America lacks the iron will to solve school shootings

Bivouacked in a building’s torn-up basement during a fight with the Germans during World War 2, a squad of American GIs face a dilemma. One of their buddies, a clumsy man named Small,  is stuck in a muddy foxhole in the middle of  a street under the eye of an entrenched enemy gun position.

In the 1952 film “Eight Iron Men”, most of the group finds out about their trapped comrade as they are divvying up a fruitcake received by Muller, a fellow member of their squad. They spot Carter and Ferguson returning from patrol without Small.

The men debate what to do about the stranded man. It’s risky to try and retrieve him from that hot spot. The argument is complicated by the news that their outfit has been ordered to withdraw to the rear that evening. No one is really excited about risking their lives under such circumstances.

Even so, they can’t leave Small behind. He is a brother soldier, a comrade in arms.

One hothead named Coke lobbies squad leader Sgt. Mooney all afternoon to convince him to send out men to retrieve Small from his predicament. Mooney’s problem is that he is under orders to avoid losing any more men on what his captain calls a “wild goose chase. ”

Together on guard duty, Mooney continues his fight with Coke. As Coke lays into him once more, the sergeant tells him to shut up. “I’m thinking,” he says.

Finally, Mooney decides to send out a rescue party. He knows such an action could cause him his stripes, but he decides to do it anyway.

While the soldiers trying to help Small are gone, Trelawny learns of Mooney’s disobedience and shows up at the basement. He berates Carter for not stopping the sergeant.

However, Carter convinces Trelawny of the need the men have for rescuing Small. He tells the captain that if they didn’t try they would live with the guilt for the rest of their lives.

The rescue fails and the men return to the basement. They prepare to leave for the front lines but when they hear machine gun fire they realize that team member Colluci is gone. They also realize that he has gone out to retrieve Small on his own.

Colluci is the last man they would have expected to exhibit such bravery.  Normally, he is a wisecracking GI who gripes about his plight in the war. Colluci presents himself as a nobody, an average citizen who somehow got put in the army and doesn’t want to be there. He is viewed as someone who tries to avoid real work or fighting. Colluci is more interested in dreaming about women and getting seconds on the fruitcake.

In the end, Colluci wipes out the machine gun nest and returns to the basement carrying the injured Small. Always the wiseacre, Colluci complains that now much will be expected of him in the future.

I watched “Eight Iron Men” this weekend, an eventful one in which 10 people were killed at a high school in Texas by another crazed lunatic student. For some reason, this particular shooting broke my heart. It wasn’t that I had become callous to these murders in schools, but this one just took all the air out of me. I realized I was fed up.

When one of my friends commented on the shooting, I told him that it was high time our society quit the political posturing and finally decide to do something about this epidemic of school killings. I also told him that I was not hopeful.

Where are the iron men today? They don’t seem to exist.

Sgt. Mooney was played by the hard-as-nails actor Lee Marvin, who is described by the website Celebrities Galore a born leader. Marvin had drive and determination.

His profile goes on to say of him: “Insisting on his right to make up his own mind, he demands freedom of thought and action, and does not let anything or anyone stand in his way once he is committed to his goal.”

Mooney’s character certainly fit this description.

In America today Lee Marvin seems like a complete anachronism. There is a distinct lack of courage among our leaders in 2018.

Our politicians in particular seem to avoid any action that might cost them.  A good many of them are empty suits.

This type of leadership is nothing new.  J. Vernon McGee observes that Saul, ancient Israel’s first king , was an actor. “He was not a king,” said McGee.

Saul lacked the character and skill to be a leader. He was only tall and handsome.

When someone was indeed heroic, Saul sought to take the credit or even have them killed. Such was the circumstance when his own son Jonathan won a military victory.

McGee notes that Saul was willing to put his own son to death because Jonathan disobeyed an order to fast in order to seek God’s favor during a battle. Jonathan ate some honey. In truth, he had already been victorious when he supposedly disobeyed Saul.

The average American does not appear to be willing to take risks either. Rarely do we see a Colluci type of citizen-soldier who takes the bull by the horns and attempts to solve a problem, even at great risk to themselves. When someone DOES try to solve a real-world issue, they expose themselves to human piranhas with political motivations.

