Tour guides for faith

I am writing these words from the shores of the Dead Sea where I am closing out an amazing 10-day trek across Jordan with a dozen other faith writers. For some of us, we hoped to gain some inspiration. A few were here to see the sights. Others were looking for a pilgrimage, a way to connect with the roots of their faith.

It’s an amazing place to do it all. While Israel has places associated with Christ’s birth and final days, Jordan boasts so many biblical ties it’s called The Other Holy Land. In just a few days you can see Mt. Nebo, where Moses gazed into the promised land and was later buried, the hillside where Jesus cast the demons into the swine, the baptismal site of Jesus by John the Baptist, and the Herodian castle that later served as the place where the prophet’s head was served as a gift to Siloam’s mother.

And that doesn’t count the fabulous Wadi Rum desert, full of Bedouin charm, Petra, the necropolis city, and the Dead Sea.

Our visit could have been a typical tourist venture. You know the kind. The driver pulls up to the site and all the people pile out of the bus camera’s in hand. They point and shoot, ooh and awe, take a few selfies, and then pile back in.

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But Raed Haddad hasn’t let us get away with this kind of trek. “Now you’ll see some stones here, but before that was a magnificent city that Jesus entered. He was preaching, teaching, and healing. But most of all, he was moving the people’s hearts. It all started in the Old Testament…”

Raed has been a tour guide for 21 years and he’s a natural. He has a heart for his country and loves his people. “This is the birthplace of faith,” he reminds us. “The Holy Land wasn’t defined by nation’s boundaries as much as it was by tribes.”

But what comes out in every conversation is his heart for his faith.

“I cannot separate my faith from what I do,” he admits. “If God is true, He must be in and about everything. That includes my work.”

Paying the price

The country has both a spoken and unspoken tolerance and even acceptance of minority faith groups. Christians are guaranteed a certain number of Parliamentary positions and Christian heritage sites are particularly guarded with pride. It’s a completely safe place for the Christian tourist and resident.

But let’s be honest. Jordan is a predominately Muslim country. The government claims 3-5 percent of the population is Christian, although those on the ground claim a much lower figure. Regardless, those profess Jesus are a decided minority.

So being a Christian here isn’t easy. Speaking boldly about your faith is a great challenge. “Standing up for my faith has cost me friends,” said Raed. “Some of my friend will want me to lie or deceive on their behalf. I won’t do it. I’ve lost friends, but God has gained me respect in return.”

He has lost work too. Raed has been dropped by some tour companies because of his emphasis on faith. “How can you show people the land of the Bible and just talk about geography? They ask me to tone down my love for the Bible and for God and I won’t do it. I can’t.”

How does he get through it? “Don’t be distracted. Don’t be hurt,” he implores. “If you focus on your wound, it will never heal. Even when people shut the door in your face, he’ll open many others.”

We are all tour guides

As believers in this world, it’s our job to show others God’s wonders and truths. People drive right past the amazing things of God every day – missing out on the eternity for the sake of the temporal. Like lonely scenic overlooks, the freeways are full of people who don’t know where they are going, but are making great time.

Am I a tour guide for my faith?

One thing we can be sure of – if we do it right, we will be despised and detested for His name’s sake. That’s a promise. Many of our brothers and sisters across the globe are paying the ultimate sacrifice.

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Share Your Story

This week I helping editors at the High Calling share stories about those who on the Firing Line for faith. Have you been challenged and oppressed for your faith? Or have you stopped just short, uncertain of the results. What holds you back?

If you have your own story to share, leave a note below. If you have a blog and write about it, jump on over to the High Calling and link up for others to see.

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Want to go to Jordan? Contact Ra’ed and he will guide you on what to do next. You will NOT be disappointed. It’s safe. It’s secure. It will change your life. 

Out of the Gray: Conflicts of Interest

“Merry Christmas!” Bernard winked with exaggeration as he slid the envelope with my name on it across the counter. I thanked him and then proceeded to help him mail his package. Signed. Sealed. Almost delivered. I stacked the card along with the others, to be opened later.

Twenty years ago, I was a small-town postmaster serving an very rich community. At the time, it was the one of the most affluent zip codes in the United States. The people were generally kind and respectful of those who served them at the grocery store, gas station, and retail establishments. Christmastime was a season of bounty from the community, and I would bring home plates of cookies, fruit, and handfuls of cards.

