Walking Tall With Jesus: A Tranformational Reflection on Romans 6:1-11

English: Under the title "New Britain&quo...

In this reading, Paul instructs an audience complacent in its’ belief that merely adhering to ‘“the law” is sufficient for their justification in the eyes of God.  In his methodical, logical style, he gently chastises them with rhetorical questions.  Like many other parts of Romans, the depth of meaning increases with each reading.

In fact, in perusing my records, I note that I wrote a devotional on this selfsame passage three years ago.  In that piece, I noted Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross as being  symbolic of the death of our own sinful life, and his resurrection as being symbolic of our “new” selves, walking in His way.  Upon re-reading this year, I find meaning which, at least to me, is deeper.

I will be brief .  Since this is a popular reading, I will not resort to citations from the text.

The point of Paul’s message is not only that we should not persist in sin so “Grace can abound”, but, more importantly, that this symbolic death of sin is a transformation.   That is, however dead our sinful past, we are still flesh and blood, and, while hopefully abated, our sinfulness is still, due to no fault of our own, a persistent interruption to our existence.

The sins of Adam die hard.  While God’s Grace is free, it can only be for naught if we do not strive to live up to the ideals we profess, or have professed for us at our baptism, whether by water. or by the fire of our own reckless pasts.  This means work.  This means striving to keep our mortal bodies from occasionally being the instruments, (if not the seats) of sin.  This means prayer.

Paul’s conclusions are obvious.  Of course Grace will not abound by the persistence of sin.  But why?  Simply because liberty from sin is not license to sin.  Our transformation from our old, sinful selves which began with the crucifixion of Jesus is, for each of us, a work in progress.  Paul reminds us that we have to “think of” ourselves as living for God.   God can’t do that for us.  It takes effort and energy.  It is a lot to acknowledge, but with the Holy Spirit in play, we will always have the upper hand on the Devil.

“I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I hope to be. But by the cross of Jesus Christ, I am not what I was.”John Newton, Author, ‘Amazing Grace

(keep Mr. Newton’s tune in mind as you read the following):

A Metamorphosis in Grace.

My sins died on that ruddy cross

With our God’s only Son,

How strange that His death paid for sin,

When of sin he had none.

 

And as I ponder this sweet Grace

This priceless treasure pure

I find the strength and will to face

The next temptation’s lure.

 

For I’m forgiven, but not free

From Satan’s clever ways

And I must live so God can see

His Son in all my days.

 

I must be steady; strong and brave

I must not His Grace test.

And I refuse to be a slave

To sin He put to rest.

 

Though I’m not what I wish I was

Nor what I ought to be,

I live my life in hope, because

I’m not who I used to be.

Walking in Pain and Empathy on Good Friday

As my faith has richened with Bible study and reflection on the sermons of my Pastor and the commentary on scripture I have written devotionals on, it has struck me that Good Friday is indeed the most important and meaningful Holy day of  the year.

It is symbolic, for me, of the essential tenet of Christian faith, i.e., Grace.  God gave his only Son for our salvation, and in doing so saved us from the devil and forgave us our sins.  There has been no greater gift to mankind in the history of the world, when you stop and ponder the sheer magnitude of our sinfulness.

This is reflected in, and symbolized by, the horrific and excruciating physical torture; rending; lashing and defilement of He Who is God made flesh.

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( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Observe that:

–Depictions of Christ’s Passion can never be “over the top” when one considers the depths of man’s depravity toward fellow men; the folly of greed; pride and coveting, and the wallowing of our society in the shallow seas of materialism.  Small wonder that his suffering and death were so visceral and cruel.

–The physical suffering and the rending of flesh were warranted by the fact that Jesus was a man, however sinless.  The flesh in us can only truly cringe if we note that Christ, like us, was flesh and blood.

–That His suffering of scorn and ridicule was emblematic of the message God was moved to convey:  As the Son of God; he could easily have responded to deriding exhortations to “save yourself, if you are the Son of God”.  That he did not, and, instead, suffered both the torment of his fellow man and His forsaking by his father, is eloquent in depicting his acceptance of his mission to die for us rather than to prove Himself as being something other than us.

–He was “us”.  He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  As a man, even Jesus, due to his flesh and his heart and his brain, cried out for some solace; some sign that his Father could help him or come to His aid in this blackest of hours.  Indeed, His sacrifice, depicted in gruesome and gory detail, was “Good” for us.

