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Archive for July, 2011

“ ‘I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?’ (Jeremiah 32:27)”

It is a military maxim that generals always prepare for the last war (especially if they have won it).  In relation to the the Allied military leaders in World War II, this seems to have been the case.

First, the Belgians put their trust in a huge fortress near their border with the Netherlands and Germany. It was designed to fend off attacks from the east, mainly from the latter country.

Fort Eben-Emael was attacked on May 10, 1940 by the Germans. However, they did not use a  frontal assault of troops.

The Germans sent soldiers from the air by using gliders. They neutralized the fort in short order, paving the way for the German invasion of Belgium and France.

As the Belgian’s put their faith in Fort Eben-Emael to stop the Germans, the French depended greatly on the Maginot Line to do the same. This was a series of forts, tank obstacles, gun positions and other defensive posts along the French Border with Germany.

The French built it after World War I to prevent a repeat performance of the German attack then. However, the line of fortifications was useless.

The Germans simply bypassed the Maginot Line by attacking through the forest to the west. France was quicly defeated by the German blitzkrieg.

The greatest sea power of the time were the British, who trusted heavily in big battleships for the defense of their island and their empire.  They built their pride and joy, the Prince of Wales, which they commissioned in January, 1941.

She was sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers in the Pacific in 1942. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister and heavily experienced naval minister, was accused of having an exaggerated belief in the power of the battleship.

Land-based and sea-bound fortresses are by definition thought to be impregnable. The Allied leaders of World War II found out the truth.

Through the creative ingenuity of their enemies, their strongholds were defeated. These opponents found innovative and modern ways to beat the heavily fortified citadels.

As a believer in Christ, I know that  I am faced with spiritual strongholds that need to be defeated. The Bible speaks of them outright, and exemplifies them through the stories of real people.

One person in the Bible with a stronghold in her life was Naomi. This woman of Israel had had a tough life.

First, she moved abroad with her husband during a famine. Then her husband died.

After ten years in a foreign land, her two sons also died. They left widows, women of the country to which she had moved.

When  Naomi learned the famine in Israel had finally abated, she moved home, accompanied by Ruth, one her daughter in-laws. The other daughter-in-law, Orpah,  stayed behind.

Naomi convinced Orpah that to follow her was a no-win proposition. She believed Naomi’s statement,”It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me (Ruth 1:13b)!”

Naomi had developed a stronhold of bitterness based on a false concept of God.  This was made clear when she arrived in Israel and caused a stir among the women there:

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1:19-21

Naomi had a new name for herself. It meant “bitter”.

The lady’s difficult experiences in life had caused her a lot of hurt and trauma.  As a result, Naomi’s wounded heart began to engage in a pattern of negative thinking and behavior against God. (See the web article “Cross Walk Life: Tearing Down Strongholds” for a detailed explanation of how this happens.)

Some time this summer it occured to me that I had several strongholds in my life. They ranged from anger to pride.

On the many early morning walks I took on a local trail, I began to attack these fortresses in my life. My prayer would take this form:

“Lord, I demolish the citadel of ________ in my life. I take it down in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I crush it and plant your flag over it, Jesus. I ask for you to come in and create a new fortress of ___________ (the opposite of the old stronghold) in my life.”

I realized over time that I had to do this every day. I saw some results, but Satan has kept trying to rebuild the old strongholds brick by brick, so I have to stay with it.

David G. Evans notes in his book “Dare to Be a Man” that when we finally face God, we stand there naked. If we’re honest with him about our lives, we are pretty much what he calls a mound of ruins.

The good news according to Evans is that God can use those old ruins as the foundation for a new life in Christ. We learn from the old previously entrenched garbage and Jesus reconstructs us into what Ronald Reagan called “a shining city on a hill”.

All I know is that in my own experience what I have learned about living the Christian life hasn’t worked very well up to now. I have been fighting the last war in my spiritual life. 

This anachronisitic thinking and behavior has led to defeat for me. Surely, there has to be a better way.

If evil enemies like those who opposed the Allies in World War II can come up with creative ideas for demoloshing fortresses, surely through the all-knowing Spirit of God within me I can develop some imaginative plans of my own to beat my spiritual enemies.  After all, God has demonstrated over time that He is pretty good at tearing down enemy citadels.

 

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 “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him… (Luke 8:1).”

The older I get, I note how simple we are becoming in trying to simplify our language. We shorten words and use phrases instead of sentences to convey meaning now.

We also use a lot of slang. Even television news announcers are doing so now.

While musing on this, I was trying to determine why our societiy has gone to such simple forms of expression. I was wondering if the use of this kind of simple language was due to laziness, information overload, or lack of time.

The philosopher, author and poet G.K. Chesterton has enlightened me on this subject. He wrote a couple pertinent things worthy of reflection:

1)”The simplification of anything is always sensational.”

