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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Filed under Bible, Christianity, Christmas, Classic Films, Jesus Christ, prayer, redemption, religion, Spiritual Warfare, Uncategorized

When life isn’t so wonderful: is it fate, or the result of our choices?

George Bailey’s dreams have gone up in smoke.

In the classic Christmas favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life”, George is a small-town chairman of a small financial concern called a “building and loan.” Working at this job is not what the man had planned for his life.

Even as a boy George has big objectives. He is going to travel the world.  George is  going to leave the rinky dink village of Bedford Falls in the dust.

Then life happens.

The original plan is for George to go to Europe, then go to college for four years. His younger  brother Harry would work to help him. After that, George would repay the favor.

But their father, who founded the building and loan, has a stroke and dies. The next thing he knows, George is stuck in Bedford Falls running his father’s business.

George is supposed to catch a train, but he realizes that if he doesn’t stay and run the building and loan, townspeople will suffer at the hands of evil financier and landlord Harry F. Potter.

He also falls in love with a girl he has known all his life. George discovers how much he cares for Mary Hatch when he shows up at her house one night.

While he acts nonchalant about the visit, pretending that he is just strolling by, it becomes clear that George is crazy about Mary. His  first expression of love is typical of George: he says the wrong thing but does the right one.

He passionately kisses and embraces Mary, while at the same time telling her that he doesn’t intend to settle down and marry anyone.

In the next scene, we see Mary and George at their wedding.

George Bailey and Mr. Potter

George Bailey confronts the evil Harry F. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

But his wanderlust remains.  He carries it into his honeymoon.

George intends to spend his nest egg of $2,000 to take Mary on a fantastic trip. However, there is a run on the Bedford Falls bank and the building and loan as well. As a result, George and Mary stay in town, spending all their money to save the business from insolvency.

They spend their honeymoon in a rundown, formerly abandoned home. George’s friends decorate it with travel brochures and one acts as a European valet to simulate the reality he had hoped to see.

Harry has gone to college instead of George, and surprisingly returns home with a wife. The new bride tells George that her father has offered Harry a plum job with his firm.

Despite Harry’s assurance to George that he will fulfill his part of the original bargain, the latter knows after talking to the former’s new wife that not taking the job would be a bad idea. This puts a damper on the agreed-upon plan for Harry to take over the building and loan.

World War II takes Harry away anyway. George has to stay at home because he lost his hearing in one ear. It was damaged when he saved 9-year old Harry from drowning in an icy pond. Instead of going into combat, George fights the “battle of Bedford Falls”, serving as an air raid warden and participating in fund raising affairs to support the war effort.

Furthermore, George and Mary begin to have children. This finally obliterates George’s intention to flee Bedford Falls for good.

Over time his responsibilities in the town increase. He continues to work at helping others better themselves, mainly  by rescuing them from the clutches of dastardly Potter.

George does this by beginning  to help people own their own homes. He starts a housing project called Bailey’s Crossing, delighting folks who otherwise would have to pay exorbitant rents to Potter for awful tenement housing.

Despite the success of the building and loan, George himself is not enriched. He and Mary live very modestly.

While George appears to slave away in obscurity, Harry wins the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics as a naval aviator in the war. But as the town prepares to welcome his brother home, George himself experiences disaster.

His Uncle Billy misplaces an $8,000 deposit at the bank.

Unfortunately, it is found by Henry F. Potter, who has been trying to drive the building and loan out of business for years. Potter sees his opportunity to do it and ruin his enemy George Bailey at the same time. George will even go to jail if Potter has his way.

The event crushes the usually never-may-care George. He loses his normal self control.

First, he loses his temper. George rants at his family while they prepare for Christmas in the family home. He calls his uncle an old fool.

George also reams out his daughter’s teacher on the phone, blaming her for allowing the girl to get sick. The teacher’s husband gets on the line and threatens him.

Finally, even his longsuffering and loving wife gets upset with George. He runs off from the house.

George also drowns his sorrows in alcohol. He sits in a bar bemoaning his fate and getting slugged by the teacher’s husband, who happens to learn of Bailey’s presence.

He then slams his car into an ancient town tree.

Standing on a nearby bridge in the dark and snow on Christmas Eve, he is thinking of ending it all when he hears a splash in the river. His guardian angel, an old carefree man named Clarence, has created a distraction by throwing himself in the water.

As they warm up in the guardhouse of the bridge, George tells Clarence he wishes that he has never been born.

