Thursday, January 30, 2014

LEAVING TO STAY FOREVER


Ascention, Jamestown, NC

Timothy Keller writes that after the Russians put a man into orbit in 1961, Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev pronounced that “we didn’t see God, so we have proved there is no God”. Perhaps that comment was uttered with a tongue-in-cheek or perhaps Mr. Khrushchev simply had a mistaken view of heaven like so many others. We “gaze at the heavens” and look “heavenward”, up at the sun, moon and stars. When Jesus departed from this planet to prepare a place for us, he ascended into Heaven. But Keller reminds us that “He went into Heaven with a capital H. And that is something far more profound than an orbit in outer space”. And although He said His Father’s mansion had many rooms, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about a humongous Motel 6 space station orbiting the earth either.

We talk about rocket ships blasting off into space or roofers climbing ladders, but we don’t normally say they ascended into a higher sphere. However, we do talk of a king or queen ascending to the throne to acquire a greater authority. And we know that our spiritual Creator transcends both time and space and is therefore timeless and omnipresent. But when the Son of God became flesh and entered this mortal world, He was bound to one place in time, like the rest of us human beings. When His transformed being ascended into Heaven, He entered into the sea of eternal spiritual consciousness in the presence of the Father. Which clarifies why he left and why we can be assured that He has fulfilled his promise to be with all of us always.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

TYAGFEAAA


Blessings

There are many paths to a positive attitude in life with lots of forks and roadblocks along the way. One of the most basic is to acknowledge that life is indeed a gift from a greater power that has shown His love for us in many ways. It involves taking inventory of all the blessings we’ve received in life every day and giving thanks to the ultimate Source. That can be difficult for many. When folks were recently asked to define how much money they considered would quality them as rich, they all had a different amount in mind, but many responded with an amount that was double their present wealth. Someone who has spent a satisfied lifetime looking at the half full glass and thanking our Creator for their blessings knows the path to positive living.

There was an inspiring article in the news this week about a granddaughter’s quest regarding her grandmother who passed away twenty years ago from brain cancer. In the two weeks prior to her passing, the woman had lost her ability to speak, so she had written on index cards with seemingly coded letters that no one could interpret. The family could never understand what the woman’s final communication meant, so the granddaughter recently posted the letters on the internet, asking for help. One of these cards contained 78 letters:

“OFWAIHHBTNTKCTWBDIEAIIIHGUTDODBAFUOTAWFTTTAUALUNITBDUFEFTITKTPATGFEAE. TYAGFEAAA”.

The first 69 letters on the card began with “OF-WAIH-HBTN” and she ended with these 9 letters, “TY-AG-FE-AAA”.

Strangers immediately began asking questions about the young woman’s grandmother including her relationship with God. Before very long, someone out there who knew The Lord’s Prayer had broken the code. The dying woman could apparently no longer write complete words in her final hours, but she was somehow still able to record the beginning letters of her thoughts. That first long string of 69 letters did in fact represent The Lord’s Prayer which the woman most assuredly had recited to her Heavenly Father hundreds of times. It’s a comforting prayer of praise and requests. And the final 9 letters were recognized as representing a phrase of thanksgiving that she must have used to end her prayer. She ended her life with the same positive attitude and words that had sustained her throughout her time of “thanks living”—The Lord’s Prayer followed by “Thank you, Almighty God, for everything. Amen, Amen, Amen.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

OUTLIERS


Vincent, Chicago Art Institute, IL
Vincent's Room, Chicago Art Institute, IL


Unappreciated Impressions of Life

Statisticians track groupings of data to plot trends by drawing lines through the epicenter of scattered data points. Any points that fall outside of the normal grouping are considered outliers. They don’t fit the data and are anomalies which are generally excluded. People exhibit these tendencies also. Many “outsiders” march to a different drummer. And we ostracize them for the most part instead of celebrating their diversity. Ironically, many of these people become recognized posthumously as the geniuses that we couldn’t recognize while they were living. We couldn’t see past our own filtered biases and narrowly focused concept of acceptable. We stayed inside the boundaries of our own comfort zones. Jesus was an outlier. Vincent van Gogh was an outlier. One suffered for his sanity; the other for all humanity. Both sought to free mankind from their view of the world but their impact wasn’t immediately appreciated until after their death.

Human nature seems to allow people to find self-worth in putting down others that don’t fit our template or threaten the status quo. It's been said that the only good reason to look down on someone is so that you can better help them up. Jesus cautioned us to take the log out of our own eye before focusing on the speck in our neighbor’s eye. The religious establishment in his time, the Sanhedrin, definitely saw Jesus as a threat to their established and profitable status quo when he began his ministry at the age of 30 for the last three years of his life. His radical message went against the grain of contemporary religion.

Every time I have the opportunity and pleasure of viewing some of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, I’m amazed that his talent and genius were never celebrated in his lifetime while he was creating over 2,000 artworks. He was never able to support himself through the vocation he had chosen for the last ten years of his life. Interestingly, Vincent’s father Theodorus was a country minister and his mother Anna Cornelia was an artist. At the age of 25 Vincent volunteered to move to an impoverished coal mining area in the south of Belgium where he preached, ministered to the sick and sketched the people who lovingly called him “Christ of the Coal Mines”.