Certainly few have been willing to rise to the occasion when it comes to actually doing something practical to stop these school massacres. Most of us seem to either shrug our shoulders, wondering what we can do, or just ignore the issue entirely and go on about our own lives.

The only folks who have made noise over actually doing something are America’s children, those most affected. However, their protests seem to have been co-opted by adults with an agenda.

Unfortunately, the world seems to have too many distractions to actually give it’s full attention to things like school mass murder.  For instance, this weekend’s media coverage was mostly taken up with a royal wedding in England of a minor prince and an American actress to give the Santa Fe shootings the attention it really needed.

Our priorities are all wrong. Like the pre-heroic Colluci, we are more interested in dessert than opening a can of worms and dealing with real-world troubles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winning and losing: a Christian’s perpective

Be a winner.  That’s what American’s have been saying for most of the country’s history.

This might be changing, as more and more it seems that no one is supposed to rise above the crowd.  I think the US has seen a seismic shift is attitude during my lifetime. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is probably the last vestiges of it.

On a personal level, I am trying to see myself as a winner. Circumstantially though, this is becoming more and more difficult.

Sometimes I think I am cursed.

Right now I am borrowing a friend’s expensive set of wheels. As I was driving to the bank this morning, one that was grey and gloomy with a mix of rain and snow, I noticed that the upholstery along the windshield on both sides was rumpled. It even looked a bit wet.

I began to panic, wondering what in the world I could have done to cause this, if anything. Even if I didn’t, I know how it is when you borrow something. As one guy told me when he tossed me his keys years ago, “You wreck it. You own it.” (And I was helping this guy move.)

The issue of borrowed property reminds me of a story in the Bible. A group of men were cutting down trees along a river when the axe head of one of the fellows broke off and flew into the water.

He looked at the prophet Elisha, who had accompanied the men on their wood cutting trip, and said “Alas, master, it was borrowed.”

The prophet asked where the axe head was located in the river, and when the man told him, Elisha threw a stick into the water at that location. The axe head rose to the top of the water.

I never took physics in school, but I know enough that I am aware that a piece of  iron does not float.

I feel like I need such miracles in my life because it seems that whatever my hand touches, the results are terrible. Just read my last two blog posts about an important project I was working on. It fell apart.

That’s not the first time this has happened. I recall as a young man I worked very hard writing a marketing piece for a product. I even won an award for it. Sadly, the product never sold.

I really hate working on things that lack no purpose.

I don’t believe in luck or fate, but sometimes I wonder. Last night is an example of how I feel things turn out for me.

I was on a mini-vacation and  decided to take in a major league baseball game. I drove to the park hours early.

On the way I ran into a humongous traffic jam in town-on a Sunday no less! It took me an hour to get to my destination.

I was not familiar with the area around the ballpark and drove around looking for parking lots, only to find that they wanted huge amounts of money to deposit my car.

I asked a young woman who seemed to be getting ready to direct traffic where I could park cheaply. She asked her coworker. He said, “You’re in the high rent district.”

When I told him I was going to just drive outside of town and take the subway in, he noted the difference in price, making gestures as he did so. We both laughed.

As I drove on the  freeway leaving town, the traffic was still heavy. I managed to get off at a metro stop and park my car in what seemed like a safe location–for free no less.

I had a little trouble buying a subway card because the machine didn’t offer clear directions, but I managed. Finally, I arrived at the park.

I would describe my seat as being in the nosebleed section, except it was so cold last night that if my nose did bleed, the blood would have frozen. There was a bitter wind too. One of the outfielders even wore a facial scarf.

I decided to go down on the lower levels and just watch the game from the concourse. Between breaks in the innings, I walked to the rest room to warm up.

After three innings, I had had enough and left. All I wanted to do was to get warm. Lots of time, travel and expense for little return.

Even on the micro level, I felt like things didn’t work out at the game. I was filming the home team’s best player at bat, a surefire Hall of Famer when he retires, when I stopped. He then hit a home run. I regretted I didn’t catch it on film.

Finally, I decided to leave. The opposing team had the bases loaded. I didn’t care because I was pulling for the home team.

