Empty Places

There is a place we do not speak
Of when we’re lost and weary, weak
But angels meet us sometimes there
To walk us back from the cold bleak.

There is a cool and rain soaked shore
Where some of us have been before
And found a tender Father there
Where tides of love bring rest from war.

There is a deep and quiet lake-
Faith born in highlands of heartache-
Fed by springs of the Spirit where
the thirsty drink and sleeping wake.

There is for each of us a tomb
With very little breathing room.
We feel alone though Christ is there
To show us death is glory’s womb.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – Jesus of Nazareth
John 12: 24-26 (ESV)


Jesus and Oatmeal

As I sit here in my sweatpants, a cold Canadian wind pushes snow into drifts alongside my house. The phone is silent, for now, but all week long is has buzzed or beeped incessantly, bringing ponderous tidings too heavy for one man’s shoulders, wearing my psyche into tatters. The hope of gainful employment has risen and fallen again, battering my self worth and sense of purpose.

This morning I read in the Bible about how God isn’t blind, deaf or indifferent to our suffering.

But I wanted proof.

So I went downstairs, and what did I see? I saw a carton of instant oatmeal packets sitting on the kitchen island. I thought to myself,”When you’ve got nothing left, when everything has gone dim and grey, you’ve still got Jesus and Quaker Peaches and Cream. When you’ve exhausted all your resources, but even still you feel abandoned, misunderstood and rolled over, you’ve still got the Prince of Peace and little paper packets of warm breakfast happiness.”

And I was wrong.

It turns out Mr.Quaker is a fraud. Those precious little bits of peaches that take you back to a time of innocence and joy? They are actually apples. I know – I didn’t want to believe it at first either. I thought Quaker Peaches and Cream Oatmeal was as sacred as Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday morning flannel graphs, but I was wrong.

Apples. Once a part of God’s beautiful creation, now used for the devil’s work.

So now I’m left with Jesus, hoping that he is more than a common fruit with peachy religious colouring. The good news is I’ve been through this before, and I know that the historical Jesus is the real deal – no artificial flavours or preservatives – so my hope is based both on what I’ve read AND what I’ve seen.

To walk in the way of Jesus has very little to do with success as the world measures such things. A part of me prefers personal fulfillment, not Christianity’s sacrificial-lose-your-life-to-find-it mumbo jumbo. But when it comes down to it, someday I want to be on the inside of a tomb looking outwards, and that kind of potential only comes through crucifixion.

As we journey through life, we find that there are a million different ways to die, and Jesus will lead us both to and through them, if we’ll take his hand. And my God, it hurts.

But not as much as apples in your oatmeal.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 38:4 New International Version

Kick-butt Truth

Whatever a writer is supposed to look like, I doubt it resembles the reflection staring back at me from the window of the fast food joint I’ve graced with my presence this evening. My coat looks like clods of dirt were thrown at it and my jeans are torn and patched. If I remove my toque, babies will cry.

I spent a number of hours today in a hole. Yup, you read that correctly; one of my bluer, blue collar tasks today involved jumping up to my shoulders into holes and prying out stubborn rocks. Hard labor. As a result, I’m less than fresh.

My cup of Coca-Cola has been empty for a while but I keep sipping at it, the taste gradually moving through the spectrum from syrup-sweet to melted, stale ice cube. Empty ketchup cups sit on my tray, keeping company with a French fry carton stained with grease spots.

All told, Superman probably frequents phone booths because he walked into a place like this, saw someone like me and decided to find somewhere more sanitary for a wardrobe change.

How is my mental state, you ask? Three days ago I was comparing myself to undergarments with worn-out elastic: all the basic material was there but some parts were all bunched up where they didn’t belong and other sections were drooping. Things just didn’t seem to fit. There are issues I’m facing that I just want fixed. Unemployment. Disappointing relationships. Dreams in a holding pattern (I’ve still got this crazy idea that I can change the world – a paradigm I thought would fizzle out along with my third decade.)

So why, asks I, do I have this crazy peace?

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “… The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…”

All week long I’ve been letting my requests known, but it wasn’t until today that I made a feeble attempt at thanksgiving: A good friend of mine reminded me of something I didn’t really want to hear, so I texted him my response framed as a prayer:
“Blessed are you, O Lord, who has given me friends who aren’t afraid to kick my ass with the truth.”

Candor trumps profanity, amen?! If you’re reading this blog because you’re assuming that I’ve got my poop in a group, let’s both have a little giggle and move on to something useful. I’m sure of very little, friends, but of this I have no doubt: regardless of how you’re getting your butt kicked by life, hope is still found in Truth. Not circumstance.

What’s the truth? God, who was willing to enter time and space, be killed by men, buried, and then came back to life, is a God who won’t let you go once He’s got His arms around you.

“The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms…”

Deuteronomy 33:27a

Chains of Freedom

Freedom, and communion. It’s important that we put each in its proper place. One describes how we live, but the other is true life’s source and sustenance.

My first taste of freedom in a religious context involved a cracker and some grape juice.

Once a month at church the ushers would pass around a mid morning snack, and my father would forbid me to partake. The injustice of it all was galling. I had heard that Jesus liked kids, but my elders possessed some secret knowledge that I apparently did not, and my ignorance sat like chains and shackles upon a young spirit that longed for freedom and something to eat.

Well, there came a day when I was prepared with all the right answers. I was barely able to see the preacher without standing on the pew, but I had been listening. When my dad asked me what I thought communion was all about, my answer was King-James perfect and I was allowed to grab a tiny helping as the crumbs and cups were passed.

“Mm mm,” I exclaimed! “That’s good!” And although I didn’t think such a small amount would satisfy me until lunch, I was quite pleased with myself. In hindsight, the subsequent cuff upside the head is something a more astute young lad may have seen coming.

Over time I came to understand a couple important things about the freedom that I so desperately hungered for. The first thing was that the liberty I sought had already been planned for, bought, and delivered long before I knew the difference between a Saltine and authentic Unleavened. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians church is rich with passion as he expounds on the wonder of grace. He makes it quite clear that communion free from religious regulation is a God-breathed wonder; something to be celebrated and worth fighting to protect.

And nestled into Paul’s letter is a little statement that sets up the second important caveat: apparently it’s not all about me. The freedom and communion that I enjoy in and through a relationship with Jesus apparently doesn’t revolve around moi, or moi’s inability to get through a church service without a snack. He writes,“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians chapter 5, verse 13)

Let’s be frank, shall we? We all have appetites; some are satisfied with a little nibble here and there and others are voracious. The great truth about Christian Liberty is this: we are no longer slaves to those things, regardless of how our stomachs are grumbling at any given moment.

Regarding communion, we belong in a realm where intimacy with God is actually expected. I’ll go so far as to say that Jesus’ death was simply a means to this end, judging by the prayer that is recorded in John chapter 17. This communion is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and His presence in our lives is like bread and wine to a weary traveller. Paul goes on in Galatians to explain that living by, and keeping in step with the Spirit is what sustains our freedom and guards us from become slaves again to our appetites. God has bound Himself to us with chains forged in the heat of sacrificial passion; this is what has secured our freedom.

The question I’m asking myself today is, what is it that I’m craving? Do I long to rest and play in a deep communion with God, or do I desire to rush around that, making the freedom to rest and play in and of itself the ultimate prize?