Archives for February 2012

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day SEVEN

1 Corinthians 6:12-30, Today’s New International Version:
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
   “What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived—
    these things God has prepared for those who love him”—

for God has revealed them to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit within? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
Just when I begin to get comfortable with a passage of scripture, just when I think maybe I’ve got it nailed – something strange happens.

I read it again.

And sure enough, I see something new there, 
something I hadn’t seen before, 
something that catches me off guard. 

The passage we’ve just read is a prime example:

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God…” 

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God…”

And here all this time, I thought the Spirit was the quieter
member of this Trinity Godhead,
     The Comforter,
     The Consoler,
     The Advocate.

Yes…but…this passage seems to imply that there might be a few other monikers that would fit Person #3:
     The Infiltrator
     The Instigator
     The Explainer
     The Translator

The same Spirit who searches the deep things of God
is the One who indwells us,
guiding us into understanding,
understanding some of those very deep things that
     the Spirit has been searching out in the Mind of God Almighty.

Okay, brain freeze here.
If this is true, then how come we’ve still got so many ‘discussions’ 
going on the larger church,
so many points of serious disagreement about scripture,
history, gender roles, science… 
you name it, we’ve got heated talk going on about it. 

Well, for one thing, we’re a messy lot out here in Christendom.
Our antennae are notoriously faulty.
We pay more attention to that loudmouth person over there –  the one we really, really do not like,
(or the one we secretly idolize),
than we do to the still, small voice. 

And maybe it’s got something to do with this line from Paul’s letter to Corinth: 

“…no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” 

It is so easy for us to lose sight of this truth.
We think we’ve got the inside scoop on the mind of God,
that we’ve got a corner on ‘the whole truth.’ 

When maybe what’s called for is a tiny piece of humility.
A recognition that there are lots and LOTS of things we don’t know and never will.
That “no human mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 

And here is a good and true thing about this time of the year:
     Lent is exactly the right time for growing in humility. 
     Lent is exactly the right time for continuing conversion.
     Lent is exactly the right time for lifting our hands to heaven and crying, 
    “Be God, God. By your Spirit at work in the church, teach us to listen to you and to one another. Teach us to walk humbly with you. And to walk humbly with each other, too.”
Holy Spirit, I thank you that you refuse to be put into a box of our design. You are free, you are powerful, you are loving, and you are convicting. Help us to tune up our antennae this Lenten season. Help us to tune in to YOU.

Click here for day one of this series and an explanation of what it’s all about.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day SIX

Psalm 47, Today’s New International Version:
Clap your hands, all you nations;
   shout to God with cries of joy.

 For the LORD Most High is awesome,
   the great King over all the earth. 

He subdued nations under us,
   peoples under our feet. 
He chose our inheritance for us,
   the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.

 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
   the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets. 

Sing praises to God, sing praises;
   sing praises to our King, sing praises. 
For God is the King of all the earth;
   sing to him a psalm of praise.

 God reigns over the nations;
   God is seated on his holy throne. 

The nobles of the nations assemble
   as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
   he is greatly exalted.
Sometimes, you’ve just gotta sing praise.
That’s all there is to it. 

You remember who God is.

And who you are not. 

“God has ascended amid shouts of joy!” 

ALL RIGHT!  Amen. Hallelujah. 


During Lent, the hallelujahs are supposed to be 
     removed from the liturgy, 
     laid to rest until Easter Sunday, 
when they will surge forth from the people of God. 

So today, I’ll do the praising a little more quietly,

more quietly even than I might feel. 

Because I think it’s good to keep a season of quiet,

to contain the exuberance,
to reflect on the seriousness of this journey we’re on. 

I will admit that 40 days is a very.long.time.

And by the time we get to the end,
I’m gonna want to let ‘er rip  – 
I mean,
every word of joyful abandon I can find. 

40 days feels like a long, hard climb. 

But then I think about that for just a minute.

And really, is it so much to ask? 

After all, ‘from the foundations of the world,’

scripture tell us – 
that’s how long Jesus has been climbing that hill to 
     our salvation, 
     our restoration, 
     our wholeness. 

On second thought, I think I can hike with him for 40 days.

