Archive for February, 2011

Spring is coming!

February 12, 2011

With the especially harsh winter weather this year, we must remember that "Spring is Coming!"

February 2 was Groundhog Day, and in recognition of the celebrated day, I posted an article on my Examiner.com page:

http://www.examiner.com/christian-spirituality-in-columbus/groundhog-day-spring-is-coming

On Saturday of the preceding weekend, I noticed a couple of robins skittering across the crusted snow, as I entered a building. That is a sure sign that Spring is on the way, I thought.  When I see robins returning after a brief absence, I recall that I made my acting debut in the second or third grade when I played “Robin Redbreast,” with my red sweater and brown paper wings that I flapped vigorously as I ran across the stage proclaiming, “Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming!”

Robins are generally thought to be a sign that "Spring is coming!"

A few years ago my daughter, Melissa , sent me a card with the “Easter Legend of the Robin” on the cover:

A little grey robin, as he was flying to the Holy Land, saw Christ hanging on the cross. His heart filled with sadness. He noticed the crown of thorns the soldiers placed on the crucified Savior. The small bird, forgetting his timidity, flew down to remove a thorn from the brow of Christ. As he did so, a drop of Christ’s blood stained the little bird’s breast. The robin, through his act of love, earned the red badge of courage.

From this time forth, all robins have had red breasts as reminder that one of them was kind to the Lord. Thus, the robin is truly the harbinger of spring. He welcomes Easter with his cheerful note of hope, reminding us that from death comes life.

In reflecting upon my acting debut, I composed a new song that I sing when I see robins returning in winter:

Red Robin, Red Robin—Harbinger of Spring,

Rear back with your red breast

And sing, sing, sing.

From the collection of poems that I have written, here are three works, “A Spring Trilogy” written in anticipation of one of my favorite seasons : 

Until Spring

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption,

and this mortal has put on immortality,

then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O Death,

where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?

 I Corinthians 15:54-55

Whether on earth or shuttled in the sky,

Death snuffs out our candles in devious ways,

For each man must learn to number his days,

Although the soul still probes to fathom why.

The mind made numb with pain can only try

To make sense of the immense ache that stays.

The answer sounds since Adam but still dismays:

It is appointed unto man once to die.

Though grief surrounds us, comfort can be shown.

The sun melts frost with new life as surely

As blossoms will flourish from seeds once sown.

Until Spring, on tip-toe I yearn to see

The day when I shall know as I am known,

When death is swallowed up in victory.

The following poem was also featured in the Groundhog Day piece, offering a reminder that growth takes place even in the severest weather:

 Even in Winter 

 He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

 That brings forth its fruit in its season,

 Whose leaf also shall not wither;

 And whatever he does shall prosper.

 Psalm 1:3

Mournful dark notes of the wind’s contralto solo

 Pierce the heart and chill the soul with its somber tones.

 Shrouded in widow’s weeds all of creation groans,

 Bemoans winter’s wilderness, lifeless and hollow.

Tall stark naked trees where nothing appears to grow                                                                                                                                 

Bend in the wind, vacant lodges closed for the season.

To find life in this dead time seems beyond reason,

Yet tender buds sleep in blankets of ice and snow.

Though leaves once green have faded, fallen to frostbite,

Leaf buds cluster in secret places to keep warm;

Buds wrapped in snow are stronger than before the storm.

Soon the voice of the bridegroom will ring in the night.

The time nears when the turtledove returns to sing,                                              

When ice-covered buds will blossom: firstfruits of spring.

Even in winter, ice-covered buds are growing and waiting to burst forth with new life in the coming Spring.

 A year ago during a poetry reading in celebration of Black History Month, I read several original works along with poetry by other African American poets who had influenced my writing. I had a similar kind of revelation regarding Winter and Spring, after reciting “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, resulting in this poem:

 Winter is a dream deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

              Langston Hughes

 

Covered in ice,

winter is a dream deferred.

Like frozen vistas

unfolding before us

in the pre-dawn morning chill,

we look up

with our faces toward the rising sun.
 

Suspended in freeze frame,

 dormant hope waits,

as a cold-blooded vertebrate

 withdraws to hibernate.

