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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Here comes Michael

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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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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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SHEEP

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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“There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well.  They too listen to my voice.”  JOHN 10:16

“There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.”   GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Plays Pleasant, 1898

The one discipline which gives hope to my occasional hopelessness is acceptance that I do not see the entire picture.  My inner vision is limited by environment, by prejudices, by experiences.  Sometimes, in meditation, a window to  enlightened thinking is opened. Often, when reading the scriptures of wisdom, a metaphor pops off the page and it becomes a moment of eternal truth.

John 10:16 does that for me.  I love the perception which Jesus shared of his followers as sheep.  A protector, a guide, an admonisher who in all actions lovingly guides me through the perils of life.  It’s a comforting metaphor beautifully embodied in Psalm 23 which, assuredly, Jesus read as a young boy in the temple.

My ego wants me to think that I am special, that I am unique.  Multiply that egoistic need by millions of others who are seeking comfort and truth in a perilous world and the concept of exclusiveness becomes real.  “My belief, my religion, my theology is the only correct way to believe.  All you other sheep are misguided heathens. Baaaaaa.”

For me, this is the nugget of understanding which nails my ego to its cross.  I am not the only sheep that Jesus loves.  Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, etc., etc., are just a piece of the spiritual puzzle called  Christianity which is just a part of the message shared by all the great faith walks of the world.  Jesus leads my life personally, yes.  But, Jesus is also Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, Allah, and all the purveyors of the one message of truth.  That message is that I am a servant serving under a God of love and compassion.  That God is universal truth.

Labels are probably important for someone like me whose ego needs identity, but using that label to distinguish and separate me from all the other sheep is counterproductive to the messages of wisdom found in scriptures.

“My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you.  If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that.  I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.”  JOHN 14:2 The Voice

 

guess who’s coming to dinner?

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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I’m having a dinner party next week to celebrate my 71st.  You are all invited.  The menu isn’t yet decided so if anybody has food allergies, restrictions, or dietary quirks, please let me know now.  I don’t expect a full table as several of my friends took issue with my political stance in 2016, a few of my church associates don’t agree with my views on theology, the next door neighbors aren’t speaking ever since I asked them to curb their dogs, and numerous family members have disowned me because of – well, let’s just say they don’t approve of my choice in life partners.  Other than those decliners, I’d say we’ll have a table to celebrate.

I wonder if Jesus would accept my invitation?  Would he come to my party and share a meal with me despite my, er….limitations?  I know he sat with his disciples for the Passover meal before he was crucified.  But, they were all of like minds.  They were his devoted followers.  Even a man as revered and popular as Jesus could only get a dozen people to his dinner.  Lord, maybe I should be content with three of four people.  Do you think Jesus would come to my birthday dinner?  Would you mind sharing a table with him?

Maybe he  had doubts, too, about his dinner plans.  The laws in the Book of Leviticus defined right from wrong in Jewish culture.  The Scriptures tell me that Jesus suffered severe rebukes from the Jewish hierarchy for his departures from those laws.  The dietary and social customs were very strict and he broke most of them.

“Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?'”  MATTHEW 9: 10-11  The Message

It seems that those Pharisees were not easy men to please.  Jesus said:

“For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, he hath a demon.  The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”  LUKE 7:33-34 ASV

He shared dinner with a Pharisee, named Simon, and when he had taken his place at the table

“…..a woman from the city – notorious as a woman of ill repute – follows him in.  She has heard that Jesus will be at the Pharisee’s home, so she comes in and approaches Him, carrying an alabaster flask of perfumed oil.  Then she begins to cry, she kneels down so her tears fall on Jesus’ feet, and she starts wiping his feet with her own hair.  Then she actually kisses his feet, and she pours the perfumed oil on them.” LUKE 7:36-38 the Voice

Simon was shocked and questioned whether Jesus was truly a Prophet because he thought a prophet would not associate with a harlot.  Not only did Jesus share meals with those whom the traditions of Judaism considered unworthy, he stayed overnight in their houses.

