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Then Jesus told him, ‘You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me’.” John 20:29

Robert Burns wrote that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I’m not sure my plans for Saturday were particularly well laid out, but they surely didn’t turn out as I expected.

Originally, I was going to spend a free day cashing in a reward at one of the local Starbucks, lifting weights and then catching my favorite baseball team on the telly.  What occurred was that I did go to the S-bucks, but the rest of the day went in a different direction.

The actual major events don’t matter in this tale so much. What is important are the little decisions I made and the small circumstances and interactions of the day. They made me ponder their meaning.

I suppose this is because I just listened to an audio recording by Jerry Bridges on the Providence of God. At the time I began thinking of the accrued happenings on this October day, I was focusing on the negative (something that my pessimistic nature is prone to).

After some little misfortunes occurred, I began to wonder if Bridges was right in his assessment that God is in control of every little thing. If He was, then I questioned why these things were happening to me.

Was I being punished or disciplined? Or were these incidents just a product of a fallen world? Why was life so difficult?

Perhaps it would be best to provide a short narrative for these hours. I woke up not sure of the plan ahead, which is common to my shoot from the hip nature.

I decided that I would walk into town and catch the bus to Starbucks. In fact, many of the events of the day were influenced by my lack of wheels.

I am addicted out of necessity to being a ped. No, I am not involved with performance enhancing drugs. I just walk everywhere I go, especially when the bus system is not reliable.

The bus service in my town is reduced on weekends. At 9 am there were no busses. Besides,  I needed to get some exercise.

However, when I arrived in town, I learned that the bus over to the Starbucks would not leave for almost an hour.  I think I just missed it.

So I decided to hop the bus to the WalMart. I had an errand to run at the Best Buy near there and decided to “redeem” the time.

As it turned out, due to the local university’s Homecoming football events, the bus had to take an alternative route. This detour dropped me about two blocks from the Starbucks, my original planned destination.

“Wow,” I thought.

It was a cool and crisp autumn day, and as I sat at Starbucks sipping my coffee  I thought,”Maybe I’ll go to the game.” One of my friends was at a major NASCAR event, and another buddy of mine had just gone to see Notre Dame play.

So I was thinking,”Well, if my friends can have all this fun, is it so wrong that I have a little once in a while to.” I have to mentally justify these kinds of expenditures because I am on a limited budget.

Now, my school, which is also my employer, isn’t exactly Alabama, but they aren’t the Little Sisters of the Poor either. They are in a mid-level college conference, and generally do pretty well (except for this year).

I said to myself,”Look. This is what is available. Sure, the game is not a major deal. But it will be nice to experience some college football of any kind on a day like this.”

Not knowing the bus situation, I just decided to walk down the road I was already on to the stadium. It’s a straight shot of about two miles.

Before I left,  I went grocery shopping to buy any non-perishables I could carry. I do not live near a grocery store, so I have to take these opportunities to buy food when I have them.

In the middle of rearranging my stuff into my backpack, a kid whose job it was to snare carts whacked me on the knee with one. Now, it really didn’t do any damage, but I had the same emotional response some students do when they get a grade they are not happy with. I was “shocked” and “disappointed” at this fellows lack of care.

He asked me if I was ok, to which I replied while wincing, “Yeah.” Now, as I walked away, I noted to myself that the pained reaction was for effect. I mentally kicked myself and asked God why I had to be so dramatic and why I didn’t just give the kid a break.

Before I began the walk to the game, I stopped to get a lunch special from a Chinese place. I ordered among other things egg drop soup, which was too hot to eat and looked like its name: it was a gooey concoction of yell slime. I didn’t eat it.

After eating lunch, I did the walk. Arriving at the stadium, I bought my ticket and went to the gate.

I had to have my bag checked and I thought for sure I would be accosted about the food in there. It has been my common experience lately to have people with any kind of authority use it. Sure enough, I was told “they don’t like people to bring food in here.”. However, the gentleman checking my bag let me in anyway.

During the game, I filmed events from my laptop. On my school’s first touchdown, the quarterback threw a beautiful pass to a receiver who made a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone. My camera was ready and I began filming from my laptop. Unfortunately, a group of students walked right in front of me up the stadium stairs as I was filming, oblivious to my grimace.

