A Song for the Prodigals

Arise, cry out in the night,
At the beginning of the watches;
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.
Lift your hands toward Him
For the life of your young children,
Who faint from hunger at the head of every street.
(Lamentations 2:19)

We are living in a time of unimagined and unimaginable change.

For countless numbers of young people, their inner self, that person created in the image of the Shining One, has never completely known full release, or surrender, or free joyful connection. It has always been dogged and pursued by a clinging to desire in the infantile crying for indulgence.

There is in every person a longing to be cherished, so that we might be free to express the glory that throbs within us, that exists because we are each an echo of a magnificent, originating Proclamation. We all, with force and gentle fury of tears, and aching longing, stretch and reach for truth, truth unfettered, the real Truth, Truth that reaches to me and tells me I can be free, that I can shake off the clinging accoutrements of flesh tainted by the world and thoughts corrupted by the customs and rituals of a world that has been twisted and tainted.

We try to make sense of our lives and our world through the stories we hear, the stories we tell, the stories we have lived and hope to live. We try, often without success, to listen to each other’s stories, because to hear stories that are true, stories that expose the grit and gristle underneath our skin, is to be alive and connected and aware and comprehending. Through comprehension comes compassion—the “suffering with”—and the opportunity to love.

And so, in our attempts to understand we reach for beauty and goodness and justice, and we are surprised to find that beneath our grasping is a Voice. What is this inner Voice that silences loud clamor in its quietude; that is more powerful than bitterness in its gentleness, that lays claim to me in its respectful wooing, that is undeniably insistent in its profound patience? My heart tears, and burns, and weeps for the purity offered even as other parts of me launch out, or lash out, in confusion and desire that has been twisted into self-satisfaction. And in that is the struggle, and the shame, and the opportunity for overcoming. In that is the invitation into intimacy, which is holiness. In that is the call to follow and surrender.

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

I always thought the surrender had to proceed the follow: a sort of entry into the deeper paths of discipleship, (or even the primary, introductory path, if truth be known). But I have come to learn that the “follow” precedes the “surrender.” I don’t mean that we must retain our independence until we determine if we are willing to belong to our Creator. I simply mean that there are standards we simply cannot meet; there is a call we simply cannot attain to; there is a love required that we are insufficient to give; there is a commitment and a holiness that we are woefully unprepared for and unable to even desire, until we have made the decision to simply trust and follow. He, the Shepherd, can be trusted. He can be believed. He can be obeyed, and because we are watching him, seeing where he goes, listening to the Voice, he has promised that he will, in truth, be available to the deep caverns within each of us where our little egos and fragile identities curl and hide, then stretch and preen and posture, and then in sudden terror pull back and curl again. We are turtles retreating into shells of pity, of remorse, of shame and guilt and fear.

We pretend to have genuine complaints against all the world and all its evil, but we are actually aware that the evil comes mainly from within; it is simply easier to condemn and to convict all the others out there  for wickedness that begins with me. But anguish of soul, the sweet and aching pain of a promise that I can dimly perceive, but never quite attain, is the force and the enticement that draws me on the path I wish to follow, even as other tattered and smelly enticements beckon and even capture for a time. And once again, the ugliness of pig’s food brings me to my senses, and I declare that I will return again to my Father’s house, where there is rich food to spare. The promise of that home, and the recognition of a beauty that I truly desire, is why I return again, and again, and again. Selfishness seeks regency; but the more I turn back and follow yet again, and relinquish my grasp on my own desires, seeking to live under the care of the One greater than all the stars, and be led into green pastures beside still waters, then I am able to look and see what my heart has always longed for. Then I behold the face that is always fully beholding me, though I only perceive dimly even as I run other comforts, behaving as if I were a madman.

But he beckons again, and calls again, “Follow Me.” And that is enough.

By the Hill Path

This too is worship:

­—on rise of earth and scattered rock
and gentle roll of pastured hillock,
verdant soldiers bent by breath
uncurl, and stand erect to gaze

upon their milky-headed sisters
aglow with covenantal cluster;
iridescence dancing to
the rhythm of creation singing praise.

Who(se) Are You?

“Wow. Look at this! This is an aspen. You can tell it’s an aspen because of the way it is.” The Neature Guy, Episode One.

If you recognize the really neat quote above, then you are familiar with Lenny Pepperbottom and his series of silly (and very funny) videos on YouTube. It’s a silly statement, but like all silly statements, sometimes within them you can uncover truth. You can determine what a tree is by the “way it is”: it’s appearance, habitat, type of leaves and bark, etc.

You can also tell about a person because of they way he or she is. (I’m not referring here to taking a posture of criticism or judgment.) Does the person live vibrantly, with a sense of expectancy and hope? Or does the individual trudge through life, barely existing, waiting for a joy that never really appears?

