The Epiphany of the Red Shoes

 

My Red Shoes
My Red Shoes

A few months ago, my morning routine had taken me outside on our deck.  I just sat and was soaking up the first rays and drinking a cup of coffee.  My mind usually flits about; and I think about many different things.  I’d like to say that at least some are engaged with challenging issues.  But most though are a bit strange and out of bounds.  It seems at times to be like trying to put a leash on a wild dog.

Sitting there on a deck chair, I thought about the shoes I was wearing.  They were black clogs and I wore them everywhere.  I’ve had them for four or five years.  They had liners, so I could even wear them during winter.  As I sat there, it occurred to me that I have always bought and worn either black, or brown shoes.  Always.  As I considered this preference, it struck me as odd.  Why did I always buy dull and ordinary shoes?

Out back in the recesses of my mind, a thought burst into my thinking, it was like fireworks just went off.  I would buy red shoes!  I would retire my faithful sandals and wear red ones instead.  I set down my coffee cup and headed for my laptop.  I ordered a comfortable pair of Crocs, in crimson red.

I waited for the postman like a child waits for Christmas.  I was energized by the thought of having red shoes.  I do a lot of things spontaneously.  I can be far too impulsive, and it usually gets me in trouble.  But when they arrived, they were even better then I expected.  I put them on and started to prance around the house.  And to see a fifty-six year old man acting like a ten year old must of been a sight.  I didn’t want to take them off, and later I even flitted with the idea of even wearing them to bed.

Wearing my new red shoes was a profound experience which I didn’t anticipate. It may seem weird but when I wear them the feeling is somewhat like falling in love, or at least a reasonable facsimile.  Perhaps if its nothing, I’m willing to accept that.

I think of God’s grace and how extraordinary it is. We can reside in a barren wasteland of a tedious existence where joy is seldom found. I know this is true. But there can be an infusion of mercy in such places. A grace that meets with us and alters us. I believe we are to be “grace blasted” believers living with a sense of wonder over the kindness of God. He has chosen us to be His own sons and daughters.

“And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

2 Corinthians 6:18

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Dancing With Bruises

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Bruises seem to be part of life’s package to us. Some will be serious, most minor. But each are noted, and some will just have to be endured.

Dancers are some of the most wonderful people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. A dancer’s training is far from easy. By choosing to become dancers they have made a decision to absorb pain. Their toes and feet are blistered and bruised; they take constant abuse. Some must live with chronic tendinitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion. Two things to consider.

  • They choose to dance. Dancers have an iron-will and a elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance.
  • The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” And they wouldn’t have it any other way. They would rather dance in pain, than not to dance at all.

Someone once compared depression as a “mental bruise.” I understand this. As depressed people, we must choose to walk out our lives from this pain. I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for several weeks. My own mental bruise was simply more than I could take. There was a sensation of sinking into blackness, a sense of total and complete despair. I felt completely lost, and completely alone.

I prayed. I groaned, and I prayed. My sense of being totally lost was beyond comprehension. Dear reader, this was something quite real, and you must become aware of these things. Some of your friends are suffering. And it is a hellish and desperate depression.dancer-feet

To my Christian friends. Yes, I believe Jesus died for all my sins. He has forgiven me of much evil, I know that will live for eternity (with you). But mental illness is real, and like other illnesses it seldom is caused by evil or Satan. We would never say that diabetics are that way because of the enemy. Now the dark one will surely exploit it, but I think you give him far too much credit if you suggest he was able to initiate it. Satan just doesn’t have the spiritual “voltage.”

So, inspired by my dancing friends, and the Holy Spirit– I will make the choice to dance again. I’m pretty bruised, but I will try to ignore the pain. I would exult in my God, walk in His love, “leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2.)

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

Isaiah 42:3

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Loyalty to Our Friends

Completely Loyal

“Loyalty and truth preserve the king,
         And he upholds his throne by righteousness.” 

Prov. 20:28

 “Through these fields of destruction, baptism of fire
I’ve watched all your suffering, as the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad, in the fear and alarm
You did not desert me, my brothers in arms”

Dire Straits, ’84

Loyalty, and our deep committment to our “brothers” and our “sisters” should be growing in your life right now.  It should be “escorting” you to a deeper sense of intimacy with each other.  About 20 years ago, I visited a Lutheran church on a Sunday service.  There was a point in the liturgy when you were to greet the people around you.  I remember grabbing a guy in the pew in front of me.  I gave him a massive bear hug, squeezing the air from him.  He was my brother, even though he was a stranger!  I hung on tight to him.  He was my brother.

In Bible times David and Jonathan had a friendship that defied political reasoning.  Jonathan was supposed to be the next king of Judah, everything had been arranged by his father, Saul.  But when David came into Jonathan’s life, everything was changed.  An instant friendship changed everything.  They would remain loyal to each other for the rest of their lives. I believe they are a model of what we are to each other, in the church.