One staff person finally told me,”You can take pictures of the game, but you can’t film.”  I thought,”Thirty thousand people with Smartphones which have video capability and he has to pick on me.”

Now, I was already non-plussed by this man because he kept walking up and down the stadium stares with a watchful eye and seeming glare. Frankly, he gave me the creeps.

Going out to a quick three touchdown lead, my university’s team lost the game in the end. They were knocking at the door with 8 seconds to go and couldn’t punch it in. I listened to disgruntled fans complain about the play-calling of our coach and watched as one guy berated excited fans of the opposing team.

“Hmm. These usually wonderful students are not as nice as I thought,” I said to myself.

Leaving the stadium, I was hoping to catch one of these bus shuttles I had seen. The regular bus service had already ended and the schedule on the school’s shuttle stop noted that it did not run there on Saturday.

I just missed a city shuttle as it turned a corner. I asked a female police officer directing traffic if she knew about these shuttles, and she said she didn’t. But she also added,”You had better stand back or you are going to get hit by a car.” My mind went to, “Yep. Another unnecessary rebuke from a police officer.”

I waited for about 10 to 15 minutes and a shuttle never appeared. So I walked down the same street I had walked down three hours earlier. As I trudged along, three shuttles from the stadium passed me within 20 minutes.

I made a turn down a long road that runs through campus and to the greenway, which leads to my neighborhood. I arrived home about 90 minutes after leaving the stadium, in the dark, and hungry.

When I got home, I turned on the television and learned my favorite baseball team had just lost in the last inning for the second night in a row. They have now dug a deep hole for themselves to make a World Series.

The end to a perfectly topsy turvy day.

After reflecting on this Saturday, though,  I came to the conclusion that the doctrine of God’s Providence was not really the issue here, at least for me. What really mattered was whether or not I believed that God loved me and was trustworthy enough to help me in my circumstances.

If in fact God is in control of all good and bad things that happen to me as Jerry Bridges says, then the question for me is , “Does He use them for my good?.” This well known verse from the Bible seems to say he does:

And we know that God causes everything to work together[a] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

In retrospect, when I review my supposedly negative experiences from Saturday, I realize that many of the things that occurred were quite helpful. Here are some of the positive effects of these apparently “bad” events:

1) My early morning bus didn’t come, but the one I DID take led me to my planned destination anyway.

2) God protected me from harm when a careless grocery store worker slammed my knee with a cart.

3) My egg drop soup was not eatable, but I learned what NOT to order next time AND I enjoyed a nice chicken and broccoli dish there.

4) The guy who checked my bag at the stadium could have in fact denied my entry. But when I explained that I did not have a car and had just gone grocery shopping, he said,”You don’t have a car here.” He was confirming my story to see if I was believable. When he believed me, he let me in. He was polite and nice about it.

5) The events staffer was just doing his job. It’s not his fault Osama Bin Laden committed a heinous terrorist act which has led to today’s overbearing police state environment.

6) The police officer I met actually was trying to keep me from getting killed. In addition, she pointed out the nearest bus stop.

7) I missed my planned weight lifting program this day. God replaced it with 6 to 8 miles of walking.

8) It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outside for as long as I was.

9) I have noted that my youthful determination to never let a sports team get me depressed is still there. My take on my baseball team this year has always been that they have had a great season no matter how it ends. I have just enjoyed the baseball.

10) While I want my university sports teams to win, I don’t really have a dog in their fights.  Their teams represent my workplace, not my alma mater or hometown.

In essence, my delays, near misses,unfinished plans and unfulfilled desires don’t really matter much except in the economy of a loving God.

Of the above, I think near misses frustrate me the most. “Nuts. The Orioles were close to the World Series and didn’t make it after 35 years of not being there,” I think.

One of my most common near misses is  missing great pictures. Most of the time it is the result of the event occurring before I can get my camera ready, not an obstruction like at the game on Saturday.

But I have learned from one of the great near misses of all time. One of Jesus’s disciples, Thomas, missed the Lord’s appearance to all His other followers.

Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He complained that unless he saw the nail scars in the Lord’s hands, he wouldn’t believe.

Thomas wanted proof! As a result, he has gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas”.  I don’t think I would like to be give a moniker which would be used as a negative byword for two thousand years.

