My Walks with God

When we hear people speak of their “walk with God”, they usually mean their journey of faith–their path on earth, sometimes smooth, at others rocky and uphill. I have that personal pathway too. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

This past year, I’ve committed to walking two miles every other day. When the weather permits, I have a route I walk, one mile to 47th street, one block over, and then back home again. Two miles exactly. Now that winter has settled in for good, I walk that two miles on my treadmill in the basement, staring out a small window at my neighbor’s privacy fence.

Recently I decided to make use of that half hour by having conversations with our Lord. I alternate. Some days I concentrate on the many blessings He’s sent my way and prayers He’s answered. Over the period of a lifetime there are too many to count, but I try. Other days I’ll think about ways I’ve sinned and hurt our Lord, the people I love…and those I don’t. I say I’m sorry and think of ways to make amends.

And then there are my supplication days. There are many intentions I pray for. Some are very specific, often for the well-being of those I love. Others are quite general and include our country and our planet. Because we are all connected to so many people and share common problems and concerns, this list can easily fill a half hour. And it’s okay to be a little selfish in some prayer requests. God understands our human nature. He created it.

The new addition to my prayer life is a little routine I read about. Each morning before rising it said, thank God for three blessings in your life. The older you are the easier this is. Trust me. And then each night before closing your eyes, thank Him for three blessings you received that day. God appreciates being appreciated, acknowledged and thanked for things. In that, I believe we do have something in common. And focusing on the good stuff in our lives promotes more positivity of spirit. It’s like taking a vitamin pill each day for a healthy mind and heart.

So I just thought I’d share my new habits with you…and thank you for reading my posts. That’s another thing I’m thankful for. May you and all you love have a blessed, safe and happy Thanksgiving.

One Act at a Time

I had the honor of speaking recently to a wonderful group of women at a mini-retreat in a local church. It was an enriching experience I will long remember. We spoke about the diminishing number of people attending services regularly and what an erosion of faith would mean to the future of our world.

If the Christian faith is to survive, I believe we lay men and women, the foot soldiers of the church, so to speak, need to play a larger part in the propagation of our faith. How can we best accomplish this? I think the answer lies in the way we perceive others. If we can begin to see people through the eyes of Christ and re-program ourselves to feel about others the way He did, we can carry forward His ministry of love, mercy and acceptance.

There is so much divisiveness in today’s world. People are put into neat little categories based on race, religion, politics, orientations and socio-economic status. We are ranked, judged and scrutinized without knowing much about the person we are. It takes time, effort and caring to get to know someone–with an open mind and without prejudice.

Jesus kept company with the outcasts, the shunned and dregs of society, those the leaders of the day considered unworthy of notice, much less respect and support. He hated the sin, but never the sinner. Most of all He hated hypocrisy.

If we can begin to accept others–not just tolerate but accept–to act out of empathy, kindness and love, then I believe we will have a ripple effect in this stormy sea of turmoil. An act of courtesy and respect can impact the life of another as much as a slur or slight. And it’s only human nature to react in kind.

It won’t happen overnight, but we CAN make a difference in this world–one act, one person, one day at a time. We have to start someplace….don’t we?

And God Said No

There are many reasons people walk away from faith or even deny the existence of God. One of the most common is that they can’t come to terms with the idea that a good and loving Lord would allow the violence, cruelty, and injustice that flash across every day’s headlines. Some think our earth has only gotten worse since Jesus walked it, but of course, the lust for power, wealth, and favor has always driven men to such behaviors. The question is why does God allow it?

The answer is really very simple. God created man with free will. From the start He gave direction, commandments…rules. But He never forced the choice. The choice has always been and always will be ours to make. And we, and those whose lives we touch, reap the consequences–good or bad.

Another reason people turn away from God is that they can’t understand why He would allow the awful pain and suffering that comes through illness or natural disasters–circumstances not caused by human hands. Why do a desperate parent’s prayers for a child’s healing go unanswered? This is much more challenging to explain. Truthfully, I can’t supply an answer that would satisfy everyone, because I don’t believe any human can. There are many things about life we mortals simply can’t understand.

But I can offer the following: I don’t think there is any time that speaks to Christ’s humanness more than when He was on His knees in the garden of Gethsemane asking His Father to let all the agony, pain, and betrayal He was about to endure, just go away. He asked this not once but twice, saying He was “sorrowful unto death”. He knew in every horrific detail what He was about to face. He’d come to earth for it. He’d told His disciples about it, even though they couldn’t understand or accept it. And still at the last hour, He wanted out. Although He truly was God the Son, how totally and completely human He was as well! But each time He prayed, He told His Father that He would do whatever His Father wanted:  “…yet not my will, but yours be done”.

