Up On The Roof

“When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stars
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me…”                                                                   
(1962)  “Up On The Roof” – Originally recorded by:  The Drifters  (Multiple artists have covered this song.)  Composers:  Gerry Goffin & Carole King
In “Your Song” (1970) from Elton John, we get a hint of where his songwriting lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin liked to construct his lyrics.
“I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.  Well, a few of the verses got me quite cross…”
Lots of creativity can happen up on the roof.
It was July 4th, 2003 when I moved from Dallas, Tx to Buffalo, NY.  It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I left my wife and three daughters to take an afternoon-drive radio show at a long-standing Buffalo radio station.  It was a promising, career-healthy move which was almost impossible to refuse.  I had a lengthy radio resume in Dallas and I was at a place in life where a next step was essential.  The idea was to live a lean solo life while hunting for a house to purchase.  After the papers for the mortgage were to be signed, then I would move the family of five to our new home, along with our Yorkie, Great Dane, a hamster, a mouse, and a gerbil, all in an Isuzu Trooper.
Roof Elmwood
Photo:  Google
After my feet hit Buffalo pavement, the first couple of weeks were spent in a motel room while searching for an apartment near the radio station in the downtown area.  All I had with me was a stuffed suitcase, duffel bag, and a briefcase.  Within walking distance of the radio station, I landed a tiny little furnished efficiency in an old brownstone right in the artsy district.  It was near perfect for my needs at the time.
Never living in a city-life efficiency before, there was a learning curve to it.  No elevators.  I was on the top floor, the 4th floor.  The basement (five flights down) housed the laundry area for the building.  I was in good physical shape at that time, but it still challenged me each trip to wash my clothes.  There was no air conditioning, of course, being Western New York.  For this Texas lad, I wasn’t sure I could do without an air conditioner.  However, the only silver lining, to the warm humid days, was the welcomed cool constant winds coming off Lake Erie.
As you can see in the photo, my two windows gave me a view of the apartment windows of the next building just a narrow driveway’s width away.  Nobody kept their blinds shut when the windows needed to be open on warm summer days.  You guessed it, very little privacy.  Jimmy Stewart, in “Rear Window”, never would’ve needed binoculars in my apartment.  In clear view of my neighbors, from the next building, was my bed.  It was vertical inside a wall of my living room, just an arm’s-length away from my kitchen mini-fridge.  When bedtime hit the clock, I just opened the door, pulled down the bed to the living room floor.  The springs squeaked as my body stretched out on the thin musky mattress.  Yep, there was a lot of adjusting for this suburbanite boy.
It took over three months to buy a house for my family, and moved in toward mid November.  So, I had plenty of time to adjust to my new temporary home in the city.  The streets were loud and busy.  With the windows opened throughout the summer, the sounds of yelling, sirens, and the occasional car crash bounced off the walls of our buildings on the block.  It always sounded as if everything was happening right outside my window.  It proved to be a struggle keeping my focus when writing letters to my family, or trying to get some shuteye.  Sometimes the noise was so overbearing, it pushed me out the door for a jog down by the Niagara break wall.  At dusk it was a sight to watch the Canadian side of the river light up their street lamps.
Peace Bridge Break Wall
On my trips up and down the hallways, I would pass a stairwell just off the 4th floor.  Knowing there wasn’t a 5th floor, I would shrug my shoulders and move on.  One day, after curiosity got the best of me, I followed the stairs to a set of old partially rusted Bilco doors.
staircase with black metal handrail
Photo by Octoptimist on Pexels.com

As I reached the top of the stairs I saw the double doors were latched by a bolt from the inside.  When I slid the bolt back it made a loud metallic clang that echoed down the stairwell.  When I pushed open the heavy metal doors, the cool Erie winds hit my face.  I had just discovered a large tar-sheeted flat roof of the building.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Whoever the property owners were they evidently didn’t see the value of constructing a patio-style wet-bar area with outdoor furniture, complete with table umbrellas.  Instead, a large wasted space.  But not for me.  Immediately I found the sounds of the city were faded while displaying a view filled with the downtown slope which met the harbor and the mouth of Lake Erie.  I personally enjoyed seeing the rooftops of the neighborhood showcasing old world architecture from the day when horse-drawn carriages, top-hats, and bonnets were the norm.

