The world needs another Billy Graham

My hero died today.

Billy Graham passed in to eternity at the age of 99. His reward from God is sure.

I first encountered Mr. Graham while listening to a radio program called “Hour of Decision” while I was in middle school. While at the time the Bible was dry as dust to me, there was something about Billy that made spiritual things come alive.

Perhaps it was his gentle, yet commanding, southern drawl. Or it might have been his enthusiasm for his message, which of course was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have heard that those who met Billy in person were held in awe. I was mesmerized to a degree just by watching him on television. As he and I got older, he became a type of Moses figure to me.

It was through this medium that Billy’s ministry led me to faith in Jesus while I was in high school. As I recall, he was holding a crusade in Minnesota that was broadcast on TV.

One night I was quite down. I believe it was due to having just broken up with a girlfriend.

Billy gave the same message he always did: that Jesus lived a righteous life, one without sin; that He died on a Roman cross to pay for the sins of mankind, which is not righteous and deserves punishment; that Jesus rose from the dead;  and that He is alive today and wants to have a relationship with those whom He has redeemed.

I knew all of this information intellectually, even as a teenager. But during this particular crusade a man gave a testimony of God’s work in his life that brought the import of this message home.

He spoke of how at one time in his life he had lacked peace and purpose. However, after inviting Jesus into his heart this fellow said he now had a peace and purpose that changed his life .

I knew I had neither peace nor purpose. And I knew I wanted then both.

I began to ask some have a conversation with myself about my life after this fellow talked.  Why am I going to college? To get a job, I thought. Why am I getting a job? So I can get married and have kids, i.e. so I can support a family. Why am I doing that? So my kids can grow up, go to college, get a job and raise a family….so their kids can…..”

It all just seemed like an endless and purposeless cycle. It was the feelings that came from this sense of emptiness that led me to cry out to God that night.

Billy always gave an invitation at the end of his sermons. He entreated the huge throngs in stadiums and event centers to get up out of their seats and come forward and receive Jesus into their hearts.

The audience watching on their televisions at home were also included in Billy’s earnest plea. They were told to come to Christ right there in their living rooms.

For those present, Billy would tell them not to worry about how they would get home. If they stuck around to do business with God, “the buses will wait,” he said. This was the most thrilling cliche of my youth.

This “sealing of the deal” , the closing, the receipt of the invitation, was what I was missing from my personal understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. That night I prayed:

“Oh, God. Come into my life. I need peace and purpose.” He did.

I have indeed experienced peace and purpose during my time on this planet, but not always. Whenever I have lacked them, it has not been God’s fault. It has been the result of going my own way instead of His.

Tonight I mourn Billy’s loss deeply because of his impact on me for eternity. I learned of his passing this morning, in stages.

As I was traveling I saw some general mention of Mr. Graham on Twitter. It occurred to me that something may have happened, but I was driving from the airport with my friend and Christian mentor. We were talking and I had no chance to surf the news.

When we stopped for gas, I received a news alert which told me of Billy’s death. I went out to the pumps and told my friend. It was difficult to hold back the emotions, but I did. I didn’t want to get teary-eyed in public.

In my mind I know that it was time for this century-old icon to meet His loving Maker–the God whom he believed chose him to preach the gospel to the entire world in his generation.  I also am aware he is happier than he has ever been. Billy is home with the God he loved and his dear with Ruth.

However, my heart still weeps because of the sense of loss.  The world, especially as it is today, is not worthy of such a man. In fact, that the world has been deprived of  a man sent by God to save them adds to my grief. I am concerned for our world’s prospects.

But my prayer is that God will be merciful to the youth of today and raise up someone of his ilk for them. Because of  our current wickedness, it doesn’t seem we  deserve another chance at hearing about the love of God  from such a man as Billy Graham.

But He was gracious to this undeserving sinner and his contemporaries. Perhaps God will take another young man and make another Billy Graham for the current generation.

That’s something we can all pray for.

 

 

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Fatherhood in film: the example of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof

The other night I turned on the boob tube, appropriately named because my mind was shot. I have been trying to stay away from TV, but I had run out of steam and needed something mindless to look at.

There in front of me was “Fiddler on the Roof”, one of my all-time favorite flicks.  I decided to watch a little and then look for something new, but soon I was hooked.

I tuned in a little late so I missed the first 20 minutes or so, but it didn’t matter because I knew the story so well. I used to show “Fiddler on the Roof” to my English as a second language classes. (The song “If I were a Rich Man” is great for teaching second conditional.)

