Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Central Park Artist, NY, NY
A New Day, a New Year!
Hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete and
refresh your life
with a clean canvas!
Jesus is the
Reason for the Season.
Sins are forgiven
and lives are restored.
"I forget about the things behind me
and reach out for the things ahead of me".
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Green Pastures & Blue Waters, Central Flint Hills, KS
Most of us understand which comfort foods can give us consolation in times of stress such as warm garlic mashed potatoes, chocolate anything, cool vanilla ice cream, etc. But many of these comfort foods can ultimately cause their own type of stress for our bodies. Fortunately, there’s also an abundance of zero calorie comfort words in the Bible that can provide an immeasurable amount of stress reduction in our lives and they’re actually good for our soul.
The opening lines of Psalm 23 written by King David are perhaps the ultimate classic comfort Word. David’s youth as a shepherd helped to verbalize the meditative image of our Creator leading us through a beautiful pastoral scene beside quiet waters and green pastures. We know that the shepherd used his staff to protect his flock from harm’s way and that image also gives us comfort. David’s inspired words assure us that if we follow in the true path of our good shepherd, goodness and love will be with us and we will dwell with Him forever after fearlessly walking through the darkest valley. We’re promised that His Light will brighten our path to help us walk without stumbling along the way.
In Philippians 4 the apostle Paul assures us that we should not be anxious about anything. If we present our requests to God, He will give us peace. Paul reminds us that Emanuel is always with us, He is in control of the overall destiny of this world, and our own ultimate destiny has been secured to provide us with the ultimate joy in life. There are many times in life where circumstances are beyond our control, with the exception on one thing--our response to them. Paul reminds us that this one thing can be to turn our concern over to our Creator and trust in Him to be with us as we walk through the unknown dark valley, one day at a time, until we emerge out into the soft white Light of still green pastures and quiet blue waters.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Dallas, Chicago, IL
When viewed through the lens of eternity, Jesus taught us not to store up our treasures on earth where moths and rust can destroy and thieves can break in, but to store our treasures in heaven. All through his teaching, He cautions us not to make wealth our god, because where we devote our time and energies is the same place where our heart resides. Just about anything in this world can become either our master or servant. Wealth can be used for all manner of good in this broken world, but the love of wealth can be eternally destructive. When viewed through the lens of eternity, God is much more concerned with our spiritual character that is everlasting in our heart and not what is temporary in our 401K. Status and wealth mean nothing to God so the poor should not be concerned about being unworthy any more than rich folks should be complacent with material wealth that can be lost overnight. Wealth can create a heightened sense of self-sufficiency which can be used to our advantage, but also our disadvantage. We’re cautioned not to lose sight of the divine presence that enables these blessings and Emanuel who is always with us in case life suddenly goes south and we’re confronted with circumstances beyond our control.
The apostle Paul encourages us in 1 Timothy 6:18 to do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share. In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus taught us about the true attitude of generosity. He suggested that when we invite folks to dine with us that are in a position to repay us, our generosity is essentially canceled out—we simply exchange hospitality and breaking bread together is a nice way to be in relationship. However, Jesus’ illustration of true generosity involves inviting the disenfranchised—the poor, the paralyzed, the lame, and the blind. Why? Simply stated because “they cannot pay you back”. That can also be an acid test of our motives, since God can see into our heart. And when He looks through the lens of eternity and sees that if your heart is in the right place, you will be blessed and rewarded “when his people rise from death”. Sometimes this can be accomplished with direct offerings of time, talents and treasures and other times it can be through donations to an organization that can administer the aid in our community or half way around the world.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Addresss Book, Jamestown, NC
I’m still using and revising the Address Book that my wife refreshed seven years ago. After forty years of marriage, more than a few household moves and a few career moves, it seems to be one of life’s little recurring maintenance chores. Sadly, hand written address books are now being replaced by electronic records. An electronic file leaves no erasure trails. If you delete a record or a partial record, the new entry looks as fresh as a newly opened rosebud. But hand written records leave behind traces of memories not soon forgotten.
It’s always prudent to use a pencil in one’s Address Book to facilitate changing the records of people’s lives. Whole records are erased when the relationship connection is either abruptly or slowly severed due to any number of reasons as life happens. Then there is the nomadic lifestyle of today’s American society as we move along to new opportunities, cities and homes. Marriage and divorce always have a major life change effect on names and addresses. Death too is part of the human experience and faint erasures are still reflective reminders of those who influenced us and many who have departed all too early. Two first names you know all too well are reduced to one and an empty space now remains on the page and in your heart. But then there are the first name additions of new births and new life to remind us of the reason for the Christmas season each year. Even there, erasure marks are shadowy reminders of children that have grown to adulthood and moved away, beginning their own address books. And some of them with their new families are then added to blank pages as the Book of Life continues to relentlessly change and evolve, mirroring our own existence as we brace for the challenges and opportunities of the New Year.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Little Pond, Greensboro, NC
Would you rather be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond? Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath tells the story of a very bright young student that was accepted in one of the country’s smaller and most prestigious universities. This young lady totally excelled in her classes all the way through high school. However, once she began studies in organic chemistry she started to question her abilities for a much dreamed of science degree and eventually changed her major. Other brilliant students around her were seemingly able to grasp the course’s concepts much better than she was able to comprehend them. Gladwell also compared the suicide rates of citizens in countries such as Switzerland and Canada that declare themselves to be very happy against countries such as Greece and Portugal whose citizens declared that they are not very happy. Ironically, the folks in the less happy countries had the lower suicide rates.
So what’s the connection? Psychologists attribute these human responses to a concept coined as “relative deprivation”. As it turns out, how you feel about your “self-concept” matters very much in relation to those people immediately around you. The bright young scholar was swimming in a small university with students that were even more brilliant. She would have probably excelled in a larger institution and gone on to a long and prosperous career in science. Educators term this the “Big Fish-Little Pond Effect”. Depressed citizens in happy countries experience a higher suicide rate when they see so many happy people around them. The poor in Chile have twice the income as the poor in Honduras. But the poor Hondurans feel happier because their income is relatively closer to Honduras’ middle class than in Chile which is too far removed for comparison.
The income of the average American positions us in the top five per-capita of the world. Jesus talks about the “rich” having difficulty entering the Kingdom of Heaven. He teaches that much will be demanded of those to whom much has been given. Many folks in America don’t see themselves as rich. We live in unprecedented times of wealth and material possessions in this country. If you live in this country, the majority see you as among the world’s rich, even though you do not, given your ostentatious surroundings. Compared to the world as a whole, we’re big fish in a little pond. We’re challenged to care for all of our brothers and sisters in the world’s big pond. And we need to count our blessings and take responsibility for what God demands of us.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
December Moon Risin', Jamestown, NC
A quiet winter’s night with a full moon rising can be a very graceful experience. Whenever we attempt to describe a human emotion that’s elicited by the sensory overload of the ways we perceive our surroundings, the words never seem adequate. Sometimes we’re simply left to use word images that we and others can relate to in our common life experience. Bright sunlight and sunbeams can be a great analogy for the love that The Light of the World directly imparts on His creation. Moonlight, on the other hand, is a subdued reflection of that light in the form of divine grace that is gently showered upon creation.
