Category Archives: Mustard Seed Thoughts

I shall not want (be in need)!

girl-woods-Lord-Shepherd“The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.”

This is probably the first psalm that I recited as a kid.  At 8 years old, I learned the whole of it at Camp Winnataska  one summer in Alabama.  Each camper was instructed to bring a Bible.  Mine was one of the now old picture book Bibles in the King James Version.

What’s amazing to me is how well children can memorize scripture then have it stick with them for a lifetime!  So many of the scriptures that come to my mind today were planted there when I was a child.  I see it, too, when working with pre-schoolers in chapel programs or church school … their eagerness to acquire faith and their openness to learn the Bible stories and verses is astounding!

I’m sure there are biological and social reasons why we don’t have the eagerness and ability to plant the seed in our hearts as we grow older.  The soil of the soul grows fallow with the passing of years, the mind loses its edge, and the Word of God faces much resistance and many distractions.

The ability of a child to learn and to grow in faith is something I never want to lose with the passing of time!  “The Lord is my shepherd” has no less meaning, but in fact more, as I have come to realize how much I need a strong hand in the course of my journey through life!

This beloved psalm has brought comfort to the dying, to the bereaved, to the lonely, to the fearful, to the warrior in fields of battle, to the bedside of a child after a distressing day at school … in countless ways, this psalm, attributed to King David, the “shepherd king”, has proved timeless in its power.  Surely, the Shepherd of souls inspired and guided the writing of this mighty work to give a glimpse of God’s great love for people throughout the ages!

I post it here in the King James Version since that’s the one we are most likely to know.  Let’s read it as a journey through life and receive the gift of God’s presence, right now …

Psalm 23 (A Psalm of David)

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Stuart Swann
www.faithsnap.com

Where’ya goin’?

seagulls-birds-beachJonathan Livingston,
where art thou?

For those who grew up in the 60′s and 70′s the memory of Jonathan Livingston Seagull isn’t that distant.  Let Wikipedia refresh us …

[ Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, is a fable in novella form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. It was first published in 1970 as “Jonathan Livingston Seagull — a story.” By the end of 1972, over a million copies were in print, Reader’s Digest had published a condensed version, and the book reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list where it remained for 38 weeks. In 1972 and 1973 the book topped the Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United   States. ] – from Wikipedia.com

I grew up on the West Coast of Florida, along the sugar white sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico … no shortage of gulls there! In my photos, gulls are prominent rather than a lofty eagle or mighty hawks … gulls are ubiquitous with life near the beach.

seagulls-birds-flightToday, I live near the mountains of Southern California where I’m remembering those gulls – their gawking and squawking and bullying one another for a scrap of whatever could be stolen from beach visitors. They’re really a needy, greedy flock who would snatch from one another without hesitation! Still, when a gull takes flight, there is a certain beauty, even in these ill-mannered, self-absorbed birds. It’s easy to see where Richard Bach got his inspiration for the novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull!

seagull-bird-flight-beach-Where-Ya-GoinSo, I’m asking myself, today, “Where’ya goin’?” Am I mulling around the shoreline, fighting for every scrap, or am I a bird in flight? What’s my perspective today … bound to the ground or sky high? In reality, I don’t imagine gulls in flight are really thinking heavenward; they’re looking down to find their next quick morsel and return to the motley crew along the shoreline.  Maybe, in this life we’re caught between heaven and earth – it’s just the way it is!

As I start a new day and a new week, I’m aware that there must be a sense of flight in my own daring approach to the future.  I must be “goin’” somewhere, or I’m just another dirty bird stuck on the shore until time is up!

My heart cries out, “Lord, lift me up and set me on a course that is life!”  What does that look like?  Don’t know – isn’t that part of the fun and adventure of it all?!  How far dare I go from the familiar, and is it possible to think and act like a bird of a different feather?

Heavenly Father,

“In You we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)… from You, I draw life and breath … in You, my true life is headed and my true “self” is discovered!  Lift me up, this day, from grabby ways and crabby attitudes.  Help me to be more than I can be, alone.  Free me from comparing myself to those around me.  I press into that place of work and flight, and effort and rest, where you teach me better ways.

Whatever the outcomes of “today”, may I be a better person, because I have looked to You and trusted in your sustaining Presence in my life.  Through You, I come to realize who I am.  Amen.

Stuart Swann
www.faithsnap.com

Lost in the crowd

scooter-lady1How do we become “invisible” to others?

It’s an odd thing that people can be present, yet invisible, here, yet absent.  I saw this at the local city Arts Festival over the weekend.  There were many people out and about, having a good time with the music, the beer, the food, the rides, and all that goes along with a carnival-like setting.

One very frail lady came carting across the boulevard on her scooter, alone, hoisting the American flag along the way.  As she worked her way up the street, weaving in and out of folks and exhibits, I realized she would probably go home without a people connection.  She was visible-but-invisible.  Maybe, she likes it this way, but I wonder?   Was she unseen because of a health condition, because of age, because of her lack of friends or family to accompany?  Where does she call “home”?  Does she like being alone this way, or would she rather have companionship at the festival?