That night, I opened the envelopes, reading and smiling at the kind words. A few of the cards had low-value coffee gift cards to fuel my caffeine level during long days. But the card from Bernard had a special insert—a $100 bill. As a public employee, I knew the rules. We were there to provide a service, and a gift like this could influence my professional dealings.

I knew he gave it with no ill intent; he was a man who could afford the gift. And in that economy, our young family could have used it. I showed the rare bill to my kids, and their eyes danced with possibility. But before they could mentally spend it, I told them my decision. I had to return it.

“Why, Dad?” my eldest son asked. “You work really hard.”

The other piped up, “If you don’t want to take it, I will!” His eyes pleaded with the deepest sincerity.

“I can’t … and you can’t.” I looked at them, still slightly amused. “It would be a conflict of interest.”

Read the rest of the story over at the High Calling

If you want to hear God in the desert, just quit talking

The hair was white, coarse and yet surprisingly soft. The saddle was a simple blanket with a horn to grip and stirrups to aid in mounting. I had never been on a camel. It definitely wasn’t like riding a bike.

As I sat on the lumbering beast, I thought about how much the animal has meant to the people of the Middle East. Camels have been companions on long treks and have been a status and wealth. I think in a strange way, their grinning demeanor has provided a source of comfort and amusement to people going back thousands of years.

People of the desert

I was in the Wadi Rum desert of the Kingdom of Jordan, a guest of the Bedouin. These people are an ancient tribe — almost Abraham-ic in their lifestyle. Their black tents dot the landscape. They are beautiful people, with lively eyes and broad grins. Without stereotyping, their main industry seems to be herding goats or sheep. Across the hills of Jordan I’ve seen many boy or man stalking them, occasionally clicking a tongue or prodding them with an end of stick into their hindquarters.  The women are often invisible, and when they are seen, they are modest, sometimes dressed head to toe in black. But I’m sure if could see their face, they would smiling.

I wonder if life must be difficult for these people. They carve out a simple existence in a modern world. The marketplace isn’t’ t conducive to trading in camel hair carpets or cured strips of lamb. But generation after generation continue to live the life. There is a modern world wide open to them, but most of them continue to choose family, tradition, and God.

A few Bedouin camps have opened their world to tourism. I was very cautious about invading or exploiting these people . But they seemed eager to show their life, proud of their goods and their ingenuity, and freely open up their private world to outsiders. It’s a necessity for them to continue their way of life, bringing in needed income. We are eager and curious and they are gracious and in need of economic support.

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They took a group of us through the desert to what I called, “the camel corral” – only there was no fence. The animals don’t seem prone to wander. As a group, they knelt in humble unison, ready to serve their masters. I easily mounted the camel and he didn’t even seem to know that I was there. With a “click click” of the tongue of the young Bedouin, the camel grunted and showed his teeth, but then rose on command. Suddenly, I towered over the others.

Our camel train numbered six, as a group of us were led through the canyon. A few of the others were laughing and singing old songs from American pop culture and riding the camels like a Disney ride. But once the giddiness of the new experience wore off, I began to retreat, taking in the moment.

For just a few moments the laughter and conversation stopped and I was struck by the silence. A bird chirped a distant cliff. A rock tumbled down into a pile. The sand buffered the heavy hooves and the only sound was the swaying of the saddle. But for the most part it was completely serene. Is that you God?

While I was experiencing the desert, I didn’t hear what I was supposed to hear until I just quit talking.

Silence. Simplicity. Peace.

What is like for Abraham, who left with his family to a land he knew not where he was going? What was it like for Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem? What was it like for David, as he led the sheep? How about John the Baptist who nearly lived in the desert, or Jesus who spend 40 days completely alone with God? And Elijah on the run from Jezebel? What was it like to the people of Israel to walk in these lands for 40 years?

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The dark nights and hot days were stifling. Unforgiving and oppressive, the desert has killed many a man, but have given a passageway for inspiration and clarity as no other place. Death and life have sprung from it’s sands.