There are two primary ways of spreading light into this world—from the source or as a reflection of that source. The Light of Love came into our presence to demonstrate the depth of His love for each of us on that cold winter’s day in Bethlehem. His teachings and the language of His life showed us all how to reflect the Light of His grace to others. Although it seems like the events of those times are ancient history, they’re as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. And the very same moon which rose on that first Christmas evening and shined down on a humble family with a newborn child is the very same moon that graces our presence tonight.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Christmas Lights, Jamestown, NC
Suddenly, bright lights are beginning to shine through the darkness all around the neighborhood as the Christmas season draws near once again. It’s the season of light as people everywhere celebrate the coming of the Light of the World! The apostles writing in the New Testament books could only resort to poetic analogy to describe the birth of a child that was the Word made flesh. And they compared this mysterious and momentous event to a great light coming into a dark world and the darkest corners of men’s hearts. John expresses the sentiment precisely when he writes in the opening chapter of his book that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it”.
Now it’s up to us to keep reflecting the Light—the Light of Peace, the Light of Hope and the Light of Love that the Creator brought into His creation. If we allow the true Light to guide our life’s path, we’ll never again stumble in the darkness. And it’s no mere coincidence that this redeeming Light came into the world just after we experience the shortest and therefore the darkest days of the year!
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Radiant Sunrise, WB, NC
At this holiday season of Christmastime, we’re bombarded with television and print ads that promote the “spirit of giving”. Marketers in our consumer driven culture of unabashed materialism are very good at exploiting our weakness for all manner of stuff. But it’s not all bad. There are lots of examples of people giving their time and resources to help those that are less fortunate. It’s a time of the year when if there ever is a glimmer of hope for all mankind to exhibit generosity and good will, now’s the time!
It all began over two thousand years ago, possibly in a cave behind a traveler’s inn where farm animals were housed. A child was born. Not just any child of all the billions of births on earth. The conception and birth of this child was announced by angels. This child was the ultimate gift of self. This child was Emmanuel, God with us. This child was the manifestation of our Creator and was the Word in flesh. When we speak we’re expressing who we are, our likes and dislikes, etc. This child was an expression of the divine presence. This child was both human and divine. This child was God without beginning and man with a beginning. This child was creation’s Creator. This child was invisible in His own nature, but visible in ours. This child entered into a human existence to experience our joys and our suffering to assure us of His empathy as we too experience this earthly life. This child was the very definition of self-sacrifice, as God affirmed His righteousness and offered himself to atone for mortal humanity’s shortcomings and light the way to an eternal spiritual life. This child would soon deliver the woman who delivered Him. This child’s name means “Savior”!
The dawn of that first morning following this divine birth could only have been bathed in radiant, ethereal sunlight. For a people walking in darkness, a perfect light had dawned. This child was the Light of the World who would teach us of love and how to live. This child would grow up to show us all how to reflect his light into the darkest corners of men’s hearts. He left no meaningless material part of his life, as the Word became flesh to leave a legacy of words to restore life for all who would listen. And most importantly, this child showed us that the most precious gift a parent can offer sons and daughters is the priceless gift of self.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Love, London, England
There’s an interesting comparison of how opposites relate in the physical world versus the emotional. Laws of thermodynamics show that cold is not only the opposite of hot, but actually the absence of it. Likewise, darkness is not only the opposite of light, but actually the absence of it. Hate is considered the opposite of love, but does not necessarily result as a consequence of its absence. However, if there is no love, a void exists and there is a better climate for the growth of hate in the environment. We understand that God is the essence of love and we were created in His image. His Son taught that there is one basic guideline to live a good life: to love God and others. As the world celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela, many are revisiting the legacy of his life and his words. Perhaps the following quote encapsulates why:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
11:02, Chicago Art Institute
The clock of life is wound but once
and no man has the power
to tell just when the hands will stop
at late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
The world paused for an instant at 11:02 in Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. The image above is from a special exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. The scared remains of this wrist watch were found in the rubble after the devastating atomic bomb blast that hastened the end of WWII just days later. Hiroshima had been the first nuclear war target just three days earlier. Nagasaki was a secondary target that day as Kokura was the primary. But cloud cover diverted the B29 superfortress bomber “Bockscar” to a fateful divergence with history that morning. An inoperable fuel pump also limited the plane’s range. Because of many earlier air raids, the people below had actually become somewhat complacent about the sirens and many were not taking shelter. The unfathomable energy released by that single weapon killed seventy thousand people below in an instant. And no one understandably knew how to treat those survivors exposed to radiation poisoning.
Malcolm Gladwell notes in his new book on David and Goliath that forty thousand Londoners were killed over a period of eight months during the German Blitz of 1940. We all have a fear of fear, but after so many near misses, human beings actually begin to conquer it. The Blitz actually resulted in the exact opposite effect of instilling hopeless fear in the British people. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 about this theory of “desirable difficulty” which actually strengthens us. Unfortunately for the people of Nagasaki, this new weapon raised the bar of human warfare to the top of the post. It did leave the United States with a surplus of 495,000 Purple Heart medals, as Japan unconditionally surrendered five days later.
These hands of time serve as a mute reminder that humankind can never remain with a feeling of complacency in this nuclear world. Could it be that the ethereal being in the image above was wearing that watch almost seventy years ago and is desperately trying to convey its apocalyptic message even more fervently today? And remind us to always live, love and toil with a will as no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
The Christmas story as told in the gospels has the birth of the Son of God and humanity’s savior as the focal point. Scholars have long disputed the exact time of this birth as they attempt to piece together clues of the year of Herod’s death after a lunar eclipse and the execution of all boys two years of age and younger. So the birth date of Jesus has been estimated to be between 6 and 4 BC. The Star of Bethlehem is only found in the gospel of Matthew and scientists have also strived for centuries to retrace the paths of the stars back to this period to attempt an understanding of this phenomenon which led the wise men from the east to Christ’s birthplace. The book of Numbers contains the Star Prophecy which the Magi may have studied that foretells of a star that shall arise out of Jacob and a man shall rise up out of Israel.