When Thomas finally did see Jesus, he exclaimed,”My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

In fact, as the Life Recovery Bible notes, Thomas went on to exhibit great courage as one of Jesus’s apostles. Church history credits him with founding the church in India.

Thus, I know I can repent of my own doubts and have faith and still have a successful life.

It could be worse. At least I am not my school’s football coach, who has to wonder what happened on that fade route on fourth down at the end of Saturday’s game!

If he is a man of faith, it would help him to believe that Jesus is at work regardless of appearances.

 

 

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. ‘For whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it’.” (I Peter 3:8-11)

“He was not the man I thought he was, and he was the man I thought he was.” That is what Edith Hahn says of her husband after a long discussion with one of his colleagues in the play “Delicate Particle Logic.”

Based on a true story, the play depicts the struggle of Edith and physicist Lise Meitner in coming to terms with the contradictions in the life of chemist Otto Hahn.

IHahn won the Nobel prize for his role in discovering nuclear fission. Many thought Meitner deserved to share in the award, but at the time in pre-World War II Germany, women scientists were rare and hardly ever acclaimed.

Of course, the understanding of nuclear fission led to the atom bomb, something that Hahn grieved over. But that wasn’t what causes the anguish experienced by the two women in “Delicate Particle Logic.”

Lise visits Edith in the mental hospital. During their talk, Otto’s wife is appalled when she learns that Otto helped develop gas warfare for the Germans during World War I. Lise Meitner, though not happy about her lack of recognition, is more upset at Hahn’s lack of resistance to the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler.

The women are not totally dismissive of Otto. He did arrange for the Jewish Meitner’s escape from Nazi Germany. Lise considers Hahn a friend. And Edith appears to appreciate her husband’s attentiveness.

The interaction between Edith and Lise goes on for a couple hours. What conclusion do they come to?

Finally, Otto’s wife says simply, “He’s just a man.”

SPOILER ALERT

In the end, Hahn visits the ward and we learn that Lise Meitner’s visit is a figment of Edith’s imagination. However, it seems that having come to terms with her husband’s life as a result of her imaginary dialogue with Lise has made her quite cheerful, something her doctor notices and relates to Hahn.

In coming to understand Otto’s humanity, she gives him grace.

I saw another example of grace today when I attended a presentation by an Israeli professor at the university where I work. The historian traced the background of the recent developments in the war-torn regions of Iraq, Syria and Gaza.

Many of my Arab students attended, and I noticed that he was warmly received. I also heard this Jewish man say, “We need to work hard to see the other side.”

He noted how difficult this was since many people have had relatives or friends who have been influenced or even killed. The professor also said that in his discussions with his Arab friends, he found that understanding was hard because both sides were coming at things from completely different narratives.

During the question and answer period, it was clear that this Jewish man comprehends that Israel has made mistakes. He lamented the inability of his friends to also see their side’s own failures, even if they don’t agree with him.

“I wish they would move a little bit,” he said.

The Israeli historian’s own generous spirit displayed the same kind of grace Edith and Lise offered Otto Hahn in the end.

We are greatly divided in this world. People and groups of all kinds are at war with each other.

There’s an alleged war on women, for instance. A symptom of this is that professional American football players are being drawn and quartered in the press for their brutality toward their wives and girlfriends.

Politicians are at each other’s throats. Leftists can’t stand right wingers and vice-versa.

I could go on and on with more examples.

None of this today surprises God. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus when he was wandering Palestine knew the blemishes in men’s souls. (John 2:24).

Yet, he died with grace on his lips. Hanging on a cross, and taking the sin of the world on himself, Jesus expressed his own generous spirit. He interceded with His Father for them, entreating God to show His compassion.

“Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing,” he said before taking his final breath. (Luke 23:34)

I know my own lack of grace with others. On a daily basis I find myself taking a hard line with people who I see as immature, self absorbed or disrespectful.

It would do well for me to do apply a currently popular meme: “Keep Calm and Let it Go.” After all, these folks are just men.

” Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you…(I Corinthians 7:17a).”

I sometimes get my epiphanies in the middle of the night, and this weekend a pattern of thinking came to me in the wee hours. I realized as I lay there in the sack that I have a problem with envy.

This little issue centers around three things. First, I have noticed that one of my best friends is living a dream I have of attending major sports events. It seems almost every weekend he is at some football game, race or other noteworthy sports happening.