"Lost in the crowd"

Don’t know.  I do know that, as she and that scooter made a gradual, meandering path up the boulevard, her solitary figure became swallowed in a crowd of people!  I sometimes feel that way – “lost in the crowd”How about you?

Sometimes, we come to the realization that, but for the grace and presence of God, we might be “alone”!  Those are sobering moments when we realize how vital people connections – relationships, friendships – serve our need for community.  Facebook users, bloggers, and social media types feel the need, or we wouldn’t spend the time in this odd new world of online connections!

“Lost in the crowd” still happens when people don’t see us, “Like” us, comment on us, appreciate the things, the photos, the thoughts we post.  It’s a new kind of “lostness” – people feeling alone when people they can’t even see don’t acknowledge them in a socially constructed “other world”.  We needn’t be elderly, frail, impaired, or whatever other condition, to find ourselves without connections, and that “invisible” feeling creeps in!

God never intended for people to live in this kind of isolation.  From the teachings of Scripture we can see the LORD, the creator of heaven and earth, the Source of life and breath …

  • Sets the solitary in families.
  • Commands that we honor our father and mother.
  • Requires special attention “to the widows and the orphans”.
  • Expects welcome to the strangers in our midst.
  • Breaks down walls of partition between people groups (affinity, nationality, ethnic, race, gender, religion – whatever!)
  • Makes the way for fellowship and community at the deepest levels.

Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection show us how connections work!  God has a wondrous purpose in weaving our lives together!

In this blog entry today, I speak to myself, and to anyone who might stumble upon it …

  • You are blessed with people and connections (you may have to find and build them!) to experience abundant life!
  • You are the blessed connection to someone – maybe, many people! – to bring life and to share life with them!
  • You are not lost in the crowd from the vantage point of the One who created you and calls you into such a rich and lasting communion.

Seek and fulfill those connections in your path that will bring life today!

Stuart Swann
www.faithsnap.com

John 10:10 – “I came that they (YOU!) may have life, and have it abundantly.”

2 Corinthians 13:14 – “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Round and round we go, where we stop …

Ferris-wheelSomebody knows!

It’s Monday … so, we’re up (are we?) and making that familiar groaning sound … Here we go, again!

Is it really so bad so be up and alive?  For those who are employed, is it really such a grind to have a job and income?!  To those who are creating something new, with or without a “job”, isn’t it the best of times to do just that?!

As the photo says, there’s a “Winner Every Race!”.  Am I in it to win it?  Am I pumped to make something happen today, or have I just settled in for the ride?

The above photo is from the Yucaipa (CA) Arts Festival, May 5, 2013.  The one, below, is the original “Chicago Wheel” (the “Ferris Wheel”), designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.  It opened to the public on June 21, 1893.  Different wheel, same concept … make people go in circles for a cheap thrill ride.

Ferris-wheel-originalI posit that nothing is more thrilling today than the opportunity to make something of the day.  Yes, it’s “Monday”, and instead of the usual, “Whoa, is me!”, how about, “Go, is me!”

I’m up, I’m ready, I’m a creative leader … no round and round for me … I’m designing, acting, moving, and making a difference.  I will not just go along for the ride!

Stuart Swann
www.faithsnap.com

Go ahead, say something, make my life!

Stu-surfer-1971Words with muscles to lift others up!

While working out at the gym today I overheard a muscle-bound weight lifter, covered in large Christian tattoos, moaning and wailing and cussing about the no-good 18-year-old son of his.  Another beefy man working out kind of listened, but was anxious to regale his own injustices suffered.  (The irony of two “strong” men with no control over their poor little feelings!)  The angry father’s comments went something like:  “I’ve taken his keys and car away.  I’ve kicked him out of the house.  He’s on his own!” (abundant expletives omitted)

I have no idea what the real situation is, but I couldn’t help but think what life was like, myself, back in the critical time of graduating from high school and leaving for college.  What a difference it made then (and now) to have parents who saw the best in me, who expected the best from me and, when all else failed, still managed to avoid speaking badly of me in front others.

As parents or adults who exercise influence in the lives of young people I wonder how often we realize the power of our words to build up rather than tear down?  How often are we the kind of adults who help lift up younger generations with words of encouragement and strength, especially during difficult times of transition?

That “surfer dude” in the photo was a kid who could have doubted himself and gone nowhere, but through the love of parents and grandparents and the influence of teachers at school and priests at church (“cradle Episcopalian”, as they say), I have been able to work through many situations and life decisions.  That “kid” is still alive and well and thriving in this life as an adult because others along the way infused life into him!

So, here’s a salute to all adults who build up rather than tear down, and whose words bring hope rather than crushing the spirit!  We can be both strong and gentle with those in our lives.  That seems to be the way God deals with us …

Isaiah 40:10-11 (NRSV)
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Former surfer, still a sheep …
Stuart Swann
www.faithsnap.com

What in the world do you want me to do, God!?

