just breathe

“be, just be”

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“Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11: 28-30

If I can’t find comfort in the lyrics to the Jonny Diaz song and the Matthew verse attributed to Jesus, then I am probably too busy with the insanity of this world.  One does not have to profess Christianity in order to appreciate a place where life is good and chaos is non-existent.  For me, that place is at the feet of Jesus soaking in the peace available through His words and love.  It is a peace and love given freely to all who seek.  It is undeserved and unmerited grace from the center of a universal force which has been named with various names, but remains undefinable and indescribable.  Breathe, just breathe, and sit with me at His feet.

No demands, no expectations, no rules.  Life changes dramatically when we put on the yoke of Jesus because that yoke is light and easy.  Our efforts to be more righteous are futile because all the righteousness we can muster is as dung to the One who knows and sees everything.  Our good works keep our idle minds busy and temptation resistant, but we are loved regardless.  It’s mind-boggling.  No strings attached; be, just be.

But, when the freedom of this yoke which we assume is manifested in our lives, we will want to change, to be different from the rest of the world which mindlessly zooms past us every day.  We want to be centered in a faith that matters.  We want to see in others the same Jesus that has freed us from the burdens of this world and we want to share that Jesus in all that we say and do.  We become a spark of divinity that can’t be extinguished by chaos and frenzy.

“Breathe, just breathe.  Come and rest at his feet. Lay down what’s good and find what’s best.”

 

 

 

 

FORGIVENESS

“On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot eight out of ten girls, killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was widely discussed in the national media. The West Nickel Mines School was torn down, and a new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope School, was built at another location.”

Nearly twelve years ago while taking a break from driving, sitting at a Midwest truck-stop, watching TV on my satellite connection, this breaking news story darkened my soul like nothing else in recent memory.  As a young boy I had attended public school with Amish boys and girls, I lived in communities where the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by was a normal everyday occurrence, my family shopped at the grocery store with Amish families.  Their way of life was fascinating to me.  How could they follow such a simple lifestyle eschewing modern conveniences and still be the happiest people I knew?  I greatly envied their humility and dedication to the community of believers which they chose to follow.

And the Amish community fathers immediately issued a statement of forgiveness.  Did they mourn?  Of course.  Were the parents angry?  Probably.  But they followed the directive set forth by the Scriptures which they revered and followed.  Those simple folks knew something which most of the world has never learned to practice – forgiveness.

Even today as I write this, my eyes well up with tears.  Innocent schoolgirls gunned down execution style by a madman.  On October 2, 2006 I cried like a baby for several hours.  My driving partner could not console me, my prayers would not stop the tears, the God of my understanding had deserted me.  Five killed.  Others injured.  The young boys who had been herded outside stood by helplessly as their schoolmates inside screamed while shot after shot was fired.

Could I have forgiven?  If my little girl was one of those standing in front of the blackboard with her back to the gunman waiting for her turn to be murdered, could I forgive?  Even today, twelve years later,  I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly.  I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, I know what the Amish fathers did, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger.

As He neared physical death, from the crucifixion cross, Jesus spoke these words, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

Oh Lord, if those who have suffered unimaginable horrors can forgive, if Elie Wiesel could forgive the Nazis who decimated his people, if John McCain could forgive his captors who tortured him, then Lord, who am I to withhold forgiveness for an unkind word, an insult, a selfish action?  My grievances are so extremely petty compared to those who were mentally and physically abused by the powers of evil.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Matthew 6:12

It’s a tall order.  It’s up to me, isn’t it?  I cannot live the life destined for me by a Savior if my head is filled with grudges and grievances, no matter how great or small.  I cannot be the mended broken vessel useful to Jesus if my eyes do not see beyond the hurts and humiliations which insulted my pride and sense of self-righteousness.

“Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Show me how to see what your mercy sees.”

FORGIVENESS

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Beggar in the presence of a king

If your life is perfect, if you have no problems, if your faith is strong as an ox, then this post is probably not for you.  On the other hand, if you are like me, a man who questions everything, doubts everything as the disciple Thomas did, reels between ecstasy and bewilderment when considering the things of faith, then we can appreciate the title of Matthew West’s song, BROKEN THINGS.

“If it’s true you use broken things – then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.”

