Thursday, May 30, 2013
Mountain Stream, Highlands, NC
I’ve listened to a few folks relate how God speaks to them in what seems to be a conversational mode. Well, could be they have a direct line connection while the rest of us seem to be on a party line. Conversely, I’ve talked to people who say they talk to God but they never seem to get an answer. Or at least they don’t hear anything in response, except maybe a busy signal or a recorded message that says “your call is important to us, please hold”. And of course, we don’t want to overlook the fact that there are two equally critical components of communication—speaking AND listening.
Frankly, I’m not sure that we should be so paranoid about waiting for some kind of a literal conversation or even a recorded heavenly robo call message. I believe God reveals himself in a variety of ways and places in this life. I’ve stood and listened to the choir in Notre Dame Cathedral and spent hours in the sanctuaries of neighborhood churches. And I can sense God’s presence wherever I make a mindful effort to receive it. He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the morning in the garden as they established a relationship together. A relationship that included at its core a new concept of free will—the free will choice to either seek to nourish and grow a relationship or turn and walk away.
Psalm 46:10 informs us to be still and know God. I’m convinced that God is in all things, so that quiet place for us can be found inside a sacred building or outside in the sanctuary of nature. I’ve motionlessly sat on warm boulders at the rim of gapping canyons and listened to the Bernoulli winds sing in the pine needles next to ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings. I’ve listened to gentle breezes rustle the maple leaves in my backyard as they cooled the moisture on my brow. I’ve quietly stood beside a cold, gurgling mountain stream rushing over polished glacier stones and calling out to me as they plunged headlong towards their origin in the vast oceans. I’ve silently swam in these oceans and let the ceaseless rhythms of the incoming waves conjure up reminiscent sounds of my days in the womb. And I’ve silently walked through waving prairie grasses and urban parks and heard the plaintive songs of the birds of the air calm my spirit and give me new strength.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Merci, Normandy, France
Uncle Lewis, Emporia, KS
Our Memorial message this past Sunday included a reflection back on the final scenes from the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. A small squad led by Captain John Miller had been ordered to find the last surviving son of a family so that he could be sent back home from the Normandy invasion. The dialog in those final scenes stirred up my curiosity enough to review them again last night. I fast forwarded to the final gruesome battle scenes when the soldiers were defending both Private James Ryan and a strategic bridge from the advancing German Nazis. The action was intense and gut wrenching, although I’m certain nothing Hollywood can create could come close to the horrors of actual combat.
Captain Miller was mortally wounded as the tide turned in favor of the American troops when reinforcements arrived at a the bridge. Captain Miller beckoned Private Ryan close. He whispered with his dying breath, “James…earn this. Earn it”. Those two words were obviously seared on Private Ryan’s heart for all eternity. The camera then focuses on his face which morphs into that of an aging veteran standing in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial many years later. It’s one of those hallowed places you encounter in Europe upon cresting a hill to discover that all the memorial markers were set in place at the same time and aligned in perfect rows. There’s no mistaking their origin and there are not too many locations in America like them with the exception of Civil War battlefields in the East.
Like so many other veterans before him, Ryan has returned to honor his fallen comrades and specifically the man who gave his life so that he would live. His family is standing in the background, giving him space. When Ryan’s wife approaches him, he turns to her and asks “Did I live a good life? Am I a good man”? He desperately needs his wife’s affirmation because he deeply understands the ultimate price that has been paid. She quietly responds, “You are”. That poignant exchange choked me up as much as any experience in my life, perhaps because I had just finished my lesson plans to teach a session on Jesus’ final week on this planet. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us so that we may have eternal life. My Uncle Lewis served in the medical corps in WWII and tragically lost his life at the all too young age of twenty nine. I too should be living my life to honor their sacrifice. God gave all of us the priceless gift of life. And how we live it is our gift to him. Earn it.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Comforting Word, London, England
We human beings like to be in control. Actually, we have this surviving DNA that’s been passed along our family tree branches for centuries which instinctively drives us to control everything in life to assure our survival. When a serious issue presents itself or we’re confronted with a life or death situation, we fight for control and survival! God entrusted us with this priceless gift of life and expects us to live it to the fullest. There’s no way he would be satisfied with us if we squandered it by abusing and neglecting our minds and bodies.
