For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Lessons from the Camino - 3

Pointers and People

This is the third in a series of posts on my 170 mile pilgrimage from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, Spain. The first in the series is found here. The second in the series is found here.

Walking 170 miles with a pack is hard work. Sore muscles are a given. Blisters and cramps are common. When you stop at a café to rest, you are faced with ordering in a language you don't know. Your mental toughness is tested when the day is long and the hills are high. It seems like the last mile is a hundred times longer than the first one. It is not for the faint of heart.

At the same time, walking the Camino is amazingly easy. You simply follow the yellow arrows the whole way. At every intersection there is an arrow. It may take a moment to see it, but it will be there pointing the way to Santiago. At important intersections a yellow arrow will point the way, and arrows with slashes through them will let you know which ways are wrong. On long straight paths about the time you wonder if you missed an arrow, there will be a marker telling you that you are still on the Camino to Santiago. It is so easy a child could find their way.

There is a lesson here about the pilgrimage of the Christian life. The way is so clearly marked that the early Christians were said to be followers of "the way" (Acts 9:2). Jesus calls himself The Way in John 14:6. The Christian life is really just about following him. It is the only way to heaven. The Bible gives clear guidance about what we need to do. If we simply follow its guidance it is difficult to get lost. At the important intersections, the word points the way and warns which paths lead away from life. The Christian life is easy.

Then again, it is hard. Jesus said "follow me" and he also said "pick up your cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24).
Persecution, hard times, the battle against the sinful nature and the devil all test our endurance and determination. These are to be expected. Paul taught that we would enter the kingdom only after many trials (Acts 14:22). We don't earn our way into the kingdom by enduring them, but our perseverance through the difficult times of following Jesus is evidence that we have been born again by the Spirit.

Along the journey to Santiago I was amazed by the people that we met. There were the people who lived along the way who cheerfully greeted each pilgrim as they passed by. One elderly woman saw us admiring her flowers and invited us inside her fence and insisted that she take our picture surrounded by the beauty of her garden. Another, whose house was perched on the top of a long hill assured us that it was all downhill to the next city and told us of a nice café where we could rest.

If we ever stopped to pull out our phone to double-check our way, the locals would holler and cheerfully point the way to Santiago. This was helpful, but also led to some amusing moments. Once we left the trail to go to a grocery store a quarter mile and a few turns off the Camino. When we pulled out our phones to make sure we were headed the right way to the store, a man stopped and pointed the way back to the Camino. He insisted, in Portuguese, that we turn around and head in the "right" direction. Unable to communicate and explain we were going to the store, we thanked him and headed back toward the Camino...until he was out of sight. Then we did an about face to get our groceries.

We met several women travelers walking the Camino alone. After visiting with one female pilgrim for a while we asked whether she felt safe along the way and if she had experienced any problems. The question surprised her and she said that she had always felt secure and wondered why we thought she would experience trouble along the way. It made us pause and think for a moment. Often the news is filled with stories of people doing horrible things to one another. We expect evil to befall us at any moment. It makes us fearful. Now certainly there are people in the world who steal and mug others so a certain amount of caution is warranted. But on the Camino I began to wonder if the daily news had created a paranoia that slowly sucks the joy out of life. It is hard to enjoy the forest if you fear someone might be lurking behind every tree. Not only that, but it causes us to withdraw within a shell. We forget to love and offer hospitality to strangers for fear that they might take advantage of us.

And it is in teaching us to interact with others that the Camino does some of its best work. You begin to appreciate the simple acts of kindness shown by others and extend a helping hand yourself. Once, we were near the end of a long day. The walk had taken much longer than we had planned because of the hills and we were late. It was hot and we were tired and cranky. A mile long bridge crossed a river into the city. As we trudged across the narrow sidewalk on the bridge, our senses were assaulted by four lanes of loud rush-hour traffic. When we got to the other side of the bridge we pulled out our phones to figure out how to get to the AirBnB we were going to stay at, which was not along the route. We discovered we had few more miles to walk. Over a big hill. Don't tell anyone, but I wanted to cry. I thought we were close to the finish line.

Janet called our host and apologised because we would be even later than we thought. Our host asked, "Where are you?" Janet explained that we had just crossed the bridge into the city. "Stay right there. Do not move. I'm coming to get you." It is amazing how much more quickly someone can travel three miles in a car than by foot! Not only did our host pick us up, but she offered to take us to the grocery store to buy something for supper so we didn't have to walk there.

Why the gracious hospitality? It wasn't because she had somewhere to go and was tired of waiting for us. In fact, we were going to stay in the lower level of her house. She explained to us that she had also walked the Camino. She could tell by the sound of Janet's voice that the best thing that could happen to us was for her to come and pick us up. And so she did. Encouraging one another and freedom in lending a helping hand are things the Camino teaches very well.

The Camino reminded me of the clear signposts the Lord gives us and the difficulties we will face along the way. It reminded of the importance of encouragement and the ease with which we can brighten someone's day or lighten their load. These are basic truths of of the Christian life and walking the Camino drove them further into my heart.

The Cathedral in Santiago, Spain
The endpoint of the Camino de Compostela

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