To all the shepherds out there…

Image
“Every year it’s always the same…I always end up a shepherd.”- Shermy, from Charlie Brown Christmas

Luke 2:8-14

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I feel bad for the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke sometimes.  Really.

Everyone prior to this…Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and even Joseph (better late than never!) get SOME indication that a thing extraordinary will happen in the near future with the birth of Mary’s son, Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the “great joy for all people.”

It is kind of sprung on the shepherds, though, isn’t it?

No WONDER they were terrified.

The birth of the Messiah is announced.  When did it happen, angels?

Today!  and He is over THERE!  And now we are going to light up the sky and sing like there is no tomorrow!

I wonder if the sheep even stuck around with all that going on.

And what was a shepherd, anyway?  Certainly not anyone high up in society.  I’ve heard of descriptions that call them “rag-tag and a bit grimy.”

Rag-tag and a bit grimy.  Sounds a bit like my ever wandering soul sometimes.

And to this rag-tag and grimy crew the very chorus of heaven shows up and points them to the Savior of the world.  “I bring you news that will cause great joy for all people.”

Not just the have-it-all-together crew.

The shepherds as well, who, just as the Wise Men did, followed a star to a manger and saw Jesus, the gift to us all.

It has been a while since I have posted, but that time has not been wasted.  I’m in recovery, my friends.  I’ve been led to a Christ-centered recovery group that takes on all manner of addictions and issues, those specifically shaped sins of ours that need the utter and complete mercy of God.  My recovery is going well, with of course a few stumbles on the way.  This recovery takes place amidst a growing family (the twins are due in a month!), a growing young boy, master classes in literary studies, and my own teaching responsibilities.  And each week as I sit with my group of Christian brothers, either in sadness or joy, the reminder is given to me that I am His work, that I have a role in this great Story He is telling.   I am learning to be myself, in Him.  Massively challenging at times, and at others a simple warm embracing of realization.  Like a shepherd, I am a bit rag-tag and grimy.  But the good Lord send Him in the form of babe to change the world.  And me.  And you.

May God bless each and every one of you this Christmas, now and every day.

Advertisements

Giving Thanks

1476642_10151869280759821_1261500521_n

 

And a third, and a fourth, and a fifth…a request which should be ever on my lips as I recognize my intensely distracted nature, which oft needs a day to refocus and renew my heart to a state of gratitude.  And yet, and yet…Grace says He knows my struggle, and is with me even in those times of pressure, instability, distraction, and need.

Which have been quite frequent over the past months, let me tell you.

But I am still here, eagerly awaiting my twins, reconnecting with my Lord and Savior, coming off the highs of a Hillsong United concert from a week ago, and the bearing the lows of my crosses.  Teaching, learning, writing, working, preparing.

And yet…

I give thanks today for all.  For my friends, my family, for you, and most of all for Jesus.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful – Colossians 3:15

Patience and Hope, Day After Day

tom-kleh-passenger-waiting-in-subway-station-thinks-of-hamlet-line-if-it-be-now-new-yorker-cartoon

“But make up your mind not worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luke 21 v.14-15

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.  For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.  Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21 v.34-36

The problem with letting a blog go stale for a while is coming back stuffed with news, and wondering what to write about first, and in what context.  Additionally, seeing how wont as I am to distraction, the Holy Spirit in one way or another will put in my ear, softly, subtly, “it’s time to reflect.”

So here I am.  Good news and bad news follow.

First, good news.  Wonderful students.  Respect from most of my team and administrators.  Healthy twin baby BOYS gracing our house in February, and they are developing just fine in mommy’s womb.  A healthy young two year old as well.  I am also dealing with my anxiety with continued counseling and now medication.  New books.  An upcoming C.S. Lewis conference.  Counting blessings on all those things.

Bad news:  My mother fell sick up North with a pretty serious bout of pneumonia.  Very serious.  Currently she is in stable but critical condition in an ICU in a Boston hospital.  I live in Florida, and therefore cannot do much but hope and pray, and have daily communication with my family for updates.  My mother is someone who constantly gives, often in detriment to herself.  She simply does not think about herself: a virtue of course, but the Lord says love your neighbor as yourself, which means we have to show ourselves care as well.  She originally went to get her hip checked, which will probably need to be replaced, but as soon as the doctor’s saw what shape she was in, she was admitted almost on the spot.

All news:  in the hands of God.

Gotta remember that.

