Sunday, March 23, 2014

Severed But Not Forgotten

Today my heart is breaking for someone who used to be very special to me.  She was a mother of two amazing children.  They were all very active in their church and their commitment to one another and to Christ was always inspiring. For a variety of reasons I am unable to reach out to the family to extend my thoughts and prayers.  It is a relationship that was severed many years ago and any hope of reconciliation is gone.  It is a sad situation.  I have always valued my past experiences and the people in my life and it is hard when a wall appears so high that you cannot see over it or hear through it.  

Do you have severed relationships that are beyond repair?  I am confident that many of us do.  For some, we only think it is forever broken - but there are those that are truly severed and will never be repaired.  Do you continue to pray for them?  Do you think of them in a positive light?

I'm being honest in that I'm not sure HOW I do it, but I've never been one to hold a grudge against someone.  I am quick to forgive but, yes, not so quick to forget.  The thoughts are always there but they end with a prayer for well-being, peace and Grace.

Today I think of this lady with admiration in my heart.  I think of her family and I pray that my thoughts will join with hundreds of others in offering them comfort during this time of grief.

Monday, February 17, 2014

An Honest Approach to Exile

Today my heart is heavy for those who are incarcerated.  I write regularly to several people who have, for various reasons and circumstances, found themselves to be in prison.  Some are guilty of their crimes while others are not.  The sentence is still the same and those of us on this side of the wall can and will never be able to comprehend the depth of darkness, loneliness, solitude, and hopelessness that is experienced on the other side of the wall.  We may try and we may work to come up with words to try and bring comfort and hope to the prisoner but in reality we are only comforting ourselves.  There is very little comfort to those in prison.

When Paul was in prison it was nothing like it is today.  Sallust, a Roman historian, described the prison as

 “sunken about twelve feet under ground.  Walls secure it on every side, and over it is a vaulted roof connected with stone arches; but its appearance is disgusting and horrible, by reason of filth, darkness and stench”. 

I am reminded of the slave Onesimus.  Paul mentions in his letter to Philimon, that somehow this slave was able to make his way to Paul.  This is remarkable when we consider the times.  A prison visitor could not simply slip in and out undetected.  They could find themselves interrogated by the Roman Empire for being witness to the prisoners’ words or acts during the visit that were not allowed or that could help in the conviction process. Remember, prisons were not held for the guilty – they were where people were put to simply get rid of them while information was gathered to convict them or, in Pauls’ case, held until the populous opinion faded in to history.  Also, according to Roman law at the time, the testimony of a slave was not admissible unless it was given under torture! 
This puts an entire new light and brings about a stronger sense of respect for Onesimus.  He was obeying his Lord by visiting those who were in prison and he did this on multiple occasions to help Paul, to no doubt assist in keeping Pauls’ meager cell area clean and perhaps supply him with food.   

I have a confession – I have purposely avoided writing as of lately to prisoners.  I find my words often times to feel empty and almost patronizing and insulting.  I understand that to congratulate someone on their seemingly positive attitude is like congratulating a fish for the look of a smile upon its face when it has just been taken from the water.  It is ludicrous and insulting.  It is similar to our standard response when someone dies.  We say, “I’m sorry” and the words feel empty to us and emptier to the one receiving it.  Sure, they know out intent – but intention does not bring about hope and for those in prison, it does not bring about freedom.  It simply reminds them of where they are.

Perhaps Paul was able to witness to the resurrection of Christ to the soldiers and other prisoners.  Perhaps some of the people who were witness to Paul’s spiritual strength (and struggles) had a similar transformation as Onesimus, going from uselss to “special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). 

A prison can become a place of some personal and spiritual freedom.  It may grant some an opportunity to surrender even deeper in to the loving arms of Christ.  It may help some answer the call and say, here I am Lord, send me.  However, it is still exile.  It is still and will always remain a separation from the experiences of being fully human. 

Remember in your words and acts to others that you have no idea what turmoil, what anguish, what exile that person is experiencing.  Choose your words carefully and be intentional in your approach just as you want people to do for you.  And today please pray that the injustice, that has imprisoned innocent people, will be heard and handled quickly and correctly in the name of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In The Exact Manner in Which We Forgive Others...Part I

Trying to come to grips with negative events in your life is hard enough but when they continually haunt you – what is our course of action?

At first we spend time in defense mode – we cry about the injustice and we jump up and down claiming how victimized we are.  We get mad!

Then we mourn the loss of our reputation in the eyes of those who bought in to the negative events that occurred.

Then we forgive those who caused it.

Then we repeat the cycle over and over again. 