Astronomers have speculated that a nova, a comet or possible planetary conjunctions might explain the star that arose in the east which captured their interest. One of the primary scientific theories concerns the planet Jupiter. In 7 BC, Jupiter and Saturn moved past each other three times in the constellation Pisces. This only happens every 900 years. Jupiter symbolized royalty and Saturn represented a deity who protected Israel. Ancient astrologers also associated Pisces with the Jewish people. In 5 BC. Jupiter was traveling eastward that year when it appeared to reverse course and then move westward in what is defined as a retrograde motion. This phenomenon was due to the fact that our Earth has a faster orbital period than Jupiter. Somewhat like observing a faster car overtake another, Jupiter appeared to be standing still for about a week and then receding. The astrologers may have considered this to be a momentous sign. The ancients believed that astronomical phenomena were connected to worldly events concerning important people. Perhaps that is part of a divine plan of the Creator who has set the universe in motion.
The Magi quite probably interpreted the starry heavens to be revealing some very significant imminent birth. It’s interesting to note, however, that when the Magi found their way to Jerusalem they had to stop and ask for directions to worship the King of the Jews. The priests quoted Micah 5:2 that prophesied seven centuries earlier that he would be born in Bethlehem. But what of the account in Matthew that they were then led by a star in the east directly to the house where the child and his mother Mary resided? There are numerous accounts in the Bible of what appears to be “uncreated energy” that emanates from the divine presence and is manifested in supernatural acts. This divine brightness was in the non-consuming burning bush that appeared to Moses, the bright pillar of fire that led the freed Israelites through the desert at night, the uncreated energy that later appeared to be a consuming fire on top of Mount Sinai, the tongues of fire that hovered over the apostles’ heads at Pentecost, the blinding light that struck the apostle Paul as he was converted and the radiant transformation of Christ on a high mountain.
It’s interesting to consider that the astrological events involving Jupiter did indeed alert the Magi that a momentous event was at hand. But perhaps it may well have been supernatural “uncreated light” emanating from God in the flesh that precisely guided those first worshipers to acknowledge His coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As a child and even today, I’ve always considered the Star of Bethlehem to be a miracle of God without a scientific explanation. The appearance of the star was like a heavenly laser beam of pure Light announcing the long awaited arrival of a savior whose mission was the redemption of all mankind! John later quotes Jesus in 12:46; “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Covenant Reminder, Chicago, IL
There are accounts scattered throughout ancient cultures of a great cleansing flood which destroyed most of mankind that had devolved into an unredemptive state of depravity. The great flood in the Old Testament Genesis account is one of these significant accounts of divine retribution where God had become so aggrieved that he set out to destroy all creation. Fortunately, Noah and his family found favor in the eyes of our Creator and the future destiny of mankind was secured—but not until all others were lost. God subsequently established a covenant with Noah and his family to never again flood the entire earth and the rainbow was designated as an eternal reminder. Later He established a covenant with Israel to be the means of salvation for all nations.
We then fast forward to the good doctor Luke’s New Testament account of a new covenant for all people through the birth of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Every birth is a miracle of life, but this birth was God in the flesh. One of my favorite contemporary Christmas songs asks, “Mary did you know when you’ve kissed your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God”? After all, Messiah means “God with us”. Thankfully, it would seem that God took on a radically different mission this time. Instead of destroying His creation, He chose to personally provide for its redemption, while still leaving us in a broken world that tests our free will choices every waking day of our lives. The divine presence within human flesh that entered the world in Israel over two thousand years ago not only taught us mortals how to live with unconditional love, but willingly went to the cross as a blood sacrifice to save our spiritual souls. And the cross has remained as an eternal reminder since that very Black Friday.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Healing Light, Jamestown, NC
My favorite definition of God’s grace is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. We are forgiven and saved by the gift of grace alone or “sola gratia”. This concept of unmerited favor cannot be earned by good works, but doing good becomes a free will response to saving grace.
And there are a legion of worthy mediators who become the vessels God uses to seamlessly dispense His grace to others at all times. The lamp of grace is always burning and giving off its healing light, but we do have to acknowledge our need for it and exercise our free will to accept it.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Vintage Barn Wood, Summerfield, NC
A Facebook friend recently posted the sentiment that a scar shows that the hurt is past, the wound is closed, you have endured the pain and God has healed you. I can certainly relate after open heart surgery, two knee replacements and various small scars scattered about my exterior surfaces. And of course, the sun and years slowly erode the plasticity of your outer shell resulting in random wrinkles forming here and there.
Pat Boone was one of the teenage heart throbs growing up in the fifties who represented the antithesis of Elvis Presley. Pat’s image was that of the straight “A” college fraternity guy while Elvis carried the banner of rambunctious “rock ‘n roll” rebels. Pat crooned Love Letters in the Sand while Elvis rocked You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog!
Pat’s daughter Debby recorded a Grammy and Oscar award winning song in 1971 titled You Light up my Life which was a huge unrivaled success at the time. Debby, bless her heart, is now fifty seven and the official spokesperson for Lifestyle Lift, an organization that promotes facial surgeries that attempt to counter sagging skin and wrinkles. She hosts a 30 minute infomercial promoting the benefits of face lifts while her biggest hit song pervasively echoes in the elevator’s background. She never mentions that she has actually used the services she promotes. Some people light up a room by entering; some by leaving. I’m not sure that a face lift would make any difference.
I personally have absolutely no intention of ever using Debby’s paid for advice. I have always and always will maintain that each of the scars and wrinkles that I’ve acquired over time were individually hard earned. Life happened and I paid for each and every one of them through blood, sweat and tears. I’ve never considered them in any negative way, but as the vestiges of a life well lived and the character lines that they truly represent—like uniquely aged vintage barn wood!
Love, High Point, NC
When we read in Genesis that human beings were created in God’s image, it doesn’t mean that we look like our Creator but that we are able to relate like our Creator. Our God is a relational God. I believe it also implies that since one of the greatest attributes of God is love, we were endowed with the free will or freedom to either share in that relationship or to turn our backs on God. It’s been said that God can do everything except compel us to love him—by design. Paul writes in the love chapter of First Corinthians that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”. We now vaguely understand our relationship with our creator, as if seeing through a dark glass or a blurry reflection in an ancient mirrored surface, but we will see more clearly when we’re restored to our original perfection.
We cannot enter into a relationship with God without the freedom of choice. We Americans living in the land of the brave and home of the free have learned that freedom is not free. Freedom carries with it certain responsibilities, dedication and sacrifices. And human history continues to move toward freedom because it is written on the human heart. However, nations of men have lived under severe persecution and denial of basic unalienable rights endowed by their Creator. Individuals have become wrapped in the chains of severe addictions that have robbed them of their ability to freely live life. Sin is not just a violation of a moral code, but it’s also a consequence of not developing a relationship with our Creator. Instead, we immerse ourselves in self-idolatry and deny our reliance on others. When we set out to be our own God and not to seek the grace and will of God, the destructive consequences known as sin easily corrupt the peace, hope and security of our existence.
