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Archive for December, 2010

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’, which means ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:22,23).”

Yesterday I kept one of my holiday traditions that had seen to fallen by the wayside in recent years. I took my youngest boy to the movies.

We went to see “Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. As I sat in the movie, I was happy my son was able to experience this 3D adventure, but personally the genre wasn’t my cup of tea.

However, as the flick drew to a close, I was surprisingly moved. I was impacted by the words of one of the main characters, a mouthy little boy named Eustace, who had been changed into a dragon because of his inner selfishness and covetousness. 

Aslan, the heroic lion in the Narnia saga, has come through for Eustace, who he found lying on a beach with a sword in his dragon hide. Eustace is at the end of his strength and abilities.

Aslan magically heals the dragon. He changes Eustace back into the boy he was before being horribly transformed into a beast because of his evil desires.

Eustace has learned a lot as a dragon. In the midst of his trial, he has learned to love and care for those in his company. 

Here’s the scene and words that impacted me, courtesy of a website called Narnia Faith.

“Edmund (his cousin) asked Eustace, ‘So what was it like when Aslan changed you back?’ Eustace answered, ‘No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it myself. Then he came towards me. It sort of hurt – but it was a good pain, like when you pull a thorn from your foot.’ Later, Eustace says, ‘I think I was a better dragon than I was a boy, really.’

Narnia Faith interprets: “Eustace is an excellent example of the transformation that we each much experience. The only way he could change was to have Aslan remove his dragon skin and emerge as a real boy.”

As fans of the C.S. Lewis series know, Aslan is considered to be the allegorical Jesus character in the story of Narnia. Only Jesus could transform Eustace back to his true, and improved, little boy form.

Once transformed, Eustace actually becomes the hero of the entire story. His actions remove an evil spell seeking to wreak havoc on all of Narnia. A multitude of people, captured and threatened by this evil, are saved.

What evoked an emotional response in me was Eustace’s understanding that he needed Aslan’s help to change. His previous self effort and reliance did him no good. As hard as he tried on his own, he remained the same.

Narnia Faith, a ministry of the youth organization Young Life, has a leader’s guide for this scene which asks the the following questions:

  • Have you ever tried to make a change in yourself? How well did it work?
  • Why is making significant change so difficult to do?

I am humbled that these same questions, directed at teenagers, need to be directed at and answered by me, a middle aged curmudgeon. This is because, like Eustace, I have tried unsuccessfully to make change in myself since I was 17, and been found wanting a good part of my adult life. 

My experience has been a little like the current political jab I have read, adapted I am sure from Dr. Phil, which asks,”How’s all that hope and change workin’ for ya?”. The inference, of course, is that the process attempted by those promising the change is an abject failure.

All my own attempts at serving and following Jesus, and being a godly father, husband and minister of the gospel have left me lower than a duck’s instep.  I am extremely discouraged at my inability to pull off holy and righteous living.

For example, I have been unable to completely control the fiery dragon breath of rage. And my tough curmudgeonly hide has not allowed me to fully sense or comprehend the feelings and needs of my wife and kids. The results have been devastating, for me and for them.

The only answer I have to the question concerning why significant change is so difficult is this: it’s painful. It’s like surgery without the anesthesia.

Only suffering seems to bring real change. I suppose that I, like a lot of believers, are unwilling to endure the punishment required to go from a dragon back to a child that will fully trust Jesus.

The only way it seems that we can endure pain and suffering is to have Dr. Jesus with us in the midst of it. Only he can make it be the kind of pain that is healing, as pulling out a knife embedded in our backside would be.

Jacob understood this after he had served his father-in-law in the midst of exposure to the elements, year after year.  Here’s what he told Laban when his wives’ father caught up with him after he had had enough and fled:

 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night.  This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes.  It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you (Genesis 31;38-42).”

Jacob needed those two decades to sort out his own selfish predilections. Before his trials, he was a devious cheat, wrestling with God. Now Jacob knew God had truly changed him, and was with him, because He had indeed been with him and transformed him out in his field of nightmares all those years.

I see now that if God hadn’t been with me since I put my trust in Jesus Christ way back in high school, I would have been destroyed by evil by now. I may have had a tough time of it, seeking to follow God, especially of late in my own skin.