Throughout my time there, I visited the old quietened rooftop many times.  I remember signing off the air at the studio, looking forward to climbing up the stairs to my new favorite place.  It’s was a get-away where I would meet with the Creator, watch the sunset over the horizon, and sit on the half-wall at the edge of the roof thinking of how our new lives would be in Western New York.  One weekend, in the fall, I remember seeing The Northern Lights for the very first time.   God truly knows how to put on a light show.  It was a place of comfort from the days of hardship, the rowdy sounds of the streets, and the worries of relocating across the country.  When I see the photo from Google, my eyes first look up toward the rooftop.
Peace, enlightenment, and healing found on rooftops shouldn’t surprise anyone.  In scripture, I am reminded of how a handicapped man was carried by four of his friends to the flat rooftop of a home where Jesus was meeting with a crowd who packed a house.  The entryway was not negotiable.  The Miracle Worker was healing gobs of people in need all throughout the region.  In a desperate move by these men, they reached the roof above where Jesus was teaching, punched a hole in the roof to lower their lame friend to Him on a mat.  Up on the roof love and faith was accessed that day.  In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter was praying up on the roof of a friend’s house when God got his attention concerning the issue of grace vs law, love vs religious racism.  Peter found access to the truth up on the roof that day.  In the book of Joshua, a woman hid two spies of Israel in Jericho from their enemies up on her housetop.  For them, there was access to security up on the roof.  After Solomon felt weary of domestic feuds in the home, twice in Proverbs he mentions it’s better to live in the corner of a roof than with a person (woman) of contention.  (I’m trying to be kind on this one. Apparently he must’ve lost a few battles with some of his wives. LOL)
Roof French
Maybe your place of solitude isn’t up on the roof.  It could be your roof isn’t easily accessible, or physically safe.  For you it might be in your car with the radio turned off.  Possibly it’s on your bike on an open road.  Maybe it’s a place in your garage, or your barn.  I have an old friend who found his access under the roof of his lawn shed.  For many, it’s out on a lake in a boat, a coastline of a lake, a boulder sitting by a creek.  I have a cousin who finds her place of solitude up in the saddle of her horse.  Scripture reads the closet is a good place.
One thing is certain, there is a way of escape.  There is a stairwell to a place to be solo.  You might need to “kick off the moss” first.  In these times of violence, disturbance, pandemic, and masked faces, meeting with the Spirit of God can happen anywhere.  When you find it, that is a place you will always be fond of.
Getting away from the news, social media, and the crashing noise of profanity, there’s always room for two up on the roof with a ample supply of fuel for the race.
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” – Jesus –  Matthew 10:27 (NAS)

Heart Hotels

“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel.  And some rooms filled with reckless pride.  And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well,  but there is nobody living inside.  Nobody living inside…”  Heart Hotels (1979)  Recorded and composed by:  Dan Fogelberg

You know how it is.  You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence.  Honestly, I still do it.

I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did.  I was born there, but we didn’t stay.  My mom’s family lived there, and still do.  To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house.  Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place.  However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.

One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.

Greenville Cadillac otel Old pic

The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas.  Photo:  Texas Historical Commission.

In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel.  Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel.  In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape.  She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances.  A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings.  Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.  My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel.  (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot.  It makes sense, considering the times.)

Greenville Train Depot

The old Greenville train depot.

However, a gem no more.  The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew.  Time and neglect were her new caretakers.  In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years.  Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it.  In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady.  A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints.  Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other.  And now it sits in an almost ruined state.  Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out.  I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them.  I would rather dream of her glory days.  My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition.  My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.

Greenville Cadillac Hotel Photo:  The Herald Banner

Realistically, it’s a long-shot.  She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift.  And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.

Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station.  You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory.  Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind.  I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate.  The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist.  “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979.  It’s considered a classic now.  He has so many greats in his music catalog.  Many bring tears to my eyes.  This is one of them.

He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers.  Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city.  Many artists are introverts.  I know I am, to a degree.  His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive.  In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired.  He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers.  OUCH!

Man, the song hurts!  It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here.  At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs.  Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver.  (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)

Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t.  I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer.  His songs spotlight his honesty.  If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”.  Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance.  Have you noticed?

The heart is a strong machine.  We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger.  The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside…  When empty we are left to our chosen devices.

Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own.  Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak.  Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past.  They do remind us, don’t they?  What do we have to show for it?  A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying.  A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding.  Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain.  Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.

Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness?  Dare I?

How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside?  How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden?  The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows.  Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair.  Don’t kick yourself too badly.  I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty.  My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.

Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned.  Like me, I bet you have, too.  You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic.  Prayer-life is a mystery.  Make no mistake about it.  Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.

#1 – Know God first.  Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve.  The passage states:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6  (Berean Study Bible)

#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way.  We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that.  In the old King James language, we “covet” in general.  We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment.  As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives.  (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?  My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971)  Composers:  Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.)   Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth.  One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight.  Jesus mentioned this many times.  After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”.  Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied.  Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.

#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it.  We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball.  In reality, God promises to hear our prayers.  If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later.  Retrospect is a supreme teacher.  I could write a list of times this has happened in my life.  Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers.  Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life.  In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer.  The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God.  There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.    Matthew 6:7-8  (Berean Study Bible)

A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas.  I should have explained the following, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her.  The universe never reached out to counsel her.  The universe never cared for her.  The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil.  The universe never offered a free gift of redemption.  The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind.  The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head.  The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults.  The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her.  The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.

Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone.  There is One who loves closer than a brother.  Search the world’s religious history.  After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities.  It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want.  Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc.  Do the research.  If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred.  I hurt for religious beachcombers.  We’ve all been there.  Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel.  Have you noticed?  Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition,  and grace toward us imperfect people.

(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)

Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant.  Room service is available with fuel for the race.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” 

      Excerpt from:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)  

      By: Christina Rossetti

 

 

EMPTY! But Why?

If you read my posts you will find this to be a bit different in flavor.  My request is that you read this one, leaving bias or preconceived ideas at the door.  Just humor me for now.

Imagine, you wake up in the back of a transport van.  Your wrists and ankles are shackled to a pole attached to the metal bench you’re laying on.  Looking down you find you’re dressed in an orange cotton jumpsuit with your full name sown into fabric across your chest.  Next to you is an assigned armed guard watching.

“What have I done?” you ponder silently.  In frustration you inquire aloud to the guard, “Excuse me, sir.  Why am I here?  Why have I been apprehended in this way?  Where are we going?”  The guard sits there ignoring you, as if you spoke nothing.

Imagine, the van stops just about the time you decide to ask the guard once more, with attitude.  The back double doors fly open as two more armed guards await your wrists and ankles to be unlocked from the pole.  As you continue to wear the shackles, dragging the chain between your feet, you begin to struggle to walk toward the open van doors.  The guards reach out, taking you by both arms, pulling you out of the vehicle.  They walk you into an enormous courthouse, a stately building, you do not recognize.

Imagine, you gasp at what you see as you are led into a large, wide hallway filled with other people who appear to be in the same circumstance.  You are struck by the incredibly long lines of the incarcerated, hugging the walls to the right and the left, as they stand single-file down endless corridors.  Each prisoner lacks the individual ID numbers, as you would assume.  Instead, each one has their name etched across their torsos, just like yours.  As you stumble with the shackles hindering your stride down the hallway, you read some of the names, ordinary names…Bohoah Yudo, Jack Nelson, Zhang Wong, Sherry White, Jesse Mundos, Amy Jones, Ahmad Siddiqui, Running Bear Parker, Angelique Pascal, Lorenzo Giordano…all assorted from every corner of the earth.

Imagine, you have been escorted to a guarded giant set of double doors, made of bronze.  This is odd, considering nobody else is in line for this entrance.  As you are led to the threshold, the thick doors are opened.  As they reveal the interior, your eyes widen in awe of a high judge’s bench made of, what appears to be, the finest mahogany.  There are no spectators, or spectator’s chairs.  In fact, this courtroom lacks a jury box, as well.  Only court officers and clerks are present.

Imagine, an announcement is made that all should rise as the judge is preparing to enter from his chambers.  The chamber door opens.  An amazing, distinguished, and striking robed man makes an appearance, taking his place at the judge’s seat.  You immediately notice the baffling brilliance of his eyes.  If you were to describe them, you would say they were transparent, somehow.  When he looks into your eyes, you feel as if he has known you all your life.  There is a sense he can see through the shell you often use with strangers.  What’s more, he never blinks.

“Are the books opened?” he asks the clerks with a reverberating bass voice.  You didn’t hear the response as you found yourself mesmerized by three enormous antique books, bound in gold leaf.  These books were so thick, it took four clerks to open the volumes.

“Bring the perpetrator before the court,” demands the judge.  “The transgressor will remain bound through these proceedings,” the judge adds.  As the guards nudge you forward, immediately you wonder what kind of judicial system this is.  You know you’ve done nothing wrong, and yet the judge seems to not believe in “innocent until proven guilty.”

Imagine, you stand before this awesome judge as he gazes at your name found in one of the colossal bindings.  As he calls you by your full name, including your middle name you never reveal to anyone, the chains hanging off your limbs rattle as you slightly tremble in fear.  Furthermore, your very soul quakes as you feel the injustice hovering over you like an anvil ready to drop.  His next statement causes your face to go pale as you fight the feeling of tears pushing against your eyelids.

“Are you aware of the charges made against you in this case?” he asks with piercing authority.

You take a deep breath, as if it were your last, and proclaim in a louder voice than you had intended, “No, your honor.  I am stunned I am here at all.”  The judge nods as if to acknowledge he has heard this before in his court.

With a laser-beam glare, the judge turns his unusual translucent eyes toward a rather polished-looking man standing behind a half-wall, where the jury box would normally be located.  He is a handsome looking gent, dressed to the nines, with his hair slicked back in perfect order.  To say he looks wealthy and studious would be an understatement.

In a lower tone, unlike any sound from his voice thus far, the judge states, “The prosecutor, your legal adversary, will now recite the charges against you.  It is imperative you remain silent, without outbursts, during his delivery.  Prosecutor, you may begin.”

The prosecutor rolls out a thick stack of legal documents from his briefcase.  He begins thumbing through the papers.

