Saturday, April 19, 2014

THE CROSS


Flint Hills Cross, Strong City, KS

Only God could transform a horrific cross of unspeakable suffering and death into a beautiful symbol of love and eternal life. And validate that the worst thing is never the last thing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JUST THREE DAYS


Resurrection, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Lots of folks deny the existence of God and the availability of His priceless grace for all. Some have witnessed or been a victim of such abhorrent experiences that they absolutely cannot believe a greater power would allow it to happen. Man’s own inhumanity to man accounts for much of this. But there are examples of people who have decided to work with God to bring good out of a bad situation. And when they do that, the rest of us are doubly impressed with their faith and character. The grace-full reaction of the woman in Kansas this week who discovered the senseless hate murders of both her father and teenage son comes to mind.

During this Holy Week of Easter, we’re reminded of Luke’s account of Jesus’ false arrest on the Mount of Olives during the night. Two of his twelve disciples denied him to set the stage for his death and our redemption. Judas, the group’s treasurer, was seemingly disappointed that Jesus was not the Messiah warrior king he was expecting to help defeat the ruling Romans, so he sold out for thirty pieces of silver. Later, as Jesus was being falsely accused of the crimes that Barabbas had actually committed, Peter denied that he even knew him a total of three times.

After Jesus’ resurrection on that glorious sunlit Easter morning, Peter was locked in an upper room fearing for his life and Judas was dead. But later, Peter received the personal forgiveness of Jesus and went on with his life to become the rock of God’s church. His testimony provided even more weight and assurance for God’s priceless grace. And it pales in stark contrast to the extraordinary possibilities of the message of forgiveness and hope that Judas could have delivered to countless generations in desperate circumstances, if only he had waited for just three days.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

THE PERFECT DAY



Spring Harbinger, Jamestown, NC
Morning Camellia, Jamestown, NC

Have you ever stopped the music and contemplated how you would spend “the perfect day”? What would the perfect day look like? The prophet Isaiah envisioned the perfect day after the end times with the hope of both nature and mankind fully restored to God’s will. Micah saw a peaceful pastoral scene where “they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid…nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. Peace, prosperity, justice and care for all would be the norm. A new heaven and a new earth would be created and the old world of suffering and tears would be no more.

Jesus also taught that we should strive for the Kingdom of God here on earth today. Individually, we may not be able to stop all warring nations and hurricanes or all the heartache in our world today, but with a little bit of effort, we can interface with the world and be vessels of grace that can make a difference in someone’s world. Perhaps we can also be more mindful of the peace and beauty that surrounds us right now to make a difference in our own lives. Life can only be played out in the present moment. And every moment spent ruminating about the past or fretful of the future is a moment squandered forever.

Admittedly, not every day of our lives can be characterized as anything close to perfect. But many days are lost to us because we’re not consciously making it so. We’re not looking up at the rising sun or wispy cirrus clouds overhead; not pausing to listen to the song of a spring robin or appreciate the bright red color of a cardinal perched outside our window; not venturing outside to be the first to welcome emerging blooms of daffodils and camellias; watching mindless television shows instead of experiencing the joy of reading a book that teaches us new life lessons; or perhaps passing up a candid conversation with our Creator or fellow journeymen that validates our relational image. So, how would I describe a perfect day? Well, today of course! And besides, it’s the only game in town.

Friday, March 28, 2014

THE CONSCIOUS UNIVERSE


Perception, Jamestown, NC
Waves, Jamestown, NC


Science has been making some very profound discoveries and observations lately. The March 18, 2014 issue of USA TODAY announced that the “smoking gun” needed to validate the inflation theory of the Big Bang has now been detected by a telescope in Antarctica. The team of U.S. scientists detected the tiny ripples in the cosmic microwave background that affected light created some 13.5 billion years ago. The universe was smaller than a marble just after the Big Bang when it expanded violently and instantaneously. The Bible is no science book and the narrative in Genesis simply states that our God, a conscious spiritual being, spoke the universe into existence. The three big things that astrophysicists are still looking for in the cosmos are dark matter, dark energy and extraterrestrial life. And science still does not have a good scientific answer for the creation of the universe.

