Thoughts for the Journey

Prepare your Heart

Every year at this time, Christ followers around the world participate in the season of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Resurrection Sunday.  This season is marked by repentance and fasting.  I often hear the question, “what are you giving up for Lent this year?” And while this question isn’t a bad one, (I’ve often asked it myself), I think a better question might be “How are you preparing your heart to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior?” You see, the fasting and feasting of the Lenten season serves the purpose of reminding us that we do indeed need a Savior. Each time we say no to whatever it is that we choose to give up, we are saying that our heart’s affection belongs to someone greater. And when we fail and forget and fall and falter and say yes instead of no, we are reminded of our frailty, our tendency to seek comfort in the things of this world rather than the One who gives true comfort. And it is in those moments of failing that we are reminded once again just how much we need a Savior.  We are reminded that we need grace every day, even for the smallest things.  And so we turn again to Jesus and we remember his great love for us because . . . “while we were still lost in our sin, Christ died to redeem us” Because where I fail, he succeeds, every time. And so I fall on His grace, finding once again his outstretched arms ready to receive me. So I ask you, how will you prepare your heart this Lenten season?


Heaven’s Gentle Rain

You don’t have because you don’t ask God. James 4:2 All you need to do in order to start God speaking is fix your attention on Him first thing in the morning. Look up at the ceiling and say: Lord, speak. I’m listening. If your own noisy, feverish ideas have subsided enough, there often begins to flow a gentle rain of ideas fresh with the clean flavor of heaven. – Frank Laubach When I read the above quote by Mr. Laubach, I decided to ask God to do that for me. I wanted to join God in what he was doing in the world.  I’ll have you know that is a dangerous prayer. Don’t pray that prayer unless you are willing to do it. When I got up in the morning, I said, “God, help me. Help me be present to what you are doing today.” The very day I started praying that prayer, God might has well have put a pulsing neon sign over a guy saying, “Here you go, big fella.” It happened as I was in the Oakland airport flying home to Seattle. As I was getting ready to board a Southwest Airline flight, I noticed a young man with white bell bottom pants and a dark blue wool Pea Coat on. He obviously was in the Navy. He had a cell phone to his ear and had his head pulled down into his coat like a turtle trying to pull its head into its shell. His face was contorted, his knuckles were white as he gripped the phone. He was crying; in fact, sobbing into the phone. I normally try to send out signals to everyone on a plane that I do NOT want to be approached on a flight. I put my headphones on and shoot the stink eye at everyone. Sometimes I get a Bible out and set on the seat beside me. Leave me alone! I had full intentions of doing that on this flight as well, but God said do different. God said, “Joe, be present for this guy.” As I boarded the plane I said to Lord, “Jesus, I am tired and more grumpy than usual. I am not a good candidate to help this guy, but if you want me to do something, then when I get on board let there be an open seat next to him. I felt comfortable with this plea. The sailor was in group A and I was in group Z. Southwest does open seating, so chances are the seat next to him would be taken. I started down the aisle and there he was and guess what…there was not one, but two open seats next to the sailorman. Dang it! I sat down beside him. When we got air born, I started a conversation with him. Said he was about to be deployed on the USS Abraham Lincoln for 3-4 months and he was leaving his new bride. As he told me this his eyes began to brim with tears. We talked some more about his home town, his hobbies, his favorite football team—and the entire time I was whispering to the Holy Spirit how I was supposed to spiritually help this guy. As we approached our descent into SeaTac airport, he seemed to be getting more apprehensive and told him he was going to be okay. Then we landed and deplaned and I walked with him down the concourse with his duffle bag over his shoulder. Just at the escalators to go down to baggage, I stopped him and said, “Nick, would you mind if I prayed for you?” He allowed that it was Okay. I said, “How about right here and now.” He sheepishly nodded. I laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed a prayer that only he and Jesus could hear as people walked by us like water flowing around a boulder in a river.
When he looked up, he had tears running down his face and said, “Thank you, Joe. God must have put you on that plane just for me. I will never forget this.” I lived in Seattle at that time where it rains as a matter of course, but that night as I crawled in bed, I knew something of a different king of rain; a gentle rain of ideas fresh with the clean flavor of heaven. And I prayed, “God, I did what you asked. I joined you in the work you were doing today.” Then I spoke Nick’s name one more time to the Father and fell asleep.


I am not a busy pastor

When the phone rings in my study, it startles me. Our office is closed almost as much as it is open during the week. But I love this little church and I have never felt so loved and appreciated as a pastor than I do these days. Some months ago, I was reading in my study at the church (I have a study, not an office because I am a pastor not a CEO). Since no one else was here I decided I would go home to read my book. I drove the seven miles out of town to my home, parked my Jeep and began to walk in my house when a twinge of guilt stabbed me in my heart. It felt like I was ditching school or leaving work early. I paused thinking I might go back to the church, when a voice in my head seemed to say to me, “Joe, who you are becoming is more important than what you are doing. Other than the Gospel, your well-marbled soul is the most important thing you can offer your congregation.” I went inside and put my hiking boots on and went on a five-mile trek through the woods by my mountain cabin. The other day a young pastor asked me what leadership books I was reading. That twinge of guilt started stabbing me again. I almost spouted out a title, when the inner voice told me to tell the truth to the young fella.
“I find myself reading poetry these days rather than leadership books,” I said.
He looked at me like a mule looking at new gate. **** A pastor I know is struggling with his marriage and ministry. I have been meeting with him for coffee and conversations for many years. He is twenty years younger than me. I listen mostly. He has lots to say and a short time to say it. He is very busy. He has hit a crisis and I have guided him to see a counselor. The first time to see the counselor, whose office is nearly two hours away, we went together, and I sat through the session with him. We spoke of many things on the drive home across the wide expanse of a high mountain valley. He poured out more words to me in that drive home than he did with the counselor. The tension and his frustration were visible and hung like a vapor between us in the front of my Jeep. I said to him, “I think what I am saying to you is that there is another way to live life than the one you are living now. I have never been more content and satisfied in my entire life than I am these days. I am inviting you to live differently.” I told him about my five-mile hike after leaving the church early. I told him how soul-shaping that was for me. I reminded him about something the Apostle Paul said to the believers at Philippi, Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. I’ll never forget to the day I die what he said next. “But Joe, you don’t DO anything.” I smiled and glanced at the gas tank that was getting close to empty but was full when we started out that morning for his counseling.