Yes. I think I can.
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for taking the dive and making the climb. For sinking and rising, for coming and changing everything. Thank you for the journey you made for me; now strengthen me to journey for you and with you during this Lenten season.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day FIVE

Mark 1:1-13, The Message:*
The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
   Watch closely: I’m sending my preacher ahead of you;
   He’ll make the road smooth for you.
   Thunder in the desert!
   Prepare for God’s arrival!
   Make the road smooth and straight!
John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
As he preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”
At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.


As I’m reading this very familiar passage this morning, I find myself wondering about something.

I’m wondering if the Protestant evangelical movement, so forceful and strong in the last several decades, isn’t maybe listening a bit more to John the Baptist than it is to Jesus?

I know, I know – that sounds dangerous and provocative, maybe even political. I don’t mean it to be any of those things. 

I am just wondering.

John the B preaches repentance and lifestyle change – and people lap it up. They see something in him that they like, they hear things that challenge them and they grab hold.

But what strikes me in this passage is that John didn’t take himself nearly as seriously as everyone else seems to have done. In fact, he clearly points to Jesus and he differentiates between his message and ministry and what will come when Jesus shows up. 

Because Jesus will speak with a different kind of authority, a different kind of power. And it won’t be about lifestyle change alone. It will be about total makeover, from the inside out.

So, I’m wondering.

With the intrusion of what was the precursor of the evangelical movement today – the fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century (and that movement is an important part of my heritage and I am grateful for many pieces of it) – 
but with that movement came a strong emphasis on         
     right behavior,
     right belief,
     strict adherence to a moral code 
without nearly as much emphasis on the radical nature of the Jesus message and the power of the Spirit to wreak havoc with who we are, not just what we do…

As I keep saying: I’m wondering. And I’ll likely keep on wondering. Seems to be what I do a lot of.

And I’m also struck – again! – with those very opening words – Jesus the Messiah, the bringer of the Message, the Good News – is the very specific fulfillment of the prophetic ministry of Isaiah. 

I think maybe it’s time to read that dude again.


Sometimes, Holy Spirit, I’m not sure I like the way you mess with my mind. So, please keep me open and humble and honest as you muck about in there. Because when it’s all said and done, I really do want to be like Jesus. Even if it means I’ve got to live with the muck more often than I might choose.
*Right here is an example of how the daily lectionary sometimes overlaps with the Sunday one. We did part of this passage yesterday – so I chose a different translation to work with today. And sure enough, the Spirit took me in a completely different direction. The Spirit is weird that way.

 And if you haven’t a clue what I mean when I reference the lectionary, click here to go back to Day One and the explanation provided there.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – FIRST Sunday

Mark 1:9-15, Today’s New International Version:
One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” 

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. 

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

“You bring me great joy.”
I cannot imagine hearing anything more delightful,
     more affirming,
     more satisfying. 

We all yearn for that, I think:

to be a source of joy in someone’s life. 

And this goes way beyond what most of us think of when we hear the word ‘romantic.’ 

I happen to be a big believer in romance, true romance – 
     not melodrama, 
     not soap opera, 
     not fuzzy hearts and x’s and o’s scribbled on the bottom of a gooey card. 

Romance that lays a sure foundation,

romance that resonates with commitment,
romance that walks with us through all of it –
     the high-endorphin times and the bottom-of-the-pit times,
     the fireworks and the clean-up afterwards,
     the shared laughter and the separate tears. 

“You bring me great joy.” 

Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

That’s what I want.

But then…
there’s this little phrase:
     “The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go out into the wilderness…”

Um. This is sounding less and less romantic.
Wilderness. 40 days. Temptation. Wild animals. SATAN. 

There is the saving grace of ministering angels.

But gee whiz, this is decidedly UNromantic, don’t you think?
And yet…
I wonder:

A beautiful and encouraging word at the river.

A time of testing and struggle in the isolation of the desert.
A brand new ministry of fulfillment, repentance and GOOD NEWS. 

There must be a connecting thread here.


And I’m thinking, it just might be romance, after all. 

     A sure foundation.
     Walking through the good stuff and the hard stuff, sometimes alone – but never abandoned.
Maybe, just maybe.

This could be how good, true romance is really built,
built to last.
For eternity and beyond.