Although I had seen this story of  early 20th-century Russian Jews numerous times, I felt drawn to the story once more. As happens when exposed to something encountered before, I obtained a new perspective on the film.

This time around I was entranced by the performance of Israeli actor Topol in the role of Tevye, the milkman peasant tasked with eking out a living for his wife and five daughters in the little town of Anatevka.

In particular, I was moved by his efforts to deal with the coming-of-age of his three oldest daughters.  All three fall for young men from the village, and Tevye must navigate their choices while still trying to remain true to his beliefs.

1971 - Fiddler on the Roof - Movie Set

Tevye’s three oldest daughters come of age

As “Fiddler on the Roof” opens, he sings of his role as the master of the house, the man with the final word in his home. In addition, Tevye speaks of the importance of the traditions of his Jewish faith.

The oldest daughter Tzeitel is in love with a tailor named Motel, who doesn’t appear to have much prospects in life. She has already been promised to an older butcher, a marriage arranged by the elderly female matchmaker Yente.

When Motel and Tzeitel approach her father about marrying, Tevye is at first astonished.  The arranging of their own marriage is unheard of.

But he is a reasonable man, and a good, discerning father. He begins to argue with himself and God, looking to the heavens after Motel promises to take care of Tzeitel. Tevye says:

Hmm. He’s beginning to talk like a man. On the other hand, what kind of a match would that be with a poor tailor? On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, things could never get worse for him, only better.

But look at my daughter’s face. She loves him. She wants him. And look at my daughter’s eyes.

After all the back and forth with himself and God, Tevye finally agrees to the marriage.

The same scenario plays out with Hodel, the second oldest daughter. She comes to him about her beau Perchik. The young man is a communist revolutionary, but Tevye likes him.

After another internal argument complete with several “on the other hands” and the requisite glances to God, and the observation about how his daughter feels about the boy, Tevye also consents to their wedding.

Topol

When it came to his daughters, Tevye carried on a running argument with himself and God

This Jewish father clearly loves his girls. This love for them not only requires honoring their desires, but also imposes the responsibility to set limits when necessary, and Tevye finds he must do so when the third oldest wants to marry outside the faith.  His daughter Cheva has fallen for Fyedka, a Christian.

Citing the Bible (which doesn’t actually contain a reference that he quotes), Tevya tells Cheva:

As the Good Book says, “Each shall seek his own kind. ” In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?

Cheva tells her Dad that she and Fyedka want to be married.

Tevye draws the line at this statement.

What? Are you out of your mind? Don’t you understand what that means, marrying outside of the faith?  I said no! Never talk about it again. Never mention his name again.Never see him again. Do you understand me?

Cheva answers “yes, Papa” but elopes with Fyedka anyway.

Fiddler-on-the-Roof_Chava-2

Tevye and his daughter Cheva

When Cheva shows up in the fields to talk with her father, Tevye begins his usual ping pong match with himself and God. After a couple of his normal “on the other hand” statements, he yells “No! There IS no other hand.”

As a result, in accordance with tradition, Tevye (with a broken heart) disowns his daughter.

Even in our modern world, where it seems society’s traditions and bearings are broken, studies show that the protection of family is a top value.  Every culture does this differently.

For instance, in the United States parents seek to train their children to become responsible adults, able to make good individual decisions. However, as with many things, the parents go to the extreme. They emphasize individual choice too much.

Tevye is an admirable character inasmuch as he sought balance. He wanted his daughters to be happy, but he held to traditions that would protect them and their family.  These traditions are rooted in the ancient Jewish faith.

Fathers are important in the shaping of the human psyche. They have an impact on who we are all of our lives.

Because all of us are created in God’s image, you would hope that fathers would respond to their children well and make good decisions like our Father God. However, because of their own estrangement from their Heavenly Father, earthly Dads don’t always deal with their children as they should.

Yet, the door is still open for fathers to  come to Him for wisdom.  Dads can come to Him in prayer  and He takes the words and creates a miracle. He creates something, sometimes out of nothing.

Jesus taught that our Father God gives good gifts to His children. He said:

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

When people receive Jesus we receive God’s Spirit. This is hard to understand outside of having faith in God, but through His Spirit our Father God guides and lead us.

Those who have not put their faith in Jesus do not have His guidance in this way. But they can.

Jesus is God the Son, who died and rose again and is living today to heal our estrangement from our Father God, which came due our rebellion against Him. If we don’t seek this restoration with our Father, we are cut off from Him.

This leaves us only able to rely on our own guidance. It also leaves us open to the wiles of the evil being known as Satan, a spirit being out to destroy mankind.