Physics teaches us that nature abhors a vacuum. So when the human heart does not nurture love, rent free space is available for sin to move in and fill the void. Thankfully we have a forgiving Creator, since no human being is without sin.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Serendipity, Summerfield, NC
Today’s rappers consider freestyling the art of taking a subject and then just rolling with the flow to activate a conscious stream of verbiage that rhymes as you go along. Writing a blog sort of works that way too--generally without the rhyming. If you’ve ever watched the popular American Picker television show, the guys will take off freestyling through the countryside until they spot a likely homestead that has lots of interesting looking old and rusting objects scattered about the premises. I realized that’s sort of how I go about discovering interesting images to photograph on a retirement day that suddenly presents itself with enough time to just set off in no particular direction in search of anything that catches my eye.
Today I was riding the ridges of the Carolina countryside on a rather overcast fall day with a Starbucks in hand and a chill in the air and not seeing much of interest. As I approached one of the very few stop lights in the small community of Summerfield, I decided to turn right instead of staying the course I was travelling at the time. And there right in front of me was the very definition of serendipity. I came into full view of an eclectic old barn that was weathered and worn with those old character lines etched in every piece of exposed wood. But some creative soul had inserted two very colorful panels in a broken window and door that made my day. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece of Americana that could be appreciated by someone with a camera that’s freestyling down a lonesome road on a gloomy late fall afternoon in the middle of nowhere to go and nowhere to be.
And so I took the road less traveled and it made all the difference.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Anyway, Mother Teresa
The time was 1897, not all that long removed from the devastating War Between the States. It was a time when hope and faith were waning in this country as a minister’s son, Francis Church, was still reassembling his life as a war correspondent at the New York Sun newspaper. With the Christmas season on the horizon, his editor handed Francis a letter from a young eight year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon questioning if there is a Santa Claus. His reply remains the most memorable in editorial history as Francis drew deep into the depths of his faith to find a suitable reply that resonates with people even today. He wrote that he exists “as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…Ah Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding”.
We too can find the lasting joy in giving to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a relative bargain compared to the money people spend on pursuing the fleeting happiness found in material things. And that’s the true power of giving—when the gift is given with love, generosity and devotion it is returned tenfold in the form of blessings of lasting joy and an enriched life. Jesus taught us in John 8:12 that He is the Light of the World and if we follow Him, we won’t have to walk in darkness, because we will have the ultimate gift of light that leads to life!
Monday, October 28, 2013
Madonna and Child, London, EN
During a ninety year period from 1850-1930 around 250,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children from the teeming cities were placed on “Orphan Trains” and most were adopted by families throughout the expanding American West. In Romans 8 Paul reveals that we received the spirit of adoption from the grace of our Creator and “by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”.
We were created in the divine image with qualities of mind and spirit that separate us from all other living beings. One of the basic aspects of our humanness involves our relationships. When it comes to family relationships we can be a son, daughter, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. But when it comes to our relationship with our Creator, we are all simply sons and daughters.
When Jesus taught us to pray The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, he started with the words “Our Father, who art in Heaven” and he addressed God as Abba or Father a total of 170 times in the Bible. Jesus created a new way of praying that is as natural as a child talking to his father. By creating us in his own image, God truly wanted someone to love and someone capable of returning that love.
And that qualifies all of us on this spinning orphan train of life as sons and daughters of one universal and eternal family of God. Ultimately, we need to take better care of each other and start treating each other like the sons and daughters we were created to be.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Warmth of Fire, Seagrove, NC
Isn’t it interesting how we human beings can establish a relationship with our creator and then backslide away from it? Even the ancient Israelites as a chosen nation drifted away from their creator God who withdrew His protection and they were ultimately invaded and carried away into slavery in a foreign land.
We can find warmth close to a blazing fire, but the further we walk away from the flames, the colder we become. Likewise, we can find abundant light close to a bright lamp, but the further we drift away from it the darker our world becomes. If we move into a garden of scented roses and honeysuckle, the sweet aroma fills the air all around us, but the further we amble away, the fainter the fragrance becomes.
So it would seem that we can develop a close relationship with our Heavenly Father as a son or daughter. But we have a nature that can cause us to drift away if we do not stay close to the source of our life. And we stay close by remaining in daily communication and plugging into the power source, so that our life remains firmly on track between the navigational stars on our circular trips around the sun.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Divine Light, Jamestown, NC
I lost my mother and then my wife in the span of six months five years ago. A person could be very bitter and angry after experiencing such a loss. But the love and outpouring of support my family received from our Jamestown church family sustained us, along with the Easter hope in Jesus’s resurrection that we will all meet again in a beautiful forever. It’s a belief that is reinforced every Sunday and one that I would like as many others as possible to know. I understand that we all share a common destiny, but the Bible has taught me that once we depart this mortal life, those who believe in Christ’s salvation and the unconditional love of our God need only look to the cross for affirmation of His promise for an eternal spiritual life in His presence. In the meantime, Jesus left us with three years of teachings on how to live our lives and a model of the God who created us in His image. He distilled all the commandments into five simple words; “Love God and love others”. As a body of Christ, we have lots of opportunities to learn about this and to do this every day of the year, as the Light of God’s grace is generally dispensed through other human beings like us these days.
Our commitment pledge cards enable all of us to stop for a moment and evaluate our giving, what it means, and how much it should be for the coming year. It gives our church leaders a much better picture of how we should plan our ministry for the coming year based on our members’ giving plans and not guesswork. Our financial commitment to God is both a reflection of our faith and a critical part of what makes it possible to shine Light into the dark corners of people’s hearts.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
Betsey's Rock Falls, NC
I had finished my preparation to facilitate our adult bible class, so I made a last minute decision for a road trip to the North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway. The early morning weather reported a peak color advisory for the leaves in the soft mountains that are only a two hour drive from home. So I assembled my camera gear, filled up the gas tank and headed northwest to the high country.
This week’s class relates to God’s providence in our lives. One of the discussion questions asks us to share a situation of providence that we have experienced in our lives. I can reflect on a number of occasions where providence guided my life such as the day I washed out of mechanical engineering and finally chose to grow up and get my college degree in another field I liked; the day I met my future wife of forty years and chose a committed relationship; the day I chose to leave for another company and stayed for thirty years to advance my career; the day we chose to move to North Carolina, stretching our comfort zone; the day we chose to join a community church and began to serve using our acquired skills; and the incident on the mountain today.