As I walked away, I  heard the crowd react. The opponent’s own potential Hall of Famer had hit a Grand Slam. I walked toward the train with a huge regret that I had missed it.

To me, that’s what losers do. They miss out. It seems to me it happens a lot in my case. I not only miss good photos, though. This morning someone drove into a prime parking space I had spotted just as I aimed toward it.

What occurred next was an object lesson for me. I found an even better one.

When I look back at the ball game, I also found some positives. I figured I had shown perseverance to even get to that game, and despite only seeing a bit of it and missing the Grand Slam, I had ventured into a fairly new ball park I had never been to before and got to experience all the sights and sounds.

I also have figured that in God’s economy, winning and losing may look different than it does from the human race’s perspective. After all, things didn’t look too good for Jesus when he was on a cross being crucified.

What mankind didn’t know at that point is that Jesus’s death resulted in the salvation of all of mankind. Not only that, but His story didn’t finish there.

He rose again from the dead, providing a pathway for all of those who follow Him to do the same.

I spent a lot of my weekend pondering the meaning of my lost project which, as I have noted, I discussed in my last two posts.. I thought of the passage in Job where the title character, after losing his possessions and kids, said in mourning, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I read several commentataries on that passage and they were mixed. Some took what Job said as an exclamation praising God for His wise providence.

Others claim that Job was theologically unsound. Those authors noted that God is not the author of evil and doesn’t sanction things like the death of our children.

I don’t know where I come down on the subject, except that I do believe that God is good. He can fix messed up upholstery. Further,  He can turn missed opportunities and lost projects or parking spaces into blessings.

I shall wait and see what develops, and try to keep trusting God with my circumstances.  It is all I can do.

Whether I am a winner or loser in the eyes of people doesn’t really matter. All that really matters is that I get a “Well done good and faithful servant”  when I meet up with Jesus after this life is over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Field of Dreams

As I am wont to do, this morning at 5 am I took a look at my phone. I know enough not to do that but I did.

The Email subject line read “URGENT!”.  It was from the sponsor of a project I have been working on. I referred to my difficulties with that endeavor in my last post. I noted how the project had stalled due to issues with people who I needed to help me.

We scheduled an online discussion at 8 am. I did not sleep between the time I spotted the Email and the appointment. No one writes “URGENT!” on a subject line when they have good news.

I had my morning prayer time, took a shower, and waited for the call. A few minutes after 8 am my phone buzzed its arrival.

“This is a hard call for me,” the person told me. I was told that the project was off due to the decision of some higher ups.

This was no difficult slog through the mire to accomplish some goal, as it was when I wrote yesterday’s piece. In this case, the rug had been pulled completely out from under me.

My partner and I wished each other well and promised to keep in touch. I doubt this will happen.

Although I knew that something like this could occur given the nature of the powers-that- be who are responsible, the cancellation came as a hard blow. The symptoms that could explain what is going on inside of me today have been all over the map.

I generally fill like I have been body slammed. On the other hand, I also feel a slight bit of relief because the daily hassles of the project have come to an abrupt end.

The minute I get some decent perspective, I notice that my stomach is churning like a vat of butter. The 5 hours of sleep haven’t helped, either.

Gaining perspective is key in this situation. Attitude is everything.

I am old enough and smart enough to know that I am at a crossroads. I can either cash in my chips and quit, and lose a lot of progress I have made as a human being,  or I can absorb the shock, keep my boat afloat and move forward to new vistas.

I chanced on an article in Sports Illustrated this afternoon about a professional baseball player who almost quit the game after years in the minors. Tommy Pham has spent 11 years laboring in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

The SI story describes how that, despite his talent, Pham has been overlooked by management. He’s had some tough breaks, such as injuries. Lesser players have been promoted above him while he lit up the minors.

However, Pham has not lost his mojo during these years. He continues to believe in himself. In fact, he has been quite vocal  to management about how he has been treated.

The administrators in the Cardinals organization have been quite unfair, Pham told SI. He noted that  when he asked for his release or a trade so he could pursue opportunities with other teams, the team denied his request.

