Holding On.

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Pilgrim’s Lullaby

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Brotherhood

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The Wild

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Living With Questions

The first time I saw a man coming undone was in High School. One of his children was in the hospital undergoing spinal taps, and I sat there with the other students, stunned into silence on our cheap hard seats as he asked us…

Why…?

He was my Religion teacher and he taught me more about faith in those classes than I had learned in years. He kept asking – with anger and tears – the same question each day, and he continued to receive in response about 30 blank stares from children whose faith had not yet been tested. Day after day. Class after class. Bitter silence on top of sterile quiescence.

Trying to be objective, I peel back layers of memory and wonder if I’ve ever received a life-giving answer from anyone who hasn’t first learned to live with questions. I think not.

These days, I hear many questions and very few answers. “Why is that Christian such an ass?” “What will happen next?” “When will the anxiety and depression go away?” “How will I find another job?” “What is next for my loved ones?”

God, why…?

I share some of the same queries and would appreciate some answers, but what’s more important is that I am a part of a community that doesn’t fear a lack of answers. Like my high school instructor, my family of Truth Seekers keep coming back, continue asking. Step after step. Snotty Kleenex after snotty Kleenex. And I love them for it.

Like a question without an answer, I penned some lyrics this week for which there is no melody. It is for some dear friends who are learning to live with questions. “It’s okay to not be strong,” I would tell them, and you. “Don’t give up,” I would say.

And then I would sit with you awhile.

Song In The Darkness

We all want to live on the mountain
Arms lifted high to our God and our King,
But You’ve said the path to that glory
Comes when we share in Your suffering.

Give me a song to sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid You to rest
A harmony born in the womb of this sadness
A lullaby for every heart worn and hard-pressed.

We all want to drink from the fountain
Of joy that Your resurrection can bring
But for now faith is just me waiting
In the tomb’s pain for my Easter King.

Give me a song to sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid you to rest
A harmony born in the womb of this sadness
A lullaby for every heart worn and hard pressed.

You’re not far off
You see my pain
You’re the God who died and rose again.
You’re not far off
You see my pain
You’re the God who died and rose again.

This is the song I sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid you to rest
A harmony born in the womb of great sadness
For God who loves me ever and gave me his best.

Wilderness Worship

“Let my people go,” God said, “so that they can worship me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 7:16)

Worship and wilderness. I’d like to think that there is no connection. Surely the ancient Israelites were not so spiritually thick in the head that God’s presence could be overshadowed by a little milk and honey! If the Ancient One would meet with them, no doubt it would be in the parting of the sea or when fortress walls came crumbling down, yes?

Apparently not. In his great wisdom, it turns out that the Almighty had discerned that they’d be most spiritually pliable when sand was chafing in the nether regions of their undergarments. He chose to get personal somewhere between their Deliverance and the Promised Land. In Egypt they saw his power; in Palestine they saw the fulfillment of his promises. But the magic happened in the middle.

That’s where they meet, and under that desert sun God makes it clear that He is nobody’s mascot. He describes himself to Moses, saying, “…Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:6-7 NLT) He has standards and expectations, and a ridiculous amount of love.

The desert narrative is God and his people, for better or worse, getting to know each other. What kind of God is it that when you are parched and ask for water, has you stand in front of a rock and says, “There you go…”? When you run out of food, what kind of God says, “Wait until morning, and then scrape up whatever you can find on the ground…”? This is a God who has offered Himself, and sees how easily we get sidetracked by secondary appetites.

Desert experiences aren’t forever, but going on to live a supernatural existence requires a holy communion that I haven’t seen taught anywhere else. God did not keep Daniel from the lion’s den, or Shadrach and his friends from the flames, or Mary from an unplanned pregnancy. Unexpected Company is unveiled in uncomfortable circumstance.

The Apostle Paul penned his heart’s desire this way: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10 NASB). He wanted to know Jesus, experientially, and understood that this would include both resurrection power and profound suffering.

In many of our churches we give indifferent assent to this, but only provide a voice for stories told from the perspective of victory and resolution. Suffering and brokenness and desert experiences are whispered about in private conversations and prayer chains. In many respects this is understandable. However, I suggest that there is a corporate disconnect when we preach the cross of Jesus but only celebrate the manifestation of his resurrection.

There is a beauty to be found in water from the rock and manna from heaven. More than that, a sense of wonder needs to be rediscovered when, for the first time, we see the Holy of Holies being crafted in a person’s soul. Indeed, one of the lessons of the great exodus is that the purpose of the desert is not to experience the faithful provision of God, but to create a space among his people for His glory.

For many of us, this goes being the realm of theory. Things haven’t turned out they way we thought they might. We assumed the light of God’s goodness would continue to shine ever brighter, and now we find ourselves in the desert, or the lion’s den, or the flames, or the tomb, or a place of anxiety, stress and depression that makes a mockery of metaphor.

It’s called Holy Ground. Let’s worship Him here.

Go on down to the silent place,
You who dare to seek God’s face.
For it may be you’ll find down there
An answer for that load you bear.

Stop not at the convenient spot
You’ve been before, for God is not
A landmark on a religious map,
Or a brew poured from some preacher’s tap.

Continue on with your open sores
To solitary haunted shores
Where human voices utter not
One breath of what a true God aught
To do or say or even be,
Silent before His blood-stained tree.

Sit awhile in the cold dark tomb-
That barren place that became the womb
Of every hope we ever had,
And the death of all that makes men mad,
For that is where our God is found.
Your weary heart is holy ground.

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