I arrived at the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside Boone, North Carolina by late morning. My intention was to drive southwest for a number of miles and then make my way on up to Blowing Rock for a late afternoon lunch. But as I exited highway 421, I approached a construction road block for that section of the parkway. So, as fate would have it, I chose the exact opposite way I had planned to go. After driving about twenty miles and taking a number of photographs of the blue hued mountains in the background along with vibrant autumn colors in the foreground, I pulled off onto one of the many scenic view parking areas.
I grabbed my trusty Nikon and took a much needed stretch out of the car into the brisk fall air. A gentle mountain breeze was rustling the colorful leaves all around me and the sun was intermittently highlighting the ridges and valleys below. The area was aptly named Betsey’s Rock Falls in recognition of the seemingly cascading rock formations across the valley. Unfortunately, there was a lot of underbrush obscuring my view. Then I noticed a narrow rocky trail leading off the parkway that had the promise of an unobstructed angle for my camera. Once I had located a clear view, I raised my camera with my left hand and began shooting a panoramic image from left to right. As I moved to my right while focusing on the viewfinder, my right foot slipped off the mossy rock under me and both of my feet were down in a flash. I only had a split second to unconsciously extend my left hand to protect my camera as my right hand attempted to break my fall and I did an Olympic face plant on the offending rock under me. My eyeglasses were knocked away and the knee that I had replaced seven months ago was bleeding through my denim jeans. I took a quick inventory with my bleeding right hand and discovered more red blood oozing from my forehead. Only then did I have the clear mind to look around to see if any strangers had pulled into the overlook to observe my athleticism in action. Thankfully, I was spared an embarrassing YouTube debut, so I gathered my bent eye glass frame, inspected my camera for any damage and managed to right myself. It was only then that I noticed there was a sheer drop off within about six feet of my fall. It was then that I realized my rocky path had been providential today.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Providential Creation, Wrightsville Beach, NC
The concept of providence is a belief that God is active in the human journey to fulfill His purposes for the world. Those who read life with a certain kind of faith will recognize divine intervention after it is past. One of my favorite scenes from the classic movie, The Longest Day, about the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in WWII was two flashes from both sides of the war. When queried about the critical outcome of the battle, an allied commander confidently replied that “God is on our side”. Then the scene immediately shifts to the German Third Reich commander who responds to the same question with the same reply. Obviously, one of the two commanders is deadly wrong. I like the response of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War who famously responded differently, “My concern is not whether God is on our side—my greatest concern is to be on God’s side”.
James Howell writes in his book on The Will of God that God is in control “long term, eventually; big picture, yes. But day in and day out, no, God does not control things that happen, or you and me. At times I do God’s will, but often I do not, and you don’t either. God chooses not to determine everything: Love does not insist on its own way”. We live in a broken world that won’t be restored like our spiritual bodies until the creation of a new earth and a new heaven.
There would seem to be specific situations where God won’t generally interfere. For instance, He won’t change the natural laws of nature which He set in motion. If you build a house in a flood plain or on a beach where house guests and hurricanes visit, you may be on your own. If you build in southern Oklahoma, you’d be advised to add a tornado shelter. He generally won’t violate someone’s free will. So you may be wasting your time if you’re praying for someone to return your infatuation for them. And James Howell observes that in his long ministerial career, most all of the people that were diagnosed with a terminal illness succumbed to it, despite fervent prayers to arrest it. No one escapes the common destiny of mortal men. The hope for all Christians is that prayers for healing are always answered, just not always in this mortal life.
Finally, there are still countless examples of how God has indeed invoked providence throughout the human experience for some divine reason—and we call them miracles!
Thursday, October 17, 2013
The Park Bench, Greensboro, NC
"I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish...
I see Jesus in everyone."! --Mother Teresa
An adventurous boy decided to find God one morning at a family picnic in a neighborhood park. He had packed a bag with a box of Krispy Krème donuts and a six-pack of Cheerwine soda. He noticed a white haired man sitting on a bench next to a woman and a wheel chair by his family’s table. The boy walked over to them, sat down on the grass and opened his picnic bag. He was about to take a drink from his soda when he offered them a donut. The woman declined, but the man gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. His smile was so pleasant that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered him a can of Carolina Cheerwine. Again, he smiled at him. The boy was so delighted he smiled a big smile back!
They sat there eating and smiling, but they never said a word. After they were finished, the woman helped the man into his wheel chair and everyone started to leave. But before the young boy had gone a few steps, both of them turned around and smiled a bright smile.
When the boy returned to his family’s table, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, "Why are you so happy? He replied, "I just had lunch with God." But before his mother could respond, he added, "You know what? He's got the most beautiful smile I've ever seen!"
Meanwhile the elderly man, also radiant with joy, returned to the assisted living home with his wife. A nurse was stunned by the look of peace on his face and asked, "What did you do this morning that made you so happy?" He replied, "I had Cheerwine and donuts in the park with God. And you know, he's much younger than I expected, but he’s got a beautiful smile."
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. And most often, God’s priceless grace is dispensed through folks like you and me. When have you had the sense of joy as God blessed someone else through you?
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Sands of Time, Jamestown, NC
Today marks the seventy first year I’ve been active on this planet. And I’ve received many best wishes from friends that have crossed paths with me over the years. We all know that we encounter thousands of people during our lifetime, some more often than others. People come into our lives for a lifetime, an instant, an hour, a season or a reason. But of all the billions of people that are available at any one moment, we really interface with just a chosen few. Certainly some have a profound influence on the direction of our life and others are simply fleeting images. But I think they all matter in some way.
We briefly exchange carefully considered words with a nameless and faceless person at the fast food drive through. We donate life giving blood to nameless and faceless people who may actually walk up to us at some point in our spiritual future and personally thank us for selfless giving. There quite possibly have been encounters with spiritual beings that have enabled us to avert tragedy or worse and we may have never known it. We may have entertained strangers and not realized they were very unique beings. I’ve played many hours of sports in my day and knew teammates for a literal season that then faded out of my life forever. I worked with hundreds of people for thirty years and then departed one day, never to see most of them again. And then there’s the close circle of friends and family that I have known most all of my life who have had a profound effect on me.
I frankly never expected to live this long. When I was younger, seventy one years seemed like a very long time. But now it doesn’t seem like it took that long from this perspective. I’ve had a rather adventurous life with more than one close encounter. Not everyone has the benefit of pausing to reflect on a full life that has included innumerable blessings, including even the dark patches along the way. I’ve always believed that mistakes and failures, and even tough times, were never regrettable if you were smart enough to learn and grow from them. They come with the territory. If you’re living without many failures, you probably aren’t stretching the boundaries of the life you’ve been blessed to receive. Of all the zillions of human beings created over the shifting sands of time, your soul was uniquely created for you--and all those journeymen that have passed through the hourglass of time with you in your moment to shine have either influenced your path or been redirected by the language of your life!