The magazine also mentions how Pham may have lost millions of dollars because of his treatment by the Cardinals. Even now, when big things are expected of him by the team, he is still underpaid because he is under contract for a lesser sum for a few more years

SI describes Pham’s tough life and how it shaped him. His father has been incarcerated for decades and during his childhood his mother had to work a lot to support him and and his sister.

However, Pham doesn’t regret the poverty of his youth. He has managed to maintain a good perspective on his past.

Pham has played with wealthy players and says, “When things got harder for them, they always crumbled. I think where I came from helped me persevere through all my injuries in everything because I saw a lot of guys fold.

“The most successful people in the world came from the smallest beginnings, which makes me think it’s not about where you’re from or how you come up but where are you going!”

Which brings me back to my own dilemma. Where do I go from here?

I think the title of my last blog post still applies: “Trust God and Keep on Keeping On”, I wrote yesterday.

The last several months I have been acknowledging God’s supremacy in my life. In the mornings, I pray back to Him the words of David in I Chronicles 29 in the Old Testament:

Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.

Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.

 Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name.

As I lay in bed after receiving my colleague’s emergency Email during the wee hours, I thought of these words. It came to my mind that God is testing me as to whether or not I truly mean what I say. He asks,

“Are you really mine?”

“Am I truly exalted in your life?”

“Do I really rule in your life?”

I also just recalled a prayer I made yesterday I believe. It is one Pastor Erwin Lutzer of Moody Bible Church  uses in his own relationship with God.

“God, glorify yourself at my expense.”

Could it be God is answering that prayer? I was nervous about praying it, but did. Now I kind of regret it.

I suppose now I will find out the answers to these questions. This project was a dream of mine. Now it’s gone.

It’s time for  me to believe in God, that He will  give me a new field of dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

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Trust God and Keep on Keeping On

Beth Emhoff is not very likable.  She is a fictional character played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the 2011 film “Contagion”.

(For me, Paltrow was the perfect person to play her. She is also unlikable.)

Beth comes back to the United States after a business trip to Asia and makes a stopover in Chicago to meld with her lover. At home waiting for her is her husband Mitch (Matt Damon).

Although Beth is not a very nice person, what happens to her after she gets home shouldn’t happen to anyone. She has seizures and surprisingly dies.

Beth is a young woman. So is her son, six-year old Clark. He catches whatever Beth has and also passes away.

They are only the tip of the iceberg  in terms of the effects of the illness that killed them. Eventually, the virus multiplies and becomes a pandemic, causing the deaths of millions around the globe.

“Contagion” is a flick that explores such a disaster from different perspectives. It shows how the general population might react. As expected, mankind doesn’t handle the epidemic well.

Different segments of society deal with the disease in their own way. The politicians and medical people who have advance knowledge of the spread of the illness arrange to get preferential treatment.

The rest of the poor saps are left to their own devices. Mobs turn violent in some cases to save their own hides.

One particularly heinous human in “Contagion” is a blogger by the name of Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law).  He fancies himself an investigative journalist, when in reality he is a narcissistic conspiracy theorist seeking to use the pandemic for his own selfish ambitions.

CONTAGION

Some folks in in the film “Contagion” respond to a crisis negatively. One is a blogger (played by Jude Law) who seeks to use it for his own selfish ends.

On the other hand, the film also reveals that people can be heroic. Indeed, “Contagion” really concerns the brave exploration of the medical folks who seek to stem its effects.

Contagion

In the film “Contagion”, doctors explore ways to overcome a pandemic that is killing millions.

The doctors seeking a cure for the disease risk their own lives. One physician working for the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) actually succumbs to the illness.

Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliot Gould) courageously defies orders from the CDC to destroy his work. His actions moves the needle forward in discovering a vaccine.

(Spoiler Alert)

The ultimate risk taker in “Contagion” is physician Ally Hextall. She develops a promising vaccine and in order to expedite its distribution, she injects herself with it to make sure it works. Dr. Hextall exposes herself to her father, who has contracted the disease.

As a result of her deed, the vaccine is made available in bulk to the world in as timely a fashion as possible.

CONTAGION

Dr. Ally Hextall injects herself with an untested vaccine in order to save millions of lives.