Dr. Robert Lanza has been voted the third most important scientist alive by the NY Times. His initial background was in the biology field, but lately he has ventured into the world of physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics. His biological perspective has enabled him to recently coin the term “biocentrism”, which postulates that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe. In fact, he reasons that since the ultrafine-tuned laws, forces and constants of the universe sustain life, intelligence must have existed prior to matter. And it is consciousness that creates the material universe, not the common reverse theory. The mystery that is our consciousness can be defined as being mindful or aware of oneself as a thinking, feeling being. Our perception of our surroundings is limited to the brain’s interpretation of the stimuli received from our five senses. We humans have enough receptor cones in our eyes to see a rainbow of colors, but a dog cannot distinguish orange or red. “Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no observer is present”? We perceive the “sound” when disturbed air waves reach our ear drum and electrical impulses are interpreted by our brain. But no sound exists without an observer! The same logic follows with our other senses. Space and time are merely tools for our animal understanding and our God transcends them both.

Folks naturally identify themselves with their body, as we are conscious mortal beings. Many believe that when the body perishes, that’s it. But Lanza agrees with other scientists that no physical laws exist which would prohibit the existence of multiple universes. And our consciousness and soul may have been created right along with everything else at the Big Bang. Our nervous system and brain could be the receptors of this consciousness and the primary sites of quantum processing until our body expires. And then this information with our consciousness merges into another dimension apart from the body. In an era that now routinely resuscitates human bodies from clinical death, especially heart failures, more and more folks are returning back to the living with extraordinary spiritual accounts that try our sensibilities. The spectacular colors some perceive can only be related to our earthly experience with rare jewels.

One of the fascinating and thought-provoking premises of biocentrism is that “the animal observer creates reality and not the other way around…without perception there can be no reality”. Quantum theory tells us that everything in nature has a particle nature and a wave nature. Lanza discusses the “act of observation” in a famous two-hole experiment which “goes straight to the core of quantum physics…if one watches a sub-atomic particle or a bit of light pass through slits in a barrier…it behaves like a particle…it logically passes through one or the other hole…But if the scientists do not observe the particle, then it exhibits the behavior of waves that retain the right to exhibit all possibilities, including somehow passing through both holes at the same time”. German physicist Max Born demonstrated back in 1926 that quantum waves are waves of probability, not waves of material. This phenomenon applies to small discrete particles like photons or electrons. Large objects like a bus have smaller wavelengths that are too close together to be measured. A subatomic particle has been defined as a set of relationships that reach out and interconnect, not with objects, but with other interconnections. Lanza concludes that “without consciousness, matter dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state”. The Bible informs us that human beings were created for relationship with the reasoning power and free will to make the conscious decision to either accept or reject other human beings and even our Creator.

Bernard Haisch has proposed a mind bending theory about consciousness in his book, “The God Theory”. He contends that “ultimately it is consciousness that is the origin of matter, energy, and the laws of nature in this universe and all others that may exist. And the purpose is for God to experience his potential. God’s ideas and abilities become God’s experience in the life of every sentient being…God experiences the richness of his potential through us because we are the incarnations of him in the physical realm.” Many scientists are proponents of the universe of reductionism in which “everything can be reduced to the behavior of particles of matter and energy”, completely apart from any spiritual connection. As a learned astrophysicist Ph.D., he contends that our consciousness is the ultimate connection to God, the spiritual creative force in the universe and the source of all consciousness. While we are in our everyday state of consciousness, we remain aware of our surroundings through the filter of the physical world. But mystics who are conditioned to enter the unfiltered state of ultimate consciousness or nirvana experience a state of peace, love and bliss, something Haisch defines as “a concentration point within a single universal consciousness”. Haisch writes that “My inner life of thought and awareness utterly denies that my consciousness is nothing more than an inanimate, chemical creation. I know better, and so do you.”

Consciousness exists apart from the body and survives death. The temporary physical world was created for the development and evolution of conscious human beings. Our natural timeless home lies in the wider supernatural realm of our conscious spiritual Creator. We are not only IN this universe, but we are OF this universe. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians (4:4-5), "There is one body and one spirit...one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS



Heads Bowed, Jamestown, NC
Crucified, Jamestown, NC

The delicate blooms of a slender dogwood tree are not only a welcome sign of spring, but also a symbolic remembrance of the crucifixion of the Son of God. The blooms generally appear just above eye level and form a cross with nail rust and red stains on the outer edges. A crown of thorns in the center complete the image of a Savior’s blood sacrifice for the redemption of all mankind.

The apostle Luke records that there were an enlightened few bowing at the foot of Jesus’ cross who understood the meaning of this literally earth shattering event. This small gathering included his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene who Jesus had purged of seven demons and the beloved disciple John. Many others had deserted him for fear of their lives, but these few chose to support him and pray for him.

