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Death: Think About It

Death: Think About It

When I stumbled across the saying “no man is an island” many years ago, it immediately resonated with me. I believe it means that in some way we are all connected, and that when one person dies, it affects us all. If we learn of death, whether it is someone we know or not, it has an impact that ranges from mild disturbance – a niggling at our sense of mortality – to shattering our world in cases of close connection or mass death so close to home.

Any brush with death or near death experience, or observation of accidents and injuries can have this same effect. For about a year now I have had an increased awareness of death and the brevity and fragility of life. Some of this was brought on by a few near wrecks while driving or by passing accidents on the road, as well as reflections on the way I have been living and not living.

This occasional and ongoing sense was heightened, perhaps divinely, by the sudden death yesterday of a church member where my mother attends. It is odd for this to have affected me so, for just a year and a half ago my stepfather passed away. Yet it is this recent death which topped off my awareness of my own mortality to the point of my cup running over.

I did not know until today, however, that three other people by association had also died yesterday. Earlier today I did the infamous open the bible and read what’s there, and it opened to Ecclesiastes chapters 7 – 9 and here is what I encountered:

Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
    After all, everyone dies—
    so the living should take this to heart.
 Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for sadness has a refining influence on us.
 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
    while a fool thinks only about having a good time. (Ecclesiastes 7 2-4)

None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle… (Ecclesiastes 8:8)

The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious… Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. (Ecclesiastes 9:3 & 6)

Utterly timely and, I believe, at the hand of God. Following yesterday’s church service about listening to God and hearing from God, I had been praying for Him to do just this. And so he did. And it was what was needed, for I have been in a long and progressive season of what traditional churches call “backsliding”, but what I define as a gradually increased distance from God and disconnect between us due to my actions and inaction. I have for too long neglected to meet with God to the point where it is painful to feel the gap.

So last night and today have been spiritually sobering for me and the end result is a turning within. This death, these deaths, and my own impending death have had a “refining influence” on me. I will not go into the spiritual work that occurred within me last night, but I have turned. I have turned towards God, recommitted myself to Him, and re-surrendered, or perhaps truly surrendered all for the first time.

I do not want to waste another day missing out on a relationship with God. I do not want to remain in a stagnant, purposeless life governed by inadequate self control and self leadership. Something new has happened in this ‘turning’. I look forward to the life brought on by the subject and nearness of death. Death, which is a servant of life, has pointed the way for me, its gruesome countenance admonishing me to turn around and face the countenance of my Savior and King.

We fear death, because it has the power to take life. But death also has the power to point us towards life, to create within us a paradigm shift if we will but think and respond. It is counterintuitive for most of us, but as the Ecclesiastical writer states, it is foolish to not think upon death and let it refine us unto life. And it is wise to let the message of death sink in, and to let the only One who conquered death and rose from it bring us into true and lasting, pure and eternal life.

That life leads to death is an ever present sorrow. Yet there is hope, for death leads to life.

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Caring For The Human Family

Caring For The Human Family

Last night I swallowed a reality pill, and the side effects were a giant dose of humility.  It’s a concept I’ve heard of before, but last night I think I fully digested it.  A friend’s Twitter re-posting of my pastor’s blog caught my eye, so I opened my bible to the place it referenced.  Matthew 25: 31 -46. It’s the passage that talks about two groups of people: one who asks “when did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite strangers in, tend to the sick, or visit prisoners?”  To the group that did these things, ie: served their fellow-man, he said “whatever you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”  To the group who did not do these things, ie: failed to serve their fellow man, he said “whatever you have not done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have not done to me.”

“My brothers and sisters” … that’s the reality pill for me.  I’ve heard and read this story before, but it appeared to me on an entirely different, very real level.  Jesus is identifying himself with human beings. He is calling us his brothers and sisters, his family. He is identifying with us so closely that he says whatever you do to them, it’s like you’re doing it to me.  What you fail to do for them, you fail to do for me.

That crazy odd concept that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” at the same time made more sense to me last night.  By stuffing himself (God) into the humbling flesh and nature of a human being, Jesus became “related” to us on a whole new level.  God wasn’t just our Creator through Jesus, he became our flesh and blood relative. He shared in our human struggles in a way we never thought a distant “somewhere out there” God ever could. That makes the phrase “down to earth” resound on a higher wavelength for me.