 

The doctors of “Contagion” are fictional role models. They seek to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. including human opposition, and continue to explore ways to stop the pandemic.  It is eventually stopped in its tracks.

A couple of men from the Bible are similar to these heroic physicians. Joshua and Caleb are among 12 Israelite spies sent forward to explore ancient Palestine in order to determine the feasibility of conquering the natives.

God had promised the area to Abraham. His descendants were on their way through the desert to take the Lord up on his offer. They had just escaped Egypt through God’s miraculous intervention at the Red Sea (an event popularized in modern culture, including in the classic film “The Ten Commandments”).

Despite God’s work on their behalf, the Israelites wavered when most of the spies brought back bad news: the people in the land were giants and thus impossible to defeat.

Joshua and Caleb did not agree. Their minority report noted that the same God who brought the people out of Egypt in the face of a huge army and wrathful ruler could help them win in Palestine.

It was not to be. The Israelites stayed in the desert.

It was 40 years later, after almost all of this cowardly generation had died, that Joshua and Caleb led the nation to victory and won the land.

It behooves me and my fellow believers in the God of the Bible to follow the actions of these two men. Surely they had to put up with annoying delays, dangerous enemies, and indifferent neighbors. However, they persevered and won in the end.

On a personal level, I need to emulate the doctors of “Contagion” and Joshua and Caleb. I am working on a major project that today just about caused me to tear my hair out.

There is no reason for the project not to be accomplished, at least on my end. However, some people are standing in the way, folks that should know better.

In order to do the tasks required to meet the demands of the project, I need these people. Unfortunately, I am dealing with some difficult folks. Some are narrow minded. They refuse to look at the big picture and stay mired in minutiae.

Others are indifferent. They just don’t care about helping me and don’t want to be bothered.

I am having the same problems on the institutional level as well.  One key element in the project is being handled by two different organizations. The group who must perform the first steps in accomplishing this task requires things done a certain way. On the other hand, an outfit which is responsible for taking the first group’s work and completing have their own approach.

Guess who is caught in the middle? You guessed her, Chester. Yours truly. I have been Ground Zero the Emails flying between the key stakeholders entire day.

This morning as I encountered these problems I did some soul searching. I began to wonder if God was in it.

One fellow helping me, a believer, prayed with me, seeing my obstacles as the devil’s work. (I surely see over regulation that way!)

Whatever the truth is, I am spending a lot of time and money as I bang my head against the wall.

However, as I view the docs of “Contagion” and the heroes of the Bible, I see virtues worthy of copying. They kept seeking to move the needle forward in accomplishing their goals. They persevered.

As I wrote in my journal this morning, I thought that my perspective must be two-fold. As I face my obstacles, I have to take my hands off and let God work when I encounter them. In the meantime, I need to keep pushing forward, keep exploring and seeking answers,  until it is absolutely clear that my task is impossible, or until I gain victory.

It’s the only way to maintain sanity when meeting up with any problem.

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Good News from a Far Country

My guess is that Alaska is a state most Americans know little about. For example, one Alaskan commented that he has met people from the lower 48 who didn’t even know his home was a state. (I can relate. When I lived in Finland, one American asked me,”Where is that? In the Pacific Northwest?”)

We do know some things, however. For most of us, we know that it is far away.

Politically savvy folks are aware that controversial former governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin comes from Alaska. In addition, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the state is cold. All a person has to do is look at a map.

Some might even know it has oil reserves and lies across the Bering Strait from Russia (only if it is because Governor Palin is alleged to have said she could see the country from her house).

Like a lot of the US landscape, Alaska once belonged to a foreign power. The United States bought Alaska from Russia back in 1867 for two cents an acre. The purchase was called “Seward’s Folly”. William Seward was the American secretary of state at the time who engineered the deal.

Seward was actually an able politician who many thought would become the Republican nominees for president in 1860. Instead, Abraham Lincoln got the nod. As far as I know, Seward’s negotiations under President Andrew Johnson to buy Alaska  from the Russians involved no collusion.