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Sweet Onion, Jamestown, NC
Origen of Alexandria was one of the early and greatest Christian theologians. He taught that Scripture must be understood in three senses: the literal/historical, the moral, and the allegorical. Allegory is a way of interpreting a story by “peeling back the onion” to focus on the hidden or symbolic meanings rather than the literal meaning.
Although allegory scholars generally agree that the Old Testament was not written allegorically, some scholars consider that the story of Jonah and the Whale represents Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale while Jesus was in the tomb for three days before he rose from the dead. In modern times, many people have suggested Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for the World Wars and the one ring was an allegory for the atomic bomb. While the author of a text may not consciously write with hidden meaning, his text may be interpreted in different ways by his readers.
In an era of mass illiteracy, many of the stories in Jesus’ time were passed along by oral tradition. His parables were relatively simple in structure and imagery with messages that were central to his mission. They remain very effective to this day as a testament to his understanding of human nature and learning. But all of these stories which comprised about one third of his recorded teachings were earthly stories with heavenly meanings. When we peel back the outer layer of these mortal events we find deeper spiritual meanings such as in the parables of the Good Samaritan (the meaning of love), the Lost Coin/Prodigal Son/Sheep (loss and redemption), the Unforgiving Servant (forgiveness), the Faithful Servant (growing the Kingdom of God), the Ten Virgins (being prepared for Jesus’ return), the Pearl (the great value of and need to secure the Kingdom of God), etc. And this onion isn’t so harsh that it brings tears to your eyes, but is most assuredly the sweetest variety known to mankind.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Divine Circle of Light, Jamestown, NC
It’s been said that God is not so much to be seen as to be felt. In a recent interview, Pope Francis stated that “Finding God in all things is not an ‘empirical eureka’. When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of God and love of all things in God-this is the sign that you are on this right path”.
It’s not too hard to discern the Jesuit influence on this new pope. I too have felt the divine presence in the vocal breezes of Colorado’s Mesa Verde canyons and the solitude of my own backyard. Our biblical heart is characterized as one of our spiritual senses. Jesus illustrates this in the Beatitudes when he told the five thousand that the pure in heart were blessed, for “they will see God”. Hence, the expression that we can experience God with “the eyes of our heart”. And just as we need relationship with one another to be human, we need contact with God to be fully human.
Charles Wesley preached that our spiritual senses are the “inlets of spiritual knowledge”. Our intellectual senses such as rational and common sense can take us so far within the limits of the human mind and our emotional heart can extend our reach to the doorstep of faith. We may never fully know God, but we can know enough. One of humanity’s great thinkers, Blaise Pascal, observed that “We know truth not by reason only, but by the heart. The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know”. The ultimate paradox seems to be that we must seek God so that He will ultimately engage in divine self-disclosure, one human at a time.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Blood on the Street, Chicago, IL, Internet Domain
Dark Cityscape, Chicago, IL
“I believe” is generally the first words proclaiming a confession of faith using a concise statement of belief. Christians are intimately familiar with the Apostle’s creed. It’s been said that when we speak to God we are making statements on which we bet our lives. There are those who say they believe in nothing, which in itself is a belief. And there is the concept of right belief. If we are not guided by right belief where good things will follow, we can easily slip into the darkness and use our life blessings destructively.
I read a book in the late 1950’s while I was in High School titled Knock on any Door. It made a lasting impression to this day and I still recall the street creed of the disenfranchised and disillusioned young men that were the focus of the narrative. These young men lived in the poverty areas of a large city and joined gangs that fulfilled their need for family. But their clarion call was a belief that always ended badly. These young men were living a creed to “live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse”. That fatalistic outlook didn’t leave much room for the hope of a purposeful life. Unfortunately, it’s still very much alive and well today in locations such as Chicago’s south side where murders of young people are a weekly ritual. An estimated 70,000 gang members were reportedly involved in 80% of Chicago’s 500 murders in 2012.
The polar opposite of the street creed can be found in Christianity’s Apostles’ creed. It concisely offers belief in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus his only Son, savior of our souls, and the Holy Spirit, counselor and comforter. This belief statement guides purposeful lives by further professing a belief in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the hope of a life everlasting. And we are what we believe.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Ground Zero 9-11-2004, New York City, NY
Henri Nouwen writes in his book on Discernment that “Certain events—current events, historical events, critical incidents and life circumstances—serve as signposts...Frequently the news features people who declare that we are living in the end of times. Fear and worry can affect our interpretation of the events we see or hear about. I do believe that we are living in the end of times, but I take that to mean that we are living under God’s promise that ‘all things are being made new’. For me, living in the end of times does not mean that creation will soon come to an end, but it does mean that all the signs of the end that Jesus mentions are already with us: wars and revolutions, conflicts between nations, earthquakes, plagues, famines, and persecutions (Luke 21:9-12)…Thomas Merton identified the ‘signs of the times’ as kairos—a quality of time that is eternal, when time is full of meaning and events point to divine purpose…
When millions of people experience the same event or series of critical events in the world, these events become, according to Merton, occasions to discern the signs of the times.” Certainly one of the simple tests for these “occasions” would be to see if you can recall what you were doing during some significant occasion in your contemporary past. You can probably recall a handful of events that remain fixed in your mind. For this generation, the landmark events of September 11, 2001 will always be seared in our collective memory. As we pause to honor the memories of the nearly three thousand innocent souls lost on that day twelve years ago, we need to pause long enough to look backwards to discern how the seemingly unrelated events of our lives have brought us to where we are now. God has placed all human beings in a broken world with the free will to make choices. He doesn’t necessarily cause bad things to happen as much as he is with us to bring some good out of every occasion. This morning’s USA Today notes that forty percent of Americans surveyed said that the occasion of September 11 permanently changed the way they live today. The date is now a National Day of Service and Remembrance for all of us to channel our emotions into something positive and uplifting for both ourselves and others as we resolve to help create a better world.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Both the gospels of Matthew and Luke record that the sun stopped shining and a total darkness came over the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour prior to Jesus’ death on the cross. Then he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was echoing the words of King David in Psalm 22 who was also experiencing a painful separation from God and was vainly appealing to God for acceptance. Those three hours of darkness were a period of great duress when the gravity of all the sins of the world were being taken upon God himself to atone for them as the final blood sacrifice for all mankind. There is no scientific explanation for such a phenomenon. Science records, for instance, that the longest duration eclipse of the sun is seven and one half minutes.