My hope is that the end result will be a change into a holy, fully trusting and loving, soft hearted child and hero of the faith. But I can’t do it by myself. I need Jesus to be with me.

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“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:11-13).”

Apple is working on a  3D system which will allow viewers to watch moving images on TV, in the movies and on the computer without glasses. It may one day lead to holograms, the stuff of science fiction and Star Trek.

According to one of my favorite websites,”How Stuff Works”, the reason 3D imaging works is because we have an amazing binocular visual system. Even though each of our two eyes sees things from a slightly different perspective, our brain is able to correlate the two.

When we go to the movies and use 3D glasses, two images are projected on the screen.  The images are polarized, meaning each set of images are concentrated on different eyes.

The glasses allow for the polarization of these images. They feed the two images into the brain, and as How Stuff Works puts it, “the brain does the rest”.

Sometimes I think men and women should wear 3D glasses. Maybe this would help us to understand one another.

Dr. David Hawkins of the Marriage Recover Center says there is an epidemic out there, and it’s not an outbreak of physical disease. Hawkins said that the thing that is rapidly spreading is women leaving their men.

He writes that he formed a men’s group and in a week he had a pack of men wanting to know what to do about their relationships with their women.  Hawkins notes that sitting around in groups talking is not something men are naturally drawn, too. (In fact, most men I know would rather have a proctologist examine them!)

Hawkins discusses what men can do to solve the departing women problem. He mentions six things.

In the period before I got married, I remember feeling really nervous about it. My pastor told me two memorable things to assuage my fears.

First, he told me that true love is not defined by what Hollywood vomits out. Second, He said that my nervousness was caused by my work stress. I think he was right on both counts.

Still, I still don’t think I understand love, marriage and women years later. My thoughts on love lean toward the lyrics written by Joni Mitchell:

 “Moons and Junes and ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
as every fairy tale comes real; I’ve looked at love that way.
But now it’s just another show. You leave ’em laughing when you go
and if you care, don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away.

I’ve looked at love from both sides now,
from give and take, and still somehow
it’s love’s illusions I recall.
I really don’t know love at all.”

The polarization of men and women and how they view a relationship with each other is obviously in a crisis state. Indeed, 40 percent of Americans believe marriage is “obsolete”, according to a Pew survey.

How does a woman view love. Is it the same as described by Diana Ross in a song about  a man who gave her true love?. The lyrics do describe what this love  meant to her as a woman:

“You’ve given me a true love
And every day I thank you love
For a feeling that’s so new
So inviting, so exciting

Whenever you’re near I hear a symphony
A tender melody
Pulling me closer, closer to your arms

Then suddenly, ooh your lips are touching mine
A feeling so divine til I leave the past behind
I’m lost in a world made for you and me

Whenever you’re near I hear a symphony
Played sweet and tenderly
Every time your lips meet mine now baby

Baby, baby you bring much joy within
Don’t let this feeling end

Let it go on and on and on now baby

Baby, baby those tears that fill my eyes
I cry not for myself
But for those who never felt the joy we felt

Whenever you’re near I hear a symphony
Each time you speak to me
I hear a tender rhapsody of love now

Baby, baby as you stand holding me
Whispering how much you care
A thousand violins fill the air now

Baby, baby don’t let this moment end
Keep standing close to me
Ooh, so close to me, baby, baby

Baby, baby I hear a symphony
A tender melody

For women, it seems Dr. Hawkins believes what women are hearing are screechy violins and wailling cats, not a symphony. The tears in her eyes aren’t from joy.   It’s clear from Dr. Hawkins that men need to figure out what to do.

I think Dr. Hawkins has some good ideas. However, I think men and women really need to do something else in addition to his list of actions: we need to don some 3D glasses.

These glasses for a believer in Jesus Christ are two supernatural lenses: the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Believe me, after 27 years of marriage, I know my own ability to figure out what true love is for a woman is dead in the water. I need these glasses to help me see the image of love God wants me to see.

God understand men and women. He created us both. He Himself possesses the characteristics of both. After all, the Scriptures say He created us BOTH in His own image (Genesis 1:27).

We’re both human, men and women that is. Just as our two eyes are only separated by two inches, men and women are not THAT far apart

Men seeking to understand women and women searching to comprehend men are necessary to truly get a clear image of God. How’s that for motivation to heal a marriage!?