If we know anything about the state, it’s probably from the media or televisions shows such as the Discovery Channel. For some reason this land mass, the largest state in the Union, has been front and center in my own media experience of late. Unfortunately, the digital fare I have viewed has been of the tawdry variety.

My first recent encounter with Alaska involved a viewing of “The Far Country”, a 1954 film starring American hero Jimmy Stewart. (He’s a personal luminary of mine, too.) In this flick , the “everyman” star plays a 19th century Old West cattle drover named Jeff Webster who can’t seem to avoid trouble.

After a  long cattle drive in the lower 48, one in which he shoots two men working for him, Webster boards a ship with his herd and arrives in Skagway, Alaska. He immediately is arrested by a corrupt judge named Gannon for interrupting one of the man’s hangings.

Webster drives his cows through town, right  by Gannon’s gallows. The bovines jostle them while the judge is attempting to execute “justice”.

Stewart avoids jail time, but Judge Gannon fines him a sizable amount. He makes the cowboy turn over his herd to “tbe government”.

Not to be outdone, Webster steals his cows back and drives them across the border into Canada.

He lands in the Canadian gold mining town of Dawson, which compared to Skagway is a place of virtue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the vile criminals from the American village to show up in Canada. They want to make an ill-gotten fortune off of the hard working  and law-abiding gold miners and shop keepers in Dawson.

The epitome of American “can do”  spirit and individualism, Stewart in the role of Webster tries  to take on the gangsters on his own. He does have allies in the form of his old cow hand (Walter Brennan), a teenage girl with moon eyes for him, and a femme fatale saloon owner who can’t decide whether she wants to stay with the crooks or connect with cow poke.

(SPOILER ALERT)

In the end, after losing his aging partner to murder at the hands of evil thieves, and with the help of the mixed-up female saloon owner Ronda Castle, Webster wins the day. The lady gives her life to save Jeff.

The-Far-Country-images-c86b1f58-07cf-4446-aca5-289d63b2095

Jimmy Stewart plays Jeff Webster, a rugged individualistic cowboy who learns some big lessons about people from saloon owner Ronda Castle.

Jeff not only learns a big lesson from her about about his “leave me alone” stance on life, but he also gains wisdom from the previously cowardly townspeople. They show up en masse with weapons drawn to shoo off the bad guys while Stewart lays wounded in the street.

“The Far Country” kept me riveted to the story in a kind of prurient way. I couldn’t look away from the scurrilous activities of the criminals. I began to detest them so much that I hung around to make sure they got their just desserts.

Only Chuck Norris and his old “Walker, Texas Ranger” TV series could make me hate fictional thugs so much. When that show was on, I was always happy when Walker beat the hell out of them (figuratively speaking) at the conclusion of the story.

My  experience of sleazy behavior coming out of Alaska hasn’t been limited to this old movie.  The news recently brought us a story in which an Alaskan Airline female pilot accused a colleague of drugging and sexually assaulting her on one of their jobs.

The news describes her allegations in much detail. As with the creeps in “The Far Country”, I wanted the alleged perpetrator male pilot punished after I read this story.

Even if I wanted to partially excuse the Alaskans for the scandalous acts revealed in these stories by writing “The Far Country” off as an act of fiction, I can’t. The town of Skagway was indeed a place run by a criminal element in the late 19th century.

However, any Alaskan could rightfully protest that I am singling out their beautiful northern region unfairly.  The could say that not the only ones with an inclination to sin, and they would be right. Human law breaking is universal and goes back a long way, probably thousands upon thousands of years if the scientists are correct on the dating of the origins of man.

As I watched “The Far Country” I was reminded that what the Bible says about mankind is true.  Contrary to modern popular belief, the Scriptures indicate that all of us have hearts which are prone to produce evil.

Our evil practices have had dire consequences and still do. One of the reasons that God brought on the Flood at the time of Noah was because of the slimy aspects of human nature. Genesis tells us that “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” He instructed the only righteous man alive to build a boat because He had had enough.

Things haven’t changed much since the Noah account laid out in the Bible.  As exemplified by the pilot story from Alaska, opening any news site today will attest to that.

The United States  is currently swamped with the degrading actions of human beings who act like animals. We have come a long way from our beginnings.

