs.  Because what they were really looking for and hoping for was just someone to be with them; and your misguided desire kept you from being able to do that.  Luckily God is big enough to use even our bumbling and our fumbling to accomplish His purposes.  I guess that’s some consolation, huh?  Plus the fact that next time, I’ll know better…I hope.



Monday, February 6, 2012

listening

     “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.  The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
     “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
     “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
     “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
     “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
     “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
     “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
     “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:1-13)


It’s funny how you can read a passage of scripture a thousand times and then, all of the sudden, notice something brand new.  With me it probably has something to do with the fact that I am a sentence finisher.  I know; it’s a tough thing to admit.  But I’m sure my wife can attest to the fact that oftentimes I think I know what someone is going to say before they have completed their thought.  It is a terrible habit that can be quite frustrating to others, especially those you love—you know, the ones that really desire (and deserve) you to listen attentively to them.  And it’s particularly unhelpful in relationships; because it means that, since you know what is coming, you have already stopped listening completely…and often have begun your response before their sentence is even completed.  It is also a terrible habit when it comes to God, and His Word.  You know, the Word that says stuff like: Hear O Israel and He who has ears, let him hear.  Being a sentence finisher with God means that frequently, as I come to a particular scripture, I stop reading—or at least listening—altogether, because I already know what it says.

Well, on the particular day in question, I did that exact thing.  The scripture for the day was Matthew 25:1-13…you know, the parable about the 10 virgins, and the lamps, and the oil, and yada, yada, yada, ”Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”  Of course.  I’ve read it a thousand times.  As a matter of fact, I think I read it in one of the readings from last week.  And, all of the sudden, low and behold, I’ve stopped listening.  Well the only good thing about me being a sentence finisher is that at least I know I struggle with that affliction.  So quite often I am able to catch myself in mid-finish, repent, and start all over again.  And usually, as I was on this particular day, I am so glad I did.

Because when I went back to the passage I was drawn by the Spirit to something I’d never really spent much time thinking about before…the oil.  Seems like a pretty significant part of the story, huh?  I know, I know, I’m really slow sometimes.  And as I began to think about the oil, God met me in such a sweet and rich and wonderful way.  “How is your oil level these days?  What is it within you that offers fuel to the flame of my Spirit; that causes you to burn with holy longing (zeal) for a deep and rich life with Me?  How is the life within you—that life that comes up from your very depths and shines through your eyes and face and very being, like a beacon in this dark and desperate world?  Like Moses when he came down from the mountaintop?  What is it that burns within you in such a beautiful way that those in this world are automatically drawn to its light, as a moth to a flame?  Are you nurturing this life of God within you?  Are you staying full of me?  Do you have enough oil in your heart and soul to shine on indefinitely?  What does it look like for you to make sure you have enough?  How are you nurturing and caring for this life of Mine within you?  Take extra special care, my beloved child, to do just that; for then you will live every second of your life in readiness—readiness for my coming.”

Now that’s the way to finish a sentence.  Thanks be to God!!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

jackson (1-7-87)

canyon

standing at the base of the canyon
looking up
how immense the walls
towering far above
and how deep the floor
dark and hopeless
it seems an impossible climb
out of this pit of sadness
groaning and despair
how can i possibly reach the other side
where life can continue
once again?

how can i do this?
i cry into the chasm
how can i do this?
it just doesn’t seem possible

i need someone
who knows the way
through the pain and darkness
the despair and loneliness
back to life again
who could possibly know the way?
only one who has been there
who has been to the depths
and made it back alive
only one who has seen rock bottom
and survived even still

i need someone who knows the way
and can walk beside me
through the darkest night
back into the light again

only you can offer hope
you alone
hold the possibility
that in spite of all the pain
life can one day begin again
only you can offer hope
that the canyon rim
can someday be reached

only you know the way
so reach down
from on high
and take hold
of this broken heart
reach down
to the bottom of this abyss
and lift me up
take me
in your strong and tender arms
and make my shattered life
whole once again


P.S. I wrote this years and years ago in the midst of some of the deepest groaning I could ever imagine.  And as I read it again, 25 years later,  I realize that you do eventually get to the other side of the canyon; life does return to "normal" again, but it is an entirely "new normal" as one of my dear friends, who knows the depths of the groan, likes to say.  What stands out to me most on this side of it all...is gratitude.  I am so incredibly grateful for the gift of our few days together...and what God did in me (us) as a result.