Saint Theresa thought you were the most romantic thing going, Lord. And maybe she was onto something. She, and a lot of the mystics who came after her, encourage us to take a good long look at You. A long, loving look at the Real. And when we do that, maybe we’ll see You, looking back at us, whispering, ‘You bring me great joy!’ Wow.

Click here for day one of this series and an explanation of what it’s all about. 

Quiet Space

“The world will be saved through beauty.”
“One thing I ask from the LORD,
   this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
   all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
   and to seek him in his temple.”
– Psalm 27:4
We serve a beautiful God. Praises be. 

Joining tonight with two friends who invite quiet reflection at week’s end.
Sandra Heska King’s ‘Still Saturday’
Deidra Riggs’ ‘Sunday’

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day FOUR

Psalm 30, The Grail Translation:
“Thanksgiving for recovery from sickness”
I will praise you, LORD, you have rescued me 
and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, I cried to you for help 
and you, my God, have healed me.
O LORD, you have raised my soul from the dead,
restored me to life from those who sink into
         the grave.
Sing psalms to the LORD, you faithful ones, 
give thanks to his holy name. 
God’s anger lasts a moment; God’s favor all
       through life.
At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn.
I said to myself in my good fortune: 
“Nothing will ever disturb me.” 
Your favor had set me on a mountain fastness,
then you hid your face and I was put to confusion.
To you, LORD, I cried, 
to my God I made appeal:
“What profit would my death be, my going to
     the grave?
Can dust give you praise or proclaim your truth?”

The LORD listened and had pity.
The LORD came to my help. 
For me you have changed my mourning 
     into dancing, 
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
So my soul sings psalms to you unceasingly. 
O LORD my God, I will thank you forever.
There is something so real about this language,
so true to who we are as people who struggle.
We don’t have the answers we think we want.
We wrestle with the hard stuff.
We get sick, we are fearful of dying,
     we would like to blame someone for that – 
whether it’s ‘enemies,’ or God.
The psalmists all tell it like it is and I find that both
refreshing and encouraging. And sometimes, I find it puzzling.

Because this is what it feels like when life gets messy and tough.
It feels like God turns away from us;
or it feels like God rescues us.

Both of these experiences are part of what it means to live this life we’re called to, aren’t they?

And I want to rush right in here and say,
God doesn’t turn away from us. 
The Word tells us God will never leave us.”

Yet if I say that – and I do – then maybe I also have to say this other, 
much harder thing:

“God doesn’t rescue us, either. 
Except in the ultimate sense. 
We are rescued from ourselves and our sin and our brokenness because of Jesus. 
We are rescued from a life of meaninglessness and free-floating purposelessness.”
But are we rescued from the frailties and foibles of this life?       
The one we are all living here in the mess? 
Clearly, we are not.

Good people do suffer.
Faithful followers do encounter pain, grief, loss, 
sometimes even what feels like unrelenting agony.
Children die.
Wars rage.
Natural disasters wreak havoc around the globe.

And yet… 
and yet…
There is healing.
There is redemption.
There is joy in the morning.
And there are tears in the night.

The wisdom writers in the Old Testament all tumble these ideas around. And what I love about our scripture is that these authors provide a variety of answers. Perhaps that’s why we push/pull about it to this day. Some believe God is responsible for all of our suffering. Some believe God allows it. Some believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I don’t know.

This I do know, however.
God is so much bigger than we can even begin to imagine. And if God is truth, then I guess that means that the Truth is so much bigger than we can imagine, too. (If you want a small sample of this kind of thinking, check out The Pilgrim’s words at this site.
So I think I’ll join with the psalmist and sing about it all – 
the glories of health 
and the darkness of illness and death. 
Because it’s all part of the tapestry being woven 
in this thing 
we call life.
God of the Cosmos, You know how feeble this brain of mine is. How I cannot begin to wrap my thoughts around Who You are, and How You are. This much I know: Someone is in this muck with me and I believe his name is Jesus. Together, we can walk through anything. And for that, I say, ‘thank you.’ And for that, I say, ‘help me, teach me, put my feet in the right place.’ And for that, I say, ‘Amen.’

Click here for day one of this series and an explanation of what it’s all about.  

