An Honest Prayer

I sat in our old meeting place.

I sat long minutes and watched the snow swirl through the pines.

I waited and spoke out loud to the sky.

All I felt was the cold, hard earth beneath me.

All I felt was the beating of my cold, dead heart.

I waited, but you never showed.

Is there some incantation that I’ve forgotten?

Some other way to summon you?

I’m sure I said the right words.

I know them all by heart.

I hear the music, but my feet won’t dance.

I feel the sound, but not the Spirit.

My soul crys for your touch.

But my eyes are as dry as old bones

My hands clutch and reach.

But empty they remain.

I’m not alone, they say.

All the saints agree that you are silent at times.

The rain doesn’t fall every day.

But I don’t need a shower or a storm

A single pure drop will do.

If it’s me that’s in the way, I will gladly fall

I will cower and beg.

But I need to know that you’re still listening.

Talking to myself will never do.

I can’t save a single dead hair on my head.

I’ve been singing all the right words.

But somehow I lost the tune.

I awake in the night and mumble

“Our Father, who is in heaven.”

But I’m not up there, you know.

I’m still in this cursed place.

And you might as well be a distant star.

Is it only my sin that lies between?

Is it only me who asks for you, and shoves you away at the same time?

I thought I’d dropped that long ago.

It feels like the whole world between.

A wall I can not break through.

So here, take it all.

All my opinions, all my selfish dreams.

What do they mean without your light shining on them?

Nothing matters, yet everything does.

Everyone’s talking, but I want to hear you.

Only you.

Its 4:00 in the morning.

And a storm just blew in.

But you aren’t out there in the wind.

Oh, there you are

Perhaps you were just waiting for me to shut up.

And start writing again.

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For the Afraid and Bewildered

“They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” Mark 16:18

When they discovered Jesus’s tomb empty and after the angel spoke to them, what did these women in Mark’s gospel do?

Did they just stand there in disbelief for a while? Did they hide in the rocks and try to sort things out in their minds?

John doesn’t tell it this way. In his account, it sounds as if they went right back to the disciples after seeing the angel. Luke doesn’t mention that they didn’t tell anyone right away either. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this before, but according to Mark, there had to be some time passing in between the good news and their announcement of this news to the disciples, who initially didn’t believe a word of it.

Can we even begin to imagine what was going through their minds? They saw Jesus die in the most horrible way possible, and like us all, they believed death is the end of a person’s story. What would you do if you found out otherwise? How long would it take for your mind to process it?

Each gospel tells it a little differently, so it’s a little hard to make out the exact sequence of events. Did Mary run back and tell Peter that they moved Jesus’ body and then go back to the tomb and see the angel or is it the other way around? I suspect that no one really remembered it the same, hence the seeming discrepancies.

When a traumatic event happens to you, the natural human reaction is to just shut down for a bit- to be stunned into immobility. Someone close to you dies, and you just cannot quite wrap your mind around it, so you sit in silence, or cry to God to help you make sense of what the world has become.

I think this country is full of people walking around in this state right now. The world’s gone crazy and we don’t have a clue what to do about it.

Mark says that the women were ” trembling and bewildered. ” They leave the tomb. It’s too much, too soon- perhaps they wander for a bit. We find out elsewhere that Jesus then appeared to Mary Magdalene in a garden. Why her? Why not his own mother? Perhaps this Mary was the one who needed his presence the most at this moment.

If I can be permitted to speculate on what Mary was experiencing: ” I’m lost inside my mind… the crucifixion keeps playing in there, on an endless loop of deep, dark, ugly emotions. Frankly, I’m angry. I’m angry at Jesus for leaving us, leaving me, and that anger brings guilt and shame. How can I be angry when he was the one who suffered, not me? How can I feel this way when I know how he loved us? But I also know he could have stopped this from happening. I saw his power. But he didn’t stop it. He let it happen. He died in the most violent way possible in front of me, and I could not look away, because looking away felt like abandoning him. And now…and now? I’m lost. Everything I thought was true doesn’t feel true any more. I feel abandoned myself, and so alone. Im so confused, but more than anything, I’m afraid. A future without him is no future at all.”

“Trembling and bewildered.” Isn’t that how many of us, here in 2021, feel about the state of things right now? We are right there with Mary, wandering in the garden. Totally lost in our own minds, because nothing seems to make sense anymore. We have already seen things we never wanted to see, things we didn’t think were possible. Not in America, we keep thinking, not here. We are supposed to be above all this. The endless confusion and violence and fear, and the inability of any of our leaders to fix it all. Yes, “trembling and bewildered,” that’s us.