In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, it just seems poor George can’t catch a break. He can’t even kill himself successfully.

The man is clearly a victim of circumstances and the foibles of other humans. Or is he?

My original take on the dilemmas faced by George was that he did indeed suffer unjustly. But after umpteen viewings of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I have changed my opinion.

As I see it now, George made choices that led to the end of his original dreams. For instance, He chose to wed Mary and start a family for one.

Furthermore, he could have let the building and loan go to pot, but he chose to keep it afloat in order to oppose the abuses of Potter and benefit the townspeople.

George didn’t have to stay and do this. Even his father had told him to get an education and get out of Bedford Falls. He warned George that if he stayed, he would be under the thumb of Potter.

George could also have fired the absent-minded and hard drinking Uncle Billy. The careless loss of the deposit could have been predicted. But it obviously never crossed George’s mind. After all, George was family.

Lately I have been somewhat contemptuous of Americans’ penchant to emphasize individual responsibility. We are the “land of choice.”

I love freedom. However, sometimes having so much liberty can be overwhelming.

I recall coming back to the States after some years abroad and being confronted by a broken dam of selection by a cashier at a Waffle House. “Do you want cream with your coffee? Do you want decaf? How would you like your eggs? Would you like your bread toasted? I panicked inside.

I am not the only one to experience this American passion for preference. One former expat I know was so overwrought by the number of options in a grocery store that she broke down and wept.

Even Christians have bought into the demand that we focus on our “druthers”. Rick Warren, known as “America’s pastor”, wrote the following in his best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life”.

“You are as close to God as you choose to be,” he writes at the beginning of one chapter. Warren instructs the reader to engage in personal confrontation regarding their relationship to God:

“I must choose to be honest with God. I must choose to obey God in faith. I must choose to value what God values.  I must desire friendship with God more than anything else.”

Warren tends to be too “pop culture” for my taste. But every time I read him, I have to admit that he is probably right on a lot of things.

It’s not that I practice what I have preached above about the over-emphasis on personal responsibility. As a teacher I have emphasized personal choice to my students. When they have screwed up, I have always let them know that they “chose not to do their homework” or “chose not to come to class.”

It’s only when “I” suffer that I tend to assign the cause of my problems to others’ actions, or to “the sovereignty of God”, or to just plain bad luck.

In this respect, I am more like the stereotypical Millennial. Nothing ever seems to be their fault.

They seem to believe that the government, or their parents, or some other outside force is responsible for taking care of them or for dealing with the infirmities in their lives.

Perhaps this generation will ring in a new era of fatalism in America. The shrug may become the new national craze.

I hope not, though. As the story of George Bailey shows, taking responsibility for what happens to ourselves and others can do a lot of good and ward off evil.

God did not create us as automatons or robots. Any decent Christian theologian will tell you He gave us a free will to choose.

I personally do not believe I had a lot to do with choosing to follow God. I think He engineered things so that I would, mostly.

But in the end I do believe I still had to make a choice. I believe God does not force us to follow Him. He respects our choices.

Every time I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” my admiration for the film increases. One thing I learned this time is that what seems like personal disaster can actually turn out to benefit not only us, but others.

Seeming reversals in life, even severe ones, can come from God. In my view, God is involved in all our losses. He is not the author of evil, but he can turn evil to good.

The apostle Paul wrote that “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose.”

But George was not some inert bystander. He chose to do good even when it ruined his own life.

God’s good work  in the life of George Bailey and his response to Him is the understated story of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’ll write more on this next time.

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Merry Christmas to all in the pit

The Major is in unknown territory.  In Five Characters in Search of an Exit, an episode of the 1960s science fiction program “The Twilight Zone”, he has just awoken in a barren room. He begins poking at the walls, trying to find a way out.

The Major soon finds himself in conversation with an annoying clown who comes complete with makeup, goofy attire and a snarky attitude. What’s worse, The Major doesn’t know who he is. Not only that, he also wonders about the identity of this nutty jester whom he discovered upon gaining consciousness..

“Wait a minute. Who are YOU? Is there a circus around here somewhere?,” The Major asks The Clown.

Laughing, The Clown responds,”Yeah. A clown. A circus. (Pointing at the major) An officer. A war. That’s logic, isn’t it? But it doesn’t figure at all.”

“Not at all?” The Major replies. “Why not?”

“Because there is no circus and there is no war.  You’re just like the rest of us,” says The Clown.