5 Minute Friday – GRIT: An Essay with Photos

Wowza. It’s Friday again. Whoosh – that week just flew by. But every Friday, we try to write like we believe we can fly (Lisa-Jo’s fine words). So I’ll give it a whirl, one more time. Take a prompt. Set a timer. GO. Write. STOP. And see what comes out. Try it, you’ll like it. And check out a few others who’ve got it going on over at The Gypsy Mama’s place.            

This week’s prompt? GRIT

I got some grit between my toes today. Yes, I surely did.

It was bright and beautiful here.

And I had a ton of errands to run. But not so many that I couldn’t take a break at lunchtime and run down to the beach.

I went to the slough – an engineered salt water river and estuary that draws the water birds, by the hundreds.

And I walked right down onto the sand with my camera in hand, and I started pointing and shooting.

And smiling inside.

In a big, big way.

Because when I’m tired.
Or when I’m worried.
Or when I’m feeling insecure, or out of place, or not at all sure that I’m doing what I ‘should’ be doing…

what I need is a little bit of that gritty stuff between my toes.
And some time with the birds.

I don’t know a whole lot about them, but I surely do love to watch them do their bird thing.

They know exactly what to do. And they know when to do it.
They don’t battle insecurity.
They don’t wonder if they’re living up to their potential.
They don’t try to be anything other than what they are.

They do what their Creator designed them to do.
Every moment. Of every day.

And they do it with beauty, grace, humor and a fair amount of noise.


Lord, help me to be exactly who you’ve made me to be. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And help me to do it with grit between my toes.


Writing time, exactly five minutes, including fixing two spelling errors.
Adding pictures? Well, a few more than five. :>)

 Where the slough comes from the ocean.
 The ‘big picture’ of the major sand bar, the eucalyptus grove, the Goleta hills behind.
 A gathering of gulls, all facing into the warm sunlight.
 Cormorants cooling it on some old pilings, watched over by a great blue heron.
 A trio of pelicans, resting on a sand bar.
 A great blue begins to circle around, seeking out his particular nest among the dozens of 100# twig collections in the tops of those trees.
 The circle gets a little bigger…
 …makes another loop…
 …and then settles right in at home.
 See that greater egret over there by the cliff? He’s my favorite.
 Except maybe for this guy – a male red-breasted merganser.
But that tall one, back there in the shadows. He’s fascinating, don’t you think?
 Now he steps forward, surrounded by black-winged stilt birds, with their knees all backwards. (Does the egret’s pose remind anyone of Steve Martin doing the Egyptian? Or are none of you old enough to remember that old act of his?)
 Sort of a stately guy.
 And I’m eternally grateful to him for flying, just for a moment.
 And for staring at himself in the mirror…oh wait, I think he’s looking for lunch!
 Yup, he’s goin’ for it!
 And I watched a couple of stilts do a little doe-si-doe…
 Shall we dance?
 Nah – way too risky!
Got one shot with a full reflection – what a gorgeous creature.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day THREE

Philippians 4:1-9 (The Message):

My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.

I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges. And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Umm….I’m sensing a theme developing here…
Whacking away at the worrying again.

But I like what Peterson has done here in The Message –
he’s summed the whole thing up with one line:

“It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry 
at the center of your life.”

Such a practical fellow, Paul was. 
Try praying instead.
Think about good things.
Struggling with this faith stuff?
Do what I do. 

But you know what I think?
I think Paul was a little bit worried himself – yes, I do.
Those two women,
the leaders in the church,
the ones working right alongside him to build this church in Philippi,
they’ve had a falling out.
And it troubles him.
It troubles him a great deal.
He URGES them to make things up.
He recruits the guy with all the consonants in his name 
to work on the problem, too. 


Because they’re good people,
‘their names are written in the Book of Life, too.’
And because he cares about them, he worries the situation a bit. 

I take heart from this small piece of personal meddling.
I truly do.
And I’m going to take Paul at his word and do what he does.
I’m going to carefully meddle once in a while, too.
       If I care about the people involved,
       if I want those harmonies to resonate,
       if I think the worrisome matter needs hands-on action as well as prayer action. 