Now, remember, Mary had already received the good news from the angel, she just didn’t believe it yet. Hope should have been already welling up in her heart, but no, to hope is to be disappointed. She had hoped before and she had believed. Oh, how she had believed! And it all been violently ripped away, taking her heart with it.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs13:6)

Do you have a sick heart? I think we all do. It’s ok. Wander the garden. Ask him the questions. He already knows the state of your heart anyway. Cry a little. Or a lot if you need to. But never forget that he’s already been in that same place, that dark garden of doubt. With drops of blood already streaming down his face. Before the thorns, before the nails. With all your questions swirling through his mind and the weight of the world on his shoulders.

So he knows. He knows exactly how you feel about the state of the world and the state of your oh so sick, desperate, and lonely heart.

All Mark’s gospel says is that he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, who he’d cast seven demons out of. Got any demons? Do they hound you night and day? The question is, are you going to listen to them? To those demons of fear and confusion and hate, or are you listening for his voice?

John tells us that she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. That’s a whole lot in one sentence. Turn around, turn away from the fear. He’s still there.

“Why are you crying” Jesus asks. As if he didn’t know- and she doesn’t recognize him. Of course she doesn’t. He’s dead. Her mind can’t see Jesus, because the mind can’t immediately process the impossible.

Can you see all of us frozen in time there? Because I believe that’s where many of us are. Searching hard for hope, but not recognizing it when we see it. Because we are still afraid. Afraid to reach for hope because we’ve seen it vanish like a puff of smoke too many times.

” Who is it you are looking for?” Jesus doesn’t rush her. He doesn’t get impatient. He just says her name. And realization dawns in her eyes. Hope is reborn in her heart, and she shouts “Rabbi!” and grabs onto him for dear life.

She goes from ‘I’m not going to tell anyone about this because it’s too crazy’ to yelling it out loud. What else can I say? You know the message. I know the message. But I forget. We have what one writer calls “Perpetual soul amnesia” We get bogged down with life, by anxiety, by fear. So I again write these words to myself and to you if you care to hear.

Turn around. Turn away from the fear and doubt. Hear him whisper your name again and let hope rise again in your weary heart. He’s not finished with us yet.

Shalom and happy New Year.

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Wild Jesus

“A man of suffering, familiar with pain.”

(Isaiah 53:3)

You would think that being the God-man would mean that Jesus was always joyful. Like a well overflowing with joy that splashed on to those around him. And I think we could make a case for him being that person much of the time, at least for those who loved him, those who were drawn to him because of the living water contained within himself.

But he knew suffering too. And I suspect Isaiah isn’t only speaking of Gethsemane, although that seems to be his darkest hour. To know that your agonizing death is close at hand, to feel the combination of all the horror, the racking pain his body would endure- but more than that. To know the cup was going to be much much deeper than physical pain. The grief and suffering of every man, woman and child who would ever live, and all their sins placed on his head, along with the thorny crown- no wonder he asked if he could bypass this cup of sorrow!

But he must have suffered earlier too. Did you ever notice that ignorance often really is bliss? A baby with a full belly and a clean diaper has nothing to worry about. Innocent of how hurtful, how sad and how broken this world is, one can find it a very pleasant place to live. You might say that that’s naive, but so what?  Is being naive so bad if it brings you joy?

Jesus, however, knew so much, so young. He was teaching the teachers in the temple at twelve, so he obviously knew more about the Torah then they did, which was no small feat. At ten years of age Jewish boys were able to recite the Torah (The first five books of our Bible) by memory! Of course, to know the Torah was to know the broken and sinful history of the human race, and Jesus knew it better than anyone. he knew exactly what his Father had offered these people, and how they had abused it. And if it sounds like I’m being anti Jew, the sinning started long before God chose Abraham, and the other tribes of the world were worse yet.

We don’t really know if Jesus was aware of his divinity as a small child, but surely he must have understood it by his teen years. To live everyday with that burden would have had to bring both sorrow to his human self and joy to the Divine, because of the hope he was bringing to the world.

He knew too much to always be joyful. And maybe you think I’m assuming too much, making him too human, but he was as much fully human as he was fully God.

And we humans don’t like to suffer. If he couldn’t identify with your suffering, your questioning, your skepticism, your temptations and struggles and grief… with the days that you wake up feeling down and trudge through the day, discouraged  at the state of the world, if he had not felt your pain, your chains, then he could not be your Savior.

