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Archive for December, 2012

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1a-3).

“We’re moving on to another candidate.” Thus, a week after my whirlwind tour of a northeastern university in pursuit of a job as a departmental head, I am left feeling low.

In fact, although this is not the first rejection I have received in my six months of unemployment,  it is for some reason the worst. After I hung up the phone last night, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I retreated to my bed to sulk.

Rejection is a bummer. How are we supposed to handle it when we get rebuffed?

In my case, I immediately engaged in some serious navel gazing. “What a loser”, I thought.

Of course, at the end of a year in which I have come up empty after  persistent job hunting, numerous phone interviews,  and some long flights to unusual places, I suppose being depressed is normal. Knowing that doesn’t make me feel any better.

One of my friends tried to console me last night. “Perhaps you ought to analyze what you are doing during your interviews,” he said.

Good advice I guess. “I TEACH people how to interview”, I told him.

What worries me the most is that there is some inherent characteristic in me that is sabotaging my efforts.  I told my pastor as much over lunch yesterday, prior to getting the heave ho last night.

When I told another person that I was a loser, they said,”Well, Jesus isn’t a loser.” While that did direct my thoughts to the proper place (as I will note later), the comment didn’t do anything to boost my own individual self esteem at the time.

As it is Christmas time I have been locating old holiday fare on the tube that might interest me. The other night I watched “Charlie Brown Christmas” for the umpteenth time.

Then I noticed that “White Christmas” was on.  I realized that even though I knew the song and was quite aware of the singer Bing Crosby, I had never sat down and watched the thing.

So I did. The film is close to three hours long, but I decided to view it anyway.

I read the synopsis about how two entertainers (Crosby and Danny Kaye) move their show to Vermont to save the hotel of their former World War II general.  The state was getting no snow at Christmas and this predicament was killing business. This much of the plot I think I knew already.

To me, however, the real focus of “White Christmas” is not this attempt at helping out a revered old friend. What drew me as I watched was the dynamics of the romance between character Bob Wallace (Crosby) and  female singer Betty Haynes , who performs with her sister Judy.

When they first meet, the sincere Betty sees Bob as a cynic. He tells her that everyone in show business has an “angle”. These comments turn her off and they don’t expect to ever see each other again.

However, due to a series of circumstances all four entertainers (Bob and fellow entertainer Phil Davis and the Haynes Sisters) end up at the general’s hotel in Vermont. The girls become part of the show that Wallace and Davis have in mind.

In this setting, Betty comes to admire Bob. She thinks he is a quite self sacrificing man in moving his entire show to Vermont for the sake of his old war friend.

One day the hotel’s nosy housekeeper overhears a conversation between Bob and the well-known TV host Ed Harrison (based on the real Ed Sullivan).  During her eavesdropping she hears Ed tell Bob that he will put the whole show on national TV.

The premise behind Ed’s idea is to gain a ton of publicity for Wallace and Davis. Bob turns this offer down, not wanting to dishonor  his old general in front  of the entire country.

Unfortunately for him, Bob gets shamed instead. The housekeeper hung up before hearing Bob’s refusal to engage in the national TV production. She tells Betty about the plan.

As a result, Betty begins to reject Bob. She is haughty, cold and angry.

Bob can’t figure out what he did wrong. But he still pursues Betty, even when she leaves Vermont for a show in New York.

Bob goes after her and visits the club to try and iron things out. He tells Betty that he knows her “knight in shining armor” has been knocked off his horse, but that he would like him to be back up there. About that time Ed Harrison shows up and the conversation is interrupted.

Eventually the misunderstanding is cleared up. But in the interim Bob has to go through a period of undeserved chastening.

I think the theme of shame is quite appropriate at Christmas. While I know this sounds rather droll amid all the holiday glitter, hear me out.

Think about it.  Jesus Christ is living in heaven with His Heavenly Father.  Yet, the Scriptures say that He, although being in His very nature God, came to live among us a man.

The apostle Paul tells us to have the same mindset as Jesus.  The apostle writes that in  becoming a man, Jesus “made Himself nothing”.  (Philippians 2: 6:,7)

But He didn’t stop there. Jesus was fully obedient to His Father, keeping His humility and even going to the Cross in the will of God. The result of  Jesus’s humiliation was His eventual exaltation as Lord of heaven and earth (v. 8,9).

So when I think of my abasement during my unemployment, what I believe I need to do is look at the big picture. God has a plan in my current low estate.

It has occurred to me this morning that a lot of great people have had to fail before they succeeded:

* Thomas Edison made 10,000 attempts at the light bulb before he invented it.

* Michael Jordan was given the ball 26 times to make the game winning shot and missed.

* Jack Canfield’s hit book Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by publishers over  a hundred times.

* Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was turned down for employment 14 times by law firms.

So I am not the first person to have had a gut check in life.  And a lot of the shame and contempt I endure is deserved.

Jesus became a man and died for my sins, yet He did nothing to receive this kind of treatment.   In fact, He had behaved just the opposite.

Of course, Jesus  didn’t have to like His abasement. But He  endured it out of love for His own. With His help, so can I.

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 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;  my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:5,6).

As Christmas Day approaches, my nation is reeling from a terrible massacre of 20 innocent six and seven year old children in Connecticut by a deranged 20-year old. He also killed six adults in the school, using a military-style rifle, before shooting himself in the head with a pistol.

Five days later, the country is in shock. The usual issues have popped up, i.e. the need for gun control and the requirement that we do some soul searching about how we treat the mentally ill.