History has long been made by men and women who live with passion, and courage, and hope, regardless of circumstances and irrespective of their abilities and talents. These are heroes who have prevailed in the midst of dreadful calamities, or who have overcome severe personal disabilities, or have chosen to discard lives of privilege to serve others selflessly. We honor such people for their extraordinary accomplishments and their indomitable spirit. We wish we could be like them.

Of course, I am ordinary. You are too. But we all desire to be heroes, which is why our culture has diluted the concept, the word itself, so that every small act of kindness or performance of civic duty is now referred to as “heroic.” We are heroes if we volunteer to feed people at a homeless shelter once a month or we pay our taxes on time. These are good things to do, but I don’t think it feeds the longing for the heroic that stirs within each of us.

I have good news for us. We belong to the Hero of heroes, and in his eyes we, too, are heroes. You belong to Jesus. So do I. Maybe that sounds crazy, because you don’t see him as anything other than a Jewish teacher who lived millennia ago. But it doesn’t change the truth that God the Son, the Word, is the Creator of everything that exists; nothing was made that he did not make. That means you, me, squirrels, elephants, blue whales, oak trees, the Himalayan mountain range, the earth, the sun, quasars, black holes, super spiral galaxies, superstrings, Higgs boson particles. Go up and out, further and bigger and deeper into infinity; or down and in, burrowing into the tiniest infinity; God is there beyond it all: reaching far beyond the most infinite expanse; existing in detail below the most infinitely tiny quantum vibration.

This great personal God created you, and he created you for wonder. You were created to be a wonder. You have a purpose. You are not an accident.

We hear that often in our culture nowadays. It is common parlance in all sorts of “reality” shows and therapeutic sound bites and feel-good social media posts. “This is what I was born to do,” we hear people declare, whether the “this” is singing or acting or playing baseball or forming corporations or flying jets or mud wrestling. Something within all of us speaks to us from the deep places: “There is more.

Why the relentless drive? And why do we think we were “made” for anything, “born” for any particular purpose? The drive to excel, to exceed our limitations, to throw ourselves headlong into a great and noble adventure that takes out outside and beyond ourselves, is a part of our human condition.

I find no explanation of that, except that God made men and women in his image, and placed eternity and a realization of that great and noble identity within each of us.

Much about our present world condition argue against this. That doesn’t make it less true. I won’t argue that it is hard for many of us to believe there is something significant about each of us. It doesn’t appear to be true. But deep inside, each of us knows it is true.

And, just like the aspen tree in the silly video I quoted, you can tell you are made for something more, something wonderful, because of the way you are. What do you dream of? When do you truly come alive? How do you see yourself living for something greater and grander than some mundane day-to-day existence? Perhaps those dreams and ideas are markers placed into your very soul by a loving Father who desires for you to flourish and know his goodness and lovingkindness as you reach higher in passion and zeal to accomplish more than you ever dared to dream.

When you are alive and flourishing under the mighty hand of God, led by his good and gracious Spirit, you are living authentically and have more to give than you thought possible. When you live this way, you will not be dismayed by setbacks nor seduced by successes. You will not cease advancing in the face of turmoil or shrink back to find tranquility. The adventure before you beckons, and you do not fear the unknown or long for the soft couch of the familiar. Frederick Buechner wrote: “Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

Reach out to Jesus and discover who you are. We will look at you and say “I can tell you are a child of God because of the way you are.”

“All Milk, Adonai!”

A couple of weeks ago, my wife, our daughter and son-in-law, and I did some Facebook Live broadcasts during Passover, to honor the time of remembrance when God performed a great miracle of deliverance, freeing his people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Under the watchful recording from our cell-phone camera, we sang worship songs and took communion each night to celebrate the beauty of our Savior’s miracle when he passed from death to life, enabling all humanity to be delivered from the bondage of slavery in sin.

On the final evening, a friend of ours commented “Toda lecha, Adonai!” The English translation of this Hebrew expression is “Thank you, Lord!”

Thank you, indeed. How can any of us ever express enough gratitude for the mercy and gracious kindness of God expressed through Jesus, our Lord?

But I noticed something interesting. Below the comment, Facebook offered me a chance to have the expression translated. For fun, I clicked the link. It informed me that our friend had written “All milk, Adonai!”

The algorithm (or whatever computer magic is used for such tasks) thought our friend had written in Spanish, not Hebrew.

I got a chuckle from that, even as I began thinking. How often do we allow social media to translate and define our lives and experiences, our thoughts and the expressions of our hearts? We write something, or post a photo, and suddenly the whole world is invited to comment and critique whatever we have released. Our messages, as well as the intent of our hearts, are suddenly filtered for consumption and translated for other people to read by the “algorithm” of human prejudice and opinion.

The translation may be unintelligible or silly or comical—such as turning “thank you” into “all milk.” But far too often, translators with preconceptions and bitterness determine they will find secrets dark and sinister in your closet. What you say often can, and will, be turned against you.