The desert is undisturbed by distant highway noise or overhead jet traffic. It’s unspoiled by screeching brakes and horns. In it’s purest form, it’s the place where God speaks – Just read the Psalms or the prophets. That’s why so many of God most important moments happened in the desert.

The desert is waterless, and survival depends on finding the next watering hole – hope. Stripped away of encumbrance. It’s where we can hear God, if we will actually be quiet and listen. 

Me. A camel. And God. 

Here I am. 

The unlikely pilgrim: Day 3, “Of pigs and thistles”

(Fictionalized Account)

I hate these thistles. They choke everything out. I’ve seen goats eat them, but then they get sick. These weeds are worthless. Nothing grows around them, and my sandals don’t like them one bit. So I took my herd around to the other side of the hill when I saw them — and I was they scared me. 

I knew these two men. We all did. Screaming, clawing at the air, they were as bad as the lepers on the other outskirts of town. Their families had long since walked away from them. They had no friends. Scabs covered their bodies and they hadnt bathed since the last good rain – and that was a long time ago.

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This was Gadarenes, one of the great cities of Rome. Our streets were paved and tall columns graced our pathways. Solid rock arches served as entryways to our theater. Chariots rumbled past and members of the legion marched on patrol. For the most part, we were happy and taken care of. But these two fools kept us on edge. Some called them crazy. Others – the Jews – said they were possessed.

My partner and I were pushing our herd away from the tombs – the Jews always nervous having them wander around their dead. Then I saw him. The Galilean. I had heard about him. Everywhere he went, wonderss, crowds – and trouble followed. The Romans were uncertain about his popularity. The Jewish leaders were threatened by him. I heard from a friend that last night he had actually walked on water, calming that massive storm that soaked everything in town.

 

Rumors or truth?

I heard about bread appearing out nowhere, dead men rising, and blind men seeing. We hear a lot of rumors – and I don’t know what to believe. But there he was, right in front of my eyes. And instead of heading into the theater or the synagogue where the crowds would quickly gather, he made a beeline for the graveyard, where these two fools were waving at imaginary birds in the air, swatting away the the circling swarm.

I yelled at the Galilean, telling him him to go back, but he never even looked at me. He moved forward with a resilient love. We were all so afraid of these men, but Jesus‘ face had none of that fear – just compassion. So I stopped – and for a moment, I understood what others were saying. There was something about him.

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One of the men yelled at Jesus. “Are you coming to torment us? What business do you have here with us.” Jesus didn’t stop. The two men looked at each other in a moment of sanity and their faces spoke volumes. Was it fear or relief?

The other said, “Just cast us into these swine,” sweeping his hand toward the herd of pigs – my pigs — feeding on the hillside. I didnt see what transpired, but suddenly my herd was running in circles. Then they bolted – all together toward the cliff. I gave chase, hitting my stick on the ground and clapping my hands. In a moment, they were gone.

And the two men were leaning in against one of the tombs smiling and talking like normal men. Jesus put his on a shoulder and held the palm of the other man. In an instant, they were restored.

Have to say something

I ran back town and told everyone what had happened. They were skeptical, for I was just a pig herder. But out of curiosity a few of the people ventured to the edge of town and saw the two, who were now lucid, laughing and talking as if they had always been normal. The word spread like wildfire and it seemed as if everyone had come to see what happened.

Jesus was standing next to the men and a few brave people went and talked to them. But soon the questions were being hurled – “Who are you that demons obey you?” Rather than a miracle, some saw it as a divination. And before long, the insults got so bad that they took Jesus to the ouside of town.

Don’t ever come back,” said Jethrop. The others nodded in agreement. “Or we’ll make you pay.”

And that was that.

Changed life

That was 30 years ago when I lost my pigs. That was the day I lost my livelihood, but it was also the day that I started following Jesus. I went to visit that hillside a few days ago. And the thistles are growing even higher now.

While following Jesus around, I heard about the teaching he gave about how “good seed” was wasted if it wasn’t used in good soil. “That the thistles would choke out the seed.” I saw it in my home town. They could have accepted the miracle, and like me, accepted the miracle maker. But for the most part, the seed from from that encounter was rejected.

I wonder if 2,000 years from now the thistles will still be there?