“The rest of us?” The Major asks. The Clown, sitting against a wall, points his foot out and three other characters appear: a hobo, a ballerina and a bagpipe player.

As they prance by in single file to a bagpipe tune,The Major freaks out. “What’s going on here?”, he bellows. ”Where are we?  Who are we? What are we?”

As the others stare at him blankly, The Ballerina replies, “None of us knows Major. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know where we are.  Each of us woke up one moment, and here we were in the darkness.”

“How could that happen?” The Major says with a look of astonishment on his face.

“That’s the question we asked ourselves,” The Ballerina says. “A question with no answer, Major.”

She describes their predicament succinctly. “We’re nameless things with no memory,” The Ballerina explains.”No knowledge of what went before. No understanding of what is now. No knowledge of what will be.”

“How long will we be here?” asks The Major incredulously.

“That’s a good question,” proclaims The Clown. “That’s the best question of all. But nobody knows the answer.”

“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling calls the five  characters “a collection of question marks–improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness: no logic, no reason, no explanation. Just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness and the unexplainable walk hand in hand in the shadows.”

There are times when some of us wake up to find ourselves in our own pit of darkness, our own nightmare. We wonder how we got here. There is no rhyme nor reason to what has happened to us. We have lost our identity. Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought we would ever be in such a situation.

What galls is that many of us enter the Christmas season in such a state. The vexing part is that The Holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, excitement, romance and fantasy.

Instead of we are weighed down by extreme fear, terror, torment, anxiety, guilt and shame.

In the midst of our own horror story we find that all our societal, cultural and personal markers are askew.  The things that had once given life meaning are gone. The bottom has dropped out. We have a tons of questions but no answers. In sum, we are lost and have no idea where or who we are.

For this happen at Christmas causes excruciating pain, for others seem to be faring so wonderfully.

People all react differently when their world turns upside down like this. This is exemplified In Five Characters in Search of an Exit. 

The episode shows how some pour themselves into coming up with practical solutions to their problems, while others laze about in resignation. For instance, The Major is keen on finding a way out of the pit he is in.

However, his companions in the pit have been in this dreadful environment so long that they have given up. The Clown is so bereft of hope that he just wants to wallow in any amusement he can come up with. As he seeks to frolic he mocks the Major, whom He thinks is wasting time. He calls him an idiot for even trying to find a method to escape .

When caught in our personal hell, many of us also try to explain our circumstances away. The “Twilight Zone” characters are no different.

For instance, some of us turn to theology or fantasy to make sense of our environment. In Five Characters in Search of an Exit, The Major determines that they are in Hell. On the other hand, the Ballerina muses that perhaps that they on a spaceship or on another planet. “Or maybe we are all insane or this is a mirage or an illusion,” she adds.

The Hobo chimes in, too. “We’re dead. This is Limbo.”

We sympathize with these characters in this dungeon. They are just trying to cope.

The Major reiterates that whatever the explanation, their situation is indeed a nightmare. It is he that tries to find a silver lining in their horror, suggesting that someone must be aware of their existence and cares for them.

In a statement that brings to mind the existential angst of modern Millennials, who have recently been pictured in the media as people screaming at the heavens, The Major asks the others if they have shouted or pounded on the walls.

The Hobo responds by saying that they have tried The Major’s ideas but that they came to the conclusion that for all intents and purposes the little room was their universe. His inference is that they have determined that they are stuck in their bad dream and there is no way out.

Those in severe depression, especially during The Holidays, may also have given up, resigning themselves to spending Christmas in pain or dulling their emotions with addictions.

But a clanging noise, which The Ballerina suggests is a bell, provides evidence that the Major may be right. There in fact may be someone outside their “universe” in charge of things. He begins to shout at this “being”.

The Major screams, “LET US OUT OF HERE!”

When we are suffering, we not only get mocked or subjected to the ignorant suppositions of our acquaintances , but we also meet up with kind, sincere souls who will try to assuage our pain. In Five Characters The Ballerina tries to comfort The Major. “Don’t be afraid Major. It gets easier.”

She attempts the “misery loves company” approach. The Ballerina suggests that they aren’t alone in their nightmare. There has to be other “dungeons” for the unloved where their kind also have to suffer.

The Major responds emotionally to the Ballerina’s ideas. “We must have names,” he exclaims. “Someone must care for us,” he yells. This hope motivates him to press on.