Here death confronts us

and smacks the face.

Though we reel and feel the sting,

we know that someday

ice-covered buds shall blossom

and explode into Spring.

If winter comes. . . can spring?

In actuality a dream could be seen as an investment that will someday yield dividends when that dream becomes a reality. In “Autumn Sestina,” a poem celebrating the beauty of another of my favorite seasons, one of the stanzas expresses this idea:

                        Those who invest precious dreams will be rich

                        When they look into the gray winter sky.

                        Those who hold tokens from Fall’s gold leaf day,

                        Though they long for life in a greener stage,

                        Even in snow will be warmed by their wealth

                        And find full return in the Spring’s new gold.

The term “firstfruits” could be used to describe the return on the investments of dreams deferred. References to firstfruits abound in some of my poetry, such as “Even in Winter” and “Accoucheur to Spring.” The term “accoucheur” is the French equivalent of  a male “mid-wife” or male attendant at a birthing. 

Accoucheur to Spring

For we know that the whole creation groans

and labors with birth pangs together until now.

 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the                                                                                                                

Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,

eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:23-24

For years I have yearned to be accoucheur to spring,

 To observe, to assist with the birthing process,

The fruitful flowering as part of God’s offspring

That reveals the Father’s deep desire to bless.

As a mother whose hour has come will travail,

Wailing, waiting for the fruit of love to be seen,

So barren land trembles that new life might prevail

To transform the gray terrain to emerald green.

 I follow the gardener wherever He takes me                         

 And seek to know His plans and make them my pursuits.                          

 To move beyond tokens to fullness of glory

 The Lord of the harvest gathers precious firstfruits.

 The whole creation groans–all of heaven and earth

 Yearns to experience the wonder of childbirth.

Another reminder that Spring is coming!

The concept of “firstfruits” I have personalize and internalized in recognizing who I am, as I strive to find my true identity:

Firstfruits

Of His own will He brought us forth by the word

of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits

of his creatures.

James 1:18 

 

 Transform and then so fashion my visage

 To be like Christ, the brightness of your glory.

In your refiner’s fire melt and mold me,

Cast my being in His express image:

As boldface type printed upon the page,

As a new coin minted in your treasure,

Stamped with the essence of your character

To convey the power of your message.

So saturate my spirit, heart, soul and mind,

Every fiber of my being, each pore;

So permeate my presence that I might find

My true calling as Christ’s ambassador.

More than vessel, vehicle, or instrument,

Like Christ, I am firstfruits of God’s intent.

 

“Firstfruits” is connected to some of the Hebrew feasts of the Bible, such as the “feast of weeks” or “ingathering” or most notably the Feast of Pentecost, discussed in Exodus 23 and elsewhere. The ultimate revelation of firstfruits, however,  will occur during the great and final harvest or ingathering after Christ returns, depicted in this poem of anticipation of that reality. “Immortality” was written on my mother’s birthday, three years after her passing:

Immortality

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep,

but we shall all be changed—

52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,

at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound,

and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.     

54So when this corruptible has put on incorruption,

and this mortal has put on immortality,

then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

I Corinthians 15:51-54 

 

When the dazzling sun of righteousness shall arise

With healing wings to banish all infirmity,

I shall know as I am fully known and my eyes

Shall see the glory of His presence before me,

As the Lord Himself shall wipe away every tear.

The shofar sounds, gathering of firstfruits of His love:         

Called, chosen, faithful pioneers on the last frontier,

 Who like Christ, set their affection on things above,                    

Who left behind earthly joys to follow the Lamb.

I stand clothed in the fullness of His righteousness

Before Alpha and Omega, the Great I AM

And drink from the fountain of endless blessedness.

I am changed from mortal to immortality,

Portal to the graceful curve of infinity.

The daffodil is often “The First Flower” to signal Spring’s arrival.

With the arrival of Spring, come an array of flowers that usher in the new season, when we shall see “The First Flower.” This poem was inspired by an experience occurring more than 30 years ago when I noticed that the daffodils were just beginning to bud and open up into vibrant yellow flowers. As I entered the dining hall for lunch, I notice one particular flower was on the verge of opening up. When I returned after about an hour, the one daffodil had blossomed during that brief period of time, reminding me of another Spring that shall likewise occur even more rapidly.

