Beggar in the presence of a king

If your life is perfect, if you have no problems, if your faith is strong as an ox, then this post is probably not for you.  On the other hand, if you are like me, a man who questions everything, doubts everything as the disciple Thomas did, reels between ecstasy and bewilderment when considering the things of faith, then we can appreciate the title of Matthew West’s song, BROKEN THINGS.

“If it’s true you use broken things – then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.”

People don’t like broken things – they throw away cracked dishes, broken vacuum cleaners, flickering lamps, worn clothing.  I remember my grandfather who took his shoes to a cobbler to be re-soled rather than buy new shoes.  Thinking he could not afford new shoes, I bought him a pair for Christmas.  Graciously he thanked me but continued wearing those old shoes.  That new pair was still in its box when Grandpa died.

Rather than repairing broken relationships, husbands and wives will find good divorce lawyers.  Fathers and sons remain estranged for many years after a disagreement, not remembering what the argument was about, but too stubborn to reconcile.  For many of us, broken relationships are not worth repairing.

I was the last to admit that I was broken.  My life had spiraled head first into a vast darkness which applauded my efforts to be strong, to be better than others, to stand out from the crowd, to chart my own destiny no matter what the cost.  I swam in that sea of darkness believing it was my strength of character and independence that kept me afloat.  I did it entirely on my own personal will power.  I drove myself to be a self-made man, independent of anyone – especially God.

Some of us are sicker than others.  Thankfully, God knows this; he has a special room in His heart for the sickest of the sick.  Patiently, steadfastly, lovingly He guided me to a place where I could take an honest assessment of me – on my knees.  We talked, we cried, we screamed out in pain and then we entered the wide gate into the Kingdom of grace.

I am still a broken vessel today.  I like it that way because my Lord can use broken things to fix the brokenness which He sees in his human family.  Patch me, glue me, bind me together.  Like that pair of Grandpa’s worn-out shoes, I can always be re-souled.  “I am just a beggar in the presence of a King.”

“Grace is a Kingdom with gates open wide.”

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COURTESY OF lum3n.com

 

peace like a river

disconnect

Welcome to my little get-away.  Do you like it?  Before we settle in let’s toss some of the excess baggage.  There’s no room for those resentments about the past nor worries about tomorrow.  Get rid of that backpack of responsibilities weighing you down.  Settle in under my palm tree and let’s look just beyond the horizon.  It’s calling us, isn’t it?  Rest for the soul. 

What we see beyond the horizon is merely a reflection of that which we know is indwelling.  Steadfast and unchanging, it is the arm into which we lean in feast and famine, in light and darkness, in joy and sorrow, in peace and conflict.  Comforter, counselor, redeemer, shepherd – faithfully waiting for us to quietly enter Presence.  Don’t wallow in yesterday, don’t worry about tomorrow for today in this moment we are reassured that sitting under our palm tree, gazing into the horizon is soul work of the utmost importance.

When peace like a river attendeth my soul,
when sorrow like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
‘it is well, it is well with my soul.'”
Horatio Spafford

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.  unshackled 3

pride8

….as near as the destination may be, it’s still the journey that matters….

 

undying love

Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus shows what it means to have one person hold fast to us in our hour of need, despite the apparent hopelessness of it all. cac.org – RICHARD ROHR

This magnificent woman of the Jesus story has been horribly maligned over the centuries since the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries.  The male dominated Church chose to depict her as a sinner suffering seven demons within, healed by Jesus, then becoming a follower of the Jesus and the Way.

In 591 Pope Gregory I delivered a series of Easter messages blending Mary Magdalene with the “sinful woman” of Bethel who anoints the feet of Jesus with precious oil and then wipes his feet with her long hair.  This led to the theory that Mary, the apostle, was a repentant prostitute.

Even more interesting is the theory that Mary was in reality the wife of Jesus as popularized in the book and movie the Da Vinci Code and that they possibly had a child.  And why not?  Considering how the Roman Church had bastardized the teachings of Jesus, why can’t we believe that a healthy, devout Jewish man in his early 30s would  have a wife and family.

I’ll answer my own question – that would negate the basic foundation of the priesthood of the Roman Church – chastity and celibacy.  It would also question the Church’s premise that men were superior to women in spiritual affairs thereby justifying that women should be relegated to submissive roles in family life.