2) “All slang is a metaphor and all metaphor is poetry.”

I suppose Chesterton believes that simplicity in language is creative. I can understand now that it can be a positive, especially in exciting the imagination.

This week I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles on a matter. As I stood in line, I looked at the designer license plates available.

Many of them contained pithy statements in support of one thing or another. The one that caught my eye was a yellow plate with two cartoon-like children with a message in crayon.

It read: “Choose Life”.

I was immediately grasped my emotion. I thought of a recent episode in which I told someone to do just that.

I thought of my own kids. In addition, I thought of the terrible state of the unborn in this world, something which is more and more being swept under the rug and ignored.

The phrase “Choose Life” has a long history. The people of ancient Israel were once exhorted to choose life by a leader named Joshua.

He stood before the head honchos of the Israelites and gave them a little history lesson as to why they should do so. His story, documented in Joshua Chapter 24, primarily  concerned the faithfulness of God toward them.

Joshua recounted the travels and victories of the Israelite people. He began with how God had taken Abraham away from the polytheism surrounding his relatives and sent him to what is now Palestine.

When Abraham’s descendants were in threat of extinction, God moved them to Egypt, where they at first flourished, but then were enslaved. Using His man Moses, God transported the people back to Palestine with many wonders of deliverance.

However, the people had to fight for their new homes. Joshua told the Israelite leaders that God wanted them to know that they had very little to do with the state of success they now enjoyed:

I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow.  So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.” (Johua 24:12,13).”

 The Israelites were at a crossroads. They were beginning a new life that God had provided for them in a new place.

Knowing their proclivity to worship other things and beings besides God, Joshua challenged the Israelites:

“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-16).

In essence, Joshua used some simple language to communicate to the Israelites where they were.  His messages within the message would look on license plates:

“Fear God”

“Serve Him”

“Garbage Out”

“CHOOSE LIFE!”

After presenting the Israelites with their choice of vanity tags, Joshua seemed to pull a typical stunt meant to challenge them even further. He told them in so many words,”Naah, you can’t do it. The results could be a disaster.”

Joshua would have made a great football coach. He was appealing to the Israelites’s sense of self esteem.

Joshua’s ploy worked. The people promised to serve the Lord. (See Joshua 24:16-28).

Serving God is a fearful thing. I think the Israelites knew it from their previous experiences with following the Lord.

As believers in Christ today, we also have experiences that make us wonder if we are really choosing life when we agree to hang on to God. It seems that having made that choice, we are then faced with difficulties and all-the-time.

This should come as no surprise. My latest fad philosopher, Mr. G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”

I have an immediate application to the story of Joshua and the choice made by  the  Israelites as they settled in their new land. I too am ready to move to another country and live there.

As I am going without much of a support network, I could easily choose to not serve the Lord. However, that vanity plate I saw at the DMV is a constant reminder to me to “Choose Life”.

In choosing to serve the Lord overseas, I will  not be alone.  It will be me and Jesus on that plane and in my new town.

If I had the discretionary cash, I think I would go back to the DMV and buy that plate as a kind of symbolic gesture of my own choice. After all, the Israelites set up a marker to help them recall their own decision.

I suppose a keyring or some other cheap remembrance will have to  do.  Perhaps I could just have a T-shirt made with the following quote from Mr. Chesterton:

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.”
 
Think of the exponent in the equation when that one ally is Jesus Christ. In truth, my move to a new country is one in where I am just following Jesus in his travels.
 
I’m just along for the ride.

 

 

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“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).”

As I sat in the coffee shop a few days ago, I had an epiphany. I didn’t just have a problem; I WAS the problem.

I came to this conclusion after examining my current situation. I am unemployed and have some major marital issues.

The lack of a job and my problems with my spouse stem from my anger. Shoot, let’s call it what it is: my rage.

While I have acknowledged that I have a problem with anger, I also have thought that others have overreacted to it. “After all, they provoked it by their own behavior”, I have said to myself.

However, while there may be some truth to my thinking, it became clear in that coffee shop one does not have major problems like I do without culpability. I admitted then and there I needed help.

I went online right in the cofffee shop and started reading material from a Christian website I am familiar with. I read an article called “Hiding Behind Blame” by Dr. David Hawkins, a relationship expert. I read another about longing for comfort that doesn’t come.

Then I went back to an article by Dr. Hawkins called “The Narcissistic Husband”. All  I could think of after I read it was, ‘”Ouch!”

Dr. Hawkins lays out several steps men must do to heal from their wounds (the source of rage). The first one was to acknowledge them. Check.

I read steps two and three without much thought. However, I became curious when when he wrote the following:

Fourth, men must make healing a way of life. Instead of reluctantly conceding to go to counseling for six sessions, men must be willing to do whatever it takes to name their wounds, talk about them, be involved in a community of healing such as Celebrate Recovery and then commit to a life of healing. Men need to experience the safety of being vulnerable, sharing their deep pain, and learn how to deal effectively with anger, hurt and sadness.

