Archive for March, 2014


March 27, 2014 8 comments

brancastleA couple of years ago, Patti and I visited Bran Castle near Brasov, Romania. You would know this place as Count Dracula’s Castle. Since it is the only hilltop castle in all of Transylvania, Bram Stoker drew heavily from written accounts of the place when he introduced the world to his Dracula. The Dracula theme is definitely a big draw, but the real truth about all that is not so sensational.

During one part of our tour of the castle, we were ushered into a very tiny stone-milled spiral staircase that actually skipped a floor and connected the kitchen (on the first floor) to the living quarters (on the third floor). Two-way traffic on this staircase was nearly impossible. It was made for one person’s journey alone! Not only that, it was kind of dark in there, dank, extremely tight, and highly claustrophobic. What was even more noticeable as you climbed that stairway was that you lost your sense of direction and any real sense of peripheral progress. It was a crazy sensation on that creepy little path.

What got me thinking about all of this was due to a message I heard Dr. Bob Nichols give last Sunday in a church here in Waco. I told you, I go to church… sometimes… so get off my back about it.

Dr. Bob was talking about this very thing—that nauseating feeling of being claustrophobic and confined when one season has ended and we haven’t fully gotten into the next season.   Transition only feels like it lasts forever.

“My dove, in clefts of the rock, in a secret place of the ascent, cause me to see thine appearance, cause me to hear thy voice, for thy voice is sweet, and thy appearance comely” (Song of Solomon 2:14, YLT).

Here, the groom is coaxing the bride to come forth from the secret place. Oh wait, not just any secret place, a secret place of the ascent. You can make all the connections, right? God is coaxing the bride (us) to come out of the secret places of confinement. And what feels unending and peripherally redundant actually becomes a proving ground for vertical ascent.

Dr. Bob was basting this big idea in the notion that it’s possible to be making positive progress without necessarily knowing it, feeling it, or having any tangible sign of a “life changing” opportunity. All the while, we get to choose the attitudes and emotional climate that internally governs our moving up or down that spiral staircase. Read: anger, self-pity, blame, being reckless, irresponsibility, or unhealthy fear as “moving downward” influences.

Let me close with Dr. Bob’s final thought to this part of his sermon. Let me warn you… it’s a doozie.

“Opportunity can only be seized by you, when you are seized by it before it arrives.”

I’m pretty sure we’re much more seize-able when we’re climbing.

No gig lasts forever. That also includes your season in the hiding place. Keep moving. The way is up whether you know it or not.


Categories: Uncategorized

just check’n

March 20, 2014 8 comments

I love this prayer from A Cry for Mercy by Henri J. M. Nouwen:

Listen, O Lord, to my prayers.  Listen to my desire to be with you, to dwell in your house, and to let my whole being be filled with your presence.  But none of this is possible without you.  When you are not the one who fills me, I am soon filled with endless thoughts and concerns that divide me and tear me away from you.  Even thoughts about you, good spiritual thoughts, can be little more than distractions when you are not their author.

O Lord, thinking about you, being fascinated with theological ideas and discussions, being excited about histories of Christian spirituality and stimulated by thoughts and ideas about prayer and meditation, all of this can be as much an expression of greed as the unruly desire for food, possessions, or power.

Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence.   No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you.

Early on, back when I was a “proper” denominational pastor, my people-person wife used to ask me after Sunday church, “How many people did you see today?”  I’d shoot back, “all of them.”  That was a load of manure right there.  Honestly, I wouldn’t see anyone.  I was focused on what I was focused on.  Deeply focused and in my own world:  The Mike Zone.   The body was present, but the mind was elsewhere, rehearsing sermon notes, ideas, and concepts that needed to be laid out.  Some pastor, huh?

I’ve worked hard to change that about myself.  But I can still go there in a heartbeat.  Thump-thump.  Gone baby!

hitchhikerLast Saturday, Patti and I were headed on an errand to McGregor.  That’s about a fifteen-minute drive from where we live.  We drive that road all the time!  No biggie.

Saturday was a typical March day in Central Texas.  March in Central Texas can either be warm and sunny, or cold and cloudy, with nasty north winds.  Picture the latter.  Howling rainy winds.  Miserable stuff.

We were on a mission to get our errand over with so we could chill the rest of the day.  On our drive, however, we spotted a man—through slurpin’ windshield wipers—pushing his grocery cart with four large suitcases on the highway.   Of course Patti commented, “Oh, poor guy!”  I grunted.  But, we kept moving.  We were on a mission.

Two hours later, we were headed home from our appointment.  And yup, he was still out there on the highway.  Dragging his cart… still raining… his nasty pancho flying sideways because of the wind.  Now she said, “He hasn’t gotten very far.  Poor guy.”  I grunted out actual words this time, “Someone will pick him up.”

