Trust God and Keep on Keeping On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTAGION

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

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

Contagion

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

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

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

(Spoiler Alert)

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

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

CONTAGION

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good News from a Far Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SPOILER ALERT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far Country Gannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Things aren’t as they seem

J.J. Sefton is suspect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalag 17 Sefton

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

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

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

Stalag 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly, a number are falling for this swindle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The world needs another Billy Graham

My hero died today.

Billy Graham passed in to eternity at the age of 99. His reward from God is sure.

I first encountered Mr. Graham while listening to a radio program called “Hour of Decision” while I was in middle school. While at the time the Bible was dry as dust to me, there was something about Billy that made spiritual things come alive.

Perhaps it was his gentle, yet commanding, southern drawl. Or it might have been his enthusiasm for his message, which of course was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have heard that those who met Billy in person were held in awe. I was mesmerized to a degree just by watching him on television. As he and I got older, he became a type of Moses figure to me.

It was through this medium that Billy’s ministry led me to faith in Jesus while I was in high school. As I recall, he was holding a crusade in Minnesota that was broadcast on TV.

One night I was quite down. I believe it was due to having just broken up with a girlfriend.

Billy gave the same message he always did: that Jesus lived a righteous life, one without sin; that He died on a Roman cross to pay for the sins of mankind, which is not righteous and deserves punishment; that Jesus rose from the dead;  and that He is alive today and wants to have a relationship with those whom He has redeemed.

I knew all of this information intellectually, even as a teenager. But during this particular crusade a man gave a testimony of God’s work in his life that brought the import of this message home.

He spoke of how at one time in his life he had lacked peace and purpose. However, after inviting Jesus into his heart this fellow said he now had a peace and purpose that changed his life .

I knew I had neither peace nor purpose. And I knew I wanted then both.

I began to ask some have a conversation with myself about my life after this fellow talked.  Why am I going to college? To get a job, I thought. Why am I getting a job? So I can get married and have kids, i.e. so I can support a family. Why am I doing that? So my kids can grow up, go to college, get a job and raise a family….so their kids can…..”

It all just seemed like an endless and purposeless cycle. It was the feelings that came from this sense of emptiness that led me to cry out to God that night.

Billy always gave an invitation at the end of his sermons. He entreated the huge throngs in stadiums and event centers to get up out of their seats and come forward and receive Jesus into their hearts.

The audience watching on their televisions at home were also included in Billy’s earnest plea. They were told to come to Christ right there in their living rooms.

For those present, Billy would tell them not to worry about how they would get home. If they stuck around to do business with God, “the buses will wait,” he said. This was the most thrilling cliche of my youth.

This “sealing of the deal” , the closing, the receipt of the invitation, was what I was missing from my personal understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. That night I prayed:

“Oh, God. Come into my life. I need peace and purpose.” He did.

I have indeed experienced peace and purpose during my time on this planet, but not always. Whenever I have lacked them, it has not been God’s fault. It has been the result of going my own way instead of His.

Tonight I mourn Billy’s loss deeply because of his impact on me for eternity. I learned of his passing this morning, in stages.

As I was traveling I saw some general mention of Mr. Graham on Twitter. It occurred to me that something may have happened, but I was driving from the airport with my friend and Christian mentor. We were talking and I had no chance to surf the news.

When we stopped for gas, I received a news alert which told me of Billy’s death. I went out to the pumps and told my friend. It was difficult to hold back the emotions, but I did. I didn’t want to get teary-eyed in public.

In my mind I know that it was time for this century-old icon to meet His loving Maker–the God whom he believed chose him to preach the gospel to the entire world in his generation.  I also am aware he is happier than he has ever been. Billy is home with the God he loved and his dear with Ruth.

However, my heart still weeps because of the sense of loss.  The world, especially as it is today, is not worthy of such a man. In fact, that the world has been deprived of  a man sent by God to save them adds to my grief. I am concerned for our world’s prospects.

But my prayer is that God will be merciful to the youth of today and raise up someone of his ilk for them. Because of  our current wickedness, it doesn’t seem we  deserve another chance at hearing about the love of God  from such a man as Billy Graham.

But He was gracious to this undeserving sinner and his contemporaries. Perhaps God will take another young man and make another Billy Graham for the current generation.

That’s something we can all pray for.

 

 

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Fatherhood in film: the example of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof

The other night I turned on the boob tube, appropriately named because my mind was shot. I have been trying to stay away from TV, but I had run out of steam and needed something mindless to look at.

