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I have been reading the book by my new friend, Jim Palmer, “Divine Nobodies.” In it he tells the story of his journey of shedding religion for a personal relationship with Jesus and the stories of those unlikely people that came into his life that helped him find Jesus. I have smiled, laughed and wept as I have read this book. I relate to his feelings of anguish in feeling unworthy, a miserable failure trying to come to terms with the truth that Jesus sees us so differently than what we or the world sees us to be.

I know in my heart of hearts I’ve walked with Jesus since I was a small child, long before I even fully understood who He was.  He simply was for me. He talked to me when no one else would. He listened to me. He laughed with me and He cried with me. Somehow I always felt like an outsider even amongst my own family. I am not sure why and I am not blaming anyone. I just felt different and nothing I did could make me fit. 

I learned early on people didn’t take kindly to you telling them that God had spoken to you or that angels had visited you. You’d either get a stern warning to quit making up stories, especially where God was concerned or the lecture of why God would Not personally speak to you. If you didn’t get the verbal tongue-lashing, you’d get “that look.” We all know “that look,” the one that stops you in mid-sentence because you are sure you just blasphamied the entire universe that God created.

So I tucked my personal relatioship with Jesus carefully out of sight of the world and tried to fit, to find my place in this world. In all my attempts to be ‘normal,’ to fit, to be the person the world tells me I must be … I never have arrived …and I always run back to Him, more broken, full of more self-loathing, my failures ringing in my ears attempting to drown out the very truth of who I am…

Divine Nobodies…today as I was reading, I went back to page 11 and Jim’s first account of Jesus speaking to him. As I read it the Lord reminded of a time when I had hid myself in the palm of His hand in the year 2001…trying to find out at 45 who I was, searching for His purpose for me. I was sitting on the back steps in the early dusk of a  warm summer night watching the herd of deer that came out to feast nightly in the lush field of clover behind my little trailer where I was living at the time.  I often found Jesus there waiting for me in the quiet of the early evening. Somedays I simply sat in His presence and took in the the glory of Him and basked in the joy of creation. But one night I was was once again broken…it seemed everyone I knew had it all figured out…and I was still asking…Jesus, who am I? And He spoke…

“You are my beloved daughter. I take delight in you, for you were uniquely created by me and you bring me joy! You are a joint heir to my throne. I am the King of Kings…and you are mine…You are a princess.”

Wow! That was a new concept! A princess!

I looked at Jim’s book and smiled…to this world I live in, even often to myself I may be a nobody…but to HIM I am a princess and because of Him I am free to be who He created me to be!

 

(thank you, Jim, for sharing your journey with the world! Our Lord is using it!)

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i sat outside this morning being entertained by my two year old granddaughter. at two she has a gift of theatrics and loves singing and dancing. not only was i enjoying her performance, but i believed all of God’s creation was enamored by her. the sun shone brilliantly, the breeze was gentle and the now blooming sunflowers swayed along with her songs. life couldnt be more perfect, or so i thought in those moments just  before the next door neighbor came over to drop off something for my son. skipping behind our neighbor, mike, was a little girl who looked about the age of my granddaughter, emma.

this little girl was the daughter of one of his friends, he explained to us as he introduced amia to emma. as my son and mike talked, both girls stood quietly taking the other in. since emma doesnt go to day care and is an only child, i wondered how she would react to the ‘new kid on the block.’ after a few minutes of simply standing there watching one another, emma took the little girl’s hand and asked her, ‘do want to play with me?’ the little girl smile and shook her head yes.

I watched as they went hand and hand over to the Dora kitchen set that sits in the back corner of the yard. For several minutes they played quietly, neither of them uttering a word, as if they had some unspoken language between them and words were not necessary. as i sat there watching these two little girls pour cups of imaginary tea for one another it ocurred to me that it bothered neither of them that their skins were a different color. nor did it bother emma that amia had on sandles, while she was barefoot. it didnt bother amia that emma wore a koolaide smile.  as they silently shared that ‘cup of tea’ they both broke out in laughter, though i don’t know what tickeled their funny bone (prehaps their angels). from that moment on they chattered like old friends until it was time for amia to go home.