I have digressed from the intent of this writing:  one’s undying love for another.  Have you ever loved another person so deeply and unconditionally that even in the greatest times of despair you refused to give in to hopelessness?  In a family unit trying to  navigate the despair and hopelessness of an alcoholic loved one, we hang on to faith and hope, don’t we?  We pray, we plead, we beg, we threaten, we cry, we yell…and then we pray some more.  Why?  Because we still have hope in the face of hopelessness.  That’s what our Higher Power gives us.  The examples of undying love which we see around the tables of AA, the power of another’s comforting words, the personalities we read about in Scriptures all give us reason to go on for yet another day.  We cannot allow despair and hopelessness into our lives.

Mary Magdalene was that kind of person.  She loved her Jesus, stood by his side, wept at his cross, went with him to the tomb, guarded the tomb, and then arrived first at the tomb on the 3rd day to see it empty.  Not quite understanding, even though Jesus had told them in numerous conversations that he would indeed resurrect, Mary thought the body had been taken away.  Perhaps, briefly, at this moment she gave in to despair and hopelessness thinking the recipient of her undying love was forever lost:

“They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him,” was her reply to the angels standing nearby who asked why she was crying.

The resurrection message from John 20:10-18 continues to tell us that her Lord was there all the time even when she did not recognize the presence.  Mary Magdalene stood by her Jesus through the good times and the bad, through the trials of being a rebel, being an outcast from the Jewish hierarchy, being an insurrectionist in the eyes of the Romans, through the humiliation of his crucifixion, and finally through her perceived loss.

My loved ones were my Mary Magdalene through the difficulties, the heartbreaks, the disappointments, the betrayals, the lies, the drunkenness.  Theirs was an undying love.  Today, in sobriety, I hope to be the same to the ‘still suffering alcoholic’ who shares my life.

for my best friend, with lovecropped-cropped-picture40.png

 

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.  

pride8

….as near as the destination may be, it’s still the journey that matters….

misfits, runaways, losers

alone calm faith light
Photo by Garon Piceli on Pexels.com

The Sermon on the Mount; The Beatitudes MATTHEW 5:1-11, amplified version 

If you have ever been to Bible School as a child, if you have participated in a Christian church service, if you have thumbed through the New Testament, you assuredly are familiar with the Beatitudes – the “blessed are” verses.

Often misunderstood, verses 1-11 tells us about the Jesus crowd circa 32 AD.  The powerful of the mighty Roman Empire and the elite of the Jewish hierarchy judged the followers of Jesus to be insurrectionists, rebels and losers.  The story of Jesus tells us that they were the target audience of the Gospel teachings, the ones whom Jesus loved dearly, for whom he was crucified.

I am a content misfit (according to today’s Western culture), a runaway, a loser.  Join me in my insane, joyful approach to life, will you?

(the portions in red and underlined are my emphasis)

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and when He was seated, His [a]disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them, saying,

“Blessed [spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired] are the poor in spirit [those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever].

“Blessed [forgiven, refreshed by God’s grace] are those who mourn [over their sins and repent change], for they will be comforted.

“Blessed [inwardly peaceful, spiritually secure, worthy of respect] are the [b]gentle [the kind-hearted, the sweet-spirited, the self-controlled]for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed [joyful, nourished by God’s goodness] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [those who actively seek right standing with God]for they will be [completely] satisfied.

“Blessed [content, sheltered by God’s promises] are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed [anticipating God’s presence, spiritually mature] are the pure in heart [those with integrity, moral courage, and godly character], for they will see God.

“Blessed [spiritually calm with life-joy in God’s favor] are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they will [express His character and] be called the sons of God.

10 “Blessed [comforted by inner peace and God’s love] are those who are persecuted for [c]doing that which is morally right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever].

11 “Blessed [morally courageous and spiritually alive with life-joy in God’s goodness] are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of [your association with] Me. 12 Be glad and exceedingly joyful, for your reward in heaven is great [absolutely inexhaustible]; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.smiley face 2

I want to be one of the biggest losers in the Jesus crowd.

