Category Archives: Bible

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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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.


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.



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.


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 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.


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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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.


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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Interceding friends make life wonderful

No man is a failure who has friends.-Mark Twain (quoted by the angel Clarence in the film”It’s a Wonderful Life”)

As I write this the world is about ready to ring in a new year. Every time the calendar approaches January 1, hopes and dreams arise in the hearts of men.

Many of us look forward to either a continuation of the good times from the previous 12 months or for massive redirection away from the calamities we have faced. Regardless of our circumstances, at this time a lot of us have a flicker of hope in our hearts for what is to come.

In the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, George Bailey has no such hope. He has reached the end of his tether.

As I explained in my last post, his self-sacrificing choices  have led to his own seeming demise. Having lost all perspective, he is ready to throw himself into a river and end it all on Christmas Eve.

But someone beats him to it. George’s guardian angel, a fellow named Clarence, jumps in ahead of him. As the story develops, the bumbling cherub leads George to see what life would have been like for the people of his town of Bedford Falls if he had not been born.

Guardian angel Clarence and George Bailey

Clarence and George talk about matters in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

George learns that his absence from the lives of his friends and family would have led to grief and misery for them. His brother Harry would have died at the age of nine because George was not around to save him from drowning. In a chain reaction cause and effect, the lives of hundreds of men also would have been lost during World War 2 because Harry was not there to rescue them.

Further, George’s Uncle Billy would have lost his mind because the family business would have gone under without George’s leadership. George’s  wife would have become a frumpy old maid because the man of her dreams didn’t exist.

George learns that it is not only individuals who would suffer from his absence. Since he would not be there to fight him, the entire town would have fallen into the hands of the evil financier Harry F. Potter. As a result, the prosperous Bedford Falls he helped to create would have become a seedy skid row known as Pottersville.

It is Clarence that plays the hero for George. He performs the task that any angel or servant of the Lord should aspire to—he leads George to surrender his life to God.

When he asks Clarence why he is seeing all these strange things in the alternate reality the angel has arranged, he reminds George that he has never been born. Indeed, he has no identity.

When he hears this George searches his pockets for his driver’s license and other identity papers, but he finds nothing.

He pleads with Clarence to get him back to his own life. “I don’t care what happens to me,” George says.” Just get me back to my wife and kids.

“Clarence, please I want to live again.” There is no answer from Clarence, so as he stands on the bridge where he first met the angel, George begins to say the same thing to God:

“I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

George has now found his genuine identity. He has become a true child of God.

Clarence did not just appear by chance to lead George out of his morass. The angel was an answer to the prayers of George’s friends and family.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” opens with the people of Bedford Falls praying for George:

Mr. Gower, the boss and pharmacist who George kept from accidentally killing someone with poisoned medicine, is praying for him.

Martini, the restaurateur whom George helped own his own home and escape the slums of Potter, is praying for him.

His best friends Bert and Ernie are praying for him. His wife and children are praying for him.

George’s mother is praying for him.

Clarence’s arrival is also the answer to a desperate prayer of George early in the film. After fleeing his family on Christmas Eve, he ends up at Martini’s restaurant to drink.

He prays, “God…God…Dear Father in Heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.”

When the husband of a teacher George has chewed out gives him a bloody lip at Martini’s, he jokes both at the bar and later with Clarence that this injury is the answer to his prayer.

“Oh, no, no, no,” says Clarence.” I am the answer to your prayer.”

When George prayed his first prayer, he admittedly had no relationship with God. However, by the end of his ordeal it is clear he is ready to follow Him. His second prayer is hearfelt and sincere.

George was a good person before his crisis, but his personal virtue didn’t get him through it. In fact, his character began to decline.

George went to the corrupt Potter to get relief, only to be turned away. In his overwhelm and anguish, he also lambasted his family and an innocent teacher on the phone.

His prior goodness wasn’t totally irrelevant, however. It did make him friends, and these friends provided spiritual and practical help that gave relief in his difficulty.

George also made new friends as a result of his dilemma. First, he was introduced to his guardian angel Clarence, who led him to God.

Another new friend was God Himself. It is God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, whose birth we just celebrated this week.

It would behoove all of us to make the kinds of friends George made in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the coming year.We all should have friends who intercede for us in prayer and offer hands-on assistance when needed.

More crucial is that we become intimate with Jesus. We should especially consider how we intend to do this as part of our New Year’s goal setting.

Both earthly and heavenly friends are vital if we hope to have a successful future.

I will discuss more about this in my next post.

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My Guts; His glory: living an authentic life that is pleasing to God

In “Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film”, I highlighted the motivations of two fictional characters which propelled them to take risks and pursue their passions, goals and dreams.