Now this fellow has been quite generous with me in recent me years, having spotted me some tickets a couple times to some nice football games, and taking me to a race. However, I want more. I want to be him: an uber sports fan. I had thoughts of being a sports journalist when I was young, and did do some reporting as a stringer. I even got a journalism degree. Alas, that dream died, as I decided to stay in the big city I was in working in customer service so I could do Christian ministry. To develop my journalism career, I would have had to go to some Podunk to start, and I did not think this was God’s will for me at the time.

Secondly, speaking of ministry, for much of my life I wanted to be a missionary. I went to grad school to get a degree in teaching English as a foreign language and intercultural studies so I could have a ticket overseas. I understood at the time that I had no skills to offer anyone abroad. I investigated mission boards, but none of that ever came to fruition. Oh, I did spend some years abroad and before that did work to develop an English program for international students in the States, one where they could freely be exposed to the Gospel. But there was no real personal fruit from any of that. At best, I was more of a middleman in the latter work, connecting students with other people desiring to minister to them.

What happened overseas? Life happened. I got so wrapped up in the job and other issues that I never had time or an inclination for mission work. I dabbled in church ministry and even went on a two-week mission trip with my kids. But, personal gospel work for many reasons never occurred to any extent.

What does this have to do with my night time confrontation with the green-eyed monster? Well, many of my contemporaries from my younger days are in full time Christian work. They are missionaries, pastors, staff workers and evangelists. I want what they have, or at least I used to until I became rocky ground. (See Mark Chapter 4 for the Parable of the Sower, which Jesus related to his disciples.)

Finally, on one of my overseas stays I met a man who is someone I call “ a bruthah from anothah muthah”. Abroad we were colleagues. He and I are much alike in personality. Both of us are writers, (In fact, he has trumped me there, too. He has published a novel, a lifelong ambition of mine.) We also share a certain wanderlust.

Unfortunately for me, in comparison to him I am a cross-cultural hick. This buddy has traveled and lived in places I could only dream of visiting—four times over! Like my sports pal, he has treated me to a bit of his lifestyle. But again, I just have barely scratched the surface when it comes to global trekking if I view his life.

I think the thing I grasped as I lay there in bed was that trying to become any of these people is a fruitless endeavor. As Popeye said, “I yam who I yam,” and they are who they are.

I also determined that in the final analysis, God could care less if I go to the Super Bowl, become the next Hudson Taylor or jet set around the planet. He has other fish to fry when it comes to me.

The Scriptures seem to provide evidence to support my thought that God just isn’t that interested in my achievements in comparison to others.

For example, after Jesus mapped out Peter’s future, even giving him an indication of how he was going to die, the latter asked about the plans for his fellow disciple John. Peter too seemed to like the comparison game.

John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in relating this conversation. He is following Jesus and Peter, and perhaps was eavesdropping.

When Peter saw John, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, ”If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you. You must follow me.” (John 21:20-22)

Jesus’s response reminds me of several “mantras” I have developed in my relationship with him over the years: 

  • Where are you going, Lord? I’ll follow.
  • (Jesus says) “Listen to me.”
  • You choose.
  • (Jesus says),”Watch me work!”

My nocturnal wrestling helped me to once again ascertain that if I am truly one who belongs to Jesus, I will do what He tells me to do, regardless of how it impacts my desire to keep up with the Joneses. Planting this in my noggin’ will keep me from spending much needed time and treasure trying to maintain a level playing field with my friends, which in truth is a wasted effort.

 

 

 

 

Summer Fruits

“What mighty praise, O God,belongs to you in Zion. We will fulfill our vows to you, for you answer our prayers. All of us must come to you.Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all. What joy for those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts. What festivities await us inside your holy Temple.” (Psalm 65:1-4)

When I recall this summer, one of the things I will remember was the amount of time I spent with God. And the movies.

By the beginning of July I was toast after a long year as a university educator. I had several weeks off, and I intended to sleep a lot and get time alone with God. I pretty much accomplished both.

I did have an agenda with the latter goal, I was seeking God’s leading on my life. What I learned at the end of many hours in the Bible and Christian books and prayer was that God was more interested in me seeking Him: period.