I am reading commentary/reflections on the gospel of Luke by N.T. Wright, and the two verses above he puts in marvelous context by framing how these words would have been received by the early Christians in Jerusalem, circa 68 A.D. when Luke wrote.  The apostles were scattered, most of the spreading of the gospel was taking place far and away, and tensions in Jerusalem were still high with the Romans.  So day by day their lives dragged on, and if neighbors asked with a sneer, “Where is your Jesus?” then “all you could do would be to retell the stories, including the sayings of Jesus.  Hang on.  Be alert.  Pray for strength to meet whatever comes.”

And what of us in the 21st Century?  Is it not the same, Wright asks?  Wars still rage, sin flourishes, the world wants us to indulge, forget, numb, rage, be anxious, and turn away from the Light.  Wright says this (a marvelous quote):

“The answer is the same for us as it was the Jerusalem Christians nearly a generation after Jesus.  Keep alert.  This is what you were told to expect.  Patience is the key.  Pray for strength to keep on your feet.  There are times when your eyes will be shutting with tiredness, spiritual, mental, emotional and physical, and when you have to prop them open.  This is what it’s about: not an exciting battle, with adrenalin flowing and banners flying, but the steady tread, of prayer and hope and scripture and sacrament and witness, day by day and week by week.”

In our times of deepest crisis, of deepest pain, we must have the courage to lean in to our Lord and feel the steady rhythmic beat of his pure, unconditional love-filled Heart.  The iambic beat of prayer.  The iambic beat of hope.  The iambic beat of sacrament.  The iambic beat of witness.

Day by day.

Week by week.

It sounds odd, but I have the gift right now of not being able to anything.  This is what my father said as I spoke to him on the phone.  “It is all in the hands of Jesus.”  Because what are we going to do?  I cannot even properly operate a toaster on most days, so it is time for me to trust the gifts and knowledge He has given the doctors and let them do their jobs.

And hope.

And pray.

This is waiting on the Lord.  And it is tough sometimes.  Mind-boggingly difficult for me, as prone I am to despair and giving up.

But our Lord is a Lord of healing.

Let me say that over and over again.

A Lord of Healing.

Day by day.

Week by week.

Would you join me in saying this?

Thanks and blessings.

Greg

“Do it again.”

One of my favorite quotes from any book on faith comes from GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Our Father’s youth is that eternal Hope that raises us up after we fall.  And for those like me, whose addictions and impulses make falling a fairly regular occurrence (read: daily),

when I don’t feel like getting up,

when it is so much easier to wallow in the muck and mire of past mistakes,

when I’ve gone to bed the night before feeling like a failure,

when there is just no way I can deal with this anymore,

when my job becomes tough and I’m not sure what kind of teacher I am to my students,

Jesus reaches out his hand to pull me up.

And says “Walk with me.

I’m here.

Come to me.

Do it again.

I’m always here.”

Despair feels old, doesn’t it?  And after the heck of the week I’ve had, with nice highs and real lows, it’s good to see the sun rise outside my window.  The daily new beginning.

A student told me I was already one of his favorite teachers.  “Even though you work us real hard.”  Smile there.

In the same class, a girl came up to me after the bell, tears in her eyes.

“Please move my seat next week, the boy next to me says bad things to me.”

She’s being bullied, and I didn’t catch it.  No smile there.  Please pray for her.

Highs and lows.

But, says the Lord, walk into the classroom again.  No, you didn’t fail.  Yes, you will have to address the issue.  Yes it will be tough.

No, do not despair.

I’m always here.

Do it again.

 

 

“I’m just not used to not running…”

when it hurts run to god

“I’m just not used to not running…”

This is what I said to my spiritual director/counselor the last time we met.  Unfortunately, through many tears and the last vestiges of an anxiety attack.

Because I fell.  Hard.  I am dealing with addictions in my life that seem stronger and more potent and immobilizing now that I am actually dealing them and recognizing God’s will to eradicate them from my life.  What irony.

“Totally expected.  I’m not surprised,” my counselor said.

I told my counselor the whole story.  About The memory of pain from earlier in my life.  The thought of it reoccurring.  The fear that pain was once again just around the corner.  The need for escape.  The escape into things that just lead me into numbness and forgetfulness.  Then the memory again…  The thought of it reoccurring…

And here we go again.  The addict’s vicious cycle.

