grace that’s amazing

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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PSALMS 82

God calls the judges into his courtroom,
    he puts all the judges in the dock.

2-4 “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough,
    you’ve let the wicked get away with murder.
You’re here to defend the defenseless,
    to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;
Your job is to stand up for the powerless,
    and prosecute all those who exploit them.”

Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges!
    They haven’t a clue to what’s going on.
And now everything’s falling apart,
    the world’s coming unglued.

6-7 “I commissioned you judges, each one of you,
    deputies of the High God,
But you’ve betrayed your commission
    and now you’re stripped of your rank, busted.”

O God, give them their just deserts!
    You’ve got the whole world in your hands!

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

This is a great reading from the Ketuvim, the 3rd section of the Hebrew Bible, set to contemporary dialog.  Why should I be surprised that social justice was a concern of the early Jewish culture much as it is today with our Christian tradition?  Apparently man, although he has conquered many technical impediments to enlightenment, has yet to master his own ego, that part of him which says he is better than, different from, and entitled to.

I often inventory these aspects of my own inner forces which determine who I shall be today – better, different or entitled.  And sometimes miraculously, I tune in to a greater self which tells me I am a son of that universal essence which created all mankind equally deserving of justice among their fellow-man whether wealthy and powerful or poor and needy.

I can picture the author of Psalm 82 standing before a panel of appointed judges reading the riot act to them for their lack of compassion towards the defenseless and underdogs.  In today’s society I am one of many, not only judges and politicians, who would do well to reflect on attitudes toward and treatment of those who have hit personal bottoms, endured unjust racism, struggled through financial difficulties.  The homeless, the emotionally challenged, the addicted, the prisoners, the broken, the afflicted – all are deserving of a day in the court of compassion and empathy.

When honesty hits me between the eyes, I would have to admit that I am unworthy of mercy and grace, that I should be sleeping in the woods, scrounging for food, sitting in jail for my disobedience.  That honesty tells me that I am not special nor gifted nor smarter.  No, I am merely luckier because I have escaped the harshness which afflicts my brothers and sisters.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed
When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun. 

John Newton, 1779 OLNEY HYMNS

John Newton understood this undeserved gift from a gracious God.  He lived a profane and wicked life, but turned the page which all of us turn when we exclaim,

“Dear God, there has to be a better way than this.”

His actions endorsed social reform and supported the fight to abolish slave trade in the British Empire resuling in the British Slave Trade Act in 1807.

SHEEP

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well.  They too listen to my voice.”  JOHN 10:16

“There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.”   GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Plays Pleasant, 1898

The one discipline which gives hope to my occasional hopelessness is acceptance that I do not see the entire picture.  My inner vision is limited by environment, by prejudices, by experiences.  Sometimes, in meditation, a window to  enlightened thinking is opened. Often, when reading the scriptures of wisdom, a metaphor pops off the page and it becomes a moment of eternal truth.

John 10:16 does that for me.  I love the perception which Jesus shared of his followers as sheep.  A protector, a guide, an admonisher who in all actions lovingly guides me through the perils of life.  It’s a comforting metaphor beautifully embodied in Psalm 23 which, assuredly, Jesus read as a young boy in the temple.

My ego wants me to think that I am special, that I am unique.  Multiply that egoistic need by millions of others who are seeking comfort and truth in a perilous world and the concept of exclusiveness becomes real.  “My belief, my religion, my theology is the only correct way to believe.  All you other sheep are misguided heathens. Baaaaaa.”

For me, this is the nugget of understanding which nails my ego to its cross.  I am not the only sheep that Jesus loves.  Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, etc., etc., are just a piece of the spiritual puzzle called  Christianity which is just a part of the message shared by all the great faith walks of the world.  Jesus leads my life personally, yes.  But, Jesus is also Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, Allah, and all the purveyors of the one message of truth.  That message is that I am a servant serving under a God of love and compassion.  That God is universal truth.

Labels are probably important for someone like me whose ego needs identity, but using that label to distinguish and separate me from all the other sheep is counterproductive to the messages of wisdom found in scriptures.

“My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you.  If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that.  I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.”  JOHN 14:2 The Voice

 

guess who’s coming to dinner?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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I’m having a dinner party next week to celebrate my 71st.  You are all invited.  The menu isn’t yet decided so if anybody has food allergies, restrictions, or dietary quirks, please let me know now.  I don’t expect a full table as several of my friends took issue with my political stance in 2016, a few of my church associates don’t agree with my views on theology, the next door neighbors aren’t speaking ever since I asked them to curb their dogs, and numerous family members have disowned me because of – well, let’s just say they don’t approve of my choice in life partners.  Other than those decliners, I’d say we’ll have a table to celebrate.

