just as I am

Are you an evangelist?  The dictionary definition says  (1) one who preaches the gospel (2) one who brings converts to Christianity.  Nope, I’m not an evangelist.  Before she retired, my aunt was a missionary and an evangelist.  I admired her.  Her family of nieces and nephews idolized her.  She was a great worker for Jesus.  Maybe I should be more like her.

My preacher at church urges us to go out into the community and spread the good news.  I think she means that we should take Jesus with us when we interact with our neighbors, our co-workers, the cashier at the grocery store, maybe the homeless guy on the corner.  I don’t carry a Bible with me when I go somewhere.  Do you think I should?

Years ago the fellowship I worshipped with assigned us in twos to go door-to-door to share the gospel.  Talk about rejection!  Slammed doors, cussing, ridicule and only a few welcomes.  No, I’m not a door-to-door kind of guy.  Hey, I’m not knocking it.  God needs workers of all walks.  The preacher, the teacher, the organizer, the evangelist, the handyman, the errand boy, the writer, the cleaning crew, the PR man, the musician…..and me.

So, what am I?  Where do I fit in God’s scheme?  I know what my gifts are and I share them.  No, I’m not a talker.  I’m that quiet guy who sits in the 3rd to last pew at church service.  I sing but the choir doesn’t need my crow-like caws annoying the folks in the front row and the preacher.  I don’t play the organ or piano.  I’m not especially talented at organizing group functions.  So, what can I do?

I can listen to you talk about your pain and grief.  I can hold your hand when you’re sad.  I can share my strength when yours is running low.  I can tell you what Jesus did for me when I was in pain, when I was grieving, when I was sad, when I was weak.  I can come beside you and walk with you through the dark times, through the trials, through the loneliness.

Don’t you see?  I know the greatest teacher ever.  His teachings are eternal wisdom.  His love is everlasting.  His patience is bottomless.  And Jesus wants me to be the best me I can be.  He doesn’t need another front man for the missionary work, a speaker who can move crowds to ecstasy, a motivator, a leader, or a teacher.  No, he wants me doing what I do best…….just as I am.  The invitation is open, you can come too, just as you are.

I come broken to be mended
I come wounded to be healed
I come desperate to be rescued
I come empty to be filled
I come guilty to be pardoned
By the blood of Christ the Lamb
And I’m welcomed with open arms
Praise God, just as I am

Songwriters: SUE C. SMITH, TRAVIS COTTRELL, DAVID E. MOFFITT
© Universal Music Publishing Group, CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP

CANDLE

 

poor in spirit

If you, like I, went to Sunday School and VBS as a child, you probably memorized the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, and maybe the Beatitudes.  The eight short sayings of the Beatitudes give the core teachings of Jesus in a concentrated format.

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

Oh, how I struggled with this one.  This proud country boy did not want to be “poor” in any way, shape or form when he grew up.  Although my family, as farmers, provided adequately for our needs, we could not afford the vacations other people took each summer nor the fancy new car every 2 years.  Fortunately, designer jeans were not a necessary fashion statement in high school in 1961 and most often I started the new school year with last year’s clothes augmented by new shoes or a new shirt.  Life was pretty good but, when I considered the first of the Beatitudes, this 13 year-old farm boy raised up a few secretive, quiet prayers, “Lord, anything but poor.  I don’t want to be poor.”

I believed for many years that when the pastor recited the first Beatitude, he forgot the last two words, “in spirit.”  A more likely scenario is that  I did not hear them because I was too enamored by the cute neighbor girl sitting beside me on the pew. I think that maybe I missed a lot of the things I needed to hear in church because I was distracted.  Whenever I heard “blessed are the poor,”  my mind pictured a crowd of people saved by grace mulling around heaven in tatters and rags.  What is so blessed about that?

I’m sure my boyhood pastor recited the Beatitude in full.  I simply was not ready to hear it in full just like so many other lessons and teachings from Jesus.  That could explain why for many years I stumbled through life filling my God hole with everything but God.  Ranging from alcohol to sex to pot to pornography to numerous other idolatries, I did not become ready to listen to all the words from Jesus until I was utterly defeated by my own life.  No enemy could have defeated me as soundly as I defeated myself.  Finally the sweet words of surrender filled my heart when I put some verses into that God hole.

“Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted….”  Psalm 46:10

“If the Son, therefore, will set you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

Those were the first verses I memorized.  And yes, I finally heard the full verse of Matthew 5:3.  It happened only when my mind understood “poor in spirit” to mean that I need to be fully open and receptive to Jesus, I need to find a state of nothingness  and then let Jesus fill the void.  I need to go to that space where there is only God.  When there I am as a beggar on the street seeking alms, begging for the bread of Life which feeds, the living waters which quench.  I have then been impoverished, made poor in spirit, and Jesus will relieve my poverty.

Sure, my mind still shuts down God’s space sometimes, fills it with junk.  My thinking says that I should pursue a spirituality based on knowledge, surety, certitude.  My ego begins reviewing the spiritual advancement, the learned theology, the numerous books, the good works.  I can very quickly become haughty and self-assured within my own religious arrogance.  But then, when I have suffered enough from running my own show, Jesus says, “Come back, you will find assurance in me.” cac.org

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” 

Frances J. Crosby 

CANDLE

 

 

….and my neighbor is ?

Refer to the good Samaritan parable from the book of Luke 10:25-37namaste rainbow

“25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He (Jesus) said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?                                

2And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he (Jesus) said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

King James Version (KJV)Public Domain

“Go, and do thou likewise.”

From the first time I heard this story in Sunday School and VBS about the good Samaritan, I have been intrigued by the characters and the roles they played in Jesus’ lesson on Christian behavior.  In it Jesus defines the meaning of “neighbor”.  Obviously it is not limited to what we in contemporary society would consider a neighbor, i.e., the couple next door or the man down the street.

In Biblical Jewish culture, the Samaritans were a race to be ostracized and avoided at all costs.  At the well, the Samaritan woman drawing water was shocked and probably miffed that a Jewish teacher (Jesus) would ask her to draw water for him. John 4:7-26 In all probability, the Samaritans hated the Jews just as much as the Jews despised them.

So when Jesus uses a Samaritan traveler as the pivotal character in his parable, those hearing his message were undoubtedly shocked.  And when Jesus takes this heresy further to cast a favorable light upon the Samaritan, we should not be surprised that the ruling hierarchy of Pharisees desired to be rid of him and his teachings.  Their hatred and intolerance was justified by centuries-old racism supported by an archaic system of religious righteousness.

Jesus reckons with this racism by first stating that a priest and then a Levite came upon the traveler (we are not told anything about his background) and kept to the side of the road in order to avoid contact with him.  Perhaps they feared for their own safety should the robbers still be nearby.  Or perhaps they did not want to contaminate themselves by touching a corpse.  The priest and the Levite, although holy men of the Jewish faith, lacked the compassion to lend assistance to the dying traveler.  The Samaritan, however, even though a despised citizen of a neighboring country, felt compassion for the wounded man and gave immediate assistance to the point of ensuring his safe passage to care and recovery at a nearby inn.

“And who is my neighbor,” asked the lawyer of Jesus in the scripture, verse 29?

Jesus tells his story and then the lawyer in verse 37 answers his own question, “He that shewed mercy.”

Which character of this parable do I play?  Am I the priest or Levite, men unwilling to be involved in saving another’s life?  Am I the good Samaritan who cares enough to risk his own life for that of a stranger?  Or perhaps I am the traveler, wounded and left to die on the highway of life, saved only by the grace of a compassionate savior.

Who is my neighbor?  Certainly John next door, my tax accountant at the mall, the restaurant owner at my favorite Italian place, even the Muslim couple who smile to me whenever they walk by my house.  I consider my pastor my neighbor, my car salesman, my insurance agent, and my local sheriff.

OK.  What about the strident atheist at school, the repugnant Republican congressman, the white supremacist in Georgia, the drug dealer in the city, and the redneck who flies a Confederate flag on his pickup truck?  Are they my neighbors?

