Category Archives: Classic Films

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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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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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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