Category Archives: religion

Why I Carry On

Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more–Kerry Livgren

A friend of mine likes to say, “Everyone has problems.” I agree in principle, but some seem to get more than their fair share.

For instance, this morning  I was listening to a radio program which reads letters from listeners before beginning the message of the pastor whose sermons they play. This man in his correspondence talked about how his home had burned down, he had lost his job and he had been in a car accident. I would say that’s quite a lineup of adversity that most people don’t have to face.

Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion
I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high
Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I’m dreamin’, I can hear them say
Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more
The words above from Kerry Livgren, a lyricist most known as a performer with the band Kansas, brings to mind Job–the poster boy of trials to mind. He is the biblical character who just for starters lost his fortune and 10 kids, as well as his health.
Job lived in an ancient land called Uz, which today sounds more like a potato chip. However, although scholars don’t know exactly where it is, it is presumed the country was somewhere in the Middle East.
Job was quite a businessman, caught up in the hubub of his day. He had much livestock: his herds numbered in the thousands. Think of a car dealer like the one in my hometown. This fellow’s property and name dominate the whole center of the city. Even the local civic center is named after him.
Unfortunately for Job, he got caught up in a celestial contest between God and Satan and lost everything in the battle. He caught the attention of the Evil One because he was a godly man. Because of this the Devil wanted to bring him down a peg or two. He accused Job of only following God because of the benefits. God therefore took Satan up on his suggestion that Job would falter in his faith if all the good stuff in his life was taken away.
What follows is cycle after cycle of suffering for Job. The Old Testament book that carries this patriarch’s name tells of his questioning of  God after Satan was given permission to smack him down.
It also details the poor advice of his friends. They meant well I suppose. They were a little bit like friends today who don’t know what to say during another’s misfortune and instead of being silent, come up with all sorts of (usually bad) remedies.
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means I don’t know.
We humans are a bunch of posers. I suppose there are a few select people like Albert Einstein with an unusual cerebral cortex, but most of us do not carry much wisdom around in our brains, even though we claim to.
I have  friends who are counselors who, after they give me advice, like to tell me in half jest to trust them because  “hey I am a licensed clinical social worker.”  I listen to these folks because I love them and they are my friends. Not only that, they DO have good judgement. We all need friends like that in our lives.
However, as a rule, the insight of humankind is clouded by a fallen nature and lack of knowledge. Only we know the intimate details of our personal lives and desires. Ultimately, we have to decide how to live our lives for ourselves.
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about I’m like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune, but I hear the voices say
Carry on my wayward son…
In my own life I have made plan after plan and charted my way. I have gotten excited by what seemed to be a sure and certain and exciting path, only to have my dreams end up disappearing in the mist through no fault of my own.
In such circumstances, I have become  like an agitated bee who has been swatted at with a folded up newspaper. I do not know which way to turn and mainly I am just trying to survive.
But I  have pressed on. Perseverance is one of my virtues.
In that keeping on, though, I have also questioned God. One of my  counselor friends, when I relay a difficult circumstance in my life to him, likes to say “Where are you in this God?”  In my own way I have asked God the same thing.
But now, I don’t. Not anymore. I have finally gotten to the place Job reached after his awful suffering.
At the end of the Book of Job it is God who asks the questions. He begins thus:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.”
He asks Job where he was when, for example, He laid the Earth’s foundations. After a couple of  chapters of such questions, he says to Job:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
    Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Job replies:
 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
    I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
    twice, but I will say no more.”
God doesn’t let Job off the hook so easily, however.
“Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.”
But after a couple more chapters of God questioning Job, the man admits he has no answer. He says to God:

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

“You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

 

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’

“My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.

“Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
Now your life’s no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you

I have reached the point, like Job, where I realize that God has His own agenda in my life. Does that agenda involve building my character? Yes. Does it include my involvement in some extra-dimensional spiritual warfare I cannot see? I presume so.

Could there be some judgement of past sin going on? Perhaps. Mostly, I think He is answering my lifelong prayer to know Him.

I became a follower of Jesus Christ out of a desire to have a purpose in life. Sadly, I think I have spent a lot of it seeking to carry out my own devices.

It has been said that God will not give His glory to another. My job from here to eternity is to make sure God gets glorified in my life: nothing more, nothing less. So…

Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

 

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The only true source of empathy in a toxic world

The other day I walked into my local Starbucks and began talking to this young Latino barista. She’s maybe the friendliest of the ones that work there. (I might add that I am an older white guy.)

