Death, Lent, and The Valley of Suck

Indulge me for a moment...that is part of what “Fat Tuesday” is about right?

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent, a time of 40 days of reflection and repentance in the life of the Church. Don’t waste your time looking because you won’t find the word “lent” in the Bible nor a “season of Lent.” Jesus’ followers in the Church came up with the idea and it stuck. For good reason too. Left to our own devices, we’d rather not talk about mortality and sinfulness or the messy and icky things we face in life.

For a long time, I thought the same and watched and participated in a sort of modern-day “Oz” conducted in churches. Everything was honest and theologically sound but there was (and is) a curtain covering over what is going on but it isn’t the one you think. It isn’t the one church leaders are is the one BEHIND us. It is what is behind THAT curtain we’d rather not discuss…

In one word it is this...death.

I, like countless widows and widowers, have faced the loss of their true life partner. There are the countless sons and daughters who know the pain of the loss of not having a mother or father any longer or a mother or father who knows the emptiness of not hearing the unique laughter of their son or daughter. There are other losses and deaths to lead to the valley of suck. This valley of suck that robs us of so much joy, presents to us two new travelling companions, for life, ones often behind the curtain and in shadow.

Grief comes first followed by death. Of the two, grief is easiest to name but few understand how it remains a constant companion, popping up and surprising us through the rest of our lives. Death is the more complicated because we like to couch death, in other words, hiding it, ignoring it, trying to bury it even (pun intended).

We say that someone is “gone.” We’ll declare that God “took” someone. “Passed away,” “passed on,” and “fallen asleep,” are other phrases. They ease the pain some because they don’t sound so final but the truth is, behind it all, it is still death. And in this world, death is final.

On the road of the valley of suck, there are some able to make adjustments in the midst of the tragedy. The grief and death are the same for sure and adjustments can be made to face the changes. But it is not the same for all. For some, those complications are disruptions that fracture foundations, faith, families, and futures in ways no one can possibly know.

I didn’t.

There were many “deaths” before Heather died. The finality of her death also brought an avalanche of other “deaths” to our family, ones which changed the course of our family. The darkest days weren’t at Heather’s death, it was the year later when many of my friends were gone and I discovered two new companions eager to journey in the valley of suck with me: grief and death. I grieved the house getting emptier and the struggles my kids faced learning to live on their own. Death was right there reminding me of the dreams Heather and I had talked about that wasn’t going to happen now. I grieved how my plans for my ministry vocation had changed and death joined me as I began the process of burying the old aspirations.

I stopped trying to keep a curtain up in front of me (or church) and started taking down the curtain behind me and getting to know these two companions. I said goodbye to a full-time ministry, a term the apostle Paul never knew or wrote about, and accepted what dying to my prideful aspirations meant. I hate admitting that I grieved losing my pride and ego but death, again, companioned me. I worked as both a pastor at a church and on the floor at Dollar General. Six months later, I’m now full-time but serving two churches in another community. In less than a year, I’ve lived in 3 homes. I’ve said goodbye a whole lot.

And the more that I have come to focus less on maintaining a curtain in front of me, the more I find myself observing God and listening more intently to Jesus. Grief and death have helped me too. Today I began my Lenten practice by reading Matthew’s gospel and death met me there.


Well, take a look at Matthew 1:18-25. Across the cultural divide of twenty-one centuries, Joseph has to deal with the discovery that his fiancee is bearing a child that is not his...yeah, people don’t handle that well. I don’t think I’m reading anything into this story when I say that Joseph faced the death of his expected family and those family plans.

But here is the thing...look back at 1:5-6. In just two verses we see a glimpse of history and that line of Joseph includes some interesting Grandmas and Grandpas and life that didn’t go as planned…

Rahab was a prostitute who gave birth to...
Boaz who married a widow named Ruth and in their descendants is...
David, who commits adultery with the wife Uriah (murders him too) and will continue the royal line through his son, Solomon.

God is not interested in respecting my plans: not for family nor for future. Is God indifferent? No, I think that goes too far. But God’s plan isn’t for my family or your’s...God’s interest is in making a bigger family for all people and making His house a place of prayer for all people. I’m thinking that maybe I’m starting to get that thanks to grief and death.

One Minute Meditation Psalm 123

What are you thankful for? I am thankful I had time to make this week's One Minute Meditation! Whatever is going on, why not take a minute (I know you have at least 1!) and give yourself time to meditate on God's Word from Psalm 123 today? Do it!
For more videos, check out!

Shut Up....Please, I Do Not Think You Know What Empathy Means.