During my Seminary days, I had a two-hour commute between home and Ft. Worth.  So I would pick people up off the highway all the time.  Yes, ALL THE TIME.  So, I’m not completely heartless… regardless of what you might be thinking right now.

The next day, I was supposed to be preaching back in McGregor.  As I was driving to the church, I was definitely back in The Mike Zone, making sure I felt prepared.  Serious thinking.

There he was again.  Same guy.  Same road.  The same conditions existed, just colder.  He maybe progressed about four miles since I had last seen him the day before.  He was now displaying a sign with his destination: TEMPLE.  He must have slept in that patch of woods over there.  His odds aren’t great being on this particular highway.  He needs to be on I-35 not Hwy 84.  It can work over here, but not likely.

I grunted.  I really couldn’t be any later than I already was.  I had a serious message to give on the Holy Spirit.  I kept driving.

Three and a half hours later, I was headed home.  I was hungry, spent, and ready for a nap.  I made a quick call to see if Patti needed anything before I got home.  Nothing.  Sweet!

Damn it!  There he was again.  He had made a little more progress, but not much.  No grunt.  No more thoughts.  Now I’m talking out loud:  Just drive dude—just drive.  You’re almost home.  Frik!

I made it about three miles past the guy.

How many times are you going to drive by that guy?

Silence for another mile.

How many times are you going to drive by that guy?

Damn it!  Really?  [I’m laughing in the car because it’s just so frikk’n bizarre]

Shouting:  Ok.  Ok.  OK!

I made a quick u-turn and headed back in the opposite direction.  I scurried to shove my bible under my seat (didn’t want him to think he was being accosted by Bibleman) and rearranged the clutter in the passenger’s seat to make some room.  I grabbed the cash stash we keep in the car for such things and I was ready to roll.  I was actually surprised I had driven so far past him.

I kid you not.  You can’t make this stuff up.  As I pulled up, a man with a pick-up had pulled over and was loading the guy’s stuff into the back of his truck.  From the time I passed him, until I turned around and drove back to him, he had gotten the relief he was asking for.


“Just check’n.  That’s all.”

Listen, there is no one in this story who deserves a pat on the back other than the guy driving that truck.  I’m pretty sure he reacted the first time he saw the poor guy.

I asked one more time as I neared my home:  Anything else You want to say about this?

The guy was done.  He needed help.  It’s that simple.

That was it.

It was much to weird for me to draw any hasty conclusion here.  Honestly, I’m still processing it.

Let me get back to you on it if I can wrap it up all neat and tidy for y’all.

Don’t hold your breath.


Categories: Uncategorized

life spiral

March 13, 2014 4 comments

I promise I’m not in a death spiral.  Not even close.

Peter_Gertner_-_Crucifixion_-_Walters_37246Last week I put up a post called Obit.  I revealed that I have been checking the obituaries, looking at the faces, and reading the tidbits of information published in the papers.  I told you it felt honoring to do so.  I still hold to that.

Although I’ve never been one to participate in Lent-focused activities, this year, because of some new devotional material I’m sitting in, I’m reading quite a bit of scripture that correlates liturgically to the Lent season.  This is new territory for me.  And quite frankly, I love it.

It feels totally foreign and absolutely refreshing.  I also like the fact that you can’t rush it.  You have to sit in it.  You must turn all the outside stuff completely off or you miss the whispers.  Yeah, remember when you could hear Him whisper?  You’re not alone if you’re having a bit of a strain to recall the last time you felt Him get next to you.

So a couple of days ago, I sat down with my lectionary of prayers and scripture, facing again the mystery that God allows death to operate.  That day’s reading was about the crucifixion of Jesus by Walter Brueggemann.

Instead of me reposting the actual reading (which was intimidating with its big words and complex theology,) I’m going to paraphrase and give you the stuff I put in my own journal.  Trust me, you’re better off with this redneck’s regurgitation.

Here’s what I wrote:

“It was God’s announcement that the end of a world of death has concluded.  He takes death into himself.”  -Brueggemann

The natural conclusion is that God is in agreement that we die.  It is not an ongoing battle with death (He defeated death), but His approval that allows death to do its work—even though we horribly struggle with how little control we have in how, with whom, why, and when death appears.  God is not shaken or thwarted by death.  Why?  Because it is only the way of passage through the door which Christ opened for mankind.  Life at another level awaits.


Richard Rohr, a Franciscan who consistently helps shape some of my spiritual thoughts, teaches that facing the ramifications of death and the absolute certainty of its eventuality, is completely necessary for real maturity (BOTH natural and spiritual).  It’s almost too late to be affected by that realization when you’re old and feeble.  The value is on the front-end, early—the beginning. It’s about the only thing that really helps us prioritize our lives when our life needs prioritizing the most.  Not facing it keeps us shallow, childish, and immature.

I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of His mysteries.  I like that about our God.   It forces what we hate:  the sober realization that we’re not in control; and God moves toward our terrorized morsels of faith.  In it all we find the pulse of life.