And an excellent sermon reminded me that Jesus spent 40 days being tempted in the wilds. It’s easy to breeze by that. What’s 40 days to God, right? Well as we’ve covered, he was fully human , and 40 days is over a month, without  any comfort food. Without any food at all, while being nagged by Satan, a tormentor who he could not get rid of. All to prepare to bring God’s kingdom into the world… All to prepare to offer salvation to you.

Are you miserable? Frustrated? Sick to death of being on lockdown? Unable to work? Unable to provide an income for your family? Are you flat out ticked off at the government for restricting you? Drowning you in unpayable bills?

Jesus knew misery. He knew the feeling of unfulfilled cravings in the belly. He knew anger at his tormentor. He knew loneliness, total solitude in the wilderness. Yes, even though he could still pray, the total unity of the Trinity had been disrupted by his new humanity.

He knows what you are suffering because he’s been essentially where you are. You want something to hold onto in this new normal everyone keeps talking about? This tearing asunder of the important threads of your life?

Hold on to this: he’s been there. A human who knew suffering and pain intimately, and he overcame that for you, to prepare you to be an overcomer.

Isaiah 53

He  was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

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“I will give you rest.”

Isaiah 40:31

31 But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Maybe it’s just me, but some days the best thing about being alive is rest. I don’t think that was something I would have said 20 years ago. It actually sounds pretty pitiful to say it out loud.

“You know what I really look forward to? Sleeping!”

Wow, what an ambitious fellow. Sure, we all need it, and statistics say most of us don’t get enough rest, but looking forward to it still seems a bit lame. Of course, if you’ve ever been an insomniac or worked third shift, I bet you can identify. Or, if you’ve ever had pain that prevented you from getting a good night’s sleep, I bet you get it.

Another thing I don’t think I knew when I was younger, is that people really can and do change. Our dreams and goals change, even our personalities sometimes. This isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes it can take us by surprise.

And I say this as I struggle to put together a coherent message, because writing hasn’t been easy lately. It was, once upon a time. Now, it’s usually more like trying to climb a mountain with cement blocks tied to my ankles. So, I started doing a little drawing, something I’ve neglected for about 20 years. Sometimes I do other crafts just to have a creative outlet because writing isn’t filling that need. We all go through these cycles, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

But, back to renewing our strength. Given that nothing in life stays the same, how do we remain strong? Our youthful vigor isn’t guaranteed to last forever. Even our talents can wax and wane. And waiting on God? Who has time for that?

Waiting on God to act might seem futile if we haven’t been walking with Him long enough to know who He really is. To know that He really does have our best interests at heart. If we’ve never yet seen him bring beauty from ashes. And even if we have, we have really short memories about such things. So, I go into default  mode, which is rushing ahead and doing what my impatient desires demand. Which brings us to his power being made perfect in our weakness, which seems a tad weird, don’t you think?

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

What? I’m supposed to brag about being weak? I want to be strong in a pulling myself up by my own bootstraps way, not by being wimpy. Not by letting go of myself and trusting someone else. Why does he expect me to do the opposite of what comes naturally?

Jesus said: “28Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt 11:28

That doesn’t sound like growing wings and flying away. How do I balance that with my strength being renewed so I can soar? Unless, maybe this rest he is offering is the very thing that renews? Perhaps it’s all beginning to make an odd kind of sense after all. This rest can’t be a sitting around doing nothing kind of rest, because in the very next verse he talks about putting a yoke on us. No, not egg yolk. A yoke like you would put on oxen to plow a field. So, if you thought you were going to get out of working, I think you’re out of luck.

What we do need to leave behind in our anxious striving in the flesh that leads nowhere and leaves us feeling like a dog chasing a tail too short to catch.

…9There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10For whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest… Hebrews 4:10

Sinclair Ferguson says: “In speaking of this rest, the author consistently uses the same word for rest (katapausis) but suddenly here, he uses another word for rest (sabbatismos) used only here in the New Testament. In the context of his teaching, this refers to the Sabbath rest which is found in Christ. ( “28Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt 11:28)

What is this rest that Christ offers, since we have already said what it isn’t? It’s not a certain day to cease work, although that is beneficial to our physical well being, especially after a tough work week. No, it’s a rest from our self striving, our self sufficiency, our plowing through life on our own strength. Now, yes, meeting with God’s people in corporate worship once a week is an important part of all this, because it re calibrates our focus back on Him, something we probably shouldn’t need if we are daily resting in his sufficiency. But, we are all “Prone to wander.” as the song says. “Prone to leave the One we love.”