I keep my rules on my Facebook page and social media sites very minimal.  Through the years I have had to remind people that when I introduce a controversial topic, I expect everyone to honor other people, not just opinions.  If anyone...ANYONE...begins to cross that line, I shut it down. Period.  I have multiple reasons I suppose, but mainly, there are lots of pages where a person can go to get into arguments, degrade others while maintaining that you are only trying to persuade them, and basically shout to your heart's content that you are right and others are wrong.

This is not going to happen on my pages.  Period.

I have only blocked a very few.  A few I have asked simply not to post anymore.  Recently, a post generated some discussion and someone, someone I have never had a conversation with before, stopped by, addressed me with labels and then sought to tell me they empathized with me.  

My pages, across social media and the internet, are intended to foster people on their spiritual journey to know God.  It does not take much time to read a few of my posts, watch a video or two, read breath prayers, to pick up on this.  I don’t go to other pages to engage in the debate much either.  One thing I seek to avoid doing at any time, above maybe anything else, is to label another person.  Period.  Precisely because it does with Soren Kierkegaard notes, you are negating another person.  

Empathy does not do that.  In fact, I do not think we even know what it means anymore or how our words, written within the context of opposing opinions, must be carefully chosen if we want to convey or express empathy.  I want to note where the issue breaks down looking at a simple definition of empathy:
the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else's feelings.” (

Simple, right?  Not once you apply a label to a person.  A label is for noting the size of an article of clothing.  A label identifies something.  When you label another, in the course of conversation (especially debate), you remove the “person,” the “someone.”  I think it is worse than creating a “strawman” because labeling is directed at another human being, a person, directly.  

Yes, of course, you and I might apply labels to things we believe.  We might identify ourselves with a religious belief, a political party, a profession, but labeling removes the person from the equation of conversation.  And once you remove the person, you are no longer sharing their experiences and emotions.  You are negating them.  You are negating the person.

I am a Christian pastor, a spiritual director, a writer, a Star Wars fan, a hunter, a backpacker, and many other words with which I identify myself.  Those can be used to describe me or they can, and in a conversation, easily twisted and tainted with condescension.  In a civil discourse on a controversial subject in social media?  Don’t insult any of is VERY tempting to do this and sadly, it is.

On my pages, I won’t accept it.  Period.

While at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, I recently picked up a book written by one of the monks there, Elias Marechal, entitled, “Tears of An Innocent God.”  I am slowly making my way through his writing as part of my daily time with God.  One of the words he introduces is one very foreign to the Christian faith, maybe even shunned because of its origin and connotations are given.  

The word is “Namaste.”

In his chapter, “A Beggar’s Final Words,” Brother Elias tells the story of a beggar who is dying and shares his last words with a nun, present with him, and comforting him.  As he takes his last breath, she folds her hands in the direction of the beggar and offers a gesture of “namaste.”  What is it?  In Brother Elias’ simple explanation, it is an honoring of the sacred energy of another person.  In essence, we are giving respect to the heart, soul, and mind which our Heavenly God has granted everyone with.

Namaste is not an Indian or Hindu term alone, though it might be labeled that.  It is just as confusing when anyone tries to tell a Christian from the Middle East they shouldn’t call God, Allah, though that is the word for God in their language.  

Namaste is more than a gesture, it is a way of viewing others as a person, in the way God, in the person of Jesus, looks at us and came to us.  This is one more reason I love the name, Immanuel, for Jesus, for it means, “God with us.”  God thought more of us than to label us lost, God came to us in the greatest gesture of namaste.

I will strive always to offer to you namaste, to try to live as Immanuel.  When you are with me in person or on my websites.  I will try to share your experiences and emotions and I ask you seek to give the same courtesy.  Just know, if you cannot, I may simply ask you, in the nicest way, “shut up...please, I’m trying to love you.”

Namaste.  Lord have mercy.

60 Second Sermon: Who's Got Your Back?

This week's 60 Second Sermon is up and JediPastorKen asks the simple question: Who's Got Your Back? Anyone? And for that matter, who are YOU standing with? Hmmm.... Remember, "birds of a feather flock together!"

Check Proverbs 27:17 and John 15:12-13 on

#60secondsermon #goodquestion #leadership #friendship #ironsharpensiron

One Minute Meditation (Psalm 78)

Learn a simple way to meditate with this One Minute Meditation on Psalm 78. Take a minute for yourself today...really, just 60 seconds to reflect and then move forward toward a more meaningful life!  Psalm 78 encourages you to pass on the story of God in your life.  When was the last time you considered what God has done in your life and who you would share that with?

Consider reading the whole chapter of Psalm 78 this week.

Click this link to Psalm 78

For more videos check out

God Doesn't Care About Young People...Just Saying.

Stop believing the narrative. God doesn’t care about young people.  God cares about all people.