We’re human –we have this thing called the ego that continually needs affirming.  We spend so much time worrying about how we are seen in the eyes of one another that we quickly forget that what matters is how we see ourselves and how God sees us (not in that order, of course). 

How we see ourselves is important in the healing process when we have been wronged.  I know this from personal experience having not only dealt with this but still dealing with it and probably always will.  No matter how often we try to put it behind us it always has a way of showing its ugly face.  And that hurts our feelings.

Let me ask you what someone recently asked me.  Do you think anyone really cares about what happened to you X number of years ago?  Something horrible happened to me over ten years ago and still to this day I’m haunted by the lies and deceit and, let’s be honest, by how much my name was dragged through the mud.  Yeah, it hurts and I trust that similar situations still bring you a certain amount of pain and emotional discomfort as well.  But do we really think we are so significant that people actually spend time, still today, talking about it?  I had someone come right out and tell me that chances are a very limited number of people probably remember and even those would need prompting.  She was right – perhaps I was hanging on to something that simply didn’t exist and did not matter to anyone else except my ego – my “public” image.  No one really cared about it anymore truth or not…they moved forward and lived their lives.  While I continually looked back and wanted to repeat it all but this time to change the outcome.  It wasn’t going to happen – it was done.  I couldn’t change it and all I was doing was hurting myself AND being totally focused on my own ego.

Oh Lord in your infinite mercy you have poured forth justice.  You have poured forth forgiveness and you have shown abundant grace.  When we refuse to recognize that during our journey, when we continually pull back that scab to grab some kind of attention – remind us that it is finished.  Help us to move on and move up and move forward.  Help us to put aside this human characteristic of wanting to be seen in this light or the other – help us that even when we are wronged – the only right that matters is our life with you.  Help us to show people that by overcoming these obstacles and by claiming YOUR victory in our lives, we can truly be “over it” and see our life moving forward and ever closer to You.  Help us, today, to really mean the words of the prayer taught to us by Your Son, when we say 

“…forgive us our wrong doings in the exact manner in which we forgive those who do wrong against us”…

In the name of the risen Christ we pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve

I want to wish you safe celebrations tonight.  It is natural for us to look back on this year and to set resolutions for the coming year.  My prayer is that you do not dwell on the negative events of the past for they are the stepping stones on which you firmly planted your feet to get to the next level.  For those who have endured tough times, remember that for each cry of, “I don’t know how I’ll get through this”…your prayer was heard and answered.  For here you are – in this space and in this time – you are here and you are loved by a God that is greater than our biggest, creative imagination. 

As we enter the New Year may we cross the threshold knowing our living Lord just a little bit more than we did this time one year ago.  May we look forward to all that our Lord has in store for us and may we even now marvel at the miraculous escape routes He has planned for us when things get frustrating, tiring, and scary. 

May you feel in your heart and mind and, yes, even in every step of your feet, that Jesus is indeed your great advocate to the Father. When we turn our eyes from Him with our thoughts, words, or deeds, may we take comfort in knowing that Jesus is the one saying to His Father, “extend your mercy upon this dear one…I know him and he knows me and I can vouch for his heart”.

It is my joy and my pleasure and a blessing to my spirit that you and I are companions on this journey.  Let us all grab hands and step in to 2014 and always remember we are in this together.  God Bless you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Arise and Go

The prophet Elijah was told by God to prophesy that a famine was coming on the land. That is not a ministry that will make you very popular but Elijah was obedient to the Lord. The Lord protected him and sent him to a place beside a brook called Cherith. This is a beautiful name for a brook, although we do not know if it was as beautiful as it sounds. But nevertheless, after a while the brook dried up (see 1 Kings 17:3-7). Everyone can go a considerable amount of time without eating but after a few short days without water, life cannot be sustained. So I imagine Elijah became concerned when his water supply dried up.

The word of the LORD came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath . . . I have commanded a widow there to feed you” (verses 8-9). Elijah, who seemed to have very little provision, trusted and obeyed God but yet he was being sent to a poor widow. “So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks” (verse 10).

Elijah asked her for a jar of water and a morsel of bread and she responded, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (verse 12).

This widow was responding to him out of her hurt. She and her son were starving and Elijah had come and said, “God sent me here to have you feed me.” She is looking at her resources and thinking, “This is impossible!” And then she said to him, “Now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die” (verse 12). 

Elijah’s response was rather strange: “Do not fear; go and do as you have said” (verse 13).

Why would he say that? Because he knew that God was not going to abandon this woman and her child. He knew that as she obeyed God and blessed others through the little bit that she had, she would become blessed herself. The more she gave away, the more God increased what she had (see verses 14-16).