The Lenten Roses presently blooming under the dogwood trees in my backyard present a symbolic remembrance of those gathered at the foot of the wooden cross with reverent bowed heads. They seem to gather together in humble worship and you are drawn to bow with them as all nature morns the events leading up to God’s sacrifice on that Black Friday over two thousand years ago. But once you are drawn to their ground level countenance, the beautiful faces of these roses of Lent will open the eyes of your heart to the promised hope of Easter resurrection reflected in the symbolic form of the coming dogwood blooms! And wherever in the world today that Christians gather in a sanctuary of worship, you will find them with heads bowed at the foot of the cross.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

EASTER SACRAMENT


Communion Cup, Greensboro, NC

Once again we’ve entered into the season of Lent leading up to the celebration of the resurrection’s power over sin and death. And the Easter sacrament at the epicenter of this celebration is Holy Communion. Because the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion consist of the physical elements of water, bread and wine, they provide us with a very tangible experience of faith—if we’re in the right frame of mind during these times of worship. By invoking the presence of God, common water in baptism becomes a gracious water of life and a spiritual cleansing. By invoking His presence in communion, the spiritual substance of the body and blood of our Savior are manifested in the signs of divine grace by the bread and wine. Although we use these elements in daily life without giving them a second thought, when they are introduced into the sacraments at worship both our physical and spiritual senses are elevated.

It’s imperative that we enter into these sacraments with a sense of purpose and a right mind. John Wesley has written that to do otherwise is meaningless; “Before you use any means of grace, let it be deeply impressed on your soul: separate from God, it is a dry leaf, a shadow”. I have to confess that I have participated in communion on occasion and returned to my seat without any recollection of the meaning of the sacrament. In essence, I have to reprimand myself because I have just had a light snack and nothing more. The moment was squandered.

I’m reminded of a somber Lenten evening service where I had been asked to assist in serving the communion elements. I was given a basket of bread cubes sanctified as “the body of Christ, broken for you”. As the members and guests were filing up to our station, I was mindlessly presenting my basket of bread to those in worship. After making eye contact and doing this for just a few people, I turned back toward the next person and didn’t see anybody. Then I glanced down into the full gaze of a warmly smiling elderly woman who was looking up in full anticipation of sharing in the sacrament. But this person was gently holding out both cupped hands to receive the body, not take it. Embarrassed that I had not been handing this element to folks, I immediately placed a cube of bread into the woman’s hands and she knowingly passed by. I then made certain that everyone continued to receive the body of Christ.

The small woman with the warm smile must have been a guest that evening, as I never saw her again because I was looking to thank her for the subtle reminder. And we should always be gracious to strangers, as you never know when you might be entertaining angels.

MOUNTAIN TOP MEMORIES


Mountain Top Memory, Vail, CO

I recently ran across the results of a small study in the journal Memory of people aged 59 to 92 that suggested we make most of our important memories by age 25. In fact, they concluded that major life transitions such as college, military, moving, marriage and children are even more focused in early adulthood between the ages of 17 and 24.

I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t study me, as my results would have been tossed out as an apparent anomaly. I did experience similar early life experiences, but I continued to log in wonderful memories in mid-life and I’m certain that I’m still not finished in my senior years either. Sitting down with a pen and paper or an electronic keyboard and listing your own life highlights can be revealing though. First of all, the everyday, mundane moments when we are “in the eye of the hurricane” don’t register very high on the Richter Memory Scale. But it’s those hours of reading a good book or engaged in good conversation and simply being that notch the stress of life down to tolerable levels. They’re not memorable, but they’re good for the soul.

You really have to pause life in an effort to open the saved files of your life. Our magnificent and mysterious human brain and mind and soul quite likely contain literally every moment of our existence. The mundane and bad moments do seem to be on a longer leash than the outstanding and good times, however. Times like mountain top experiences, life-changing incidents, loving moments, and major milestones can be re-membered and can sustain us, especially later in life.

Even the haunting lyrics of memorable songs sung years ago can still be retrieved by those suffering from severe memory loss. Songs like Memory invoke mental replays of good times experiencing the musical together and the reflection of “Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I smile at the old days…Let the memory live again. When the dawn comes tonight will be a memory too. And a new day will begin”.

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it’s a memory”.
--Dr. Seuss