as they hugged one another good-bye i saw why Jesus told us to become as little children…they love without judgement … they love without expecting anything in return …

they love … they are a perfect example of His love

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(in 2006 i did a documentary about homelessness in Nashville, TN…in the two years since that time i have often walked a road parallel to those we documented.  it has been a walk of faith)

 

I woke up this morning thinking about the prophet Amos. I had found a statement yesterday when I was doing some research on homelessness for a book I am working on at a fellow bloggers site that said,

 

The Prophet Amos Spoke up on Behalf of the Poor Nearly 3,000 Years Ago (800 BCE)  Amos warned the people their disregard for the poor was a bad idea. It would result in the destruction of their nation. Apparently there’s a long history of God trying to get our attention in this regard. Approximately 830 years later, a lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  He hears the parable of the good Samaritan.

I headed for Panera this morning, with laptop in hand and logged on before I even took that first sip of coffee to find out just who Amos was. I knew he was a prophet and the book of Amos was in the old testament, but that was about it. First off I learned that most scholars date his prophetic work somewhere between 760 and 755 BC.  More importantingly I learned…we are still repeating the same mistakes from centuries ago … and we have the teachings of Christ.

Amos was a common man chosen by the Lord to deliver His Word to His people. “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet … but the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’ And now hear the Word of the Lord!” (Amos 7:14-16).  A common man…a divine nobody as my new friend, Jim would say. (http://divinenobodies.com)

Al Maxey’s commentary about Amos states, “He was not a man of wealth, yet was sent to warn the wealthy; not a man of luxury, or one who was lazy, yet sent to those who were both. All of this was designed to separate the MAN from the MESSAGE. There was to be nothing about this man which would attract a personal following.

 

It was the message God desired the people to focus upon… not the messenger!

It is still the message God desires us to focus on!

 

The people were religious, but they were far from being spiritual. Their religion consisted of external acts — they were putting on a show for God, but He was not fooled. “They prided themselves in their expensive ‘church buildings.’ They boasted of the numerous sacrifices which they offered, and of the fact that they offered them exactly as the Law prescribed (‘legalism’). They gloried in their perfect attendance record at the worship services. They were well pleased with their efforts to sing praises to the Lord. But, by way of contrast, Amos rejected the idea that quantity, numbers, and external show was really religion!” (Willis). Some have criticized Amos for being a preacher of a “social gospel.”

 

However, “God made it clear that the heart of religion was to love God with all the heart, and to love one’s neighbor as himself. Without these two elements, any number of external acts are meaningless to God” (Willis).

 

“The prophets had degenerated into time-servers, blinded with the complacency of the nation. Religion certainly flourished in the nation but it was a religion that was completely divorced from reality. There was a great deal of activism and outward show with crowds thronging the shrines at the times of the great festivals. Ritual was elaborate, but there was no true life and no evidence that real spiritual values had any place, and Yahweh was patronized with a presumption bordering upon arrogance”

Extravagant religious ceremonies and rites were manifested on every hand. Tithes were offered every three days; free-will offerings were abundant and the amounts advertised (Amos 4:4-5). Religious fervor was high, but true spiritual devotion to God was utterly lacking” (Homer Hailey). “It was a religion which was empty in content, though full of ritual. Amos insisted that God had no time for ritualistic religion without heart”

-New Layman’s Bible Commentary

 

 

Fast forward to 2008…the century of mega churches, sermons laced with scripture that tickles the ear and pleases the masses. Is God even there? Does anyone truly hear the voice of God? We have seen throughout the Bible, God called the common man …is it because the common man’s life is less cluttered with material things that he is more prone to bend his ear and heart to God and then carry out our Father’s bidding? Is it because the common man can more easily empathize with the pain of his brother because at one time he himself bore that same pain?

Have we become a nation of religion void the personal relationship? Have we packaged our belief in God  into a neat little stained glass box and have become blind to the ones that sleep in the shadows of the steeples?  What can be said of our relationship with God, with Jesus (who carried all of our sin and pain), with our family, friends, neighbors and strangers? If we are to say we are Christians, then we must adhere to the teachings of Christ and look back at the prophetic warnings of the old prophets and take heed. Do you love the Lord with all your heart? Do you love your neighbor as yourself?

Do you even know your neighbor’s name?

