Serenity or calamity – which do I choose to follow every morning….the serenity of inspired readings, morning worship, prayer and meditation or the calamity abounding on my media feeds? Awful days do not just occur randomly. Good days are not merely accidental blessings from a gracious Father. The thoughts I think, the things I do, the images I feed into my brain upon rising will determine where I spend the following hours.
When I truly believe that I am worthy of goodness and mercy, peace and hope, then I seriously pay attention to my day’s beginning. Then I know with certainty that I am not walking alone on this journey through the dark valley.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” PSALM 23: 4-6
Lord, help me this day to shut up, listen up, open up and lighten up. You have a lot more to show and tell me than I have to show and tell you. Please be patient with me – allow me a glimpse, give me a hint of what is really going on around me as I walk and watch and wonder and work throughout this unfolding day. I know I need to worry a lot less – I need to stop overreacting- to be calmer and not to insist on being special or right. The world does not revolve around me nor am I its or anyone else’s savior. I must learn to look up and out, not just in. I must try harder to be wiser, nicer, less grouchy, a more sensitive human being. Please help me pray my life and live my prayers.
From today’s devotional message by LHM DAILY DEVOTION:
“Jesus is enough. In the end, it doesn’t matter if we are on an emotional mountaintop or down in the valleys of suffering – whether we keep company with the great or get ignored with the poor. Jesus, our savior is with us.”
Does this truth comfort me? Is it encouraging to know that I am not alone fighting my battles? Always – in the struggle with pain, in the uncertainty of aging, in the turmoil of politics, in the valleys of suffering – always He is there. His word and promises bring not only comfort, but also joy to life in a broken world.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of 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
According to John in chapter 6, Peter and a number of his brothers had just heard Jesus speak from Capernaum to the synagogue crowds saying, “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” v. 35.
But then Jesus continued, ” Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you……He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. v. 53,56
Many in the crowd murmured at these words and argued amongst themselves about the meaning. Even disciples of Jesus were disturbed by this teaching and many chose to abandon his ministry. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” v. 67
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” v. 68
Lord, to whom shall I go? I have followed you from the depths of my alcoholism through the valley of darkness and death, to the top of the mountain and back down to the hell of earth’s reality. I have rejoiced with you, cried with you, pleaded with you, and loved you as you have wrapped me in your fatherly arms to comfort me. If not you, to whom shall I go?
I understand Simon Peter. He had abandoned his family and livelihood to chase after this charismatic “savior” baptized by John at Jordan. Peter suffered the slurs and innuendo of friends and neighbors who did not understand. Surely, they may have said, Peter, a successful fisherman and loving father, has gone bonkers to chase after a homeless charlatan who preaches about eternal life while feeding off the charity and goodwill of the people. And now this Jesus talks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to attain eternal life in heaven with His Father.
To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.
But, we, Simon Peter and I, can explain our behavior. “And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” v. 69
Having been reared in the Lutheran Church, 1st cousin to the Catholic Church, the faith walk of President Joe and Dr. Jill as devout Catholics has greatly enhanced my trust in and respect for them as the First Family. You might ask, “Larry, why is that?”
The disappointing performance of their predecessors who tied their star to the Evangelical movement has brought down upon believers and non-believers alike a distrust of anything which reeks of religion. Of all major faiths, the Catholic Church has suffered tremendous harm over the past years for numerous reasons, most onerous of which has been sexual abuse.
Not to excuse this travesty, but to reflect upon and uphold the life-changing endeavors of many who have walked in the shoes of Jesus, St. Francis, Pope Francis, etc., it becomes necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is easy (and human) to fall into judgement of the Church, Lutheran or Catholic, while disregarding the great treasures bestowed upon society in terms of art, music, writing, and philosophy. Social justice is today the centerpiece of both faiths, the driving force in commendable ministries, personal and congregational.
Before charging all believers as pharisaical or, as I have often been labeled, a follower of an ‘imaginary’ friend, we should evaluate the path taken and the life lived as a believer. The Bible speaks of the fruits of faith. What are the fruits of the Spirit?