Would that more fathers be more like Tevye, who consulted his Father God when he had to lead and respond to his own children.

 

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God’s Blessing at the Beach

I have a gift right now. I am visiting family, and they live near the beach, so I can walk the boardwalks around the area frequently.

In the last week I have been to the surf  four times. I tend to visit the one closest to where I am staying, so two of those walks have been at the same strand.

It’s not the first time the opportunity to ramble along the seashore around here  has arisen. Most recently, I was around in the spring and summer of last year and frequently ambled the coastline then, also.

It occurred to me on one of these current strolls that my experience of this section of the bay changes each time I come. For example, that day the sky  was quite clear,and filled with jet streams from military aircraft.

Earlier in the week, the scene above the beach was different. The sky contained a splash of cloud cover.

These cloud decorations did not obscure the sunshine. It wasn’t gloomy. On the contrary, it was very bright.

Art

God’s splash art in the beach sky

A few weeks ago, however, the heavens were indeed smothered in a soupy grey. There was little sunshine.

Cloudy

Morning

The reason for the differences in the firmament above the beach on these visits was partly due to the time of the morning I visited. For instance, the murkiness I saw a few weeks ago was present around dawn. The fog common at the surf at this time had not lifted.

It’s winter now, too, so I have also noticed a few features connected to the seasonal nature of the tourist trade that are different than my time last summer.

For instance, there is a lot more construction going at present. The pounding of hammers and the loud Spanish voices of Latino workers can be heard.

Furthermore, the beaches are noticeably empty. Not as many people vacation at the beach in January as they do in July.

Empty

An empty local beach on a sunny day in January

As a result, I have observed tractors meandering up and down the beaches. In the sand of other local beaches I have noticed large sections cratered by digging as well.

This kind of work is not something you see in the hotter months. Beach space is precious.

One day last week I made some new discoveries. I walked along a path along the coast I had not noticed before. It lies between the concrete “boardwalk” that parallels the sand and the sidewalk at the top of the bluffs which overlook the seashore.

This mid-level tour gave me some new views of the coast. I gained a different perspective than before.

For example, I watched two different volleyball matches from above. It was fun to watch the ball sky up to my level when one of the players smacked it.

Volleyball

Volleyball from above

I felt more like I was at a public stadium watching a sporting event and not at a beach resort. Only the pounding waves and blue sky gave away my true location.

There’s one other bit of variety from previous visits which I became aware of as well.  This phenomenon had nothing to do with my environment. It concerned my physical, mental and emotional state.

Lately I have been working at choosing what kind of emotions I want to feel as I enter different situations. I might say something to myself like this:  “As I enter the gym I am going to bring the joy and be enthusiastic about this workout.”

However, on that day no matter what statement I used to try and “trigger’ positive and uplifting feelings in my spirit, the emotions I desired  just weren’t coming.  Here I was surrounded by incredible natural beauty and power, and my attitude was expressing itself in a big fat “meh”.

I think I was just tired. I haven’t been sleeping well and I also had engaged in four straight days of hard exercise before showing up at the beach that morning. Thus, I felt a bit like I had been run over by a truck.

I was mentally out of it. I bought a churro and waited for the Latino guy, a very friendly man I have met on other visits,  to give it to me. He gave me my change and said “have a nice day.”

I was a little taken aback because all he gave me was the caramel dip that came with the churro, or so I thought.  I was going to ask him if I should just wait by his window for the churro, but  he smiled back at me with a look of farewell on his face.

Then I looked down. I was holding the churro in my hand.

After that I went to another kiosk to buy coffee. I sat the cup, churro and dip down on a table.

“Where’s my wallet!?” I said to myself. It wasn’t in my front pocket where I usually keep it.

Then I asked the lady who had served me,  “M’aam, did you find a wallet?”

She looked at me askance. I felt around my person. It was in my back pocket.

I suddenly felt a concern for mortality.

Of course, some things remain the same each time I visit this particular beach. The waves are usually the same. They might be a little stronger or may deliver themselves a little farther up the sand, but by and large they don’t break from the norm of what you expect to view at the seashore.

Waves

Also, some of the same people are present. On this day an older lady and her male partner passed me by whom I had seen previously.

I knew it was her because on both walks she has said to someone, “You are in the bike path. You are blocking the people on bikes or skateboards. You should be in the walking path over here.”

She is the boardwalk policewoman, ready to enforce the rules.

I realized at the time of my visit that morning that these visits to to the beach are truly an endowment from God. I am not “entitled” to them and I need not expect them. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but the truth is that I might not even wake up tomorrow.