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NOTE:
This was inspired by my visit today at Gadarenes in the country of Jordan. It’s adjacent to the old Decapolis city of Gadara (modern-day Umm Qays), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The hillside was completely covered with thistles. And yes, those are cows. To subscribe to all my adventures and future thoughts on faith and life, please click here.

The Unlikely Pilgrim: Day 2, “No longer strangers”

I was an intruder.  I didn’t  belong. Someone will surely figure it out.
What was I thinking? 
I walked up to the simple concrete building with the illuminated cross on the roof. As I looked out across the skyline, I spotted two other buildings, adorned with crescent moons on their ridges. I heard calls to prayers echoing across the city. Like a children’s book, it didn’t take long to see what wasn’t the same.
I walked into the Melkite Greek Catholic church in downtown Amman, Jordan, graciously invited by others. The St. Peter and Paul church was small, with probably 150 people already gathered. We were late. The service was led by Father Nabil Haddad, a gracious man who is working at bridging the gap in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian world as the leader of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.
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I resisted the urge to find a way to make my way outside. I was so out of my element. This was a different culture, a different faith expression in a middle eastern tradition. And the service was in Arabic. To an outsider it was nonsense. Chants. Singing.  Repetition. Kneeling. There was no music except for the melodic, hypnotic voices of chants that seemed to bring in a mix of Gregorian, Semitic, and Arabic influence.  I irreverently imagined a Jew in a vestment singing from a minaret. It was disruptive and disquieting. But as the service continued, it was powerful.
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“Be Careful”

I’m not all that cross-cultural. I have a little bit of an attitude. And I can quickly wrap myself in plain coverings of a redneck. I’ve heard the warnings about the Middle East, and as a voracious reader of the news, understood the perception. I didn’t have to go. I heard from friends and family around the globe. They all told me to ‘be careful’ in the same way you tell a little boy who’s riding his bike to town and isn’t quite savvy enough to stay away from certain neighborhoods. I admit, I’m still that boy and it’s okay to give me warnings.

Yes, this is the Middle East. ISIS has brought the world to it’s knees, finding easy targets: embassy personnel,  US servicemen, contractors and — gulp — journalists. And if someone hates you, then you can probably expect them to find you at a place you love.  Christians go to church on Easter. The thought crossed my mind.

But let me tell you something. Jordan is amazingly different. even though the Christians number in the low single digits they enjoy a respect. Not because they downplay the religion;  not because they’ve given in to political correctness; not because they pretend to fit in. They are respected because they live out their faith and truth and honesty. they are given respect. I spoke to several people who commend King Abdullah, who goes out of his way to protect Christians both at home and abroad. It’s leadership.

Known for their love

In our country we are being told to shut up and sit down and that we don’t have a place the table. But across the MIddle East, the birthplace of Christianity, believers are becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the population, losing they baby war. And they are oppressed and tormented and killed in some places. Yet, they survive and even thrive because of their love for each other and for God.
So here I am, standing among Christians who have been in the area for more than a thousand years. I unworthy, ignorant, and just a little shocked. Who do I think I am? I have no idea what these people have to endure on a daily basis. and yet they embrace me and call me – brother.
As the service proceeded, I still felt a little silly with no clue or context. The liturgy, the songs, the tongue – what to make of it all?
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Then I looked at the cross on the stand, draped in a white ribbon. I saw an older woman, her head covered in a white lace, standing next to a pretty teenage girl. They were singing and then repeating the words from the Arabic book in front of them. I looked around. I was surrounded by men and women, young and old, and together, we had a bond of a common need and a Savior that met that need.
The salt I tasted trickled from my eyes.
We were one in the cross

The Unlikely Pilgrim: Day 1, “Lean back”

I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was adrenaline. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was God, trying to get through my thick skull.

 Mile after mile of nothing but water and an inky sky out my window, with only the moonlight separating the two dark bodies.  The lights had been dimmed in the cabin with only a few glowing at floor level to guide the occasional person to the cramped bathroom. I looked around, heads by the hundreds were nodded off into deep sleep. One girl had a whole row to herself and she enthusiastically spread across the three seats.  Another leaned back, her nose pointed at the ceiling. The man across from her mumbled and I strained to catch what he was saying.
And then I turned my attention to blackness, and I strained to hear clarity from another source. “What are you doing God?”
 