I wonder if Jesus would accept my invitation?  Would he come to my party and share a meal with me despite my, er….limitations?  I know he sat with his disciples for the Passover meal before he was crucified.  But, they were all of like minds.  They were his devoted followers.  Even a man as revered and popular as Jesus could only get a dozen people to his dinner.  Lord, maybe I should be content with three of four people.  Do you think Jesus would come to my birthday dinner?  Would you mind sharing a table with him?

Maybe he  had doubts, too, about his dinner plans.  The laws in the Book of Leviticus defined right from wrong in Jewish culture.  The Scriptures tell me that Jesus suffered severe rebukes from the Jewish hierarchy for his departures from those laws.  The dietary and social customs were very strict and he broke most of them.

“Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?'”  MATTHEW 9: 10-11  The Message

It seems that those Pharisees were not easy men to please.  Jesus said:

“For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, he hath a demon.  The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”  LUKE 7:33-34 ASV

He shared dinner with a Pharisee, named Simon, and when he had taken his place at the table

“…..a woman from the city – notorious as a woman of ill repute – follows him in.  She has heard that Jesus will be at the Pharisee’s home, so she comes in and approaches Him, carrying an alabaster flask of perfumed oil.  Then she begins to cry, she kneels down so her tears fall on Jesus’ feet, and she starts wiping his feet with her own hair.  Then she actually kisses his feet, and she pours the perfumed oil on them.” LUKE 7:36-38 the Voice

Simon was shocked and questioned whether Jesus was truly a Prophet because he thought a prophet would not associate with a harlot.  Not only did Jesus share meals with those whom the traditions of Judaism considered unworthy, he stayed overnight in their houses.

“……he looked up, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.  And when they (Pharisees) saw it, they all murmured, saying, he is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.'”  LUKE 19:5-7 ASV

The Judaic laws presented in Leviticus chapters 17-24, the laws which excluded multitudes of people from the “table” were not Jesus’ idea of God.  He met and knew a different God – one who was all about mercy and compassion.

Jesus is definitely coming to my birthday dinner.  Don’t any of you worry about putting on your best clothes or sprucing up your manners. He doesn’t care about that.  All he wants is your heart and your soul.  Hmmmm, what does one cook for Jesus?  Should we have a birthday cake?  I guess pork is not a good idea.

 

just knock

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.”
Rumi 1207-1273

It’s all about surrender, is it not?  For me, surrender is one of the most difficult things to accept and yet I know it can be miraculously transforming.  When I give up my will, when I beg for guidance, when the great “I” becomes nothing, it is there that the nothingness of my life becomes the greatest something ever experienced.  It is then that my life becomes a useful tool.

It’s about willingness.  It’s a desire to knock on the door and seek entry into the universe of compassionate co-existence with humanity and all of creation.  The infinite wisdom of a greater power gave me the choice to decide which door I will take.  Often in my life I have not taken that door choosing my way instead.  That decision thrilled the needs of ego, but led to devastating consequences.  In retrospect, those self-directed decisions were necessary for the growth of my faith walk.

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“Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find.  Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you.  All who ask receive.  Those who seek, find what they seek.  And he who knocks, will have the door opened.  MATTHEW 7:7-8  the Voice

These verses from the Book of Matthew are words of Jesus telling me that the actions of asking, seeking, and knocking are not a once and done deal.  It is an ongoing process which leads to a continuing regeneration and renewal.  I must apply the surrender and willingness (the seeking) to everyday life expecting always to have doors opened and answers received.

HEROES – 2018

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

baseball game

Who are your heroes?  Sports celebrities, maybe?  World politicians, social justice advocates, personal friends, maybe a parent?  Why do you think of them as heroes?  Intelligence, money, fame, accomplishments, ethics?  Whatever your criteria may be, your choices are absolutely valid because these are your heroes, not your mother’s, your pastor’s, your teacher’s or those of your spouse.  You measure them according to your code of conduct, your conscience.  You see in them the person you strive to be, the legacy you would like to leave as a member of humanity.

In the world of sports celebrities, Derek Jeter of pro baseball, Tim Tebow of college football’s Heisman fame, and Colin Kaepernick of pro football top my list.  The one common thread with the three, in my mind, is their surrender to a purposeful life superseding their athletic gifts.

