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Hope is Rising

28 Dec

Christmas Sunrise
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Walls Come Tumbling Down

17 Dec

Just how do you define empathy? Is it being sympathetic, understanding, or filled with compassion? If you say yes to all, then you might be partially correct. But it is deeper. How about identifying with another’s plight or predicament? Yeah, now we are getting warmer. We visualize the circumstances of another’s life lived out in our lives and we begin to experience some of the emotions created by the circumstances in that person’s life.

Sympathy says, “I am sorry for your pain.”…and then usually builds a wall. Understanding gives a meaningful touch…and then usually builds a wall. Compassion may try to pacify with trite assurances of understanding another’s pain…but they usually have also built a wall.

Most of us are afraid to take the risk of empathy. Empathy hurts. And so we stay behind our walls. There are tragedies that suck us through the walls we hide behind so fast that the walls come tumbling down and there we cower in naked stupefaction, exposed to the raw ache of realization that if these circumstances existed in our lives, death might seem easier.

The world was sucked through the wall this week by tragedy. We experienced empathy despite ourselves in some cases. Our hearts were broken and grieved.

Empathy is magnified by our expectations. Did we feel empathy this week when a car-bomb went off in an eastern Pakistan town killing 17? Did we feel empathy this week when a land mine blew up killing a group of 10 young girls in another Afghan village? Or the 25 blown apart in northern Iraq? Maybe for the 30 children butchered with a knife in a school in China on the same day as our infamy? That was not in America…it was not supposed to happen here…not again…and again. (Maybe if China would outlaw knives…)

We do not expect to hear of such senseless viciousness, with so many young innocent victims. Not in America. Even though Hollywood sends us a continual glut of blood, murder, and violence. Even though our young people can choose to entertain themselves with chopping, hacking, and dismembering in three-D graphics emulating reality to the point of making some of the queasier of us offer up our lunch.

We wring our hands and ask why, and where was God. Our leaders pontificate with knee-jerk reactions stemming from their own favorite political agendas, crying crocodile tears and ignoring the obvious that has been the reality in many places in the rest of the world that choose to live outside the moral code of abhorring violence, the sanctity of life, and loving others as ourselves. That reality  has been steadily growing in our once “IN GOD WE TRUST” homeland as we have turned toward secularism. When all truth becomes equal and relative,  where do we resort for right and wrong? Maybe the inherent integrity of mankind will take us to the place where empathy is a relic. Are you holding your breath for that day?

However, there is such a place and a Master plan for getting there. There is an eternal habitation where hope and final destination become one in the love that each of us was meant to have for our fellow man. Each of us come closer to that destination by sharing hope with hearts even when it means risking empathy for the things that break the heart of God. Where was God this week? He was weeping for the pain He again realized by His choice to give mankind free will fully knowing that many of us would abuse that gift and their fellow human beings in the most horrible of ways. He suffered the brutal death of His son years ago just so that He could set a pattern for empathy, and so that the walls of separation could come tumbling down.

Heart Abandoned, Soul Surrendered

30 Nov

We spend our lives searching for the place of significance in our existence. For some that significance is found in acquisition and accumulation. Solomon in his wisdom recognized that the nature of man was to yearn for more than what he referred to as vanity. He had spent his life in search of that which was not vanity…that which was more than inconsequential nothingness. In other words, meaningful significance. Could he find it in accumulation; he owned palaces. In power; he ruled nations. In wealth; he possessed riches in abundance. In prowess; his bed chamber was visited by a myriad of wives and concubines. All of these he labeled vanity.

For others significance is more internal. A man came proclaiming that significance could be found in selling all and becoming nothing but a servant. Meaning is found in the acquisition of peace rather than the accumulation of possessions. In fact, he said, “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, for my sake and the gospels, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come…eternal life.”

What is your heart’s desire, what does your soul long for? Peace is found in abandonment and surrender of aspirations and acquisitions. Peace is not found in houses and lands, it is found in giving away the controlling desire for those things. If one sells a house should he do so with anticipation of exchanging it for 100 houses or even a house worth 100 times more than the one sold.
The exchange to be realized is in recognizing the value, priority, and understanding of the blessing of a home and possessions in terms of God’s perspective. It is not the same for all but sadly it is true for more than would admit it. With materialism and the quest for possessions comes a bondage that we do not realize because our eyes have been filled with goals and aspirations and desires. When we “give up” the entrapment of that blindness, there is a new vision and freedom of being released from that bondage. It is in that release that the true value of possessions in God’s perspective brings the 100 fold blessing of a home…not houses, of needs…not wants, God’s kingdom priority…not our own little earthly empire. Our security shifts from what we could provide and take care of for ourselves to what we could trust God to provide and take care of. “I have learned that in whatsoever state I am…” means 100 fold freedom and a blessing of contentment not experienced while we were on the American quest.

