“When all hope is gone and your Word is all I’ve got.”
“When all hope is gone and your Word is all I’ve got.”
I’m claiming this verse today:
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8
Yes, 2018 has been less than most of us wanted. 2019 could be worse. Buckle up and pay attention to the road signs. Let’s try our best to make it serene and prosperous.
Are we crazy? Many people think we are when we express belief in a formless, invisible power which can’t be touched or seen. How often have acquaintances and family ridiculed our naiveté when making reference to the One who gives life and breath, the One who transcends all human understanding and reasoning?
“Well,” they say. “Define it.”
They question further, “Where does this undefinable, indescribable power live?”
“Ohhhhh, I see.”
Yep! Undoubtedly and indubitably crazy. They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that I had to go crazy with love for the Higher Power that pulled me out of the insanity of alcoholism. They didn’t know, as I did, that there is a difference between crazy good and insanely stupid. Why was I insanely stupid? Because every time I sat down on that bar stool, I thought that this time was going to be different from all the other times. I thought that I would have two social drinks and then go home. I was sure that my drinking habit would miraculously change. Why? Because I had will power.
Many years passed with innumerable drunken escapades resulting in hangovers, lost car keys, misplaced wallets, puke-covered shirts, broken relationships, car wrecks and a shattered self-image. I finally understood the insanity of my alcoholic behavior.
Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
It was insane to think I could drink and expect a different outcome at the end of the night. It was never going to be a night like that of my buddies who knew how to drink socially. You see, I would drink with them at the nice bars, bid them all a good-night when they went home to their families and then sneak to the other side of town where the action was. You know – the sleaze bars where it was easy to score and the potential one night stands got smarter and better looking as the night progressed. And that’s when I went crazy.
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Initially, family and friends thought it was extremely cool that I was on the wagon. “Hey, Larry’s not drinking anymore. Awesome.”
But, Larry had to change more about himself than simply not setting his butt on a bar stool every night. There were deep-seated issues that needed attention. Issues of insecurity, anger, envy, pride, and laziness. And that’s when the heavy artillery had to be called in. Detox, psychotherapy, meetings, meetings, meetings. Changes had to be made and I could not do it without help. I surrender, I give up. HELP!
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
I took the “as we understood God” part of step 3 very seriously and, unfortunately, not many people (family and friends) got it.
“Crazy! He’s crazy with religion. He went from a drunk to a Jesus freak. I liked him better when he was drinking.”
Yep, I’m crazy….but at least I’m not insane anymore.
“Injustice may inspire anger or rebellion, but must not create despair. Injustice has been part of our world since its beginning……..despair is when you no longer believe in anything.” ELIE WIESEL, The Night of the Uprooting
Yes, this is an appropriate quote for the season of Christmastide. Why do we think the concept of a Savior and Deliverer was introduced to the world with the story of Jesus, born in Bethlehem? Why do we marvel that this babe was announced to shepherds, the lowest class of Hebrew society only a step above lepers? The world of Judaism 2000 years ago is a case study in oppression and social injustice from not only the Roman conquerors, but also the Jewish religious hierarchy.
Elie Wiesel suffered the most inhumane form of injustice at the hands of the Nazis in the death camps of Hitler. He could not approach the significance of his internment for several years after being freed by the Allied Forces. Fortunately for us, he eventually saw the writing of his story as a duty to the Jewish nation and the world. He shared the pain and the horror of the Nazi atrocities in his subsequent books. Mr. Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
Any of us today, me included, would surely “be inspired to anger or rebellion” if subjected to the same treatment as the Jews of 1930s and 1940s. Justifiably so. But, how many of us would not curl up in despair? Whom among us would be able to sustain faith, hope, and love while starving in the humiliation, the cold, the desolation of a prison camp where survival is a daily challenge? I pray that neither you nor I ever have to suffer those consequences.
Despair is our enemy. Not having hope is a death sentence of the soul, but faith in the unknowns of this life inspires hope and defeats despair. The Christmas story, whether I believe it to be reality or you believe it to be myth, tells us how to relate to a world filled with violence, hatred, oppression, intolerance. The life and teachings of Jesus portrayed by ancient scriptures is a blueprint to living life abundantly with faith, hope, and love in the midst of man’s inhumanity toward man.