A wild Flight path
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I’m on a pilgrimage to Jordan, the Other Holy Land. I’m calling it accidental because I really think someone made a mistake. As a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board, they want writers who can speak to a broad audience. They want clout, reach, and influence. Maybe they mixed up my last name. Maybe they mixed up my first name with another. There’s a lot of Davids out there. And at least a million writers. But at this point — when I add in all the amazing things that have happened since the selection — I’m believing there’s a bigger story at work. God  reminded Samuel, “man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” So here I am, on an airplane headed to see sites some would call Holy, the Unlikely Pilgrim.

I’m listening.

I’ve looked at the videos of Petra, Jeresh, the Dead Sea, and Madaba. I’ve talked to others about this journey. I’ve googled and binged and dogpiled until my head began to swim. Like the ancient diviners who split numbers and cast lots and burned smoke to find the answers, nothing’s really clear without faith. So here I am, 30,000 feet high — trusting a pilot and a beautiful 787 Dreamliner — that I can fly. And I think nothing of it. I push the button and lean my seat back, trusting the pilot.
So why can’t I trust God for the story of this trip — and my life?

Lean Back

We are telling our young women to Lean In, to take charge. We’re telling our young men to be aggressive and smart. We’ve got schemes to reach our neighbors for conversion, plans to build our churches, training to get promoted at work. But I think I’m learning to lean back instead of leaning in. You see one requires trust, the other wrenches away command. And this is a story I don’t want to miss.
I’ll be writing in this space every day. Please subscribe here so you don’t miss a moment. I covet your prayers. And I ask you, where is God leading you? Are you willing to just … go?
Check this out, an interactive map of the sites I’ll be visting. Wish you were here!


#holyjordan

The Unlikely Pilgrim: And so it begins

And so it begins.

Today is the start of a very long day — to New York, then to Amman, Jordan. I start at 7 this morning and will land at 3 PM Friday. I have no idea how long the trip is. There are about 11 of us who part of the the Jordan Tourism Board-sponsored Journalist/Writer trip 

There are plenty of thoughts running through my head. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind as God has placed amazing people in my life  who have paved the way. I have connections that I would have never dreamed of having that have been dropped into my lap.

FIrst there’s Louis, who is lives just a few miles from my house who was introduced by a local writer friend. (Read his story here) He’s a Jordanian who loves Jesus and love his country. He introduced me to a gracious missionary couple who minister to Syrian refugees. I’m staying in their house and then celebrating Sunrise Easter Service on Mt. Nebo (the mountain where Moses saw the Promised Land.) with them. They are strangers, but “any friend of Louis’ is a friend of ours.

And then there’s a man who is a high-ranking government official, who is sympathetic to Christians and is eager to show his country’s progress. I’ve been promised that he’ll take me “to visit with “many important people.”

And then there’s you. Hundreds on Facebook and on these pages surrounding me with prayers and encouragement.

I’m overwhelmed. I’m blessed. I’m humbled. Why would these strangers would trust me with their story? Why would the country of Jordan have faith that I would represent their country well, so much faith that they would spend so much to bring me there?

There’s no other explanation,except that God has a story and for whatever reason, I’m supposed to tell it. I can argue with Him, tell Him that He’s crazy. I can give him a list of hundreds of others more qualified. I can deflect and deny and deflate this opportunity. Or I can just accept it for what it is.

I am thinking about Abraham, the first real Pilgrim, who “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

And so go I.

Will I find life in the Dead Sea?

Here are few others who are also going. Please pray for all us — for safety, for vision, for obedience, and that we will see the story.

Will I find life in this dead sea?

The Unlikely Pilgrim: I’m diving in!

Well friends, I have some great news to share.

Later this week, I’ll leave on a long flight to the country of Jordan. I’m going at the request and a guest of the nation’s Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.  As part of a group of 12 writers, we are encouraged to reflect on the country’s claim to be the other Holy Land. They want us to write on not just the landscape, but the people and the culture.

In our company will some of the country’s own government leaders who are working to achieve peace in the Middle East, harmony among the faith groups, and cross-cultural progress.

We’ll also be given audience to the some the nation’s prominent NGO leaders who are working with Iraqi Christian refugees, Christian ministries, and other peaceful-minded groups.