“Your honor, this one has violated every law you so diligently protect,” the prosecutor quickly cites with a silky, smooth voice.  He continues, “Naturally, you have the full record already prepared in your book.  I will summarize from my copies.  To begin with, this one uttered false notions to the parents multiple times, starting at infancy.  Later in life, while in heated unjustified anger, there would be thoughts of assault, without striking out.  As a preteen, there was a candy bar taken without payment from a local convenient store.  There have been periods of lashing out with words of destruction, targeting the spirit of others, with intent, and without good cause.  Starting during the teen years, this one followed through with lust for others in the classroom.  Then, if that wasn’t enough, your honor, there are countless traffic violations.  Yield signs were neglected, yellow traffic lights turned red while in the process of driving through the intersections. At one point underage drinking took over, with bribery in full play, to keep the infraction quiet.  While on the subject, there was one DUI, but got away with the transgression.  There was an event concerning road rage where the defendant cursed another, while utilizing a selected finger, signaling a violent nature of the heart.  I have a list of selective years this one cheated on taxes, unseen by the government.  The record shows the act of false statements to a supervisor concerning sick days.  When a neighbor bought a bigger house out in the country, this one became secretly envious, followed by malicious desires, developing into severe covetousness.  There are charges of delinquent bills from time to time.  The removal of love comes and goes.  The act of pre-judging fellow man is outrageous on its own.  Even discriminatory hatred, applied to others, appears over the decades.  Admittedly, there is no guilt of carrying out the act of murder or adultery, but on several occasions the mind entertained as much concerning others.  You, yourself, your honor, claimed if one even thinks of murder and adultery, that one is just as guilty as the one who acts upon the thought.  May I remind you, this ruling came from your court, your honor.  It is your prerogative to expunge the law you so graciously gave, if it serves the defendant well.”

(CRACK!)  The gavel came down extremely hard.  The walls seemed to vibrate at the crashing sound of the impact.

“ENOUGH!  My law set forth is who I am.  The law is my very essence.  It will be defended.  The law is a school teacher, educating the public of a guide for a life of goodness.  It will be carried out.  Each law will be filled and completed, and will never be removed.  Once more, I will remind you of the rules of my court, prosecutor.  You have heard it said from this bench in prior cases.  As long as there are lawbreakers, if you violate my rules, here, in this place, I will call for your banishment and have you held in contempt.  You may continue,” the judge remarks with the pointing of his finger.

“As you please, your honor.  As usual, I could go on.  The rap sheet is lengthy.  The guilt is undeniable inside every day, of every month, of every year of this one’s life.  Beyond all, perhaps the most grievous crime, this one wallows in a lack of faith in the Lawgiver, the law’s sincerity, with total disregard of the ramifications.  My office recommends extreme punishment to the law’s fullest extent, as written in your own manuals, your honor.  I rest my case, your honor.”  With that, the prosecutor shuffled his documents as he returned them back to his thick briefcase.

Imagine, you are bursting at the seams to defend your good name.  After all, you never thought of yourself as a lawless individual.  Most everyone you know would stand by your side, testifying to the fact that you’re a pretty good person overall.  Just then, the judge interrupts the thought.

After calling out your name, he asks a hard question, “Do you have counsel to represent you here today?”

You quickly respond in helplessness, “No, your honor.  I am without a defender.  I do have friends that can testify on my behalf, but…”

“Unfortunately for you, they too are in the halls of lawlessness.  Your deeds done are not to be measured by a lawbreaker’s plumb-line.  Your peers are not the surveyor.  The human heart is faulty.  They will morph as their opinions shift.  However, the law changes not and is unforgiving.  It was etched in ancient stone for a purpose.  It is relentless and ferocious.  The law is…quite simply…unable to be kept, ” the judge points out.

Imagine, your jaw drops.  You are in shock, more than you were in the beginning.  You are being prosecuted for transgressions which you always deemed as minimal, unimportant infractions, and now your judge admits nobody can keep the law in its entirety!

In your chains, you melt at the idea of hopelessness.  Somehow you are able to catch your breath from this gut-punch, “Your honor, I cannot defend myself against these charges.  How can I?  The law list is too heavy.  It rules over me in such a way that there’s no escape.”

“Yes, the law is rigid.  It was written to be so.  Where one law is broken, all laws are broken collectively,” the judge explains.  “It instructs that no one is good enough to keep its commands as a whole-not even one person outside these walls.  As you stand before me, the written record concerning your life is damning, indeed.  I find you are guilty as charged.  There is a certificate of debt which I will sign.  It has my seal.  It will state you were born guilty, without self-remedy.  The law is clear.  The payment for your offenses will be…certain death.”

Imagine your fear, your terror, your inability to redeem yourself.  You feel like someone has demanded that you jump across the Grand Canyon.  It can’t be done.  All you can do is hang your head in shame as the tears begin to build and fall.