“Somewhere, somehow, we have a life that has been cut away from us. We’ve got to get it back!,” says The Major.

He then begins to  try to dig a tunnel into the impervious floor.

SPOILER ALERT

The Major finally convinces his fellow inmates to try to help him escape. He emphasizes that if he can do so, he will come back to rescue them.

The four other characters follow The Major’s instructions. They stand on each others’ shoulders, forming a human tower so that one of them can reach the cusp of the pit. They all writhe in pain as the weight bears down on their shoulders. The Ballerina is injured when they collapse on the floor, but they try again, and the Major is able to climb out of the room.

After he does so, he screams and falls into what appears to be snow. Is he dead?

No. The viewer learns that he is in fact an inanimate doll. A woman is shown minding a Christmas donation barrel on a city street on a winter night, collecting donated dolls for an orphanage. She is clanging a bell to draw attention, a common Yuletide scene.

Meanwhile, in the pit, hearing the Major’s scream, The Clown tells the others that The Major may have been correct. They are in Hell. He predicts that The Major may indeed return, but not as a savior.

A child finds The Major in the snow. She shows him to the woman, who tells her to toss him back in the barrel. We then see all the characters all as lifeless dolls lying in their pit, staring into space.

Rod Serling concludes the episode with what he calls “one hopeful note.” As the camera shows the dolls in the barrel he says, “Perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children their can be nothing but love.”

Serling is on to something. There is hope  for those of us who are suffering.

We can indeed experience love that will give us life.  Someone does love us. This love could  come from children, or friends, or family. But we can’t count on it.

Humans are frail, fickle creatures. Like these dolls, we are made of plaster. We can just as easily break and turn on each other as we can provide assistance and love.

There is One, however, who is not a brittle doll or a weak facsimile of the human race. Jesus is as human as you and I, but also the all-powerful and omniscient God, and He loves us.

How do I know? Jesus took our form and actually entered our pit to save the human race. He suffered like we do, and even more so.

Jesus died for our sins.  The term “sin” is a foreign concept today. Yet, our sins are as real as the morning sun.

In biblical terms, “sin” is defined as rebellion against God. This rebellion deserves judgement from Him.

Yet, God Himself took our punishment.

The Good News is that He didn’t stay dead. He didn’t lay buried in the metaphorical snow life a lifeless doll. Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven.

Unlike  The Major, He will not return to participate in our ongoing Hell. He one day is coming back to our pit to reclaim both it and us. Then, Jesus will make all things new.

Five Characters in Search of an Exit reveals the futility of our own attempts at salvation. We can’t release ourselves from the pain.

Our intellect won’t save us. Theology, fantasy, philosophy or technology aren’t the answers to our personal nightmares. Our fellow humans, even friends and loved ones, aren’t the way out of our suffering. In fact, they may even become adversaries.

Charles Weigl learned this in his own horrific experience.

He was an effective 19th century Christian evangelist and hymn writer. Thousands came to faith in Jesus from his work.

But his loved ones turned on him.

“Adversaries are typical,” says Cox, “but the kind that Weigl would endure are the kind that try men’s souls.”

His wife came under the influence of family members who rejected Weigl’s ministry. He was accused of abandoning his family for it. Eventually his wife left him to seek after the pleasures of the world.

Weigl was devastated. Cox tells how his ministry apparently suffered because church’s were not too fond of a divorced preacher. Even so, God did not give up on Weigl. He began to heal him.

One day in Florida Weigl was so sorrowful that he was considering taking his life. But he recalled his own experience of putting his faith in Jesus when he was in his late teens. He heard a voice say, “Charlie. I care about you. I haven’t forgotten you. Let not your heart be troubled.”

He remembered that there is indeed Someone who cared about Him.

Weigl clearly heard the voice of Jesus. It may not have been audible, but the form of His voice doesn’t matter. Out of this experience he wrote a well known hymn: “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus.”

J. Vernon McGee notes how the Scriptures describe Jesus’s voice as similar to running water, the kind one hears from a stream or waterfall.

McGee was once hiking in Yosemite Park in California when he heard his own name being spoken from a waterfall there. He said that people might think him crazy, but he believes the water was calling his name. “Try it some time,” he said.

McGee told this tale in the context of explaining how those who belong to Jesus recognize His voice. In his message the pastor said that believers in Jesus are described in the Bible as “sheep.” As this animal knows the voice of its shepherd, so those who belong to Jesus know His voice.