Jesus was not categorizing anyone when instructing us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus does not see anything but a person’s heart and the innate love and compassion within that heart.  Jesus wants us to do the same.

Who, then, is my neighbor?  The Nazi who would kill a gay man?  The racist who would lynch a black man?  The Jew who would harm a Palestinian?

If I were to come upon an injured man on the highway and that man was Trump, would I stop to assist or pass by on the other side of the road?  Yeah, it gets really funky now, doesn’t it?

I am supposed to love my neighbor.  Love is not always a warm, fuzzy feeling that tingles all over.  It is also a willingness to be actively compassionate toward every creature of God’s creation.

“Go, and do thou likewise.”  I know that if I just carry the willingness, God will honor my efforts.smiley 3

 

fundamentalism

“Fundamentalism is a growing phenomenon, not only in Islam and other religions, but within Christianity as well. Fundamentalism refuses to listen to the deep levels of mythic, metaphorical, and mystical meaning. It is obsessed with literalism and exclusion. The egoic need for clarity and certitude leads fundamentalists to use CANDLEsacred writings in a mechanical, closed-ended, and quite authoritarian manner. The ego rarely asks real questions and mostly gives quick answers. This invariably leaves ego-driven, fundamentalist minds and groups utterly trapped in their own cultural moment in history. Thus they miss the Gospel’s liberating message along with the deepest challenges and consolations of Scripture.” cac.org Richard Rohr

Before any of my “fundamentalist” friends light the fires around my stake, allow me to explore this viewpoint.  Those who are able to enter the realm of God, whether it be in reading or worshipping, with a literalist, inerrant mindset and then approach the world in which they live with a peaceful and non-violent perspective….they  are not the folks who give fundamentalism a questionable reputation in world affairs.  Richard Rohr is probably addressing the ones who use their interpretations to bring havoc upon the rest of the world which does not agree with them.  Their concepts about God and spirituality allows an oppressive and violent theology which ends with an “either or” philosophy.  Either believe as I believe or spend your eternity in hell.  The hell referred to is often caused by those very same religionists whose egos have driven them to formulate a God subservient to their brand of righteousness and self-serving intentions.

Oh my, I can see the torch bearers coming now.  If your theology, which like mine is just another philosophy set forth by man, advocates acts of violence, exclusion, intolerance, and hatred, then perhaps that theology is not based on the One all of us in the Christian world name as Lord.  Jesus, the Christ, unequivocally directed in just one verse, Matthew 22:39, to love our neighbor as ourself.  Those few words are all this world needs to live in harmonious co-existence.  Practice verse 39 in all our affairs and we will know peace

34But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. 35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I am just a common man, not scholarly and certainly not a Biblical expert.  But, when the crux of God’s directive for man is given to us in simple words by a savior who came to earth as a common messenger, there is no need to complicate the message with “thou shalts and thou shalt nots”.  Jesus said:

13Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” Matthew 19:13-15

Children have a wonderful trust and innocence in the world around them.  They do not hate for hatred is learned.  They do not judge according to skin color for that also is learned.  They love unconditionally and faithfully using the inherent goodness they brought into the world at birth.  Oh, fellow children of God, how much we could learn from the little ones.  Picture1.pngFAMILY11

 

“Father, forgive them…”

Would anyone refuse to accept the forgiveness of  a lover, a parent, a teacher, a spouse, or a best friend?  Of course not.  If  I have transgressed against you and you offer me CANDLEyour forgiveness, then our friendship cannot continue until I reciprocate with a sincere ‘thank you for understanding’.  Only then, after cleaning house,  can we pursue our relationship.

Forgive and forget is a cliché which sounds cool but is rarely practiced in our society.  Although most of us are ready to forgive, the act of forgetting is difficult because none of us wants to be transgressed again by the same person and, if we are honest about ourselves, we enjoy the grudges which we hold.  One of my friends says he will forgive but, the transgressing person will not get a second opportunity to harm or injure.  Another holds a lifetime of grudges which fester and negate any potential good will with his transgressor.   Others say that forgiveness is an act which benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven.  I can understand that but, I don’t believe the purpose of forgiveness is to make me feel better about myself.

