In the last days

The last days are nothing to be afraid of. God will enter our hearts. Those who trust in God will all know God directly, and there will be peace.

Isaiah 2:1-4
The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it,
3 and many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about His ways so that we may walk in His paths.” For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war.

Joel 2:28-32
28 After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.
29 I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days.
30 I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the Lord comes.
32 Then everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the Lord promised, among the survivors the Lord calls.

(All Bible translations are HCSB)

Crazy in the church

“Being considered ‘crazy’ by those who are still victims of cultural conditioning is a compliment” – Jason Hairston

I left a church when the minister thought I was crazy for praying to God and hearing a reply. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in the three years I’d been a member there, not a single person had talked about hearing from God – including her. God and Jesus were past tense and future tense – not present tense. They weren’t right now. You’d think getting people to feel comfortable talking with God would be the goal of church, but often it isn’t. Often the goal is mute submission to authority.

I remember that even Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, and the religious authorities decided that he was possessed.

(This is from The Condensed Gospel)
When the Pharisees heard about this they said “This man drives out demons with Beelzebub.” Some, to test him, were demanding to see him perform a miracle. Even his own family thought he was crazy.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said “A divided kingdom cannot stand. No one can enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Thus, if the king of demons drives out demons he is fighting against himself. How can his kingdom stand then? If I drive out demons by the king of demons who is it that your own people drive them out by? Accuse them of the same thing you accuse me of! Now, if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then this is proof that the kingdom of God has arrived among you. People will be forgiven for whatever they do and whatever they say unless they speak against the Holy Spirit. That is unforgivable. Anyone who is not with me is against me, and scatters rather than gathers.” He said this because they were saying he had an evil spirit in him.
MT 9:32-34, MT 12:22-32, MK 3:20-30, LK 11:14-23, LK 12:10

In John 7:5 we learn that even Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him. They lived with him and knew him well, and they thought he was a crackpot.

If this is how Jesus was treated by his own family, it stands to reason that his followers would be treated likewise, but it is sad that it happens in the church. He even warned his disciples that they would be accused of everything he was, and suffer his fate – but he meant that it was going to come from the religious authorities that they were trying to usurp, not from within the faithful.

“Crazy” is the modern way to silence someone, especially a woman. It is said to discredit or diminish her impact on others. It is used these days in the same way that the accusation of witchcraft was in years past.

If you have been told you are crazy by a church member or minister, leave right away and find people who hear the same voice you hear. You aren’t crazy. The ones you left are, because they can’t hear the One who they say they follow. How can you follow God if you don’t even know God’s voice?

Shoeless nuns

defense

The Discalced Order of Carmelite nuns were barefoot, but not weak by any means. Their postulants, in addition to dressing in long plain black gowns and praying every three hours with the rest of the community, had to work out an hour every day. All that praying meant a lot of sitting, and stillness of that sort wasn’t good for the body.
They looked askance at the nuns in many of the other Orders. Some of them weren’t even 60 years old yet and they were obese, feeble, reduced to using a wheelchair. Worse – the wheelchairs were electric. They didn’t even have to exercise their arms to get around. Just push the knob on the armrest and off they went. A Discalced Carmelite would rather renounce her vows than to be seen in such a state of sloth.
For sloth it was – a deadly sin, a sign of spiritual or emotional apathy and being physically and emotionally inactive. It was a sin because it abused the gifts of God. It was what Jesus was speaking about when he told the parable of the talents. You must take what you are given and make more of it, just like with the loaves and fishes miracle. They took seriously the adage that idle hands are the devil’s playground. Inactivity invited the Accuser into the very core of the person, into the holy shrine of the soul.
The demon of sloth loved those lazy nuns especially, because he could slowly, over years, convince them to ease up on their prayers or service. He grew stronger with every forgotten prayer and every abandoned act of kindness. It would start with them thinking they could catch up later, but later never came. Only discipline kept the demon at bay. Discipline makes disciples after all. Sure, you were chosen, but you also have to choose the holy life every day, sometimes every minute. It didn’t just happen.
The Carmelites never really slept. There were certainly times of rest, between prayers and work, but not many. The prayers were every three hours, and all the sisters were required to be present. Only being laid up in the infirmary was an excuse to skip. Many postulants left after just a couple of weeks of this unusual schedule, either exhausted or insane. Those who lasted soon learned what army recruits did – sleep when you can, or learn to adapt to the changed mental state that results from too little rest. Some older nuns suspected that was the goal of the frequent prayer schedule. They achieved communion with God alright – it was just not the way that was expected.
Some kept their new revelations to themselves, out of concern for being asked to leave. The Order might not take kindly to sisters with potential mental health issues. Were they really hearing from God, or was it all in their heads? Some shared their revelations only with their confessors. Some could not contain themselves, the onslaught of visions and new understanding pouring forth like water over the dam after a flood.
Those who spoke up learned that The Order was kinder than many others, and examined every revelation with respect, measuring it against scripture, tradition, and reason, to see if it was valid. They were open to the idea that God still spoke to his people.