The First Flower

Behold, I tell you a mystery;

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed–

in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,

at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound,

and the dead will be raised incorruptible,

and we shall be changed.

I Corinthians 15:51-52

As the trumpet,

the first daffodil

 heralds the birth of Spring

today,

             so

shall the shofar

sound golden notes

to take us unawares

someday.

Despite the harshest winter weather, when seemingly endless ice and snow accumulate and aggrevate, remember the words of Robin Redbreast,  and enjoy this magnificent rendering of Steven Curtis Chapman’s exquisite musical composition, a reminder that, indeed,“Spring is coming!

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Toxic Fear and the Perfect Antidote–Love

February 10, 2011

A generous dose of love overcomes or casts out all fear.

We all recognize that fear is a common and natural emotional response to potential danger, but if not properly addressed, it can become a deadly emotion with serious consequences. Excessive fear can become crippling and impact our daily lives in a negative way. Unbridled fear is a toxic emotion that limits and inhibits. Proverbs 29:25 makes this clear:

The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.

Fear is a tool of the Enemy used as a barrier to stifle our confidence in God, as it attempts to limit our access to the Father’s throne of grace. Satan tries to instill fear in believers in the same way that a ferocious lion roars, seeking to instill fear that paralyzes its victim. We find a similar picture of the ways of our adversary in I Peter 5:8:

 Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [[a]in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour. [Amplified Bible]

It has been said that fear is the only thing that defeats the promises of God. Pastor Rick Warren describes fear    as “. . . a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be.”

The Bible addresses the issue of fear with numerous reminders that as believers we are not to fear. The comforting exhortation to “fear not” or “do not fear” occurs 365 times in the Bible, indicating a daily memo from God that we are to have no fear.

Isaiah 8:12 offers this powerful reminder:

Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

We also find great comfort in Isaiah 41:10, 13 from which the lyrics to another song are taken, offering these words of encouragement:

Do Not Fear

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

 I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

For it is I, the LORD your God, who holds your right hand;

It is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”

“Do not fear, I will help you.”

“Do not fear, I will help you.”

When we encounter stressful situations that cause us to respond in fear, we are encouraged to seek the strength to overcome any obstacle that attempts to block the path to success. Again the Psalmist offers this reminder:

Psalm 34:5

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Some people are overly concerned about the future which can lead to anxiety. We are exhorted not to be overly concerned about the future or anything, for that matter, in Philippians 4:6-7:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. [Amplified Bible]

As with each of the toxic emotions of life, we want to counteract their harmful effects with the proper remedy. In terms of responding to fear in light of moving in the opposite spirit, we find that love is the perfect antidote. The love of God or agape is the highest form of love. It differs from eros or passion or sensuous love of the flesh and is even beyond philos­ or love of friends or family. The root of philos is found in the designation of Philadelphia, which is known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” There is a love which is “more intimate than friend, or kin or wife;” this close-knit love is known as agape. This particular term which is used exclusively in the New Testament, reveals the uniqueness of God’s love which is so clearly defined in I Corinthians 13, a passage of scripture that is often excerpted or quoted in its entirety at weddings. This section from verses 4-7 of the Amplified Bible illustrate the distinctive power of the love of God:

Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not  boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.

It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does  not act             unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self- seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].

It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.

Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].

The first part of verse 8 reiterates that “Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].”

With love, as with any other emotion, there must be a demonstration or manifestation whereby one knows the reality of the emotion in question. We speak of the love of God in manifestation which is so clearly demonstrated in one of the most widely recognized verses in the Bible, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

It has been said that you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. Indeed, all love is giving. The essence of love as defined by giving is also seen in this poem by John Oxenham:

            Love ever lives, outlives, forgives,

            And while it stands with open hands it lives.

            For this is love’s prerogative:

            To give and give and give

The book of I John also reveals the “perfect” connection between fear and love, particularly in 1 John 2:5

But whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this know that we are in Him. [NKJV]

In those who hear the Word of God and keep it, the love of God is “perfected” or made perfect or complete, wanting in nothing or brought to maturity in them. To be “perfected” is to be brought to a full end. This concept is further discussed in chapter 4 verse 12 which reminds us:

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

Verses 13-16 go on to explain just how the love of God comes to abide or remain or dwell within us:

 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.