So, bottom line, what do you really love, and what are your motives in acquisition? Where is your hope for significance? If it is in heart abandoned and soul surrendered, then you are ready to open the door to internal peace and the significance of service to others sharing hope with hearts.

When Its All Said and Done

10 Nov

“Anyway.”  Have you ever noticed how often we employ this little catch all connector in our lives and conversation.  We come to a place where it is difficult to continue talking because we have limitations of understanding everything about what has just gone before.  Sometimes we follow up “Anyway,” with, “…when its all said and done…”  It is only natural we then try to encapsulate what we do understand with a platitude to try to make sense out of all the unexplainables that have just left our tongues and brains in a quandary.

I find my brain trapped in “Anyway.” right now.  And every time I try to come up with an ending for, “When its all said and done…”, I run into platitudes.  I desperately desire for the platitudes to remain triumphant in the place of peace so that the concluding thoughts are maintained as a principle.  Unchangeable truths unshakable in anyway times.  Many times ridiculed or derided by those who assume “enlightenment”.  I am like others whose Faith is the only plausible endgame.  We try to make sense of the future by relating it to what we know from the past.  When what has passed confuses us, our future goals and aspirations also lose clarity.  Instead of hope rising to improve future days we are tempted to continue the ride on the anyway train to the place where we settle for arresting the progress of decline rather than ascending to new glorious heights.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.  Faith’s enemies rely on the truth of this platitude.  Faith is more than a crutch to limp through to the end of, “when its all said and done…”,  it is more than a platitude.  So before we slip into coasting through the endgame of a frustrated cause with a mere platitude, “Anyway, God is in control.”, let us remember that this never justifies inaction.  It is the rally cry.  Resolutely continue the battle.  It is in the anyway times, others around us are most open to our lives and actions sharing true hope with their hearts.

Start Your Engines

20 Oct

From time to time, our regular Adult Bible Fellowship leader at the church we attend while here in Addis Abeba is called out of town for the work he does. On those occasions, there is an opportunity for me to lead the discussions. Since we have returned to Ethiopia in September, I have had many opportunities. For three Sundays we considered the topic, “Thirsting for Living Water” and tomorrow we will begin “Perfect Peace”.

The key Scripture verse is Is. 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee because he trusteth in Thee.”

So, what does that mean and feel like to you? Do not just repeat what you have heard about the bird in the nest in the middle of the storm, but take some “be still and know” minutes of reflective meditation and then write it in your own words by finishing these sentences. “I know I am at peace when___________.” And then, “I treasure the perfect Peace of God because__________.”

If you are like me, there are some days that slip by without this fruit-of-the-spirit reality being fully appreciated. These Fruit roll off our lips in a triune slur…lovejoypeace. So quickly that in our rush and presumption, we scarcely realize the blessing God has bestowed upon us.

Peace can be a motor for obedience, “…but we have this treasure in earthen vessels,” (II Cor. 4:7)…walking content in the excellency of the power of God and not of the power and preference of self. We choose the steps of that walk for the gratification that the Spirit brings through the relational closeness to our Heavenly Father, troubled…not distressed, perplexed…not in despair, persecuted…not forsaken, cast down…not destroyed. The tranquil harmony of that interactive position with the Creator of All meshes with the faith in knowing that only He has the power to control all things, yet only He has the mercy and patience to do so within the power of free will He willingly bestowed upon mankind, His crowning creation.
Today, in the assurance of salvation, let that perfect peace share hope with your hearts. To fully engage in the race, start your engines.

Strength is Rising

13 Oct

There are repeating patterns in life.  Routines.  Some daily, some weekly, some monthly, and some yearly.  Yet, life is a mixture of the routines and the fresh new experiences.  When a person is bombarded by a period of time where either the routine or the new experiences preclude the mix,  it can be a time of either boredom and monotony or anxiety and stress.  Monotony yearns for adventure and exotic yearns for familiar in a quest for balance.

