SHEEP

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well.  They too listen to my voice.”  JOHN 10:16

“There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.”   GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Plays Pleasant, 1898

The one discipline which gives hope to my occasional hopelessness is acceptance that I do not see the entire picture.  My inner vision is limited by environment, by prejudices, by experiences.  Sometimes, in meditation, a window to  enlightened thinking is opened. Often, when reading the scriptures of wisdom, a metaphor pops off the page and it becomes a moment of eternal truth.

John 10:16 does that for me.  I love the perception which Jesus shared of his followers as sheep.  A protector, a guide, an admonisher who in all actions lovingly guides me through the perils of life.  It’s a comforting metaphor beautifully embodied in Psalm 23 which, assuredly, Jesus read as a young boy in the temple.

My ego wants me to think that I am special, that I am unique.  Multiply that egoistic need by millions of others who are seeking comfort and truth in a perilous world and the concept of exclusiveness becomes real.  “My belief, my religion, my theology is the only correct way to believe.  All you other sheep are misguided heathens. Baaaaaa.”

For me, this is the nugget of understanding which nails my ego to its cross.  I am not the only sheep that Jesus loves.  Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, etc., etc., are just a piece of the spiritual puzzle called  Christianity which is just a part of the message shared by all the great faith walks of the world.  Jesus leads my life personally, yes.  But, Jesus is also Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, Allah, and all the purveyors of the one message of truth.  That message is that I am a servant serving under a God of love and compassion.  That God is universal truth.

Labels are probably important for someone like me whose ego needs identity, but using that label to distinguish and separate me from all the other sheep is counterproductive to the messages of wisdom found in scriptures.

“My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you.  If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that.  I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.”  JOHN 14:2 The Voice

 

guess who’s coming to dinner?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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I’m having a dinner party next week to celebrate my 71st.  You are all invited.  The menu isn’t yet decided so if anybody has food allergies, restrictions, or dietary quirks, please let me know now.  I don’t expect a full table as several of my friends took issue with my political stance in 2016, a few of my church associates don’t agree with my views on theology, the next door neighbors aren’t speaking ever since I asked them to curb their dogs, and numerous family members have disowned me because of – well, let’s just say they don’t approve of my choice in life partners.  Other than those decliners, I’d say we’ll have a table to celebrate.

I wonder if Jesus would accept my invitation?  Would he come to my party and share a meal with me despite my, er….limitations?  I know he sat with his disciples for the Passover meal before he was crucified.  But, they were all of like minds.  They were his devoted followers.  Even a man as revered and popular as Jesus could only get a dozen people to his dinner.  Lord, maybe I should be content with three of four people.  Do you think Jesus would come to my birthday dinner?  Would you mind sharing a table with him?

Maybe he  had doubts, too, about his dinner plans.  The laws in the Book of Leviticus defined right from wrong in Jewish culture.  The Scriptures tell me that Jesus suffered severe rebukes from the Jewish hierarchy for his departures from those laws.  The dietary and social customs were very strict and he broke most of them.

“Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?'”  MATTHEW 9: 10-11  The Message

It seems that those Pharisees were not easy men to please.  Jesus said:

“For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, he hath a demon.  The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”  LUKE 7:33-34 ASV

He shared dinner with a Pharisee, named Simon, and when he had taken his place at the table

“…..a woman from the city – notorious as a woman of ill repute – follows him in.  She has heard that Jesus will be at the Pharisee’s home, so she comes in and approaches Him, carrying an alabaster flask of perfumed oil.  Then she begins to cry, she kneels down so her tears fall on Jesus’ feet, and she starts wiping his feet with her own hair.  Then she actually kisses his feet, and she pours the perfumed oil on them.” LUKE 7:36-38 the Voice

Simon was shocked and questioned whether Jesus was truly a Prophet because he thought a prophet would not associate with a harlot.  Not only did Jesus share meals with those whom the traditions of Judaism considered unworthy, he stayed overnight in their houses.

“……he looked up, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.  And when they (Pharisees) saw it, they all murmured, saying, he is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.'”  LUKE 19:5-7 ASV

The Judaic laws presented in Leviticus chapters 17-24, the laws which excluded multitudes of people from the “table” were not Jesus’ idea of God.  He met and knew a different God – one who was all about mercy and compassion.

Jesus is definitely coming to my birthday dinner.  Don’t any of you worry about putting on your best clothes or sprucing up your manners. He doesn’t care about that.  All he wants is your heart and your soul.  Hmmmm, what does one cook for Jesus?  Should we have a birthday cake?  I guess pork is not a good idea.

 

just knock

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.”
Rumi 1207-1273

It’s all about surrender, is it not?  For me, surrender is one of the most difficult things to accept and yet I know it can be miraculously transforming.  When I give up my will, when I beg for guidance, when the great “I” becomes nothing, it is there that the nothingness of my life becomes the greatest something ever experienced.  It is then that my life becomes a useful tool.

It’s about willingness.  It’s a desire to knock on the door and seek entry into the universe of compassionate co-existence with humanity and all of creation.  The infinite wisdom of a greater power gave me the choice to decide which door I will take.  Often in my life I have not taken that door choosing my way instead.  That decision thrilled the needs of ego, but led to devastating consequences.  In retrospect, those self-directed decisions were necessary for the growth of my faith walk.

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“Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find.  Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you.  All who ask receive.  Those who seek, find what they seek.  And he who knocks, will have the door opened.  MATTHEW 7:7-8  the Voice

These verses from the Book of Matthew are words of Jesus telling me that the actions of asking, seeking, and knocking are not a once and done deal.  It is an ongoing process which leads to a continuing regeneration and renewal.  I must apply the surrender and willingness (the seeking) to everyday life expecting always to have doors opened and answers received.

psalm 51

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1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.  3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Psalms 51: 1-3 The Voice The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

These verses were sometimes referred to as the “Hangman’s Prayer.”  A sentenced convict was given an opportunity to set things right with the One he/she called Almighty before the noose tightened.  Grace and mercy reigned when that Power was called upon.

In addiction we also receive the sentence of death for our walk into hell.  It is a spiritual death often more onerous than the finality of a hangman’s noose.  Surely, I often prayed for a physical end to my suffering for I could not fathom a life other than that of an alcoholic.  Others were able to drink socially or totally abstain, but not me.  My demons would not allow it and my God, yes I did believe, would never forgive me.

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I am a miracle who walks aside millions of others like me who finally faced the toughest decision of our lives.  Admitted, believed, and made a decision to turn it over.  That “God of my understanding” listened to my confessions, forgave every one of my transgressions, and then transformed a wretched human into something useful, clean and serene.

God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.  Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.  Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!

Psalms 51:10-12 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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PSALM 23 – the VOICE

CANDLE

A very familiar passage of Scripture can reach out to us with profound insight and understanding when seen in the light of varied versions of the Bible.  Psalm 23 from the VOICE does that for me.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

You spread out a table before me,
    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,
    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

The Voice (VOICE)The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.