I asked myself,”What is Celebrate Recovery?” I had never heard of it.

So I did what I often do when I want to know more about something. I went to Google.

I learned that it was a ministry founded by Pastor John Baker of Saddleback Church in California. From what I could gather from the Internet, it is an organization similar to Alchoholics Anonymous, but with a more direct link to Christian belief.

I then went searching for a local group I could attend. I was in a hurry because in a few days I will be leaving for an overseas job assignment for almost a year.

Due to a family emergency, I didn’t go to the group I planned to attend, so I went last night to another one. My county doesn’t have any groups, so I went to a church located in the next county over.

The day of the meeting I sent an Email to the man listed as the contact for the group, a fellow named Tony. He responded promptly and gave me directions. 

I arrived over there in plenty of time, but still managed to be late because I got lost. I arrived 20 minutes after the meeting had begun.

When I entered the sanctuary, I thought perhaps it was a church service because there was music and lyrics on some large screens. However, a man sitting next to the door confirmed I was indeed at Celebrate Recovery.

Men and women sat scattered around the room. Over to the far right were some men running the audiovisuals.

Not long after I arrived, the songs stopped. Then a video testimony was shown.

This fellow discussed his addictions, failed marriages and other issues. It was his third wife who got him involved in a group she was attending: Celebrate Recovery.

Of course, the man discussed how it had helped him. This man was no bum, but an otherwise highly successful businessman.

After the video, the men and women broke into separate groups in different rooms. I went to a room with Tony and a gathering of some 15 other men.

These men shared briefly some of their past and current stories. I shared with them how and why I had found them.

I got a blue chip keyring as a newcomer. I also told them I would be leaving for Europe in a few days and hoped to find some “likeminded sufferers” to begin a group with.

During the refreshement time, Tony walked up to me with a Celebrate Recovery Bible, hardback edition. It didn’t look cheap. I asked him to Email me and ask how I was doing.

This whole experience has given me a gratefulness for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Some motivated individuals around the country, and even in some places overseas, are reaching out to others who need a place to go to share their hurts, temptatations and  sins-people like me.

The Israelites in the Old Testament for the most part seemed to be a rebellious, wicked brood. However, there were times they could truly be a band of brothers.

One such instance was when they reached out to one of their tribes which had been destroyed in a civil war. Even though they refused to even let their daughters marry up with the men of Benjamin, the Israelites wept bitterly over the loss of their brethren (Judges 21:1-4).

They eventually found a way around their oath to refuse marriageable women to the Benjamites. The whole story, including a rather peculiar dance party, is a bit odd.

However, the episode shows the heart of the people of Israel for their own. Having disciplined them, they went out of their way to heal them (Judges 21:5-23).

John Baker, in his own testimony, describes how he began Celebrate Recovery. Having been mocked at AA for his open belief in Jesus Christ, and yet lacking men in his church small group with whom he could confide his recovery from alcoholism, he wrote his pastor and suggested Celebrate Recovery.

Over 10,ooo people have gone through the program at his own church. Over 10,ooo churches and 500,ooo people have completed in the U.S. and around the world.

I am about at the place John Baker was when he proposed Celebrate Recovery to his pastor. God willing, I can find some men overseas with whom I can meet and heal with together.

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“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good (Ecclesiastes 9:17,18).”

One of my lifelong friends invited me to view one of his loves last weekend. He’s a big fan of stock car racing, so we headed down to one of his favorite tracks to see a Saturday night competition.

On the way he showed me an article he had written on the track in a magazine called “Speedway”. At the end, the editor had left in his dedication to his father, who had raced cars briefly in the 1950s and gave my buddy his love for the sport.

As something of a neophyte to auto racing, I focused on the leaders in the race. However, a lot of the more experienced fans at the track were watching the “races within the race”.

One of the more competitive of these was a contest between two cars in the 100 lap event, the track’s longest race of the night. While I watched the leaders, the yellow flag came out, signalling a “caution” in the competition and thus a pause.

As I looked to my left, at the corner of the track a car lay sprawled. My friend told me this driver had been smacked by a competitor, purportedly on purpose.

A little bit later, the driver of the car that had been hit got his revenge. He caused his earlier attacker to spin out.

This activity was a big hit with the crowd. They went wild.

My buddy had told me earlier before the race began that I was supposed to pick a winner, so I did. However, when it was clear my choice was back in the pack and would stay there, I picked another.

Amidst all the noise (we wore earplugs) and with the earlier confrontations still lodged in my brain, my friend informed me,”He’s…., even a dirty driver.” This man with a reputation of a cheater won the race, though.