Now there can be no doubt how deeply the Father loved the Son. The bond between them was like no other. They were, and are, indivisibly connected, one part of the other for all eternity. And yet when the Son prayed to the Father, on His knees, on the eve of His crucifixion, and asked that the cup of agony and death pass from His lips…His Father said no.

Why? Because of His love for us. He asked His Son to do the unthinkable…for us. And because Jesus loved His Father, and because He loved us too, He did what only He could do…give up His life for our eternity.

A Matter of Death and Life

No, I didn’t get it backwards. Every Easter we celebrate Our Lord’s triumph over death–not just for Himself, but for all of us. The life I was referring to comes after death…life eternal.

Jesus told the apostles that He would be put to death, and then on the third day He would rise again. This was tragic and unbelievable news to the chosen twelve. Their beloved Messiah, the Savior they’d been awaiting for so long, arrested and executed like a common criminal? How could this be? And what could He mean, rising again in three days? It’s no wonder they didn’t understand.

How confused and bewildered they must’ve been when they went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and their Blessed Lord missing. But then imagine their joy when He appeared to them alive and well, and they were reunited once again.

That’s what Jesus promises each one of us, only something even better. Because for us it will be the first time we get to experience a personal encounter with our glorified Savior. The apostles spent three years with Jesus…in His presence, listening to Him, communing with Him, being witness to His miracles and divine nature. Now, we can only imagine what that was like.

What Jesus gave us that first Easter Day was a promise and a possibility to come before Him for the first time. Into His glorious presence, the recipient of His incomparable love…for a life that is perfect and eternal. Let us celebrate and be thankful, not only this Easter, but every day.

A Perfect Love

As if Easter falling on April Fool’s Day isn’t enough, this year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday also share the same date. For some will-powered people, that heart-shaped box of chocolates may find itself on a shelf at the back of the freezer for a while.

Let’s reflect a moment though–are the sobriety of lent and the joy of honoring those we love so diametrically opposed? Actually, I don’t think so. They really fit together perfectly.

The reason is simple. The greatest love story of all is the story of Jesus and His mission on earth. He came to earth so we could go to heaven. To accomplish that, He had to perform the ultimate act of love: He laid down His earthly life so we could have life eternal.

Before He allowed Himself to be put to death to gain our redemption, however, He had a New Covenant to establish–and a ministry to carry out. And He did so relentlessly. For three years He traveled, taught, healed, preached, and forgave. His mercy knew no bounds, and His love had no limits. He stood up to authority figures in religion and government and bent down to heal the sick and forgive the sinner.

His love was a perfect love. One to celebrate and be grateful for, not just on Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, but every day.

Peace on Earth: A Perspective

“Peace on earth, good will toward men.” We find that sentiment echoed in song and scripture often at this time of year. But how do we reconcile that with what we see and hear going on in the world today? In our own country? Too often in our own neighborhoods? How can we wrap our brains around what Our Lord came to do and what we see going on around us?

We’re not the only ones that find this task a challenge. Jesus’s own followers expected the Messiah would come raging into this world prepared to free them not from sin, but from oppression–by force if necessary. But Our Savior preached only peace and love; mercy and forgiveness.

In the 2000 years since His death, this message has been preached all over the world. But is our world any better than it was before or during Jesus’s time? Is there more love  and mercy in it? The news headlines would lead anyone to believe things have only gotten worse. However, I choose to believe otherwise. Oh, I don’t deny there are those whose hearts are corrupted by hate, bitterness, and greed for wealth, power or pleasure. But I have known and seen so many instances of self-sacrifice, charity, acts of mercy and love that I still hold out great hope for the human race.

Sometimes I just look for heartwarming stories of selfless giving. Today I read about a man who carried with him the tools to give haircuts to homeless people he would encounter. Eventually a benefactor set him up with his own barber shop in which he could earn a living and continue his tonsorial philanthropy.

All one has to do is look to the response of ordinary people after one of nature’s onslaughts. Thousands of people reach out to help others they don’t know oceans away, just because they care and feel compassion. When they do that–when we do that–we are being Christ to others. And that is what He instructed us to do.

It is in doing so that we find true peace. A peace that comes from the inside outward. Peace that warms the heart and nourishes the soul. Through us and in this way, His message lives on, and the world becomes just a little bit better. This is still a season of peace, of love…and I believe, most of all, a season of hope.


Freeze Frame

Have you ever watched a movie when everything stops and the frame freezes? A narrator interrupts the action and provides a backstory on one of the characters to help us understand what he’s doing and what happened that brought him to that point in the story. Suddenly his actions become a lot clearer.

If you could freeze time right now and rewind your life, how far back would you have to go to account for where you are today? The answer is really the same for all of us: the moment of conception. Two of the three major influences in our lives are imprinted upon us right then: our parents/family; and our race/culture.