Our understanding of our spouses needs to go beyond 3D glasses even.  It ought to be more holographic in nature.

Here’s how that’s supposed to work accrding to Eric Eisenberg:

“The screen works by having pixel-sized domes that deflect separate images to the left and right eye, creating a stereoscopic effect. Apple is also developing a system that will track the movements of multiple viewers and their eyes as to make the deflection of the image more accurate to each audience member and look good from all angles.”

As we study the Bible and attune to the Holy Spirit, God will make our understanding of the opposite sex more clear. One day, perhaps, our marital relationship will “look good from all angles”.

It’s a scary thing, especially for men, to do something new that opens up our hearts to the view of others. But that’s the nature of innovation. It’s a feaful thing and wrought with the possibility for disaster.

 Eisenberg says of holograms,”Anyone else get the heebee-jeebees thinking about a screen that watches you while you watch it? The whole thing sounds like a bad Stephen King novel. At the same time, it does sound pretty cool…’

It’s true. Really loving someone seems to be a mixed bax: risky, but potentially exceptional.

Nat King Cole sung about the nature of this aspect of love:

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you can adore

Love is all that I can give to you
Love is more than just a game for two
Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you

To experience extraordinary love, we have to be willing to go beyond what is usual and risk having our hearts broken. Is it worth it? I think so.

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 “I will teach you about the power of God;  the ways of the Almighty I will not conceal (Job 27:11).”

One of my closest friends, who also served as a mentor, used to have some humourous mantras.  He had at least three watchords.

One of them was,”Do as I say and not as I do.” Another was,”Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” A third was,”Love means never having to say your sorry.”

I always got some chuckles out of those. At least a couple of them were adaptations from famous quotes, twisted in comic fashion by my friend.

I encountered a more meaningful mantra after I watched a movie last night called “Faith and Potatoes”, an autobiographical film about a South African farmer and preacher named Angus Buchan. He has his own slogan: “the seed for a miracle lies not in difficulty, but in impossibility”.

“Faith and Potatoes” portrays Angus as a man of prayer, one who believes in a miracle working God.  There are at least three miracles which occur during the story.

The first one is the raising of a girl who had been killed by lightning. Angus prays for her in New Testament fashion and she is healed.

In another incident, during the dry season, Angus prays for rain when a fire he has purposely started goes out of control. He is worried that his neighbor’s trees will be destroyed and he will be sued. Miraculously, rain comes and puts out the fire.

Finally, in the movie’s most dramatic scene, Angus is able to harvest a huge crop of potatoes from land parched by lack of water.  He has purposely put God to the test through prayer in front of numerous amounts of people at a stadium, and the Lord comes through.

A faith and prayer life like that possessed by  Angus Buchan are rare.  Indeed, a man like him opens himself up to criticism. A quick surfing of the Internet reflects attacks from Christians concerning his theology and mockery from unbelievers related to his belief in the power of prayer.

One South African commentator labeled men like Angus as “wimps”. A Christian blogger rebukes this remark, calling Angus and the men who are involved in his men’s movement as “tough as nails”.

Another man who was tough, yet criticized, was the ancient man Job. He is famous for his suffering, as well as his fair weather friends, whose warped theology included viewing Job’s problems as coming from his personal sin (Job 17:2,10; 27:2-6)

Despite being an object of scorn, Angus holds men’s revivals called “Mighty Men Conferences”. He calls men to be the head of their homes, and caretakers of their wives and children.

Although Angus is far from being a wimp, sadly, many men today truly are.  It’s a societal concern.

One sportswriter this morning is decrying the cancellation of a football game in Philadelphia because of a foot of snow. Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News writes,”This is the height of wimpiness, and the girly-men who made this sad decision should be ashamed of themselves.”

Bunch notes that some of the most magical games in American football have been played in horrible weather. Snow and ice make the sport special, he adds.

The governor of Pennsylvania chimed in with his opinion, also. He said, “We have become a nation of ‘wussies’.”

Men may be wimps and wussues, but there is one Personage who is not: God. He is totally able to perform the kinds of miracles the Angus Buchan prays for, and not just for him.

I am testimony to this. Throughout my life God has come through with deliverances that can only be termed supernatural.

Most recently I have been blessed financially with direct answers to prayer. In fact, in one instance I was just “wishing” for a certain amount to buy my wife something, and shortly thereafter the exact amount came in the mail.

