Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DISAPPOINTMENT WITH GOD


CHRISTMAS CRIME SCENE, Internet Domain

I stumbled across the photo above by chance some time ago and saved it for such a purpose as illustrating this post. The juxtaposition of Merry Christmas decorations around the paramedics carrying out a body bag from what has transitioned into a crime scene was too ironic to pass by without some mention. Human suffering abounds even amidst gay holiday celebrations.

Much has been written about the suffering of Job and many have used that book of the Bible to study the state of human suffering and how that squares with a loving God. But the book of Job is certainly an exercise in faith. In his book on “Disappointment with God”, Philip Yancey interviews a friend whose wife is fighting cancer and who suffered a serious head injury in an auto accident. He noted that he had cursed the unfairness of life and vented his grief and anger many times. But he also believed that God felt the same way and didn’t blame him. He related that “we tend to think that life should be fair because God is fair. But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life—by expecting constant good health, for example—then I set myself up for a crashing disappointment…If we develop a relationship with God apart from our life circumstances, then we may be able to hold on when the physical reality breaks down. We can learn to trust God despite all the unfairness of life. ” His faith had moved from a “contract faith” (I’ll follow God if he treats me well) to a relationship that could transcend any hardship.

Yancey observes, “no one is exempt from tragedy or disappointment—God himself was not exempt. Jesus offered no immunity, no way out of the unfairness, but rather a way through it to the other side. Just as Good Friday demolished the instinctive belief that this life is supposed to be fair, Easter Sunday followed with its startling clue to the riddle of the universe. Out of the darkness, a bright light shone. The primal desire for fairness dies hard, and it should…But if I stake my faith on such a fault-proof earth, my faith will let me down. Even the greatest of miracles do not resolve the problems of this earth: all people who find physical healing eventually die. We need more than a miracle. We need a new heaven and a new earth, and until we have those, unfairness will not disappear.”

Yancey concludes, “the Bible never belittles human disappointment (remember the proportion in Job—one chapter of restoration follows forty-one chapters of anguish), but it does add one key word: temporary. What we feel now, we will not always feel. Our disappointment is itself a sign, an aching, a hunger for something better. And faith is, in the end, a kind of homesickness—for a home we have never visited but have never once stopped longing for.”

Should we just give in and never try to squeeze a few more days of life out of a terminal illness? After all, we’re all terminal. But we’re also taught that life is sacred. Perhaps it does boil down to an understanding of the severity of the next procedure versus the anticipated benefit. If the benefits don’t outweigh the subsequent suffering, we should then simply seek the strength and comfort of God’s presence and the hope for a restored spiritual life.

Monday, September 20, 2010

ASSURANCE


Heavenly Hand, Branson, MO

“And standing in the middle of the lamp stands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave’.” (Revelation 1:13-18)

That image of the Son of Man represents wisdom, divinity, judgment, royalty, and strength. Most Biblical passages convey that we mere mortals fall to our knees in the presence of divine spiritual beings and are given the assurance to fear not. But this encounter also conveys the imagery of the Son of God laying his firm right hand on the Apostle John’s shoulder to reinforce that assurance. This assurance of God’s strength to face life’s trials is always available to us along with the assurance that Jesus has the power over sin and death. The steady hand on our shoulder in difficult times from a close friend is one of the best antidotes to difficult times. And that hand is always there if we simply ask.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

CRISIS


Chinese Symbol for Crisis, Internet Domain

I've always found it very profound and intriguing that the Chinese symbol for crisis is composed of two symbols for danger and opportunity. In this sense, the Chinese symbol crisis can mean "opportunity" in a time of "danger". A wise man will always look for the opportunity in a crisis as opposed to others who react with hand wringing and panic. Kipling got it right in his famous poem “If” when he observed, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...you'll be a man my son”! As the saying goes, "Some people see the crisis in every opportunity and others see the opportunity in every crisis". My favorite definition for luck is "when preparation meets opportunity". So work to be prepared and don't panic when a crisis occurs---look for the opportunities and succeed.

BLESSING BY THE SEA



White Light, Kiawah Island, SC
Catching Rain Drops, Jamestown, NC

May you live with the awareness of God’s love in every sun's ray at sunrise and sunset, every rush of ocean’s wave, every soothing breeze's caress across your face, every newborn’s gaze, every smile's reassurance, every cat’s purr and every dog's tail wag, every rain drop's wet sensation, every snow flake's gentle flight, every flower’s colorful unfolding bloom, and every wonderful, miraculous heart's beat and life's breath. And when you breathe your last, may God hold you in the palm of His hand and take you home on cool breezes over calm waters.

"Life is a great surprise.
I do not see why death should not be an even greater one.”

—Vladimir Nabokov

BY THE SEA



Cat by the Stairs, Jersey Shore
Sand Dune by the Sea, Jersey Shore

Sun, earth, and air combining with the dew,
unfold the seeds, then stem, and bud, and bloom.