 

 

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: (the parable starts here) “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn in Jericho and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

 

Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 verses 25–37   New International Version

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It was on a hot, humid August day in 2006 when I first met her. She was sitting on a bench on Demonbruen Street just off the infamous Music Row in Nashville, TN. Her faded blonde hair was pulled neatly in a bun. Though her face was deeply tanned and weathered, her eyes were a crystal blue and when they caught mine, something resonated deep within me. Looking at her from the face up one might think she was someone’s grandmother waiting for her children to finish their shopping at one of the upscale shops. Or perhaps they dined at one of the quaint restaurants that catered to the music industry and the well dressed young people of the city that stood across the street from the bench where she sat.

 

But then you notice…she’s dressed in layers of clothing, way too many layers of clothing for a 90 plus degree day; and you quickly realize the layers of clothing she’s piled on herself have probably never seen a washing machine. Heavy black boots hide her feet from the occasional warm breeze that stirs the dusty, dried leaves on the street. Sitting beside her is a large, tattered suitcase, a neatly folded blanket and a smaller opened suitcase holding trinkets and CD’s, which I later found to be her ‘store.’ People would give her things and she would promptly add them to her store and sell them. I couldn’t help but notice how she held her cigarette with an air of sophistication as she watched the people walk by, many totally oblivious to her presence there.

 

Yet, it was evident to me … that bench was her home.

 

Truth be known, I’m not sure I would have noticed her had it not been for the fact that we needed the bench she sat on. I was helping a friend shoot the opening scene for a TV comedy pilot. The sequence called for a battered, dirty, homeless man to be sitting on a bench with a sign propped in his lap which read, “will work for free” as our star sat beside him with a bottle of Jack Daniels wrapped in a brown bag. The two would commiserate over the lack of good jobs and our star would offer the man a swig of Jack. (I would like to believe we were naïve at the time, because today I find no humor in that scene.) Regardless of what I think or feel now, in order to accomplish securing that bench for a few hours to shoot the scene, we paid the woman with the neatly done hair and the eyes of blue crystal ten dollars to vacate her bench.

 

She packed up her belongings, shook our hands and walked across the street to the small gourmet coffee shop. Once again I couldn’t help but notice how blue her eyes were and how deep they spoke. During the hours it took to shoot the 30 second scene, I went over to the coffee shop numerous times to refill my coffee and get iced tea or water for the crew. I’d see her through the shop’s window and watched her write on a yellow legal tablet and wondered what words she was lost in.  As I’d walk through the shop’s door without fail she would lift her head and draw me directly into her gaze. I’d give her a faint smile, before walking quickly to the counter, anxious at the time to get away from the truths held in her eyes.

 

Little did I know her eyes held the stories that would change my life forever…

(C) 2008 Penny Carlton

All Rights Reserved

 

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ponderings

 

In the year 2001 I went away and secluded myself and wrote, well aware I was hidden in the palm of God’s hand. I found some old writings today.

I often wrote short ramblings…how strange to go back and read ramblings from years ago and realize He has never left me…

 You came into my life asking nothing from me
 Gave me everything
 And captured the whole of me

 

It seems destiny has a way of catching up with you. No matter how you
try to manipulate your life; eventually you come face to face with your
destiny.

I have learnt that the storms in our lives have come to set us free. There is a brutal honesty in them, speaking of who we are. In our hunger for truth and happiness the thunder begins to roll, tears flood
our eyes and truth burst forth with a howling. We need to let You carry us through the storm into the light and the promise of the rainbow will always come.

 

When You touched me with your love, You gave me
breath.

Looking out my window, enjoying the warmth in home, savoring the taste
of the steaming hot cup of coffee in my hands, I see the beauty of
winter. The trees are adorned in white gowns, glistening in the early
morning sun that has peeked out from the lingering clouds. The snow
lays like a heavy down comforter upon the ground. Swirls left from the
wind on the virgin whiteness remind me that perhaps it was not the wind
after all that had left the imprint there, but angels dancing before
before our Lord.

Why do we not see that so often it is the turmoil of worldly concepts
that seek to destroy the gifts given to our hearts?

In the arms of Your love I found my wings to fly.

I stood in my garden that early summer morning and watched the flowers
lift their heads in praise to the Son.

 

(C) 2001 -2008 Penny Carlton

All Rights Reserved

 

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