I will confess to you, I have neglected so much in my spiritual walk.  There is a lot I am ashamed of. I have sinned more as a Christian, than I ever did before I came to Christ.   As a Christian, I have sinned quite vigorously.  But one thing, I have held to beyond all else.  I loved my brothers.  They all know who they are!  I can list them if you want.  But in the final analysis, I have been faithful to them.  I’m pretty stupid, in so many ways.  But it seems that at this particular level, things are simplified.  “Do you love, Allen?  Of course I do, Father: even if he is in a strange and difficult place, I love my brother; always, and forever.”

Loyalty to those who have been brought into our lives, should not ever be diminished or explained away for what we call “logical reasons.”  There should be a connection that should never, ever be terminated.  Some of the brothers who I connected to in the ’80s, are no longer serving the Lord.  But as I think of them, there is a relationship that can’t be broken, even by their disobedience.  I still love them deeply.

Being loyal to someone, does not mean you honor their choices, or their sin.  It seems that the issues they grapple with, can’t ever really erode or diminish your love for them.  When I was a boy, on occasion we declared a “blood” oath with each other.  It was almost “ceremonial,” we would cut our thumbs and meld with each other, mixing blood with blood.  If only commitment and loyalty were that easy.  But this is the definition of an “agape love.”

I believe the Holy Spirit sees, and honors loyalty.  But I admit, I’m not doing this things for His blessing.  Rather it is a compulsion, something I know is right; something I will do until they bury me.  And I honestly can’t explain it. But they will always be  my “brothers in arms.”

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On Being Loved

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“The human heart is the most deceitful of all thingsand desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

Jeremiah 17:9

For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.”

Romans 8:7-8

The reality is that we are in a real fix. The grim news isn’t changed simply because we graduated from a ‘charm school’ or become Eagle Scouts. We are fundamentally flawed, our hearts throughly contaminated. Any good we try to do is a ‘freak of nature,’ and astronomically beyond our ability. The race of men has failed. (Maybe that’s why history keeps repeating itself.) Without the presence of God, we would destroy ourselves. And each other.

The word “hostile” is used. That sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?

God’s Constant Love for You

8 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

Romans 5:8

Although we’re in active rebellion, “God so loved the world…” His love for us is called ‘agape,’ it is a word used in the New Testament, and it’s a love marked by consistency and selflessness. God loves without any conditions or merit on our part. Agape is love undeserved. The word is full of mercy, a concept very hard for us to grasp.

God’s love for us the way the universe is run. Love is what empowers Him to save us from our sins. It is the Lord’s love that draws us to Himself. Love is like a magnet that pulls us out of darkness into the light. His love for you is infinite.

“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!”

  Charles Spurgeon

You can trust the Lord to be fully loving you right this minute. It is a full and constant love— there is scarcely a human parallel. The ‘prophets’ exhaust language seeking a metaphor to explain God’s love to a doubting and disobedient people. I imagine they are frustrated; they can’t explain what they’ve seen. They try, and end up explaining God’s love by type: marriage, and motherhood.

Over and over, these two metaphors are used extensively. And over and over you can see the love of God for people (flesh and blood, like you and I) for us. He loves us like a husband loves his straying wife. He loves us like a father loves his struggling child. We stray and struggle, and we will find no peace apart from His love. After all we are His, and we really can’t ‘work right” apart from His guiding presence.

Look at His heart. See His hands.

They both bear us witness of a supreme love. He loves you right now— wrecked and ravaged by your sin. I don’t know where you are at this very moment, but I do know He loves you intensely. Sin may have destroyed you, but His love never, ever vacillates. God is passionate about you— He won’t let you go. But you must risk being loved.

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”

1 John 3:1

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Esteeming His Word

Quite often, we’re intimidated by the Bible.  We all can take on a verse or two.  But that is pretty much it.

The Bible isn’t made up of singular verses, but of whole books.  I intend to go on record, to encourage you to ingest the Word.  It’s as if we went to a Chinese restaurant buffet.  There is so many delicious choices.  But we load up exclusively on the “Kung Pao Chicken.”  We make many trips, but that is all we take.  Only the Kung Pao, and that’s it.

Have we really experienced this restaurant?  Or just the chicken?  The Word is extensively diverse.  There are recipes, and there are heaping and steaming platters of things we will never personally experience, and that is a shame.  So much is there, but we pick out just one thing.

I have been reading the first few chapters of the prophet Jeremiah.  It really humbles me, and I sense I’ve been sliced open and my innards have been drug out into the streets.  It has spiritually eviscerated me. It has opened me up, with a spiritual power.  (I’m sorry, but “Moby Dick” or “Great Expectations” or other works of classical literature does nothing comparable for me.)