“My brothers and sisters” … if God relates to us as brothers and sisters, then we should too.  And by relating to people, on some level we relate to God. This absolutely blows my mind! It’s not just a bumper sticker or bracelet philosophy like “What would Jesus do?” It’s a life altering concept to think that the way I treat another person is the way I treat the God of the universe who is literally called Love. Do I care for my fellow man and tend to his or her needs? Do I ignore them with an indifferent posture? By doing so I am either nurturing love (Love) or deflecting love (Love).

My immediate response was “God what can I do?!” “Who needs me? Who can I help and how?” But it occurred to me a split second later that my over-eager response would die out with the coming of tomorrow, because I was looking to make a grand impact in my fervent response.  Jesus let me know in that moment that he doesn’t necessarily want me to go seeking out opportunities, while that is certainly a good thing. Rather, he wants to shift my heart attitude in such a way that when a need arises, I’ll naturally meet it. It is in our daily encounters with people where needs are made known.  They are subtle, which is why I think Jesus referenced simple things like hunger, thirst, companionship, healing, and sticking by someone in tough times.

“My brothers and sisters” … next door, in the checkout line, on the subway, on the bus, a few cubicles down, alone at the park, in the gay pride parade, two church isles behind me, in the suit running for office, in my home in a chair, on the internet in a chat room, bumming a cigarette, holding a sign for food, handing me food at the drive-thru, looking at me for some trace of kindness or connection.

My brothers and my sisters …

 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ “

You Never Judged Me …

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You Never Judged Me …

I was sitting outside towards evening time and looked up to see the sun burning full and round at me through some nearby trees.  In that moment of warmth and light a thought flickered through my soul, traveled up to my mind, and out towards God: You never judged me.  It was a stunning realization.  For a long time I’ve been aware of the verse that there is no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus.  But this is literally the first time that it has dawned on me that never, not once, not only in my lifetime, but from all of eternity past has God ever judged me.

In his foreknowledge he knew every sin I would commit and every good I would omit, every pattern, every choice, every hard-fought struggle against giving in to this flesh nature.  He knew my willful sins, the ones that I would delight in.  He knew of the times that I would “know better” and “do it anyway”.  Yet never has he pointed the finger of blame or crashed the gavel down to reverberate so hard as to knock me off my feet.  He has loved me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and his thoughts about me outnumber the grains of sand (Psalm 139: 17-18).  His thoughts towards me are good and not evil, and his plans are to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

There is a difference between knowing that a person will sin versus judging them for it, a difference between allowing the natural consequences of sin versus raging in anger over people about how wrong they are, a difference between God and man.  It is not God, but man who points the finger and slams the gavel and even takes Bible verses to point out how wrong others are and how much they are “God’s enemies” if they continue in their unrepentant ways.  It is not God, but man, who will flip out at this post and begin harvesting verses from their minds, looking in indexes and concordances to find stories or verses to negate what I say here: God doesn’t judge until the end.  Until then, he loves.  And that is all he has ever done.  And that was given to me, today. When the warmth and the light shone down on me.

Peace to all far and wide.  He is a God who has always loved us, and loves until our last breath. The choice to know him and love him back through a relationship with Jesus is ours, and at that point, condemnation shall never touch a hair on our head.

Grave Day: Easter Reflections

Grave Day: Easter Reflections

Today is a grave day.  Not because I’m sad, not because anything has happened or that it is dismal and gray outside. On the contrary it is absolutely beautiful outdoors.  The sun is shining, it’s warm out, and the spring leaves and flowers are becoming fuller.  It is a grave day because today is the 2nd day in this Easter season.  It is the day Jesus’ body was in the tomb, the large stone secured and sealed because the Jewish leaders feared it would be rolled away in the night by Jesus’ disciples.  The Jews feared a resurrection conspiracy and had spoken with authorities to ensure that it was not only sealed but guarded by soldiers.