Exquisite tints; pink, violet, and blue,
smile in the light, and breathe their rich perfume.

So, by the sea, in love's divine employ,
hearts blossom out, in God's enduring joy.
--E. H. S.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

THINK ABOUT IT


The Thinker, Internet Domain

Sometimes I sits and thinks.

And sometimes I just sits.

Sometimes we human beings need to exercise our frontal lobes just a bit more to ponder our future. As Faber College's Dean Wormer so succinctly put it to Flounder Dorfman in one of those many memorable scenes from Animal House, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son"! And as Bluto Blutarsky lamented as the Delta's were all expelled from school for pathetically low grades, "Seven years of college down the drain"!

The year was 1962 and the Vietnam War was in high gear. The fraternity boys were informed that their draft boards had been notified and were told that they were now eligible for service. It's another life lesson that if you don't take charge of your life, someone else quite probably will at some point.

I can relate. The year was 1963. I had just completed two years of prerequisite courses for a Mechanical Engineering degree. Then I transferred to the state University for my first year of specific mechanical engineering courses and experienced my first year away from home. My father had recently died of cancer. The night life in Aggieville and the day life at the local marina ran non stop and so did our little band of merry men. And I was beginning to learn that I really did not like mechanical engineering. Add it up and I was on a collision course with Dean Wormer or whatever his name was by the time I blew most of my courses for the year. My subsequent choices were the draft and a paid vacation in Vietnam or salvaging another degree back at home by deciding to grow up. I made the deans honor roll the following year and never looked back. I was drafted shortly after I graduated but by that time the war was ending and I was deferred. The lesson learned? There's two ways to learn in life; Build on your successes, think about your failures and do something about them for the future. Substitute the words "Next time" whenever you catch yourself thinking or saying "If only".

Monday, September 13, 2010

LIFE ISN'T FAIR


London Eye, London, England

M. Scott Peck in the opening line of his best selling book, The Road Less Traveled, observed that "life is difficult". That about says it all in a psychology book that was written about coping with all the slings and arrows of life. Many would also add that life isn't fair either. You want fair? It's a place where you ride on rides, eat cotton candy and step in elephant poop. Many folks expect to get up every morning and live another episode of "Leave it to Beaver". Life ain't like that. How come? Maybe it's because of the free will God gave us when he created human beings. He had already created Seraphs eons earlier. They're the six winged creatures that have spent eternity worshiping and praising God 24/7. I suspect their existence is pretty much set every day. So perhaps God was interested in creating a creature in his own image that had the choice of whether or not he wanted to share a good relationship. For this to happen, we first need a world that offers good and bad choices--a broken world.

C. S. Lewis once estimated that four-fifths of humanity’s suffering is inflicted by our fellow human beings. Human nature is the cause of unspeakable suffering. In the movie, “O God”, a young man asks God why he doesn't do something about all the pain and suffering in the world if he is an all-powerful, all-loving God. God responds by saying, “I have done something. I created you.” What kind of “heart work” can we do to alleviate suffering in our world?

God decided that we would be mortal, knowing hearts would be broken. And yet God knew that this was the only way that we would really treasure life and appreciate the promise of eternal life. It’s one of those bittersweet eternal moments when you come to the realization that death is the only cure for the common destiny of all mankind--dying. As Hemingway observed in Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places”. Our response to life is critical. This world’s value is to be judged, not primarily by the quantity of pleasure and pain occurring in it at any particular moment, but by its fitness for its primary purpose, the purpose of soul-making.

Free will implies the response ability to constantly make good or bad choices as we journey through this priceless life that God has given to us. Our faith and trust will be constantly tested. When we directly experience suffering or indirectly experience it through loved ones or nameless fellow journeymen on our pathway of life, we have the free will option to either curse God or trust God. Generally, suffering draws us closer to God. When there are no answers, faith in a loving God is the answer. Human suffering is a temporal condition that ultimately leads to our common destiny at the end of our life on earth. If that condition initiated or strengthened our trust in God, it could result in the gift of eternal life for our liberated soul. A loving God does not want any soul to be denied that destiny.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

AWAKENING






Ethereal Flight, Jamestown, NC
Welcome Sunrise, Jamestown, NC
Foraging for Breakfast, Jamestown, NC
Dream Weaver, Jamestown, NC

Monday, September 6, 2010

FINDING PEACE



Kiawah Dawn, Kiawah Island, SC
Kiawah Sunrise, Kiawah Island, SC

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
--Philippians 4:6-7

When adversity enters our life, finding peace becomes a challenge. Finding the right response becomes a challenge. I ran across an intriguing breakfast analogy some time ago that stuck with me. Actually, I now recall two of them that relate to fixing breakfast. The first teaches the difference between a chicken and a pig regarding commitment. When it comes to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is very committed! The second analogy involves another egg and a coffee bean regarding our response to life.