Reading an account of the results later, I learned his main competitior wasn’t enthralled by how the victor had accomplished his victory. The second place finisher  was passed by the winner, but claimed that this would not have been possible if the alleged “dirty driver” had not illegally altered his car.

My impression of the night was that auto racing at this level is kind of a controlled chaos. Most of the drivers appear to he keeping the rules, but a few derelicts stretch and even break them, creating a certain amount of nuttiness.

When you watch some of these drivers, the auto insurance commercials starring Mr. Mayhem come to mind. He’s the man play-acting as, for example, an out-of-control GPS device, or an even more out of control teenage girl driver. The end result with Mr. Mayhem at the controls is disaster.

Israelites living at the time of the Judges must have felt like the equivalent of Mr. Mayhem was steering their ship.  It was a time of needless and willful violence.

Individually and corporately, actions were taken that hurt people and destroyed lives. As the Scriptures say, everyone did what was right in their own eyes because there was no real leadership (Judges 21:25 ).

One story, told in Judges Chapter 19,  involving a religious leader and his wife exemplified this period. The insanity began with the woman’s infidelity.

Now, the idea that a marriage between two people who claim to be leaders in bringing people to God would have trouble. In fact, my friend who took me to the races, who also happens to be a licensed therapist, told me that he would like to think so, but his experience in counseling shows that ministers and their spouses have  a lot of marital trouble.

At least this Israelite minister did the right thing when his wife split and went home to Daddy. He went after her.

Apparently they reconciled because they eventually left to go home. During their travels, though, mayhem struck.

Choosing to avoid an ungodly city, he moved on to an Israelite city in which to spend the night.  His assumption was that he would not be subject to the kind of violence he could expect in the city he passed by, since Israelites were supposedly believers in the true God.

The minister turned out to be dead wrong. The man he was staying with experienced a home invasion by perverted men, and his wife was raped and murdered.

In an action that would rival any reality show on TV today, the minister cut his wife into pieces and sent the parts all over the nation of Israel. He must have thought this was the only way he could get a hearing amidst the governmental chaos of his day.

When the leaders of Israel demanded that the tribe involved, Benjamin, surrender the perpretators of the crime, they did the unexpected. They refused.

In a fit of misplaced patriotism, they took offense at the encroachment on their states’ rights. Civil war ensued.

After much bloodshed, the Benjamites were subdued and the criminal city destroyed. Some people claim there was a woman to blame, but they knew in their heart of hearts that  it was  their own fault.

When God’s way is thrown out the window, even in a nation claiming to be religious, the only thing that can expected is a visit from Mr. Mayhem.  The collateral damage in such situations is enormous.

Even as I write this, a supposedly “Christian” nation is recovering from the mass murder of many of its citizens, many of them children. The media has claimed that the man is a “right-wing fundamentalist Christian” distressed over the move of his people toward ideologies he cannot abide with.

In reality, the man is nothing of the sort. He is nothing short of mad. He is Mr. Mayhem embodied in a true-to-life human being.

In his attack against his country and its leadership, he is right in one respect, however. His crazinness has been aided and abetted by a lack of leadership in the things of God.

As a result, people today are like the race car drivers I saw Saturday night who fell back in the pack. As they drove lap after lap toward the finish line, they slipped farther away from success.

Paul Simon wrote and sang these lyrics which describe the experience of the modern man in the human rat race:

Slip  slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

I know a man
He came from my home town
He wore his passion for his woman
Like a thorny crown
He said Dolores
I live in fear
My love for you’s so overpowering
I’m afraid that I will disappear

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

I know a woman
Became a wife
These are the very words she uses
To describe her life
She said a good day
Ain’t got no rain
She said a bad day’s when I lie in bed
And think of things that might have been

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

And I know a fa-ther
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

When we try to be spouses and parents without God at the helm of our personal lives and the life of our families, we are lost. Mr. Mayhem is at the wheel instead.

Simon adds:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We’re working our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Simon is right in one respect.  Not following God’s plan in our job or in any other aspect of life for that matter is a recipe for mayhem.

Hower, Mr. Simon is incorrect in saying that information from God regarding His plan for us is not available to us mortals. It’s right smack dab in the Bible.

Our national leaders just choose to ignore it. So do we husbands, parents and other leaders responsible for the welfare of other people.

Occasionally, you can run into some people whose lives seem to be under control. They are at peace and leading others in healthful ways.

The elders of my church come to mind. Individually and corporately, they are some of the godliest men I have ever run across.

The wisest man to have lived claimed observed that the “race is not to the swift”, but that humans are subject to the mayhem of their times and the luck of the draw (Ecclesiastes 9:11) I am glad, however, that there are men like my elders around, manning the pits as I circle life’s raceway.

They are worthy of following and emulating. One day, before I finish my race, I hope to be like them and kick Mr. Mayhem out of the driver’s seat.