Purportedly, America was founded by a religious people. I hedge because in our day this civic doctrine has been disputed, but I believe history shows that many of our early leaders were Christians.

What has happened over the last 2.5 centuries to turn the US into a moral quagmire that resembles the state of affairs God encountered at the time of Noah?

According to J. Vernon McGee, a pastor who still has quite a following despite having been deceased for 30 years, a nation’s decline  begins with the collapse of religion. This crash leads to moral awfulness and eventually to political anarchy.

“Where did our trouble begin?” asked McGee. “Our trouble is primarily spiritual. Actually it goes back to the church.

“The church went into apostasy.  Then it entered the home,”said McGee on one of his radio programs.

Many Americans today put their  faith in political leaders. However, McGee called the hope that a political party can solve the issues facing America “perfect nonsense.”

His recommendation? “What we need today is to get back to a spiritual foundation,” said the pastor.

McGee suggested that without this spiritual revival, the resulting political anarchy will lead to America succumbing to the will of  a “strong man”, i.e. a dictator. History attests to this scenario.  The fall of the weak German Weimar Republic resulted in the rise of Adolph Hitler.

The story of Skagway, Alaska portrayed in “The Far Country” shows this process, also. Judge Gannon ran the town as his own personal fiefdom. Not surprisingly, the film says nothing about the presence of religion.

No priest or deacon is shown standing up to the wickedness of the nefarious people in the film. By default, Skagway was a town ripe for the misrule of a wicked ruler like Gannon.

Far Country Gannon

Judge Gannon, the wicked ruler of Skagway. To his right is conflicted saloon owner Ronda Castle, who eventually helped save the people of Dawson from him.

At the end of the second decade of the 20th century, America is far worse morally than it was 30 years ago and appears to be moving toward the political anarchy of which McGee spoke. The idea of the United States having a dictator as a leader was once stuff of fiction. But if McGee is correct, the United States is now in a conditon that the impossible is now possible, if not probable.

America is  moving toward the same kind of culture which was ancient Isralel once possessed present when the nation was ruled by individual judges. During that period, the Scriptures say that people “did what was right in their own eyes.”

God raised up ordinary men to rescue them, but only after they cried out to God. Once Israel was saved, the people reverted back to their wicked ways.  McGee called this pattern “the hoop of history.”

In “The Far Country”, Jeff Webster was similar to one of the biblical judges in “The Far Country”. He was not the best of men himself, but he had enough decency in him to take a stand and provoke the the folk of Dawson to stand up to the invaders from Skagway.

Saloon keeper Ronda Castle was also an unlikely heroine. An ally of Judge Gannon, her love for the inherently good Jeff and her own flicker of goodness led to the rescue of the people of Dawson.

America could use a Jeff Webster now. For that matter, we could even use a Ronda Castle kind of person. Maybe the rescuers of the United States won’t be paragons of virtue, but God has used many to accomplish His purposes. Once, he even used a talking donkey to save Israel.

If heroes or heroines  do not arise in the United States, we could be toast.  However, I haven’t personally lost hope. I realize God can bring them from anywhere, even a far country.

For example, refugees entering Europe,  aren’t all radical religious fanatics. Some are godly believers in Jesus Christ.  Today I read of a family of Iranian Christians in spiritually entombed Sweden who are active in their faith.

Most of Europe is thought to be like Sweden, i.e. dead spiritually and in many ways farther along in the moral awfulness and political anarchy of which McGee spoke.  Perhaps God in His wisdom has directed the hands of the continent’s leaders to open their borders so that His people can bring Europeans to faith.

It is possible that God has allowed similar open border politics in America to do the same thing in the United States.  Could it be that God is implementing His wisdom in this way?

Solomon wrote of this kind enlightenment . He penned this verse in the biblical book of Proverbs:

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

May God bring His good news to our own spiritually parched land. It’s up to Him how He does it.

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Things aren’t as they seem

J.J. Sefton is suspect.

He is an American prisoner of war among others portrayed in the hit World War II film “Stalag 17”. However, the other men in his barracks don’t trust him.

For one, Sefton is too cozy with their German captors. He runs a bartering business with the guards so as to make his own stay in the camp more comfortable.