The Jewish clock begins at sunrise, so this darkness descended right in the middle of the day when the sun is at its brightest overhead. Total daylight hours are divided by twelve to arrive at each Sha’ah Zemanit or proportional hour. Those three hours of darkness had to be both physical and spiritual. They were symbolic of the separation of the Son from the light of the Father who had been together for all time. And of course, the Prince of Darkness has long been associated with world sin. If you’ve ever experienced total darkness, such as exploring an underground cave, it will definitely get your attention! All the people in the land surely must have known that something very extraordinary was happening. Revelation informs us that in the ultimate new heaven and new earth there will be no need for a sun or moon, as God’s eternal light will always be present. That infers that those who have not chosen to be with God will spend eternity away from the presence of God in a state of total darkness. No one would wish that fate on anyone if they had experienced such a painful separation for those three hours.
We all have the ability to be the carriers of the light of God’s grace to assure that others will not suffer this terrible fate.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Morning Sunshine, Jamestown, NC
There’s much darkness in the world today, as there has been for every past generation. That provides an opportunity for every generation to rise up to the challenge of spreading the light of God’s Son into even the darkest corners and pathways. As long as the light prevails, so will mankind.
Footnote: A milestone posting #400.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Winged Grace, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Nobody’s perfect and the cross shows us that we no longer need to turn guilt ("I MADE a mistake") into shame ("I AM a mistake.") as priceless grace from the divine presence is now available to all.
Yellow Butterfly, Wrightsville Beach, NC
White Feather, Wrightsville Beach, NC
A number of years ago our family happened to be at a Carolina beach over Easter weekend. We had attended a number of sunrise Easter services in Kansas and we were looking forward to experiencing a resurrection service next to the vast ocean waters with the waves breaking onto the shoreline. As the light brightened over the ocean’s horizon, we did indeed experience a very spiritual remembrance of the risen Christ’s victory over death and the promise and hope for all mankind. Waves have symbolized renewal and life giving water throughout time.
Since that time, we’ve all enjoyed a meditative walk on the Carolina beaches at sunrise on a number of escapes from the madding crowds. A stroll along the beach at sunrise can be a very personal and spiritual time as a new creation unfolds for yet another day on planet earth. We were fortunate to have another beach trip this past Labor Day week with myself and my grown daughter and son-in-law. My wife of forty years certainly was with us in spirit, as she lost her struggle with breast cancer five years ago. The three of us were at her bedside when she was welcomed into the presence of our Heavenly Father.
The gardens around our beach home for the week were alive with very vibrant yellow butterflies this year. They flitted and darted in the cool breezes off the ocean waters among the brightly blooming tropical flowers. We photographed the gardens and rose every morning before sunrise to greet the new day and photograph the colorful sunrise over the sandy beach. And every sunrise is as unique as a snowflake or the shells that are left on the shore by the receding nighttime tide waters. All four of us had walked together on this particular beach and it brought back those kind of good memories that sustain you after you lose a loved one. As I walked the beach one morning, I was struck by the anomaly of a pure white feather lying among one of the many shell beds left exposed that day. Native Americans believed that departed souls manifested in the form of beautiful butterflies and visited their relatives to assure them that all is well. Feathers, especially white ones, symbolize purity, peace and love. They represent a sacred universal symbol of flight within the spirit world and serve as messengers of the Great Spirit. The ancients believed that they also convey a message that all is well on the other side.
It’s very understandable that butterflies and white feathers have come to symbolize spirit messengers over the centuries. Whether or not they are personified messengers in this mortal life will remain a mystery. But I do know that they both represent a beautiful reminder of those we hold close in our hearts and their presence does rekindle warm memories. Memories of long walks on the beach as the waves relentlessly break onto the sandy shore and the colorful light of a new creation assure us that God is present and He has those who go before us in the loving palm of his hand.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Happy, Happy, Happy, Chicago, IL
I recently read a short story about a family with a six year old son that had just euthanized their terminally ill dog. The parents took the young child along for a teaching moment life lesson. However, as sometimes happens, they were the ones who benefited from their son’s “wiser than his years” observation. As they were pondering why dogs don’t live as long as we humans, the little boy offered up his opinion. He observed that we humans are born to learn how to live a good life and love one another. Since dogs are already born with that ability, they simply don’t need to live as long. You know what? That actually makes a lot of sense!
A dog wakes up each morning with the attitude that “I’m gonna live life to the fullest--so far, so good”! No matter how you treat a dog, he’s always exceedingly happy to see you when you return home. I’ve never met a dog that didn’t enjoy a good road trip; preferably with his nose sticking out the window sniffing all the good smells of mother earth as the wind rapidly flaps his ears. A brisk walk is a close second in terms of pure dog joy. There’s nothing like venturing out into the world with your trusty life friend and making your mark along the way—and I mean all along the way. When you encounter someone they know and trust, a dog will spontaneously break out into an unpretentious dance of life with shaking and tail wagging that won’t end until the petting stops.
And when the day is done or maybe it’s just the beginning of a long weekend, a dog will curl right up with you for a much needed, stress relieving, satisfying nap. If life has been less than bearable, a dog will sit silently beside you and intently listen to your every complaint and concern. He’ll join you in a quiet prayer for peace and goodwill and intently look you in the eyes when you’re reflecting on life with that classic expression which says, “That is so profound. I would have never thought of that”!
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Door Knob, London, England
I was spending my first night in ICU after a serious heart attack when a senior nurse walked into my room during the "graveyard shift". We entered into a short conversation as she checked my vital signs. After just a few minutes, she looked up and said, "You're a Christian, aren't you"? I incredulously said "Yes" and remarked that since we had just met, I didn't believe I had told her that. She then volunteered that she too was a Christian and held the hope of an eternal spiritual life after this temporary mortal one. After spending many years in ICU on the "graveyard shift" which she preferred, the calmness of spirit or the shear fright of death was very apparent to her in her patients.
We don’t need to dwell on death, as our creator gave us life to live to the fullest. Yet, we shouldn’t be blind to the elephant in the room either and we need to contemplate our common destiny more often than we probably do spend thinking about it. I received the following short explanation of death recently which prompted me to recall my brief conversation with the senior nurse above:
A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to
leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I’m afraid to die.
Tell me what lies on the other side.”
Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don't know.”
“You don't know?
You're, a Christian man, and don't know what's on the other side?”
The doctor was holding the handle of the door.
On the other side came a sound of scratching and whining,
And as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and eagerly leaped up to him.
Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog?
He's never been in this room before.
He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here.
And when the door opened, he sprang in without fear.
I know little of what is on the other side of death.
But I do know one thing... I know my Master is there and that is enough.”
