fear not

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

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How many times as children during an electrical storm have we run to hide in a room without windows or pulled bed covers up over our heads?  We felt we were safe because we could not see the lightning flashing outside.  And then, when the thunder cracked in the heavens, we plugged our ears with little fingers.

As an adult I thoroughly enjoy an electrical storm, smelling the air, feeling the energy in my body, hearing the claps of thunder and seeing the spectacular display of lightning in the skies.  I no longer hide as I did as a child, but that doesn’t mean I will stand outside in an electrical storm under a tall tree, or on a golf course with putter in hand, or on the water in a boat.  Why?  Because I know today not to tempt the power of nature and I don’t believe God protects foolish men on golf courses or fishers on the lake.

But soon a fierce storm came up.  High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.  Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion.  The disciples woke him up, shouting,  “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”  Mark 4:37-38

Naturally, the disciples feared for their lives.  This body of water on which they were being tossed about furiously was not some little backyard pond.  But, instead of taking measures to save themselves by bailing water out of the boat, they awakened the sleeping Jesus and questioned his concern for them.  Don’t you think in that situation, one would awaken Jesus and throw a bailing bucket to him yelling,  “Get ready to jump, can you swim?”  How many times in my life have I confronted God, “Don’t you care about me?  Why are you allowing this to happen?”

The passage from Mark goes on to say that Jesus woke up, calmed the waters and told the wind to be still.  In the same manner when I begin to panic, God says to me, “Relax, son.  Be cool.  I’ve got this under control.”

“I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”  Psalms 34:4

Seeking the Lord in times of turmoil and surrendering the outcome to his mercy and grace is easy.  In the storms of life I usually have no other options and the resulting relief is welcome.  Conversely, seeking the Lord when life is good, the skies are sunny, and I’m enjoying a great day is a challenge.  I’ve retrieved my white flag of surrender, the crisis is over, and I am once again doing the driving.  “OK, Lord, thanks for the help, but I’ll take it from here.”  It would be wonderful if I could surrender my will and my life just one time and be done.  But my life simply does not work that way.  I am still a work in process and apparently have many future lessons to learn.

This physical existence which we experience gives no guarantees to our survival.  Car wrecks, disease and illness, crazy shooters at our local WalMart – we are not assured that tonight we will return home safely to loved ones.  But, it’s always been that way.  Rocko, the cave man, never knew whom in his neighborhood had a bigger, more deadly club.  The Jews, during Jesus’ time were at the mercy of the Roman conquerors and the religious hierarchy.  Jesus was not the only one crucified.  History tells us that thousands were hung on a cross during the rule of the Roman Empire.

Rational fear in the temporal world is probably a good thing.  It keeps me alive and out of harm’s way.  I have learned not to run around my neighborhood looking for a hairy caveman with a big club and I don’t seek out soldiers wanting to crucify me.  But what about fear in my spiritual world?  As a child I became  an extremely fearful person listening to the stories of a judgmental, white-haired, bearded, vengeful, fire-breathing, old man sitting in the heavens just waiting for an opportunity to BBQ me in hell.  The people telling those stories were not evil; they were merely misinformed.

That childhood fear was irrational, not based on truth.  Today, I have the truth in front of me in the words and teachings of the man whom Jewish countrymen hoped to be the deliverer from Roman and religious oppression.  He was not that messiah.  He died like many other victims ignobly hung from a cross.  Centuries later the Roman church fathers assembled writings about Jesus into a plan for successful living which suggested we could have freedom from fear.

I believe that is what the book of John tells me.

“If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”  John 8:36

It’s not rocket science.  In his lifetime, Jesus spoke to his disciples and his followers in parables.  Analogy and metaphor detailed what he was trying to teach about the spiritual world in which he dwelled.  Essential to delivering those teachings was not only the faith of his followers in who he was, but also Jesus’ faith in an eternal, everlasting presence which he named as God, his Father.

Scriptures tell us that Jesus suffered the human condition just as we do.  He displayed anger, compassion, doubt, disappointment, and fear.  The lowly carpenter from Nazareth probably suffered the same concerns about clothing, housing, and providing food for his family as we do.  He enjoyed the company of his Jewish brothers and sisters, attended weddings, and partied with sinners.  That’s what gives me hope.  Jesus was not a saint when he was alive on earth.  He became divine centuries later only when the fathers of “Christianity” proclaimed him to be so.  But, while alive on this earth, Jesus was just like you and I.

That gives me tons of hope and reason to have faith.  I, too, can be a better version of me.  Temporal fear is a life-preserver, but soul fear is merely an absence of faith in what Jesus can do with me as a child of God.  A Psalmist from long ago told me to not be afraid of walking this earth even when death and darkness surround me because the love and compassion of God will protect my soul, will lead me out of that deep valley into a place of gentleness and kindness where I will dwell forvever in His mercy and grace.  Amen, my cup is overflowing.

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The INNOCENTS

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

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After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  “Get up!  Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother.  Stay there until I tell you to return because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  Matthew 3:13

Wow! So much for the peace and joy proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds.  We have just been introduced to a messiah, Counselor, Comforter, Prince of Peace, and then a few days later the angel says, “Run, run, run, Joseph and Mary.  Grab the baby and get out of town.”