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“Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help…But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!… To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,  and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it (Psalm 22:11,19,29-31).”

Sometimes you need help, and it just isn’t available. It surely wasn’t for Tom Robinson, at least the kind that would save him.

In Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Tom is a black man in Alabama accused of raping a young white girl. The evidence against him is totally circumstantial, but he lives in 1935 Alabama.

It doesn’t matter that he is actually a victim of the girl’s advances. She may be poor, but she is white. Tom is a dead man, unless Atticus Finch can get him off.

Atticus is a good man and a great lawyer and tries mightily, but he can’t help Tom. Even though Tom’s jury deliberate an unusually long time, no white jury in the Deep South before the Civil Rights Movement is going to take a black man’s word against a white person’s.

Tom Robinson is convicted and is killed trying to escape from prison.  What is more, Bob Ewell, the girl’s father, wants revenge on Atticus for what he views as his humiliation during the trial.

Many months after the trial, Atticus’s children, Jem (boy) and Scout (girl) are coming home in pitch dark from a school pageant when Bob Ewell attacks them. He breaks Jem’s arm, knocking him unconscious, and almost squeezes the life out of Scout.

Two defenseless children whose only “crime” is that they are the offspring of a lawyer who defended a black man against a white man are at the mercy of a bad person in the dark. Sometimes you need help, and there is no one available.

The Deep South in 1935 portrayed in “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a bad time for blacks. As powerless people, they had no recourse to injustice and there were very few people who would help them.

This period in the American south when it came to the treatment of blacks was a little like the period of the Judges in the Israelite history. The Bible describes this era as a time when “everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6b).

For example, a man named Micah hired his own Levite as a priest. When I read my Bible, I do not see the priesthood function being one for individuals , and neither did the author of Judges when he made the statement about people doing what was right in their own eyes at this time in relation to Micah’s action.

However, Micah ended up losing his self-made religious system when a powerful tribe called the Danites came through the neighborhood. They decided to consult Micah’s priest about a military campaign they were on, and when the man gave them a favorable reply, they took him on as their own religious leader. They not only stole Micah’s priest, they stole his religious paraphanelia as well.

Micah didn’t take this sitting down, however. The author of Judges reports what happened next:

When they had gone some distance from Micah’s house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, “What’s the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?”

He replied, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, ‘What’s the matter with you?’”

 The Danites answered, “Don’t argue with us, or some of the men may get angry and attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives.”  So the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned around and went back home. Judges 18:22-26

Sometimes you need help, and it just isn’t available.

However, in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, unbeknownst to Bob Ewell Jem and Scout have a helper they never would have thought of, a neighbor. During the struggle in the dark, he  intervenes  and carry’s Jem home, and Scout follows along.

She doesn’t know the neighbor. However, she soon realizes that it is Boo Radley, an extremely reclusive man who she and Jem tried to trick into making an appearance when they were younger.

The idea of  “Boo” (real name Arthur)  has always been an object of scorn and fear to Scout.  She has never seen the man, until now.

The town sherriff explains to Atticus that Bob Ewell is lying out in the dark with  a knife in him. It is clear to him that Boo Radley killed Ewell with a kitchen knife. However,  the sherriff  decides to claim that the worthless Ewell stumbled in the dark and fell on his own knife  in order to protect Boo’s  privacy in such a small town.

Boo Radley, a mysterious, strange man who is so solitary that his skin is pale from lack of sunlight, is a hero. Sometimes you need help, and it is made available from a place you would never consider.

Scout is remorseful over her and Jem’s treatment of Boo. As she walks the timid and simple man home and stands on his porch, she sees life through his eyes.

Scout understands that Boo sees Jem and her as his children, whom he has watched over for years. When they needed him, he was there.

In earlier days when they had thought ill of him, Boo had left them little trinkets of his care next to a tree next to his house. Scout now says of him: “He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good luck pennies, and our lives.”

Scout also thinks,”We never put back into the tree what we took out of it; we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” She never sees Boo again.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have our own type of Boo Radley watching out for us. He not only sees us as His own children, we indeed are!

He may seem distant and reclusive and even somewhat strange. We also may have treated Him with contempt for a good part of our lives.

However, Jesus has left us little objects of affection the whole time. In addition,when we were in dire straits,  He Himself protected us. Unlike Boo Rasdley, he died for us to save us.

And unlike Scout’s future with Boo Radley, we will one day meet Jesus and live with Him forever. Scout had nothing to offer Boo in return for her life, but we have something we can give Jesus: ourselves.

If you are like me, you may have played games with Jesus as if He were some kind of weird neighbor and you were a little kid. Well, God willing, for me the games are over.

In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Atticus could only offer his thanks to Boo for the lives of his children. I can do more.

For the rest of my days can fully give Jesus  the life that I owe Him and encourage my children to do the same. I will need His help to fix all the mistakes I have made over the course of my previous uncommitted life.

