The Disillusionment of Holy Week

Growing up, I never heard of “Holy Week.” Now, it’s all the rage. I am left to wonder why? As a child, I just anticipated the big day of Easter. I knew nothing about the week before. Now, as an adult, I know that I cannot fully grasp the day of Easter without being grasped by the week before Easter. Perhaps this is why I can fully realize this week as a Holy Week.Our world has become so secular; so filled with eggs and bunnies, robins and nests, chocolate and brightly colored baskets. We want all the color, comfort and cozy things of life without the pain and passion of these days of “Holy Week.” The week before Easter has nothing to do with bright color; nothing to do with bunnies; nothing to do with celebration.Holy Week is a journey of seven days and seven long nights to examine the pain and passion of Jesus. It’s about examining unmet expectations; shattered dreams and painful realizations of disillusionment. When one embraces one's own betrayal; dashed dreams and discarded illusions we've clung to in life, then we are ready for a deeper meaning of Easter.All the people around Jesus were dashed to the ground, along with their dreams and illusions, because of this week. Each one: Mary, Peter, Judas, Lazarus, Martha—all had their personal hopes go bankrupt. Each faced a disillusionment of their own seismic proportions. Each person lost something. Peter lost his loyalty. Thomas lost his faith. Judas lost his life. Mary lost her son. Each day of this week became a new ground zero of faith and failure; betrayal and conviction; courage and cowards. Holy week is holding on to what we have lost in life--or will lose soon. There are no exemptions for some kind of loss. None. Every person must walk through their own holy week of loss, disappointment and bewilderment. These are the very things that prepare us for a new opening in our lives--even the opening of a tomb.On Thursday in particular, it was a day of the bottom falling out of the sky. This happened to us, just today. We had hoped of spending our Easter days with a couple of our sons and their families. Our grandchildren were coming. We found a small house at the beach to hold us. They found a house to hold them. It was all set. Then, it came-- a phone call of Maundy Thursday proportions. There house fell through and a phone call brought the shocking news of a tightly held illusion going south. They were told that their house was double booked and they could not come.When the news came, I at first felt a lunge of panic---my hopes of finding sea shells by the sea shore with my grandkids were harpooned and I was left sinking and felt my dreams drowning in the high tide. We would be alone. We would be by ourselves. A shattered dream--again.But my illusions of Easter are pitiful in comparison to Mary—the mother of Jesus. The son she bore in her womb would soon be crucified and she would stand at the cross as she stood when that angel's message pierced her virgin soul. How Mary did it, is how we all must learn to do it--to do life--to endure and to overcome--for this is the real message of every Easter.I had a Mary moment on Maundy Thursday when that phone call came from my son. I mustered courage to say, “All is not lost. Something will open up.” And it did. Another house came open due to someone elses cancellation and alas, my grands and my sons and their wives will come. It will be Easter after all. There will be sea shelling and eggs and crab benedict to boot.You and I stand this week in a week that truly is holy. Each day as we move close to the grave opening up—which is far, far, far better than a house at the beach opening up, everything in our lives will change.May the disappointments, betrayal, shattered dreams, stings of the many deaths of our journies, converge to a Blessed Easter--a day of every tomb opening for us because of the opening of Jesus' tomb that very holy morn.But until then--until Easter, we must wait in our shattered dreams.