In a new country and culture, at first, the new experiences are falling down like rain.  Routines are as predictable as the timing of lightening flashes.  Slowly there is an evolution.  Familiarity invades the unique and strength is rising, balance is regaining its footing.  “Been here before,”  finally happens for the weekly, then monthly, and lastly, the yearly cycles.  Not yet mundane but at least second time around.  Second rainy seasons.  Second returns after visits home.  Renewal applications for yearly residency permits.  Second farewells to friends making annual visits.

In all of this fluctuation and demand for constant flexibility, one revers the oasis of the daily routine…interludes with the Heavenly Father.  Brick by brick the walls of self protection hiding our insecurities are torn down until our hearts are abandoned in “Abat hoi, anta bicha.” (“Oh, Father, only you.”)  At least some of the agenda’s we did not think existed in the recesses of our hearts have been demolished.  “Oh to be Nothing” is more than just a song to sing in absent-minded distraction.  It is the only place of strength.  The hope we share with hearts stems not from our ability to negotiate the routines or the adventures but from the rising strength and faith that God alone is in control of all things.  He is sovereign.  He alone is constancy in the routines and He alone is surety in the unfamiliar.  The repeating pattern of hope… “His mercy endures forever.”

Wish I Woulda’

6 Oct

Some people call them regrets.  Other may say, “If only.”  We travel through actions and choices in our lives processing varying degrees of remorse, guilt, and shame.  Either we have done something we wish we hadn’t, or we leave something undone in the wish-I-woulda’  column.  From experience, it seems that repentance restores a sense of peace in the former case. In the latter case, we are left with wishbones, candles on birthday cakes, and shooting stars in hopes that we would have a chance for a do over.  Time machines only work in movies.

The mandatory medical checkup was over and I was standing outside the private hospital waiting for a taxi back to the compound.  The report that was scrambling my thoughts was a mixture of good news/bad news.  Blood pressure…high.  Everything else…normal, including chest x-ray, urinalysis, and multiple blood tests.  I even heard the humming tuning fork with both ears and knew that I wasn’t color blind.  All that, plus consultation with a physician, cost less than $30.00.  Full price, not just co-pay.   “Better than Obamacare,” I congratulated myself.

She was zig-zagging through the crowded street carrying something in front of her under a blanket.  Dressed in the shabby dirty rag dress of the poverty-stricken countryside.  Maybe twenty years old.  When our eyes met, she altered her course, tentatively approaching.  It was then that I could hear the baby crying.  A very young baby has a unique sound.  She brought her hand to her mouth.  The word hungry in Amharic, was a whisper.  I took out my wallet and gave her a small denomination note congratulating myself on my generosity.  “Geta te barek.” she  murmered.  Oh, “God Bless you,”  I reflected because I understood her words.

Then she turned and quickly disappeared…my self righteous pride drained away.  Face slapped by the conviction of misappropriated vanity.  On her back, hidden from a frontal view, was the twin of  the one crying at her breast.  A voice was prodding my soul, “What kind of blessing have you just been given in the cost of your medical care?” and, “What kind of blessing did you just share?”

By retreating into the world of how much of my money I saved for myself, I had missed the opportunity to share real hope with a heart.  My gift could have been multiplied by one hundred and it would not have begun to make an impact on my life.  Maybe its, “Been there, done that,” you say.  I hope this wish-I-woulda’ moment will spawn new opportunities with different outcomes.

Land of the Free

22 Sep

Oohh, say could She see…what so proudly we hail at OUR twilights last gleaming.  And if She could teach us from all the experiences She has witnessed…and if we understood the responsibility of freedom, what would be the sacrifice we would make so that our grandchildren could finish the true words of the stanzas of our Anthem?

“oh say does that star-spangled banner still wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Has entitlement trumped sacrifice, or can we, each one look beyond our own benefits that we think we are owed?  Has both leadership and citizenship forgotten the immortal words, “ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU.” spoken by JFK?  Are we united in anything more than selfish ambition to claim, “As long as I get what I deserve.”?  One issue individualists with less collective heart than a statue.

