Friday, November 15, 2013

Texture of the Earth | Test of my Soul

I have never fought in a war. Sometimes I feel bad about this. I think any man worth his salt should have to defend his country. To learn the value that there are things worth more than our personal safety, comfort, and security. It seems to me that we can't really get about living until we find something  we valued more than our life. Something worth even the lives of those we love. What if a Ram doesn't appear in the bush?

I have looked at my boots a lot though. Examining closely the texture of the earth as I drag the tread, slowing making a line. I have never fought in a war… but I have seen the empty claw marks it leaves when the dust settles. 

I have stood inside the chambers of Dachau with its large drain in the center of the space that echoes still with the sounds of gasping, screaming, fists pounding on steel doors, and bodies falling to the concrete. The silence there is nearly deadly as a room full of tourists are afraid to breath the air. The place is sterilized and white… but it still reeks of death. There is a stench there that suffocates the soul and aches deep in the bones. I remember the piles of shoes… of gold tooth fillings. The pictures.

I have stood on top of new tiles in Tiananmen Square that were replaced because the blood would not come clean from the original cut rock that held the smashed bodies of the fallen who stood for freedom in the face of tanks and guns. I stood there and nearly wept, knowing that I was not worthy to stand where they fell.

I have stood over the mass graves of clergy in ruined Cathedrals, wondering of their steps hundreds of years before mine. I listen for their stories in the wind and the shift of the earth. I think of religion gone bad, the corruption of many, and the boldness of a few. I think of what their sacrifice meant to them. To have faith and belief so powerful, that it is worth more to you than your life. 

And… as I child I sat in the lap of my grandfather. He was a giant in my eyes, and as such he will always remain. He wore jeans, leather boots that zipped up the inside, and a white A-shirt (we called them muscle shirts). His body was carved over his time as a metal worker. His eyes were piercing and true. He smoked Pall Malls and while I am not a smoker… I am forever a fan. 

I would watch the blade of his knife slice through the red, juicy core of an apple as he removed the entire skin with one slice. We would share bits of that sweet apple as he told me of days gone by.  Pappaw Harry stormed the battlefields of WW2. He faced young men who were wearing the swatsika… eye to eye. 

My Pappaw is my hero. He faced evil. He lived to hold his grandson on his lap and share an apple. I am so grateful. 

My Grandfather Carmel fought in the fox-holes of Okinawa. I have sat at his feet as he told me of the bombs raining down from the sky like a never ending storm… and seeking refuge as he dug into a tomb. He fell on his face and communed among the dead with God. He shared with me that he dedicated his life to God in that moment… and I have no doubt that I am a product of that prayer.

And more than anything else… I feel deep within my core the truth, dedication, and undying love of my father. I love to speak his name… Leo Thomas Shepherd. The thing I like best about my heritage is that I am his son.

His walk has affected my own more than any other. He causes me to strive with everything I am to bring honor to the Shepherd name. It reminds me of my duty to my heavenly father.

My dad was drafted and fought in the Vietnam War. I could stand for hours and look at his medals. I know that they represent moments in time that can not be described by words. I just know that his character shines out from them. When his number was called, he was faithful. Through all the nastiness of that time… he was true. His life challenges me to consider the sacrifices that make us better men. He had a mother who prayed for him and my uncle daily. They both made it home. I am speechless and eternally grateful for the prayer warrior that was my Mammaw Mack. 

And then… I consider our walk today. I hear so much talk of entitlement and how this new generation out of adolescence is missing out on the American Dream of being better than their fathers. I think to myself… we simply are not.

I listen to so much bickering, complaining, and disagreement among so many that have so much… and I become bitter myself. I understand why so many reject the message of Jesus. It is because of so many of us. We fuss and complain and whine and disagree about theology, or about the faults of one another… while people starve, while people are gassed, and people are flattened by tanks, while girls are sold to sex traders, and people are executed daily for their belief.

What a great sadness. What a poverty we posses. 

I am shaken by this reality that my footsteps are not worthy. A life of comfort is no way to live at all. There is too much pain in this world for us to be so inactive. And there is such incredible beauty! The simplicity of a lily astounds me. The shape of the sky as it rests against the outlines of a mountain is nearly incomprehendable in scale and color. The gaze of a starving and abandoned child when she is suddenly fed, held, and loved makes them all look like ugly lumps of dirt.

But nothing to me is as beautiful as the steps of those who loved and lived and believed so deeply that nothing could separate them from their faith. As I search and wander through the fray… one simple truth reaches out to me, it echoes at me as I stand in the places where the faithful have fallen. It is all that keeps me focused.

The price has been paid. Are we willing to yield to His authority? Are we willing to bow to a King and feel the embrace of a Father? Do I believe enough to lay everything down to feel His embrace?

It is a simple question. 

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.  -1 John 2:3-5  (NKJV)

or even more simply stated

"If you love me, keep my commandments." -Jesus (John 14:15)

If we know Him. How could we do anything else?

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