It is fitting that Good Friday is, like Easter, assigned no date certain on modern calendars.  So momentous an occasion cannot be fixed on any mortally-invented calendar.  It rather is simply the ‘Friday before Easter’.  The joy of Easter and the celebration and exaltation of  his rising again to join His Father is enhanced and made more meaningful by its’ contrast to the blackness of the events on that blessed Friday.

For what is happiness unless one has first experienced sorrow?

That last question leads me to pose others:

–How can we purport to abide by Gods’ command to love one another unless we first experience their pain and sorrow?

–Should not our love of God be all the more intense and visceral when the pain; anguish and death of his only Son resulted in the tearing asunder of the temple veil which had, at long last, ended the separation between man and God?

–How can we ask the forbearance of others of our weaknesses and limitations unless we empathize with theirs?

Mortality is fleeting.  As such, suffering; sadness and pain, though inherent in the human lot, are also fleeting..  Whatever your answers to the questions above; strive to acknowledge Gods’ Grace by sharing it.  It can only be shared.  Let the Holy Spirit in your heart reach out and share your pain with others and let you see that your pain, and theirs, are but darknesses preceding the Light.

English: Resurrection of Christ

English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

Rejoice that Jesus lives in every heart, and suffers with us every day, so that we can one day know that the ‘veils’ we perceive are of our own making, not Gods‘.

 

 

 

 

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One Step in the Walk to the Essence of Faith

As I called the cats to their daily treats, I noted the one who did not respond, and confess that I am now convinced of the essential basis for faith; salvation and Grace during this Holy season.

It is, simply, God saying to his children, essentially this:

“Chump don’t want no treats? Chump don’t get no treats!”

Celebrate the Walk of Jesus this season by assessing the direction of the walk you take through life.

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god (Photo credit: the|G|™)

Don’t be a ‘chump’.   Don’t make Jesus do all the walking.

‘Treats’ abound in Heaven.  The walk you take to its’ glory is yours, and yours alone….

 

Walking ‘Heart to Heart’: The Nature of Judgement (Romans 2: 12-16)

Romans 2: 12-16

Jesus lives in every heart.

He lives in the heart of the poet; the craftsman; the servant and, even the criminal.

That it is harder to find Jesus in the arid clay of a criminals’ heart than it is to find him in the softer loam of a poets’ heart in no way negates the fact that Jesus is in residence there.  Jesus is the ‘Nature Boy’ ‘who lives in each of us.  He is the soul of our conscience, the essence of our morality.

 

mmheizhere

 

Gentiles, who “do not have the (Mosaic) law” either acknowledge the Grace of God when they do “by nature” the things required by the law, or repudiate this Grace by judging others and being stubbornly unrepentant of their own shortcomings as sinners.  Jews, in the same manner, either abide by the the laws communicated by Moses, or repudiate them out of pride or other sinful acts.


Thus, the law and its’ final judgement is universal, and does not differ according to ones’ identity as a Jew or a Gentile.  Whether written on tablets of stone, or “written in their hearts”, adherence to basic precepts of loving God and loving our neighbors as fellow sinners will result in favor with God on the day of judgement.

That day is coming.  It is crucial that we understand the ‘nature ‘of this judgement.

God, though impartial, will not be wearing a blindfold on that day.  

scales

 

He will not be holding a balance scale aloft in his upraised arm.  He will not be weighing sins.  He will not be judging the extent to which those sins are counterbalanced by “good works”.  After all….we are all sinners to begin with.

He will simply look into the heart of each of us.  He will “judge the secrets of human hearts”.  If these ‘secrets’ demonstrate that our “conflicting thoughts” have resulted in remorse or shame for our transgressions, this remorse and shame will “defend” us.

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 If, however,  our “conflicting thoughts” are those of pride, envy or of deeming our transgressions as somehow justified by a sense of entitlement due to rank, or even of ‘good works’, this pride will “accuse” us.

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Thus, the source of our salvation will not be the amount; the gravity; or even the depravity of our sins.  The source of our salvation will be our acknowledgement of Jesus in our hearts and of our sense of morality.  That we regret our lives, however sinful, shows our understanding not of ‘morals’, (for morals may differ), but of a“morality” which must have come from  an ultimate law-giver, and which could not have come from genetics; education; chance; or even evolution.

That we all have a visceral sense of what we ‘ought’ or ‘ought not’ to have done with our lives is, to me, the ultimate and incontrovertible proof that God exists;  that his Son lives in us; and that the Holy Spirit is His ‘spark’ in all of us.

dovestop

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Walking to Heaven with Jennifer

An anniversary ‘post’ to the light of my life and and my reason for living...
 