The little white house

little white house

The little white house had been there longer than anyone could remember. The cornerstone said 1781, but nobody thought that was possible. Sudbury wasn’t a town that far back. The archives in the local library said the first deed had been issued in 1824 to Saul Abrams, a fur trader, but it was the only house for miles then. It was four years later before the town had its first boom and then there were a dozen homes scattered about like corn thrown to chickens. Close enough to help if there’s a need, but far enough away that you didn’t have to worry about your neighbor seeing your business. Not like anybody was up to anything, mind you, but it was still nice to have the breathing room.

Nell was currently the youngest resident of the little white house, but she certainly wasn’t going to be the last. Her mom was due to give birth within a week to her latest sibling. Meanwhile, grandma Rose and uncle Pat lived upstairs in the north-east facing room. They preferred the early morning light to paint by. They said it meant they got a head start on the day before the rest of the family got up.

The little white house had resisted all sorts of change over the years. It had plumbing but no electricity. The family had never seen a need for it, preferring natural light over artificial. Plus the money they saved was nothing to sneeze at. Of course, money wasn’t a problem for Nell’s family. Up to four generations at a time lived there, sharing their skills and resources along with their joys and sorrows. It was so much cheaper to pay one mortgage than four (or more). The money saved was worth the minor annoyance of the cramped quarters. For starters, it meant that they didn’t all have to work full-time, and especially not at jobs that took more than they gave.

The Abrams family realized early on that they would have to be careful about how many children they had if they were going to share a house. It wouldn’t do to be too crowded. Plus, more mouths meant more food, and food wasn’t cheap. They’ve had a lot of land to work with years back, but now that the city had grown up around the house they had to buy food just like everyone else.

Of course, there was always the apple tree out front. It had been the reason Saul had bought the property in the first place. The apples had just ripened on it once Saul came over the hill, looking for a campsite for the evening after a long day of marmot trapping. That tree’s beauty stopped him in his tracks and he set up his canvas tent smack dab under it to spend the evening with it as his company. The next morning he knew he’d finally found a place he could call home. He dreamed about that tree the whole night long.

Saul’s family put great stock in dreams, being descended from Jacob, who God renamed Israel. Jacob knew that where he slept was a holy place and so set up an altar to God once he awoke. Saul knew the same was true here, but he knew he was to establish a house rather than a temple.

There wasn’t much difference, really, to his mind.

The city had grown up around the house, getting closer and closer. The yard had shrunk down to a little patio in front with the tree. Tall buildings bracketed the little white house on the sides but not at the front or back. Somehow, there was still an alleyway to one side, and Nell would often play there when she wanted to be alone.