So I have been contemplative today, wondering what that 2nd day in history was really like.  It was a bleak day for those whose lives were forever touched by Jesus, and an anxious day for his haters. Regardless, all of them were wondering if what Jesus said he could do (raise the broken temple, literally and figuratively) would really happen.  So I turned to an online bible and looked for passages that talked about the crucifixion and resurrection and found something entirely different to wonder about.

In Matthew 28:2-4 it says that after the Sabbath dayThere was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” Yet later on in Matthew 28:11-15 it saysWhile the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,  telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” 

OK, what happened here with the Roman guards? They witnessed a powerful earthquake and an angel descend from they sky.  The angel was obviously very “angel like”, supernatural enough to freak the guards out and cause them to faint.  How would an experience like this affect a person truth wise? How can a person not believe something God-sized has just occurred? I’m sure that “some of them” did, because the verse says that “some of the guards” went to tell the religious leaders (chief priests) what had happened. To me, this implies that “some of the guards” stayed behind, and by further and perhaps liberal implication, I believe those particular guards may have at that point believed that Jesus was really the Son of God and had truly raised from the dead.

But I’m disturbed by the actions of the other guards who gave their report to the chief priests.  These are the ones I assume that, while scared to death, didn’t believe the spiritual truth and ramifications of what they had witnessed. And for whatever they believed about what had happened before their very own eyes, they sold the truth in order to save and enhance their own lives.  By accepting the Jewish leaders’ “large sum of money” to lie and tell people that a scam had taken place by the disciples taking the body from the grave, they sidestepped rebuke from their superiors for “slacking on the job” and letting this happen, plus that “large sum of money” was surely enough to live comfortably for a long time.

After witnessing a miracle, a God-sized event, not to mention a supernatural being, they sold the truth.  For self-protection and provision they sold the truth.  Wow.

But don’t people do that today? How many people witness God doing miraculous things, yet they don’t buy the truth of it? Like a surgeon who watches a patient clearly, scientifically, medically doomed suddenly have test results that come back stating a clean bill of health.  Or a person living a completely “hell-bent” life suddenly coming in to work radically changed, talking about how Jesus changed his or her life, talking crazy madman spiritual stuff that is as foreign to that person as another language.  Or a personal God experience, like hearing or seeing something that seems so clearly from God, or hearing a message and feeling so heavily the strong urge within to say “yes”, to respond, to believe and receive the thing so badly yet inexplicably desired?

There are countless examples of God-works throughout our lives.  And there are just as many “bribes” offered to us to sell the truth of what we’ve witnessed or experienced.  Sometimes it really is money and the protection and provision it brings. Some people would rather live comfortably than to risk anything that might compromise the layers of security carefully constructed by meaningless but oh so useful ‘green paper’. Some would rather sell the truth to keep relational peace, fearing the perception of others: “What would my family and friends think if I let Jesus into my heart and started behaving like a ‘religious nut’?” Others sell the truth for identity and independence no matter how powerful the God-sized evidence is in their life.  They don’t want to give up who they are and the control they have over their own life.  Humanly speaking, who would want to do that? I still struggle with that one, even though I know that no one knows who I truly am and can be better than God, and no one is more equipped to steer my life than One who is good and literally called Love.

Again, wow.  This Easter I challenge all of us to put ourselves in a place where we can witness something otherworldly and powerful.  To go to a church service, whether in person, on TV, or online and get ‘close to the tomb’. And for the life of us, and everything that temporally and eternally matters, not to sell the truth for a temporary substitute or bribe.  How grave a decision “some of the guards” made that day in history.  How I pray so many of us will not repeat history this Easter Sunday and match it with our own grave choices.

Blessings to you wherever you are this Easter. If you don’t have a service to attend, or you physically cannot get to one, or if your schedule is crazy and you want to watch an Easter service online at a later date, I invite you to join me at a place that miracles happen every day.  I can tell you this, tomorrow will be a day when earthquakes will happen in the lives of many people who will witness the truth of God’s love for them.  They will choose to receive the God-sized Truth that has pursued them patiently their whole lives!

Wow!

Join me online this Easter at your convenience to hear about how maybe God has a ‘fresh start’ personally gift wrapped just for you!