There in front of me was “Fiddler on the Roof”, one of my all-time favorite flicks.  I decided to watch a little and then look for something new, but soon I was hooked.

I tuned in a little late so I missed the first 20 minutes or so, but it didn’t matter because I knew the story so well. I used to show “Fiddler on the Roof” to my English as a second language classes. (The song “If I were a Rich Man” is great for teaching second conditional.)

Although I had seen this story of  early 20th-century Russian Jews numerous times, I felt drawn to the story once more. As happens when exposed to something encountered before, I obtained a new perspective on the film.

This time around I was entranced by the performance of Israeli actor Topol in the role of Tevye, the milkman peasant tasked with eking out a living for his wife and five daughters in the little town of Anatevka.

In particular, I was moved by his efforts to deal with the coming-of-age of his three oldest daughters.  All three fall for young men from the village, and Tevye must navigate their choices while still trying to remain true to his beliefs.

1971 - Fiddler on the Roof - Movie Set

Tevye’s three oldest daughters come of age

As “Fiddler on the Roof” opens, he sings of his role as the master of the house, the man with the final word in his home. In addition, Tevye speaks of the importance of the traditions of his Jewish faith.

The oldest daughter Tzeitel is in love with a tailor named Motel, who doesn’t appear to have much prospects in life. She has already been promised to an older butcher, a marriage arranged by the elderly female matchmaker Yente.

When Motel and Tzeitel approach her father about marrying, Tevye is at first astonished.  The arranging of their own marriage is unheard of.

But he is a reasonable man, and a good, discerning father. He begins to argue with himself and God, looking to the heavens after Motel promises to take care of Tzeitel. Tevye says:

Hmm. He’s beginning to talk like a man. On the other hand, what kind of a match would that be with a poor tailor? On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, things could never get worse for him, only better.

But look at my daughter’s face. She loves him. She wants him. And look at my daughter’s eyes.

After all the back and forth with himself and God, Tevye finally agrees to the marriage.

The same scenario plays out with Hodel, the second oldest daughter. She comes to him about her beau Perchik. The young man is a communist revolutionary, but Tevye likes him.

After another internal argument complete with several “on the other hands” and the requisite glances to God, and the observation about how his daughter feels about the boy, Tevye also consents to their wedding.

Topol

When it came to his daughters, Tevye carried on a running argument with himself and God

This Jewish father clearly loves his girls. This love for them not only requires honoring their desires, but also imposes the responsibility to set limits when necessary, and Tevye finds he must do so when the third oldest wants to marry outside the faith.  His daughter Cheva has fallen for Fyedka, a Christian.

Citing the Bible (which doesn’t actually contain a reference that he quotes), Tevya tells Cheva:

As the Good Book says, “Each shall seek his own kind. ” In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?

Cheva tells her Dad that she and Fyedka want to be married.

Tevye draws the line at this statement.

What? Are you out of your mind? Don’t you understand what that means, marrying outside of the faith?  I said no! Never talk about it again. Never mention his name again.Never see him again. Do you understand me?

Cheva answers “yes, Papa” but elopes with Fyedka anyway.

Fiddler-on-the-Roof_Chava-2

Tevye and his daughter Cheva

When Cheva shows up in the fields to talk with her father, Tevye begins his usual ping pong match with himself and God. After a couple of his normal “on the other hand” statements, he yells “No! There IS no other hand.”

As a result, in accordance with tradition, Tevye (with a broken heart) disowns his daughter.

Even in our modern world, where it seems society’s traditions and bearings are broken, studies show that the protection of family is a top value.  Every culture does this differently.

For instance, in the United States parents seek to train their children to become responsible adults, able to make good individual decisions. However, as with many things, the parents go to the extreme. They emphasize individual choice too much.

Tevye is an admirable character inasmuch as he sought balance. He wanted his daughters to be happy, but he held to traditions that would protect them and their family.  These traditions are rooted in the ancient Jewish faith.

Fathers are important in the shaping of the human psyche. They have an impact on who we are all of our lives.

Because all of us are created in God’s image, you would hope that fathers would respond to their children well and make good decisions like our Father God. However, because of their own estrangement from their Heavenly Father, earthly Dads don’t always deal with their children as they should.

Yet, the door is still open for fathers to  come to Him for wisdom.  Dads can come to Him in prayer  and He takes the words and creates a miracle. He creates something, sometimes out of nothing.