So, what then is forgiveness all about?  Is it just a religious thing, a few spoken words that are meant to repair a relationship?  Does sincerity enter the picture?  How about compassion?  Maybe a touch of empathy?  Spirituality?

The Jewish faith in Psalm 46:10 believes that the psalmist wrote, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”  We cease striving and know God when we enter the spaces between our thoughts, relinquish those before and after thoughts to the now moment and realize the power of a God which is omnipotent and omnipresent.  That “now moment” is our God space.  Living consciously in the now moment is where we will find God.

God says, ” Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

We are exhorted to give up grudges, to forgive transgressions against us, to receive forgiveness for our wrongs because only then are we ready to enter the realm of “Be still and know.”  Our minds, when cleared of human earthly affairs, will then be receptive to God’s presence and God’s power in the stillness of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.  It’s a great exercise in spiritual discipline which I certainly have not mastered although I continually try.

Perhaps forgiveness is all about doing what Jesus did on the cross.  He wasn’t concerned about feeling better as he hung there dying.  He probably did not care if his forgiveness was accepted by the Roman soldiers or the Pharisees.  What if, at that moment of physical death on his cross,  Jesus wanted to purge humanity of it’s transgressions through forgiveness, (“Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing”)?  With this act of forgiveness mankind could resume a relationship with God released from the intolerance and hatred which nailed Jesus to his cross.

Matthew 5:23 tells me to be reconciled with my brother, if there are differences, before I come before God to offer my gift of body, mind, and soul at the altar.  In my church service, I present myself in prayer to receive forgiveness for sins and to forgive others who have harmed me.  I do this by reciting the Lord’s Prayer so that when I approach the altar to receive communion I am of clean heart and spirit, ready to receive God’s unending grace through the body and blood of Jesus.  Forgiveness is that  act of soul-namaste rainbowcleansing which is necessary prior to spirit renewal.  It is not a one-time, one and done activity.  It is a continual process which is the centerpiece of any faith walk and recovery program.  Namaste.

many mansions

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2CANDLE

I fill most of my writing with thoughts about my Higher Power.  It’s not always what I want to put forth to you, my readers.  The crazy world of politics, government, society’s ills, intolerance, hatred, crime, (and the list can go on indefinitely), are also topics that fill the space between my ears.  But, when deciding any type of action I take in these areas, it always comes back to Jesus, WWJD, What Would Jesus Do?

In my world Jesus is not always an entity, a historical person whom we celebrate in scriptures and especially during the Christmas season.  Jesus is more often a lifestyle.  He is a path of sober-living which brings peace and joy into my life.  I have learned to avoid theological discourse which claims inerrancy and infallibility because they are always right and I am always going to hell.  The Lord of my life is open to rational and reasonable conversation about eternity and God.  The Lord of my life tells me talking the talk is nice, but ultimately life is all about the walk.  Where am I walking today?  Whose path am I taking?

God is big.  God is so big that trying to pigeon-hole God categorically into a theology, another man-made philosophy, is akin to squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.  Can’t be done!  The God I know is mysterious and incomprehensible to the human mind.  Therefore, when someone tells me all about God, where HE lives, how He looks, what HE thinks, I can only listen patiently and then respond, “Really, God is a HE?”  That disarms even the most strident of those who have all the answers.  Larry’s going to hell for sure!

God and I enjoy this life.  Jesus is the message inspired by ancient mystics who came before me to spread the good news of a loving and compassionate Spirit which gives  humanity a logical, reasonable way of living.  The ancients during and following the life of the physical Jesus called it “the Way.”  They were not theologians or scholars.  Rather they were just like you and me, people searching for a way to commune with the God of our understanding.

Jesus is not a person merely to be adored and worshipped, although that is a wonderful way to enter the quiet spaces within us.  Jesus is a manner of living which brings God’s Kingdom to me, right here and right now.  I don’t have to wait for a future moment to be with God eternally because I am already there.  And that is the difference which makes life a joyful adventure instead of a tolerably painful existence.