Lack of faith can get us into big trouble, especially when it comes to money. Judas turned in Jesus for 30 pieces of silver instead of putting his faith in Him. The consequences led to Judas even killing himself (Matthew 27:3-5).

God wants men to be courageous, especially in prayer, not to wimp out in weakness. He wants men to be man up and have faith in Him, and not just for little things.

In my middle age, God is getting though to this mocker on this. I truly have been skeptical of God coming through on my behalf, in an effort to avoid theological error of the kind espoused by the “name it and claim it” and “health and wealth” crowds.

Yet, I believe God does not want me to throw the baby out with the bath water. He may not always give me the new Lamborghini I ask for, but He still is in the business of providing miracles in response to my faith and for His own purposes.

This past year or two in particular God has given me my own meaningful mantras. One of them is “listen to Me”. 

God us telling me that His Holy Spirit isn’t limited to my narrow theology or lukewarm trust.  If I am but watchful, perhaps I will gain some important insight about how to handle my pitiful life.

The apostle Paul had learned this lesson. Indeed, he came to faith listening to Jesus, who confronted him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).

Paul continued to listen to God in the midst of His trials. Stuck on a ship during a terrible storm, God sent an angel to comfort Paul and tell him that he and his fellow travelers would survive it (Acts 27:21-26).

If Paul had been a mocker or skeptic, he might have thought he was having a dream of some kind. Instead, he listened to and followed through on what God told him through the angel.

Another  watchword God has given me is “Watch Me Work!” Many times recently this has come to me when I have thrown up my hands and asked Him what I was going to do about some problem or another.

I recently found a symbol to remind me of this. I discovered my family coat of arms, which includes the slogan “Sepien qui vigilat” or “He is wise who watches.”

Mantras like Angus Buchan’s and the ones God has given me should define me, not my seemingly unsolvable difficulties. As I encounter them, I should follow another watchword God has given me: “Where are you going Lord? I’ll follow.”

I ought to ask this question and follow Him in courageous faith and expectation of His miraculous intervention.  Between me and  the seemingly hopeless path ahead, He is a third party who is more than willing to glorify Himself on my behalf.

Repeat after me…

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“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17).”

This afternoon I was riding down the interstate with my oldest daughter. Suddenly I noticed a flock of birds in the distance, moving in a synchronized fashion, making what looked to me like a funnel.

I was intrigued for a couple of reasons.  One reason was  that it is currently late December.  If these birds were migrating, it seemed awfully late to me.

Secondly, I was amazed at how they flew with such unison. I was also extremely interested in their formation and the patterns they were making together  in the sky.

Having done a little research, I have found that there is a purpose to this flocking behavior.  Birds have reasons for functioning in groups the way they do.

Primarily, birds operate out of self interest. They know that working in a flock will provide them with more opportunities to find food and less chance of being the victim of a predator.

According to Audobon Magazine author Peter Friederici, this latter purpose is due to a phenomenon called the “selfish herd”. When attacked, birds move to the safest place: the middle of the group. This action is motivated by the self interest of not being captured by an attacker.

The movements such as the ones I witnessed this afternoon can be initiated by an individual bird.  Flock behavior is a democratic activity.

A bird who spots a predator can begin a move which other birds follow. It is similar to the effect caused by “The Wave” cheer at a sports stadium.  It is thought that birds’ actions are cued by the other birds closest to them, a concept known as the “chorus line theory”.  Incredibly, birds operating according to this principle can fly up to 40 miles per hour and make hairpin turns while doing so.

Friederici uses an analogy to describe the behavior of birds in flocks which I could relate to as a driver this afternoon. He writes,”Imagine doing unrehearsed evasive maneuvers in concert with all the other fast-moving drivers around you on an expressway, and you get an idea of the difficulty involved.”

Friederici says that animals which operate in well connected groups conduct themselves in a certain way. “It turns out that only three simple rules suffice to form tightly cohesive groups,” he notes. “Each animal needs to avoid colliding with its immediate neighbors, to be generally attracted to others of its kind, and to move in the same direction as the rest of the group.”

The ancient Romans, according to the Audobon writer, believed that the gods communicated through the way birds flew. As a student of the Bible, which I deem to be God’s Word,  I was curious as to what it says about birds, so I thought “when in Rome…”.