Jesus taught that our Father God gives good gifts to His children. He said:

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

When people receive Jesus we receive God’s Spirit. This is hard to understand outside of having faith in God, but through His Spirit our Father God guides and lead us.

Those who have not put their faith in Jesus do not have His guidance in this way. But they can.

Jesus is God the Son, who died and rose again and is living today to heal our estrangement from our Father God, which came due our rebellion against Him. If we don’t seek this restoration with our Father, we are cut off from Him.

This leaves us only able to rely on our own guidance. It also leaves us open to the wiles of the evil being known as Satan, a spirit being out to destroy mankind.

Would that more fathers be more like Tevye, who consulted his Father God when he had to lead and respond to his own children.

 

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God’s Blessing at the Beach

I have a gift right now. I am visiting family, and they live near the beach, so I can walk the boardwalks around the area frequently.

In the last week I have been to the surf  four times. I tend to visit the one closest to where I am staying, so two of those walks have been at the same strand.

It’s not the first time the opportunity to ramble along the seashore around here  has arisen. Most recently, I was around in the spring and summer of last year and frequently ambled the coastline then, also.

It occurred to me on one of these current strolls that my experience of this section of the bay changes each time I come. For example, that day the sky  was quite clear,and filled with jet streams from military aircraft.

Earlier in the week, the scene above the beach was different. The sky contained a splash of cloud cover.

These cloud decorations did not obscure the sunshine. It wasn’t gloomy. On the contrary, it was very bright.

Art

God’s splash art in the beach sky

A few weeks ago, however, the heavens were indeed smothered in a soupy grey. There was little sunshine.

Cloudy

Morning

The reason for the differences in the firmament above the beach on these visits was partly due to the time of the morning I visited. For instance, the murkiness I saw a few weeks ago was present around dawn. The fog common at the surf at this time had not lifted.

It’s winter now, too, so I have also noticed a few features connected to the seasonal nature of the tourist trade that are different than my time last summer.

For instance, there is a lot more construction going at present. The pounding of hammers and the loud Spanish voices of Latino workers can be heard.

Furthermore, the beaches are noticeably empty. Not as many people vacation at the beach in January as they do in July.

Empty

An empty local beach on a sunny day in January

As a result, I have observed tractors meandering up and down the beaches. In the sand of other local beaches I have noticed large sections cratered by digging as well.

This kind of work is not something you see in the hotter months. Beach space is precious.

One day last week I made some new discoveries. I walked along a path along the coast I had not noticed before. It lies between the concrete “boardwalk” that parallels the sand and the sidewalk at the top of the bluffs which overlook the seashore.

This mid-level tour gave me some new views of the coast. I gained a different perspective than before.

For example, I watched two different volleyball matches from above. It was fun to watch the ball sky up to my level when one of the players smacked it.

Volleyball

Volleyball from above

I felt more like I was at a public stadium watching a sporting event and not at a beach resort. Only the pounding waves and blue sky gave away my true location.

There’s one other bit of variety from previous visits which I became aware of as well.  This phenomenon had nothing to do with my environment. It concerned my physical, mental and emotional state.

Lately I have been working at choosing what kind of emotions I want to feel as I enter different situations. I might say something to myself like this:  “As I enter the gym I am going to bring the joy and be enthusiastic about this workout.”

However, on that day no matter what statement I used to try and “trigger’ positive and uplifting feelings in my spirit, the emotions I desired  just weren’t coming.  Here I was surrounded by incredible natural beauty and power, and my attitude was expressing itself in a big fat “meh”.

I think I was just tired. I haven’t been sleeping well and I also had engaged in four straight days of hard exercise before showing up at the beach that morning. Thus, I felt a bit like I had been run over by a truck.

I was mentally out of it. I bought a churro and waited for the Latino guy, a very friendly man I have met on other visits,  to give it to me. He gave me my change and said “have a nice day.”

I was a little taken aback because all he gave me was the caramel dip that came with the churro, or so I thought.  I was going to ask him if I should just wait by his window for the churro, but  he smiled back at me with a look of farewell on his face.

Then I looked down. I was holding the churro in my hand.

After that I went to another kiosk to buy coffee. I sat the cup, churro and dip down on a table.

“Where’s my wallet!?” I said to myself. It wasn’t in my front pocket where I usually keep it.

Then I asked the lady who had served me,  “M’aam, did you find a wallet?”

She looked at me askance. I felt around my person. It was in my back pocket.