The Psalmist writes of the importance of listening to God’s voice in the midst of suffering.  He spoke to the people of ancient Israel, whom God had just delivered from awful slavery in Egypt:

Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
    if you would only listen to me, Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
    you shall not worship any god other than me.
I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it

God WANTS to give us abundance in this life. It may or may not be of the material kind, but we can count on Him to define this abundance, and sculpt it just to fit us.

In the same passage the Psalmist writes of how God had removed the burden from His people’s shoulders. It was not necessary for them to bear a crushing weight anymore. Yet, Israel did indeed continue to rebel against God.

The Psalmist’s warnings rings just as true as the bell of the woman collecting dolls. It’s ringing for us now.

We may be doing everything we can to cope with our personal pit, just as The Major did. In some ways, he is an admirable figure.

He figured that the horror he and his colleagues were experiencing was not reality. The truth lay outside of their own heads and beyond their own efforts.

Their pit was not their final destination. These dolls were meant for loving arms to hold during the Christmas season.

My prayer is that those who belong to Jesus as I do will hear His voice while immersed in the cultural noise around them during this season and be comforted.

For those who do not hear His voice, I would relay the teaching of McGee. He told his listeners that that a person who was deaf to the voice of Jesus did not belong to Him.

The way out of YOUR pit begins with putting your trust in Him to deliver you from it. I There’s no need to stay there.

This week a friend sent me an unsolicited Email. I had not heard from him for a while.

In this Email he warned me to not succumb to “Christmas-induced depression.” This kind of message from my pal was not typical of him, so my ears perked up.

I believe his exhortation was God speaking. I was in bed at the time, feeling miserable. Right then and there I determined to fight my malaise.

Merry Christmas to all  in the pit. May Jesus enter your realm and comfort and deliver you during this difficult time.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren notes:

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film

A fewJessica Pearson has reached a crossroads, one that she hasn’t seen coming.

Standing in a courtroom, the high-energy attorney featured on the hit TV series “Suits” must decide if she will stay and defend a man who is on trial for his life, or leave for an emergency meeting to save her New York law firm.  In the past, her choice would have been a no-brainer.

Jessica is the founder and managing partner of her firm. She has already shown that she will do anything to maintain its position and her power.

The attorney has aided and abetted the fraud perpetrated by Mike Ross, an employee who has posed as a brilliant attorney for the firm, but in fact did not attend law school. Jessica has also chosen her job over her lover Jeff Malone.

(SPOILER ALERT)

But now she has found her soul. As she defends Leonard Bailey, a man who is to be executed for murder but has been given a new trial, Jessica recalls why she became an attorney. She remembers that she went to law school over the objections of her father in order to help people.

As a result of this epiphany, Jessica tells her other desperate partners, hovering in the courtroom to drag her to the meeting, to take a hike. She goes on to perform an astounding cross examination of a key witness that causes the judge to free Bailey.

When Jessica walks into the hall, a rival lawyer who has witnessed her defense tells her how amazing the cross was. She replies that she believes it is the pinnacle of her career.

Ironically, this admiring attorney had earlier attempted to poach Jessica from her firm, expecting it to crash. Jessica turned him down.

At the end of the episode, she announces to her partners that she is leaving the firm. She knocks on Jeff’s door that night to tell him that she wants to leave with him for Chicago, where he intends to begin a new job.

Walking away from a career with lots of power and money to pursue your true calling and the love of your life is not easy as it might seem.  It carries a big risk.

Sonny Weaver learned that being true to yourself and your convictions can put you in jeopardy. In his case, he is under threat of losing his job as general manager of the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 film “Draft Day”.

Like Jessica, he has people hounding him at crucial times as he tries to make decisions about what players to pick during the NFL draft.  The biggest problem, though, is that his aging playboy owner wants him to “make a big splash” in order to put buns in the stadium seats. Defying him means obvious curtains for Sonny.

Furthermore, the team’s new coach, a Super Bowl winner for another team, carps at his general manager as Sonny wheels and deals during the draft. They appear to have major philosophical differences as to how construct the team.

In addition, current and aspiring players are lobbying Sonny during the day. Brian Drew, the Browns’ quarterback, trashes his office when he learns that his general manager has paid a king’s ransom to Seattle in order to gain the number 1 draft pick.

It is assumed that the Browns will pick a star college quarterback with the choice. That’s certainly what Sonny’s owner expects him to do. When that happens, Drew figures he is toast.

