ADVENT-Isaiah 7:14

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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“For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.” ISAIAH 7:14 NET (new English translation)

IMMANUEL – meaning “God with us”

K.I.S.S.

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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Keep It Simple, Stupid

For those of you who are unfamiliar with 12 step recovery programs, this life-changing saying hangs on most meeting room walls.  It shares wall space along with “Let Go, Let God”, “Easy Does It”, “One Day at a Time”, and the Serenity Prayer.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

But, for mortals, especially those of us recovering from addictions, keeping it simple is, well, not all that simple.  It took numerous collisions with “self-will run riot” and retractions of my surrender to God to reach any semblance of simplicity in my life.

At the year of my 28th sobriety anniversary, I was plunged into the horrors of bankruptcy in 2009 due largely to the world-wide recession.  As small business operators, my partner and I suffered equally the devastation of losing a trucking business of 15 years, the equipment, the accumulated toys, the savings, great credit standing, and my house.  More devastating to me, a man 62 years old, was the loss of hope for a financial recovery.  I came out of the bankruptcy tired and disillusioned.

“Aha,” said He, my Higher Power.  “Maybe now you will learn from me.  Why not let me run your life?  I am not that difficult to live with.”

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart;  and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  Matthew 11:29

My life changed.  Gone were all the concerns about finances and credit ratings and running a business.  Gone were the responsibilities of owning a house and a bunch of toys.  I slept like a baby at night and found voluminous amounts of time to walk, hike in the woods, jog, read, and enjoy leisure time with friends.  I embraced Gandhi’s exhortation to “Live simply so that others may simply live.”  And I learned to live life claiming the words of Jesus in the book of Matthew, chapter 11.

I think Jesus would have approved of our modern-day acronym KISS.  What do you think?

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don’t worry, be happy

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.

Western culture is familiar with this title of a Bobby McFerrin song from 1988.  George H.W. Bush used it without authorization in his 1988 presidential campaign prompting McFerrin (a Democrat)  to publicly protest the use of his intellectual property and further distanced himself from Bush by dropping the song from his performance repertoire.  Later rumors circulated that McFerrin had committed suicide.  Born in 1950, he continues today as a prominent figure in the world of jazz.

Lesser known is Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master, 1894 to 1969, who taught that “the Universe is imagination, that God is what really exists, and that each soul is really God passing through imagination to realize His own divinity.” His spiritual transformation began at age 19 and lasted seven years until early 1922.  From 1925 to his death in 1969, he maintained silence communicating only by an alphabet board and unique hand signals.

Meher Baba’s most noted quote is, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

I find his spiritual insights easier to swallow that many other of today’s religious theologies, but I especially appreciate “don’t worry, be happy.”  Even Christian scripture exhorts me to this same practice.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own.  There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.”  Matthew 6:34

This chapter of Matthew 6 describes how the lilies are beautifully clothed and the birds of the air are fed without any concern for tomorrow.

“Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?”  Matthew 6:27

The verses do not promise trouble-free days, but they do advise me that to worry about those difficult days will accomplish nothing.  Modern Christianity with its promise of worldly prosperity and eternal good feelings is a setup for a major spiritual crisis when those promises do not materialize and I am left holding a bag of remorse and guilt for being immensely deficient in my faith.  I refuse to go there anymore.

Life is meant to be enjoyed.  Life is designed to follow the footsteps of  the One we name as Lord and Master, that same One who directed his followers to not worry about the incidentals of living, but rather to attend to the eternal values of life.

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blessed are the sick

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

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

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

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:1-12

What’s that you say?  Blessed are the sick is not one of the Beatitudes.  Are you sure?  Hmmm, maybe I’m just feeling especially needy today and wanting another blessing.  My body has been plagued with this year’s influenza “du jour” for the past ten days and I am, well for lack of better words, sick of it.  The bug has visited every part of my body and is now considering follow-up visits.  I won’t have it.  Enough is enough.

A friend, not known for encouragement nor social tact, commented that this is God’s way of using me in another person’s spiritual walk.  Really?  Obviously, God and I need to have a talk.  I can visit the sick, I can write encouragement, I can hold another’s hand in solace, I can cook a dinner, I can run errands, I can mail a cute ‘get well’ card.  But, I don’t see the benefit of puking for God.

“Son, you have so much to learn from me.”

“Lord?”

“Who else talks to you in your hour of need?”

Nowhere in Matthew 5: 1-12 does it say, “Blessed are the hale and hearty, the fit and healthy.”  Each of the Beatitudes bestows a blessing on the weak and needy because it is there in that weakness, need, and abject powerlessness, that our Father can meet us and use us to further his work in our kingdoms.  When I become absolutely incapable of controlling my body and my affairs is the time when Jesus can nominate another of his followers to step in and become a dispenser for his tender mercies.

That is one the most difficult parts of recovery.  We have learned to love with patience and compassion, but allowing ourselves to be loved with patience and compassion is a challenge.  Allowing our weakness and sickness to be a tool in another’s faith walk is not part of the ego’s game plan.

The great mystics speak of the need to give up the gaze upon the heavens for guidance and direction, but rather to descend into the masses of suffering and despair to discover the essence of a Savior.  Religion often tells us to look up.  Jesus teaches us to redirect our attentions downward where humanity suffers because that’s where He exists.

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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.

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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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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