Quest Community Church

 

Deep Wounds Require Deep Healing

Deep Wounds Require Deep Healing

April is National Poetry Month and I’ve been sharing on my Facebook some of the selections I’ve written over the years.  Poetry is usually something personal, although I often write what I call “perspective” poems – poems I write from the “voice” of someone else whose experience I imagine or sympathize.  I’ve posted some personal ones, and choose to keep others tucked away.  It’s difficult to share the stuff that comes from the deep places of the heart, especially with people whose response will likely remain unknown.  It’s “too hard” to let the world see our wounds, isn’t it?

Woundedness is something we all experience and something we all try to hide from ourselves and others.  But it’s always there, like a basement door we shove a large piece of attractive furniture in front of – a curio cabinet filled with dainty things, delicate and beautiful knickknacks, sentimental pictures from “happier” times.  That’s what we’d prefer to look at in our souls, what we’d have others see instead of the door we’ve chosen to bolt and disguise.

That basement – and we all have one – harbors the ills done to us and the pains we’ve experienced.  Things we’ve done to others dwell there also. Woundedness, brokenness, deep emotional pain, even deeper soul pain.  How foolish to think it would go away, but we believe it.  No one fools the self better than the self.  We put our little band-aids on gashing wounds and half-severed limbs and store them in a sea of forgetfulness.  But the sea always churns what is in it, and throughout our lives things happen which bring those hidden pains to surface.

It is what we choose to do with them at that point which matters. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death.  But what if I’m a Christian? I’m not going to die spiritually if I ignore the things that are too hard and too big to ever fully go away? I get along just fine.  There is no use in digging up the past. God will heal me when I get to heaven anyway.

Yes, we might have a functioning and successful life. Work and family might be as ‘together’ as it can possibly be.  But I doubt that anyone reading this would deny that at least one thing in the ‘basement’ occasionally makes a sound, asking and sometimes demanding to get out.  We know how powerful it is.  We know how damaging it would be if we moved the curio and dared to touch fragile fingers to aging, rusted locks. We don’t even think that God could take care of the past, and even if he could, we don’t want to experience healing because that means pain.

Good news – God is the most experienced heart surgeon around with a long-standing reputation.  And he is gentle. Isaiah 42:3 says “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering candle he will not snuff out …” God’s knowledge of us coupled with the power of his love and character (tender, merciful, kind, compassionate, patient) is exactly what we need.  He knows when to push forward and when to pull back in such a way that pain will be minimized.  He won’t let us suffer in the healing process beyond what is endurable, and the healing ointment of the Holy Spirit and Comforter will ease whatever pain happens in the process.

It’s worth it.  Without deep healing for those deep wounds, we do die on some level.  And if we’re choosing to live as crippled Christians, yes, we may feel fine and we’ll still go to heaven, but our pain serves to limit us, and those limitations and hindrances could mean the spiritual death of not just one person, but many.  In our wounded state, there are people who cannot be reached.  I wasted years of my life living with wounds, and only now am I seeing how detrimental that was.  I was so inhibited from reaching out to people who need to know who Jesus really is.  I look at where they are in life now and wonder how they might be different if I was in a stronger and more healed position to have met them when and where they needed it. Would they know Jesus by now?

Well, enough of that.  Here’s a poem in honor of National Poetry month and one that touches on this very topic.  I hope I’ll keep reaching out to the Gentle Surgeon, who also happens to be a Loving Father, and I hope you will too.

Blessings,

Cafe Girl

 

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

How do You hold a fragile bird that’s fallen from a tree?
How do You touch a tender nerve when You perform a surgery?
How do You mend a broken bone without breaking the remains?
How do You heal a wounded soul with hidden unknown pains?

How do You soothe the crying child afraid of all around?
How do You sift through pounding rain to guide one drop aground?
How do You work the needle quick to sew and patch the hole?
How do You mold the shattered glass into something new and whole?