The Jordanian government is flying us into the country, feeding us, housing us, and giving us a fabulous tour of the sites: the Jordan River (where John baptized Jesus), Petra (remember Indiana Jones!), the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo (where Moses saw the promised land), Jerash, Decapolis, Madaba (the Mosaic city), Pella (Jacob’s wrestling spot), and the place of John the Baptist’s last imprisonment – and beheading.

I’ll be spending Easter Sunday (the Eastern church has a different calendar) in a Coptic Christian Church. We’ll visit an Italian hospital that is caring for Iraqi refugee children, and interview local church leaders. I’ll spend time with Iraqi refugees, Greek Orthodox and Catholic believers, and business owners. I’m most interested in the story of how this country, surrounded by madness, stays sane – and protects it’s Christian minority.

It is the Middle East — and Jordan shares some defined borders with neighbors Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. As I’ve slipped this news to friends and family, I can tell right away that they think I’m nuts – or at least a few degrees away from room temperature. But the country has long been a broker in the peace process. King Abdullah is continually working the phones, rolling out the carpet, and bridging the West, the Middle East, Muslim, Jew and Christian. And as a guest of the country, something tells me we’ll be safe.

It will be a fascinating opportunity in a unique time in history. But more than any other time in my life, I feel different. More than any other opportunity, this one rings of something greater. It’s a pilgrimage to a story that I didn’t know. Like the wise men who simply followed a star and asked a few questions, what will I find?

Why me?

So you’re probably asking, “What gives you the privilege?”  It’s true. I’m a sloppy writer, with odd spacing and documents that often scream for a proofreader. I’m not building a big Internet presence and I openly disdain platform-building. And the question you ask sounds like the one I’ve been asking too. “Why me?” I am an unlikely pilgrim in this journey.

I don’t know. I could name a 100 other writers – check that, 1,000 others —  who could step into the role with better skills and a larger audience. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t apply. I didn’t even know the opportunity existed. But thanks to a long-forgotten connection with the Get Religion blog, a fan at the Associated Church Press, and a willingness to jump at the last minute, they found me.

But I don’t want to be like Moses, handing the job off to Aaron. I don’t want my lack of authority, or Klout score, or legions of fans, or links, or likes, or commenters, or readers to stand in the way. The door is open and I’m jumping in.

I don’t even know what I’ll write, and will trust since this offer came out of the blue, that there’s a bigger story that God has in mind.

Preparation

Last week, I me with Louie, a Jordanian who lives near my home. What a wealthy of information

Louis
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he was – and you’ll hear more about him. But for every stop on my journey, he has a friend, or a neice, or a cousin, or a brother. He was raised a Christian in this country and has deep and meaningful roots in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious roots of this county.

While there, I’ll be looking for those who work together – side by side, and yet have different faiths.

Of course, I’m packing – and repacking. And come Thursday, I’ll still forget something.

But I never want to forget this moment, this time of great anticipation. I feel like I’m standing in the great treasury of Petra – and my Father is helping me cross the divide to the Holy Grail.

“Walk by faith”

Walk by faith

Stand by!

(If you are interested, please subscribe here to receive my daily posts while I’m there. You can always opt out.)

Napping in Gethsemane (When apathy and empathy collide)

The prayers were agonizing. They were so intense that red sweat stained his white robe on this blackest of nights.

The sorrow was excruciatingly deep, painful and overwhelming. Jesus said he felt like dying. A pall hung over the olive garden, an unsettling silence punctured only by His agonizing plea to His friends, “Stay here. Keep watch with me.”

Despite the urgency of His appeal, Peter, James and John missed out on the eternal significance of the moment. After all, their bellies were full from the Passover meal. And combined with the dark surroundings and the lateness of hour, sleep came too easily. Their eyes grew heavy, and “they fell into slumber.”

Jesus woke them – probably not with a gentle nudge or a soft tap. He didn’t allow the disciples to roll over and hit the snooze switch. He said in disbelief.  “Couldn’t you stay awake for just a little while?”  He was in an eternal struggle for the very souls of mankind, and here they were, napping in Gethsemane.