The flicks I watched tended to convince me of this, also.  I am drawn to biopics, and the one’s I have seen this year have centered on the failed lives of musicians, real and fictional.

Before the summer I had seen “Jersey Boys”, the life story  Frankie Valli. I wanted to see it because I had gone to the show in Las Vegas and wanted to see how the movie treated his life.

Both the play and the flick noted Valli’s messy life, although the former focused more on his music, which made it better in my view. The singer was involved with hoods and had a failed marriage. A later relationship ended when the woman decided she would always be second in his life to his career.

Despite his success, I walked out of “Jersey Boys” thinking how badly Valli’s personal life was in shambles, even at the end.

Another flick I saw this summer was a fictional treatment of a singer who is in a rocky relationship with a pop star, played by Adam Levine. In “Begin Again” Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a gifted songwriter, but one who doesn’t care so much about fame. However, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a down and out record producer who sees her perform a song impromptu in a small club in New York .

Dan is only there because he has gone on a bender after losing his job with an indie record label, one he helped start. Add this catastrophe to his failed marriage and non-relationship with his 14-year old daughter Violet, and it is obvious that Dan’s life is in the toilet.

Gretta is in the pub for similar reasons. She has just moved in with her fellow British pal Steve because she has walked out on her budding rock star boyfriend Dave Kohl (played by pop sensation Adam Levine). The insightful lyricist has just figured out that her boyfriend cheated on her after he plays her a new song which has infidelity as a theme.

Gretta is at first reluctant to perform at the club or anywhere else. She is pushed on to the stage by Steve and when Dan attempts to convince her to let him produce an album for her, the best she can say is that she will think about it.

However, Gretta calls Dave the next day and agrees to come under his wing. What happens next is nothing short of brilliant. Dave and Gretta’s plan for their collaboration is extremely creative.

Their imagination and use of their talents are what makes the story in “Begin Again”. From their vision comes a new life for them and for several other characters in the film.

“Begin Again” will inspire those who find themselves at a crossroads to use their talents and ingenuity to take the next step when their lives are shattered. Dave and Gretta’s original thinking is a model for people who need to find a way to pull themselves out of the slough of despond.

Finally, there was the movie about the life of “The Godfather of Soul”, James Brown. “Get On Up” reveals the harsh nature of Brown’s upbringing and how it influenced his approach to life. The singer, born in 1933, was the son of a 16-year old mother and a barely adult father. The film shows the violence and immorality surrounding Brown in his youth. His mother eventually left the family and moved to New York. His father is portrayed as an abusive husband and parent. The movie shows Brown spent part of his childhood growing up in a brothel.

I felt sad for James Brown after viewing his story. It is said that it is lonely at the top and “Get on Up” emphasizes how true that was for him. His only true friend was singer Bobby Byrd, who helped Brown get into music. As Byrd’s role in their singing group diminishes and Brown’s shines, their relationship in the film becomes more like one between a boss and a subordinate.

Great men and geniuses like Brown seem to have a certain arrogance that drives others way. As the story in “Get On Up” develops, Brown grows more and more authoritarian and tyrannical in his personal and business life. The end result is that he alienates just about everyone around him.

Even as a famous entertainer, Brown can’t seem to avoid jail time. He ends up in the pokey after firing a rifle at one of his business enterprises and leading police on a high speed chase.

Valli, Brown, the fictional Gretta and her producer Dan inspired me to reflect on my own losses. By July I had no strength left and was trying to figure out how to maintain my health with changing insurance rules. In many areas I felt hemmed in. I couldn’t move. I felt I was growing old. I felt alone and abandoned.

The one common denominator in the terrible lives of all these musicians was that they did not have God in their lives. My discovery while doing all the reading and praying was that I did not need direction from God. I needed Him. I needed to give Him my life.

I had supposedly done that in the past–many times over. But this time, when I decided to quit trying to manipulate my circumstances and let God do what He wanted to do, I really meant it. 

I was hoping for great miracles and a change of environment. None of that has happened. What HAS happened is that I have more joy in just knowing God every day and trusting Him.

One of the authors I focused on this summer was Catholic priest Henri Nouwen. He wrote, “Your search for communion often takes place too far from where true communion can be found. Still, communion is your authentic desire and it will be given to you. But you have to dare to stop seeking gifts and favors like a petulant chhild and trust that your deepest longing will be fulfilled. Dare to lose your life and you will find it.Trust in Jesus’s words.” 