I really believe some people go so far and so long on their own strength, that one day they suddenly hit a wall and don’t want to take another step or get up to face another day. It can all seem rather pointless if we are only, as Solomon says, striving vainly under the sun. Suicide rates are alarmingly high, depression is high, drug use is up, and our technology just seems to add to the stress of life. Most people, I believe, are constantly connected, but rarely comforted. Real friends are a comfort, a resting place, a refuge. Superficial friends are just another stress to deal with.

The result of all this are a lot of lonely people wandering and wondering through life, unsure what their purpose is, or if they even have one. When they finally listen enough to hear Jesus saying to come to Him for rest, eternal sleep may be exactly what they envision and long for. As an old Waylon Jennings song says: ” Oh, how many travelers get weary, bearing both their burdens and their scars..don’t you think they’d love to stop complaining, and soar like Eagles out among the stars?”

Well, Isaiah seems to be saying that you don’t have to die to take that flight. That Jesus longs to give you rest, here and now, right in the middle of your problems, your brokenness and your struggle. This rest will lead to eternal rest, but again, not a lazy rest that does nothing. I look forward to endlessly exploring the new heavens and earth with eyes and legs that never get tired.

I picked up this saying from my Marine son: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Rushing through life like a headless chicken doesn’t accomplish much, no matter how much you get done, because it only leads to more discontentment. But working deliberately, in our jobs, our space here in this world, and in our souls, to always be moving forward at whatever pace God sets for us, while keeping our hand firmly tucked in His, that is a worthy goal.

1 Timothy 6:6 “Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.…

Being content with the basics, letting God choose the pace, not worrying about tomorrow,

(Matthew 6:34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.)

I hope this a useful reminder. I surely needed it!

Shalom, until next time.


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This Cup

“Dear God.”

Muttered low, under angry breath.

“My arms are tired.”

Once they didn’t feel it so

And weariness was a good day’s end.

Today, I’m ready to nap by noon.

My world is heavy.

So heavy I forgot Easter was coming.

“Dear Jesus, I’m sorry.”

I feel His gaze, tho’ His face is shadowed.

“Child, I know your weariness.”

His eyes pierce, but gently.

“But I don’t know why.”

I frown, as if He speaks nonsense.

“God,” I inform Him, “You know everything.

Just tell me how to be stronger.”

He seems puzzled, almost amused.

“My arms were tired too.”

His words pierce, but gently.

“Holding pain. Death. Sin. Yours and theirs.

“Holding everyone and everything. Holding up the World.

I’ve felt what you feel.”

And so much more, I remember now, but my selfish self still cries:

“Take it away!”

Avoiding his gaze, expecting disappointment.

But, again, His eyes draw me in.

“I did. I took it away. But you keep taking it back.”

I feel the first tear, look down in surprise,

And finally, I kneel.

Shaking with an old, new joy.

A laugh bubbles up from somewhere deep inside

As I drop my world back into his wounded hands.

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Tending the Fire

Starting and tending fires
Like conceiving and raising children
A constant chore, an enduring joy
The spark catches, the smoke rises
Spring is maple syrup time
Distant memories
This same pan and a much smaller me
The steam rises, the sap boils
My father checks the syrup’s thickness again
40 (?) years later
My boy decides to tap trees
I hesitate, reluctantly concede
But when the pan is pulled down
Dusty but intact, doubts begin to fade
It’s meant to be, as sure as spring
Starting and tending the fire
Deep into the night
The generations fall away
But what is real endures
Spring is still maple syrup time
The years spin on with dizzying speed
The boy is becoming a man
As for me, I want to hold back time
Everything changes, what is real remains
All I can do is tend the fire
And pray for a sweet harvest

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I learned early on that being alone wasn’t always so lonely. Being uncomfortable with the larger world, I only felt safe in my beloved woods and fields. Solitude was my best friend. I could hear God whisper in the quietness. But it’s the nature of life to get louder and more crowded. It seems to be the nature of man to crave constant stimulation.

But sometimes now, in the depths of the night, it comes back in like a wave. And I feel myself rolling in a silent grave. As if the sea has returned to claim me, to drag my limp body down, ever down to the depths. The sinking starts after midnight and the morning comes too soon. I’m not ready for the light to creep into my darkened room. I want, I need, to lie lifeless on the ocean floor, just a little longer, just a bit more. To drink my cup of solitude is a blessing. To inhale it’s icy, clean water into starved lungs.

Until I feel nothing but the water and hear nothing but my breath. And you might think me mad. You may be right. But, how mad are our cities and and shores, teaming with millions whose voices never stop. Hammering. Yammering, Clammering to be heard.