I thought of a passage from the Bible. The prophet Jeremiah wrote that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.”

I thought that these seaside walks are definitely occasions of mercy from God.

My visit that particular morning helped me to understand that there is another place where I will experience the same kind of diverse perspective each time I take the occasion to visit there. I am referring to the times I choose to explore the Scriptures where I find writings such as the one from Jeremiah.

I have been reading this book and studying it since childhood, but each time I take a sojourn there I learn something new. I may be perusing a passage I have encountered scores of times, and find that I am getting a different perspective than before.  These insights are also a gift from God.

Each time I arrive in the Bible I also bring my own current “me” to the occasion. I am not the same person I was the last time I visited.

I have a different mood than I did the last time . My body or brain are functioning at a different frequency than on my other stopovers in the Word.

It doesn’t matter. There is one feature of my time in the Bible that I know remains the same. That aspect is the nature of God himself.

I know the truth that  God never changes, and this fact informs me when I read and study the Bible. As with my visits to the beach, the goodies He bestows on me might be different, but unlike me, He is not.

The diversity of the beach experience and the sameness of nature are both rewarding.

The unique discoveries from my time in the Bible and the comfort that its author, the Lord God, is the same yesterday, today and  forever are altogether delightful.

God’s creation, which locally is most impressive at the beach, and His word are both astounding favors from His hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Test of Friendship

In the silent-film era flick “The Flying Fleet”,  aspiring naval aviators Tommy and Steve are comrades.  They are part of a tight group of six cadets at the US Naval Academy.

The night before graduation Tommy is stuck with duty as “officer of the day” while his friends are out celebrating. When they return to the barracks inebriated, Tommy risks his own career by knocking Steve out so his noisy talk doesn’t get the attention of the commanding officer.

One midshipman colleague Tommy can’t save. His friend “Dizzy” is dismissed from the service when his drunken state is discovered.

The Flying Fleet

Midshipman Steve removes the tight pants of his friend Tommy at the US Naval Academy in the film “The Flying Fleet.” They’re pals, but their friendship will soon be tested.

As the five remaining men enter the Naval service, some see their hopes of becoming pilots end in training. One actually loses his life when his plane crashes.

Two of the other four, “Ensign Specs” and Ensign “Kewpie”,  wash out of flight training.  The former becomes a navigator while the latter accepts a post as radio officer on the aircraft carrier Langley.

This leaves Tommy and Steve to pursue their dreams of becoming naval aviators. As they do, the relationship between the two men becomes complicated.

Even thought they are clearly still friends, Tommy and Steve become professional rivals.In a harbinger of what is to come 50 years later in the film “Top Gun”, the pals compete for the honor of being the fleet’s  best pilot.

Tommy is probably the more talented airman, but Steve is a confident leader. Indeed, he is probably too cocky.

At first Tommy appears to get  the upper hand. He is chosen by the admiral to pilot a large plane from San Diego to Hawaii, a distance of 2,500 miles. The assignment is quite an honor for a Navy pilot of that era.

Even so, Steve is still the leader of their squadron so they are somewhat “even” in their competition. Their friendship, while competitive, appears to remain intact.

But in the repeat of an age-old story, Tommy and Steve have a falling out due to their affections for the same young woman.  In a scene containing youthful hijinks, Steve hides Tommy’s uniform pants as the three are preparing to leave a beach together.

Tommy has to take the time to frantically search his locker area for his pants. Steve has thrown them in a trash bin, so he never finds them.

This leaves Steve alone with the girl, a young lady named Anita. The two leave the beach by car without Tommy.

In the meantime, Tommy has to return to base in his boxer shorts. He is spotted by the admiral and is directed to the commander’s office to be called on the carpet. By this time Steve is present to see this takedown, but Tommy doesn’t turn Steve in to their boss.

Tommy does rebukes Steve, however, telling him that there are some things that put a strain on a friendship. This incident also causes doubt about Tommy in the admiral’s mind.

Then the two pilots have a dogfight in the skies. A common training technique, Tommy wins the competition by forcing his friend to the ground. He then buzzes Steve from the air after his friend lands in a bit of a victory ‘dance’.

Had Tommy left  his celebration at that, all would have been well. However, he returns a second time and flies so close to Steve that the squadron leader is  forced to fall on the tarmac.

This overkill does not set well with Anita.  Furthermore, their commander does not like it either. He relieves Tommy of the  duty of flying the big plane to Hawaii. Steve is assigned in his place.

Soon thereafter Steve flies the big ship towards Hawaii as the fleet follows. However, he and his crew run into a storm and are forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.