“5“Lord,” said Thomas, “we do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” 6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well.”  John 14: 5-7

This verse can be difficult for those who see Jesus exclusively as a God-human rather than a manner of sober-living to be experienced and followed.  It is the verse most often used by exclusionary religionists to proclaim that Christianity is the only path which leads to eternity with God.  My journey tells me that, as with most of the words attributed to Jesus, the meaning of this verse,”I am the way, the truth, and the life”, is better understood when taken in a spiritual sense.   Should we consider that Jesus was not presenting Jesus as an entity to be revered and worshipped, but rather, as an example for all people to follow if they want release from this world’s soul prison?

The authors of Christian scriptures tell me that in his lifetime, Jesus shared his teachings with all people, Jew and Gentile.  I must remember that Jesus and his contemporaries lived under extreme oppression and hardship enforced by the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman conquerors.  The Israelites were concerned with an earthly salvation immediately, in this life, not a distant occurrence in a future life.  However, Jesus was promising relief from the Jews and the Romans not as a physical deliverance, but as a spiritual and mental exercise, a way of living, which would supersede the harshness of their society.  It emphasized release of self-serving behavior and surrender to the indwelling spirit of holiness.  “The Way” in those oppressive times has not changed.  In our personal oppressive times it is a way today to a completeness and unity with the God of our understanding.

“Let go; let God” is a message which I encounter often in my sojourn.   It is often interpreted as “let go of the situation and let God take it over.”  It can also mean “let go of myself and let God come inside.” Works for me.christmas emoji 3

 

 

 

love, joy, peace

Like most people, I love gifts.  As a little boy, Christmas morning was a delightful time with family unwrapping the treasures given and received.  Being a member of a farming family and enduring the vagaries of farm income, some Christmases found nothing moretannenbaum than simple gifts of necessities under the tree.  Underwear, socks, toothpaste and brush were just as much appreciated in those years as were the toys and shiny bicycle in the prosperous years.

No matter the financial  status, always the Christmas spirit, the reason for the season was the prevailing theme of our celebration.  The act of giving was predominant.  Receiving a nice present was cool, but we were taught who and why we were celebrating.  That mindset was a prelude to maturing in a community of like-minded farm folks.  Life was enjoyed in very simple ways and the gifts of a loving God were not taken lightly.

It seems much has changed in America.  The biggest, brightest, most expensive gifts fill the kitchen with new appliances, the den with a 60″ widescreen, the driveway with a new Mercedes, and closets with brand new designer clothes.  Most often the holiday decorations glamorize Santa Claus, snowmen, and Disney characters.  Rarely do I see a crèche or angels on front lawns and certainly not at the county courthouse as I remember from my boyhood community.  Times have changed.  Jesus, the babe celebrated in the book of Matthew, is no longer center stage in our festivities.  His presence is no longer America’s reason for the season.

Jesus, the greatest gift-giver of all time, is relegated to candlelight services on Christmas Eve and nice music on the radio.  The giant retailers which pumped our heads full of pre-Christmas sales events and materialistic dreams of unaffordable gift ideas take a breather on the holiday only to return with a vengeance after Christmas Day to once again entice us into more debt buying the “must-have”, discounted unsold merchandise.

It’s a scam!  Americans have been hoodwinked into spending billions of dollars to create a sense of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” when that peace and goodwill are free for the asking from the greatest gift-giver ever to walk this earth.  Just ask.  Just seek.  Just knock.  It’s all there in one neat, readily available package and it costs nothing other than a willingness to open the door to the One who dispenses love and compassion as eternal gifts.

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7:7-8

Love, joy, and peace are the 1st three of the fruits of the Spirit detailed in Galatians 5:22-23.  They are internal gifts which will be realized when walking this journey with God as a constant companion.  They were made incarnate in the character of Jesus as depicted in our Christian Scriptures.  They are attainable elements of a life surrendered to thechristmas emoji 3 grace of an almighty God.  This is not just a fairy tale or myth.  Jesus is truth given not only at Christmas but every day of the year to those willing to ask, seek, and knock.  Try it.  Those shiny presents under the tree will fade quickly.  The gift of Jesus will not!