Once, we had the six o’clock news.

And when it was done, you could turn it off.

Walk outside. Sit in the starlight. Let the peepers lull you to sleep.

Now the noise never stops. And it seems you’re entitled, no, required, to join in.

Add some yammering and clammering of your own.

But don’t you ever just want to be?

To be emptied of your opinions.

To feel God instead of trying to understand Him.

Sometimes it’s even more than all that.

Sometimes it rolls over me like a dream, a song too long unsung. This longing for the womb. For utter stillness of mind and heart and body and soul.

Before we travel into this world, we are known.

Floating in embryonic fluid. In a sea of silence, where God’s voice gradually speaks us into being without a sound.

But sometimes it’s even more than that.

Sometimes I miss what I can’t possibly recall. To roll under waves of grace, yes, before I ever shed a tear. But further back, there is a deeper solitude.

Before time, before death. Blessed quietness before the sin curse. To be but a seed in the mind of the Almighty, but a drop of inspiration in the endless garden of His mind. If I could rest there for a moment, or an eternity. To be yet unspoken. That would be the ultimate communion within the most vast solitude of all.

Yes, I learned early not to speak all these thoughts. The line between musings and madness is thin, after all.

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Living the Dream?

“You’re living the dream.” A customer on the phone said to me. It’s nothing I hadn’t heard before, but it made me wonder. Am I really?

And in fact, my initial internal reaction was not positive. I almost laughed, but managed to catch myself. Why did I feel irritation instead of pride or pleasure? Why did I inwardly sneer? I half wanted to say:

“Do you have any idea how hard this can be?”

To be living the dream, your dream, means you have arrived at your destination, right? You have overcome the odds, and are somewhere up above all those little people who are still only dreaming and not living.

But this call came after a tough week, when things were not going as planned. I won’t bore you with the details. It’s life, it happens. And in case you’re wondering, yes, it happens right there in the middle of living your beautiful, hard and messy dream.

What dream are we talking about here anyway? For me, it’s a simple one. Self-employment, a piece of land, making things with our hands, and selling them. I’m not talking about ruling the world, or even being someone wealthy.

But everyone has a dream, right?

Or is that just me projecting my desires onto others? Maybe not everyone.

But if you don’t, isn’t it only because you are fighting just to survive? Just to make it through the day? Maybe the junkie only dreams of his next fix, or the drunk his next bottle. But given the chance, I have to believe that the human spirit wants to rise up, to overcome, and do what brings it joy.

But, don’t be naive. Your dream has a price. Most everything does. To follow one path necessarily means bypassing other paths that may be just as worthwhile. Supposedly 85% of people worldwide hate their jobs. I don’t know how you survey a enough people to come up with that statistic, but let’s assume Google has it figured at least somewhat close. You have to ask why so many continue to work at jobs they hate. But anyone who has been there at least partially understands the answer. It is probably often just a case of being stuck financially. But even if you can afford to do something else, it’s usually easier to stay where you are then to leap into the great unknown.

I remember a day, many years ago, when I was just about to start a new job that I knew I didn’t really want, in spite of it paying better. But I felt I needed to take it, to better support my family. At the same time, I was looking for a simple way to make a living at home instead of punching a time clock. In my mind, I saw myself as two people, one doing what I felt I had to do, and the other one running after what I really wanted. It took five years to merge the two together.

I have wondered if life is like one of those books where you can choose what ending you like the best… Or if it’s already all planned out for you. And in the midst of all the other questions we all ask at some point, there is a big one: how close do we come to finding God’s will for our brief days here in this life? I believe that jumping off the cliff into my dream was God’s will. But believing a thing is not always the same as knowing it as fact, as much as we want it to be so. If you know something is true, like you know the things you touch are real, where is the need for faith? Doesn’t faith always leave room for doubt? Or am I walking on thin ice here?

Is knowing something is God’s will possible? Why sure, if we’re talking about God’s will that you accept his Son’s sacrifice for your sins, or that God wants you to become more Christ-like. Those are spelled out plainly in Scripture. But God doesn’t seem to write most people a letter telling them what college to go to, or what job to take, or when to quit a job, or even who to marry. We can believe we know we have those details correct, but do we really know them with rock-solid certainty? And some of you are now wondering if my wife is going to read this!

So let me try to climb out of this hole I’ve dug myself into.