Furthermore, when the Allied soldiers plan escapes, Sefton tells his comrades how foolish they are.  Why not just wait out the war, which seems to be coming to a close, and stay alive? Never mind that a soldier’s duty is to escape if possible.

Sefton doesn’t have the best personality either. He is a cynic and has little love for his fellow internees.

One night, when two prisoners emerge from a tunnel dug by the men, they are cut down by waiting German machine gunners. It is clear the stalag commanders had advanced knowledge of the escape plan.

To the POWs it’s a cinch where they got the information. They figure Sefton informed on the escapees.

A couple of other events confirm the suspicions in their minds. When a hidden radio is discovered in the barracks, and Sefton is allowed into the woman’s area of the camp, the inmates are certain that the man has been rewarded by the Germans. He’s definitely a stoolie in their estimation.

Then Dunbar, a newly arrived officer, is taken away from the barracks and tortured. The Germans believe he is guilty of blowing up an ammunition train before he arrived at the camp.When this happens, Sefton’s bunkmates pummel him and beat him because they believe he has told the enemy of the officer’s guilt.

Stalag 17 Sefton

Sefton bears the marks of his beating by fellow POWs in Stalag 17.

But then the worm turns for the forlorn Sefton. He discovers who the real informant is by hiding in the barracks while everyone else is  gone.

While standing in the shadows, Sefton sees Allied security officer Price speaking German with Schulz, the camp sergeant. He exposes Price, a German spy,  to his comrades.

Stalag 17

American POW JJ Sefton confronts Price, a German spy planted in his barracks.

Sefton further restores his reputation by volunteering to lead Dunbar out of the camp after the other prisoners free him through an elaborate deception plan.

A proverb from the Roman fabulist Phaedrus is worth noting at this point. He wrote: “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.”

This principle surely was borne out in the story of Sefton and the men of Stalag 17. It is worthy of consideration in our own lives as well.

How many times have we been angered or saddened or confused by the behavior of others without knowing all the facts.?

For example, we get upset when a friend doesn’t Email or text us for a time. Instead of trying to ascertain the truth, we surmise that they are ignoring us. We then are hurt because we begin think that perhaps we aren’t as important to them as we thought.

Then we find out that they have been sick, or a loved one has died. As a result, we feel embarrassed.

We’re also easy prey to the scams of this modern world. I became aware today of a phony enterprise in which callers inform poor saps on the other end of the line that they are being given a chance to pay off their debt to the Internal Revenue Service.

The caller tells them that if they don’t pay that the authorities are nearby and will come to arrest them. They are directed to buy gift cards from an online company to use to pay off what they owe.

Surprisingly, a number are falling for this swindle.

Probably the greatest fraud ever perpetrated was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The authorities of the day suspected him of being a man who intended to usurp their earthly thrones.

Yet, Jesus had no such plan. He said to his enemies, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

However, the rulers of  the day did not believe Jesus. Sefton’s punishment was minor compared to the one Jesus endured. His fellow man tortured him and forced him to endure an excruciating execution because they were threatened by Him.

Little did they know that Jesus was God and that He humbled Himself, became a man, and voluntarily died to take the rap for the punishment they deserved.  Further, Jesus rose from the dead and His followers were charged with telling the world of the offer of a new life in Christ.

The Bible says this was the consequence of Jesus’s heroism :

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus has an enemy who doesn’t like this state of affairs. The fallen being known as Satan, who orchestrated Jesus’s death to begin with seeks to continue to deceive the world of the truth in our day.

Even believers in Jesus doubt His love and care when things don’t appear to be going their way in life.  Yet the wise among us would do well to heed the words of the rest of the quote from the ancient Roman Phaedrus.  He wrote:

“The intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”

Despite circumstances, those who love Jesus can be assured that He is working all things together for their good. For those who don’t, He is calling them to trust Him.

The doubter ought to follow one group of folks who lived in the days following Jesus’s death and resurrection. According to the Bible, when the Apostle Paul told them of them of Jesus’s work and His offer of salvation, the Bereans of Greece “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

The intelligent among us would do well to shake off the deceptions of our time and do what the Bereans did.

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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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