That’s all easy to say, but sometimes the storms of life can beat us down pretty hard. We can encounter periods of extreme anxiety between the calm centers of the hurricanes that can be almost debilitating. That anxiousness keeps us alert, sometime to a fault, and keeps us awake in the dark hours of the night. Have faith--that internally wired DNA is what kept our ancestors from being eaten alive by the saber tooth tigers pacing at the mouth of their cave! But there is peace to be found with a foundation of faith in an eternal comforting power.
Sometimes anxiety can lead us to comfort foods like ice cream, but there are comfort words that can be much more therapeutic. The twenty third Psalm would seem to be the standard for comfort words in this world—yes, though I walk through the valley of darkness at times, I have nothing to fear for my God is with me. Paul found this profound peace deep within a Roman prison as he wrote to the Philippians in chapter four. He counsels us to: be glad that the Lord has promised to be with us always; relinquish control and turn over those issues that are beyond our control to him in prayers for strength, healing, and an incomprehensible peace that comes over us to calm our anxiety; focus our thoughts on positive aspects of our day or life along with going to a peaceful place in the calm center of our mind; and learn to be content with our present circumstance while invoking our survival DNA to strive for better circumstances. This sage advice has survived the shifting sands of time because of the powerful wisdom and positive effect it has had on countless human beings who have walked through the valleys of darkness, navigated the storms of life and triumphantly emerged on the other side.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Look of Love, Chicago, IL
The tragic loss of life and property emanating from our television screens this week overshadow any of our insignificant problems. All creation which has fallen from its created perfect state seems to be acting with more ferocity, power and increasing frequency these days, like the pains of childbirth Paul writes about in Romans 8. Or maybe it’s just that there are more and more folks in the way these days and more cameras at the ready to capture the event. That part of the country in “tornado alley” is located in a prime breeding ground for intense storms fueled by cold fronts descending from the north colliding with warm moist air being pulled unabated from the south out of the Gulf of Mexico.
It was heartwarming to see the live interview with an elder woman who was standing around her flattened home in Moore, Oklahoma. This was a no nonsense Midwesterner who undoubtedly had seen more than her share of violent storms and tornados over the years. When asked by the reporter if she comprehended what had just happened, her response was quick and firm. “I know exactly what happened”, she replied. Then she mentioned that she had been holding her little dog when the tornado slammed into her home and she knew he must be somewhere under the rubble.
As the camera panned over the devastation, you could imagine the poor animal lying dead under all the weight and carnage. Then the camera zoomed into a dark shadow under twisted metal and splintered lumber to reveal a stirring black face with piercing eyes. It would seem the dazed pet had quite possibly heard a familiar voice, one that gave hope for survival and new life. The woman was alerted and she and one of the crew members quickly pulled off the rubble to release the stiffened dog from its deathly snare. The woman then thanked God for not only answering one prayer to spare her, but a second one for her “best friend” as they were reunited and the little black, mud coated schnauzer gingerly ambled away from the destruction.
Another image uncovered amid the devastation revealed a garden rock with the relevant inscription, “The things in life that are important are not things”. Both the woman and her beloved best friend understood that all too well on this day.
New Creation, Wrightsville Beach, NC
I guess it’s safe to say that over the span of human history there have literally been billions of people created into this world. I believe one of the primary attributes of the God I have come to know is that God loves to create. Every sunrise, every blooming flower, every birth is a new creation. The basic building blocks of star dust were created at the Big Bang when both contemporary scientists and the Bible inform us that the universe instantaneously came into existence. That star dust is always being recycled into another new creation as the circle of life continues to evolve. Hopefully, better models are being adapted to their environment and intellectual growth.
A number like even one billion seems overwhelming to most of us humans. Yet, I suppose there are billions of uniquely created snowflakes that swirl from the heavens during every big snowstorm. And to a God that created the billions of stars in just our universe alone among potentially billions of others, the number of human beings ever created must still be quite unique from His perspective. It’s been said that if you can’t comprehend this possibility, your concept of God simply isn’t big enough!
So, no one should ever linger too long on the thought that their life doesn’t matter, or make a difference, or that it isn’t cherished by our creator. Life is a one-time unique gift that should be opened and experienced at the first light of every new creation!
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Human Connectedness, Chicago, IL
The CEO of Qualcom recently stated that by 2020 there would be as many as 24 billion mobile smart devices capable of Internet connectedness around the world. These affordable devices not only provide access to unlimited information but unlimited human beings via social media app’s. Personal computers were revolutionary, but these new devices are much more personal and mobile.