First read Psalm 37:4:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Here we have a promise with a condition. We probably all like the idea of God giving us our desires. but he ain’t going to do it if our desires are the opposite of what is good for us. I finally watched the movie: “Samson”, because it happened to be on Netflix. And I think Samson was a perfect example of a man who often  ran ahead of God, pursuing his own desires. And it got him in trouble again and again. In Luke 12 Jesus gives us a cure for this malady.

“Seek ye first God’s kingdom and all these things will be added to you.”

If Samson had stopped and listened for God’s direction before proceeding perhaps he could have fulfilled God’s will without having to lose his eyes, his wife, and his life.

Perhaps every crossroad in life contains many good choices, that each take us into God’s will, instead of there being only one possible road that is right. And each cross road can take us down a multitude of wrong paths that all lead us away from God’s will.

“Yes there are two paths you can go by but in the long run there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”  (“Stairway to heaven”) Generally speaking, Robert Plant may have been right with that song lyric. but I have to think some people go too far down the highway to hell to get back onto The Stairway to heaven. But that’s not you, because if it was, you wouldn’t be at all concerned about it. So, if it is a question of what road you’re on, there’s no time like the present to get on the right one.

But as far as living the dream goes, (Talking to those of you who are on that stairway) I’ll just say what I have come to believe: Yes, God wants you to have the desires of your redeemed heart, but not the desires of your wriggling, whispering sin nature that keeps trying to sneak his way back in. God promises you joy, but not joy as the world gives. It’s not about how many dollars are in your bank account, or how many cars in your driveway. It’s in living the dream he has given you… And if there are actually a hundred or a thousand such dreams, you can still be content that you’re on the right one, if you’re on it with Him. God is a lot more concerned about your heart being in the right place then he is about what career path you follow.

Shalom and thanks for listening.


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The Scent of Charis

17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

You realize what this means, don’t you? All the best parts of this world are from God. There is no line between what is spiritual and what is secular. If something is good and perfect, God gets the credit. That could be an entire post in itself, but let’s talk about music for a moment. What is it about good music that cuts through the chatter in the mind and sinks to the core of the soul? That blues guitar and a voice that cries out all the universal pain and joy of the human condition, swirling around you like fireflies and the scent of a sweet summer night. Music, like scent, awakens memory and memory is not always a picture of a moment. Sometimes memory is just a feeling that you lost somewhere in the need to make a living, or the tedium of being an adult, and a certain song, a certain scent, a certain unidentifiable mood in the night touches that tender spot and you really wish you could remember how to cry.

We are so good at forgetting. By and large, we are pretty darn good at putting on our game face and trying to be the gods of our own little worlds. And we keep forgetting, we have perpetual soul amnesia when it comes to what our Daddy in heaven did. Because we are still trying to reach up, to be tall enough to grab his hand and say:
“See what I did, Dad? Look what I accomplished.”

We keep forgetting God came down, so we don’t have to try and jump up to him. And Jesus, he sat right there in the dark of that garden, and sweat the drops of blood we deserved to sweat. He heard that accusing voice that tells you what a screw up and failure you are. That nagging sensation in the back of your heart like a skipping record, that whispers “Loser.” every day. The taste of that shame, that loss, that grief, that wound that you try to ignore. We forget. He drank the cup that held every one of your broken pieces and it tore him up inside like broken glass. Are you even listening? Have you heard it so many times it’s old news?

Quit eating the pain he’s already swallowed.
Quit forgetting that you don’t have to do what’s already been done.

But you do have to believe it. And maybe that’s why Jesus said that few find this narrow way. Because we want to earn grace. So much so, that many refuse to believe that grace is really for them.

The word ‘grace’ (CHEN in Hebrew, CHARIS in Greek), as it is used in the scriptures, literally means ‘favour’, to bend or stoop in kindness to another as a superior to an inferior. It has the idea of graciousness in manner or action. In short, God’s grace is unmerited favor towards us. It is a gift that we can never earn or deserve.

What a waste it would be to have the greatest gift ever given to you and to just walk around it everyday in an attempt to construct your own ladder to heaven.

The towers of Babel we build are many and varied. Sometimes they are built of money and fame, sometimes of the false belief that we are enough, or some counterfeit god is gonna like us and give us sensual pleasures if we grovel long enough to please his selfish whims. That’s not the gospel, friend.

We try to take heaven by working for it. And I’m not dissing obedience, I’m not belittling service for God. I’m just saying: Don’t go back to Egypt because you think the food was better there. Don’t go back to the bondage of the cursed law when Jesus has set you free.