Imagine now, at that point, a gentle hand strokes your hair, like your mom did when you were a kid.  It startles you, causing you to flinch.  Your head snaps back up in reaction.  You look quickly to your right to see a man standing next to you.  Your eyes glanced his way earlier, but he was unassuming, sitting back away from the proceedings in a shadowed corner.  This man would be easily ignored if you strolled by him on the street.  He isn’t dressed well for an officer of the court.  As you wipe the tears from your eyes, you can see his face more clearly.  There’s nothing really handsome about him.  In fact, it seems he’s a bit on the weathered side.  His hair, clothes, and shoes are unclean and unkempt.  His hands are rough, stained from dirt and grime, like a construction worker at the end of a day’s work.  It’s a mystery to you just why he is in the presence of such a pristine majestic courtroom.  He places his arm around your shoulders as if to comfort, or encourage.  You are moved that you find it warm, even consoling where he touches you.

With kind eyes, he speaks softly to you, “Wait here.  I will return.”

He addresses the judge with great admiration, “Your honor, this one doesn’t understand how this guilt shrouded life.  They don’t know what they are doing.  I will approach for private deliberation.”  Openly, he is welcomed.

He walks toward the judge’s bench.  You can see in their faces that they know one another very well.  Instead of asking the judge’s permission for a side bar consultation, the soiled man makes his way unhindered around the mahogany structure, walks by the clerk and bailiff, as they step aside, and straight up the steps to the judge himself.  He places his arm around the judge’s shoulders as they begin to consult.  You would give anything to hear what is being discussed, but the topic remains a mystery to you, as well as everyone else in the courtroom.  Soon thereafter, the man comes down from the judge’s seat, approaching you with a comforting smile of resolution.

He says only one thing as he leans to reach your ear, “You must trust me.”

With that, he steps back from you, turns, and stands between you and the bench, blocking your view of the judge.

The prosecutor, who has been closely watching the unusual conference, speaks up, “I object, your honor!  This is highly irregular, and certainly…”  (BOOM!)  The gavel pounds the bench in force.

“Objection overruled,” declares the judge.  Silencing the prosecutor soundly, the judge continues, “It is now official.  May the record show the defendant has court appointed counsel at this time.  Counselor, I will ask you one more time for the court record.  Is it your intention to now represent this defendant, this one who has already been pronounced guilty of lawlessness?”

“Yes, your honor.  This one belongs with me,” remarks the defender.

“May it be so.  May the record show I have agreed, thus appointing the defender to this defendant,” states the judge.

Your defender faces you once more.  He finds you’re fixed on the prosecutor’s smirk as he straightens his tie.  At the same time, you feel the eyes of your counselor penetrating your focus.  You turn your eyes to his.  You sense an assurance from him.

“Believe in what I will do for you,” he says with a deep sound of conviction.

With that, he is escorted out a side door by two guards, as if in protection mode.

You seem frozen at the moment at what just happened, even though you do not understand it.

The judge addresses you once again, “Fortunately for you, there is one of this court who has agreed to defend you, even though you have been found guilty and sentenced already.  Many documents must be written and published.  There are facts in this case which will be entered into the ledgers.  This will take some time.  Because you have previously been found guilty by this court, you will not go free, as you count freedom.  You will remain shackled and placed in the hallway of lawlessness with the others, who are due in court.  There you will remain until you hear your name called.  At that time, you will report to the doors of this court for the details of your final sentencing.  Do you understand these words I have spoken them to you?”

You hesitate but respond in puzzlement, “Yes, your honor.”

Almost sounding like a counselor himself, the judge speaks to you one last time in a softer tone, “Let it be known, it is not required for you to understand the timing and ways of this court, or its officers.  Trust your defender.  Listen for your name.”

(BOOM)  The gavel comes down as the judge orders, “Court adjourned!”

At this juncture, you are led, with chains rattling, to your hallway of waiting.

Imagine that it seems no time has passed at all when you hear your name called.  You look up to see the bailiff standing outside the courtroom doors with documents in hand.  Right away, your brows wrinkle, as you whisper to yourself, asking where your defender has been.  You fully expected him to consult you in the hallway at some point, but he never arrived.   There’s a feeling of unmistakable abandonment as you try to pick yourself up.  You stumble a bit with your ankle chains as you attempt to make your way across the hallway toward the waiting bailiff.  You approach him.  He looks at you as he restates your name, even though it is plainly written across your chest.  You acknowledge with a nod of your head, not wanting to hear the outcome of your defender’s work.  That is if any work has been done at all.

Imagine your amazement when the bailiff’s next words are, “You are free to go, if you choose.”

The wrinkles on your concerned face vanish as your mouth drops, “WHAT?”

“Yes, you may walk away, if you so desire,” replies the bailiff.

“Wait a minute.  How can this be?  My defender hasn’t shown his mug at all,”  you quickly point out.