One of the “end times” signs that I’ve read about includes a universal language that unites all humanity. Well, there are now app’s beginning to appear that can automatically translate one language into another as texts are being sent to one another. And now we have the accessibility and affordability of new devices capable of utilizing them. It would seem that the “Kingdom of God” on earth that Jesus’ envisioned did not include man made kingdom boundaries on maps and extensive physical obstructions like oceans and mountains. No one living in ancient times could have imagined such a uniting device or virtual possibility, but they could image such a concept.
A “Kingdom of God” on earth as opposed to a planet of competitors and enemies was a central theme of Jesus’ teaching. It was present in his ministry—his teaching, his acts of compassion and his miracles and there are over 100 occurrences of this phrase in the Gospels. Of course, this confused the Pharisees that Jesus encountered because they were expecting a mighty kingdom in Israel with a warrior king who would defeat the ruling Romans. They were not expecting this kind of kingdom. However, can you just imagine what a wonderfully different world this would be if we could actually attain this virtual vision?
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Knocking Holes in the Darkness, Jamestown, NC
The only person we ever have to be better than
is the person we were yesterday.
If we live like we're never going to die,
we’ll die having never really lived each priceless day.
If we’re too anxious about the future
we’ll never enjoy the present.
The present is where all life is played out.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Jefferson's Monticello, Charlottsville, VA
Some folks waste all week waiting for Friday and all their lives waiting to fulfill their dreams. Life is played out in this present moment and time is ever so precious. Patience can be a virtue at times, but not when seizing the moment is instantly available and you are capable of altering your own destiny by simply altering your own attitude. Some folks dream big dreams and some folks turn them into reality!
Mom's Handkerchief, Jamestown, NC
This recent Mother’s Day is always a good time to pause, reflect and give thanks for the mothers in our lives, assuming we’ve had mostly good experiences. Of course, even if we haven’t, I always believe that we can learn from both good and not so good models of behavior from moms to managers. We can simply emulate those attributes we embrace and do the opposite of those we abhor.
I was folding laundry this morning and came across a worn handkerchief that I had recently carried with me during the spring allergy season. It’s a rather unassuming piece of cloth that really shouldn’t merit much attention. After all, a handkerchief is a rather plebeian part of life. And a plain white one is even more so. But this one finally caught my attention after the over fifty years since I received it, but never parted with it.
I happen to be the first generation to be born off the farm on both sides of my family. I’m proud of that hard-working heritage and I know that I still have dirt coursing through my veins. I actually enjoy any outdoor activity including yard work and gardening. I used to subscribe to the old monastery story I read years ago that we should plant one row of vegetables for the body and one row of flowers for the soul. Now, I must admit that I shop the Farmers Market for fresh veggies but still enjoy planting flowers.
My grandparents were not rich in the monetary sense, but were rich in the sharing of love among us. My grandmother Davis, who all of us many grandchildren called Mom, was the vibrant glue that held it all together. And I remember my grandfather on more than one occasion chiding her about the fact that their cash on hand was seldom on hand. And a simply wrapped present always seemed to appear for someone’s special occasion. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that after a while, I was less than enthusiastic about receiving one of these gifts, as it was almost always a simple, plain handkerchief—not the latest and greatest expensive toy du jour. Then the years passed and we’ve lost both our grandparents and our parents. Mother’s Day has evolved into a special day of remembrance and thanks for priceless handkerchiefs wrapped in motherly love. The same motherly love available to all of God’s children every day of our lives—many times featuring special home delivery from His older children.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Springtime Colors, Jamestown, NC
A blind boy sat on the street corner with a can at his feet holding a sign that simply said, “I’m blind, please help”. There were only a few coins in the can. A stranger walked by, dropped a few coins in the can and then wrote something on the back of the boy’s sign for him to display. Soon the boy heard lots of clicking noises as the can began to fill up with coins. When the man returned soon afterwards, the boy asked “What did you write on my sign”? The stranger replied, “I said the same thing, only with different words. I wrote that ‘today is a beautiful spring day, but I cannot see it’”. Both signs told people the boy was blind, but the second reminded them how fortunate they were to have their sight.
We take so many things for granted in life like our sight—especially until we lose them. My recent total knee replacement gave me an acute appreciation for simply walking and walking once again pain free. Please use this reminder for all of God’s blessings we enjoy every waking moment in this life and help us continue to appreciate them!
Footnote: This posting is number 350!