I am trying to do that minute by minute.

After all the searching for God’s leading I was led to the simplicity of believing that God exists and that he rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6) . Just as simple is my understanding that I know God loves me and that I can trust in that love.

I am not Catholic, but I went to Mass this afternoon, a week before Labor Day weekend, to honor a Catholic friend in the hospital and to pray for him at his old church. One thing this service emphasized throughout was the need for the forgiveness of sin. No drums, no hands in the air and waving, no complicated theological sermon. Just the simple Gospel.

 My prayer at the end of the summer is Nouwen’s:

“Dear God, I so much want to be in control. I want to be the master of my own destiny. Still I know that you are saying ‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you. Accept my love and trust that where I will bring you, the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.’ Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love. Amen.”

 

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

The Scriptures have many metaphors for our walk with God. The use of the term “walk” to describe our relationship to God is apt. For example, the Bible sees our relationship with God as a journey, one that we takes with Him.

Father Henri Nouwen refers to this when he writes:

“Dear Lord, I will remain restless, tense and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace within your house. But I am still on the road, still journeying, still tired and weary, and still wondering if I will ever make it to the city on the hill. With Vincent Van Gogh I keep asking your angel, whom I meet on the road, ’Does the road then go uphill all the way?’ And the answer is ‘Yes, to the very end.’  And I ask again ‘And will the journey take all day long?’ And the answer is ‘from morning to night, my friend.’”

Today I was wrestling with a matter and said to God, “Lord, I don’t know the way.” Immediately the words of Jesus came to my heart. Those words from Scripture told me “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man goes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6)

Peter learned this truth when he saw Jesus walking on the water. He asked the Lord if he could come to Him and Jesus beckoned him to do so. A stormy sea is not your normal road on which to take a walk. Peter became frightened and began to sink, but when he looked to Jesus he was rescued.

The Life Recovery Bible comments on Peter’s fear:

“Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage means we take advantage of the little strength we find within ourself, and that we stubbornly stick to God’s program for us.  Courage doesn’t mean being free of fear. It means finding enough strength to take the next step.”

I don’t know the way, but Jesus does, and with Him I can take the next step.

Nouwen also notes that the Scriptures use words for the term ‘home’ both in the Old and New Testament.  The journey is meant to take us “home”, another metaphor.  Our home is where he is. Jesus has made his home in us. Thus, even though I am far away from my family at this hour, my true home is where Jesus resides—in my heart.

Nouwen writes, “When Jesus says ‘make your home in me as I make mine in you’, he offers us an intimate place that we can truly call ‘home’. Home is that place or space where we do not have  to be afraid but can let go of our defenses and be free, free from pressures. Home is where we can laugh and cry, embrace and dance, sleep long and dream quietly, eat, read, play watch the fire, listen to music, and be with a friend.  Home is where we can rest and be healed. The word ‘home’ gathers a wide range of feelings and emotions up into one image, the image of a house where it is good to be: the house of love.”

The priest points out that millions today are homeless. They do not have this place of love. This point of Nouwen’s is brought out every day in our news  as the influx of Central American children plays out on our southern border here in the United States.  These children bring with them poverty, disease and trauma. Having no home is a tragedy of immense proportions. For those of us who follow Jesus, we always have a home with Him.

A recent pop song sung by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips could have been penned by Jesus. It talks of home.

“Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home. “ (Written by Drew Pearson and Greg Holden).

“This place” is whereever Jesus is. Whatever road He goes down, I’m going with Him and He with me.

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“My old self has been crucified with Christ.It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Recently I have thought of the above photo as a metaphor for my Christian life. I think of myself as someone who,  after getting pummeled by trials originating from the Lord, is waving the white flag of surrender.

This metaphor unfortunately has been short lived for me. For one, I keep withdrawing the white flag and go back to fighting the Lord. Then I get beat up some more. It’s an endless cycle.

Thankfully, I think  I have struck on a new metaphor. It comes from the hit television drama NCIS.

In one episode, NCIS Director Leon Vance is the target of Riley McAllister, a former NCIS agent in charge turned arms dealer. Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that McAllister has been gunning for Vance for a long time. McAllister has been after anyone he has seen as a threat to advancement, and that includes Leon, even at a young age.