We are witness today to unfathomable social injustice which should make us angry and rebellious. But it does not need to devour us with despair. That is the essence of the gift presented to us by the birth of a child 2000 years ago. It is up to you and I to make it a marvelous myth or a life-saving reality. Our concept of Jesus is hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
Let it be real as the morning sunshine, the stars in the nighttime sky, the singing of angelic children. Let us discover, now, in the midst of turbulence and injustice the strength of faith, hope and love. Lead us to defeat despair with the power of his eternal story.
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother. Stay there until I tell you to return because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Matthew 3:13
Wow! So much for the peace and joy proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds. We have just been introduced to a messiah, Counselor, Comforter, Prince of Peace, and then a few days later the angel says, “Run, run, run, Joseph and Mary. Grab the baby and get out of town.”
Should we totally discount the story of Jesus? In chapter 2, He has come to save us and then in chapter 3 the entire family is running to Egypt to save themselves. Herod conducts his murderous rampage on the babies in Bethlehem under 2 years of age. With no historical confirmation of this event and few details from the Scriptures, we could easily pack the Herod account away as mere myth and throw out the Jesus story too. But then the unchanging realities of this world would be denied and we will continue to live in darkness. Jesus was born into a world of violence, inequity, abuse, war, mean-spiritedness.
That child of peace and joy did not stay in the manger forever. He gathered a motley assembly of like-minded men and women who called themselves ‘the Way’. Not confined to 1st century Palestine, they survived murder and torture over the following centuries so that today we can accept through faith and hope that He was born to save us from spiritual death. That’s the Good News proclaimed to the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem, the Good News proclaimed by Jesus and his followers. That’s the Good News that drives searchers like you and I to put one foot in front of the other on this path we travel.
But, does He save us from a chaotic world of violence and hatred? I would be misleading myself if I thought, as his countrymen did, that the world around me will change just because he appeared on the scene of my life. They wanted a savior to lead them out of Roman occupation and theological oppression. They wanted a 1st century solution to their lives of pain and hardships. But, that did not happen.
That is where I rested my atheism, my agnosticism, and my doubt for so many years of my life. I did not see the world moving toward any semblance of peace and joy and I blamed a weak Jesus for the world’s problems. “Why would God allow the hatred, the child abuse, the murderous rampages of modern-day Herods, the deaths of innocents?”
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Therein is truth, an answer to my questions. God’s promise to us, through his Son, is not that He will descend upon the world’s wickedness and clean house. No, the scriptures, I believe, are saying that when we invite him into our inner sanctum, then we will see the world differently, with an indefatigable joy and peace. Quite possibly you and I, and millions like us with faith and hope and love can be the lights in the darkness. Just a thought, but I like it. I want to shine with the light of life instead of living in the darkness. AMEN?
(The Lutheran Church celebrates today the “Feast of the Innocents and Martyrs. Thanks to the writers of the link below for a wealth of inspiration for this post.)
Lord, today we remember the innocents, those who are victims of the world’s darkness and hatred. Especially the children, whom you gave to us to protect and nurture, need your caring arms in countries at war, living in the decadence of sex trade, traveling across many miles to fulfil dreams of freedom and prosperity in another land, facing the hostility assigned today to the label of ‘immigrant’. Those innocents are your children. Remind us of your words telling us about our duty to protect them. AMEN
During the 2009 American college football championship game, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, a devout, unabashed Christian, wore John 3:16 in eye black under his eyes. The verse became one of Google’s highest searched terms leading millions (94 million) to search John 3:16 during the game and in the hours after. In a subsequent interview, Tim quipped that the number was staggering, but he was more amazed that there were 94 million people who did not know John 3:16. “Everybody knows John 3:16. It’s the first thing we learned in Sunday school.”
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…..
This is the Son whom we are celebrating during Christmastide. The readings, the verses, the songs, the festivities are all an important element of the Christmas story, but the message to the world brought by this child in a manger is clearly uncomplicated. Believe me, have faith in me, trust me, love me with all your heart, give your life to me and you shall have everlasting life.