 

 

 

the sick & homeless – WWJD

YES MAGAZINE

This referenced article in YES MAGAZINE details how immigrants to our southern border are “disinfected” to prevent the spread of vermin and disease.  I shudder remembering what I have read about the arrival of Jews to the concentration camps and the subsequent disinfecting process.

The article describes the methods used in these ‘holding camps’, the pain, humiliation,  and suffering being caused.  But, the nagging question which bothers me and which we all need to answer is this: are they less valuable, are they less human, are they less loved simply because they are not American, because they are refugees seeking asylum and a better life for themselves and their families?  What if the asylum seeker was me and the family huddling around me was my family?

Initially when this current governmental regime assumed power, it was a fight against drug dealers, thugs and rapists crossing the border that we were warned against.  Today it is the same people approaching our border but, with a different MO.  They are, whether intentionally or unintentionally, spreading covid-19 and other diseases in our midst.  They are causing a health crisis.  Incredibly, listening to government authorities, we should believe that they will sell drugs to our kids, steal our possessions, rape our women and boys, and now infect us with a deadly virus.

Really?  Seems to me that we, as a leaderless nation, have done a fine job of creating our own moral and health crisis – don’t need any help from immigrants.  Those who refuse to mask up, refuse to practice social distancing, refuse to see this pandemic as the killer which it is and then ridicule and threaten others who take covid-19 seriously…..those others are the prevailing threat about which we need to worry.

How much are we willing to believe from a government which has lied repeatedly over the course of history?  How long must America suffer the delusional mindset that because of race, nationality, creed, or alliances, it is superior to the rest of mankind who share this earth under a merciful and gracious Higher Power?  How long?

diversity

come, come to the table

When I found on YouTube this a cappella rendition of JUST AS I AM and saw that it was sung by a Mennonite choir, I knew this was today’s post.  I have journeyed with very fine Mennonite men and women on this trek through life.  They are non-judgmental, they are humbly devoted, they are peacemakers in a violent world.

Decades ago I answered the altar call at a Youth for Christ rally.  Penitently, I walked up to the railing, knelt, bowed my head, cried.  It was a transformative night.  But then the ‘humbly born again’ me tried to assume the posture and image of what people told me a Christian, especially a born again Christian, should be.  Over the following years I rebelled against and rejected anything religious.

That table of invitation, the seat reserved for me did not move.  It is I who have changed and moved.  Today, what others profess does not matter.  What others think about me does not matter.  What others assume as ‘Christian-like’ behavior does not matter.  It was my seat waiting and I claimed it.  Verse 3 of the hymn by Charlotte Elliot says it all:

“Just as I am! tho’ tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, with fears within, and foes without, O Lamb of God, I come!  I come!”

The truth of the Jesus story says to me that there are no conditions on taking a seat because the table is open to anyone – black or white, man or woman, gay or straight, drunk or sober, earthling or Martian – the truth has not changed.  This has always been a universal invitation which only man’s theological  interpretation has limited.

“If, therefore, the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  JOHN 8:36

Enjoy the freedom.  The centerpiece of the table is unrelenting love for your Lord and, then, the entirety of Creation.  We can add a plethora of ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’, but why should we want to? NAMASTE 🙏

UNSHACKLED 2

 

made in the image

It doesn’t say white or black, short or tall, handsome or rugged, sailor or land-lubber, farmer or hunter.  It doesn’t say intelligent or obtuse, mechanical or artistic, straight or cropped-larry-rebel.pnggay, musical or tone-deaf.  Verse 27 of Genesis 1 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

That’s who we are whether we believe we have descended from hairy jungle dwellers or from a colony of extraterrestrial voyagers or whether we emerged from God’s test tubes fully human six or seven thousand years ago.  The wisdom of the early sages is saying that we are all alike, made from the same stuff.  The mystery of this image covers all humanity.

Okay, I can hear you saying, “Larry, the verse is not talking about physical appearance.”

You are probably right.  Then what is God’s image?  Maybe love?  Maybe compassion?  Maybe faithfulness?  How about hope and righteousness?  And don’t forget joy.  That is who we are, whom we were designed to be, so why would we choose to live otherwise? God’s DNA is the stuff from which we were made.  We are not ignorance, intolerance, hatred, weakness and fear.  We were not made unimportant and inconsequential.