A good anthem for me in the days ahead comes from the Beatles:

“Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won’t you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won’t you please, please help me?”

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My Mona Lisa

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him,  and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3).

Stan and Bill are in big trouble. They have been accused of a murder they didn’t commit.

What complicates matters is that they are basically foreigners. Stan and Bill are a couple of young men from New York traveling in Alabama when they are arrested for murdering a convenience store clerk.

Bill calls his mother, who recommends his cousin Vinny Gambini, a lawyer who finally passed the bar after six tries.  He arrives in Alabama with his fiancee Mona Lisa Vito.

Stan is not convinced. However, Bill urges him to give Vinny a try:

Bill: You have to see the Gambinis in action. I mean, these people, they love to argue. I mean, they live to argue.
Stan: My parents argue too, it doesn’t make them good lawyers.
Bill: Stan, I’ve seen your parents argue. Trust me, they’re amateurs.”
 
What makes this movie funny is the culture class between the people of the Deep South and the hip crew from New York. In one discussion between Vinny and the Judge Chamberlain Haller, their regional dialects create misunderstanding:
 
Vinny Gambini: It is possible that the two yutes…
Judge Chamberlain Haller: …Ah, the two what? Uh… uh, what was that word?
Vinny Gambini: Uh… what word?
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Two what?
Vinny Gambini: What?
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Uh… did you say ‘yutes’?
Vinny Gambini: Yeah, two yutes.
Judge Chamberlain Haller: What is a yute?
[beat]
Vinny Gambini: Oh, excuse me, your honor…
[exaggerated]
Vinny Gambini: Two YOUTHS.
 
The Bible has an episode that coincides with the storyline in “My Cousin Vinny”. It involves the head judge of Israel, a man named Jepthah, and an Israelite tribe called the Ephraimites.
 
The Ephraimites were kind of “Johnny Come Latelys”.  They tended to show up for a fight after it was over, for motivations known only to them.
 
In one instance, they confronted a previous judge, Gideon, in similar circumstances. In this case, Gideon was gracious (Judges 8:1-3).
 
However, Jepthah was made of different material. He liked to argue.
 
When the king of the Ammonites tried to present a rather tortured legal case for invading  Israel’s territory, Jepthah would have none of it.  He argued back with the truth and defeated the Ammonites in battle (Judges 11:12-33).
 
In a similar manner, Jepthah had no patience for the second guessing of the Eprhaimites.  Here’s the story, which includes its only little humorous, yet important, ancedote concerning differences in language:
 
The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, “Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.”

 Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?”

Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,”  they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. Judges (12:1-6).

Vinny, like Jepthah, would argue and fight in a New York minute. When his fiancee is unable to collect on some winnings from at male opponent during pool, Vinny shows up at the pool hall to challenge the loser. Eventually, he clobbers the man and gets her money.

Mona Lisa Vito is about the only woman on the face of the earth who can hold a candle to Vinny. When he uses his debating skills, she gives back as good as it gets.

What is really troubling Mona Lisa is that she wants to help Vinny, but doesn’t know how. In addition, he is reluctant to receive assistance from her.

When Mona Lisa shows Vinny some pictures she has taken around town, suggesting they might help, he explodes. Uncharacteristically, Mona Lisa storms off.

She is tiring of their long engagement. Vinny has promised to marry her when he wins his first case.

It turns out, however, that Mona Lisa is indispensable to Vinny.  He actually DOES fine some key evidence in the photos.

In addition, as Mona Lisa is an expert in auto mechanics and performance, she becomes a key witness during the trial. She is able to prove that the car at the convenience store which tore down the road after the shooting of the clerk could not have belonged to Stan and Bill.

In addition, at the end of the movie, Mona Lisa is instrumental in keeping Vinny out of hot water with Judge Haller, who has been  suspicious of his qualifications. She gets help from a friend of theirs, a judge in New York, and has him fax fake information about Vinny to the court.

Vinny is silent though as the couple drive off.  She asks him, “So what’s your problem?”

Vinny: My problem is, I wanted to win my first case without any help from anybody.
Lisa: Well, I guess that plan’s moot.
Vinny: Yeah.
Lisa: You know, this could be a sign of things to come. You win all your cases, but with somebody else’s help. Right? You win case, after case, – and then afterwards, you have to go up to somebody and you have to say- “thank you“!

In a great irony, the actress who played Mona Lisa Vito in “My Cousin Vinny” was the only Oscar winner from the movie. She won the award for “Best Supporting Actress”!

Touche’! The man DOES need his woman’s help. Something that may be even harder to swallow is that he needs his woman’s help to do his job.

I admit it. As a male I am one of the world’s great compartmentalizers.

I tend to exclude my wife from matters I think don’t concern her. I have been wrong.