Obey God and you will see the windows of heaven open. God will not withhold His hand from you. He longs to pour out His blessings on you, to show you His favor.

--Thanks to by Gary W. for sharing this

Sunday, December 1, 2013

When The World Says, "You Can't"

I refuse to live in a world of I cant’s.  This world is completely full of people and organizations and company’s telling us we cannot do this or that.   There are people who believe that the Bible is full of ‘shall not’ and ‘cannot do this’.  But actually the Bible is where we should be getting the courage and strength every single day to say I CAN and I WILL. Take a look at the famous John 14 chapter. 

The word ‘will’ shows up 26 times (New Revised Standard Version) and seven of those are Jesus saying, “I will”.  The very first verse in chapter 14 does, actually, give us a directive to not do something:  “Do NOT let your hearts be troubled.”  In The Message version of the Bible is simply says, “Don’t let this throw you.”
Tonight I had to stop, rather abruptly, the rapidly rising river of I cannot.  I had to say to my heart and to my spirit and, of course, my brain, “don’t let this throw you”.  All of my current troubles should only force me to do one thing: pray.

When praying through the flood of “can not’s”, we must thank God for all that He has done to lead us to this place.  All those past times when we cried out about how we cannot possibly get through this ordeal or that one; He has come through in His promise to sustain us. Then we ask God to hold us through this particular time of turmoil and to show us what He would have us to do.  We thank Him, in advance, for the miraculous ways in which he is already seeing us through this ordeal.

When we face a trial in our life we absolutely must, without reservation and without lack of faith, get on our knees and pray to God.  Forgive us our sins, cleanse us from all wrong, help us to see the error of our ways, and bring us through this fire.  He WILL be faithful to all who call Him Lord. 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”…John 14:27

"Whether you say you can, or you think you can''re right"...Henry Ford

Monday, November 11, 2013

These Things Are Fun and Fun is Good

A big part of the human experience is our ability to experience joy.  Experiencing joy has been proven to increase blood oxygen levels, ease anxiety, boost the immune system, and trigger endorphins.  In the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, the word “joy” appears 155 times.  The word ‘joy’ and the word ‘happy’ are inter-changeable when it comes to translation of Scripture.  One of the Hebrew words that can be translated as ‘happy’ is ‘ashrie’ or ‘praiseworthy’ or ‘fortunate’.

Take a look at this photo and tell me you don’t feel some sense of joy.  In Buddhist teachings happiness forms one of the central themes and describes the ultimate freedom from suffering.

This is Pastor Trey Hall of Urban Village Church in Chicago.  He is skipping with his niece at the labyrinth at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.  I don’t know the story behind it and I didn’t bother asking him because the image spoke volumes to me by itself.  I figured I didn’t need to ask the artist to define the drawing – I would simply allow the piece to speak to me, to reach out to my heart and write upon it what it may. Regardless of the actual event the photo brings a smile to my heart – it makes me feel joy.  I cannot help but to smile and not because I see a grown man skipping – that is the least most interesting thing about this photo.  What touches my heart, what speaks to my soul and what nourishes my spirit about this image is the existence of pure joy. 

Do you like to dance when no one is watching?  Do you like to sing in the shower because of the solitude it brings?  Have you ever skipped just for the fun of skipping?  I like to think that God is dancing with us.  That when we sing alone, God is quietly harmonizing alongside us.  And when we are skipping down the pathway, child-like regardless of our physical age – God is skipping with us. 

Aristotle, in the writings Nicomachean Ethics, states that the only true thing that humanity desires is happiness for its own sake.  We pursue money, fame and riches in order to acquire happiness but Aristotle says that true happiness is something we desire, we yearn for, for its stand-alone merits. 

The finding of joy-filled moments without the influence of power or wealth or status, seems to me to be a treasure worth saving.  There are many forces in this life fighting to remove joy from us and fill it with other contents such as exhaustion, depression, sadness, anger, and pity.  We spend so much of our energy, at times, trying to make joy happen.   It’s when we find a joy-moment completely void of any outside influence that we experience a taste of purity of the human spirit and therefore the God-spirit within all of us. 

I recently met with someone who told me that he believed he would not have joy until he suffered enough to appreciate it.  My heart wrinkled.  In his book, The Fault in Our Stars, writer John Green says this is “an old argument”.  He goes on to say that “…the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.” Jon Krakauer states in his book, Into the Wild, that joy is everywhere and all around us, placed there by God.  “We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living”. 

Experiencing joy means pushing aside all that you expect of yourself and all that you think is expected of you and to dance like no one is watching – to sing in the shower loudly – and to skip down the path if just for a few steps.

 “If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”…Dr Seuss