Categories: Uncategorized


March 6, 2014 6 comments

And I drew, too, the way that my father once looked at a bird lying on its side against the curb near our house.  It was Shabbos and we were on our way back from the synagogue.

“Is it dead, Papa?”  I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

“Yes,” I hear him say in a sad and distant way.

“Why did he die?”

“Everything that lives must die.”



“You, too Papa?  And Mama?”


“And me?”

“Yes,” he said.  Then he added in Yiddish, “But may it be only after you live a long and good life, my Asher.”

I couldn’t grasp it.  I forced myself to look at the bird.  Everything alive would one day be as still as that bird.

“Why?” I asked.

“That’s the way the Ribbono Shef Olom made his world, Asher.”


“So life would be precious, Asher.  Something that is yours forever is never precious.”

—From My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

“Men and women don’t live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom, but a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here.  God’s love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him, making everything right for them and their children as they follow his Covenant ways and remember to do whatever he said” (Psalms 103:15-18, MSG).

Call me crazy if you want, but I’ve been checking out the obituaries in the Waco paper.  It’s not every day, and no, I’m not looking for myself.  I’m not sure I can totally explain it, but it feels… honoring.

Every now and then I might see a name I recognize, but for the most part these are total strangers.   Weird, huh?  And I’m genuinely interested.

Early on in my “church” ministry, I did a lot of funerals.  I officiated four to five times more funerals than weddings.  One of my best friends was a funeral director.  He told me more than I ever really wanted to know about the ins and outs of dealing with the dead.

I was so young and so full of myself, I was always more concerned about what I was going to say than who I was actually going to be talking about.   In fact, most of those early funerals I did were for people I had never met.  Talk about flying blind.  Wow.  I’m disheartened when I think of what I could have or should have said at some of those funerals.  I genuinely feel I let those people down.

Lots of years have passed since all of that.  I’ve seen more deaths, comforted more grieving people, and I’ve personally experienced the loss of family members and loved ones.  I still care about what I might actually say at a service, but it’s not nearly as important as honoring the person we are there to mourn, and comforting a family that is stricken with grief.

obitI can’t tell you how many times I sat in the funeral director’s office 15 minutes before the service, before a grieving family member would hand me the obituary for the deceased.  I would hurriedly learn the full name (some older people have some amazing full names), and if the family took the time to give a lot of details, I could put together a fairly insightful and tasteful eulogy to serve several purposes for the attendees.

Most of what is considered the obituary, or “obit,” that you hear at a funeral service, is read verbatim from the article that was written by a family member announcing the service details.  There’s much more creativity in services today, but all the basics are normally still observed.  No matter how it’s done, it still sucks to say goodbye.  It sucks to see the people you love hurting.  It just sucks to have to find some way to help these people find closure.  But, it’s a necessary and legitimate aspect of Kingdom life.

No matter how big, how small, how wordy, or how slim, there is one thing for certain about an obit:


There is no way to tell a person’s life story in an article, a sermon, a memorial, a funeral, or whatever kind of recognition that is being put together.


I remember watching JFK’s funeral on our little black and white TV.  That was a horribly sad day.  The country mourned.  School’s turned out.  Businesses closed.  All of it combined wasn’t enough to tell the whole story of the man.

Men and women are laid to rest all over the world with full military honors, gun salutes, and patriotic honor.  It’s not enough to tell their story.

Large and small funeral parlor chapels and churches provide a countless number of services for grieving families with broken hearts, but the words are never enough to tell the whole story.  It’s never enough.

Sometimes the obit is all you get.  The last pronouncement that time is up.  Death follows through.  Maybe not today.  Probably not tomorrow.  But soon enough for all of us.

What do you want yours to say?  Your obit.  What do you want the people you care about to write about you?  Or do you care?

I’ll conclude with these two things:

FIRST, SOW INTO YOUR OWN OBIT TODAY—EVERYDAY.   Papa was right in what he told Asher.  There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.  Live large, intentional—focused.  Tell people they matter to you.  Show your love, feed their soul—feed your soul.  Why?  (1) This gig doesn’t last forever, and (2) every day is a gift.  Yeah, it’s that simple.

SECOND, EXPAND YOUR RELATIONAL KNOWLEDGE BASE WITH THE PEOPLE YOU NOW KNOW AND THOSE YOU’RE ABOUT TO MEET.   There is only so much you can know about a person when you’re reading about them after they’re gone.  Not that it’s just about fact finding, but developing your own memories with people is hopefully what remains.

Dig in with all of God’s children and embrace their realities.  Sit in their pain, drink to their successes, encourage their dreams, enjoy their individual and majestic beauty, and notice the kiss of God on another person’s life.

The earth is covered with beautiful flowers.  Love and enjoy them… while you can.


Categories: Uncategorized