Hence, the tragic results in some lives from “cyber bullying.” In our case, Facebook’s translation was funny; it also was not incorrect, depending on your preconceived worldview. “Toda lecha” would be translated “all milk” if our friend was communicating in Spanish. But in this case, the meaning was completely wrong, because the intention of the person communicating was not conveyed correctly.  Improper “perceptions” based on a faulty assumption led to an utterly incorrect translation.

So it is when we allow social media to influence and inform our perceptions of truth, of “real” reality, of what genuine love looks like and what truly constitutes a life that is good and flourishing.

And so it is when we—unique individuals who in truth have been created by a loving God to reflect his image—allow social media to inform our perceptions of ourselves and our worth (or lack thereof).  These platforms are not “wrong” or “bad” when used properly and kept in proper perspective. But when our lives become focused on what we see or perceive through these filters, something gets twisted and our thoughts become subtly and increasingly distorted.

There is nothing new or groundbreaking in what I am writing. Much has been written about this, to the point that I am stating the obvious. And yet, social media continues to dominate the thinking and outlook of multiple millions of individuals. We continue to take social and intellectual cues from our daily Twitter feeds or Instagram posts or Facebook alerts. Dependence on such facile sounding boards will cause us to grovel at the feet of public opinion and harsh pronouncements; we will not be delivered from evil, but instead led into temptation to adjust our lives to become beautiful and appealing in everyone else’s eyes.

Facebook, and platforms like it, can be wonderful tools. But they are only tools. You can use a hammer to drive nails and build beautiful homes. You can use the same hammer to murder your neighbor.


As a public service, in keeping with our commitment to protect the urbane and literate members of western civilization, we offer the following menacing threat (sorry!) intimidating warning (no, no, no, that’s not right either…) GENTLE CORRECTION regarding apostrophe’ use; or more accurately, misuse.

Which of the following sample sentences are incorrect?

  1. I really want to go. How many car’s should we take?
  2. I love it when a garage sale has lot’s of good stuff.
  3. My favorite animal’s are wombat’s.
  4. All the teacher’s at s’chool s’hared lunche’s with their ‘s’tu’d’ent’s’.’

If you answered number three, you are right. Wombats aren’t anybody’s favorite animal!

No, really, all the above examples are a display of apostrophe’ misuse–especially the fourth, which appears to have been written by an inebriated buffalo.

Now pay attention:



really, this is serious stuff………

One of the uses of the apostrophe is to indicate possession (no, not the demonic kind).

Like this:

Since we are going to the store, why not take Bob’s car? 
Uh, that is the dog’s bone you are chewing on.

See? The car belongs to Bob.
Why are you gnawing a bone on the floor? Anyway, it belongs to the dog.

So, let us review:
If there are several people named Bob: Look at all the Bobs.
If there is only one Bob, and he has a car: That is Bob’s car.
If a pack of canines runs through your yardUh oh. Those dogs look hungry.
If you are chewing a pre-gnawed bone: Hey stupid! Get your own. That is the dog’s!

Enough to learn for now. More apostrophe fun later.

But remember to start using them correctly:

 I’m not kidding.

Don’t Give Up

During this time of enforced hibernation around the world, it can be tempting to lay down the dreams of a “better world” that many of us have, because we’re bombarded by articles that tell us everyone is going to get sick and die (I may be slightly over exaggerating) and that the world will never be the same again. We will probably never again hug, or see strangers smile, or shake hands in greeting (let alone greet with a “holy kiss” as the Bible speaks of).

But, despite all the confusion and the relentless proclamation of fear and doom, It is important, even vital, that we recall to our minds and have hope that God’s mercies are never truncated, and he never forgets about us or this entire globe that he created, along with the rest of the universe. I, for one, am determined to remain alive and aware, holding on to being a dreamer. Christians belong to a kingdom where impossible dreams become experienced reality; an expanse ruled by the Ultimate Dreamer. We can allow ourselves to be chastened, comforted, encouraged, astonished with the wonder and beauty that exists in the romantic, utopian landscape Jesus created by offering himself as the penalty for all sin and rebellion, and in doing so, made all things new. Scoff and declare me quixotic: If this is indeed an allegory, then I am privileged to play a part in the extended metaphor.

I spent years afraid of failure, afraid of humiliation, afraid of disappointment. In the meantime, I failed to pursue abilities and talents that were bestowed upon me, and found that to be a clinging, embarrassing fear and a bitter disappointment.

To live in self-protecting fear is to lose all that makes each of us a unique gift. I am determined to live with purpose, give of myself the best I know how, and encourage anyone who will listen to live that way as well.

There is still so much good we can do. There are so many people to love and lift . So much world to change. We exist at a unique point in space-time, and we aren’t here long. But we are significant; all of us. Simple actions, small words and gestures, little acts of humanity, are what we have to offer each other, in the time we have with each other.

“God does not command that we do great things, only small things with great love.” –Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Come, be a dreamer and a doer with me.

I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):

I sha’n’t be gone long.–You come too.
(Robert Frost, from “The Pasture”)