The coach hates this idea of a rookie quarterback taking over the reigns of the team, too. He believes Drew will run his offense better.

On top of his on-the-job issues, Sonny also must fend off his loved ones who want his time and attention during this critical period. His girlfriend, who is also the financial whiz for the Browns, announces that she is pregnant.

Sonny and her keep meeting in a closet to discuss their relationship during draft day. When he asks his girlfriend what she really wants, she says “I don’t want to be a secret.”

Furthermore Sonny’s mother Barb picks draft day to discuss the provisions of his father’s will. His Dad, a legend for the Browns, decided that he wanted his ashes placed at the 50 yard line of the practice field which is named after him.

Barb wants to do the ceremony then and there. Sonny is adamant that he won’t participate. This doesn’t stop Barb. She leads team personnel onto the field to distribute the ashes without her son.

Clearly it is complete chaos at Browns headquarters. In the midst of it all, Sonny keeps his head.

He does this because it is His dream to pick the players HE wants and to build the team HIS way. As he dickers with other team’s general managers he works toward that goal.

When the first pick is announced, Sonny has picked a linebacker whom he loves. He believes the hyped quarterback will be a bust, but that his choice will be a star.

The angry owner hops a plane from the draft site to go to Cleveland and fire him. Not only does he arrive at headquarters and say to Sonny “you’re a dead man”, but the coach also tells Sonny that he quits.

“I can’t coach a team that has no future,” the coach says. Sonny asks him to hold on.

He also tells his owner to give him five minutes. If he doesn’t like what he sees after that, then he can fire him.

Sonny then amazes everyone. He not only gets back all the picks he traded to move up to number 1, but also gets a star punt returner and drafts a stud running back, which pleases the coach.

The owner tells him, “Congratulations. You have some balls.”

At the end of the day everyone is happy. Sonny and his girlfriend have weathered their storm. His mother is pleased when she hears that she will have a grandchild.

The fictional stories of Jessica and Sonny tell this writer, this real life person, that if he is to imperil himself his confidence had better not be of the false kind. I had better have a clear foundation of beliefs that will help me to withstand the opposition to my choices.

In my next post I will explain what that firm ground is for me.

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America has made a deal with the devil. Perhaps it’s not too late.

There is some thought that we are in the midst of a civil war in America. If we are, it’s not like the first one that occurred over a century and a half ago.

In 1861 there was a clear geographical demarcation in the War Between the States: the northern states were on one side and the southern states were on the other. There were some border states with mixed loyalties that officially stayed in the Union.

The nature of the war is different now. The conflict is between masses of individuals spread throughout the country in blue {“liberal”) states and  red “”conservative”” ones. A few are purple, meaning they could go either way during an election.

I  suppose there COULD be a geographical split, but I doubt any states that secede would join a confederation.  These states most likely would blue ones located on different coasts.

There are some similarities between the 19th century contest and our own. Both wars concerned political, ideological and cultural differences.  But the mixing of those who hold disparate views is so great now that it would be virtually impossible to have organized hostilities involving armies.

What is very different today is the spiritual nature of the struggle. Back in the 1860s Americans generally accepted that Christianity was the prevailing faith. Both folks in the north and their counterparts in the south accepted that our country was “Christian”.

This didn’t mean that everyone was a believer. It just meant that our national values leaned heavily on Biblical teaching and many Americans sought to live their lives by them. It was also generally agreed that violating Christian instruction regarding social mores was anathema.

This way of thinking is obviously not the case in the second decade of the 21st century. The Christian faith is still prevalent, but not as much as in the past. Furthermore, since the 1960s the nation has descended into what can best be termed a post-Christian era. In fact, we are probably way beyond such a period.

The end result is that every man does what is right in his own eyes.  This could very well mean that Americans wittingly or unwittingly are making a deal with the polar opposite of Jesus, i.e. the evil being known as Satan, or the devil.

Oh, the accord with the angel of darkness may not be cut in stone in the human’s mind, but it is still an understanding. This compromise is similar in kind to my sports rooting.

Since none of my team’s win, I generally cheer from the negative. I pull for my teams’ rivals to lose.

Some unbelievers behave in the same fashion. They see Christianity as a losing proposition for them. They may not be that enthused about or even believe in the devil, but they get involved with his dark devices anyway by default. The resulting values and actions are not exactly “Christian” in tone.

Other people who are not followers of Jesus are in a worse fix. They have fallen hook, line and sinker into the abyss with Satan. They are making a clear and conscious choice to ignore and disobey God and walk with the devil.