One commentator wrote that such mass killings today are prompted by three things: 1) extreme anger 2)isolation 3) too much time on the Internet.  To me this is a scary cocktail because I see all three operating in my life at times.

What is particularly troubling is isolation. As a person of faith, I find the feeling of being abandoned by God as the worst form of this.

One former pastor turned politician, Mike Huckabee,  got into  some trouble with some people of one political persuasion when he answered the question  “Where Was God?” He told his listeners in an interview that this was an interesting question since for the last few decades we have been kicking the Lord out of the public schools.

In an episode of the old TV series Touched by An Angel, Monica the angel finds herself in a situation where she too asks the question,”God, where are you? Why can’t I feel you with me?”.  She has witnessed a building blow up due to a bombing with a lot of people inside.

Earlier she had met a little girl named Madeline who was to be her assignment from God. This child was in the explosion. Monica  watches as her colleague the Angel of Death approaches the building, and her heart breaks.

That’s it for Monica. She walks away, walking down the road to who knows where. She has left her post.

As she walks, a charming man in a black sports car offers her a ride. Monica knows who the fellow is.  It’s Satan, otherwise known as Lucifer, the Devil and a host of other names.

Satan has seen his chance to knock an angel out of the heavenly realm and wastes no time tempting Monica. He is conniving, helpful and clever. Why, he understands Monica. After all, he tells her, I’ve been there.

Monica and Satan are now out in the desert, and he says to the distraught Monica,”I remember when you walked through the desert unshod,  unafraid, an angel of God.  Confident of your divine mission.”

Monica is upset, but she tells Satan she wants to be alone. He tells her that she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do. “We don’t have to be friends”, he says,”but we don’t have to be enemies.

Monica replies,”You are the enemy.” Satan’s rejoinder? “I’m not the enemy. I’m the alternative. That’ s what you’re looking for isn’t it?”

Satan even asks Monica to come work for him. “You don’t have to work for Him you know. There are options.”

Monica doesn’t want to forget God, though, as the devil suggests she do.  But Satan doesn’t quit. He even asks her where God is as she has done?

When she tells the devil that God is where He has always been,Satan asks,”Then what are you here for?” Monica answers: “Because I am hurting.  Because as much as God loves them they hate each other. Oh, they say the words and they write the books and the songs about love and they make the vows of love, but they don’t love!

Satan then lets Monica observe a scene where she is a human wife and mother. This is because Monica thinks that just maybe she could love better than they can.

The devil offers her this chance. Monica is drawn to this opportunity. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be a mother”, she tells the devil.

After that, despite Monica’s protest that she is God’s and belongs to Him and that she is returning to Him, Satan continues his deceptive assault.  When Monica tells Satan that she will find God again, he replies:

“Where? At Madeline’s grave?  Year after year, century after century Monica, you watch the suffering and the sorrow.  All you can do is stand by and utter the words that sound so hollow every time you say ’em: God loves you.”

After more arguing, including a theological one about the meaning of suffering,  and more temptation to become human, Satan asks her,”How long can you go on like this? Lost between heaven and earth. You must be so lonely.”

Monica tells Satan,”Sometimes.” And as she weeps and falls on his chest in tears, she says,”Sometimes I am.”

Satan sends her off to the desert to think about his offer. He tells Monica to find a high place and when she is ready to just jump. He’ll be there to catch her.

As a viewer, I know that this is like receiving an offer from a slick used car salesman. However, as Monica walks, Satan sings to her.

The devil is known as an angel of light, and his song is beautiful and seemingly promising. Furthermore, it seemingly gives Monica dignity as the lyrics tell her that she gets to make her own decisions apart from God.

No one here to guide you

Now you’re on  your own

Only me beside you

Still your not alone

Truly no one is alone

Sometimes people leave you

Halfway through the wood

Others may deceive you

You decide what’s good

You decide alone

But no one is alone (Mandy Patankin)

Monica eventually comes to the precipice,  and Satan is there to catch her.  She utters the same words to the her Heavenly Father that Jesus did on the cross to God–“Why have you forsaken me?.

Right after this  a bouquet of Monica’s favorite flower , the lilac,  suddenly grows from a stone. Satan has told her as a human that lilacs will smell much sweeter.

However, God has just revealed Himself as the Creator of all beauty.  He is trustworthy and greater than t he ugliness Monica sees in the world.

Satan may have wooed her. But God is the better Romancer.

She is not alone in any sense. Knowing he has been defeated, Satan fades from view.

Monica asks God for  forgiveness. She tells God she wants to come home.  She is restored and returns to her duties as an angel who takes care of humans.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be abandoned.  When He  turned 12, he went to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover feast. After it was over they headed home, but soon realized that Jesus was not with them. They had forgotten Him at the feast.

After three days they found Him.  His mother said to Jesus,“Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Jesus replied, Why were you searching for me?” Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house (Luke 2:48,49)?”

Popular preacher T.D. Jakes says of this incident,”They found him right where they left Him: in his Father’s house”.  Jakes exhorts today’s believers not to forget Jesus themselves while celebrating the feast that bears His name.

Isolation is a terrible thing. It opens us up to all manner of evil and Satan’s lures. As I said, it scares me, especially if I there is a sense that God has left me.

Mike Huckabee offered viewers one other explanation as to where God was at that school during the killings. He explained that while evil was present, God was there in the presence of the first responders and the teachers who courageously protected their kids.

I too have realized where God is in my own community.  Jesus is right where I left Him. He is over there at the church in my town that I’ve been staying away from for so long. And He’s there in the pastors and people who go there.

It’s a foolish thing to walk away from God. He’s the only source of beauty and love in this sometimes ugly world.

 

 

 

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