“Oh, your defender arrived exactly at the appointed time.  The judge is appeased.  You were not present to witness it, but he made his appointment,” states the officer.

You cock your head at his strange reply, “What ever do you mean?  He arrived?  Where?”

“Your defender’s father was there to witness his work on your behalf, until it he could no longer observe,” said the bailiff as he enveloped a document.

You eagerly inquire, “My defender’s father?  Who is that?”

The bailiff seems struck by your lack of information, “You didn’t know?  How could you NOT know?  The judge is your defender’s father.”

In a state of perplexity you try to find the right words to ask, “I don’t get it.  That would be a conflict of interest, right?”

“No conflicts between them, ever,” replies the bailiff.

“What did my defender do for my case?” you ask.

At this point the bailiff offers you a document from the court.  As you look closer, it is the certificate of debt, describing your crimes, along with the sentencing of capital punishment.

“Your debt has been paid,” explains the officer.  “Freedom from the judgment rendered is now available.”

“How…what did…I don’t understand,” you admit.

“A reckoning has been accomplished.  Your defender volunteered to pay the debt to the court on your behalf,” explained the man.

You mutter almost under your breath, “You…you mean he…”

“Yes.  Your judge and his son, your appointed defender, agreed to release you from your lawlessness status.  Your defender volunteered to be sacrificed in your place,” replied the officer.  “I was there to witness it.  It was brutal, but it was decreed.  The judge, once the sacrifice was accomplished, was satisfied with the work of your defender.  Retribution has been completed.  There is nothing else needed to be done.  The court considers the matter finished.”

The magnitude of the news stuns you.  You take the certificate of debt from the bailiff as you attempt to summon the right words to the question in the very core of reasoning.

“Why would the judge agree to do this?” you ask.

“Love,” replied the bailiff.  “The judge not only pities your plight, but also expresses great compassion from an endless well of love for you.  He and his son designed this incredible plan together.  Now, it is up to you to accept this gift you have been offered.  You can remain in your shackles, or accept this act of the court’s finding of love toward you today.  Keep in mind, if you choose to deny it, you will remain condemned.”

“How can I thank him for this?” you inquire.  “My defender is dead, but I can still show my gratitude to the judge.”

The bailiff spoke up quickly with urgency, “First, you must take the certificate of debt to the court cashier on your way out.  If you choose to accept this offer of love, hand this certificate to the cashier, stating the debt has been paid.  The cashier will then stamp it, ‘PAID IN FULL!’  After sealing it, your shackles will be removed.  You will then be given new clothing to wear.  It truly is a phenomenal great exchange.  You will discover the doors are already open for you.”

Sheepishly you bring up the obvious, “I hate to be the devil’s advocate here, but what if he changes his mind and sends his guards to bind me again?  Is it possible he will reverse his decision?”

The officer responded, “The judge now sees you as blameless because of his innocent son taking your condemnation upon himself.  Trust this decision.  It will always be a matter of trust.”

Really, you don’t have to imagine.  This is what occurred when Jesus offered Himself to be crucified.  For thousands of years it was foretold this was God’s plan.  The Old Testament is blanketed with the prophecies of where it would happen, why it would happen, the week it would happen, and how it would happen, including the specific wounds he would receive.  On several occasions, Jesus Himself told His followers what would transpire, making it clear He was choosing to give His life away for the redemption of humanity.  At the time, they didn’t quite understand it either.  Although He had multiple opportunities to change plans and escape the arrest, the sentencing, and the cross, He went out of His way to stand ready for it all.  So, some 700 years before Jesus was born, the Old Testament passage was written to assist on identifying Him,

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted.  Yet He did not open His mouth.  Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7

When you think about it, forgiveness takes sacrifice.  It was that way in the Old Testament, as God dealt with humanity’s ills, and the guideline continues today.  When forgiving someone who has raped your good name, or one who offended you, you first must swallow down the idea of your gut reaction.  When being slandered publicly by someone who walks all over your integrity, your first thought is to ring his neck.  A kidnapper takes your four-year old and murders him.  Immediately, you want to hunt him/her down to take retribution to satisfy your screaming grief and rage.  Am I right?  If you’re an average person, you would agree with me on this.  To forgive, as you have been forgiven, is to sacrifice your hot satisfaction of revenge.  It’s so much easier to punch the offender’s lights out.  Forgiveness says, “No.  I will not satisfy the overwhelming desire to inflict my retribution on the offender.  Instead, I will wipe away the debt I want to levy.”  This is what Easter is all about.

Theologically, there is so much more to explain concerning the cross of Christ, along with the plan to redeem fallen humankind since Genesis, and the work of Jesus in the future.  However, simplicity was what God decided to spotlight in this case, so we may not have an excuse to ignore His gift.

So, the tomb is empty.  But why?

Buried in a borrowed garden tomb of a secretive wealthy follower, Jesus was wrapped, placed in the tomb, and a large stone was rolled over the door with a Roman seal.  Several Roman soldiers were placed there to guard the tomb.  However, Jesus would not be held by death, or a sealed grave.