Jesus kept saying; “He who has ears, let him hear.”
And it startled me to see a similar phrase in Jeremiah 5:21
Hear this, you foolish and senseless people
Who have eyes but do not see.
Who have ears but do not hear.
Why did they not have ears and eyes to see their own hearts? Because that seems to be what is missing. It wasn’t just that their hearts were hard, but that they refused even to see their wicked condition. Like a toddler who puts his hands over his ears when you tell him he can do better, that he should love his brothers and sisters and be kind to them. Instead of hearing, he goes “La, la, la, la.” What he is saying is what everyone says who wants to ignore the law of love. In essence it’s this:
“Daddy, I like being bad.”
Seriously, this what Jeremiah and Jesus both say. Not only do we live a lie when we are totally selfish, but we say:
‘I love it this way.”
As Jeremiah 5:31 says, we love the lie. Some people seem to think that Jesus was making fun of the Pharisees because God had made them blind and deaf. Like a kid pulling wings off a fly, they think Jesus was just torturing the poor, blind souls before God threw them into hell. No, no, a thousand times, no! Jesus was blunt with them because he was attempting to wake them up! Because, not only were they blind, they blamed God for their blindness, if they saw it at all. This is the point Paul makes with the Objector in Romans nine, who says:
“Why does God still blame us?” (See Romans 3 for verses that flesh the objectors arguments out a bit:)
“If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!”

If you follow this all the way through, you find out that the person objecting is mad because God is using his rebellion to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. The Jews of this time had practiced deceiving themselves so much they had it down to an art. They weren’t willing to listen to anyone who told them that heaven wasn’t their birthright. That said they had to humble themselves to get right with God. And God can not give grace to someone who is not willing to bow to him. That’s not how this works. God is not a respecter of persons, but he is also not tossing the dice to see who receives grace and who doesn’t So, what is the qualification to receive charis?

All God really wants is a heart he can work with. A heart that allows itself to be molded like clay. But they were already so hard that there was no chance of molding, so God baked them harder still, so they would kill his son and then, get this-he gives them another chance! Just like he keeps doing with us. This is the compassionate character of a God who would die for even the most hardened heart. Who says that he will use even their and your sin to spread the good news to others. And then turn right back around and ask them, ask you, if they finally get it. If they finally see that all their law keeping can never do what one moment of honest evaluation of their soul state, or one moment of true humility can do. To be honest enough to say: “Hold me, Jesus, because I’m shaking like a leaf.*” To say:
“Surrender don’t come natural to me. But I’m ready now.”

Because a yielding, trusting heart was all he was looking for all along. A broken, contrite spirit he never turns away.

My earthly father recently gave me a piece of land. For free. I didn’t deserve it, I did nothing to earn it, but I certainly didn’t refuse it either. That’s grace. I honestly think a lot of people refuse grace because it looks like charity, and they know they haven’t done anything to earn it. That exactly why Israel missed it. Paul says, by trying to work for it, to earn their redemption. It can’t be done. Pride is always the problem and humility is always the answer.
Shalom and thanks for listening.



*Rich Mullins

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God, Nature and Worship

Job 12: 7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. 9 Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
This post is likely to wander a bit, as my mind tends to do. We just returned from a trip to Maine, where we spent a lot of time in God’s creation, but most of this was written earlier. Being immersed in nature should inspire worship. Sometimes I have spent too much time trying to figure God out instead of just enjoying his artistry and majesty that is on display for all to see. So, I start with this advice to myself and you:
Study the stars and the earth and the universe for clues, but never assume you understand it all. To study there is no end, as Solomon said, and with the years gone by, it begins to weary the mind to keep following the same rabbit trails, which invariably only lead to more trails. So, you begin to return more and more to the conclusion of it all, to the Creator behind the creation. Because the deep questions of the soul can’t be finally answered by knowledge only, and man’s theories will be forever changing, for man is an arrogant, fickle creature that can never be fully satisfied in his quest for more knowledge.


You can’t put you confidence in him, and hope to have a rock to stand on. Look beyond the shifting sand to the Rock that is higher and enduring through life’s trials. And be still and satisfied with the conclusion of all matters. The I AM that I AM. To reverence the Maker of stars and suns and seas and galaxies and puppies and the human soul. To follow his ways will lead your mind to perfect rest and true worship and bring your feet back to childlike faith, where wisdom waits.