And I’m not going to worry about it when I do.
Holy Friend, here’s where I really need your Spirit’s discernment and grace: would you grant me the wisdom to know when intervention is holy and good and when it’s just plain nosy? How I want to celebrate You every day, all day. Teach me to revel. Maybe if I learn how to do that, the nosiness/holy intervention quandary will disappear. I think I’d like to find out. Amen.
Click here for day one of this series and an explanation of what it’s all about. 

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to Calvary – Day TWO

Psalm 37, opening verses – 1-7, the New Living Translation:

Don’t worry about the wicked
      or envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
      Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
Trust in the LORD and do good.
      Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the LORD,
      and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the LORD.
      Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
      and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Be still in the presence of the LORD,
      and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
      or fret about their wicked schemes.


Don’t worry?

Yes, the psalmist says it two times, 
at the beginning and end of this chunk.

Don’t worry.

Don’t worry about the wicked,
    those who do wrong,
    those who prosper, though they are evil,
    those who harbor wicked schemes.

Man, that’s hard for me.
Is it for you?
I want those bad guys to get what they deserve!
And, to tell the whole truth here, I do worry about it sometimes.
So this Lenten weekday reminder is important:

Leave it to the LORD.

Do good myself.
And most of all,
Take delight in the LORD.

And the best way to do that is also spelled out in these verses –
be still in God’s presence,
learn to wait,
to still that beating heart,
     that fevered mind,
     that mental to-do list,
     that building resentment,
     those rabbit-trail distractions that get so dang noisy.

And, oh yeah – in case you missed it – don’t fret.


But I SO want to worry about it, Lord. It feels weird and sort of magical, but somehow I think if I worry about stuff, it will get better. Ha! Oh, help me to keep my sticky little mental fingers off the worry button and help me to keep my palms facing upward, ready and waiting for you. Amen.

Click here for day one of this series and an explanation of what it’s all about. 

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to Calvary – Day ONE: Ash Wednesday

Lent is a journeying experience. It consists of 40 days and 6 Sundays. Many Christians will choose to fast from something during these days of wandering and wondering. And they will fast for each of those 40 days. But not the Sundays. I just discovered that about five years ago, and somehow, that has helped enormously!

Some of us will choose to add something for Lent, too. A discipline of some sort. And this year, I’ve chosen to do it this way: each day of Lent, I will post a brief reflection, centered around one of the Lectionary texts for that day. The Sunday Lectionary is a gift to the gathered church, a rotating, 3-year calendar of readings from the Psalter, the Old Testament, the Epistles and the Gospels for each Sunday from Advent through the end of Ordinary Time the following fall. We are currently in Year B. 

The daily texts come from a 2 year rotation of personal devotional readings. These include psalms for morning and evening plus an Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lesson for each day of the week. So during the week – from Monday through Saturday – I will follow the 2 year rotation, selecting one of the daily texts to ponder. But on Sundays, I will choose one of the 3-year rotating Lectionary texts for each of the six Sundays in Lent. I will most often choose to offer my own musings as I read through the selected passage for each day, but I have been known to dip into the rich well of resources available to the church from across the last two centuries with some frequency, so you never know what you might find in this small space. 

You are invited to join me as I try on this discipline in Lent 2012. The format will be the same each day: a photo for reflection; the text for the day; some musings on that text; a brief word with God. I invite you to ponder each day’s text for yourself and see where God speaks to your own heart as you read.

The words of Jesus in Luke 18:9-14 – The New Living Translation

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”


“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down…”

Yes, we do.
We all fall down.
Down, down, down.
     Down into addiction,
     down into depression,
     down into discouragement,
     down into failure.
We all fall down.

But sometimes I read a gospel story like this one and I wonder: 
is that such a bad thing?
This fact, this hard, hard truth, 
that we all fall down?

I wonder if maybe we need to fall down if we ever hope to rise up?

Maybe we need those ashes, 
those ashes that remind us how far we’ve fallen,
maybe we need them to picture for us:
     our need for a Savior,
     our need for a Friend,
     our need for forgiveness,
     our need for a future filled with hope.

As I begin this Lenten journey, O Lord, I want to say thank you for the ashes. For the dark smudge on my forehead, put there by my pastor. The one that comes from the burned remains of last year’s branches from the Palm Sunday celebration. Thank you that with that mark, I remember my own mortality, I declare my need for a Savior – and I rejoice that I am marked as a child of the King. Glory be.