Since the payment for our sin is a death sentence, He needed to show proof of His deity.  Once a guilty inmate is pronounced dead by lethal injection, he stays dead.  That’s the finality of capital punishment.  The penalty states, your life is quenched forcibly.  Over a three year period, Jesus publicly raised other corpses to life.  Even random people came out of their graves the same day Jesus walked out of the tomb. (Matthew 27:50-53)  The account in scripture says the righteous dead appeared to many in the city.  An event uniquely placed for Jesus’ miraculous actions during this time.  He was not bound by nature’s law as He was from outside of nature, looking in.  On Easter, Jesus not only proved He once again had power over death itself, authority over the payment for sin, but He also was following through with His teaching of new life offered.  Death is final.  We all know that.  Conquering death is something the living can not do.  With Jesus, it is a gateway to eternity for the soul.  His sacrifice-replacing my debt for my chronic lawbreaking, satisfied the Author of the Ten Commandments.

The resurrection of Jesus was witnessed by Jews and Gentiles alike.  For some forty days after that Sunday morning, He ate, walked, and talked with all of His friends and family.  In fact, scripture has an account that speaks of a crowd of over 500 who saw Him after the resurrection.  The news of it couldn’t be stopped by the local governing class, or even Rome’s iron fist.  Early Christian history is filled with the accounts of Jesus’ followers being tortured, burned alive, and crucified because they would not stop with their testimonies of the risen Messiah.  Ask yourself what you would be willing to die for.

So yes, the tomb in Jerusalem is empty.  My certificate of debt was paid in full and He, being Who He is, survived it all.

I have been purchased with a great price.  My life was changed from old, to new.

 “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men (His disciples) testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” – Charles Colson   (Special Counsel to Pres. Richard Nixon, commonly known as Nixon’s “Hatchet Man”.  He was also named as one of the “Watergate Seven”.  He plead guilty to obstruction of justice and served prison time.)

      “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” – St. Paul – Colossians 2:14 (NAS)

“…that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.   For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.…  – Jesus –  John 3:15-17 (BSB)

Those Wild & Wacky Weeds

“Down the road I look and there runs Mary, Hair of gold and lips like cherries.  It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.”  –  Green, Green Grass of Home.  Composer:  Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr.  Recorded by:  Porter Wagoner (1965).

We’ve only been married for two years.  Michelle is a green thumber with big landscaping ideas.  She not only talks the talk, but she walks it, too.  Over the last two years I’ve seen her magical touch on our property.  As for me, not a chance.  That’s a talent I don’t have.

Springtime in Texas is sweet and sour.  The sour part would be the pollen, outrageous storms, and the fresh crop of weeds common in mostly central and east Texas.  She has been hiring a lawn care service to do the mowing and edging for some time now, but there’s drawbacks to their work.  They tend to bring unwanted seeds of weeds with them under their well-used mowers, planting our lawn like ants to an ant pile.  Arg!  Again I say, Arg!  So, with a bit of angst from my side of things, we politely discontinued the service.

In Texas we must have hundreds of species of weeds.  The most hated, the most dreaded, prickly thick-stalked dandelions.  They can grow a good four to five feet high if untouched.  Then there are some less visible.  Some are actually kind to the eyes, as some of them have handsome blooms…at first.

Weeds

The trouble goes beyond mowers that just worked over a field of various weeds.  There’s also the neighbors.  Across the street from us, is a lawn doubling as a “weed nursery”.  Sure, they mow them down, but of course they grow back in about six days.  Moreover, the wind blows the seeds across the street to our lawn.  (Have I written “Arg” yet?)

Michelle seems to have some reservoir of energy I was not gifted with.  Her mapped out solution for our growing weed crop is to pull them out by the roots…each and every one of them.  Yes, you read me right…EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM!  “No weed-wacking or chemical spraying at our place,” says the lady of the house.  That would be my way of doing things, right or wrong.  Believe it or not, she finds pleasure in doing it.  I applaud, bring her glasses of chilled water and remind her of sunscreen.  (Michelle is a ginger.)  She sees those pesky weeds as an enemy to be pulled out and bagged before they choke-out our mix of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass.  If weeds had brains, they would be slick and wise world conquerors.  Bless their little hearts.

Currently, she is hand-tilling the ground, foot-by-foot, and replanting more St. Augustine, while fighting the onslaught of our unwelcomed weeds.  It’s lots of hard work.

St. Augustine Grass

As I was carrying bags of the adversary out to the curb for trash pick-up day, I was hit with a life application.

Weeds are spoken of in the Bible.  And yes, scripture spotlights the fact they were the target of angry farmers.  Jesus mentioned horticulture many times.  When it comes to weeds, or weed-wanna-be’s, He made various teachable moments out of them.