It Takes a Long Time to Grow a Salad

SaladIMG_0029It takes a long, long time to make a salad like this. Let me explain. In 1997, I woke up in the middle of the night and it was, as if I heard an audible Voice telling me to get a pad a paper and to start writing. It wasn’t really audible but it was as sure as a message telling me to do something that I have ever heard. So,  I got up. I picked the yellow pad on my desk and began to write these words, “It will be called the Potter’s Inn.” What followed was about an hour of note-taking where I wrote down the vision of Potter’s Inn ministry. That document became for us, as important as the Magna Charta or the Declaration of Independence. We have it to this day and still refer to it in times of discouragement.The vision was clear and precise. There would be an actual, physical place where those who were weary and tired would come for a respite. The journey of life and faith is hard and challenging and ever since the beginning of Jesus’ teachings, there were always “places” where people would come for renewal, guidance and rest.The English novelist J.R.R. Tolkien described such a place in  famous, Lord of the Rings where he gives words to such a place. It would be  “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or storytelling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.”  Gwen and I have long wanted our own Potter's Inn retreat to resemble Tolkien's description. We sat out to live this vision.  Today, 19 years  later, people from over 80 nations have come to Potter's Inn.  Some tired; some needy; some thirsty but all in search of a resting place for their own journey.This was the beginning of Potter’s Inn. Step by step for the past 19 years, Gwen and I put this vision and transformed it to what is now known as The Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge, a small, beautiful retreat nestled in the  Colorado Rockies. A part of the vision that we followed called for a garden where guests and staff would go to pick fresh greens, pull carrots from the good Earth and harvest tomatoes from vines that were ready to give up their goods. 19 years later; 19 years from when this first vision was “seen”—today Gwen and I picked the first fruits—the very first vegetables from the Potter’s Inn garden. We came home. We made a fresh salad composed of tender lettuce; fresh spinach, young orange carrots and a few other goodies. We sat down on our porch and it felt like church. I was overwhelmed with the beauty in my bowl. I was humbled knowing that it took 19 years to make this salad.Eugene Peterson describes a journey like this as a “long obedience in the same direction.” I can give witness to the fact that our long obedience in the same direction has been long; been one of obeying the Vision and the Vision giver and with a resolve to keep going forward. At times, we wanted to quit--for it has been so uphill.  When people come to our retreat, they are often amazed at the beauty but they do not know the long, hard winters both physically and emotionally, as well as financially, we have endured. They do not know the people who have come and gone--the sheer amount of work it has taken to put legs to this vision. Its been a lot of plowing so to speak. It's been a lot of hoeing. It's been a lot of work.In our day of instant, quick and immediate returns, we have perhaps forgotten the long obedience needed not only for a vision to be fulfilled but for a life to be lived well.Luke wrote a biography of the life and teachings of Jesus and Luke described the childhood days of Jesus by saying, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor (Luke 2:52). Jesus indeed had a long obedience. As his years increased so did his wisdom. As he lived well, he was graced with favor by both people and by God. It was a long obedience.  Through trials, testing and tribulation, we see the seeds Jesus himself planted. some have taken root in me and some in you. What he began, we now are feasting upon today. It took him sacrifice and for all who persevere today, sacrifice is not an option--it is a requirement.I am thinking as I write this, of my grandchildren. They have a long obedience in front of them. The journey is going to be uphill, hard and challenging. They will not be able to fast-track their formation. They will not be able to get all they will need at “fast-food” joints. It takes a long, long time to grow character. My grandchild, still in utero, will need to go through pain and birth and pain again many, many times to form their soul. They will have to be tested. Their morals; their choices; their beliefs will have to be tried by fire and tempered by the anvil of failure and forgiveness. Mistakes will happen. Failure will come. Contentment will be learned.   Through all of this and more, character will be forged. It will take a long, long time.It takes a long time to grow a marriage. Everyone knows the wedding is the simple part; the easy part and perhaps in the end, the least expensive part of growing a healthy marriage. Some lessons a couple will learn will be very expensive to learn. There will be unlearning and re-learning and transformation. The man will fail and ask for forgiveness. The woman will succumb to a force she may have never known; never admitted to nor ever wanted. But through time; in time and by time, the heart of the couple will grow deeper in love than the innocent love expressed on their wedding day. One day, one partner will lay his spouse down. It will be a giving up that is unimaginable to those of us who have never done this kind of laying down. Couples who hit bumps in the road through failure, unfaithfulness, and other collapses can, indeed find a new place of beginning yet again.On my 60th birthday, I will never forget the horrible fight that erupted between Gwen and me. I said to her in utter hurt and frustration, "Gwen, we've been married a very long time. You should have known this about me by now."  I was angry, disappointed and totally frustrated that I was having to explain what I thought was a basic like and dislike.  As we cool down, we learned how much we still have to learn about each other. We learned how deeply we still needed to really listen to each other. It was yet, another turning point for us in our maturing marriage.It takes a long time for a preacher to learn how to become a pastor and not just a teacher. Lessons are easy to spin off each week. But to earn the mantle of being a pastor is sacred honor that comes only in time where trust is nurtured and wisdom is cultivated. Getting the degree is the easy part. Earning the trust is far more challenging.It takes a long time for a entrepreneur to take a breather from the uphill climb of starting a business; of launching a new product. Nine of out ten new businesses fail. Nine out of ten new churches fail.  Nine out of ten partnerships fail. There is a lot of failing before we find our sweet spot and recognize what true success really is all about.It takes a long, long time for a boy to become a man; for a girl to become a woman; for a youth to grow their soul as well as their bodies. A soul tends to mature far slower than does a physique of an athlete.  The literal meaning of "education" means to pull out what is already inside. It is not the amassing of information that leads to greatness. It is all about transformation.  No one who knows everything recognizes that they need to be transformed. Only the broken beg for change and forgiveness--the proud never do and never will.The Bible gives this kind of notion a word called, “perseverance.” To preserve is to endure; to live with determination; to have the resolve to not quit; not give up but to stick to the task until it is complete. We learn through the writings of Peter--a man who failed many times as a leader--that perseverance is a true virtue. It is something to be rewarded and the reward really comes only to those who do not quit.  Our salad was our reward.Our salad tasted as if it were the bread and wine of communion. Just like we hear by the pastors and priests, the bread had to be broken and the wine had to be poured out—both symbols of loss and a seeming dead end. But as we chewed on this leafy, green eucharist for our dinner, we were transported to a place of profound thanksgiving. We bowed—we wanted to bow—because God did this. Through the 19 years, through the cancer; through the death of other dreams; through the walking by faith and not by sight, we saw, yet another piece of the vision fulfilled. I placed a fork in my salad and slowly lifted the spinach, lettuce, carrots drizzled with a homemade dressing, I was so, very, very happy—do deeply content.To be honest, I would have to tell you that not all of the Vision I received that night has happened. Some of it has and I still find myself wondering how in the world will what is not yet—will actually become. Will it happen in my life time? Am I only the one who planted and there remains another who will come water and yet another who will see the harvest. I am old enough now---through my long obedience to trust that my part is really but one, small part. As a wise man once said, “We are but the light bulb and our real job know is to just stay screwed in.” I like that and it makes sense.This sacred salad serves as a moment in time for me to see; to have and to enjoy a true respite on the journey. I can still taste this sacred salad. Can you? 

