Why Follow Jesus?

QuestionMarks

Jesus says “Follow me” no fewer than 23 times in the Gospels.

There’s a reason for that.

The poet Dante, in The Divine Comedy, wrote: “Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve wandered off from the path a time or two. So we’re invited to follow Jesus – because we get lost a lot. More often than not, we’re not quite where we belong. More often than not, we’re off course a little -or a lot.

Scripture is full of stories about losing our way, and then being found; it’s one of the great themes of scripture. God eternally calls us back, back to the divine embrace, back to the heart of life with God. So, Jesus issues the invitation: Follow me. Follow me.

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Why Follow Jesus?

Jesus says “Follow me” no fewer than 23 times in the Gospels.

There’s a reason for that.

The poet Dante, in The Divine Comedy, wrote: “Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve wandered off from the path a time or two. So we’re invited to follow Jesus – because we get lost a lot. More often than not, we’re not quite where we belong. More often than not, we’re off course a little -or a lot.

Scripture is full of stories about losing our way, and then being found; it’s one of the great themes of scripture. God eternally calls us back, back to the divine embrace, back to the heart of life with God. So, Jesus issues the invitation: Follow me. Follow me. footprints-child     And now I have to confess: Sometimes following Jesus seems hard. It’s not always hard. Sometimes, like in the beginning of Lent, following Jesus is mysterious and humbling. We began, on Ash Wednesday, by hearing this call to come to God with our whole heart, and we confess that we need God’s grace, and we enter into these 40 days in a spirit of seeking and listening and following the One who invites us to live this abundant life with gladness and passion. We begin to comprehend the immensity of God’s love and the depth of God’s sacrifice and the miracle of redemption, and we consider the vastness of creation and the finitude of out own being and the extraordinary intimacy with which God knows and loves us…well, I can only speak for myself: I think it’s stunning that God loves us, and wants us to be part of all this! So, yes, sometimes following Jesus is wondrous, and beautiful, and inspiring.

And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I remember what Jesus said when people wanted to follow him: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” He told people to “Let the dead bury their own dead” and “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” That doesn’t sound very practical, or convenient, or seeker-friendly, does it? Just as soon as we get into Lent, I find myself looking back, wondering if all this introspection is such a good idea. The stuff is see in my own heart is discouraging at best; more often it’s frustrating, or ugly, or grievous.

And yet, we’re invited to walk with Jesus, just as we are, so that we don’t remain just as are.

In the early church, centuries ago, the new converts would spend 40 days preparing for baptism, 40 days of renewal and recommitment and reconciliation with God and with each other, 40 days of remembering that we live by God’s grace alone, 40 days – to remember Israel’s 40 wilderness years learning to trust God, we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, readying himself for the life to which God called him. So our Lenten journey is 40 days – 40 days, I hope, of hearing and responding to the invitation to journey with Jesus.

So, even though many of our traditions and practices would encourage us to self-denial, at the heart of it, Lent is not so much about giving something up, or adding something on to make us better, or to make us more worthy of God’s love. It’s not about ‘being more religious’ or trying harder to ‘earn’ our salvation. It’s about choosing to be on the journey, to walk with Jesus, to choose a journey toward intimacy with God; it’s about growing God-ward, growing nearer and nearer to the will and very heart of God. It’s about returning home, returning home in the truest and most radical sense of the word.

May your journey be challenging, beautiful, and good, and may it lead you to the heart of God.

http://books.upperroom.org/book/loving-world-god/

How do dogs do that?

I guess I’m a dog person.
Not everyone is a dog person, but I can tell you, my life is richer and better and happier and funnier and maybe even wiser, thanks to a good dog named Beau.

Beau came into my life and heart 12 years ago next week. My sons were grown and had gone off to college, and my then-husband was almost always gone, and our sweet old yellow lab Jesse had died a couple of months before. It was in many ways an empty season; the house was empty, the marriage was empty, and while work and friends and extended family brought lots of gladness, there was a place in my heart that was feeling kind of empty.

One evening I came home to the quiet empty house. Ever the introvert, quiet empty spaces usually soothe me. But on this night, I walked through the door and bumped into the emptiness. In an effort to fill some of the space, I clicked the remote, and found myself watching the big American Kennel Club dog show, and soon realized I was crying. I missed my kids, and I missed what I had hoped for in marriage, and I deeply missed the dog.

The next day, when I told my friend Linda about it, she said, “Well, maybe you should go to the SPCA and look at the dogs.”

