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.

Hurricanes, volcanoes & God

 

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It is difficult to feel joy and happiness while millions of my neighbors to the north are still reeling from the devastation of a Category 4 hurricane.  It will take months, if not years, for them to rebuild their lives.

I believe that what the rest of us Floridians are feeling is relief.  We dodged this one, but the next could get us.  It’s what we live with here on the Gulf as do our friends on the Atlantic coast during the hot, summer months when superheated waters spawn super storms.  I try to never say I’m glad that the hurricane missed us and made landfall in another community.  I try never to believe that God saved us from the devastation because then the follow-up question would be, “Why didn’t God save them also? Don’t we have a loving and just Father who tends all his people?”

Naw, don’t need to go there.  I’d rather live with the mysteries of my simplistic God-belief than the theories of scholarly minds and PHDs in Divinity.  The bottom line for all of us is that nobody knows.  We all get a one way ticket to eternity and nobody has come back to explain the God mysteries to us.  The theses and scholarly papers written throughout history are nothing more than man’s philosophy.  The scriptures accepted by many as the inerrant and infallible word of God are beautiful literature written by men and women highly inspired by their faith in what they hope is truth.  But, nobody knows.

And therefore, why was my coastline spared while the Panhandle got blasted?  Do you think that maybe God had nothing to do with it?  The reason I’m hot about this tonight is because a neighbor commented, “Well, God surely protected us from the wrath of Michael.”  Really?  She also believes that Sodom and Gomorrah got incinerated because of their sins.  Folks, active volcanoes, not God, do that kind of thing.  Volcanoes spew fire and ash into the air and destroy villages and cities.  If we need to credit anyone let’s give Mother Nature a hand for being the weather-master of our planet.  She creates and destroys.

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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Santa Claus

 

picture1-pngstep9-2“If you’re not a good little boy, Santa Claus is gonna leave you nothing but a bucket of coal.”

Did your parents ever say that to you?  Yes, it was a form of blackmail and most often it worked.  After all, what would a little boy do with a bucket of coal? Couldn’t show it off to buddies, couldn’t play with it, couldn’t eat it like candy.

“If you’re not a good little boy, God’s gonna get you and throw you into the fires of hell.”

Any of you remember hearing that from parents, teachers and preachers?

The fear of the Lord was instilled at a very young, impressionable age.  Unfortunately, when that little boy grew up, he continued to greatly fear that bearded, white-haired old man setting somewhere in the heavens with a judgemental scepter……good little boys on this side, bad little boys on that side.  And then, as an adult, if he still allowed religion in his life, this fear which had now become a life-directing terror was often supported by an erroneous interpretation of Job 28:28.

And he said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord–that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” Job 28:28

I finally bought a Strong’s Concordance because at a certain point in my adult life, I realized I could not uninstall or delete from my brain bank all that had been put in there by church and religion.  Reprogramming is not an easy undertaking.  For those of you unfamiliar with Strong’s, it is a compilation of every word in the Bible with a cross-reference to the original Chaldee, Hebrew or Greek words and their definitions.

I wanted to know what the original authors had in mind when they wrote the stories, parables, and histories of the ministry of Jesus which was later combined as the canon of the New Testament.  That is also true of the Old Testament which is an assembled canon of the writings of revered Jewish authors.  Neither of the Testaments was simply laid down before the people and declared to be the official word of God.  They were an assortment of histories, myths, folklore, parables and spiritual inspiration.   And I was told by a wise, old spiritual adviser that for he who seeks, those books can be a wealth of wisdom and truth.

Very simply stated, I could not continue in life with a headful of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”  teachings floating around in my head.  If indeed there was any truth in the scriptures which indicated a loving and compassionate God, I needed to find that truth, or give up the search completely, or go insane.

Slowly, by having the Bible and my Concordance open side by side and sometimes referencing each word of the verse I was reading, so slowly I was seeing for the first time in my life the beauty and true meaning of the writings of this book called the Bible.  Even more revelatory was the insight gained when I was able to apply this wisdom in a spiritual realm rather than the inerrant, infallible, literal interpretations of my childhood.

The KJV translation uses in Job 28:28 the words, “fear of the Lord.”   Fear carries a highly negative connotation.  Fear, actually terror,  is what I regularly felt as a young man who knew he fell far short of being the human he was meant to be.  At some point, men like me say “What’s the use?  I would sooner die being a happy sinner rather than a frightened little boy.”

The Strong’s Concordance also includes in its definition of the word ‘yir’ah’ (fear) the meaning “reverence”.  Does it take a college degree to see the vast difference between fear and reverence?  Yes, of course I revere, honor, cherish a power greater than myself; yes, I am awed by a loving, compassionate entity worth of being named God.  I can finally say in truth and confidence “Reverence for my Lord is wisdom.  To shun what is not of the Lord is understanding.”smiley 3

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus freak?

CANDLE

Yeah, amongst many other terms, this one has been leveled at me by a world that is turned off by the rhetoric of  self-proclaimed religious experts who preach from financial, personal, and political agendas.  For me, being called a ‘Jesus freak’ is confirmation that I am finally doing something right.  It is not taken as it was intended, a term of derision.  No, ‘Jesus freak’ is a badge of commitment.  I’m not here to cast judgement, yea or nay, on anyone.  The fruits of our works shall reveal our hearts.

Several years ago WWJD was an often used acronym, “What Would Jesus Do?”  In order to understand the significance of WWJD one needs to become familiar with the character of Jesus of Nazareth as presented by the writers of New Testament scriptures.  I am not involving myself in the arguments some believers will throw at the previous statement.  Whether I believe that the divinity of Jesus, the Christ, as presented by the Roman Church fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries is the truth or I believe that the man who lived as a vagabond and beggar with a troop of like-minded men and was crucified for his insurrection against the Romans, I must accept that this Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable character and his teachings were eternal tenets of wisdom given in a dialog which the common man could understand when viewed in a spiritual realm.  He is accorded the words,  “I am the Way: the truth and the light.”

Whether I believe that Jesus was saying he was the only way to a heavenly God, or I internalize the teachings of Jesus into my personal code of conduct, the Way does lead to the truth and it is light, a personal kingdom of the Lord which dwells within.

But, I have to know those teachings.  I have to process the words given in scriptures with my own powers of discernment, not the interpretations sent forth from the pulpits and  theological doctrine.  Ultimately I cannot trust the “isms” until those tenets strike truth within me.  If this is not one of life’s lessons why would a Creator install in me the qualities of reason and logic?  I cannot deny the wondrous works of the human crafter by negating any part of that crafter’s creation.  I am made a miracle of genetic engineering;  I come complete with a conscience; I am made to appreciate the world’s beauty; I am made with an intelligence which surpasses that of any other earthly species;  I am made in the crafter’s image.

Those assessments of me are confirmed by the teachings of Jesus.  Whenever I conceive a thought, contemplate an action, speak a word, or move onward, the utmost consideration should be “WWJD?”

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