I think I live in perpetual fear of pain inflicted on me out of nowhere.  Sudden and unforeseen.  It has happened before.  The shock and surprise of it all is sometimes the most debilitating.  It has come in many forms: physical, mental, and emotional.  And the fear of that pain and the anxiety that comes with it leads to a perpetual exploration and seeking after pleasure, which in essence is nothing but a quick distraction which brings with a whole bag full of shame and guilt.

But I still run.

As fast as I can.

To more hurt and pain and numbness.

I grow sullen and withdrawn, anxious and uncommunicative.  I don’t write (hence the silence on this blog for a while).

So I’m relating this story to my counselor, and as I relate it, the memory of pain is there, and I stand up, my heart racing, sudden panic constricting my chest.

Full fledged panic attack.

“What’s going through your head right now?”

“I n-n-n-need to g-g-g-go.  Got. To get.  Out.

“Where are you going to go?”

I realized, through the panic, I had nowhere to go.  I couldn’t escape anymore.  And the umpteenth time, I realized I needed to rest in the arms of my Savior.  That is the only place for me, to face the things I need to face.  Not as a pat-on-the-shoulder, everything-gonna-be-alright comfort fix, but as a real placement of anguish at the foot of the cross, where my Savior Jesus cups my face in his nail-scarred hands and rides through the pain with me and brings me once again out of the depths and darkness into newness and light.

Just to stay in His presence, at that moment, was what was needed.

That realization brought a wave of exhaustion, tears, and more realization.  Because I still struggled.  In between gasps of breath and coughs, I admitted this is in the small room, as my counselor tenderly prayed over me…

“I-I-I’m just not used to it.  To not running.”

But I was there, in that chair, at least, facing things.  I am beginning that long process of running only to God, and to recognizing that only He is there with the consistency of unconditional Love.  For even though Peter said “Go away from me Lord; I am sinful man” (Luke 5:8), Jesus still said “Come, follow me.”

At this point of my healing, this means to lie down in green pastures.

Beside quiet waters.

For the restoration of my soul.

A restoration that will stay.  Forever and ever, amen.

The Lamed Vavnik

“For the sake of ten righteous people, God does not destroy the world.  These are the Lamed Vavnik.  They live scattered, in any nation under heaven, are members of any class, of a, ny profession which may be imagined; and they are invisible to the world. Lo, not even they know the significance of their lives.  Such ignorance is their righteousness.  They merely live, so they suppose, as other people live.  But Heaven knows the difference.

And this is the mercy of God: that when one of the Lamed Vavnik dies, God raises up another.

I heard this from my friend. He said it was an old Hasidic legend.

I believe it.”

from Ragman and other cries of faith by Walt Wangerin Jr.

Time to worry?

When is the last time I posted on this blog…hmmm let’s see…oh, man a couple weeks it seems!

Now that could mean a couple things to you.

One: I’m lazy.

Two:  I’ve been incredibly busy and haven’t had time to write.

I deny both and answer the question with something much much worse.  And it is something that is just coming to light tonight.

I’ve been worrying.

About what?  you might asked.  Well, a bit of everything, of course:  upcoming graduate school classes, my own classes I teach, future family additions (here come those twins!), projected work loads, past injuries which might recur (got a bad bum knee), worries about direction and focus.

And like Charlie Brown would say “My anxieties have anxieties.”  ‘Cause I’m worried ’bout my worryin’!

Now of course, Matthew 7:25-34 comes to mind, that wonderfully read but ignored passage by people like me, where Jesus directly states “Do not worry.”  He further states that God knows all we need and will take care of us.  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I’m not just taking on worries about tomorrow, I’m covering weeks and months and years in my tormented spirit.

And I suddenly realize how much time that has been taking up lately.

Because worriers are often the world’s best procrastinators as well.  Easier to worry about something than do something about it and let the matter rest.

Or trust God and let the matter rest in Him.

Oh, boy.

Because I’ve realized the amount I’ve been worrying is directly proportional to how little time I’ve spent in prayer, and here prayer meaning that stillness and reliance in the face of God.

And worrying is also directly proportional to the amount of time I’ve spent in distractions of every kind.

Writing, by the way, is not a distraction for me.  It helps me focus.

How long since that last blog post?  At least it wasn’t months this time.

Worrying takes so much time and energy out of me.

So much time.

When that could be time taking my worries to God, and while the problem or situation might still be “out there,” it is book-ended with a trust in a God who loves, cares, heals, redeems, and feeds birds and clothes lilacs.

Who is not a small God, so made by our neglect and lack of trust.

But a large God, whose infinite unconditional love and care for us says emphatically, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”