Heaven and Hell

Is my life directed by the promise of heaven and the threat of hell?  How about yours?  I spent many of my younger years in hell.  Been there, done that and today I’m not afraid of hell because I know that the state of mind which I call hell can not be imposed on me by an entity which is vengeful and wrathful, a God which sits in judgement breathing fire and damnation.  Only I can impose hell on me.  It would have to be my choice to return to the hell I knew in addiction and, today, I won’t go there.  The God of my understanding is with me and in me.  We, together as one, control our destiny, so why would We impose hell on both of us?  Doesn’t make sense.

Look, I am not going to engage theological arguments with those who believe a literal heaven and hell.  If that trips your trigger, go for it.  It tripped my trigger also for many years and I was the meanest, most miserable man on earth because I knew my eternity was going to be spent in hell.  Why was that?  Because I could in no way conform to the type of person who made it to the Pearly Gates to claim his room in the heavenly mansions according to the edicts of religion and preachers.  I was doomed.  Church could not save me, preachers could not change me, and good religious folks gave up on me.

I am the prodigal son who took his God-given inheritance, ran to the far country, drank and caroused, lied, deceived, stole, and partied himself into a moral bankruptcy that no human power could forgive or change.  Finally, when totally and absolutely defeated, I looked back to the home I had left, fell to my knees and begged a new start.  My Father was standing there on the return road and ran to meet me, threw arms around me, hugged and kissed, and cried, “Welcome back, my son.  I have never stopped loving you.” LUKE 15:11-32

Yeah, that was 39 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.  Still get weepy-eyed.  No sir, there’s no way I’m going back to hell.  I’m the woman at the well drawing water when Jesus stopped to ask for a cup of water.  She, being a Samaritan woman, did not associate with Jews and was offended by his request.  He, being a Jew, should not have defiled himself by speaking to a Samaritan.  But, Jesus knew her past history of immoral behavior and offered her a drink from the living waters of eternal life which he offered to all who would believe.  Just as the Samaritan woman, I accepted the offer. JOHN 4:4-21

I am Peter who swore his loyalty and love to Jesus only to betray him three times in the courtyard of the high priest because the faithful disciple was afraid for his personal safety.  Loving his disciple Peter as much as ever, Jesus suffered humiliation, flogging, torture and crucifixion even though Peter betrayed and abandoned him in the greatest time of our Lord’s human need.  That is who my Father is, the one who met me, a drunk who betrayed Him and all who chose to love me, on the road back to sanity and sobriety. LUKE 22:54-62

I am Thomas, the disciple who refused to believe his Master had defeated death and was still alive in Spirit.  “Not until I see the nail holes in his hands and wound in His side, will I believe.”  A strident atheist, a confirmed non-believer, a vocal blasphemer and doubter is who I was when I spied my Father waiting for me on the road back home.  My Father wept with joy at my return with tears of compassion and forgiveness even as I had been the wayward denier assailing his person and spirit at every opportunity. JOHN 20:25

I am Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee who directed the first man to cast stones at Jesus’ follower, Stephen, outside the city’s gates.  I persecuted and ridiculed those who believed in Jesus and I tried to destroy their faith in something which I had previously known but cast away in my addiction.  Then, when my life detoured to my personal Damascus, the scales of darkness were removed from my eyes and, like Saul, I was unblinded to the truth of my Father as he came running to me singing “Paul, Paul, believe in me”. ACTS 9: 1-19

I am Paul, the redeemed and forgiven Saul of Tarsus, who, after the conversion on the Damascus road, dedicated his life to telling all about the Lord of his life, Jesus.  This is my story, my truth.  I can share it, but I can’t give it to you.  You must discover your truth for yourself.  Come and discover.  The yoke is easy and it is light.  No load is too heavy, no burden too great, no sin too unforgiveable.  Give it up.  Our Father will joyfully meet you on the road and carry you home.

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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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UBUNTU

 

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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?

ROCK OF AGES

 

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

HONOR

NOUN
  1. high respect; great esteem.
  2. adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct.
  3. something regarded as a rare opportunity and bringing pride and pleasure; a privilege.
VERB
  1. regard with great respect.
  2. fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement).
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Today’s world does not place a great deal of emphasis on honor – the noun or the verb. Newspaper headlines are filled with stories of individuals who have conducted their lives dishonorably.  My personal past is rife with dishonorable behavior under the influences of alcohol and ego.  That did not miraculously change on my sobriety date.   However, sober living did eventually make honorable intention a top priority.  In the end analysis of my personal inventories, living honorably with self-respect became more desirable than riches or fame.  As with everything in sobriety, it is not a pursuit of perfection, but rather a life of continuing growth.

Perhaps that is why my brain automatically zeroes in on stories of honor evidenced by other individuals.  This is especially true in the world of politics where that asset is in short supply.  Senator John McCain is one of those men who rises above political commonality.  We know his story and we know his politics.

I don’t call him a great man because of his political stance.  I have disagreed with his brand of politics on most occasions.  But, his life has been an outstanding lesson in honor – both the noun and the verb.  From his military career during which he was a POW enduring torture to his distinguished service to our country in government, Senator McCain obviously lived his life by a standard epitomized by a standard of valor and personal sacrifice.

His shoes will be hard to fill.  His legacy will be remembered long after the hoots and hollers of today’s political players will be merely a footnote in history.  His strength of character will be memorialized aside other great statesmen while the questionable character of today’s political movers and shakers will be remembered as nothing more than self-serving arrogance.

Living with honor and self-respect is not for wimps just as sobriety is not for wimps.  Senator McCain cemented my admiration for him during the rally for his Presidential campaign when a woman commented untruthfully about President Obama’s faith walk and his birthplace in a disparaging manner.  McCain took the microphone from her and proceeded to correct her assertions with a most eloquent statement of support for an equally honorable man, Barack Obama.  That response was class and grace as only a great statesmen could evoke.

We live in a nation which desperately needs the service of men and women who are driven by the old-fashioned ideals of honor and self-sacrifice.  As President Obama and Senator McCain have shown us, this is not a political thing, rather, it is a character thing.  Character is the most glaring absence in today’s political discourse.

When voting this November, perhaps we could become familiar with the candidates, disregard that R or D  beside their names and cast a vote for honor and character.  It’s a commodity available in all political flavors.  It’s our duty as citizens to find it.