People don’t like broken things – they throw away cracked dishes, broken vacuum cleaners, flickering lamps, worn clothing.  I remember my grandfather who took his shoes to a cobbler to be re-soled rather than buy new shoes.  Thinking he could not afford new shoes, I bought him a pair for Christmas.  Graciously he thanked me but continued wearing those old shoes.  That new pair was still in its box when Grandpa died.

Rather than repairing broken relationships, husbands and wives will find good divorce lawyers.  Fathers and sons remain estranged for many years after a disagreement, not remembering what the argument was about, but too stubborn to reconcile.  For many of us, broken relationships are not worth repairing.

I was the last to admit that I was broken.  My life had spiraled head first into a vast darkness which applauded my efforts to be strong, to be better than others, to stand out from the crowd, to chart my own destiny no matter what the cost.  I swam in that sea of darkness believing it was my strength of character and independence that kept me afloat.  I did it entirely on my own personal will power.  I drove myself to be a self-made man, independent of anyone – especially God.

Some of us are sicker than others.  Thankfully, God knows this; he has a special room in His heart for the sickest of the sick.  Patiently, steadfastly, lovingly He guided me to a place where I could take an honest assessment of me – on my knees.  We talked, we cried, we screamed out in pain and then we entered the wide gate into the Kingdom of grace.

I am still a broken vessel today.  I like it that way because my Lord can use broken things to fix the brokenness which He sees in his human family.  Patch me, glue me, bind me together.  Like that pair of Grandpa’s worn-out shoes, I can always be re-souled.  “I am just a beggar in the presence of a King.”

“Grace is a Kingdom with gates open wide.”

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COURTESY OF lum3n.com

 

My Story

If I told you my story, I would tell you about the enemy, alcoholism.  For you, I would remember again the self-loathing, the despair, the brokenness, the heartache, the shattered relationships…..if you wanted to hear my story.  I would be thrilled to tell you my story because it ends with victory over the enemy, an unearned, undeserved victory won for me by a Savior’s grace that was greater than all my sins.

I would tell you about a Father’s love that never gave up on me.  As with the prodigal son returning from the far land, my Father saw me from afar wanting to come home, met me on the road, threw his arms around me with caresses and kisses saying “Welcome home, my son.”

If I told you my story, you would hear about mercy and forgiveness.  From the filth and mire of a life spent in the depths of addiction, I would tell you about the day, when on bended knee, I tearfully begged for a renewal, a way out of my desperation.  And my plea was answered by a merciful and forgiving Father who erased the pain and self-loathing, wrapped His arms around me with love unceasing.

“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”

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Turn your eyes

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.   HELEN H. LEMMEL 1922

Follow the link above for the full lyrics.  Tonight ends one of the days when I am tired, I should go to bed and call it a “done” day, but I am resisting because I need reassurance that the sadness which I feel, the disappointment which envelopes me, the fears which intimidate me are not the last thoughts that I will have should tonight bring my final breath in this life.  We septuagenarians consider these things, we don’t take another tomorrow for granted.  Just as my financial affairs are in order, my final life directives are written and my best friends know I love them, it is also important that spiritual concerns are addressed – every night.

Remember our bedtime prayer when we were kids:

Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake; I pray the Lord my soul to take.

The day went well; it was productive.  I kept an appointment, exercised, read a few chapters, did the daily chores consisting of sweeping the floors, washing the dishes, and cleaning out the litter boxes.  Nothing of a negative nature happened.  But, tonight I enter the late hours of the day feeling detached and subdued, lonely and unimportant.

“The things of earth” annoy me, challenge me, make me angry.  My primary response is to cocoon into a safer, more comfortable world.  I’m tired.  I want to take my old-fashioned ideals and my sense of decency far away into a land where butterflies flit and hummingbirds hum in carefree abandon, a land where the only chore for the day is sniffing the roses in the garden.  I’m tired.

 

UBUNTU

 

CANDLE

In the Xhoso culture of Africa, UBUNTU means, “I am because We are.”  Dr. Horty @ IT IS WHAT IT IS  blog shared this with her readers.  I found it absolutely profound in the troubled times of our world and especially American society today.

The boy replied, “How can any one of us be happy if the others are sad?”