I asked her how she was doing.  She replied, “I am recuperating.”

I asked, “From what?”.

She explained that she had been off work for a while.

“I’ve been taking care of my father who has Alzheimer’s for two years. The stress got to me. Then, I was hospitalized from my pedestrian-vehicle accident.”

She told me she was walking and got hit by a car. Everybody has a story I guess but a lot don’t have this sad combination.

When a friend of mine posted on Instagram the old adage, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about-be kind”, I replied with her story. My friend responded by saying, “Empathy in action. Great story brother. Thank you for sharing it. You may have been like an angel to her that day just in how you showed that you care.”

My interaction with the barista was not an accident. I learned from the teachings of author and coach Brendon Burchard about using “triggers” to influence my surroundings. One he calls a “door” trigger. As you walk in the door of a place you ask yourself how you can be of benefit there.

In the current toxic environment in the US, such empathy is needed. Thankfully, there are folks out there trying to promote it.

For instance, one local group called Walk the Ridge is seeking to encourage civility and respect among people with different opinions. Another example, is author and researcher Brene’ Brown, who has written book about belonging.

One of the problems she outlines is that we’re so broken up into camps in the US that we aren’t willing to break out and be who we really are among folks on the other side. Brown encourages people to “brave the wilderness” (which is the title of her work) and first and foremost belong to ourselves.

If you pay attention to the media it seems we Americans are more into putting people down than showing respect. Even though I believe  that like a lot of other hype from that source, the problem is overblown, the issue needs to be addressed.

In a chapter called “Holding Hands with Strangers”, Brown makes the case that one reason we should be civil and respect one another is because we all have a spiritual connection due to all being part of the human family.

As much of the world is tuned into the World Cup, at least outside MY country, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of her examples of overcoming division is the respect garnered for Liverpool fans in Australia when a whole stadium full of them sang the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” These thousands of people showed what Brown calls “collective joy”.

While I get her drift, I notice when watching the YouTube video that  no one is holding hands among the 95,000 people in that stadium. Most of them seem to be using their hands to stretch out banners.

Of course, one of the most famous songs of all time about that subject is the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Here’s an excerpt:

Oh please say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand

Those lyrics are pretty shallow. In fact, one theory is that such songs  of that era, ones in which there was whining about not being loved, spawned the 60s hit “Somebody to Love” in reaction, most notably covered by Jefferson Airplane, featuring Grace Slick. Her husband Darby wrote these lyrics excerpted from the song:

When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don’t you want somebody to love
Don’t you need somebody to love
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love

In her autiobiography Grace Slick said the song  is not sexual in nature but has more to do with practically serving others with a heart of concern for their welfare. She wrote:

“Rather than the loving you’re whining about getting or not getting, a more satisfying state of heart might be the loving you’re ‘giving’. Suggesting that adhering to the old Puritan cliche, ‘It’s better to give than to receive’, might actually make you a happier person. The idea of service and selflessness may sound like a tedious task reserved for bald monks, but the way Darby wrote the lyrics, altruism didn’t seem like such a lofty and unattainable state. He gave the impression that giving could even be an enjoyable adventure.”

I thought today that having an inner focus on someone else is a healing potion. It takes the mind off of my own emotional pain. I would imagine that a lot of  heartache  comes not so much from not being loved, but in not having someone to love.

I have concluded that I can’t love everyone, but I can love some. I also have determined that I can at least respect all people because they are created in the image of God.

While in some ways I can generate this love and respect, I can’t really manufacture it completely on my own. I need a power I don’t have to do it fully.

Any capacity I have to care for others effectively really comes from God. In fact, the God-Man Jesus is truly the only Person who perfectly loved and respected others.

Although He is God, He also is fully human. He lived 33 years down here, where he experienced all the toxicity of mankind as we have, but without sin.

As one who has received Him and trusted in  Him to deliver me from my selfish sinfulness, I believe what the Bible says about Jesus dwelling in my heart.

He can empathize with people’s weaknesses and struggles through me. Living in my heart, Jesus can use me to show the same concern He has to those in my sphere.

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Winning and losing: a Christian’s perpective

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

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

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

Sometimes I think I am cursed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really hate working on things that lack no purpose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Good News from a Far Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SPOILER ALERT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far Country Gannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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