The men are stranded on an unsubmerged wing of the plane for days. Among the airmen floating on the Pacific is Steve and Tommy’s old pal “Specs”, who is badly injured.Knowing that his fellows are giving him all of the water and have to suffer in the Pacific heat, Specs slips into the ocean and sacrifices himself.

Meanwhile, the fleet searches for their lost comrades. Tommy leads the hunt for the men. When the admiral is ordered to end the seemingly hopeless search, Tommy asks for one more attempt to save his friends and the rest of the crew.  Admiring Tommy’s commitment, the otherwise curmudgeonly commander bends the rules and gives his permission.

Tommy finds the downed men but he himself becomes a prisoner of the waves. He is forced to ditch his own plane in the ocean because he runs out of fuel. Tommy swims to the other men consigned to the big plane’s wing.

However, before he hit the water Tommy was able to signal the fleet with a flare. As a result the survivors  are found and taken to a hospital ship.

Anita comes to see Steve and especially Tommy, who is her preferred beau. The movie ends with the two as revealed as friends again and the announcement that Tommy would receive a medal for his heroism.

I realized after watching the failures of Tommy and Steve in “The Flying Fleet” that I need to cut some of my own friends some slack. Sometimes I have been tested in my relationships, and failed mightily.

What I haven’t seemed to absorb is that on this side of heaven, none of us is perfect (except me of course. We all tend to overlook our own faults!) We all lose our tempers, act selfishly, and pursue our own interests over those of our friends.

This should not be a surprise to me or anyone else. The only perfect human that walked the Earth was  Jesus. It also needs to be said that He was the Incarnate Christ, God become flesh.

J. Vernon McGee spoke of the nothingness of what he called “little man”.  Loosely quoting and then commenting on a Bible passage, McGee said, “Beloved, it does not appear what we shall be but we know when He (Jesus) shall appear we shall be like Him. Now don’t you be discouraged with me. God is not finished with me yet. He’s not through with me. And I won’t be discouraged with you because God is not through with you.”

In fact, I now see that the conflicts I have had with friends were tests from God, some  that I did not pass.  I never thought of these fights as coming from the Lord but McGee’s teaching has shown me they may very well have been.

McGee notes that God tests us to show us how proud we are and  to humble us. He said that he sometimes does this in the area of friendship.

The true test of friendship is that we love our friends to the end. “Specs” did that in “The Flying Fleet.” Jesus did that, too. He like “Specs” died to save us.

At the heart of Tommy and Steve’s reconciliation and that offered by Jesus is the concept of forgiveness.  God has forgiven us, so why not forgive our brothers and sisters.

Jesus dies so he could offer that forgiveness, but He did not stay in the grave. He rose from the dead and wants to have a friendship with His people based on love.

Like Tommy did in “The Flying Fleet”,  Jesus is coming back to finish His work of salvation.  He one day will appear in the air and take us to be with Him.

In the interim, we should love our friends down here.

James Dobson says that this is what is really important in our journey on this globe.

“When you come to the end of your life what will matter most? Have you thought about that? The buildings that have your name on them?  The books that you wrote? Will it be the money that you made? Will it be great accomplishments professionally? Will it be  a business that you built?  What is going to matter? When you look back and think “THAT’S on the top of the list, what’s it going to be? 

Those things I mentioned don’t matter to me at all. They’re not significant. What matters to me is who I loved and who loved me and what we did together in the service of the Lord. Nothing else makes much sense.

If we do develop this kind of mindset, we should pass the test of friendship.

 

 

 

 

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Love is the key to service

In the classic film “Hold Back the Dawn”, Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) is a Romanian man who is trying to get into the United States from Mexico. In order to get a visa, he marries Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a school teacher who knows nothing of his plot.

Iscovescu’s plan begins to unravel, however, when Inspector Hammock, a US immigration agent looking for cons like him, suspects that the Romanian is not on the up and up. To escape the agent,  Iscovescu takes his new wife on an excursion to a small Mexican village, where he unexpectedly begins to fall for her.

hold-back-the-dawn-2

In “Hold Back the Dawn”, Georges Iscovescu wrestles with his love for Emmy Brown because it will interfere with his own selfish agenda.

The strategy to cross the border into the US with Emmy falls apart completely when it is exposed by another woman who is in love with Iscovescu.  Even though Emmy does not turn her husband over to Hammock, she returns to America without him.

On the way to California, the upset Emmy wrecks her car and is seriously injured. When Georges learns of this, he crashes a car through the border crossing and heads to Los Angeles, where Emmy lays dying in a hospital.