“I’m not ready”, I said.

“Well, you could just look“, she answered. “I’ll go with you.”

A couple of days later, we went to look.

And there was Beau, looking right back at me.

I tried to ignore him. He was in a little pen of little puppies, and I thought it would be more “meaningful”, somehow, if I adopted a grown dog. Everyone loves puppies, I reasoned, but grown dogs need homes too, and besides, it takes a lot of time and energy to raise a puppy. I wasn’t sure I had time and energy to give. And anyway, I reminded myself, I’m just looking.

The nice SPCA lady introduced me to several grown dogs. It was kind of a canine speed-dating experiment. But there was no magic, and anyway I was only there to look. On the way out, I passed the pen with the little puppies, where the card said, “RETRIEVER MIX”. I just looked, really.

Beau looked right into my eyes. I think it’s safe to say we both felt the magic. He was teeny and fluffy and adorable. And he had chosen me. What could I do?

“Golden retrievers really make great pets”, the nice lady said.

The rest of the story is obvious. Except, as it turned out, Beau wasn’t a golden retriever. Maybe, somewhere in his mysterious ancestry, there was a retriever. But he resolutely refused ever to retrieve.

He grew to be a pretty big guy, about 60 pounds, but he barked like a beast, and he was loyal and protective and sweet beyond description. He was still in his first year when he and I left the empty marriage, and moved into a little efficiency apartment that I called my “sufficiency”. We had some sketchy neighbors, but I was safe with a dog who could bark like that. We ran together every morning, walked the neighborhood every evening, cried when we needed to, and learned to do life again.

We eventually moved into a condo, and then finally a house with a yard. He never waivered in his affection or his protection. Day in and day out, he kept mail carriers from invading our home: every day he barked, every day they walked away. He knew, though, that if I let someone in the door, he was off of guard duty, and he switched to nuzzle mode.

When we began to date a little (and it was “we”: love me, love my dog) he was a dependable judge of character and temperament. Some men never made it past the first introduction. A few were accepted, warily and a little jealously. Tom was the only one Beau really liked. And eventually, they fell in love too.

Last week, Tom and I had to say goodbye to our old dog Beau. He taught us so much. He showed us what gratitude looks like: every meal was a feast! every walk was an adventure! every tummy rub was a lovefest!

My friend (and Beau’s friend) Donna sent these wise words:

Animals teach us about unconditional love, and they often devote their entire lives to this purpose. Their love is not dependent on our behavior. It is strong and unwavering. We do not need to earn it. It is freely given and not arbitrarily withdrawn. We can know this love and feel it at at deep level.”                                                     Brian Weiss, M.D, Miracles Happen

How do dogs do that? I don’t know, but I want to learn to live like that. I want to be grateful and eager and fiercely loyal. I want to love completely. I want to learn to love like that, and one of my best teachers has moved on.

poster bo

QuestionMarks

“What are you looking for?”

New people, new place, new procedures… that’s part of the process when you’re in a new position, right? (Oops – looks like this sentence was brought to you by the letter P!)

So, a few days ago I wandered into the workroom to look for some paperclips and notepads. On my way down the hall, I stopped and talked to some of my new co-workers. People are so interesting! I met one of our faithful volunteers; he’s been helping out weekly for 16 years, and always has a joke to share. I asked about the photos and the art lining the hallway, and chatted for a bit with the receptionist.

Then I stepped into the workroom, and apparently my (clueless) expression gave me away. “What are you looking for?”, asked a colleague.

We laughed when I confessed that I couldn’t remember. “But I’ll know it when I see it!”

Truth is, I’d already found it: connections, conversations, life shared. That’s what I’m usually really looking for anyway. Paper clips are handy; people are essential.

“What are you looking for?”

The question lingers through my commute, and as I stop to pick up groceries. What are these people around me looking for?

U2’s classic “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” played in my mind.

My commute takes me past a big mall, and the parking lot seems always packed. Who’s in there, and what are they looking for?

Every Sunday, the church where I serve fills with children and parents, young adults and “mature adults” (I know some who aren’t!), the well-dressed and the messy, healthy and infirm, and I wonder: What are they looking for? What are they finding?

What about you? What are you looking for? Where are you looking, and who shares the journey? What do you long for, and how will you know when you find it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

QuestionMarks

Sometimes I wonder… What am I waiting for?

QuestionMarks

What are you waiting for?