Thus, I did a quick word study which showed me that most of what the Scriptures says about birds has to with their feeding. Indeed, it says God cares enough for birds to make sure they are fed.

In teaching his disciples not to worry, Jesus said that we should look at how God takes care of them by feeding them.  He added,  “Are you not much more valuable than they?”

What is even more fascinating than Jesus’s comparison of His Father’s care for birds with that of his nurture of man is His description of Himself in relation to our fellow feathered creatures:“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).”

Jesus lived in this world like other men, but He differed from them in one important aspect. He was one of a kind. Thus, he acted differently than the rest of his species. 

He came into this world to save people from their sin, which He himself did not possess. The fact is that many of his own kind did not want His salvation. However, He pressed on and did not avoid colliding with His fellow men.

Jesus loved men, but he was unique in that He did not possess our sinful selfishness. He was  one of us, but did not carry our disease. He also refused to participate in its effects, and in fact opposed them.

Finally, Jesus marched to a different drummer. He didn’t follow the crowd, but sought to lead it in the direction He wanted it to go.

Jesus came into the world as a vulnerable baby and put Himself at risk until the end. Indeed, He was put to death because of it. He didn’t try to flee His main predator, Satan.

Friederici quotes an ornithologist who notes that,in the bird world, “being single is always more risky.” Jesus found this to be the same among his fellow humans.

But He refused to be part of the “selfish herd”.  He did the unthinkable among men, who engage in groupthink. He stood alone for  His people and in the process saved them.

The Romans had it right about God ine one respect. He does seek to communicate to us, but not through bird behavior. 

As He sees people as more valuable than fowl, He chose to become one of us and show us through His own actions what He is like and how to really fly as humans.

There’s never been anyone like Jesus, and there never will be. His willingness to endanger Himself  through His birth, life, death and resurrection resulted in us being brought back to God’s flock, away  from our straying ways.

That’s reason enough to not celebrate with turkeys this Christmas, but to instead soar  together like eagles and honor Him for His coming.

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“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).”

Last night I eagerly awaited a lunar eclipse which was to be visible in my community. I didn’t care (so much anyway) that it occurred at 2:41 am.

The reason I was so interested was because it was the first lunar eclipse to occur during the winter solstice in 456 years.  I figured it would never happen again in my lifetime.

Unfortunately, by midnight my area had clouded over. This was rather disappointing, since most of the night a beautiful full moon hung in sky in all its glory. I went to bed.

Based on news reports these days, I don’t think I’ll have to wait long for the next natural event.  A recent headline blared “2010 WORLD GONE WILD: QUAKES, FLOODS, BLIZZARDS!”

Even this morning I can read about an earthquake in Iran. I also can hear about floods and massive snowfalls in California.  The Nordic country where I lived for years just set a record for December snow accumulation.

The movie industry constantly produces films on way-out disasters. However, they’re supposed to be fiction. Here’s a list of the types of disasters the cinema folks portray according to Filmsite,org:

  • natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tropical storms, etc.)
  • accidents (skyscraper fires, plane crashes, ocean liners capsized or struck by icebergs, viruses unleashed)
  • planetary-related (asteroids or meteors off-course)
  • criminally-instigated (bombs planted in planes, terrorist conspiracies)
  • alien invasions and rampaging creatures (often mutant)
  • nuclear-related crises
  • millennial-related (the end of the world, or end of the century tales)
  • about failed technology or technology-gone awry (computers running amok)

 

As I was flipping channels with my remote this week, I ran into one such film. The premise for this one was that the moon was supposed to crash into the earth.

Of course, the plot involved how to stop it. I skipped it; I wasn’t in the mood for a disaster.

I tell my students a lot that today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s reality. In terms of natural phenomena, this seems to be coming into fact.

The proclivity toward real life disasters today may signal something more profound than a towering inferno or an alien visitation. It could very well indicate that we are in the period when Jesus Christ returns to earth.

 Hear are His own words on the matter:

 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

  He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees.  When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near (Luke 21:25-31)’.”

As a believer, I look around me and wonder if people even care about the possibility of Jesus coming back. It seems they go on about their lives. Especially in America, people are fat and happy.

Job had the same experience. From his viewpoint, people he called the wicked had it made.

These people were prosperous. So were their kids. They lived in nice, secure homes, party-hardied, and even died in peace.