An anthropologist visiting and studying the Xhoso tribe placed a basket of fruit and presented a game to a group of young boys.  Run to the fruit and claim it.  If the strongest and fastest of those boys had raced to the basket of fruit placed at a short distance from them, that one boy could have claimed all the fruits.  Instead, they joined hands, ran together as a group, and claimed the fruits as one, thereby insuring all would partake of the prize.  When the anthropologist questioned their action, the reply was, “Ubuntu – I am because We are.”

And we think we are more civilized?  There is much we can learn from those peoples in “uncivilized” back regions of the world who have learned a lesson most of us have failed to grasp – our humanity will have a much greater chance of survival if we learn we are all connected and we are one.

The ancient mystics understood this concept.  They, when contemplating the creative  source, declared that all of creation is one with the Creator.  Every member of every species on Earth has a unifying spark of DNA derived from that Creator at the beginning of time.  It is a connection that is infinite and eternal.  WE ARE ONE, because we were designed as one.

“I AM BECAUSE WE ARE”

Perhaps it would behoove us to take this wisdom into our collective heart and soul, celebrate our Oneness, and live life accordingly.  Possibly it is the only way our species will survive.

 
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for everything, a season

The quiet of a crisp autumn afternoon walk through the woods, fallen leaves of red, orange, and yellow covering  the dirt lane with a sadness which slows our steps, tells us that this colorful spectacle is the final hurrah before the cold stillness of winter covers our festive pathway.  All the seasons of life have been wonderful, but now it is time to gather memories and store reserves for the final push across the pending horizon to a new life.

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For everything there is a season,
a right time for every intention under heaven —
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to discard,
a time to tear and a time to sew,
a time to keep silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

ECLESIASTES 3:1-8

Not yet over, but rapidly approaching winter, has it not been a spectacular life?  Let us embrace the dancing, the laughter and the love as we enter expectantly and faithfully our final season stretching across the unknown into a welcoming rest from our earthly travail.

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Who’s your Daddy?

 

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“Turn Your ear to me, rescue me quickly.  Be a rock of refuge for me, a stronghold for my deliverance.” PSALM 31:3 TL

Where do you go when your world is being challenged from all sides?  I know you have been there because you and I are not uniquely different and, trust me, I have spent a lot of time begging the above verse penned by the authors of Psalms.  It is my signature plea to a timeless, Universal entity whom I name God.  You may name yours by another name, but when we cast aside man’s theological philosophies there is just one who is the I AM.

I like the word phrasing, “rock of refuge.”  It inspires in my mind a place, or state of consciousness, which is protected from the ravages of an insane world, a place where the intents of vile men cannot reach me, a sanctuary which can conceal me even from the evil which exists within.  The rock is strong, impenetrable and secure.  Amazingly, it does not erode with the forces of nature or the passage of time.  On the contrary, it grows and becomes stronger.

And, it is a “stronghold for my deliverance.”  As much as I would like to attribute all my factory defects to environment and circumstance, when I find that inner  place of honesty and transparency, I realize that I need desperately to be delivered from myself and the character traits which make my personal world insane and unmanageable.  “Turn you ear to me, rescue me quickly” from that which seeks to destroy me – anger, envy, greed, gluttony, pride, sloth, and lust.

Social injustice, poverty, oppression, national politics are also issues that can cause severe conflict if I don’t have a rock to sort everything and place priorities on those issues.  Approaching wickedness and uncivility with a peaceable intervention does not imply a lack of conviction.  I do not need to scream and rant to show the outside world that I am incensed by a corrupt political system.  Jesus overturned the tax collectors’ tables efficiently and forcefully, but I don’t see in the Bible any accounts of screaming, violence, and profanity.  Jesus also had that rock as his fortress and refuge.  He had his personal inner conviction guiding his actions, but he relied on the strength of the rock whom he called Father.

Many people want to contradict the existence of a rock, they vehemently deny with substantial energy that God is not.  That’s OK, I at one time was one of them.  Stridently ridiculing those of faith and defying them to prove their faith was a hallmark of my youth.  I was the intelligent one, they were the dupes.

Only when alcoholism forced me to my knees, did I decide to stay on my knees for a few moments longer and say a prayer, plead to the unfamiliar rock and fortress which I had ridiculed and discredited for many years.  With no more arguments, nothing to lose,  I was in desperate need of relief from myself and my atheism.