Notice the tallest building in the background…the One World Trade Center (rather ironic name possibly), still under construction.  At its base is Ground Zero.  Lady Liberty looks on.   Her eyes would have seen the billowing smoke, Her ears would have heard the distant rumble…twice.  The collective pain of the nations past dark moments and the collective hope in the nation’s future glory is only the summation of each of our spirit’s willingness to remember and learn and dream.  But in those dreams must abide more than selfish ambition.  There must abide all that is good in Loving God and Loving others enough to make the sacrifices that have been modeled by the best who have pursued freedom with the abandon for the greater good of others.  Who will lead the best…he who will be willing to make the greatest sacrifice.  Who would lay down his life for a friend?  Who will show the best responsibility of citizenship…only the one who sees beyond the image they have made into their God in their morning mirror.

Some think and make choices as if America is or must become irrelevant.  A statue does not share hope with hearts.  But the sacrifice it stands for does.  And people… they share hope best when they become willing to make a sacrifice.  Irrevelavant…only if each heart thinks only of themselves.

Gittin’ Lucky

26 May

For some it is God’s will.  Xabiere y’mesken

For some it is merely fate, karma, or coincidence.  Good fortune.  Blessed-by-the-gods.  Gittin’ lucky.  Somehow events way beyond our control, way beyond our ability to affect an outcome…somehow these outcomes come out in a fluky, providential way which exercises a great benefit or detriment upon our lives.  

Somehow.  This word is a vacuum, sucking in the impossible chances, trying to give explanation and meaning to happenstance.  When there is no other answer for why, human beings can pull this out of life’s thesaurus and employ it to reduce the random…to justify the unexplainable.  In the end it is a word for the faithless.  It has become the foundation for false religions.  It has become the foundation for no religion.

But, there are faithful people who are ensnared by their understanding of God’s will.  For some it is a forlorn resolve into existence within a miserable earthly plight.  They sit with hand upturned and a hanky on the pavement waiting to get lucky.  Blessing of the day.  They see no other choice and even if one existed the abandonment of hope would have robbed them of any attempt to visualize a different future.

Hope opens the door to somehow.  Hope opens the door for a living faith.  Hope takes faith and makes it speak of future change.  Hope was not confined to a tomb.  Conquering even death.  Hope gives meaning to life and afterlife and gives mankind courage to put a hand out and take hold of opportunities, present and eternal.  The hope we are sharing with hearts dares to think that change is possible.  Gittin’ lucky has nothing to do with it.  Neither do karma and fate.  Coming to a living faith with transforming power takes us beyond the limitations of the false religions that merely tranquilize the misfortunate.  God’s will is a pursuit not a quagmire.  God’s will was perfectly displayed by one who walked in the hope of victory, throwing off the agony of life’s defeats.

“Long as I Can See the LIGHT”

10 Feb

“Put a candle in the window,” John Fogarty began and the song came to life.  First the percussion…then a single lead guitar tracing out the simple strain…finally evolving into methodical chords.  The pace was slow and steady.  It wasn’t exactly rock and it wasn’t exactly country and it wasn’t exactly blues.  It was exactly all rolled into one and by the sax rift in the middle, a listener felt captured between the lyric lines and the lilting almost waltz-like melody.  The title line repetitively assaulting the ears in waves, penetrated to the soul, invading the psyche with a message that one had heard something deeper than the simplistic interpretation of the mere words.

“As long as I can see the light.”  The song’s story built on a theme for all of life’s wanderlust.  Everything was changing in the Sixties.  Forces were pulling us away.  The songs deepest message was counterculture to the message of the day.  There is a force that draws us back.  Somewhere between, “though I’m goin’, gone, and I’ll be comin’ home soon” there would be a kind of magnetic pull drawing one back to the place where the candle lighted the window.  A refuge.

The candlelight in that window was more than a chasing away of the dark.  It was an illumination.  On the first level…love.  Behind that glowing wick there was a home.  There was something calling, “Come back.”  Maybe beyond the walls that framed the abode and housed the love, there was the truth source that silently drummed, “Return to me.”  Spiritual on the second level.  What first seemed like the simple melody line of mommy and daddy became the more methodical chords of an eternal Father.  And even in the melancholy-sax-blues experiences of life, there was the message ever repeating, “As long as I can see the light, I can find home.”

And home was more than a place to store goods, bounded by seconds, minutes and days.  It came to be the place of love and spirit where true treasure could be laid up.  And the candle in the window glowed with the hope that is shared with hearts that we will not lose our way as long as our focus is on the LIGHT.