It seemed like a redundant question, as I was standing in the check-out line, “obviously” waiting for my turn to pay for my groceries. But, when I heard the question, I realized that my waiting  mind had wandered and my eyes had gone to the magazine rack and a cover photo of a beach cottage had  captured my attention and my imagination, and I had drifted into a brief but delightful daydream of white sand and blue water….

“What are you waiting for?”

I smiled and apologized and stepped to the register. But later, on the way home, I kept hearing the question, and I hear it still.

What are you waiting for?

Do you feel like you spend a lot of time waiting? This week I waited in traffic lines and grocery lines, I waited for my oil to be changed, I waited with…

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QuestionMarks

What are you waiting for?

It seemed like a redundant question, as I was standing in the check-out line, “obviously” waiting for my turn to pay for my groceries. But, when I heard the question, I realized that my waiting  mind had wandered and my eyes had gone to the magazine rack and a cover photo of a beach cottage had  captured my attention and my imagination, and I had drifted into a brief but delightful daydream of white sand and blue water….

“What are you waiting for?”

I smiled and apologized and stepped to the register. But later, on the way home, I kept hearing the question, and I hear it still.

What are you waiting for?

Do you feel like you spend a lot of time waiting? This week I waited in traffic lines and grocery lines, I waited for my oil to be changed, I waited with a friend in a hospital lobby, I waited for the coffee to finish brewing, I waited for the dog to do his thing, I waited … and waited… and waited “on hold” for a real person to talk to at the airlines. Sometimes I felt impatient, sometimes anxious, sometimes eager, sometimes angry. Some of the waiting time was productive, some of it seemed “wasted”. Some of it was daydreamed away to a beach.

Maybe there’s a delicate line between “waiting” and “anticipating”. A few weeks ago, Tom and I rose early, to see the sunrise. Our waiting was filled with expectancy, with palpable anticipation, and it when the sun came up “like thunder” (thank you, Kipling!) over the dunes, our knees and hearts melted at the beauty. It was a rich waiting, full of hope.

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Sometimes, on the other hand, we wait – and come to disappointment. Too often, I sit with a family as they plan the memorial service for a loved one, and again and again I hear that “He was on the cusp of retirement, just waiting for the opportunity to spend more time with kids and grandkids.” Too often I hear, “She was just waitingfor the opportunity to travel and  explore new places together.” There’s a deep longing sadness in their voices, the waiting ended but the dream undreamt .

What are you waiting for?

Too often I hear myself say that I’m “just waiting” for more time to read/be with family/ exercise/ travel/write. As if by “just waiting”, something will suddenly happen to throw the switch that provides the time and opportunity to do the things that matter!

What in the world am I waiting for?!?

Isn’t today the day? Isn’t this the one day we have, really? Isn’t today the gift we’ve been given, to be who we’re created us to be, and to do what we’re inspired us to do?

What are you waiting for?

 

 

What are you doing there?

Seems to me that life is mostly a journey, and mostly not the one I might have mapped out for myself. I don’t know about you, but for me, the journey I’m on is far more interesting than the one I would have planned.

Have you ever found yourself in a place you didn’t expect to be? Maybe literally – like the (multiple) times I’ve taken the wrong exit and “found myself” lost. Or maybe figuratively – like the (multiple) times I’ve failed to listen to the Internal Voice, and found myself in confusion and loneliness.

Or maybe, like me, you’ve found yourself in a wonderfully unexpected place, like falling in love when you didn’t see it coming. Or getting to work in a great place with great people. Or just finding deep joy in the simplest of moments.

A few weeks ago, Tom and I were in Morocco, and on the road from Marrakech to Essouaira, we came upon a herd of goats. Not that odd, right?

Except these goats were in trees.

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Yes. Goats. In trees. Argan trees, to be specific.

Not what I expected to see.

What are you doing there? I wondered out loud. What are you doing there? What are you doing there? What are you doing there?

There they were, happy as … well, happy as a goat up a tree. They were munching on the apparently tasty argan nuts, looking very content. The ones near the top looked very pleased with themselves. A few were really out on a limb, looking very confident. Some were looking at us, as if we were the curiosity, and some were oblivious.

But none of them seemed at all anxious. They were fully present, savoring the rich flavor of the argan nuts, just being goats. In trees.

Maybe they don’t know that goats don’t climb into trees. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’ve learned to be exactly who they are, exactly where they are, to savor the gifts of moment and place with their companions.

Today I feel like a goat in a tree: not sure how I got here, but so glad, so grateful.

What about you? Where are you today? And what are you doing there?

So much to learn from goats, being goats. In trees.