There is a reason why I use the name Wildswanderer. I’m never more content then when I’m in the wilds. For some reason, the soul craves the natural world over the concrete jungle, although there seem to be plenty of people who act as if this isn’t true. I wonder if it’s unfair of me to think nature frightens them. If artificial worlds are all you’ve known, I can understand that fear. It’s one thing to experience it on a computer or T.V. screen and quite another to go camping alone, with no showers, no wi-fi, no restrooms or restaurants. And it seems that being out there forces you to confront your true self. To know yourself. And maybe you won’t like what you find when you lay aside all the business you think you must do, all the busyness and distractions and devices and come face to face with reality. Everyone should spend a week in the wilds now and then to re adjust to the nature cycles of light and dark, to re adjust your eyes to natural light and your soul to knowing yourself and talking to God like a long lost friend.

I’ve been into primitive skills to some extent for a long time and there is a lot of value to the lessons found in those skills. We have used bow drill fire starting as an object lesson, for a group of kids at a Christian camp. The fire board is your world, the spindle that spins against it, is you, and the bearing block that holds it together is God. Friction makes the fire. Rubbing up against the difficult things in your world and pushing through that pain ignites the soul, but only because God holds it all together. Without him, we fly apart, without his presence over top and over all, guiding us into a union with our world that can’t happen otherwise.

Nature constantly reminds us how big God is. To stand beside the ocean is to catch a glimpse, to ponder the waves crashing, never ending and relentless and powerful, the water stretching beyond our sight… it gives us just a taste of how small we are. If God can hold the universe and seemingly endless galaxies together, if he can maintain that, how can we doubt that he can guide our lives if we only ask? We find ourselves asking with David:

Psalms: 8:4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?.

Nature praises God…naturally. Such praise should flow from us also, as naturally as a star shining or a bird singing or the roar of the seas. What is staggering to me is that David goes on talking about our role of care takers of this planet:

For You have made him a little lower than the angels,[a]
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

We are small, but we are an essential part of creation, and the only creatures who have been given the authority to manage his stuff.

I said earlier that humans are fickle creatures, and this is true when it comes to worship, too. We can be in a beautiful forest by a stream with birds singing and the sun shining and we can be thinking about anything but our surroundings or giving praise to our Creator. We can even be in a worship service with praise songs and beautiful music and dancing lights and be thinking about all the work we have to do this week, or our car payment or what we want for dinner. How do we re calibrate out hearts to line up with the Holy Spirit’s presence?

I could use a Jesus parable to illustrate, but in this case, how about a movie parable? In the movie “What about Bob?” there is a scene where Bob, the paranoid schizophrenic, goes sailing for the first time, in spite of his crippling fear of water, and most everything else. He is so elated he can’t stop yelling at anyone within earshot:

“I’m a sailor! I sail!” Then he adds: “I just let the boat do the work, that’s my secret.”

Did I mention that Bob is tied tightly to the mast? As Jesus said:

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.” (John 15:4)

In order to sail freely, we need to be tied to him. In order to be aware of our need to worship, in order to give back anything, we must be receiving daily. Maybe we can’t be in the front row of a Christian concert every week or visit our favorite place in the wilds. But we can let simple thankfulness flow when he reminds us that every good thing comes down from the Father. He holds it all together and without acknowledging this, we fall apart and life becomes pointless. Because, let’s be honest, just the daily chore of being a human being can be overwhelming and tiring as we try to muscle through it all ourselves.

As Tim Mcraw’s song says, we all follow the roads that lead us to drugs or Jesus. Why? Because we all lean on something, and our drug of choice might or might not be a chemical, but it doesn’t really matter what the drug is. Maybe it’s your own self image, or maybe it’s anger or hate or money. Whatever it is, it’s not going to take His place. It’s never going to fill the void. The only drug that leads us from glory to glory instead of leading to self destruction is His redemption. He doesn’t always lead us around the tough stuff like we might prefer, but he always leads us through to the other side, to a more beautiful shore.

Goodbyes are hard. I know I’m wandering off topic again, but stay will me, we will get back. Maybe we get re-connect with people for a bit. We get to see our kids again for a week or so, but they go back to their lives and we go back to ours. We stand by a parent during some of her final moments here in this reality and know that it will be a long, hard road ahead until we see her again on the other side. I’ve found that the only comfort in those moments is the resurrection. Not that I’m necessarily thinking about Easter morning at the time, but the promise of resurrection is the promise of re-connection with those we love. The promise that nothing in this life or in death can permanently separate us, that even death only comes between us for a few moments. We have that promise illustrated for us every spring in nature. It’s what our worship is really all about. Without the resurrection, Paul says, our faith is in vain. It’s lived out in living color in the natural world and it’s spoken to us by the Spirit’s witness to our souls and it’s source is always in Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. Shalom, that is all.




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R. C. Svendsen

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