My church foundation as a young boy was based on old time preaching and music.  We sang “ROCK OF AGES” probably every Sunday.  “Rock of ages cleft for me.”  It’s a stunning visual for lost souls –  a fissure in a solid rock wall split to provide protection and comfort from the elements of our personal storms.  Why would anyone not want to believe?

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Jesus in disguise

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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“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger………

The fiercely defiant woman holding her travel bag refuses to release the arm of a small child, her 6 year-old son.  Guards surrounding her now, she screams profanities at the men who are attempting to take the child from her.  They understand her Spanish words and react more harshly to accomplish the mission of the border agents.  Since three days before, when a new government directive ordered that children crossing the border with their families be separated from parents  and confined for further relocation, detention centers were created from abandoned retail centers to house the detainees.  Within those buildings fenced cages housed the children.  Their only offense was escaping with their parents from hostile and dangerous conditions wrought by political and social turmoil in their native homeland.  They sought to start anew in a land they perceived as a place of opportunity and freedom.

………or needing clothes or sick in prison…….

Since going into hiding on 6 July 1942 with her parents and sister in concealed rooms behind a book case, the young girl remembers a previous life of respectability and shared community in the Netherlands.  A gifted writer, she passes her time keeping a diary.  They are joined later by the van Pels family and Mr. Pfeffer, a dentist.  The eight of them share the cramped quarters for two years.

Then on 4 August 1944, “Shhhhh, they are here, don’t move,” whispers their father.  The noises and sounds of footsteps grow closer and the Gestapo storms the door which has concealed their whereabouts, their hiding place.

On 3 September 1944, Anne, her sister Margot and their parents Otto and Edith were boarded on a cattle train to their final destination at Auschwitz where the Nazi government’s solution to the disposition of unwanted elements in Aryan society was carried out.  The men were separated from the women by the SS. Those deemed able to work were admitted to the camp; those deemed unfit including children under 15 years of age were sent directly to the gas chambers.  Of the 1019 passengers on that train, 549 were immediately dispatched to death. Mother Edith died later of starvation, Anne and Margot died of typhus.  Father Otto survived the death camp.  He returned to Amsterdam where, having received his daughter’s diary and notes from a friend, he realized the significance of Anne’s writings and proceeded to publish them.

……and did not help you?”

His half-frozen body hangs from the fence crossing the barrenness of the cold October prairie.  Small in stature, boyish in appearance, he has been brutally beaten and left to die by his abductors.  It is many hours after the assault before he is discovered and rushed to a nearby hospital, where he will die six days later from severe head injuries.  A bright young man, fellow students remember him as a friendly face in the college classroom where he has attended classes.

Stories detailed the events leading up to his death.  Some wanted to believe it was a drug deal gone bad, others said it was a hate crime directed at his sexual orientation.  In the end analysis, it truly did not matter to his mother and loved ones what reasons were responsible.  The boy was brutalized and left hanging on a fence in Wyoming to die.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these…..

The man standing on the corner holding his tattered cardboard sign looks longingly at motorists passing by hoping that someone will roll down the car window and pass enough money to him to feed his growling stomach.  Nobody stops.  They don’t seem to notice.  He reflects on the times he also was that motorist who ignored beggars standing on the corner with their cardboard signs.  The times back then were better.  He had a job and a family who depended on him, loved him.  But, addiction stole all of that, made him an unbathed, ragged homeless man who now lives in the nearby woods with others like him.  Different stories to tell, but all of them now hungry and destitute.

…..you did not do for me.”  Matthew 25:44

I open my eyes in a sweat-soaked bed, my pulse racing.  I recognize the man with the sign on the corner in my dream.  It is me.  I recognize the motorists passing by ignoring the man’s needs.  They also are me.

I am the one who stands along the rail tracks leading to Auschwitz wondering where the human cargo is heading, knowing where they are going, too frightened to be involved.

I am the border guard seizing the child from his mother.  My conscience tells me this is not right, but I have a family to support, I need the job.

I am the one who watches the frail boy being bullied after gym class.  They are calling him a sissy, a wimp.  I watch as the bigger boys punch and poke him.  They make fun of him because he is different.  I turn and go to my next class not wanting to be the next target for their taunts and abuse.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

ELIE WIESEL