The alley was gated, and only her family had a key, but it didn’t matter. Nobody would even think of walking through that gate. Most didn’t even notice it. It was kind of like one of those Japanese gates that weren’t really gates, marking out a difference between “there” and “here”. “Here” was the difference between storm and calm, between noise and harmony. Most people walked on by because this little island wasn’t what they were looking for, even though it was what most of them needed. Most people were looking for peace in the wrong places – more activity, more possessions, a different job / spouse / church / hobby. They figured if they weren’t happy it was because of something outside of them. Change that and they’d change how they felt, they thought. Yet they made the changes outside and they still felt empty inside.

The little white house had no ornamentation to speak of but it was always clean and tidy. It stuck out only in that it didn’t stick out at all, taking up just enough space but no more.

The residents kept a low profile, always doing things the same way. They always put the trash out on Wednesday mornings, always went to get the groceries on Thursday. On Friday they prepared for a day of rest by cooking double portions of food to make Saturday easy. On Sunday they might travel or work on school projects. They were always learning, whether they were enrolled in an institution or not. All of the Abrams kids went to public school and then to college, yet they also were expected to follow their own inspirations and learn as much as they could about whatever they wanted. The Sahara desert, bowling, tea, it made no difference. Anything was fair game to do a research project on, but each person had to do something.

Right now, for Nell, that something was sitting on the front steps, sketching the apple tree. Year after year it produced crisp red apples that the family lovingly harvested and ate fresh, baked into pies, made into sauce and preserves. Every single fruit was carefully harvested and used or processed immediately. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” should have been engraved as the Abrams family motto because they sure took it seriously. Even if they were traveling they were sure to take enough applesauce or apple butter along with them so each person could have their daily allotment. Every day they ate from the fruit of that tree just like it was medicine, just like it was prescribed by the family doctor.

In a way, it was. All those many years ago, God told Saul in that dream to eat the fruit of that tree every day – him and his descendants, and they would never get sick. He took God at his word and had an apple for breakfast first thing when he woke up. Within moments the usual aches and pains he’d had for the past three years of making his living out of the wilderness were gone, like he never had them.

The family never told a soul their secret, out of concern that someone would try to steal the tree or chop it down out of spite. Some folks would rather destroy something beautiful than share.

Of course, they had to tell anyone who married into the family, but marrying into that family was harder than getting a job at the real White House.

Background checks were just the beginning. Then there was a complete physical. Financial records were obtained. Even visits to a psychiatrist were required. It was like applying for full term life insurance, a second mortgage, and a Secret Service job all at once.

In the end, if you were in, you were made truly part of the family by a dip in the local river. And, no matter what, you had to change your last name to Abrams. After that you were the same as anyone else who lived in the little white house, and you too got your daily serving of apple.

Getting a serving a day meant you didn’t get sick, but it didn’t mean you wouldn’t die. Accidents and old age could kill an Abrams the same as anyone else. They tended to heal faster from accidents, and age slower, but death still visited that house on occasion. Even then it wasn’t a sadness, because they’d always lived long and well there.

(The image is from the book “Trainstop” by Barbara Lehman. It is a wordless picture-book for children. My story was inspired by this image and not by her story that she told through her other pictures.)

Truth and Freedom

Many people believed that Jesus was the Messiah while he was saying these things. Jesus said to them “If you follow my message, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and it will free you.”

Some people in the crowd said “We are descended from Abraham. We’ve never been anybody’s slave. How can you say we will be freed?”

Jesus replied “This is the truth: everyone who sins is a slave to it. A slave doesn’t always stay in his master’s house, but a son does. Therefore if the Son releases you, you are free to go. I know that you are descended from Abraham, yet you want to kill me because you don’t welcome my message. I speak about what my Father has shown me. You do what your father has told you.”

“Abraham is our father!” they exclaimed.

Jesus said “If Abraham really was your father, you’d do what he did. But you are trying to kill me – someone who has spoken the truth of God that he heard. Abraham didn’t act like this! You are acting just like your father.”