MacAllister has failed to get Vance, but at the end of a two-part episode called “Enemies Domestic”, it appears he has finally succeeded. As Vance is recovering from an assassination attempt in a hospital bed, McAllister comes into the room and reveals his true self to the director.

The turncoat reaches over and fiddles with Vance’s morphine drip, increasing the dosage to fatal levels. After doing this, McAllister leans over Vance’s face and says,”For once, can’t you just die right?”.

Unbeknownst to the assassin, Vance has a knife which was snuck into  his room by Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the NCIS supervisor who is the star problem solver of the agency. With his last strength, Vance pushes the hidden knife into McAllister’s chest, killing him within a short time.

Vance is able to push his “call” button, and as medical staff rush to McAllister, Gibbs walks in and unplugs the morphine drip, saving Vance’s life. Gibbs lays his hand on his director’s shoulder to comfort him.

I realized after hearing McAllister’s sinister words to Vance after flooding the director’s veins with morphine that in some sense they could be a metaphor for God’s message to me.

“Can’t you just die right?” He says to me. It came to me then that the Lord does not  want me to surrender;  He wants me to die.

The difference between God and McAllister is that the latter’s intentions toward Vance were malevolent while our Lord’s motivation is to save me from sin and keep me alive  for eternity.  He is in some fashion both a good McAllister and a saving Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

If I am a believer in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, I have already “died right”. When Jesus died, I died with him. This death, according to the God-inspired words of the Apostle Paul, was so that we could live a new life free from sin (Romans 6:4).

Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:5-7).

This is why my surrender metaphor doesn’t go far enough. I am waving the white flag with a hand attached to a body which still has sin as its master. My sinful “self” controlling this body  may have surrendered, but the Lord in His wisdom knows that turning my sinful self  and body over to Him is not going to free me. What will free me is the death of that sinful self.

Continuing, Paul notes that we are to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ (v. 11). The King James Version of the Bible prefers the term “reckon” to “count’. “Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ,” it says.

A synonym for “reckon” is “suppose”. I find the word “suppose” interesting in this context because one meaning of it can be, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, “to think of something as happening or being true in order to imagine what might happen.”

M-W notes examples of this meaning in use: “Suppose a fire broke out. How would we escape?” or “Suppose you agreed with me.”

I now think,”Suppose  that I agree that it is true that my old self is dead. What does this mean for my everyday life?”

It means, ladies and gentlemen, as I see it, that I do not have to sin and that I can stop sinning. Paul explains the application of this supposition that my old sinful self has died.

” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (v. 12-14)

My entire life God has been after me. Occasionally I will surrender, but that has never been His purpose.  God wants me to accept my death.

However, I haven’t trusted Him enough to do that. As a result, He and I have been at war for decades in an endless fight in the trenches that happens again and again and again. He comes after me, saying, “Can’t you just die?” and I say,”I surrender”.

God and I are talking apples and oranges. It is no wonder that I see myself in similar fashion to the beat up guy at the top of this post.

But suppose I trusted God enough to finally accept my death, to “die right this time”? What then? I am supposing the answer to that is ,”Freedom–finally.”

 

 

Broken

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;  he delivered me from all my fears….This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles…The Lord is close to the brokenhearted  and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:4,6,18).
  

E.F. “Sonny” Dewey stands in his room in the middle of the night yelling. Is he screaming at his wife, or his kids, or some other person inhabiting his mother’s house? No, he is yelling at God.

Sonny, a Pentecostal preacher portrayed by Robert Duvall in the film “The Apostle”, has been booted from his Texas church as a result of  a power play orchestrated by his wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett). The lady has had enough of his womanizing and abuse, and she herself has taken up with the youth minister.

“If you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace,” screams Sonny.” I don’t know who’s been fooling with me, you or the Devil. I don’t know! I won’t even bring the human into this. He’s just a mutt, so I won’t bring him into this, but I’m confused, I’m mad. I love you Lord, but I am mad at you! I AM MAD AT YOU!” 

“I know I’m a sinner every once in a while, a womanizer, but I’m your servant. Since I was a little boy and you brought me back from the dead, I’m your servant. What should I do? Tell me. I’ve always called you Jesus, you’ve always called me Sonny, so what should I do. This is Sonny talking now!”