One of my favorites is a vivid, picturesque scene of a farmer planting good seed for the season.  Jesus gave a parable about a farmer tossing good seeds where some found good, unhindered soil for sprouting and growing  Then He told another side concerning a failed crop.  Some seeds were burned out by the hot sun, withering before they were watered.  Other seeds landed on shallow ground dotted with rocks where they never took root.  Some landed well, but the birds, circling above, quickly swooped down and picked the ground clean.  Then there was the batch of seed that landed among thorny bush plants.  (Easily translated into prickly weeds.)  Wouldn’t you know it, the thorny bushes choked-out the growth of the intended crop.

There’s a huge amount of application to the parable, which He spelled out when His hearers asked to explain the meaning.  The seed represented words from God delivered to humanity.  In fact, He stated that people are also like the seeds spread on the ground who are within earshot of the words.  Some will grab hold of God’s love letter, the Bible, and apply the contents to their lives.  Others will not, as the words fail to take root in the heart, the core, where faith resides.  Ouch!  That’s skin off my nose.

When He gets to the seeds which landed in the weed patch, he describes the weeds, or thorny bushes, as the worries of life.  Wow!  The writers and researchers who authored journals on mental health must have read the parable.  As it turns out, after two thousand years of medical studies, they discovered anxiety stunts growth.  Growth in the emotion department, mental stability, and even our physical health can be uprooted by these weeds of life.

There’s a better life meant for us.  A life unhindered.  Sure, we often see the dandelions sprawling in our path, so we strike up the mental mower.  We try everything, don’t we?  A dose of this drug, or a glass of this or that will shake it off.  A date night with someone who promised us the world will be a good weed-wacker…until the morning alarm goes off.  For clarity, we can sit in the lotus position and empty our minds with some suggested introspection for a few minutes.  (I used to do that.)  However, in six days, or six hours, or six minutes, or less, the weeds grow back.  Ask yourself, after you succeeded in wiping away the cares of this world, if they ever came back to haunt you.  Yeah, that’s the same with me, too.  Like little wild and wacky weeds, they sprout up in the tundra of our days.

Frankly, most try to fertilize and water their lives for better days, but the peers, across the street from us, always share their seeds of weeds.  Often they unknowingly share…sometimes strategically sent.  Before you know it, influence occurs and BOOM…weeds are choking us out like an MMA fighter on a Friday night.

Worries are just like that.  As to Jesus’ point, if not careful, they can be contagious.  Hang around a group feasting on anxiety with their social diet and CHOMP….you find you’re being hindered as a person, an individual looking for a better patch of ground to root.  Then again, some worry-warts can be surrounded by an uplifting crowd and still find ways to sour-sack the days.  GUILTY AS CHARGED!  I can be a worry-wart.  It can and will mold my mental, emotional, and physical health.  The medical field has proven anxiety can cause all kinds of physical ailments, including cancer.  If you plant St. Augustine, you’ll get St. Augustine.  If you plant dandelions, you’ll get dandelions.

With all that said, Jesus indicated the weeds in life can stunt, or choke-off my spiritual outlook.  How true.  Have you ever tried to pray during sucky episodes in life?  Honestly, during those times, it feels like I’m fighting to get my prayers to pierce the ceiling, as if I’m talking to the wall.  Other times I wring my hands over a fog of uncertainties, that I have no control over, and find I neglected reading or studying scripture.  Before you can say, “Scott’s Lawn Services”, the dandelions of doubt appear in the turf.  It’s not a surprise that I dwindle in my spiritual mindset as I fight off the weeds interfering with my stride.  The good news is, in scripture, God promised to hear my concerns, even when I only hear the echo of my voice in an empty room.  My ever-growing weeds don’t hinder Him.  He defeated death on Easter.  Weeds can wilt at His voice.  Literally, that happened once when Jesus cursed a fig tree on the roadside.  He was hungry as He scouted out a fig tree which didn’t yield any figs.  He cursed it and the entire tree wilted overnight.  As usual, the witnesses around Him who saw it happen, had to pick up their jaws off the dusty sandals.  Now, THAT’S the One I pray to.

Whatever underlying issues, which feed the roots of worry, they must be yanked out at their source.  You can identify them.  I figure you know yourself pretty good.  Mowing, spraying, and masking only delays the takeover.

Ironically, the worry-weeds surrounding you today didn’t block-out God’s words if you read this post.  Mark, chapter 4 is where you can read His entire parable, along with the applications.  He never intends His words to be a mystery, or indifferent to understanding.  In fact, after He delivered the parable, He showed His intention for you with the following line…

“…He who has an ear let him hear.” (Mark 4:9)

After pulling the worries of life out by the root, it leaves room for a crop of fuel for the race.

“…And other(s) (seeds) fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit…” – Jesus – Mark 4:7 (ERV)  ‘…And others are they that are sown among the thorns; these are they that have heard the word (of God), and the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful…” – Jesus – Mark 4:18-19 (ERV)