But Vincent’s adult life was plagued by a progressive mental illness that could have had multiple causes. He died two days after he shot himself in the chest at the age of 37 in a wheat field he had been painting. He painted his stark room in Arles in expectation of having Gauguin partner with him in his dream of gathering a collective of creative artists to challenge the established Academie in Paris. The Academie’s annual juried art show was extremely profitable for the traditional establishment of artists and dealers. But they shunned the younger painters who were creating their unique and different impressions of life. After a crazed confrontation with Gauguin, Vincent fled to a local brothel where he severed the lobe off his right ear and handed it to Rachel--something many people remember him for as much as his artwork. All of his subsequent self-portraits were painted with a left profile. The ominous black crows hovering over the vibrant amber wheat field that he painted shortly before his suicide reveals much about his decaying, tormented mind. Yet he found solace in his work and continued to create unappreciated masterpieces.

Vincent’s brother Theo sold only one of his paintings for 400 francs and he was never recognized in his lifetime. His own mother destroyed crates full of his paintings after his death. However, one of the 37 self-portraits he painted in a three year period shortly before his death over one hundred years ago was sold at auction in 1998 for a near record $71.5 million in New York City. At least that one art lover understood what Vincent was trying to say to him. Vincent was semi-homeless until his death, as he moved frequently and never could afford a permanent home. And Jesus left nothing of material value upon his death at 33. But over two thousand years later, the world celebrates his priceless words of life and hope and gives billions of dollars to support His teachings for us to love our common Creator and one another. This in spite of all the burnings of the world’s best-selling book over the years which were intended to destroy the unappreciated legacy and language of His unique and different impressions of life.

Don McLean’s hit song Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) is a poignant overview of Van Gogh’s tragic and creative life. And the DVD, Josh Groban in Concert, produced by David Foster, has one of the most moving interpretations of the music that you will ever experience:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oybfFoq7Yow

The lyrics capture the “eyes that know the darkness in my soul” and lament “how you suffered for your sanity, how you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…”

The following link has an excellent video clip of Vincent’s paintings set to the song along with the lyrics:

http://www.vangoghgallery.com/painting/starrynightlyrics.html

Friday, January 10, 2014

WINTER WILLOW SUNRISE


Winter Willow Sunrise, Jamestown, NC

Brilliant morning sunrays are absorbed and then manifest God’s grace in the highlighted golden branches of a leafless weeping willow tree on the bank of a small neighborhood winter pond heralding a new day, a New Year and new beginnings.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I’VE BEEN EXPUNGED


Sacrificial Lamb, St.Louis, MO

I was recently notified by my Life Insurance Company that although I had been sending them policy payments for many years, the funds I had invested years ago to “cover” my financial obligations were just about depleted. They informed me that I would need to transfer considerably more funds into my account if I wanted to continue our relationship. After a brief consultation with my financial advisor who wrote the original policy, we were in agreement that there was no real need to continue playing the life game with these folks at this stage. After all, they’ve always been betting that I would continue living and reducing my debt and I was betting that I would not. Fortunately, they won!

As we concluded our conversation, my consultant advised me to simply let the policy lapse into default after a short grace period. The company would then “expunge” me from their records. After a brief pause, I responded that this actually sounded like a great way to start the New Year. I could be expunged and start with a clean slate! We both had a nice chuckle and parted company. A brief Internet search revealed that there’s a big legal difference between being expunged and pardoned. If your records are expunged, they are treated as if they never existed. When you are pardoned, however, it constitutes legal forgiveness, but it does not erase the event. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions of expunge is “to eliminate (as a memory) from one's consciousness”.

Coincidently, our Bible class this week is studying the eternal life concept of Atonement. We were reminded that the insight of atonement is almost too big for words or any one image for us human beings. When sin entered into the perfect world of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve became the first humans to experience the pervasive sense of separation from God. Only our Creator could “atone” for our shortcomings and restore the sense of being “at one” with His universal consciousness. The Old Testament people of God saw sin as an act of incurring death, so it was atoned by a death—by literally draining the life blood from a living creature. The ritual for the annual “Day of Atonement” involved a sin offering of a goat that was slaughtered and its blood was sprinkled over the holy mercy seat to “cover” the sins of the people. When Jesus approached John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan River and begin his mission to “cover” the sins of all mankind, John prophetically declared that “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”! A sacrificial lamb whose act of pure grace as a blood sacrifice could only be a substitute for all mankind if he were both human and divine.

Six hundred years before Jesus stepped into the Jordan, the prophet Jeremiah declared in chapter 31 that God would establish a new covenant with all mankind and Christ would be the foundation. God would write His law on men’s hearts, not stone, and provide a way to restore personal relationship through His final sacrifice. Jeremiah records the words of the Lord as declaring that through this new covenant “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. Our sinful records will be expunged from the Book of Life when we repent of them and seek His forgiveness! And I have no reservations about not making payments on a Life Insurance policy covering my mortal temporary life at this point, as my spiritual eternal life is still covered by the blood of the Lamb through God's priceless policy of atonement!