Jeter exhibited a wholesomeness of character which presented to his fans a lifestyle worthy of emulating.  Derek did not use PEDs, he did not carouse, he did not create chaos in the sports world. Unlike numerous peers who succumbed to the glitz and glitter of fan adoration, he maintained with innocence and wholesomeness his poster child presence as a man of integrity and ethics.

Tim Tebow was quarterback for the Florida Gators winning the Heisman in 2007 and leading his team to BCS National championship games in 2006 and 2008 seasons.  My most memorable thought of Tim is the 2009 BCS Championship game during which he wore in eye black John 3:16.  Over the next 24 hours that verse generated 90 million Google searches.  In 2010 the NCAA banned messages in eye black.  His visibility as a Christian believer created controversy on the playing field and among the sports pundits.  That high-profile walk in faith probably closed many doors of opportunity in the sports world.  He has been instrumental in numerous philanthropic endeavors.

“Loving others is not an option.  As followers of Jesus, we don’t get to love certain people and not others.”  Tim Tebow

Colin Kaepernick is most notable as the professional quarterback who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.  In subsequent games, fellow team mates and players across the realm of pro football joined him in protesting a country and an Administration which was not paying attention to the increasing incidence of police brutality against blacks.  The POTUS referred publicly to Colin as an s.o.b. who needed to be run out of pro football.  Sports fans will argue till hell freezes over about the legitimacy of Kaepernick’s protests, but one cannot argue his dedication to his belief in social justice for all Americans.  As with Tebow, this highly gifted athlete has put principles above wealth and fame thus seeing his sports career nosedive.  He is the founder of the Colin Kaepernick Foundation to fight oppression and he hosts the Know Your Rights Camp for youth to get educated on how to interact with law enforcement.

My ultimate hero is Jesus of Nazareth.  Not the God-man as created by church fathers in the 4th century, but rather, the human being who loved his fellow-man so much that he was willing to suffer crucifixion as the penalty for his crime of offending the Jewish powers and inciting the Roman conquerors.  Jesus protested the social injustice, aided the oppressed and poor, lived his life according to ethical principles.  I think Jesus is smiling when he sees Derek, Tim and Colin.

Merely my humble opinion of course because I believe life is like a baseball game.  Got to keep on slugging away for what I believe is right – just like my heroes.

 

 

 

The Greater Sea

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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The Greater Sea

My soul and I went to the great sea to bathe.  And when we reached the shore, we went about looking for a hidden and lonely place.

But as we walked, we saw a man sitting on a grey rock taking pinches of salt from a bag and throwing them into the sea.

“This is the pessimist,” said my soul, “Let us leave this place. We cannot bathe here.”

We walked on until we reached an inlet.  There we saw, standing on a white rock, a man holding a bejeweled box, from which he took sugar and threw it into the sea.

“And this is the optimist,” said my soul, “And he too must not see our naked bodies.”

Further on we walked.  And on a beach we saw a man picking up dead fish and tenderly putting them back into the water.

“And we cannot bathe before him,” said my soul.  “He is the humane philanthropist.”

And we passed on.

Then we came where we saw a man tracing his shadow on the sand. Great waves came and erased it.  But he went on tracing it again and again.

“He is the mystic,” said my soul, “Let us leave him.”

And we walked on, till in a quiet cover we saw a man scooping up the foam and putting it into an alabaster bowl.

“He is the idealist,” said my soul, “Surely he must not see our nudity.”

And on we walked.  Suddenly we heard a voice crying, “This is the sea.  This is the deep sea.  This is the vast and mighty sea.” And when we reached the voice it was a man whose back was turned to the sea, and at his ear he held a shell, listening to its murmur.

And my soul said, “Let us pass on.  He is the realist, who turns his back on the whole he cannot grasp, and busies himself with a fragment.”

So we passed on.  And in a weedy place among the rocks was a man with his head buried in the sand.  And I said to my soul, “We can bath here, for he cannot see us.”

“Nay,” said my soul, “For he is the most deadly of them all.  He is the puritan.”

Then a great sadness came over the face of my soul, and into her voice.

“Let us go hence,” she said, “For there is no lonely, hidden place where we can bathe.  I would not have this wind lift my golden hair, or bare my white bosom in this air, or let the light disclose my sacred nakedness.”

Then we left that sea to seek the Greater Sea.