 

To know her is, to love her.         

On this sixteenth anniversary of our wedding, I post this belated tribute to the purest manifestation of the Holy Spirit that walks the planet.

Her name is Jennifer.

I suppose it is the most unlikely pairings which make the best marriages and relationships.  When we met, I was 36 and she was 22.  She was an art student in college, and I, a car salesman, rebounding not only from a failed marriage, but also from a failed career as an attorney.  She had yet to start her career, and I was four years into my second .  We were from opposite sides of the river which bisects not only the geography, but also the ethnicity and racial identity of  Greater Cleveland.  Her faith was her life, whereas mine had been scuttled in moats of doubt; remorse and resentment.  Her nature and her joie ‘de vie were contagious….all who met her were at once disarmed and enchanted.  My nature was repellent, my countenance severe.  People were intimidated by me….and I liked it.  (One takes one’s armor as one finds it).

How unlikely that “Pollyanna” could wind up with a “curmudgeon emeritus” such as I….

But it came to pass, over time, that we grew closer.  We each observed the other over a few years as we dealt with troubled relationships and negotiated hurdles in the pursuits of our goals…hers, a degree in fine arts, and mine, simply to achieve constant advancement.  As we finally began to date and to grow together, the “hurdles” were, for her, the sensibilities of her parents relative to our age difference, and for me, the skepticism of friends and family as to whether “this girl” could finally tame a recklessness in me which was fueled by both alcohol and gasoline.

As I look back on it, it becomes clear that God smiled on the “Nature Boy” in me, and the “Nature Girl” in her.

True, there was, and is, a physical attraction between us, but the physical attributes each of us admires in the other cannot be said to be exclusive among all men or women.

We neither of us have had occasion, even in difficult times, to even conceive of being suspicious of the other’s fidelity.  If either of us is “hit on”, we relate it immediately to each other as matter-of-factly as we would relate a chance meeting with a ‘crazy person’ on the bus.  While watching movies referred to as “tear-jerkers”, we both cry on the director’s cue.

Through her, I have rediscovered the Holy Spirit through attendance at the church she grew up in.  (Not as a result of insistence; coaxing; or even as a request for a “favor” on her part, but rather, as a result of her example.)  She spends her one day off a week tending to my widowed mother, and I spend some of my time off tending to hers.

Through me, she has discovered  John Wayne; Cole Porter and the relative attributes of  WWII military aircraft.  (debatable who got the best of the bargain, here).  Neither of us drives the other’s car.  Each of us has a metabolism which enables us to eat all the potato chips we want.  Money is a bother rather than a goal.  She has made my home Dreamsville, Ohio.   All is copacetic.

My gratitude for her faith; her delight in life; her smile; her laughter and her Grace has been faithfully, if insufficiently, expressed in regular poetry I write for each anniversary and birthday. She keeps them in an album which she cherishes.   I keep my album in my heart.  I scan it daily in my mind, and console myself with its’ splendor when times are difficult, or when the diminishing, but still dormant demons of depression or self-doubt sleeping within me try to exercise their evils on my instincts or actions.

I owe her my life; my happiness; my sense of self-worth and my faith.  I could say she is the Bacall to my ‘Bogie’; the Alice to my Ralph Kramden; the Nora Charles to my Nick….but that would not do justice to the fact that she is really the Sister Theresa to a lost boy, malnourished of love…. untutored even as to its’ meaning.

And so, as I have, since the last anniversary poem, become a nascent blogger, struggling at long last to express myself through prose, I post this entry instead of a verse.  It is gratifying in that I have not had to constrict the depth of my love with issues of rhyme.  (It is also serendipitous, as I cannot use my printer until I can afford to refill the damned ink cartridges.)

I love Jennifer with all my heart.

Should she be disappointed with the lack of a verse in rhyme this year, I hope that the following song will suffice.  A guy in a cardigan sweater made it popular many years ago.  It is a verse I would die to have written, as it depicts, in a musical nutshell, what all who know her understand.

Happy Anniversary, darling.

“Walking the Line” and “Living the Dream” with my Pals, Sal and Al

Si comprehendis, non est Deus.” (If you understand it, it’s not God.) – Augustine of Hippo (4th century)

 

 

Perhaps the most misunderstood issue of today, philosophically; theologically and, (unfortunately) this summer, politically,  is Faith.