I suddenly felt a concern for mortality.

Of course, some things remain the same each time I visit this particular beach. The waves are usually the same. They might be a little stronger or may deliver themselves a little farther up the sand, but by and large they don’t break from the norm of what you expect to view at the seashore.

Waves

Also, some of the same people are present. On this day an older lady and her male partner passed me by whom I had seen previously.

I knew it was her because on both walks she has said to someone, “You are in the bike path. You are blocking the people on bikes or skateboards. You should be in the walking path over here.”

She is the boardwalk policewoman, ready to enforce the rules.

I realized at the time of my visit that morning that these visits to to the beach are truly an endowment from God. I am not “entitled” to them and I need not expect them. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but the truth is that I might not even wake up tomorrow.

I thought of a passage from the Bible. The prophet Jeremiah wrote that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.”

I thought that these seaside walks are definitely occasions of mercy from God.

My visit that particular morning helped me to understand that there is another place where I will experience the same kind of diverse perspective each time I take the occasion to visit there. I am referring to the times I choose to explore the Scriptures where I find writings such as the one from Jeremiah.

I have been reading this book and studying it since childhood, but each time I take a sojourn there I learn something new. I may be perusing a passage I have encountered scores of times, and find that I am getting a different perspective than before.  These insights are also a gift from God.

Each time I arrive in the Bible I also bring my own current “me” to the occasion. I am not the same person I was the last time I visited.

I have a different mood than I did the last time . My body or brain are functioning at a different frequency than on my other stopovers in the Word.

It doesn’t matter. There is one feature of my time in the Bible that I know remains the same. That aspect is the nature of God himself.

I know the truth that  God never changes, and this fact informs me when I read and study the Bible. As with my visits to the beach, the goodies He bestows on me might be different, but unlike me, He is not.

The diversity of the beach experience and the sameness of nature are both rewarding.

The unique discoveries from my time in the Bible and the comfort that its author, the Lord God, is the same yesterday, today and  forever are altogether delightful.

God’s creation, which locally is most impressive at the beach, and His word are both astounding favors from His hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Test of Friendship

In the silent-film era flick “The Flying Fleet”,  aspiring naval aviators Tommy and Steve are comrades.  They are part of a tight group of six cadets at the US Naval Academy.

The night before graduation Tommy is stuck with duty as “officer of the day” while his friends are out celebrating. When they return to the barracks inebriated, Tommy risks his own career by knocking Steve out so his noisy talk doesn’t get the attention of the commanding officer.

One midshipman colleague Tommy can’t save. His friend “Dizzy” is dismissed from the service when his drunken state is discovered.

The Flying Fleet

Midshipman Steve removes the tight pants of his friend Tommy at the US Naval Academy in the film “The Flying Fleet.” They’re pals, but their friendship will soon be tested.

As the five remaining men enter the Naval service, some see their hopes of becoming pilots end in training. One actually loses his life when his plane crashes.

Two of the other four, “Ensign Specs” and Ensign “Kewpie”,  wash out of flight training.  The former becomes a navigator while the latter accepts a post as radio officer on the aircraft carrier Langley.

This leaves Tommy and Steve to pursue their dreams of becoming naval aviators. As they do, the relationship between the two men becomes complicated.

Even thought they are clearly still friends, Tommy and Steve become professional rivals.In a harbinger of what is to come 50 years later in the film “Top Gun”, the pals compete for the honor of being the fleet’s  best pilot.

Tommy is probably the more talented airman, but Steve is a confident leader. Indeed, he is probably too cocky.

At first Tommy appears to get  the upper hand. He is chosen by the admiral to pilot a large plane from San Diego to Hawaii, a distance of 2,500 miles. The assignment is quite an honor for a Navy pilot of that era.

Even so, Steve is still the leader of their squadron so they are somewhat “even” in their competition. Their friendship, while competitive, appears to remain intact.

But in the repeat of an age-old story, Tommy and Steve have a falling out due to their affections for the same young woman.  In a scene containing youthful hijinks, Steve hides Tommy’s uniform pants as the three are preparing to leave a beach together.

Tommy has to take the time to frantically search his locker area for his pants. Steve has thrown them in a trash bin, so he never finds them.

This leaves Steve alone with the girl, a young lady named Anita. The two leave the beach by car without Tommy.