It’s not difficult to determine, when viewing our national leaders, where they have been and what fruits they have produced. An apple tree does not produce lemons, a grape vine does not produce poisonous fruit. What lies in the wake of one’s earthly journey speaks volumes of his/her inner life. Mine was tumultuous and tortured. My moral compass was surrendered to a life of addiction. My North Star sat next to me on a bar stool.
That’s why I am forever grateful to my parents for dragging me to the local Lutheran Church, to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School when I was a child. Although my story became that of the Prodigal written in the Book of Luke, chapter 15, my recovery and subsequent renewal of conscience were directly the work of a loving God, the commitment of people living sober lives and, of course the dedication of parents trying to raise a decent young man.
That’s why I trust President Joe and Dr. Jill. I know personally the moral compass which they profess and the North Star which they follow.
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. For this, my son, was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to be merry” LUKE 15: 20-22, 24
January, 1981, my story was changed. On that cold night in the social hall of a local church, I wasn’t looking for sobriety, I wasn’t searching for a savior to guide my life forever thereafter, I wasn’t willing to take the steps necessary to become a new man. I just wanted to stop hurting, stop the pain that defined my life. What those men and women sitting at the table of my first AA meeting shared was a familiar story because I knew it well. After 17 years living the insanity of alcoholism, I was ready for a new chapter in my story, but, “Good Lord,” I cried. ‘What a tall order, I can’t do it. Living without alcohol forever. I can’t.”
Then that voice which has become so very familiar answered, “Yes, together, we can. It’s not forever, it’s one day at a time, let go and let me.”
Forty years ago my story was changed. Not by my will power nor luck, rather by loving, sober people who cared and a God who could and would make a new man out of me. That’s my story. Chris, Jack, Jo, Cindy, Tom, Danny, Father Bond are just a few of the characters from my recovery…..Jesus is the author.
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” JOHN 8:36
“I love to tell the story! ‘Twill be my theme in glory to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” Catherine Hankey
Who or what is the god of our lives? What do we hold closest to our hearts? Where do we turn in troubling times of the soul?
Of course the answers matter. Troubling times for humanity are not just a 21st century happening. History tells us that, as a species, we have encountered hardships, heartbreak, devastation, genocide, world war, political unrest and plague throughout each generation of mankind. So, let’s not think that we are unfairly oppressed by the inhumanity of the world or the wrath of a vengeful God.
I often refer to my grandpappy, a wise and thoughtful man, in my assessment of life. One of the most profound and profane summaries of his world was shared in these words: “Shit happens.”
My faith, still immature, says that I have no control over most of the events in my life. A simple prayer learned in the rooms of AA says:
“God grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change; courage to change that which I should, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
That prayer poses questions to be answered: 1) what can I not change? Most obviously, I cannot change other people. I cannot change my past. 2) What should I change? That is easy….I made a mess of my life in drunkenness. I need to change myself and thus my future.
In a nutshell, that philosophy guides us to a successful recovery from addiction and a serene path through life. The ‘Serenity Prayer’ is a life-changer for millions of alcoholics. Most of our challenges (call them failures, if you must) were the result of our attempts to play God. When we recognized that the higher power directing and controlling our lives was a substance such as alcohol/drugs or a behavioral addiction, we then searched for a replacement, an entity worthy to be our Higher Power.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Step 2, Alcoholics Anonymous
Knowing a higher power was nothing new to us – it had been alcohol and drugs. Finding a sane alternative was the challenge we faced.
From Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions we read:
“Therefore, Step Two is the rallying point for all of us. Whether agnostic, atheist, or former believer, we can stand together on this Step. True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith, and every A.A. meeting is an assurance that God will restore us to sanity if we rightly relate ourselves to Him.”
Will I relate myself “rightly”, who’s my daddy going to be? Where is my heart’s treasure? With whom do I share the depths of my heart, the concerns and fears, the joy and love?
Like grandpappy always said, life happens regardless of what we think it should be. But, with a commitment to sober-living, life can be a stroll through serenity, or under the ravages of addiction, a trip through hell. It’s our choice.
Having attained the age of 73, I thought that I probably knew most of the lessons and information necessary to continue for another 20 or 30 years undeterred. Like the teenaged Larry from the 1960s there appeared to be nothing new under the sun to learn. I, now a mature, gray-bearded man, could settle into an attitude of old-age ‘know-it-all”.