What is that everlasting life about which John wrote? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I have lived without Jesus and I have lived with Jesus. Living without the Son felt like a death sentence, physical and spiritual. Living with him has been pretty darn good and, if life is eternal, then this is the eternal life I want. I believe the God mystery is just that – a mystery which unfolds with every step on this path we are walking. The path began with a cradled baby in Bethlehem and I am told it is never-ending. That is good enough for me, how about you? Want to join me?
Fr. Richard Rohr at cac.org names faith, hope, and love as the soul’s foundation. The author of 1 Corinthians 13:13 agrees.
“Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” NLT
Think about it. Every human being who ever has been, is now, or ever will be, receives equal and inherent dignity as children of God. We, all of us, have been created in the image of God. Jew, Gentile, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, believer and non-believer, white, black, brown, purple, straight, gay, male and female, none of the above, etcetera, the ancient wisdom of Jewish scripture (Genesis 1:26-27) tells us this is truth. That is our starting point, but, unfortunately, the human condition questions, disputes, and regresses to a state of prejudice in which the powerless and disadvantaged lose out. Even the forefathers, hallowed for the United States Declaration of Independence, when they famously declared “all men are created equal”, they actually meant all who are white, property-owning males.
Not much inherent dignity there, but at least it was a new direction in governing. It became ‘WE, THE PEOPLE’. That’s what Jesus’ ministry to the downtrodden, oppressed Jewish nation was all about. Do you really think he was planning to start a brand new religion or that, as many Jews were hoping, he was planning to usurp power from the Roman governors? No, Jesus understood that he too had inherent dignity as a child of God and that his purpose on earth was to lead others to also believe. He and his disciples, calling themselves ‘the Way’, ministered to the poor, the sick, the dying, the oppressed with a message that they too were worthy of a seat at the table. They too were children of God blessed with dignity and worth.
Although the religion which names itself after Christ has missed the mark of the message of Jesus in so many ways throughout history, it does acknowledge that faith, hope, and love (sometimes called charity) are mainstays of a Christ-centered faith. In the times of today, when not much of anything makes sense and I know the world is irrational, the rock of my spiritual foundation needs to be solid and unwavering. It cannot be built on man-created theology or a litany of ‘thou shalt and thou shalt not’. It must be an indwelling sense that has deep personal meaning, that gives me a positive path to follow, that tells me I am worthy of His love. Jesus is my rock, can be yours too. Has nothing to do with religion or church or theological correctness. It’s all about my soul and yours, nurturing that inner sanctum, and claiming our rightful heritage as children of a merciful, loving God. AMEN?
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2
Tell me something. How far are you willing to go to defend your property? Or your integrity? Or your person? Or, for veterans and military personnel, your country? Or your family? Good. I knew all my readers were men and women of honorable character. Now, how far would you go to defend your love for Jesus or whomever you name as Lord of your life? Hmmm, let’s talk about it.
Chronologically, I have been the boy fearful of a judgemental white-haired man in the sky, the strident atheist, the unsure agnostic, the sure-footed Christian with all the right answers, the doubting Thomas, and the child of God living in the mystery and awe of an Almighty presence.
But, I have never feared becoming a martyr for my faith. We are indeed fortunate and blessed to live in a society where we can fearlessly worship, or not, as we choose. Much of the world does not have that luxury. What about you? Are there elements of faith which you will never abandon, no matter what the cost?
While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. Acts 7:59-60
Is there any reason to doubt this account of the follower of Jesus who, 2 years after Jesus’ crucufixion, was stoned to death by those who considered his testimony blasphemous? We are witness in our age to televised beheadings by radical elements of religion. They are disturbing and frightening, but no more so than what the early Christians faced when proclaiming their faith.
Today, the 2nd day of Christmastide, parts of the Christian world celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, Christianity’s first recorded martyr after Jesus himself. What would I do? How about you? I would like to think I’ll be on the front lines willing to take a bullet for Jesus and my faith. And then, as I lay there dying, I would say, “Lord , forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing?”
Really? Could I be a willing and forgiving martyr? Hmmmm, something to think about.