Georges enters her hospital room and in a moving scene, tells Emmy he is there. His presence and words of encouragement draw Emmy out of her coma.

Iscovescu  can’t stay, however. He has to flee the police.   He heads back to Mexico.

Eventually Georges is allowed back into the United States legally. Hammock has understood what the former con man has done for Emmy and arranged a visa.

Hammock meets Georges at the border and tells him of his good fortune. Not only that, but Emmy is also standing on the other side, healthy and waiting to welcome him.

While insincere when he said it, Georges was right when he told Emmy at the time of her meeting that they were like two trains at a station. He said, “We can’t change our course anymore than we can hold back the dawn.”

The Bible tells a similar story of men staging a dangerous border crossing to aid a person risk.

In this narrative, David has to flee Israel’s King Saul. He dwells in the wilderness as an outlaw.

However, he has warriors, whom the Bible calls “mighty men”, who come to join him in the fight against Saul. They swim across the Jordan River at flood stage in order to be with David.

David is suspicious. Like David, they were once loyal servants to King Saul.  They could just as easily be spies than supporters.

J. Vernon McGee in his account of the incident suggests the men are wet and out of breath as David confronts them.

David tells them:

“If you have come to me in peace to help me, I am ready for you to join me. But if you have come to betray me to my enemies when my hands are free from violence, may the God of our ancestors see it and judge you.”

The mighty men respond to their reluctant general:

“We are yours, David!
We are with you, son of Jesse!
Success, success to you,
and success to those who help you,
for your God will help you.”

Mighty Men

These men have good reason to commit themselves to David. They know that David is God’s choice to be the king of Israel in place of Saul. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel as a boy when God decided that he had had enough of the rebellious Saul.

The warriors risked it all to cross a risky boundary to fight with an even riskier leader. If Saul defeated them, they would probably be killed.

Sometimes we have to leap over legal and natural obstacles to do what God wants us to do. The Mighty Men knew this. The once wicked but now repentant Georges Iscovescu knew this.

Despite opposition, possible arrest and even death, they were willing to cross over the Jordan River to follow their king.

What motivated Georges Iscovescu and David’s Mighty Men was love. They were willing to endure much to serve the people they cared for.

In some recent reflections on areas of my life, I determined that I have been weak in serving both God and man. I ascertained that I have gained a clear view of self and an understanding of what my skills are. However, my usefulness to God and my benefit to others have not been what they could be.

There are reasons for this. For instance, I have been juggling quite a few changes in my life and just trying to keep my own head above water. When this is happening, it is easy to become depleted and not be too focused on the needs and agendas of others.

I have seen through the above stories that the most important ingredient has been lacking in my ability to serve God and other people. I am talking about love for them.

McGee  says, “The secret to service is love.”  If I don’t love God, I won’t serve Him. If I don’t love other people, I won’t serve them.

However, I have seen recently that if I love someone I will do plenty. I have been more willing to travel over hill and dale to be with certain people because I love them.

I have also learned that the reason I am willing to do things that I would otherwise find boring, mundane and even distasteful for people is because I love them.

McGee poses a good question when he asks, “Do you really love Jesus?” I have pondered the answer to that question for years.

I think I do love Him, but sometimes I’m not so sure. I fear that past service to God has been motivated by selfish ambition, and my lack of active work for Him these days makes me unclear as to how much I DO love Jesus.

The answer to that question is the key to unlocking my service for Him. If I love Jesus, I will cross my own Jordan and offer my services to Him.

One question I have answered is whether or not I belong to Jesus. This I can answer in the affirmative. This is what makes me believe that I DO love Him.

Like Georges and Emmy, our courses are tightly bound to each other. I am His and He is mine.

This, says McGee, is more important than service to Him. If I can assure myself of this on a daily basis, the service to Jesus will come.

 

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Jesus Men

The film “Monuments Men” opens with Frank Stokes seeking to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the works of  the great European masters are worth salvaging from the destruction and chaos of World War 2.

As part of his rhetoric, he refers to the magnificent sculptures, paintings and artistic displays of the continent as “the greatest historical achievements known to man”. Further, Stokes tells the president, “While we must and we will wind this war, we should also remember the high price that will be paid if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed.”

Stokes argument wins over Roosevelt. He authorizes the formation of a team charged with finding and saving priceless works of art stolen by the Nazis.

Even though Stokes suggests finding young artists and sculptors to make up the unit, Roosevelt notes that all of them are already serving in the battles of the war. Thus, the president calls on Stokes to head up the search for qualified men.