Consider hot, boiling water as the adversary. Both the egg and coffee bean are exposed to it this morning. The fragile egg becomes hardened inside once the heat is turned up. But the coffee bean actually goes with the flow and changes both itself and its environment. Each responded differently.

Do life's challenges create in us a purer heart or a hardened heart? We cannot change the winds, but we can adjust the sails. We cannot control many things in our lives, but we are in control of our response to them. Trusting God to help see us through life and striving to follow Jesus’ teachings will give us guidance in our response as we adjust our sails to set a course towards eternity. And it generally is indeed darkest before the dawn, but that trust will lead us to the new days light.

Thanks to Christ, this earth can be the nearest you’ll come to hell.
But apart from Christ, this earth is the nearest you’ll come to heaven
.”
--Max Lucado, 3:16, The Numbers of Hope.

NO GOOD ANSWER


Kate, Thomasville, NC

The angelic photo along with a short article greeted folks from the front page of our local newspaper on this Labor Day weekend. It really is an angelic image. Many folks might read the article about the little girl's short life and conclude that God needed another little angel in heaven. God has more than enough angels in heaven. Others might rationalize that she was the inspiration for all the folks who volunteered with the Kisses4Kate foundation and made it possible for the family of seven to move into a new home where she spent her final days. I'm certain that all those people would have preferred to find their inspiration elsewhere. Others might say that we mortals all have a limited amount of time to live on this planet. But shouldn't that at least include the chance at a full life? We human beings always look for answers, which seems to be how we were wired. And we were created with a limited life span which hopefully we all understand. But there is no understanding or good answer for the untimely loss of an angelic child.

BE STILL




Low Country Stillness, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Kiawah Dawn, Kiawah Island, SC
Palmetto Reflections, Kiawah Island, SC

Be still, and know that I am God.
--Psalm 46:10

" It has been said:
'Stillness is the language God speaks,
and everything else is a bad translation
.'

Stillness is really another word for space. Becoming conscious of stillness whenever we encounter it in our lives will connect us with the formless and timeless dimension within ourselves, that which is beyond thought, beyond ego. It may be the stillness that pervades the world of nature, or the stillness in your room in the early hours of the morning, or the silent gaps in between sounds.

Stillness has no form--that is why through thinking we cannot become aware of it. Thought is form. Being aware of stillness means to be still. To be still is to be conscious without thought. You are never more essentially, more deeply, yourself than when when you are still. When you are still, you are who you were before you temporarily assumed this physical and mental form called a person. You are also who you will be when the form dissolves. When you are still, you are who you are beyond your temporal existence: consciousness--unconditioned, formless, eternal."

--Eckhart Tolle, The New Earth

Sunday, September 5, 2010

CHIHULY'S AVATAR






Chihuly Avatar Arboretum, Saint Louis, MO

Friday, September 3, 2010

LIFE SAVERS


Life Ring, Wyandotte, MI

I always wince a bit every time I hear an account of a doctor or some brave citizen “saving someone’s life” on the nightly newscast. Not that there’s anything wrong with such a noble and sometimes brave act. And Jesus performed many such miracles in his short three year ministry in the Galilee area. A few of those that were recorded actually related to instances where he brought people back from the dead. We’ve even named the inflated tubes on ships that are tossed into the sea to keep a man overboard from drowning as “life savers”. Modern medical technology can now bring patients back from clinical death and they relate stories of an intense white light through a long tunnel and a sense of absolute peace. Most are reluctant to return from these out of body experiences. But consider that all of these people, including those Jesus brought back from certain death, eventually did or will die and their bodies will return to the dust of this earth. So, how does anybody think that anybody can really save a life?

I guess most of these folks are saved for a while. But in truth and at best, their lives are extended for a bit longer. That’s it. Nobody gets out alive. In our youth oriented society, we have the illusion that we all will indeed just keep on keeping on. Like the guy who stated, “I plan to live forever! So far, so good”. Of course, we’ve all been given life to live to the fullest. And we should! Too many folks waste too much of the time they’ve been given by dwelling on the inevitable. But the clock of life is wound but once and no one knows the hour it will stop. So, we really should pause and be still on occasion to consider our life’s course and purpose. All tail wagging animals fortunately have no clue that their life will not go on forever. May flies and Day Lilies have one day to live—that’s it! Living in the moment is a good thing, but we should also learn from the past and plan for the future. We human beings are the only creatures on the planet that have the benefit of a developed frontal lobe that enables us to ponder the future—and our mortality. Another human doctor or total stranger may extend our mortal life, but only One can save it and only each of us individually can achieve immortal life by acknowledging and accepting His priceless gift of grace and forgiveness.