For example, a passage I read this morning inferred that the Christ child was a toddler playing on the floor of his parents’ home probably with a wooden toy which Joseph had made for him when the Kings from the East visited to pay homage bearing valuable gifts fit for a king. Wait a minute! A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes does not play on the floor with toys – not even Jesus.
What about the nighttime visit to the manger in the stable where Mary birthed the baby Jesus? Every depiction, every nativity scene, every song says that the Magi, aka the Three Wise men, knelt before the Christ child lying in swaddling clothes in a manger filled with animal bedding.
Oh no!! Is this a revisit to the picture hanging on my church wall which shows the young adult Jesus as a blue-eyed Caucasian with long-flowing hair? It took me several years and numerous books written by educated Bible scholars to accept that Jesus was born Jewish and therefore, as a young adult, looked much like the olive-skinned, brown-eyed, curly-haired men of today’s Middle East.
So, what have I learned? Blind faith has to be supported by historical fact and common sense. Of course God could have given Mary, a Jewish maiden and Joseph, a typical Jewish man, a blue-eyed, blond-haired, fair-skinned child if God wanted to do that…..but not likely. Furthermore, if the star appeared over Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus, these wise men from eastern kingdoms did not book passage of the next flight to Israel. They had to prepare for the overland trip, pack provisions, hire camels and a support team. Then the trip itself – it was not an overnight excursion. By the time they arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus was no longer a babe but could easily have been a little boy playing on the floor with toys. King Herod was obviously not a stupid man. In order to cover all his bases in eliminating the newly proclaimed king announced by the Magi, he ordered the slaughter of all Bethlehem’s children under the age of two because he knew the boy could have been born 2 years prior. MATTHEW 2:16
Thanks for bearing with me. This is just another take on the Christmas story from someone who has been labeled ‘doubting Thomas’ for good reasons.
For Lutherans and numerous other Christian denominations, Christmas is not just Christmas Eve, December 24th, and Christmas Day, December 25th. It is an extended season often called Christmastide celebrated from Christmas Eve until January 5th – the twelve days of Christmas. During this time we continue to observe the birth of Jesus. Many of us leave decorations in place until January 5th, the Twelfth Night, or until February 2nd, Candlemas, as we continue with our Christmas. In Lutheran and Episcopalian tradition , Candlemas is a time when congregants bring their candles to church for blessing. These candles are then used the rest of the year. They are symbolic of Jesus, the Christ, who referred to Himself as the Light of the World.
It is a time of communal celebration as well as personal reflection upon the meaning of this Holy season. It is a time to come and see what God has done.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” JOHN 3:16KJV
Probably most of the Christian world has whispered a hushed ‘phewww’ now that the pace of the season is over. Time to kick back, watch some football on TV and run to WalMart to exchange those unwanted gifts.
But, what shall we do with Jesus, the greatest gift of all? We could put him on the fireplace mantel until next year, pack him away with the rest of the Christmas decororations, or shove him into the closet with the other unwanted gifts.
What will I do with Jesus? Several years ago, a renown comedian referred to Jesus as our imaginary friend. Amidst his profanity, the tasteless attempts at comedy, his crude sexual referrals, this one comment offended my senses more than any.
But, it caused me to contemplate. Is this just a product of my imagination? Have I been bamboozled by opportunistic theologians? Am I searching fruitlessly for answers in an unknown realm of belief?
The truth is that I don’t know. What I perceive is a belief in something unknown and unproven in our physical world. Some would define this as faith and for me faith is good enough to call Jesus real – as real as anything I can see, hear or touch.
I do know as factual the functioning body with which I have been blessed, the beautiful Creation in which I live, the wondrous unfolding amazement of a friend’s love, the purring cat lying beside me. My recovery and redemption from a life of alcoholic addiction is certainly proof of an intervention by an unseen and unproven God.
It is my choice what I do with this gift that renews every Christmas. I can receive everlasting love, peace and comfort or I can set it aside for another year to collect dust.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him ye creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly Host; praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”