As a result, he contacts aging architects, curators, designers, artists and sculptors to form his group. After he finds them, he holds a meeting.

“You’ve been selected because we need your knowledge and skills,” he tells the men. “We’ve been tasked to find and protect buildings, monuments and art.”

Stokes needed experts who could identify such great pieces as Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges and The Ghent Altarpiece. Further, he desired men with trained eyes capable of differentiating between the genuine and the phony.

Monuments Men

Monuments Men had to be experts in the works of the Great Masters of Europe

Throughout the film, the necessity of saving these works is questioned. Roosevelt proffers the idea that their loss is just the price of fighting a war. Commanders refuse to risk their men to help the unit save art. President Truman asks at the end of the war if the loss of two of his men was worth the effort to rescue the five million works his group DID save.

The questioning is legitimate. It’s important to ask what is worth giving your life to and for.

Author and life coach Brendon Burchard says that not every mountain is worth climbing. We need to walk around some.

While Frank Stokes argument for saving great works of art at the cost of lost lives can be questioned, he was able to convince the person who mattered most that they were.  He persuaded the president of the United States that they were monuments to civilization which were worth fighting for.

Most of us don’t take on great tasks of the kind that Frank Stokes tackled. He felt a personal responsibility for giving himself to the work because he thought these monuments were important.

Each of us has to determine for ourselves what we deem worth giving our lives to or fighting for. Some, for example, believe that TEARING DOWN monuments is what is important.

Stuart Briscoe writes that there are some charismatic men who start movements to accomplish a task they believe is of great significance or value. Briscoe notes that these movements die out when their founders pass on, and their work become monuments to the glory which once was. Unlike artistic memorials, these monuments are devoid of their original power.

Briscoe describes one founder and his movement which do live on.

There is no denying that Christianity has in some instances degenerated into a monument, and its places of worship into museums. But it is equally true that, where ordinary men and women in the power of the Spirit have proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s saving grace, the church has continued to grow and thrive. When this happens, there is no man-movement-monument syndrome. The Man, Christ Jesus, is still at work through the Holy Spirit, doing what only he can do–and doing it well!

I personally believe that the work of Jesus is worth giving my life to and worth fighting for. In order to be a part of His work, I need to know Him. Like the Monuments Men, I ought to be an expert in Jesus if I want to be one of his people.

This means I should also be around folks that can also recognize Jesus. Not all of His alleged followers can.

Vernon McGee says that when Judas took a mob to the Garden of Gethsemane in order to arrest Jesus, he could not identify the man he spent three years with as one of his disciples. McGee believes this was because Jesus was displaying his divine glory at this time.

Judas did not have the acumen to distinguish characteristics of his Master which at that point could only be spiritually discerned.  He was a fraudulent expert.

Judas was a phony Jesus Man. He could not identify the Real McCoy.

This year I want to become a Jesus Man, i.e. an  expert in Jesus. I want to be able to identify the genuine article for myself and others.

This won’t be easy. The Apostle Paul wrote that gaining true spiritual knowledge in this life is similar to looking in a dim mirror. We can only make out some aspects of the real image.

Further, as in Jesus’s day there are religious and political leaders who attempt to either reject Him or coopt Him for their own purposes. Behind them lurks the enemy of Christ, Satan the Devil.

He isn’t going to be happy about my desire to get involved in the deserving work of searching for and elevating Jesus in my own life and in the lives of others. Just as the Monuments Men had to fight with Nazis and Russians to save great masterpieces, I will have to battle the minions of the Evil One.

But to me searching for and making known the true Jesus is worth the effort. The job is worth giving my life to and worth fighting for.

Like Frank Stokes, I need to be around some other men who are qualified  and willing to get into the war. Finding these Jesus Men will also be my goal.

Finding Jesus is a dangerous job. I’ll need the other Jesus Men to help me, perhaps even save me, in order to get it done.

Coming to their aid should also be part of my expectation as a Jesus Man.

Monuments men 2

Monuments Men found they needed each other. For instance, one stepped on a land mine. The others worked to keep him from setting it off. They refused to leave their buddy in peril.

Being one of the Jesus Men is a noble goal.

 

 

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It’s a Wonderful Life: the main thing to keep it going in 2018

This morning, New Year’s Eve, I was down in the dumps.

As I entered the latter part of 2017 I had been filled with some hope for the future. But circumstances of late have not bode well for these hopes coming to fruition in 2018.

I took my usual morning walk. As I passed by the local Chinese church I took a picture of the cross emblazoned on its wall, which faces the road.