“We aren’t illegitimate,” they replied. “Our father is the One God.”

“If God really were your father,” Jesus replied, “you would love me because I have come from God. God sent me – I’m not here on my own. Why can’t you understand what I’m saying? Because you can’t hear my message. Your father is the Devil, and you want to do what he wants. From the very beginning he was a murderer and he hates the truth because he is full of lies. It is his very nature to lie, because he lies all the time and creates liars. Yet you don’t believe me because I tell the truth. Which one of you can accuse me of any sin? Why don’t you believe me when I tell you the truth? Anyone who is from God hears God’s word. You don’t hear what I have to say because you are not God’s children.”

JN 8:30-47

On union with God.

All beings can fully hear from God except humankind. We were created without the ability to automatically hear and do the will of God. All other beings (animals and plants included) do the will of God without thought or question. Yet we are different.

Some people can hear God better than others, but no one can fully hear from God like the rest of creation can. Is this a blessing for us, or a handicap?

It means we have to work harder than dogs to be complete.
It means we are dumber than rocks.
It means we are not as clever as cats.

It means God is beyond pleased when…
We are able to push through and overcome our innate obstacles and reconnect.
When we are able to use our gifts for good.
When we are able to join together and act as one to improve the world.

Obstacles make our souls stronger, just like exercise and resistance training makes our muscles and bones stronger.

God needed to create humans to prove to God how good a Creator God is. We are the height of God’s ability. God does not want blind obedience. That is easy to create. If we knowingly and willingly rise above our nature and act in a civilized manner then we are a delight to God.

We are hampered, and yet we can not only endure but thrive. Yet to do that we must intentionally choose to connect with God. God is our missing link. When we reconnect we are complete and whole.

We do not have to die to reunite with God. In fact, reunion with God at death is automatic and easy. The barrier and hindrance that is our bodies is removed. Rejoining with God while in the body is the greatest accomplishment.

Notice how we cheer for someone who has lost a leg and runs a race with a prosthesis. Just having the chutzpah to enter, to even try, is a big deal. To make it to the end at all is huge. To win? Amazing. This is how God feels every single time any one of us unites with God.

Communion isn’t just a ritual or a sacrament. It isn’t just something done on Sunday morning. It means “union-with” and it isn’t limited to a denomination or a practice.

The secret? Look at what Jesus did at the Last Supper, when he initiated what is now the Communion service. He took the simple foodstuffs that were served at every supper table, every day. He didn’t choose something unusual that would be difficult for people to get. He took the everyday, so that we’d be able to do this every day. Then he gave thanks to God for it, and shared it.

Give thanks for and bless everything you are about to receive. Not after, before. We are used to saying thanks only after we get what we want. Do that too, and before. See how your perspective changes. Give thanks for whatever you are going to get, or experience, or be able to do. This applies to everything – food, experiences, material things. Be always thankful. No matter what it is, trust that it is coming from God, as God has created and is within everything.

Poem – I stand in the presence of God

When the angel Gabriel told Zachariah
“I am Gabriel,
who stands
in the presence
of God”
(Luke 1:19)
what he meant was
that while
he was talking to Zachariah
he was
at the same time
in the presence
of God.

Angels do not experience
our reality
in the same way
that we do.

Angels are multi dimensional.
Angels are quantum.
They are not in the same phase
of the space-time continuum
as we are.

When Gabriel is reporting
what God is saying,
he is hearing
it at the same time
God is saying it
and then
reporting it
to the person.

He is there with God
and here
with us
at the same time.
There isn’t far away.
There is right here
– we just cannot see God
because our senses
cannot usually
perceive something
that overwhelming.

God blows our fuses.

God is like trying
to play a CD
on a record player.

The angel is able
to take shape
in our dimension
and relate to us
the words of God
in a way
that we can hear
and understand.

However,
even though we need angels
to hear God,
(sometimes),
God can always hear us,
and always does.