I need to get her assistance and accept her as the asset she is, in all situations! She is more than willing.

Jesus accepted the help of the women around Him. Who am I do to any different?

 

 

 

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“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’ (Matthew 9:36-38).”

The World Cup women’s championship game this weekend went back and forth. One team went ahead, it seemed for good.

Then, a defender for the winning team gave the other squad a gift. She kicked it right to her opponent standing in front of the goal.

Of course, the alert opponent obliged. She kicked the ball into the net and saved her team from a sure defeat.

With the score now tied, the team that had given away a goal scored again. They were jubilant and seemingly on their way to victory.

However, with time running out the losing side scored again. Once more, the teams were tied.

As the rules required, the game was decided on a shootout. The team that had outplayed their opponent on paper most of the game unbelievably missed most of their penalty kicks.

As they had the whole match, the team that had been outplayed took advantage. They made the needed shots in the shootout. They were world champions.

The emotions on the faces of the losing team told the whole story. During the game, as they made one key mistake after another, the ladies’ expressions reflected shock, sadness and heartbreak.

The British TV announcer during all this mayhem described the game with one of the cleverest statements I have ever heard during a sporting event. He called the happenings of this championship  a “19th nervous breakdown”.

This reporter got this phrase from a hit of the 1960s by the Rolling Stones. It describes a girl who is flighty and unstable due to a terrible childhood.

In his novel “Bleachers”, John Grisham describes a gathering of former high school football players who remember their own past glories on the field. They show up in their old home town because their old football coach is on his deathbed. They hold a vigil in the bleachers at their old field, now named after there coach, Eddie Rake.

Rake put their small town of Messina on the map. In 34 years as coach, his Spartans won hundreds of victories and many state titles.

However, Neely Crenshaw, the main character of the story and the quarterback of one Rake’s best teams, wishes he had never seen a football. Playing for Eddie Rake was a nerve wracking and even physically harmful experience.

Rake finally was fired after one of his players died during a practice after Neely Crenshaw had graduated. The coach had pushed his players to run the bleachers on an extremely hot day and the boy, Scotty Reardon, died of heat stroke.

While sitting in the bleachers reflecting, one of Rakes’ old players produces a radio broadcast of the state championship game in which Neely Crenshaw had played.  Many of Rakes’ former players gather around to listen.

They skip the first half because their school was behind 31-0. The broadcast they listen to begins after halftime.

The broadcaster notes two key points. First, he expresses his belief that in all of his years of doing the team’s games, he doesn’t remember them ever being so far behind at the half. Second, he points out that the team’s coaches are nowhere around.

As the men listen, during the second half the Spartans slowly come back. The game is full of bone-jarring hits, astounding plays and extreme excitement.

What is curious is that Neely Crenshaw doesn’t throw one pass. While he is on the sidelines, his throwing hand is in an ice bucket.

Crenshaw replaces his coach as the field general since the man is absent. He calls running play after running play.

With seconds left and his team behind by a touchdown, Crenshaw leads the Spartans down the field. On the final play of the drive, he falls into the end zone and wins the state championship for his team, sans coaches.

What doesn’t come out until later is that the team had played so hard because they were enraged at their coach, Eddie Rake. He had come in at half time and hit Neely Crenshaw so hard that he had broken his nose.

Crenshaw retaliated on the spot. He slugged Rake right in the face and knocked him cold in the locker room.

One of the defensive players, an extremely brutal player named Silo, mades the coaches leave. They show up in the vicinity of the field only as the game is coming to its conclusion.

The fictional state championship game of the Messina Spartans was similar to this week’s women’s World Cup in drama. The whole episode was one big “19th nervous breakdown”.

For 15 years Neely Crenshaw has harbored bitterness toward Eddie Rake. Even though Rake visited Crenshaw in his hospital room after a career-ending injury in college, and asked his forgiveness, Neely has refused to let what the players call an “altercation” go.

At Eddie Rake’s funeral, a message from the coac is read to the huge crowd. In it, he tells of two regrets.

One is the death of Scotty Reardon. He has already sought and been granted the forgiveness of the family, and has been buried next to the boy.

The second regret is his actions toward Neely Crenshaw during the state championship game. In the message he apologizes and asks for the team’s forgiveness.  

Crenshaw is surprised that he is one of three former players to be asked to read  a short eulogy. Struggling with his feelings toward Rake, he finally tells the crowd he has now forgiven the coach.

This is a watershed for Neely Crenshaw because he himself needs forgiveness, which he has found hard to come by. He is divorced and estranged from his ex-wife, whom he misses.

In addition, Crenshaw is kicking himself that he dropped the love of his life in high school for a promiscous fling with a loose girl. On the visit to Rakes’ funeral, he has sought forgiveness from the girl, Cameron, with only a small result.