God’s Word has a peculiar dimension to it.  What it does is spiritually forceful.  It eagerly waits for us–this leather backed book.  At random we pick it up and start to read.  Quite quickly, it slips through our issues, and it directly ministers to us.  It has such power that it enters our thinking, and detonates, when the time is right. And we are left to pick-up the pieces. (This is good.)

You see, His presence has throughly saturated His Word.  He comes and infuses His books.  They have been dipped in His very personality and brought out for us to read and handle.  The things we discover there develop an awareness of truth and what is real.  If you study, you will hear the voice of God.

You have not arrived.  There is still a substantial work to be done.  You desperately need God’s words.  And you don’t need to become proficient or educated.  Perhaps we should just strive to be holy and kind.  Even an unorthodox approach is better than none.  Please–put down the remote, take up your heart, and apply it to your Bible.  It won’t take long, but the work is eternal.

“The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me!”

 — Martin Luther

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Simply Golden

by Norman Rockwell, 1961

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Luke 6:31, ESV — The Golden Rule

 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that.” 

Luke 6:31-32, MSG

Sometimes it seems, I hit the switch, and shut it all down. Essentially, I get wrapped up with one of my favorite sins and soon I turn off my faith, unplugging myself from the wall.  I have a desire to escape from what I see as restrictions that I believe faith brings me.  I want to have fun–I don’t want to pray, or read the Bible.

Actually I can do this subtly.  I just raise the volume of my sinful desires, and try to drown out that still small voice.  I can maintain a holy life for my Christian friends, while I enjoy the pleasures of my favorite sins.  Sins or holiness, I want to go for both– but the reality is I just get one.

There is still a voice that is speaking profoundly. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  Our particular concepts of Christianity so rarely include this–“the golden rule.”  In my own mind, I diminish this as a little bit antiquated.  I will rarely feel its pinch or pull.  It is never a topic of serious thought or meditation.  It seems that it has become what I call–“an optional truth.”  It is very much real, but it is not connected to me in my daily walk.

Treating others, the very way you want to be treated—do this!  Love other people outrageously and deeply; because you like it when they do this to you.  There is reciprocal action here, a sort of spiritual circle of kindness.  Our vernacular says, “What goes around, comes around.”  And it certainly has a ring of truth in it.

All too often we have a version of Christianity that has had its teeth pulled. We have tamed it, and brought the sharp teeth of the faith under our personal decision-making process.  The wildness of a true faith is domesticated and ‘house-broken.’  And we start the rush to unplug things.  The golden rule gets detached right away.

As I struggle as a mentally ill Christian, it is mandatory that the truth be lifted up in my life.  I can become quite disturbed and manipulated by life’s dealings.  My issues of paranoia and delusion cripple me, or they could become the step-stool for those wonderous things on the shelf of grace.

Dear ones, use your illness to reach for the best, live this and change your world.

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Loving Others (Like Jesus Loved Us)

 

““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””

– John 13:34-35

What is “love” like?  How do we consistently understand love when we fall short of it all the time?

We understand love by coming to know Jesus.  He not only explains it, but He also exhibits it–He puts it out in the public eye for all to see.  His explanation of what love is will mean a cruel death in order to save us.  When Jesus dies, I am saved.  My salvation has absolutely nothing to do with me– and everything to do with Him, and all that He has done.

Jesus helps us to see others.  He makes a definitive statement, that we are to love others.  We are to use what He has done for me, as an example.  What Jesus did is the pattern, the prototype.  We are to be the photostat or mimeograph.  As believers we are to be captured and drawn into this approach.

We are to find someone, and then, in some sense, ‘die’ for them. That is the way God’s love is.

That very strong word, must in verse 34 cannot escape our attention.  It implies a deep and a very definite commitment to doing that is beyond us.  We ‘must’ connect and receive all that moves through our life.  We love the unlovely, and this is irrational. God says that people are worth crucifixion. We’re the criminals, and the judge has sentenced us. And then He Himself has decided to pay our penalty. This is ‘agape’ love.

We must love accurately. We should love the way He loves us.  We cannot do anything less. 

But the love of Jesus is tracking each wanderer.  He is working to connect with every person on this planet.  No one escapes His view, or His love.  Everyone who belongs to Him, is required to know this.  Our Lord is definitely not going to move if there are still “seekers” still out there.  He leaves no one behind.

Loving others will require a significant broadening of the way we see things.  We purposefully lift up Jesus because He lifted us.  We exalt Him because we have discovered we are so pitiful.  We must be convinced, that His way, is the way of the cross.

We must love more accurately —the same way He loves us.  We cannot do anything less.  For many of us, love is just a concept–a way of feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ inside.  But it is far more than feeling nice thoughts. It is all about “the extra mile” and we honestly can’t make that trip if we haven’t been willing to die ourselves.

 

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