In the meantime, Tommy has to return to base in his boxer shorts. He is spotted by the admiral and is directed to the commander’s office to be called on the carpet. By this time Steve is present to see this takedown, but Tommy doesn’t turn Steve in to their boss.

Tommy does rebukes Steve, however, telling him that there are some things that put a strain on a friendship. This incident also causes doubt about Tommy in the admiral’s mind.

Then the two pilots have a dogfight in the skies. A common training technique, Tommy wins the competition by forcing his friend to the ground. He then buzzes Steve from the air after his friend lands in a bit of a victory ‘dance’.

Had Tommy left  his celebration at that, all would have been well. However, he returns a second time and flies so close to Steve that the squadron leader is  forced to fall on the tarmac.

This overkill does not set well with Anita.  Furthermore, their commander does not like it either. He relieves Tommy of the  duty of flying the big plane to Hawaii. Steve is assigned in his place.

Soon thereafter Steve flies the big ship towards Hawaii as the fleet follows. However, he and his crew run into a storm and are forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.

The men are stranded on an unsubmerged wing of the plane for days. Among the airmen floating on the Pacific is Steve and Tommy’s old pal “Specs”, who is badly injured.Knowing that his fellows are giving him all of the water and have to suffer in the Pacific heat, Specs slips into the ocean and sacrifices himself.

Meanwhile, the fleet searches for their lost comrades. Tommy leads the hunt for the men. When the admiral is ordered to end the seemingly hopeless search, Tommy asks for one more attempt to save his friends and the rest of the crew.  Admiring Tommy’s commitment, the otherwise curmudgeonly commander bends the rules and gives his permission.

Tommy finds the downed men but he himself becomes a prisoner of the waves. He is forced to ditch his own plane in the ocean because he runs out of fuel. Tommy swims to the other men consigned to the big plane’s wing.

However, before he hit the water Tommy was able to signal the fleet with a flare. As a result the survivors  are found and taken to a hospital ship.

Anita comes to see Steve and especially Tommy, who is her preferred beau. The movie ends with the two as revealed as friends again and the announcement that Tommy would receive a medal for his heroism.

I realized after watching the failures of Tommy and Steve in “The Flying Fleet” that I need to cut some of my own friends some slack. Sometimes I have been tested in my relationships, and failed mightily.

What I haven’t seemed to absorb is that on this side of heaven, none of us is perfect (except me of course. We all tend to overlook our own faults!) We all lose our tempers, act selfishly, and pursue our own interests over those of our friends.

This should not be a surprise to me or anyone else. The only perfect human that walked the Earth was  Jesus. It also needs to be said that He was the Incarnate Christ, God become flesh.

J. Vernon McGee spoke of the nothingness of what he called “little man”.  Loosely quoting and then commenting on a Bible passage, McGee said, “Beloved, it does not appear what we shall be but we know when He (Jesus) shall appear we shall be like Him. Now don’t you be discouraged with me. God is not finished with me yet. He’s not through with me. And I won’t be discouraged with you because God is not through with you.”

In fact, I now see that the conflicts I have had with friends were tests from God, some  that I did not pass.  I never thought of these fights as coming from the Lord but McGee’s teaching has shown me they may very well have been.

McGee notes that God tests us to show us how proud we are and  to humble us. He said that he sometimes does this in the area of friendship.

The true test of friendship is that we love our friends to the end. “Specs” did that in “The Flying Fleet.” Jesus did that, too. He like “Specs” died to save us.

At the heart of Tommy and Steve’s reconciliation and that offered by Jesus is the concept of forgiveness.  God has forgiven us, so why not forgive our brothers and sisters.

Jesus dies so he could offer that forgiveness, but He did not stay in the grave. He rose from the dead and wants to have a friendship with His people based on love.

Like Tommy did in “The Flying Fleet”,  Jesus is coming back to finish His work of salvation.  He one day will appear in the air and take us to be with Him.

In the interim, we should love our friends down here.

James Dobson says that this is what is really important in our journey on this globe.

“When you come to the end of your life what will matter most? Have you thought about that? The buildings that have your name on them?  The books that you wrote? Will it be the money that you made? Will it be great accomplishments professionally? Will it be  a business that you built?  What is going to matter? When you look back and think “THAT’S on the top of the list, what’s it going to be? 

Those things I mentioned don’t matter to me at all. They’re not significant. What matters to me is who I loved and who loved me and what we did together in the service of the Lord. Nothing else makes much sense.

If we do develop this kind of mindset, we should pass the test of friendship.

 

 

 

 

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