Should we totally discount the story of Jesus?  In chapter 2, He has come to save us and then in chapter 3 the entire family is running to Egypt to save themselves.  Herod conducts his murderous rampage on the babies in Bethlehem under 2 years of age.  With no historical confirmation of this event and few details from the Scriptures, we could easily pack the Herod account away as mere myth and throw out the Jesus story too.  But then the unchanging realities of this world would be denied and we will continue to live in darkness.  Jesus was born into a world of violence, inequity, abuse, war, mean-spiritedness.

That child of peace and joy did not stay in the manger forever.  He gathered a motley assembly of like-minded men and women who called themselves ‘the Way’.  Not confined to 1st century Palestine, they survived murder and torture over the following centuries so that today we can accept through faith and hope that He was born to save us from spiritual death.  That’s the Good News proclaimed to the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem, the Good News proclaimed by Jesus and his followers.  That’s the Good News that drives searchers like you and I to put one foot in front of the other on this path we travel.

But, does He save us from a chaotic world of violence and hatred?  I would be misleading myself if I thought, as his countrymen did, that the world around me will change just because he appeared on the scene of my life.  They wanted a savior to lead them out of Roman occupation and theological oppression.  They wanted a 1st century solution to their lives of pain and hardships.  But, that did not happen.

That is where I rested my atheism, my agnosticism, and my doubt for so many years of my life.  I did not see the world moving toward any semblance of peace and joy and I blamed a weak Jesus for the world’s problems.  “Why would God allow the hatred, the child abuse, the murderous rampages of modern-day Herods, the deaths of innocents?”

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

Therein is truth, an answer to my questions.  God’s promise to us, through his Son, is not that He will descend upon the world’s wickedness and clean house.  No, the scriptures, I believe, are saying that when we invite him into our inner sanctum, then we will see the world differently, with an indefatigable joy and peace.  Quite possibly you and I,  and millions like us with faith and hope and love can be the lights in the darkness.  Just a thought, but I like it.  I want to shine with the light of life instead of living in the darkness. AMEN?

(The Lutheran Church celebrates today the “Feast of the Innocents and Martyrs.  Thanks to the writers of the link below for a wealth of inspiration for this post.)

SHARED LUTHERAN MINISTRY

Lord, today we remember the innocents, those who are victims of the world’s darkness and hatred.  Especially the children, whom you gave to us to protect and nurture, need your caring arms in countries at war, living in the decadence of sex trade, traveling across many miles to fulfil dreams of freedom and prosperity in another land, facing the hostility assigned today to the label of ‘immigrant’.  Those innocents are your children.  Remind us of your words telling us about our duty to protect them.  AMEN

CANDLE

it’s a cake walk

CANDLE

Hardly a day passes by that I don’t look at this page and wonder,  “Do I really want to write another post?”

“C’mon Larry, you can do it.  Just get out of the boat and walk over here to me.”

The story in Matthew tells me that Peter did indeed get out onto the water and walk toward Jesus.  But, then, fear set in.  “What if the waves overcome me, what if the winds blow the boat farther away from me and I won’t be able to return safely?  What if Jesus disappears from sight into the depths of the sea?  What if Jesus is not who he says he is and I am left to fend for myself?  What if all those people on the shore see me and laugh at me?  Oh Lord, I can’t swim.”

What’s that you say?  You always trust Jesus.  Really?

Would you trust Jesus enough to drop your nets and your livelihood, leave your family and become essentially a homeless beggar?  Would you trust him enough to risk imprisonment and death by preaching his heretical beliefs?  Would you trust Jesus enough to move to the poorest of slums in India and minister to the poorest of the poor as Mother Teresa did?

Truly?  Well then, undoubtedly you would also have answered “Yes, I know this man, he is my Lord and Savior,” when questioned three times if you are not a follower of the man inside being sentenced to crucifixion.  The cock would never have crowed three times for you.

Aren’t we amazingly hypocritical?  I know I can be.  I can talk the talk but many times walking the walk is too difficult or dangerous.  I’d rather hang in the background with the crowds making small talk, small acceptable talk.  I’d rather focus on problems of the world instead of proclaiming the beauty of the universe dwelling within.  It’s who I am.

People will jabber incessantly with me about the price of potatoes at the grocery, the climate challenges we are facing, the lack of civility amongst Americans, but, when someone mentions Jesus and God, “Oh, I’ve really got to run,  my favorite soap is starting in 15 minutes,”  or, “I’ve got my own beliefs and we like our church.  See ya.”

No, no, no! I don’t want to talk about your beliefs or your church.  I want to talk about your faith and your heart, your good heart.  What makes you tick?  What gives you reason to get out of bed in the morning?  More importantly, what keeps you from walking on water?  (And if you can walk on water, please tell me how you do it.)

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. Matthew 14:29

The writers of Matthew also tell me that faith as small as a mustard seed will move a mountain.  In the physical world that is virtually impossible.  But, within my inner sanctum a flicker of faith the size of a pinhead can overcome enormously mountainous obstacles of anger, aggression, depression, anxiety……addiction.  I don’t know anything about moving Mt. Everest, but let me tell you what just a smidgen of faith in Jesus has done for anger issues, depression, alcoholism.  That faith makes walking on water nothing more than a Sunday picnic cake walk.

Bingo!  Its’ an inside thing, isn’t it?  When I look over the side of my boat surrounded by despair and hopelessness I have two choices; 1) I can stay chained to my oars of self-doubt or 2) I can jump out onto the water and trust in something of much greater substance than me.  Call that hand extended over the water beckoning to you whatever you like;  I will call it Jesus.smiley 3