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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Graceful Tromping

Yesterday, on my way home from meetings in Olympia, I stopped off at Seaquest State Park for a late afternoon run. After four days of good, steady rain the trail promised to be a wet and sloppy mess. Does it make me strange that this is exactly why I wanted to stop and run there? Something about the adventure of careening through narrow muddy trails with the distinct possibility that I could slide off into oblivion made the park oddly alluring on that day.

I have a roughly 2-mile loop that I love to run through the trees and streams. It's a peaceful and quite respite from the world. On the second of these loops, I glanced up in time to spot a young deer on the trail ahead of me, who had already seen me and bounded effortlessly into the woods. I was immediately struck by this animal's ability to barrel straight into the densely wooded and overgrown underbrush without making even the slightest of sounds. Had I not seen him, I would never have been alerted to his presence. There was an amazing grace and agility to the deer that quickly reminded me I was the intruder on his home soil.

After my friend silently disappeared, I became painfully aware of the racket I was making. My size 13 Gore-Tex lined Nike Triax shoes, though carefully designed by the brain-trust down there in Beaverton, were like bulldozers in comparison to the deer. Anyone within a mile of me was aware of my presence. And in that moment, I felt very much the outsider who had stumbled into a place where the natural inhabitants moved about with grace that I lacked.

I pondered as I ran how this can often be a picture of my spiritual journey. I go to this place (God) of peace and security, running gratefully to Him. But so often I feel as though I am tromping around noisily in an arena where I don't belong. What is it about our faith, that no matter how long we have it, still feels strange and unfamiliar to us? I was reminded that faith and spirituality are not my natural language. Perhaps God intended them to be, but I have become so wrapped in the things of this world that the faith journey always feels a bit foreign.

And so I have to practice things like Lent. I have to work at prayer, and listening for God in Scripture. For how else will I discover the gentle grace of this place called "being with God"? Perhaps you find yourself often in this place as well- a place you long to go but where you perpetually feel as an outsider.

Take joy today knowing that the Father welcomes you into His presence, even if you tromp noisily in size 13 shoes.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coat Check, Please

I am hearing lots of great stuff as people in our church observe the practice of Lent. Some are loving it. Some are hating it. But all seem to be effected by it, and in some form are challenged to invite more of God into their lives. That is great!

One perspective on Lent is how we are encouraged to come to God without all the stuff we normally depend on. In Mark 10, Jesus was walking through Jericho when a blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard He was nearby. He cries out for mercy, and the great Healer hears and stops. He invites Bartimaeus to come. And then there is this little line that Mark includes, tucked between calling and healing, that we generally overlook, "Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus."

Bartimaeus threw aside his coat. We might think of this as a minor detail, but I wonder about the significance of that coat to blind Bart. Remember, he is a beggar, and as such this may very well have been his only possession. I wonder how many long, cold nights Bart endured with only his coat to give him some warmth and security. I wonder how many days this coat was the only way he could define 'his space'- a place to sit and call home. I wonder how often this coat give him an inkling of safety against exposure to a harsh world.

And yet, in the presence of Jesus, the coat gets thrown aside. He stands all alone before Him, because his hope is in the Savior alone. And he is healed. Life was never the same.

I wonder aloud today- how many of us would grab the coat as we jumped up. "Jesus, I am here, but just in case you don't come through I have a back-up plan." Lent is one way in which we decide to let the coat lie. To lay aside the things that we trust in and at times find so indispensable. We come before Jesus, desperate for Him alone. What might your coat be? And could you, would you, leave it behind to go to Jesus?

May you find joy on your journey today, even if it's without a coat-


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teach Us to Suffer

Hmm, perhaps that title will discourage a few of you from reading much further! But even that observation- that something within us recoils from the very idea of suffering- reveals a bit of our mindset.

I am encouraged today by the flawed and faltering faith of the Jesus' closest disciples. In Mark 10, Jesus makes this bold and precise declaration of his impending crucifixion in Jerusalem. I can imagine many responses to such a revelation- fear, anxiety, concern for my friend Jesus- but the reaction of James and John is NOT what I would expect. They come up to Jesus, almost immediately, and have a request. "Jesus, give us the best seats in the house right next to you when you sit on your glorious throne." Maybe I missed something- Jesus just proclaimed he was going to be rejected, whipped, beaten, and killed. And then rise again. It seems to me that all James and John heard was the last sentence.

Much like James and John, we live under the illusion that glory can come without suffering. That the road to victory can detour around pain, self-denial, and sacrifice. This is why I like James, John, and the other knuckleheads that had a hard time really understanding what Jesus was all about. I am much the same. I would like to sit with Jesus in glory; I am uncertain about hanging with Him on a cross.

And yet this was exactly Paul's goal: "I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead." Paul understood what James and John could not: that life follows death. Resurrection is only possible for the dead.

As we walk in a season of Lent, we are invited to experience "death" in tangible ways. We give up comforts, joys, and obsessions that have captured us in order that we might learn to suffer. Even those this kind of suffering is so small in comparison to a Cross, it opens us up to a truth that often lies beyond our comprehension. Joy is not found in the stuff of life, but in the Giver of Life, and for some reason suffering puts us in touch with Him.

I guess I don't have any profound conclusion to make today, other than to encourage us all to think about the place suffering has in our lives. For there are no detours on the road to true, joy-filled living. Death always precedes resurrection. Our job is to die. HIS job is to raise the dead.

Journey confidently into suffering with the One who raises the dead!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

No, Not Lint...LENT!

For those of you connected to the East Hills community, you know that we are inviting everyone to observe Lent with us this year. We are hoping to truly focus our lives more on Christ by letting go of things that get in the way. But we are so non-traditional, we're not even starting on the proper date (march 9) but we will begin our Lent practice next weekend (march 19/20). I believe this will be a deeply meaningful time for all of us.

As you prepare yourself for this season (or in case you are a traditionalist and you've already started!), I offer you this prayer by Henri Nouwen to help us focus in:

A Lenten Prayer

The Lenten season begins. It is a time to be with you, Lord, in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.

I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.

I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are not times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.

Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me.


Peace and Joy on your journey-