My foundation for such a quest seems out of place in this modern world. The chasing of personal goals is subsumed in a greater ambition: pleasing God. This means in practice I must listen to Him. The first thing I learned as a kid was that the Jesus portrayed in the Bible was not a fictional character, but the one true God.

In this day and age, when even prayer is mocked in the public domain, I fear that listening to God’s voice and making decisions on this basis might require courage of the kind these TV and film personalities displayed.  Like them,  I may have to risk being humiliated to actually seek answers from Him and do what He says.

Perhaps my trepidation is an exercise in overthinking. Ours is a time when people do what is right in their own eyes anyhow, so I may be worrying in vain about how people see me when I go against their grain. On the other hand, everything seems to be permissible today EXCEPT being a follower of Jesus, so I may indeed have a cause for concern.

What I have come to partially understand is the nature of how God  works in His dealings with humans. When He speaks, He is not a dictator. From what I grasp of Him, He is rarely loud nor does he yell. God’s voice is one that is of a kind that mainly whispers.

Furthermore, when he desires to accomplish His work through me, He does so through a man he created in His image, one He made with a certain distinctiveness.  God has no intention of violating my uniqueness. Indeed, he wants to form me from within and honor and set apart my motives, thoughts, plans and ideas in such a way that I am a real and authentic person

Despite the buzz I hear from others, I realize in my mind that opposition to the pursuit of this genuine “me” should not even be an issue with secular folks ? Historically, going after our human originality has been totally valid. For instance, the 16th century William Shakespeare called it being true to yourself.

The rub in modern society may be that I am chasing the honest “me” on the basis of what may seem like an  ethereal relationship with and obedience to a Supreme Being it knows little about. Our modern world doesn’t seem to have much use for the God portrayed in the Bible. Of the the billions of people inhabiting this planet, it is my perception that a relatively small percentage search out the truths found in this book.

The words from His Scriptures have been my foundation for living for a long time. They speak to my purpose in this world and how that is to play out for me as an individual personality. In fact, I began following Jesus in high school BECAUSE I discovered that my true purpose was found in Him.

American pastor and teacher J. Vernon McGee cites the following text from the Bible to support his teaching that God desires to work through His people so that they are normal and natural and not some automatons:
Stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your inner being but is patterned after this age; but change your outward expression to one that comes from within and is representative of your inner being, by the renewing of your mind, resulting in your putting to the test what is the will of God, the good and well- pleasing and complete will, and having found that it meets specifications, place your approval upon it. (Romans 12:2 Wuest Expanded Translation).

In some fashion, I believe this passage says that God’s will must suit ME! The Bible actually tells me to approve His specs for me. Working with God to shape my life is not life having an autocrat for a boss.

Shakespeare likened humans to actors playing a part on the stage of this world. The director gives the players the script and they’re to recite it. McGee disagrees with the learned bard.

“This is not true of the believer,” he said. “He must be genuine because (God the) Holy Spirit is working from within.”

McGee indicates that I would actually be working at cross purposes with God and my own personhood if I do not remain true to myself.

“The minute you and I assume a pose, to be something we are not, it will be impossible to determine the will of God for our lives,” he said. “The will of God becomes good and fits the will of the believer exactly.”

Knowing how to ascertain and implement the plan of God for my life has not been easy over the course of my life. I have been confused at times and in retrospect, made mistakes.

This could be because I have acted like a participant in a game who tries to win without knowing much about the rules or how to play. As an avid board gamer in my youth, I know it’s important to understand the instructions.

Pleasing centers around two words that sound strange in this culture of independence..

One of these terms is ‘worship’. I was created for a relationship with Jesus, one that involves devoting myself wholly to Him. The term ‘worship’ should not astound us. After all ,we “worship” girlfriends, boyfriends and rock stars. Why not “worship”Jesus.

Another word that is bizarre for us but is crucial in following Jesus is the term ‘surrender’. Pastor Rick Warren in his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” reveals that surrendering to Jesus is at the heart of the worship of Him.

He explains that when a believer in Jesus comprehends the true meaning of “surrender”, they can be in a place to relinquish the fear, pride and confusion that can sometimes accompany following Him. In defining “surrender, Warren writes  that the term does not mean “passive resignation, fatalism, or an excuse for laziness.”

Warren notes:

“It may mean the exact opposite: sacrificing your life or suffering in order to change what needs to be changed. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats.”

The people who I wrote about last time were definitely not cowards or doormats. But stories I watched said nothing about the roots of the courage they revealed in pursuing their hopes  and dreams. They only spoke of what those passions were. But they at least exemplified a brave pursuit of their fulfillment.

What I have learned from these fictional folks is that I need to determine what my current passions and hopes are. What should follow is to take what I learn to God with open arms and let Him help me live them out in a way that pleases Him.










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