This predicament can be detected in the America of today by observing the onslaught of lying in the media.Politicians and other leaders lie to our faces on TV, radio and the Internet. In addition, the purveyors of news are not only willing accomplices, but avid participants in the deception.

The source of this systemic falsehood is made known in the Scriptures. Satan has many names, but one of his monikers in the Bible is “The Father of Lies.” He’s the king prevaricator.

Such a decline as we see now  was perhaps possible in the 19th century, but not probable. Americans still had not thrown caution to the wind. Truth still mattered. Evil was at bay.

Soldiers

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS FROM NORTH AND SOUTH AT A REUNION. A COMMON SET OF SPIRITUAL VALUES MADE RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE.

Because of our current beguiling, I was amazed to see the Christian faith of the time depicted on my television last night. Unfortunately, the show was one made almost 60 years ago, not recently.

One of my favorite Netflix pastimes is to watch old episodes of the science fiction/fantasy series “The Twilight Zone.” The one I saw last night involved a Confederate soldier who stumbles upon a bizarre scene in a Virginia town.

This Rebel scout found Union frozen in place in the streets of the place. They appeared as if they were people in a still photo, some in the middle of an action.

The Confederate, a man named Sergeant Paradine, at first thought the men were asleep. But he soon tossed that idea. He couldn’t wake them up, even though he shouted in their faces.

As he walked Paradine came upon an old man named Teague who claimed to have cast a spell on the Union soldiers. He showed the Confederate his book of witchcraft.

When Paradine didn’t believe him,the warlock froze him in place, too. However, the sorcerer left him with the ability to comprehend what was happening around him.

After releasing Paradine from the effects of the incantation, the old man told the sergeant that he could cast a spell on the entire Union army, but he wouldn’t because he knew he was to die that day. He gave the book to Paradine so the Confederate could do so himself.

Before reporting back to his commanding officer, Paradine froze some Union defenders in place on a ridge in the region. The state of these soldiers was confirmed by the attacking Confederate officer when the rebels were all together that night.

Paradine

PARADINE

What ensued was a debate over whether or not Paradine should go on and paralyze the entire US Army. He hesitated at first because while he was with Teague the sergeant felt the use of the book was unclean. The warlock also confirmed that the person conducting the witchcraft was in league with the devil. All this made Paradine uneasy.

At first Paradine’s commanding officer resisted the casting of spells, also. “It’s of the devil,” he said.

But Paradine regrouped and tried to convince his superior to let him use the book of witchcraft. “I don’t know much about Satan, he said, “but this cause of ours is dying right in front of our eyes.”

The officer then concurred and told Paradine to read from the book. However, when he did so he came across a passage that made him stop dead in his tracks.

“He calls upon us to revoke the name of God,” said Paradine. Despite exhortations from the others the sergeant couldn’t go on.

“What do we call em? Damn Yankees, don’t we, lieutenant?,” said Paradine. “If I read aloud from the book it is the Confederacy that will be damned.

“It’s the book or it’s the end,” he went on. “Then let it be the end. If it must come, let it come.

“If this cause is to be buried let it be put in hallowed ground. Let it be put in hallowed ground.”

The book of witchcraft was immediately burned in the campfire.

Would that men and women in America take the same stance against Satan instead of colaboring with him. The only way that will happen if we see the error of our ways as Paradine did. If we do, then perhaps we will have a spiritual revival in our nation.

Even if a large segment of our populace continues to make a deal with the devil, the people of God can still take a stand. They can actively oppose Satan’s playbook. This courageous activity may not save our country, but such a stance will at least please God and make our burial ground noble in His eyes.

In the long run of eternity, this is more important. Siding with Satan is never right.

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The Confusing Nature of the NFL Protests

Slow News Day

You can learn a lot about people, organizations and government by how they respond when they are threatened or in a crisis.

Look at the National Football League (NFL), the professional American sports league, for instance. The commissioner’s office and the owners are caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment.

It’s all over the news today, but if you left on Planet Nine this weekend, here’s a summary of the situation.  Teams were confronted with how to react to comments by President Donald Trump last week. The Donald said that an owner should fire a player who kneels instead of stands when the national anthem is played. Mimicking what this owner should say, Trump shouted “Get that son of a bitch off the field.” He added his signature line from his reality TV days: “You’re fired!”

The original protest of kneeling while the anthem is played…

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