Oh, one more thing. They ignored God. In fact, they told Him,”Leave us alone (Job 21:7-15)!”

To me, this sounds a whole lot like today’s America. We are fat and sassy, heavy into pop culture and ignorant of God.

 In thinking on the wicked, Job mused about them receiving the judgment from God they deserved. It seemed to him that it was a long time coming. Job even called for it (Job 21:17-21).

Job, in his suffering. seemed to think life was definitely unfair. However, I believe he knows for sure at this time what is the destiny of people who reject God.  Here’s what he knows, as it is written in the Scriptures:

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27,28).”

What concerns me more than anything these days is the state of my own soul. Am I ready to meet Jesus?

Some days I can’t wait to see  Jesus. Others, I think I would be ashamed to encounter Him.

I’d better be ready. From the signs of the times, He could be coming back for me soon. I want to greet Him with open arms and with joy!

He wants that, too, and calls on me to be alert for Him and pray that I am able to run into His embrace. Oh boy, I just added a new item to my prayer list.

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“I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace (Acts 20:23,24).

Albert E. Brumley was like a lot of us.  He was working hard at a job he didn’t care to do, and wanted to get away.

In his particular context, he was picking cotton on his father’s Oklahoma farm in 1929. Anyone who has ever seen the movie “The Grapes of Wrath” can conjure up an image of what that must have been like.

At the time, out in that field, he was humming a popular song called,”If I Had the Wings of an Angel”.  This created thoughts of flying away, which led to him composing one of the most popular hymns of all time, “I’ll Fly Away”.

Brumley was a spiritual man. However, his motives were more landlocked than heavenly. “Actually” he is recorded as saying, “I was dreaming of flying away from that cotton field when I wrote ‘I’ll Fly Away’.”

We all want to get away at times, especially when things are difficult. A TV commercial sponsored by an airline has this  theme.

A woman is pictured in this ad as boringly sitting next to her computer. She clicks a button, triggering a virus that infects every computer in her office. The announcer says, “Wanna Get Away?”.

Perhaps we’re bored like this woman. Or maybe our job stinks. There are a lot of reasons why someone would want to hop the next plane out. I personally have a list a mile long which would cause me to head to the airport.

Depression can lead to a death wish. Because the depressed one feels miserable and life seems miserable, he or she wants to get away from this life.

I personally suffer from this malady. In some ways, in my middle age, I believe I have wasted my years, and the future doesn’t seem to hold anything better.

Yet, in my heart I have a glimmer of hope. I believe it is possible for me to finish my life strong for God.

Many men my age tend to do the opposite. The most famous man to flame out early for God and finish poorly is Solomon.

One thing that gives me hope that my life may not be a waste and that I can finish well is a parable Jesus told. It is known as “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.”

In this story, Jesus tells of a landowner who hired men throughout the day to work his vineyard for an agreed upon wage.

Late in the afternoon, the landowner spotted some men standing around doing nothing. He hired them even though it was late in the day. Not only that, he paid them as if they had worked the entire day (Matthew 20:1-16).

As in the story, where the laborers who were hired earlier beefed about this policy of the landowner, the idea that God may show mercy to a person late in life may not set well with some people.  After all, these folks haven’t spent most of  their life living for Him.

A friend of Job probably had this attitude. Here is what he thought:

“Surely you know how it has been from of old,
   ever since mankind was placed on the earth, 
that the mirth of the wicked is brief,
   the joy of the godless lasts but a moment. 
Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens
   and his head touches the clouds, 
he will perish forever, like his own dung;
   those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’ 
Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found,
   banished like a vision of the night (Job 20:4-8).”

What right does a person who has stumbled his whole life in their relationship with God have to spend their latter days living for Him. It doesn’t seem fair. Wouldn’t it be better if he or she DID fly away?

 Rewarding a latecomer to God seems similar to the organizers of the Boston Marathon actually declaring Rosie Ruiz the winner. Ms. Ruiz was the woman who was originally thought to have won the event, only to have been found to have run onto the course a half mile from the finish line.

Rosie is considered one of the most infamous cheaters of all time. She has had to live with this shame her whole life.  Surely, her years since the Boston Marathon haven’t been easy.

I don’t expect the rest of my days to be a picnic, either. I will most likely pay for the mistakes of my life until the day I die. Indeed, we do reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).