I am the bird, the nerve, the bone, the soul, the child that screams
I am the drop that’s falling fast, the cloth that’s ripping at the seams
I am the glass that’s on the edge, that fears the break and fears the heat
I am the one who needs You now, the bruised reed at Your feet

Designer Planet

Designer Planet

If I were to ask you to fill in the blank for the phrase “no two (blank) are the same”, most of you would likely answer “people” or “snowflakes”.  However, there are a lot of things that aren’t the same, in nature at least.  No two dog or cat nose prints are the same, much like human fingerprints.  So I set out to do an internet search to see what other things in life or nature were unique.  I was disappointed to find nothing more.  However, I did find an interesting piece from a logical standpoint which states that “the only thing that is the same thing is the same thing.”  Well, true! In the fundamental sense, some thing by virtue of being a thing is it’s very own, separate from another thing.

This presented a little quandary about where I want to go with this post, so set aside this point of logic with me.

There are a surprising number of fashion blogs that choose to follow this one.  As I think about fashion, I think about production and design on all levels, not merely clothing and accessories.  The word “fashion” means to make or form something out of something else, to create something from imagination and ingenuity. It is very similar to the meaning of “design”, which means to plan and make something, to create or execute according to plan. A look around my room right now reveals objects that were planned and created for a specific use.  I realize there are mass replicas of most of the items around me.  Everything I see has others which are exactly alike.  Many man-made things are exactly the same (aside from the logic above), for such is the case with mass production.  The need for the same function results in the creation of the same object for that function.

However, man-made things from a more artistic side can vary, and such is the case with fashion.  Mass produced fashion may have two things exactly alike, but uniqueness occurs when the designer intentionally wants to create something that is like no other.  I realize several things from this.  One is that this planet is entirely unique and like no other.  It is highly sophisticated in design and purpose.  A literal myriad of complex lifeforms exist on Earth, which is, according to scientific knowledge, not the case with any other planet.  Secondly I realize that no two God-created things are exactly alike.  I don’t need to research it to realize it.  God created earth and all of it’s components and inhabitants entirely different from anything else. That which is alive is entirely its own entity because it has some degree of difference regarding its composition.

In thinking on these things I also realize that as people made in the image of a Creator, we are creators.  We have the ability to fashion and design and to make things that are unique and unlike anything else.  We not only live on a designer planet, we are designer people. We have limitations of course, for we can only create things.  We cannot, aside from procreation, create a living thing.  Even when creating functional things, God applied the law of singularity. I did read from one source that all electrons are “exactly the same”, and I wonder about this.  With man’s limitations, does he fail to see that perhaps even the elemental things have some degree of variance that the naked eye or the naked mind cannot see?

I don’t know, but I marvel at life a little more when I think of how all things on earth are privileged and patented and that no two things are truly alike.  While I can’t comprehend the diversity of earth’s diversity, I can appreciate it.  I can observe and admire with astonishment and renewed wonder at the beautiful mystery of the utter distinctive quality of life and creation.

A Picture of Restored Humanity

A Picture of Restored Humanity

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook from a site called ViralNova: Trending Stories on the Web.  I’ve attached the link at the end of this post and you’ve really got to check it out, especially to get a visual for what I talk about here.  It contains a short story of a homeless dog found wandering the streets.  It was so filthy with such caked and crusted, matted fur that a passer-by initially thought the small dog was a pile of trash.  It is an unbelievable, unforgettable image.

I am so metaphorical in my thought process that I couldn’t help but think of how this is a picture of humanity.  This big ball turning is a mass of human generated, perpetuated mess, and we are the messiest of all.  Deep in our hearts there is a goodness worth redeeming, but it is also caked, encrusted, and matted with the badness within us.  Jesus is the “kind humanitarian” who walks by us on the street.  He sees our homeless souls and beyond our unruly filth.  He knows we’re not a pile of trash.  He dares to stoop down and touch our leprous form.  He takes us to a place of cleansing.  He doesn’t just wash us.  He cuts away the befouled growth clinging to us, shedding our moral muck and discarding it as the pile of trash.

When He’s done we look entirely different.  We look human again.  We look like we were intended to before we chose evil into the world.  We are a new creation, no longer homeless, but clothed and cared for.  We are blanketed in love and rest on the pillow of forgiveness and renewal.  We are truly at peace in the home of God’s heart, where we will enjoy his everlasting benevolent presence and companionship, never more to remember the taint and affliction of the former things from which we are forever freed.

Blessings to all who read this and soak in the images and truth.

http://www.viralnova.com/shocking-dog-transformation/

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