The third is a lot more complex and happens over time. It’s life–what’s thrown at us by the world around us and our own choices, good and bad. Each of us is a layered and complex human being, seen only in a snapshot moment by anyone observing us for the first time.

I wouldn’t want to be judged by just a snapshot moment, would you? Some of those moments I’d like to delete as easily as pressing the trash can symbol on my phone. And I wouldn’t want to be lumped into any group, identified and judged only by my occupation, address, race, or any other blanket criteria. I don’t think anyone wants to be seen through that broad a lens. That’s prejudice. And it’s simply not fair–or accurate for that matter.

No. Only a duly elected judge and jury selected without prejudice has the right to sit in judgment upon another human being. And in the final analysis, the one that matters most, only God will sit in judgment. Will He be harsh or lenient as He reviews our case? I can’t say. I only know He will be just.

An Understanding Heart

“Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” (1 Kings 3:9 NAB)

It Struck me the other day when this reading came up in church that I had been missing the real message here. In all the years I’ve heard some reference or other to Solomon’s unparalleled wisdom, it never occurred to me that wasn’t precisely what he was asking for. He was asking God to give him an understanding heart.

So wanting to delve deeper, I Googled the definition of “understanding” when used as an adjective and this is what I got: “sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings; tolerant and forgiving.” That’s somewhat different than being wise, don’t you think? Oh, I’m not putting down wisdom, don’t get me wrong. It’s something we should all seek to acquire as we experience whatever life throws our way. We certainly look for it (sometimes with the aid of a magnifying glass) in our leaders and those who counsel us. And we should.

But how different–and better–would our world be if we tried to understand how another person feels? And why. The why is really important, if we are going to understand that person; be tolerant (or better yet, accepting); and when necessary, forgiving. And the greater the difference between ourselves and others, the greater the challenge this becomes. And the more crucial the ability to succeed.

We are all much more similar on the inside that we are different on the outside. We all have insecurities, doubts, dreams, trials, weaknesses, and strengths. We all need affirmation, support, love, and forgiveness.

Sometime…somehow…someplace, it all comes full circle. What we send forward–what we put out there–always comes back. When we understand that, we will be truly wise.

Ashes to Ashes – And Beyond

Being raised a Christian, I’ve never doubted the existence of a divine creator behind the vastness of the universe, the complexity of the human body, or the majesty and order of our planet. Nor have I doubted the reality of life after death. Oh, not a re-incarnated life with all the pain and frailty we’ve already endured, but a life of perfect health, beauty and pure joy.

Honestly, I don’t know how those who believe otherwise can deal with the concept of death. Especially if their life has fallen short of what they had envisioned it would be. As they see the end approaching much too quickly, what thoughts and feelings would they have? I wonder. And how do they explain the permanence of death to their children? When a loved one dies, what words of comfort could they offer?

What’s my point, you may be asking? I guess it boils down to my belief that life is a transition into death. And death is a transition into life. From the supernatural (soul + body = conception); to the natural (life on earth); to the supernatural (glorified life after death).

Seen that way, life can be considered a preparation. Not for death, but for what comes after. A spiritual evolution, if you will. To quote a line from a very old TV show, “The secret of all success is preparation.” Laying the groundwork, then putting forth the effort–whatever it takes.

So how exactly do I do that? First, I think I need to look beyond the material, the superficial, to what really matters. Cultivating loving, healthy relationships; nourishing my mind and spirit as well as my body; forgiving myself and people who have hurt me. That’s just for starters. I’m sure you could come up with many more ways to prepare for the transition we all began the moment we came into this world.

What happens after that final transition? What lies beyond death? Of course none of us knows for sure. But I believe it will be glorious. Paradise–just like Jesus promised. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be dying to find out!


Bumping into Strangers

Just for a moment, let’s divide people into three categories: 1. Friends/loved ones; 2. Colleagues/bosses; 3. Strangers. Okay. From which category do people annoy you the most? I’d love to take an actual survey on this, so please, feel free (read encouraged) to respond.

For me the answer can vary on any given day, but mostly I’d have to answer  category 3, strangers. And usually they are steering something. Like a car or shopping cart. I’m getting better though. I don’t bump into strangers anymore. Those are the shopping cart offenders, of course. Or wish flat tires on drivers who cut me off. But yes, I’m still annoyed when simple courtesies are violated.

Our Lord told Peter, never known for his patience, to forgive 70 x 7. That’s quite a challenge, but I’ve done it often. Unfortunately it’s the same sin. And the same sinner. Forgiving is easy for me, you see. It’s the forgetting part I get hung up on. So I’m working on that right now. Really letting go of past frustrations, grudges, feelings of being hurt, dismissed, or not heard.

It’s not easy, but holding on to anger eats away at the soul. Letting go can give great peace. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget to forgive ourselves. People who don’t like themselves, rarely find much to like about others. Look for the best in both. God always does.