Thanks to my blogger friend MIKE RIDENOUR for this morning’s inspiration.
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.
“On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot eight out of ten girls, killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was widely discussed in the national media. The West Nickel Mines School was torn down, and a new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope School, was built at another location.”
Nearly twelve years ago while taking a break from driving, sitting at a Midwest truck-stop, watching TV on my satellite connection, this breaking news story darkened my soul like nothing else in recent memory. As a young boy I had attended public school with Amish boys and girls, I lived in communities where the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by was a normal everyday occurrence, my family shopped at the grocery store with Amish families. Their way of life was fascinating to me. How could they follow such a simple lifestyle eschewing modern conveniences and still be the happiest people I knew? I greatly envied their humility and dedication to the community of believers which they chose to follow.
And the Amish community fathers immediately issued a statement of forgiveness. Did they mourn? Of course. Were the parents angry? Probably. But they followed the directive set forth by the Scriptures which they revered and followed. Those simple folks knew something which most of the world has never learned to practice – forgiveness.
Even today as I write this, my eyes well up with tears. Innocent schoolgirls gunned down execution style by a madman. On October 2, 2006 I cried like a baby for several hours. My driving partner could not console me, my prayers would not stop the tears, the God of my understanding had deserted me. Five killed. Others injured. The young boys who had been herded outside stood by helplessly as their schoolmates inside screamed while shot after shot was fired.
Could I have forgiven? If my little girl was one of those standing in front of the blackboard with her back to the gunman waiting for her turn to be murdered, could I forgive? Even today, twelve years later, I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly. I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, I know what the Amish fathers did, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger.
As He neared physical death, from the crucifixion cross, Jesus spoke these words, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Oh Lord, if those who have suffered unimaginable horrors can forgive, if Elie Wiesel could forgive the Nazis who decimated his people, if John McCain could forgive his captors who tortured him, then Lord, who am I to withhold forgiveness for an unkind word, an insult, a selfish action? My grievances are so extremely petty compared to those who were mentally and physically abused by the powers of evil.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12
It’s a tall order. It’s up to me, isn’t it? I cannot live the life destined for me by a Savior if my head is filled with grudges and grievances, no matter how great or small. I cannot be the mended broken vessel useful to Jesus if my eyes do not see beyond the hurts and humiliations which insulted my pride and sense of self-righteousness.
“Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Show me how to see what your mercy sees.”
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.”
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.”
In the Xhoso culture of Africa, UBUNTU means, “I am because We are.” Dr. Horty @ IT IS WHAT IT IS blog shared this with her readers. I found it absolutely profound in the troubled times of our world and especially American society today.
The boy replied, “How can any one of us be happy if the others are sad?”
An anthropologist visiting and studying the Xhoso tribe placed a basket of fruit and presented a game to a group of young boys. Run to the fruit and claim it. If the strongest and fastest of those boys had raced to the basket of fruit placed at a short distance from them, that one boy could have claimed all the fruits. Instead, they joined hands, ran together as a group, and claimed the fruits as one, thereby insuring all would partake of the prize. When the anthropologist questioned their action, the reply was, “Ubuntu – I am because We are.”
And we think we are more civilized? There is much we can learn from those peoples in “uncivilized” back regions of the world who have learned a lesson most of us have failed to grasp – our humanity will have a much greater chance of survival if we learn we are all connected and we are one.
The ancient mystics understood this concept. They, when contemplating the creative source, declared that all of creation is one with the Creator. Every member of every species on Earth has a unifying spark of DNA derived from that Creator at the beginning of time. It is a connection that is infinite and eternal. WE ARE ONE, because we were designed as one.
“I AM BECAUSE WE ARE”
Perhaps it would behoove us to take this wisdom into our collective heart and soul, celebrate our Oneness, and live life accordingly. Possibly it is the only way our species will survive.
The quiet of a crisp autumn afternoon walk through the woods, fallen leaves of red, orange, and yellow covering the dirt lane with a sadness which slows our steps, tells us that this colorful spectacle is the final hurrah before the cold stillness of winter covers our festive pathway. All the seasons of life have been wonderful, but now it is time to gather memories and store reserves for the final push across the pending horizon to a new life.
For everything there is a season,
a right time for every intention under heaven —
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to discard,
a time to tear and a time to sew,
a time to keep silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Not yet over, but rapidly approaching winter, has it not been a spectacular life? Let us embrace the dancing, the laughter and the love as we enter expectantly and faithfully our final season stretching across the unknown into a welcoming rest from our earthly travail.