It would be easy to focus on the media or the liberal intelligentsia for their demonization of those who continue to “cling to their faith and their guns”  here, but I believe it necessary to cast a wider net in this thesis.  I cannot help but see examples every day that, the concept of  “faith”  is misconstrued not only by media pundits and relativist agnostics, but also by many who profess to have it.  It is easy to weekly pay homage to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It is quite another thing, though, to ‘walk the talk’;  ‘live the dream’  or even to truly comprehend the concept inherent in faith….that it embraces the unknown; the unseen; the incomprehensible.  It knows no logic and suffers no doubt.  To ask for, or even to attempt to provide, “proof”…is to deny it.

Most Christians, even if only as the result of rote and repetition, will readily communicate their understanding of the basic tenets of scripture: Love God; ….and love thy neighbor as thyself.  Simple.  No sweat.  A substantial subset of these “believers” also acknowledge and profess understanding of the amazing Grace afforded to us by a God who sacrificed his only son, His Being  made flesh, for our salvation from death through sin.  Doesn’t take an ‘Einstein”  to get our brains around that one, either.

But then, there’s this “Spirit” thing.  That one’s a little trickier.  Is it a dove?  Is it a light?  Is it in the water of the baptismal font?  Or is it some theological artifice made necessary to preserve the virginity of  the Mother of Jesus?

It is all of those things and it is none of those things.  It can only be described as a “force”.  (I am not a fan of Star Wars…. cannot avoid the allegory, though…).  It is the ‘spark’  in us that  can, should we let it, enable us to take the next step in our fleeting existence in time and space; to finally supplant  ‘reason’ as the only distinction between us and the animal world.

The other night, frustrated with the “Theology/Faith” categories of several internet forums I frequent, I took a ‘stroll” over to one of my favorite ‘art’ sites and came across the YouTube video you can access below.  Aside from the amusement it afforded me and the respite it provided from the arcane and insipid “prove it”  and “why pray?” threads I had been perusing, it “spoke”to me.  I saved it to my ‘favorites’ and went to bed.

And then I had a dream.

 

The dream began as those few other dreams I can actually remember upon waking…with me walking, searching for a place; a vehicle; a person, to no avail.  I came upon a tavern in some ‘inner city’ neighborhood, and it was not until I entered it to rest my feet that I recognized it as “Sindy’s”: an establishment owned and operated by a man named Sindella in my hometown.  It was the place my parents frequented while dating and engaged.  Pinball machines clicked and jangled. A large fan hummed and droned and circulated the tobacco smoke up past the swinging coils of flypaper to some place above.

I had not the money for a beer.  I asked if there was a pool table.  The portly bar-tend grunted, and without looking up from his crossword puzzle, gestured to a room in the back.  Going back, I selected a high stool against the wall, sat down and idly fingered an empty glass, looking for a “mark” with whom to wager a friendly game.

While I was considering  which of the two tables to approach, a man sat down on the stool next to me.  Ignoring him at first, I could not help but feel something rubbing against my shin.  Looking down, I gasped.

“Is that an aardvark?”

“No.”, said the man.  “It is an anteater.”  

I looked up and faced the animals’  keeper.  It was Salvador Dali.                                                                            

“Shoot pool?”, I queried.

“No.  But he does.”, He gestured toward the anteater.

“Are you nuts?”, said I.

He said nothing, but, levitating to the top of the far wall of the pool room, took out a huge brush and, dipping it into a mug of beer, painted the following in bold cursive letters across the wall:

 “There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”

He hovered backward, admired his work, and floated back to his perch beside me.

Lighting a cigarette, he matter-of-factly declared:  “People say that surrealism is destructive.  What they do not see is that it it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision“.  He bent down to stroke the anteater.  “People do not see the shackles…. nor are they even curious.”

With this, he rose, adjusted his cape about his shoulders, and walked the anteater out of the pool room.  He had left the beer.

A table had opened up.  I noticed a few quarters on the rail, and inserted them.  I dropped the balls and racked them slowly, perusing the periphery of the room for a likely adversary.  In a dim corner, there sat an older gentleman with a shock of gray-white hair and a walrus mustache.   I called over.

“Care to play?”

“Ja”, he replied.  He rose and ambled over.

As he selected a cue from a rack on the wall I sensed I knew him.  When he turned to approach the table, I saw that I would be playing eight-ball with none other than Albert Einstein.

“You break.”, I said.  He placed his schnapps on the rail.  Taking a piece of blackboard chalk out of his pocket, he applied it to the butt-end of the cue-stick.  “Tremendous”, I thought to myself.  Not only was I going to be facing an adversary who had revolutionized physics, but he was going to exacerbate my imminent defeat by using carnival ‘trick-shot’ artistry.  I decided not to offer a wager of a beer on the game.