I remember reading years ago about a famous painting illustrating a prominent closed door with Jesus standing outside knocking. The subtle focal point of the painting was that the door did not have a door knob on the outside—we’ve all been created with the free will to invite him into our hearts. But it’s becoming a bit late when we’re lying behind a door in ICU, as that door may never be opened.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Emitting Light into the Darkness, Chicago, IL
Throughout history we’ve all read about how a king has sent a trusted emissary on a mission that is critical to the survival of the kingdom. In my mind, I can picture one of King Arthur’s knights riding out the castle doors on a muscular white steed adorned with colorful silk fabrics and banners. This gallant knight has spent years training and working for just such an assignment as he ventures out into the harsh world to serve his king. His subsequent adventures turn out to be the stuff legends are made of in our lives.
The prophet Isaiah was just such an emissary to our creator who knew that the faith that is begun in darkness is grown in the Light. He related an Old Testament mission that the Lord had anointed him to proclaim: A Messiah was to bring renewal and release to people hurting materially and spiritually. He would bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim release and liberation for captives, provide comfort and joy to all who mourn and raise up hope for the discouraged. Jesus affirmed that mission in his words and actions throughout the New Testament. As He ascended into heaven after his resurrection, the King of the world left all disciples with the Great Commission to do likewise. We do this by being a light upon a hill. And by following Jesus’ teaching to spread that Light of Life out into the world our fellow journeymen will not walk in darkness, but walk along a straight path in the eternal Light of our Heavenly Father(John 8:12).
Friday, August 9, 2013
Blowin' in the Wind, Jamestown, NC
It’s interesting that both the Hebrew and Greek words for wind, breath and spirit are the same. God breathed life into the first human beings and Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the first disciples after his resurrection. This counsellor and comforter is always with us throughout our mortal lives. This wasn’t a CPR type of life giving event, but a supernatural event that follows with the human soul’s departure on our last breath. I’ve sensed our creator’s presence in the winds and soothing summer breezes that is His healing breath. The air around us has been described as the kingdom of the heavens. We certainly can’t survive without it. Is it merely composed of natural elements like oxygen and carbon dioxide, or is there something more transparent and spiritual at work in this rarefied air?
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
On Approach, Jamestown, NC
Soft Landing, Jamestown, NC
Jesus councils us in Luke 12 that we should not worry about the future, but place our faith in our creator to provide. Of course, that generally requires some planning and diligent hard work on our part. I’m not sure that there is another created being on this planet that works harder for his survival than the diminutive humming bird. Many times God works through others to supply blessings to His creation. We can find purpose in life if that vessel happens to be us. These beautiful winged spirits are getting an assist today from my neighbors, but nonetheless, they are taking care of business and their needs are being supplied!
And how much more valuable are you than the birds of the air? ? Worry doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles—it steals today’s peace.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
Moon Light, Jamestown, NC
Have you ever had the experience of standing in a subterranean cave or a photographic dark room and someone turns out the artificial lights? After the tiny muscles in the colored iris of your eyes respond by dilating the pupil as wide as possible to admit any possible stray light beams, you find that your surroundings are completely pitch black. Although your brain is throwing all the switches available to it, you still cannot perceive a thing and it’s as “dark as the inside of a black cat”! You’re no longer even capable of seeing yourself. We’ve all awakened in the middle of the night at some point and our eyes have been able to adjust to a smattering of light rays that enable us to slowly acclimate to the room around us.
The phenomenon of total darkness is unnerving and even fearful if it persists for long. Timothy Keller tells about a 1914 team of British explorers in “Jesus the King” whose ship was trapped in the Antarctica ice. There’s no sunlight for two months during the polar winter and beyond the challenges of starvation and frigid temperatures, the worst thing that the men faced was the darkness. They became totally isolated and disorientated. Keller notes, “Spiritual darkness comes when we turn away from God as our true light and make something else the center of our life”. Whenever we focus too much on anything of this world, we inevitably end in disappointment.
A state of total darkness in the Bible is a certain sign of God’s judgment. The prophet Isaiah notes in 13:10 that on the day of the Lord “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light”. The book of Exodus records that total darkness was over the Egyptian people during that first Passover when the final plague prompted the pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage. The disciple Mark observed that as Jesus was dying on the cross, total darkness descended on the land from noon to three in the afternoon. Keller writes that this was no natural phenomenon, but “This was a supernatural darkness…So when this darkness fell, we know that God was acting in judgment…Jesus the Maker of the World was being unmade. Why? Jesus was experiencing our judgment day”. Death became a shadow on that day and all humankind gained access to the Light of Life as the temple curtain separating our creator from mankind was symbolically torn from top to bottom. It’s written that the new earth will have no need of a shining sun or reflective moon, as the light of God’s presence will dwell there eternally.
It’s been said that we only have to look to the cross to understand the depth of God’s love for His creation. And perhaps we only have to briefly endure the experience of being surrounded by pitch blackness to understand the isolation of spending eternity apart from the light of His presence.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Two Graves, Jamestown, NC
If you’ve ever been wronged, either physically and/or emotionally, I suspect forgiveness isn’t top of mind for an immediate response. Emotions are on high alert and adrenaline is coursing through our veins at record speeds. Our face is flushed and the blood veins in our neck are pulsing. The sensation can be even more intense if the one who wrongs us is someone we are close to. This might explain our human fascination for revenge movies and the projected satisfaction we seem to receive when the bad guys get their just dues at the hand of the wronged person. Bad guys do need to be brought to justice, but we can personally get into a lot of trouble ourselves if we take revenge on the perpetrators. Perhaps we’re not in a position to do that, but we’re still in a position to confront them later. Do we choose to withhold forgiveness even though that holding on is destroying us internally? A wise saying from Leviticus 24:20 reminds us that if we seek revenge, we should dig two graves. Another way of looking at this is to consider the thought that this perp still has control of your life—he’s essentially living rent free in your mind.
There would seem to be a fine line between revenge and justice. Many folks who take justice into their own hands are practicing revenge. The objects of their anger may very well deserve the punishment they receive. But a civilized society needs lawful order to be successful. When we consider the big picture, I wonder if the Great Flood that destroyed all mankind except Noah’s family could have possibly been an act of revenge. The human race had used its free will to destructively turn away from their creator God. If that was to be the end result with no remorse or repentance, then why continue to attempt a relationship? However, that was a rather extreme consequence and almost eliminated the grand experiment with a promise to never try that approach again. Later, God chose to dramatically demonstrate His love for all mankind by sacrificing himself for our forgiveness. The cross was much more impactful and has somewhat sustained us for the past two thousand years, although we still have not come anywhere close to a Kingdom of God on earth.
It’s been said that an expression of sincere love manifests itself when one willingly sacrifices something of themselves. It may take the form of time, resources or self. Our creator God sacrificed Himself in the form of the “word become flesh” to obtain forgiveness for all mankind. And we have learned that while revenge extracts fearful influence through power and control, sacrificial love expended to help and uplift others wins people’s hearts and provides an unselfish joy of purpose.