That shared DNA makes us brothers and sisters, doesn’t it?  I may not know my Asian brother in China, but we are related.  My sister in Iran may not follow the same political philosophy which I do, but we are related.  The names given to the God whom we worship may be vastly different, but we are brothers and sisters in the universal oneness.  Do you see the common thread developing here?  As much as you or I desire to be different or distinguished, more handsome of prettier, smarter than all others, we are one humanity born into the image of the One, the original creator.

Our survival as a species is not God-dependent.  God did the birthing, but it is our choice to live in harmony with others and with all of Creation.  There have been messengers to lead and guide on this journey, to redirect as necessary, but in the end, living or not living in solidarity will determine the chances of our survival.

My skin color does not make me more worthy.  Your intelligence does not make you more like God.  Our financial success on earth will mean nothing on heaven’s society page.  Our personalities, our physical appearances, our possessions, our bodies will stay behind when we die.

“All go to the same place; all come from dust and to dust all return.”  ECCLESIASTICS 3:20

The author of the Jesus story has tried to tell us that this life is birth, death and then resurrection – what is so difficult about that?  The most significant part of us will return to the energy pool in preparation to become part of another human’s God energy.  The cycle continues forever.

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FREEDOM

What does freedom mean to you?  Picture6
What price will you pay for it? 
Would you be willing to die so others could enjoy freedom?

I’m not sure what the motives were for my father and three of his brothers.  They all enlisted in the military service of their country during WW2.  But, whatever their reasoning, they are my heroes on this Memorial Day.  Returning to civilian life after the war, they continued to serve their families and communities.  In my eyes they put everything on the line to ensure the freedom of every one of us for generations to come.  That kind of courage and selflessness is rare in today’s America.

Freedom is not free.  It comes at great cost.  I often wonder if I have paid my dues – have I paid the price for the freedoms I enjoy today?  Perhaps that I.O.U will come due sometime in the future.  What do I owe and to whom?  Will I have the courage and selflessness to pay my debt?

The greatest gifting of freedom, aside from the sacrifices of our fallen military heroes, has been the adventure of sobriety given to a helpless, hopeless drunk.  Undeserved and unmerited, this gift of amazing grace has allowed a life of celebration and thankfulness rather than one of dread and misery.  John 8:36 says it all:

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

This is not a freedom with conditional clauses and a litany of ‘thou shalt and shalt not’.  It is not tied to any particular faith walk or theology.  It does not consign me to hell for being bad or promise me heaven for being good.  There are only two requirements for enjoying this freedom forever.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  JOHN 10:27

Pretty simple stuff.  Freedom can be costly, but need not be difficult.

LOVE

 

the PRODIGAL returns

We delve into the world of non-believing, into the emptiness of denial, into the realm of anti-religion looking for answers.  We look to worldly pleasures and comforts for fulfillment.

Wherever we look,
there you are, the One who never deserted,
mercy, grace and goodness cropped-candle.png
patiently awaiting our return.

We are the seekers.
We yearn, we search
in realms beyond us
for that which has always been within.

The prodigal returns. LUKE 15:11-32

motherhood

Consider this – Jesus was not born into our world to hang on a cross at the front of the church sanctuary, to adorn the wall with art, or to be worshipped from afar with incantations and prayers.  Mary did not birth him so that the world could bow at her feet in front of the manger in marvel and adoration.  God did not send him so that mankind could write scriptures and hymns praising him about this time every year.  Jesus is not just another festive reason to celebrate once a year.  He is meant to become “our work, our being and our personhood.” Richard Rohr

We all were meant to be mothers of Jesus.  We were designed to endure the birthing pains of the changes required to be men and women walking the walk of humans transformed by God’s love, tolerance and compassion.  We are to be manifestations of the human whose birth we celebrated yesterday.

Celebrate, yes.  Adore, yes.  But, that is not enough, is it?  When we accept our responsibility as contemporary nurturers of Christ, we also assume the power to change history, society, and all relationships.  Don’t put Jesus up on the shelf for another year to collect dust.  It’s just another Bible story when this birth is left on the pages of Scriptures and not incorporated into everyday living.

diversity