Europe-walkway-cobblestone-Direct-Thy-Paths-Prov3.6Stepping out is fun to do!

I was guest preacher at a very fine mission church near my apartment this past Sunday.  As always, it’s such a joy and privilege to share the Good News of God’s love for us in Christ!  I talked about the possibility that our purpose in God can become clearer as we age, even as our life options become more narrow (jobs, time, health, whatever these options may be).  I shared on the process of waiting, discerning, and reconciling with things, people, and places in our lives as steps toward fulfilling our callings.

As I continue in a time of discernment here in Southern California, I’m often reminded of this promise from the Book of Proverbs … it has been an encouragement to me all the way back to college days when I first memorized it:

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:6, KJV)

I use the King James because that’s how I first was introduced to scripture and I find it really does stick in my mind.

Do you ever find yourself feeling like you’re wandering – maybe, aimlessly – looking for a hint of what you’re supposed to do!?  I have often felt that way since arriving in Southern California four months ago.  It would be easy if God would just make it clear and loud – “THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO!” – but, I find that God doesn’t speak to me that way.

I was thinking about it the other day:  As a parent would I want my children, at any age, to constantly be asking me, “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO, DAD?!”  It would be sad to see a child grow up without the confidence to just BE and DO his or her best without fear or people-pleasing.  I would want my own children to be confident in who they are and from whence they come.  I would want them to know that their decisions and steps in this life will not be without risk and setbacks, but to know even more that they have all they need to move forward with boldness!

In my own walk with the Lord, I find that I need to claim more of who I am “in Christ”, a child of the King, beloved by God, infused with the strength and gifts of the Holy Spirit, equipped with the counsel of Scripture and upheld by so many good, faith-filled people!  How can I fail with such a strength beneath my feet?!

Wherever you may be today … with the decisions, even the dilemmas that face you … right there, I believe “God is”.  Right there, I know that if we “acknowledge Him”, giving honor, thanks, and praise, sharing our testimony, and receiving the promise of loving providence in our hearts, there will be nothing to separate us from that great Love that is guiding our steps – not dictating, but guiding.  Still, we must take the steps.  God will not do this for us.

I pray today for the confidence to act, the assurance to know and honor the image of God within my own life and person, to be free from people-pleasing or fear of failure, and to grow into the full stature of Christ, who loves me and gave himself for me.  Oh, Lord, I move forward in You, and I thank you for guiding my steps.  Amen.

Stuart Swann
www.faithsnap.com

Solitude, aloneness, and loneliness

island-lighthouseI need people.  No, I don’t need people!

You know, sometimes, I like to be lost in the fray of activity, the swirl of things-going-on, the hub of “what’s happening now” … people, busyness, events, and all the things we do to be connected in this social world.

Then, there is that time of retreat, of separateness from all that is “other”.  What about “ME”?  I just want my own thoughts, my own space and schedule, and no expectations to be anything other than just myself.  After awhile, that gets incredibly boring (being alone with myself), and the whole engagement/detachment cycle starts over again!

Do you ever think something like, “Where in the world am I in the midst of all this?” or “What is my place in the world?”

The ways I respond to solitude, aloneness, and loneliness make a great difference in my ability to re-engage with others.  It might be just an hour of down-time, or it might be the evening, or it could be a prolonged period.  Some busy parents never seem to have that moment!  Other people can have too much time on their hands (so, they become bloggers?!).  Sometimes in life, though, each of us has to face the feeling of being “alone”.

Is it good, or is it bad?  Well, I guess that has a lot to do with how we approach it.  These times remind me of priorities and focus; I have the chance through solitude to re-calibrate my purpose and direction.  Most of all, these times – be they brief or prolonged – allow me the opportunity to commune with God who loves me and calls me by name.  In these quiet and separate times I find myself both comforted and discomforted:  comforted to know that I am never really alone, discomforted to realize my existence is so interwoven with relationships – I’d better pay attention to them!

Where does detachment lead you in your thoughts and feelings?  Does it invite you into prayer, insight, and action, or does it head into a sense of lonely desperation?  Does being separate from the swirl of human activity make you pensive and creative, or do you become fidgety and anxious?  I’m familiar with these responses.  I try to let them remind me to draw renewal from the well of life.  There, at the well, is communion with my Creator, my Savior, and my Sustainer.  I unite again with the Lord of Life before returning to the interactions and tasks of being a social being – BEING FULLY HUMAN!

It really isn’t “Me, against the world!”  Instead, “What can ‘Me’ do … in … and for … and with ‘the world’?  What can ‘Me’ be in that place and with the people whom God invites me to share in this gift of existence?!”

I need people.  No, I don’t need people!  Who am I kidding? … I need people, and people need me!  You need people, and people need you!

Stuart Swann
www.faithsnap.com

Jesus taught …  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.   And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.  (Mark 12:30-31, KJV)