Apparently such communication between Sonny and the good Lord is not uncommon. A neighbor calls up and complains to his Momma, who tells them,”That’s Sonny. Sometimes he talks to the Lord, sometimes he yells at the Lord. Tonight he just happens to be yelling at him.” 

Sonny’s anger issues aren’t limited to the Lord, however. At his kid’s baseball game he takes a bat to the youth minister and kills him. Knowing he’s in a heap of trouble, Sonny runs.

Somehow, even in the midst of the horrible mess he has mostly brought on himself, Sonny does not stop communicating with the Lord.

Even as a fugitive murderer, the preacher asks God to lead him. Eventually he arrives  in a rural Louisiana community.

His charismatic personality attracts the locals and Sonny plants a church with an African American minister.  He looks for radio time, and when he find out he has to pay, Sonny is offered a place to stay by a mechanic he helped out earlier.

This act of kindness causes Sonny to tell God, “I’m not mad at you, and I’ll never be mad again.” 

In the bayou and on the radio, Sonny is known as  “The Apostle E.F.”.Although his ministry booms and the church grows, his new life is on a short leash. Jessie hears a fuzzy radio broadcast of his one day and calls the cops.

Sonny is escorted away right after he preaches his final sermon. In “The Apostles” final scene, he is preaching at a group of inmates.

Robert Duvall’s portrayal of Sonny in the 1997 movie, which won him an Academy Award nomination, is not one of a typical suburban evangelical Christian in modern America. In “The Apostle”, we do not experience the stereotypical mega-church family cruising in their minivan and sipping lattes at the sanctuary coffee bar.

What we see is a precursor  of what would hit the media in the coming new century: the reality show. Indeed, the lives of Sonny,  Jessie and other characters in “The Apostle” foreshadow the brokenness of  many people in  America in the second decade of the 21st century, folks who still desire, nay, yearn for, a touch from Jesus Christ.

And not just a pat on the back from His hand. They hunger for a deep experience with Him, and one with power that will rocket their lives into outer space.

But they are broken and exhausted and don’t know how to be fixed and the church isn’t helping. Jesus is all the hope they have.

The life of the real American believer today is more true to the story of the average person we meet in the Old and New Testament. Those people were broken too and they needed the touch of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

What they are getting instead from today’s American Christianity in many cases is church politics and hierarchy reminiscent of the Pharisees and Sadducees,  and expectations they do not have the strength or power to meet.

People whose lives are busted into a thousand pieces may  think it is  only the church which is to blame for their  condition. They should  think again and try to get rid of that mindset.

It is not right to think of  the church and pastors in our minds like we do the government and politicians.

It would be wiser to look in the mirror. Once we get past the fact that what we see there  looks like Humpty Dumpty post tumble, and overcome our despair that we shall never be put back together again by all the king’s horses and all the pastor’s men, we would do well to grasp that we are actually right where God would have us.

Although it certainly doesn’t seem that way, He knows exactly what he is doing.

It is only in our brokenness can we comprehend that we need grace and mercy from Jesus. I may currently be walking around my room after hours yelling at God like Sonny Dewey, but he isn’t screaming back.

As Moody Bible Church pastor Erwin Lutzer notes, God has promises for us he intends to keep.

An old friend told me this weekend to think about the term ‘covenant’. In biblical terms, a ‘covenant’ is a set of commitments that God has made with his people.

Lutzer says that God’s promises to us aren’t based on our brokenness, but on his faithfulness and power. If Abraham had gone to God, he says, and posed a set of “what if” questions to Him, God’s answer in each case would be that He would keep his promises to him.

For example, if Abraham had asked ‘what if I lie again” or “what if my people have a king named David who commits adultery” or “what if my descendants crucify your Son”, God’s answer would still be the same.

“How can God talk like that”?, asks Pastor Lutzer. “Because God is not a man like you or I.”

God will not change and he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself. It is upon that that we stand today.”

In the words of an old hymn:

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.”

Like t E.F. “Sonny” Dewey, a man who was purportedly a man of God, many of us are messed up and torn apart and our pieces are spread out all over the landscape.  We would do well to follow his example and hang with Jesus regardless.

The final stanza of the aforementioned hymn says it all:

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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