Yet, God allows me to turn it around. I can still show up in heaven and be given a pat on the back from Jesus and a “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

All I have to do is give the rest of my life away–to Him. After that, I’ll let Jesus decide when it is time to fulfill Alfred E. Brumley’s lyrics:

“Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away.

CHORUS:
I’ll fly away, O glory,
I’ll fly away;
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away.

When the shadows of this life have grown,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away.

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joys shall never end,
I’ll fly away.”

But, not yet.

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“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).”

I used to live in a region of Finland that has been fought over for centuries. It straddles the border with Russia and was a focal point of conflicts between East and West.

The symbol of this area contains two strong arms holding swords. They appear ready to strike each other.

The sword is a weapon used for thrusting and cutting.  It is strictly a military tool.

Swords are also representative of authority.  Thus, they have been used as symbols of governments to reflect power.

There is no one as powerful as God. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that He uses the sword as a symbol of His power and authority.

His Word is called the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17).  It is also described as a living and active, two-edged sword that pierces us, judging our every thought and attitude (Hebrews 4:12).

Why does a loving God use a military, violent metaphor such as a sword?  Well, folks, it’s because like it or not we are in a war.

This war is fought mainly behind the scenes. The generals are our God and a fallen angel called Satan.

Sometimes though, the evidence of that war comes into plain sight. That’s when we feel like Job, who talked about God wearing him out and pouncing on him like a warrior (Job 16:6,1 7).

Like the region of Karelia where I lived, I am being fought over by these two powers. God and Satan both want my allegiance.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am on the winning side. His death and resurrection already won the war over Satan.

However, Satan has yet to surrender. You would think he would have given up by now. Nope. He intends to bring the whole world down on its head with him in defeat.

This is because he is evil. He wants to destroy me and you.

He is not like the German soldier in World War II who refused to surrender to American troops. This soldier, under a flag of truce, was negotiating the removal of casualties in a war zone.

While he was with the Americans, they offered him the chance to stay with them. After all, it was clear that they were going to win.

This German man laughed, telling them that at this point it didn’t matter which side he was on (the inference being that the war was obviously over even though the battle continued). He decided to remain with his own troops because he was fearful that his failure to return would reflect badly on the Americans.

Satan is not so noble.  He wants me to stay with him and participate in his evil, even though the war is over.

The only way we can ward Satan off is to use the sword we have been given: the Word of God.  Jesus said if we are in his army, we will put into practice what it says. We will obey it (Luke 8;21; 11:28).

In fact,  He has given it as rations to feed on on the battlefield (Matthew 4:4).  The Bible is to be in our hands and in our hearts. We ought to carry it around like an MRE (meal ready to eat).

God’s Word has a long history. The core of it, the Ten Commandments, were given to the people of God after they had been released from slavery. They were meant to help the people stay free politically and spiritually as well (Exodus 20:1-17).

Satan is a tricky devil and he will offer us all kinds of enticements to return to his slavery. The only way we can keep him at bay is through obedience to the Word of God.

When tempted to succumb to his wiles, we need to slash and cut with at him with it. To do this, however, we need to have it on us, ready to use.. A weapon is no good if it is sitting back in the barracks.

Once a Roman soldier was going to use his own sword to kill himself.  He was responsible for some prisoners, and after an earthquake he was fearful they had escaped. He knew with the Romans his life would be forfeit.

Two of his prisoners, Paul and Silas, convinced him to drop his own sword of death and take up God’s weapon of life. The man put his trust in God and His Word instead of self destructing on Satan’s sword.

He not only saved himself. He rescued his entire family in the process (Acts 16:25-34).

My family and I sometimes feel like a piece of meat between two dogs in this battle between God and Satan. I suppose this is normal in a war. Job said his whole household had been devastated (Job 16:7).

In a war, no general divulges everything to his troops. His plans are given out on a “need-to-know” basis.

It’s the soldier’s job to use the weapons supplied by the general and defeat the enemy. It’s NOT his task to plan the battle, or question it (although grumbling is seen as a soldier’s right at times!).

My weapon in the fight against Satan is the sword: the Word of God. It’s my task to train with it and use it to fend off and attack my diabolical enemy Satan. It’ll keep me from ending up in his POW (prisoner of war) camp, or worse.

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