His shots were sure.  The game was short.  There was a glimmer of hope for me when, after he sank the last striped ball, the cue-ball came to rest in a position which placed several of my ‘solid’-colored balls directly between it and the eight-ball.  I took a sip of Dali’s beer and began to chalk my cue for my next shot.

It was for naught.

He tapped the rail with the butt-end of his cue.  The smooth flat expanse of the green felt transformed into a three-dimensional surface, a topography of rolling hills and valleys, among which discernible river-like fissures meandered around the hills.  He gave the cue-ball a tap.  It rolled a winding path around each of my ‘solids’ and nudged  the eight-ball toward a corner pocket.  It accelerated rapidly, and entered the pocket with such force that it created a vacuum of sorts.  Not only the rest of the balls on the table, but all of the chairs in the room followed it.  Then the tables. Then the walls around us.  When the maelstrom passed, I was standing alone with Albert on a surrealistic purple plain.

I understated, “Nice shot!”

“Danke schön” , he replied.  ” I call it my “black hole’ bank-shot”.  “It kept me  from starving when I was attending the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich.”

He sat down on a rock and took off a sandal.  Producing a pipe from a pocket, he struck it with the sandal to empty the ashes.  As he began to pack it with fresh tobacco, he glanced up at me and asked, “Whats your line?”.

Seeing my confusion, he restated, “What do you do?”

I lit a cigarette.  “I have done many things, but these days I just work a menial job and am trying to become a writer.  It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

I proceeded to tell him about my blog, its’ categories, and my fears  that, in  concentrating so heavily on ‘faith,’  I was limiting myself.

“You are wrong” , he replied.  “That is really all there is which is of any consequence.”

He pulled out a wallet.  From it he pulled a worn and tattered folded piece of newsprint.  As he  unfolded it, a small piece of paper became dislodged from it and fluttered to the ground.  I picked it up, and in handing it back to him, could not help but notice that upon it was a scribbled phone number…….for an ‘M. Monroe’.

He stuffed it quickly back into his wallet, and, clearing his throat, asked me to read the newsprint.

It read:   A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. (Albert Einstein)”

“It has always been my goal to satisfy a curiosity about life and the universe.  When I was a boy, I called my copy of “Euclid’s Elements” my “holy little geometry book”.

He continued.  “Reason; knowledge; even physical ‘laws’ are inherently limiting in that they are conceived and experienced by our limited identities as human organisms.  To have faith in a greater power or entity which is the source of light; of beauty and of comfort for our psyches is a prerequisite to the fulfilling exercise of our talents, whatever those talents may be.”

He took a puff from his freshly-lit pipe and exhaled a fragrant and beautiful wisp of smoke, which grew in body and volume and began to disperse itself across the orange sky above us.  It hovered and formed the words which follow:

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

Overcome with emotion as I took this in, I cried, “Al!   You should write sermons!”.

He did not answer.  When I looked over to where he had been perched on the rock, he was gone.

 

The dream ended.

 

Upon waking, I tried to make some sense out of it.  And I began to grasp the essence of  “The Holy Spirit”.

The least limiting and the most effective way to comfort those around us is to use our talents, (our “lines”), to harness and channel those smoky wisps of  the Holy Spirit which waft their way around and among us so that we share the Light and witness the Word in ways and manners which are unbridled by societal shackles; unfettered by convention; unlimited by dimension.  Our talents and our efforts must be exercised with no regard for anything but the love which God has for each of us.

The substance, the mass,  of our talents and the exercise of our “lines” ,when truly unshackled by our mortal limitations, can bend light; warp time and maybe, in the end, help those around us to acknowledge the Spirit.                                                          

Surrealism” is not so much a genre of art as it is  an acknowledgement of  our mortal limitations in perceiving what is around us.  That “surrelativity” may be the result of research by the next Stephen Hawking is not beyond the realm of possibility.  If to truly obey God’s commandments to love Him and to evince that love by loving each and every other is to be perceived as some sort of “surreligiosity” , it is entirely possible that even those of professed “faith” can endeavor to witness it “outside of the box” of the church.

There can be no harm in using our talents to “pay forward” the comfort and the joy of being faithful to everyone around us.  Earnestly practiced and broadened in focus to not only our families and communities, but to everyone, these talents may help those who doubt or question to reflect on whether it could make a difference in their lives to share that faith.

 

Or, at least, to be curious about it.