Dissecting Our Appetite for Life

We drink a dangerous cocktail which leaves us drunk without knowing what really satisfies us!We have concocted a dangerous elixir that has intoxicated us into living a drunken stupor and we call it "life." This dangerous cocktail may be different for each one of us but at the core—all hazardous libations have at the core: the quest for power; the longing for esteem and the demands for security. This unholy trinity of concoctions are as old as Satan’s three temptation of Jesus. Yet 2000 years later, we still face a daily battle to find a sober way to live well and lead well.In my work, I see pastors, missionaries, doctors, teachers and small business owners bellying up to the bars of life which over promise and under-deliver when it comes to what makes us genuinely happy and soulfully satisfied.We have heard Jesus’ words but we will not heed them. He said it plainly—as if to jar us back to our senses so that we could truly know how to live with a sense of robust sanity. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled—satisfied” are his exact words found in Matthew 5:6. This particular attitude for living sanely flies in the face of American culture which includes leaders in both the church and the marketplace sphere.What are you thirsty for right now?Our hunger and thirst should be for something so different from the drink we are drinking and the bread we eat that never seems to satisfy us. There is a keen difference in knowing what will gratify us but has no possibility of satisfying us. Jesus’ beatitude is a knife that sharply cuts through our confusion and it is really important to what does really satisfy a human being?Jesus is poking around in what our appetite centers on in this life? What are we craving and desiring in the gut of our soul? Our appetite is more than what we are in the mood for on a Friday night after a long week of work and demands. Our appetite is that which will truly sustain us---nourish us—make us healthy or addicted.We tend to have Jesus as an “add-on” like a pickle on our hamburger or chopped onions on a grilled brat. But Jesus will not set himself up as someone who will simply spice up our lives. No, Jesus sets the record straight for us right here by telling us plainly that he is really interested in what we are yearning for; desiring and longing to put at the core of our lives.The way Jesus puts it, makes us sit with our hunger and thirst more than we tend to do. In our fast food nation, we can so easily have a little bit of Jesus and then move on and get back to our demanding lives. So he turns our tables upside down though, when he says that what we hunger for really matters in this life—it matters so much in fact that our hunger will actually determine if our deepest needs will ever be met.We live so superficially full—filling our lives with so many condiments that we may actually be missing out on that which really—and truly---satisfies us.So many choices and so much confusion...My health journey for the past 18 months has forced me to look at my own attitudes about food more than I ever have in my life. Through a set of wake-up calls, I looked into the mirror and saw someone who had drifted; someone who had lived to eat; someone who had never really looked at the DNA of my appetite. Now, sixty pounds lighter, I face this question more head on than I never knew possible. My transformation is this—to shift to really know that I am what I eat. If I eat unhealthy—then I am unhealthy. But as I shift the paradigm in how I look at my desire and what really fills me and makes me healthy—then the shift happens.My doctor is watching me closely. My blood does not lie. The numbers in my blood report reveal this shift that is happening and thankfully, for me, it’s all in the right direction.[tweetthis]Jesus is offering us a paradigm shift that will change us; make us deeply satisfied and alter the trajectory of our lives. But it begins with what we desire, long for and yearn for in our appetite.[/tweetthis]Jesus unpackages this by giving us the word “righteousness”—a word we actually know little about today because of the moral chaos we are in.   To hunger for what is right and true and to develop an appetite for rightness and truth is at the core here. And this is where it gets hard.We our elixirs  we drink in our churches and businesses have altered our sense of reality. (Yes, the church and its leaders are not immune from getting drunk on power, size and more).  We’re not really sure anymore about what is right and what really is the truth? In our efforts to not offend anyone, have we now sat at a banqueting table feasting on our right to choose; our right to decide our own gender; our right to our own opinion about what really does satisfy us? This is no feast when we have omitted the things in life which make a person truly healthy and truly able to live well.We are not living well but feasting on everything and every opinion. We seem to be fasting from doing what is right to doing what is popular. Living in a right way has never been popular—it wasn’t in Jesus’ day and it will not be ours.But our own satisfaction is at stake here. Jesus says it plainly. We will never be satisfied if we feast on all that gratifies us. In my own healthy journey, I am a witness to this. By living in ignorance I was in fact abusing my body. I had to learn. I had to do the most major paradigm shift of my life. I was confused about what really would bring me satisfaction. I lived for decades thinking eating all that I wanted was the satisfaction I was seeking. But know, I am learning more and the shift continues to happen.I think this shift is what Jesus is after in this beatitude---a shift in our understanding about what really brings satisfaction to us as modern, successful, busy and educated folks. We have some unlearning to do and it begins with this question: What are you hungry and thirsty for in your life.Answer this question and you will be on your way to more satisfaction than you though possible.