My own indifference

My reaction – and perhaps yours, too – is condemnation. Didn’t they know that this was Jesus’ last night? Couldn’t they be there for their friend?

But this story isn’t about a group of first-century slackers who couldn’t keep it together. It’s a novella about me.

I too have been found asleep in the garden. My Christian life is filled with promises to stay awake, but too often, I just nod off. Indifference and complacency mark my apathetic world. I act like I just don’t care. I keep hoping that someone else will fill the gap, that another will take my watch. I pray that other servants will demonstrate Jesus to those around me, while I just get a little more rest.

I’m not always looking for a way out. I’m fully awake for worship. How could I possibly miss that joy and energy? I’m never asleep for the awards ceremony, when others dish out praise for my deeds or my words. And when the soldiers rush the garden, I’m up and awake for a good fight. But most of the time, I just check out.

Reading Christ’s words are one thing, but applying those Red Letters to my life is completely different. It doesn’t come by osmosis. I have to be awake.

napping in the garden

To keep and maintain relationships takes effort. I have to pick up the phone, send a note, keep up communication and actually care. It means I have to be awake.

Other imperfect saints– just like me — make up the Church. Together, we need to work to make it effective. It means I have to be awake.

My workplace is full of those who hurt and need The Answer. If I am called to my vocation, I must be aware of them, I have to be awake.

Jesus knows that living in the real world is hard. He acknowledged as much when he said “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Still, he comes back ­­– repeatedly – and says,

“Watch and pray with me.”

Apathy and empathy are at opposite ends of humanity.

By not napping  through life, we won’t be jolted by the suddenness of death, or the appearance of evil, or the depravity of man because we are aware of the insidious creep of the fall.

When we live awake,  with our eyes open, we begin to see the needs of those around us. We see the tears and can shoulder the burden of sadness. We see the smiles and can join in the celebration.

And finally – fully engaged  — we can  share in the suffering of the garden, the burden of the cross, and the joy of the resurrection together.

Hide and Seek – The Games People Play

As a child, summer games seemed to play out into the last whimper of daylight. We biked, and ran, and threw sticks and chased girls. When we tired of baseball, dirt smudged on our face, we would all gather at Joe’s house for the next phase of our outdoor adventure.Hide and seek.

 

Living in a neighborhood next to the open fields gave us opportunity to hide in the willows, under the broken tree limbs and in the makeshift fort next to Lanny’s house. We could play for hours.

Quickly, one-by-one, we would quickly shout. “Not it.”“Not it.”” Not it.” 

At first, it was a great thrill to be “it.”  I would find the hiding place, like the one behind the couch, slither down into the slot, and then pull a blanket over the top. My friends would clomp clomp clomp by me, my hand jammed in my mouth so they wouldn’t hear my giggles,

Hah! Undetected!

What if I was never found?

And then there was long silence. That was a good sign that I wouldn’t be found. Nervously, I peeked out, secretly hoping for discovery. But in the recesses of my mind came questions, the doubt. Did I do such a good job of getting lost, that I would never be found? Would I ever be discovered? Would they go home and forget the hunt? Would anybody really care?

“David? I don’t know where he is. Last I saw him, he was hiding somewhere.”

As a child it’s a game. As an adult, it’s a professional quest. Some spend a whole lifetime getting lostAnd they do everything they can to keep from getting found.

I have a brother who has been on the run his whole life. I’ve reached out in love, friendship and grace, only to have him pull his hand away in anger and hurt. For a long time, I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t want  to come home, following the bread crumbs of kindness.Then I realized. He wanted to wrap himself in his own blanket of familiarity. “Leave me alone.” So I did. And so has every one else.

Still, I still feel the guilt. Christ left the 99 to come chase me down, and yet I give up so easily.

I’ve walked away

I’ve been lost myself. My path was well-worn, trod by the generations before me and followed by my own sandals. Somewhere I walked away. It was one fork. And then another. And then another. And I just couldn’t find my way back before the Enemy had stolen away my treasure.

The truth is, I was ashamed to be found because I didn’t want the reminder of what I had lost along the way. “Better to be lost and alone, than found and vulnerable.” At least, that was the reasoning.

In retrospect, finding the best hiding spot isn’t really the best way to win.

Have you ever been a runaway?