 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

The love of God is “perfected” or made complete or full in us when we walk in the steps of Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of perfect love. Verse 17 elaborates on this reality:
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world

Verse 18 provides the basis for love being the perfect antidote to fear:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

When an individual is “perfected in love” and walks in or demonstrates that love, there no room for fear. The love of God is the key that releases each believer from the bondage of this “self-imposed prison” from which Christ came to set the captives free.

Self-imposed Prison

“Fear is a self-imposed prison that will keep you

 from becoming what God intends for you to be.”

        – Rick Warren

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear,

because fear involves torment. But he who fears

has not been made perfect in love.

I John 4:18

This self-imposed prison, not made with bars of steel,

Nor formed with bricks, yet each subtly constructed wall

Restricts the mind, scars the soul and cripples the will

And impounds us to a state of constant free fall.

Held captive by past mistakes that seek to instill

Fear: this deadly acronym binds, confines the heart,

So disguised as “false evidence appearing real”

Keeps us from being all God intends us to be.

But Christ, our sovereign Lord, pardoned each life sentence,

Commuted penalties, declaring not guilty.

With his blood, having blotted out every offense,

Displayed undying love: key to set captives free.

Pure freedom to serve awaits those with ears to hear,

For perfected love destroys all walls built by fear.

Throughout the New Testament believers are exhorted to walk in love, to demonstrate or manifest love, to put on love. Colossians 3:14 in the Amplified Bible puts it this way:

And above all these [put on] love and enfold yourselves with the bond of perfectness [which  binds everything together completely in ideal harmony].

Every born-again believer desires to be fruitful, to be spiritually productive, and the Scriptures offer keys to living a life of fruitfulness. In 2 Peter 1:1-5 we are encouraged to “Add it all up and put on love which is the finishing touch”:

5For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),

6And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),

7And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.

 8For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).

9For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.    

 10Because of this, brethren, be all the more solicitous and eager to make sure (to ratify, to strengthen, to make steadfast) your calling and election; for if you do this, you will never stumble or fall.  11Thus there will be richly and abundantly provided for you entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  

Last year this passage was part of my Action Plan for 2010: Greater Growth and Development, and it still has application for this year and every year.

I recall learning about the love of God as a counteractant to fear in a very simple yet profound way. One of the first books that my wife and I used to teach our daughters about our Heavenly Father was My Little Golden Book about God. This was a kind of primer for our daughters who memorized the words and associated them with the illustrations long before they could actually “read.” Some of the most cherished lines were these words which closed out the small book:

“Do not fear. I am here. And I love you, my dear. Close your eyes and sleep tight. For tomorrow will be bright.

All is well, dear child. Good night.”

This simple response encourages all children of God to have no fear, for God is ever present, and He continues to say, “And I love you, my dear.”

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we walk in power of God’s love, we will recognize a notable change, not only  in our own lives individually, but we will also experience fruitfulness and favor upon our land, even in the midst of famine. The following poem expresses the two-fold blessing that God generates through “Perfected Love”:

Perfected Love

Yea, the Lord will answer and say unto His people,

Behold, I send you corn, and wine, and oil and

and ye shall be satisfied therewith, and I will

no longer make you a reproach among the people

Joel 2:19

Jehovah, creator, author and finisher,

Who initiates to nourish perfected love; 

Ever-abiding source and resource, publisher

Of declarations of genuine love to move

The soul of man to return to the place of his first

Love, the Beloved, whose heart overflows to give,

For only this passion can satisfy our thirst,

As you refresh us and teach us how we should live.

You have pledged your love through a sacred covenant.

If we maintain our vows of love, you will sustain

Our souls and feed us so that we shall never want.

You will shower with mercy as the gentle rain

And will bless and multiply the fruit of our land

With “corn, wine and oil” supplied by your gracious right hand.

To close this discussion here are three musical compositions based on three of my favorite Psalms that provide great comfort in times of trouble when we are tempted to shrink back in fear:

Psalm 121

Psalm 46

Psalm 91