I was a youth pastor for nearly a decade.  I love hanging out with children's ministries and youth ministries.  I love being involved with Scouting ministries too.  But the way society creeps up on us and influences the Church is often so subtle we’d miss it.  And, we usually do.

I have read for years about the “greying of the church” and lamentations about the pews growing older.  I have heard in every church, of every size how what is keeping the Church of Jesus Christ growing is the lack of young people.  And, yes, I do grieve the lack of young people.  I do wish there were more.

But the man who threw the great banquet in Jesus’ parable didn’t waste much time when people didn’t come.  Take a moment and read his solution...

But when you give a feast,  invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid  at  the resurrection of the just.”
15When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him,  “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”16But he said to him,  “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.17And at the time for the banquet he  sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’19And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’20And another said,  ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’21So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in  the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’22And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’23And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.24For I tell you,  none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:13-24, ESV)

We often observe how Jesus grew the Church starting with some fishermen, a tax collector and a traitor.  He hung out with drunks and prostitutes.  Yes, Jesus was concerned people would turn children away BUT even Jesus did not say the future of the church is dependent on young people.

The future of the Church is dependent on lost people being found by the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  Nothing else is going to “save” the Church...that is, even IF the Church needs saving.  My friend, Morgan Guyton has a great title for his book: “How Jesus Saves the World from Us.”  Morgan has an important prophetic voice and I encourage you to read it and prepare to be challenged but sometimes a title says it all. Maybe the Church simply needs to be saved from us.

We need to stop coming up with solutions based on false narratives about what the Church of Jesus Christ needs. I'm glad Jesus' solution to the world's problem was never dependent on an age group or ageism. There are many issues worth addressing in the Church.  I tend to not think the greying of the Church is an issue.  While I learn from young people, the mentors I trust are older people, greyed people and wrinkled folks. As a spiritual director, I have found my own life challenged and renewed by being in the presence of those older and truly wiser.  Jesus never seems to have an issue with older people.  I wonder why it is we seem to?  

The One Thing You Aren't Doing to Know God Better

We are a generation of doers.  Doing things ranks high on our list.  Now, those things don’t have to be actually productive, in fact, it may well be our doing has little to show for it.  There are easy targets to pick on, such as Netflix and Facebook.  And there are those we take for granted because they are part of society, like spending a day watching football all the way through or watching soap operas.  Are there more?  Of course, there are but this is merely a starting point, a place meditate…

What are you doing regularly that has nothing to show for it?

What does this have to do with the number one thing keeping us from a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with God?  It's this, for all our excuses for not having time for God, we fill our lives with empty hours, time spent on lesser things.

I am convinced the number one thing keeping you from the kind of relationship you say you want to have with God is you are filling your day with lesser things.  You and I are influenced in the most subtle of ways, to do “our things” we only give God time, maybe, for one hour each week.  Some of you won’t even do that.

Simon Tugwell, monk and author, wrote, “If the basic reason why God is crowded out of our lives is simply that we want to be God ourselves, then it must be so, that the very first point of conversion will be, in however small a way, to stop being God, and so leave room for God to be God.” (Prayer: Living with God, 34). It seems to me, the greatest battles of spiritual warfare are not regarding demonic possession but the ones between our “old self” and “new self.”

I am convinced making time with God is the first-best step of spiritual formation.  It is a response to God’s grace and it is a concrete way to put your trust in God.  Making specific time with God is something Jesus did as a regular habit.  Mark writes, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35, ESV)  The pattern of the early church and godly men and women through the centuries is marked by a similar attentiveness to setting aside time for God.

So if you are ready to make this simple shift in your day, don’t wait till New Year’s, do it now.  Here are three helps to guide you as you make time for God:

1. Pick a time of day.  
What time of day works for you? When do you have the most flexibility and when you are the most rested?

2. Find a spot.
I’ve have found spots like my office, my recliner, on my patio, at a campfire, and more.  You need to pick where it works best for you.

3. Use the clock.
Keep the time short, even 5 minutes can be plenty.  I make 1 minute meditations every week on YouTube that you can use too.  Don’t feel like you need an hour! The goal here is set aside the time.

You won’t grow spiritually until you make time for the Spirit to grow.  If it is your desire to take the next step, then don’t wait.  There is no better time than right now to reorient your life to God.  Make time and make it right now!

May I Suggest?

Pull out your calendar, whatever one you use the most and make a spot for an “appointment with God.”  You could write “phone call with the big guy” or something.  Get it in your calendar and reminder for the next month and see how things are working.  If you need help, feel free to email me at jedipastorken(a)

  © Blogger template Webnolia by 2009

Back to TOP