Cameron was devastated for 10 years because of what Crenshaw did to her. However, she has moved on and is happily married and a mother. 

Crenshaw, though, is full of regrets. He calculates the life expectancy of Cameron’s husband, and tells her that when he dies, to give him a call.

The Bible is full of such messy stories. One is that of Jepthah, a judge in Israel.

Jepthah’s origins are a little awkward. His father Gilead, the tribal sheikh, fathered him via a prostitute.

When Jepthah comes of age, his brothers, the sons of Jepthah’s wife, throw him out. Jepthah, the Bible says, begins to hang out with a group of scoundrels.

However, Jepthah may be a bastard, but he is quite a fighter. Thus, when Israel needs someone to take on their enemy the Ammonites, they call on Jepthah.

 Jepthah responds as you might imagine. “Oh, before you had no use for me, but now you need my help when it’s convenient. Take a powder.”

The leaders of the Gilead clan  finally convince him to take on the role of leader of his people. He does so, and gives the Ammonite king a history lesson.

The Ammonite king claims Israelite land, indicating that Israel took it from him. Jepthah reminds the Ammonite leader that Israel had been peaceful toward his people, but were provoked. In addition, he refreshes him in the fact that what took place occurred hundreds of years ago.

None of this matters to the king of the Ammonites. He ignores Jepthah.

Jepthah talks big, but he doesn’t seem to have much confidence. He is about to  have his “19th nervous breakdown”.

Before taking on the Ammonites, Jepthah makes a rash vow to God. He tells the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands,  whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering (Judges 11:30,31).”

After Jepthah defeats the Ammonites, who should greet him at his door but his flighty teenage daughter, dancing with a tambourine in her hand. She can be best described by the opening lyric to the Stones’ song “19th Nervous Breakdown”:

You’re the kind of person
You meet at certain dismal dull affairs.
Center of a crowd, talking much too loud
Running up and down the stairs.
Well, it seems to me that you have seen too much in too few years.
And though you’ve tried you just can’t hide
Your eyes are edged with tears.

You better stop
Look around
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes
Here comes your nine-teenth nervous breakdown.”

Her father is distraught.  Jepthah obviously loves his daughter, his only child, but  tells her the bad news that she is to be a sacrifice.

Jepthah’s daughter consoles her father, but asks for two months leave to go off on a camping trip with her BFFs so she can reflect on her life. He grants her this request.
 
When she returns, Jepthah does the deed. In those days, the girls of Israel held a 4 day backpack trip each year to remember her.
 
Now, being a male and a father, I can imagine Jepthah playing the blame game over all of this. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a lyric for him in “19th Nervous Breakdown”:
 
Oh, whose to blame, that girls just insane.
Well nothing I do don’t seem to work,
It only seems to make matters worse. oh please.
Au contraire, Mr. Jepthah Gilead. James Dobson notes the empty headedness of today’s girls in a recent letter to his constituents, and puts the blame where it belongs.
 
Introducing his thoughts about today’s girls, Dobson desribes how a Christian leader was invited to a high school football game after he retired, but snuck away at halftime. He was so “profoundly burdened” over the kids around him that he went home to pray for them.
 
Dobson writes:

We see evidence of this vacuity among the girls who contact us to seek advice. They are very different from those who wrote us twenty years ago. Teens used to inquire about the “right” thing to do, which usually reflected a Christian foundation of some variety. Even those who had no faith seemed to know that some things were simply wrong. That has changed dramatically. A significant number of the teens who ask for our counsel now are not interested in what is moral but rather how they should deal with the messes they are in and whether or not they should act on their impulses and desires. Not all adolescents think this way, of course, nor do the majority of them. But we are hearing from more and more youngsters who are greatly influenced by moral relativism. For them, absolute truth does not exist. There is no reliable standard of right and wrong because they acknowledge no God who can define it.

This is why so many young people today are pursuing alien theologies and pleasures, such as New Age nonsense, the “hookup culture,” substance abuse, and raw materialism. They are searching vainly for something that will satisfy their “soul hunger,” but they are unlikely to find it. Meaning in life comes only by answering the eternal questions that are addressed exclusively within the Christian faith. No other religion can tell us who we are, how we got here, and where we are going after death. And no other belief system teaches that we are known and loved individually by the God of the universe and by His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Moses instructed parents to talk about these spiritual truths continually at home. This is what he wrote to the Children of Israel more than 3,500 years ago.

Dobson goes on to offer several suggestions concerning what parents can do to introduce their children to Jesus Christ.

Life is messy and we humans are a mess. We are constantly having our “19th nervous breakdown”.

Too many of us parents are creating our own Eddie Rake and Jepthah stories. Too many of us are no better than Gilead or Neely Crenshaw.

Is it any wonder that among the last words of Jesus was the statement,”Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Dads, we’d better stop, and look around. It’s halftime boys. 

 
 
 

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