“……he looked up, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.  And when they (Pharisees) saw it, they all murmured, saying, he is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.'”  LUKE 19:5-7 ASV

The Judaic laws presented in Leviticus chapters 17-24, the laws which excluded multitudes of people from the “table” were not Jesus’ idea of God.  He met and knew a different God – one who was all about mercy and compassion.

Jesus is definitely coming to my birthday dinner.  Don’t any of you worry about putting on your best clothes or sprucing up your manners. He doesn’t care about that.  All he wants is your heart and your soul.  Hmmmm, what does one cook for Jesus?  Should we have a birthday cake?  I guess pork is not a good idea.

 

just knock

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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“Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.”
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It’s all about surrender, is it not?  For me, surrender is one of the most difficult things to accept and yet I know it can be miraculously transforming.  When I give up my will, when I beg for guidance, when the great “I” becomes nothing, it is there that the nothingness of my life becomes the greatest something ever experienced.  It is then that my life becomes a useful tool.

It’s about willingness.  It’s a desire to knock on the door and seek entry into the universe of compassionate co-existence with humanity and all of creation.  The infinite wisdom of a greater power gave me the choice to decide which door I will take.  Often in my life I have not taken that door choosing my way instead.  That decision thrilled the needs of ego, but led to devastating consequences.  In retrospect, those self-directed decisions were necessary for the growth of my faith walk.

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“Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find.  Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you.  All who ask receive.  Those who seek, find what they seek.  And he who knocks, will have the door opened.  MATTHEW 7:7-8  the Voice

These verses from the Book of Matthew are words of Jesus telling me that the actions of asking, seeking, and knocking are not a once and done deal.  It is an ongoing process which leads to a continuing regeneration and renewal.  I must apply the surrender and willingness (the seeking) to everyday life expecting always to have doors opened and answers received.

FREEDOM

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

I was not a Bible fan when my first days of recovery rocked my world.  If anything, I was quite the opposite, arguing and ridiculing Bible promoters.  I soon learned that it was not the message which I disliked, but the messengers who misconstrued, misinterpreted, and outright lied about the message.

My recovery fellowship shed light on the misconceptions which I had developed over the years of pain and brokenness.  Slowly, I adjusted my attitude to a more tolerant view of Scriptures and began listening to other voices which were proclaiming the greatness of a Higher Power.  Surprisingly, that Higher Power was not the same God of my childhood.  My earlier concept had maligned and obstructed any reasonable desire on my part to surrender my will to God.  Not until I was able to wrap my mind around a universal Essence, which they called Higher Power, was I empowered and freed by writings of Scriptures.

Many years into my sobriety sojourn I enjoyed a job on the grave-yard shift which allowed enough self direction to listen to the radio.  A favorite must-hear program was UNSHACKLED from Pacific Garden Mission out of Chicago.  It’s theme verse was John 8:36.  There is so much hope packed into those few words of encouragement that I made it my lifetime favorite. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” 

Initially, I associated this verse only with the power of alcoholism and drug addiction.  Yes indeed, faith in the Son and living by principles of a sober fellowship had freed me from the hell of substance abuse.  Over time it finally occurred to me that this very same Son had the power to also free me from the concerns of life, from behavior abuses, and ultimately from devotion to the great “me.”  It was a simple but astounding revelation.

Each of us has the capacity to interpret “the Son” as directed by our conscience and our spirit. We don’t need religion nor men/women with a divinity degree behind their names to define “the Son.”  But for me, a personality and human form as presented in Scriptures and clarified by ancient mystics defines with simplicity the life necessary to make me free.  It tells me what I must do to be aware of dirty politics and societal injustice, to struggle with the downtrodden and oppressed, to uphold the homeless and poor, but not be burdened or controlled by those same issues.  Jesus can do that.  ISAIAH 61:1 defined the mission of Jesus when Isaiah wrote:

The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
    The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison,
    “Be free from your imprisonment!”

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

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