Show me

I’m claiming this verse today:

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.  Psalm 143:8

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Tim Tebow – John 3:16

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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During the 2009 American college football  championship game,  Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, a devout, unabashed Christian, wore John 3:16 in eye black under his eyes.  The verse became one of Google’s highest searched terms leading millions (94 million) to search John 3:16 during the game and in the hours after.  In a subsequent interview, Tim quipped that the number was staggering, but he was more amazed that there were 94 million people who did not know John 3:16.  “Everybody knows John 3:16.  It’s the first thing we learned in Sunday school.”

“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 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…..

This is the Son whom we are celebrating during Christmastide.  The readings, the verses, the songs, the festivities are all an important element of the Christmas story, but the message to the world brought by this child in a manger is clearly uncomplicated.  Believe me, have faith in me, trust me, love me with all your heart, give your life to me and you shall have everlasting life.

What is that everlasting life about which John wrote?  I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I have lived without Jesus and I have lived with Jesus.  Living without the Son felt like a death sentence, physical and spiritual.  Living with him has been pretty darn good and, if life is eternal, then this is the eternal life I want.  I believe the God mystery is just that – a mystery  which unfolds with every step on this path we are walking. The path began with a cradled baby in Bethlehem and I am told it is never-ending.  That is good enough for me, how about you?  Want to join me?

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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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“No matter how many Advent seasons sweep by, Lord, your reminders remain the same. Each tear we cry has a purpose. Each trying stage has a divine reason. And in your capable hands, each icy rain of adversity is transformed into the warmth and sparkle of your grace.”
~Edited from Janet Perez Eckles’ “3 Reasons to Dry Your Tears of Sadness at Christmas

IMMANUEL – “God with us”

This short writing from Janet Perez Eckles details the tears, the difficulties, and the challenges of a mother and wife facing blindness.  Her loss becomes unbearably painful during the Christmas season when the delightful sights of decorations and children opening presents sends her to the bedroom in tears.  Those joys of Christmas have been reduced to a gray blur.  Her ophthalmic condition is incurable.  Yet Janet finds comfort in her Lord’s capable hands.

This mother’s loss of vision is a physical reality.  It is challenging, difficult, and disheartening.  But, her salvation lies in spiritual vision, the ability to go deep within and allow her Lord and Savior to dry the tears, encourage and strengthen this child of His to move on in life.

That is the beauty of the Advent season.  Immanuel – God with us – says that you and I do not have to battle life’s unfair punches alone.  We have deep, inner reserves of courage and strength that will transform the adversarial events, the tears of disappointment and sorrow into a season of “warmth and sparkle” embraced in the arms of the Lord.

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer….my stronghold.”  Psalm 18:2

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Jonah’s Whale

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Jonah, historically, was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BCE.  His name is given to the Book of Jonah representing the  Judaic teaching of teshuva, the ability to repent and be forgiven by God.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’  You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  Jesus left them and went away.  Matthew 16: 1-4

There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Briefly, the Biblical story of Jonah tells about a man of faith who was instructed by his God to journey to the city of Nineveh to warn the residents to repent of their sins or face divine wrath.  Jonah instead flees in the opposite direction and gains passage on a ship to Tarshish.  The voyage encounters tumultuous seas threatening ship and crew with destruction.  Jonah, realizing he is the cause of this raging storm at sea, orders the crew to throw him overboard.  He is swallowed by a whale, survives inside the whale’s belly for three days, is then vomited ashore.  Jonah completes God’s mission, the people of Nineveh repent, the disobedient man of faith is forgiven.

I enjoy reading this story about Jonah.  It is a rich example of the Judaic society of that time drawing upon the writings of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans expressing a faith system in greater powers than themselves.  It is a fascinating mythology.  But, in contrast to the neighboring cultures, the Hebrews developed a monotheism worshipping one God to whom they attributed power greater than any of the other gods of the time.

Our powerlessness is acutely apparent when we are in the “belly of the beast”.  Those times when I know what is right and sustaining, but choose instead to follow what is convenient and comfortable are days in the belly of the beast.  The times when I know what the Lord of my life commands, but follow instead what pleases my ego are even more days in the belly of the beast.  I relate to Jonah when what I choose to do is in opposition to what God desires for me.  The seven deadly sins (character defects) of greed, anger, envy, sloth, lust, gluttony, and pride will in a heartbeat put me in the belly of the beast.

It’s a place I can’t fix, control, explain, or understand.  Sooner or later, life is going to lead us there, you and I.  Graciously, that’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing.  It’s transformation that leads recovering addicts out of the beast of addiction.  Like Jonah, that whale vomits us back up onto the shores of sanity and submission.  I am rebellious by nature, slow to learn lessons, and have spent many days and nights suffering in the belly of my personal giant beasts.

Thankfully, the Hebrews taught me about teshuva.  The story of Jonah affirms the teaching of their wisdom.  Repentance and forgiveness, repentance and forgiveness – the cycle continues into eternity.

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Is my faith walk measured by correctness and certainty? Or is it filled with intense need and desire?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Matthew 5: 5

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matthew 5: 6

None of the above verses from the wisdom of the ancient writings say anything about getting it right or being sure about my thoughts concerning God.  As a matter of fact they point to the need to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to hunger for righteousness. I do not have the answers to the mysteries nor will I ever in this lifetime, but there is a way to search for those answers and that searching is in itself the purpose of faith.

Knowing that I just don’t know is sometimes difficult.  It is not an inherent human trait to admit that the object of my searching is an undefinable, indescribable, unspeakable mystery which is the driving force in this earthly life.  Many men and women have taken a stab at descriptions and definitions, but in the end they fall short of certainty.

But, we do know what a God-driven life produces in our lives.  It is love.  Not the warm, fuzzy feelings associated with a friend, family member or spouse, but the gut-wrenching compassion for victims of violence, for the hungry and needy, for the financially stressed, for asylum seekers.   A God-driven life produces peace makers rather than war-mongers, stewards of the earth rather than exploiters, givers rather than takers.

We can know this as truth because the Spirit (conscience) within says this is right and this is love.

“All we have to do is receive God’s gaze and then return what we have received.  We simply complete the divine circuit, ‘love returning love’ as my father St. Francis put it.  This is our spiritual agenda for our whole life.” Richard Rohr

Can’t get any simpler than that.  Look at God’s gaze (the Spirit within – love) and then return it to God and every other creature on earth.  I am a spiritual beggar and wanderer filled with an intense need and desire.  This is all I need to know.35

just a mustard seed

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breathe in, breathe out
focus on the flame
it’s the flame of life

 

as I bring the coolness of the air in through my nostrils to the top of my throat,  I marvel at the freshness of this breath before allowing  it to rest upon my lungs for a moment.   then I exhale the warmness of my expended air back through the mouth.  one breath is spent and the next follows.  this is life

 

My focus is on this flame.  As I exhale through my mouth, the flame flutters.  I have altered the movement of a flame with my breath.  So it is with the flame of life.  One breath, one thought, one action alters the stream of eternity.  I have done this.

Faith as small as a mustard seed can remove the mountain of despair, of anger, of fear, of doubt, of addiction just as that one breath moved the course of the flame of life.  Just a tiny mustard seed of faith can move a mountain.  I can do this.  You also can do this.

Faith in the indwelling Spirit, in the inherent goodness of mankind, in the bountiful mercy of God can extinguish our fires of hatred and fear and doubt.  It can alter our eternity.  Let’s do it.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘ Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17:20

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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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