Chinese church

In the midst of my pity party I remembered a phrase I had picked up from life coach and author Brendon Burchard, attributed to Steven Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

I walked a few more steps and saw another cross, this one rising from the dashboard of a car parked on the street. I was taking its picture when I heard a gruff voice ask,”You like my cross?”

Cross car

I turned around. In front of me stood a burly middle-aged guy, sporting a baseball cap and a T-shirt.

I told him about my picture of the church cross and the Covey quote. “Man, gives me goose bumps,” he said. “Look at this.” He showed me a bumper sticker on the rear of his vehicle that read “Jesus is the answer.”

We introduced ourselves. Then he said, “Give me a hug.” We embraced warmly and went on our way.

Pity party, general and specific, over. I swear, I began to think I met an angel.

It occurred to me, “Man, God DOES love me, this reprobate, to do that for me right on time.” I actually shed tears.

As I write this, a pop song is playing in the coffee shop where I am planted. Bruce Springsteen is wailing, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” The man speaks truth. I know I do.

He tells the story of a man who leaves a wife and kids in Baltimore (my hometown incidentally), takes a wrong turn somewhere, and has a relationship with a woman which was doomed from the start. Springsteen continues:

“Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don’t make no difference what nobody says
Ain’t nobody like to be alone.”

George Bailey, the main character in the holiday film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, has discovered how important his home and family are.

He learns this in the midst of a crisis. George is about to be arrested for embezzlement through no fault of his own. He tells his guardian angel Clarence that he wished he had never been born.

His own sentiments of the worthlessness of his life have been echoed by his enemy, Harry F. Potter. “You are worth more dead than alive,” Potter tells Bailey, who has come to him for financial help.

After Clarence shows George what his town of Bedford Falls and its people would have been like if he had never been born, he turns to God and asks to be returned to his wife and kids.

George doesn’t care about his dire circumstances anymore. He just wants his relationships with his loved ones back.

George not only gets his family back, but he is also rescued from the financial pit he has fallen into due to the loss of thousands of dollars. “It’s a Wonderful Life” ends with George and his friends singing “Auld Lang Syne” around a Christmas scene. The song is a tribute to friendships.

But having viewed the film twice in the last week, I have been wondering what George will do in the days ahead. He still is immersed in a life he didn’t want.

George has been keeping a financial institution he loathes afloat for the sake of others. He never has gotten to travel the world like he dreamed.

George isn’t even financially successful. In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, he dodges a bullet when his friends come through for him, but he still lives in an ancient home and drives a beat up car. He still has to compare his life to his best friend’s and his brother’s, both whom have become big deals. In the days after Christmas he has to be wondering if his ship will ever come in.

Wonderful-Life

In “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey is a happy man after he is rescued from disaster at Christmas. But how does he keep his joy going when he has to return to business as usual?

As he faces the year ahead, it would behoove George to take a look at the life of Jeremiah. Virginia pastor Aubrey Spears recently spoke of this prophet and how he dealt with a lifetime of apparent failure.

Spears notes how Jeremiah, like George, had an unbearable job. The prophet wasn’t a success at it, just as George isn’t, at least for his own benefit. Furthermore, Jeremiah had his own Harry F. Potters to battle.

George is still a young man, so his suffering, while acute, is nothing like that of Jeremiah. This Old Testament man endured incurable wounds for 41 years, says Spears.

As he presses on with the rest of his life, George would be wise to imitate Jeremiah. He should learn to pray as the prophet learned to pray. Spears says this was the secret to his life.

The pastor relates how Jeremiah poured out his despondency to God day after overwhelming and boring day.  He endured his days through prayer.

George began to pour out his supplications to God when he reached the end of his rope. But this should only be the beginning for him. If his life is to be truly wonderful, he will have to become a true friend of God.

Another pastor, J. Vernon McGee, once explained that many claim to be a friend of Jesus, but that their expression is only sentimentality. Any real friend of Jesus obeys him, says McGee.

A friendship with Jesus is different than most earthly kinds. We don’t have to obey our buddies, but Jesus is more than our friend. He is our Lord.

George has hung in with the building and loan and with the hick town of Bedford Falls for the sake of others. If he wants to do more than just endure, he will need to pray and he will need to bring himself and his friends into a deeper relationship with God.

“The world does not need more of you,” says Spears. “It needs more of God. Your friends don’t need more of you. They need more of God. YOU don’t even need more of you. You need more of God.”

George Bailey is off to a good start in beginning a relationship with God. He now knows he can pray and get results.

Ongoing, persistent and fervent prayer is the key to getting more of Him. Getting more of Him will be my main thing in 2018.

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