Jonah’s Whale

jonah

 

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.

BEGGAR & WANDERER

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

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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Hurricanes, volcanoes & God

 

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It is difficult to feel joy and happiness while millions of my neighbors to the north are still reeling from the devastation of a Category 4 hurricane.  It will take months, if not years, for them to rebuild their lives.

I believe that what the rest of us Floridians are feeling is relief.  We dodged this one, but the next could get us.  It’s what we live with here on the Gulf as do our friends on the Atlantic coast during the hot, summer months when superheated waters spawn super storms.  I try to never say I’m glad that the hurricane missed us and made landfall in another community.  I try never to believe that God saved us from the devastation because then the follow-up question would be, “Why didn’t God save them also? Don’t we have a loving and just Father who tends all his people?”

Naw, don’t need to go there.  I’d rather live with the mysteries of my simplistic God-belief than the theories of scholarly minds and PHDs in Divinity.  The bottom line for all of us is that nobody knows.  We all get a one way ticket to eternity and nobody has come back to explain the God mysteries to us.  The theses and scholarly papers written throughout history are nothing more than man’s philosophy.  The scriptures accepted by many as the inerrant and infallible word of God are beautiful literature written by men and women highly inspired by their faith in what they hope is truth.  But, nobody knows.

And therefore, why was my coastline spared while the Panhandle got blasted?  Do you think that maybe God had nothing to do with it?  The reason I’m hot about this tonight is because a neighbor commented, “Well, God surely protected us from the wrath of Michael.”  Really?  She also believes that Sodom and Gomorrah got incinerated because of their sins.  Folks, active volcanoes, not God, do that kind of thing.  Volcanoes spew fire and ash into the air and destroy villages and cities.  If we need to credit anyone let’s give Mother Nature a hand for being the weather-master of our planet.  She creates and destroys.

Here comes Michael

irma

Now is not the time to worry about Hurricane Michael.  The planning and preparation should have been done yesterday and earlier today.  Water bottles filled, gas tanks filled, pantry shelves stocked, batteries, medications, valuable papers gathered, first aid kit handy, and good books to read when the power goes out as it always does.  Having decided not to evacuate, all we can now do is sit tight, enjoy the stormy weather, and keep an eye on neighbors who could need help.

Contrary to popular opinion, storms can be enjoyable.  Spectacular lightning displays, torrential rains, trees whipping in the wind – it’s all part of God’s beautiful scenario, always has been, always will be.  Absolutely the most awesome display of mother nature’s might occurred on an interstate in Arkansas many years ago.  CB communication had warned us that tornadoes were spotted in the area. We were caught in a big rig miles from any safe haven.  Seeing the funnel ahead of us we pulled off the highway under an overpass and cocked the tractor to the trailer for stability.   Within seconds the rig was rocking, the sky grew dark and the fields of knee-high grass surrounding us lay flat to the ground as if in obeisance to the Master of creation.  From my vantage point strapped in my seat, I saw an amazing display of blue-green fireworks as the transformers on the power line about 1/2 mile away blew out one by one.  Pop! Pop! Pop! My co-driver urged me to climb in back under the bunk.  “Hell no,” I yelled, “and miss the show?”

All of us need to reckon with this impermanence called human life.  We are not destined for physical immortality.  We were not created to live perfectly nor care-free.  But, each of us has the capacity to love unconditionally and enjoy exceedingly.  Jesus did that.  In his short human life, Jesus healed, instructed, nurtured, and loved exceedingly.  I believe that even when he was hanging on the cross crucified, he said, ‘Thanks, Father, that was one helluva ride.”  Some folks will disagree, but this is my story, isn’t it?

We can live and love as Jesus did when we walk our paths here on earth.  It’s our choice.  The show is guaranteed to be spectacular.

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PSALM 23 – the VOICE

CANDLE

A very familiar passage of Scripture can reach out to us with profound insight and understanding when seen in the light of varied versions of the Bible.  Psalm 23 from the VOICE does that for me.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

You spread out a table before me,
    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,
    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

The Voice (VOICE)The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

worthy of all praise

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”

orange tree

Listening to great music from contemporary artists and the masters of classical works has the capacity to soothe and encourage.  Sitting in a chair in the stillness of a quiet nook, my world is transformed from one of agitation and discontent to the truth of knowing without reservation that God is, always has been, always will be.  Music such as Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Our God” confirms that others experience this same peace and awe in the presence of a Greater Power, one which defines for us compassion, acceptance, and love.  Unconditionally!

I cannot temper my feeble attempts to be Christ-like with earthly conditions for extending or withholding God’s indwelling spirit.  I cannot deny anyone the directive of Jesus to love my neighbor as myself.  The color of skin, the ethnicity, the creed, the political affiliation, the sexual persuasion, the gender, and the theology of another brother/sister cannot be a determinant for sharing the grace of God which was freely given to me.

Most of us, especially me, are often conflicted by this wisdom from a gracious God.  If you are white like me, male like me, Christ-follower like me, Democrat like me, and peace lover like me, then it is not difficult to also be Christ-like.  My perfect world is one in which no disagreement or contention exists.  My perfect world would also be totally black or white, right or wrong, moral or immoral, no shades of color filtering into it.

That, fortunately, is not God’s world.  The God, which I know today, knew from the beginning that we would be a broken species fraught with discontent, envy, jealousy, anger, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, and “isms” of all descriptions.  Yet, God loved us enough to give us messengers in human form who showed us how to evolve into the humanity with whom He would be pleased.  I don’t have to pursue this transformation without instruction manuals.  Each of our great religions have presented to us a path to follow which leads to enlightenment.

Enlightenment is not some mysterious element in a future eternity.  It is not something to be attained by sustained adherence to rigid rules of morality.  No, enlightenment is the discipline of practicing and sharing here and now in this lifetime the same mercy and grace which is freely available to every soul on earth.  In this quiet space of the soul, a corner of absolute connection to Spirit, there are no distinctions, no fears, no judgements.  We all are one with the great Oneness whom some name Allah, some name Krishna, some name Yahweh, and some name God.  The name we call  upon doesn’t matter.  The heart we share does.  How’s your good heart today?

CANDLE