Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2013

 “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked .’I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ (Acts 9:3-6)

Marcus Vinicius is a hothead.  He is also impulsive.

These traits are not curious considering he is a young Roman general. He wants what he wants and he has the authority to get it.

And in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis , what he wants is a woman named Lygia.  She is the adopted daughter of a retired general, and technically a prisoner, as she was captured in war.

Marcus pursues Lygia, but she rejects his advances even though she is attracted to him. Lygia is a Christian, devoted to her Master, and doesn’t see much of a future with this renowned, yet pagan hero.

The young lady’s beliefs are no impediment for Marcus, however. He offers to build a large cross monument in honor of her religion.

Lygia tries to explain to Marcus that Christianity is a matter of the soul, not one of symbols.  Finally agreeing to marry Marcus, she lets on that not only is he in her heart, but Jesus is there too.

Marcus doesn’t get it, though. He thinks he has to share Lygia’s love with a dead man. Even the Apostle Paul, who is in the room with Lygia and Marcus, cannot persuade Marcus of the truth.

In typical fashion, Marcus become angry. As a final demonstration before leaving Lygia’s presence, he rips a cross ornament off her wall and breaks it in two.

Eventually both Marcus and Lygia become caught up in the persecutions of Nero, who has conjured up a fable in which the Christians are blamed for the burning of Rome, which he himself instigated.  Lygia is thrown in jail with many other Christians.

Marcus ends up in the same prison with her for opposing Nero’s persecution. He’s not a  Christian, but he has no love for the crazy emperor’s injustices.

The jail is adjacent to the arena where prisoners are sacrificed to the lions. One by one the Christians are marched out to die.

According to tradition, on the road from Rome  the Apostle Peter met the resurrected Jesus. He asked his Savior,”Where are you going” (Quo Vadis in Latin)?  Jesus told Peter that he was going to Rome to be crucified all over again, obviously a reference to what is happening to His disciples, who Nero is nailing to trees and lighting on fire.  Peter thus gained the strength to return to Rome, where he is eventually crucified on a cross upside down.

In the movie Quo Vadis, the imprisoned Peter comforts  Christians before they face the lions.  They march into the stadium singing, causing consternation in Nero.

Marcus, Lygia and the latter’s giant bodyguard Ursus  are the last to enter. This is because Nero’s wife Poppaea has arranged a special death for them.  She is angry with Marcus for rejecting her advances and jealous of Lygia.

The plan for extinguishing the lives of the three doesn’t involve lions, though. Poppaea has produced a special show for Nero and the crowd.

Before going out to their presumed murders, Marcus explains to Lygia his continued questions about her Christian beliefs. Lygia sees that he may doubt, but als that he is a seeker. She encourages him by telling him that Christ is in his heart more than he knows.

Now in the stadium, Lygia is tied to a stake (her own cross) .  A bull is let into the arena. In between the girl and a death by goring is the powerful Ursus.

Ursus puts up a good fight, but is obviously no match for the final battle with the bull.  However,  something amazing occurs.

Marcus has been brought out in bonds to observe the death of his beloved. As he watches the struggle of Ursus he prays,”Christ, give him strength.”

Ursus defeats the bull, much to the crowd’s delight. Eventually, Marcus and Lygia leave Rome together to begin a new life, an implied one of faith.

The character Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis is illustrative of how faith in Jesus is not necessarily something that comes like a lightning bolt. In Marcus’s case, his coming to belief in Christ was a journey.

His path began with outright opposition to a religion he did not grasp. It culminated in a decision  to step out in trust and call on this Jesus  in whom his beloved believed.

The catalyst for this prayer was his desire to save Lygia from a horrible physical death. Whatever his motivation, his pleas to Jesus showed that his faith in the power of God was genuine. After all, Marcus was a general and understood power.

What Marcus experienced is described by the Apostle Paul. He describes our experience as similar to that of a person who has had a veil removed. Once it is gone, we see God more and more clearly and are transformed to His likeness (II Corinthians 3:18).

Marcus’s experience is different from that of  Paul, however.  While the apostle, himself blinded in terms of faith in Christ, had come to the Lord in a flash, Marcus’s route is more circuitous.

The long journey of Marcus to faith is comforting to me. As I slide down the other side of middle age, I am distraught over my mistakes in life and how dense I have been in not seeing my unbelief and flaws earlier.

For example, I have been reading a  book recently about a certain aspect of the Christian life. In it are surveys which basically help you to ascertain how you are doing in this particular area. I have been reading this book with some despair over what it has revealed about my life.

On the other hand, I know my only hope for true change lies in Jesus. Marcus Vinicius took a long time to figure this out, but God was patient with the general and drew this lost man to Himself.

I am putting my hope in Christ to do the same for me, especially  in this aforementioned area of need. Quo Vadis.

You choose. I’ll follow.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?  All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God,  for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-25)

I was recently in the store of a major book seller and noticed these titles prominently displayed:

  • I Can Make You Confident
  • I Can Make You Sleep
  • I Can Make You Rich
  • I Can Make You Thin

I looked above the shelf holding these volumes and noticed this sign:

50% OFF

Obviously the man didn’t deliver!

Most of us in the USA these days are in dire need of what this author is promising.  We Americans seem to be allowing our world to spin out of control.

It’s “do, do,do” all the time.  This aspect of our culture is my main bugaboo about the way we live.

I have really struggled with that tug since I returned from living in Europe last summer. The folks over there seem to have a different mindset.

Yeah, they work hard. However, they also know when it’s time to leave the workplace and enjoy life.

It’s clear that we think that it all depends on us. We’re afraid to give up control.

Yet, we also see at times what abject failures we can be. If we weren’t overweight, financially strapped, insecure and wide-awake in the middle of the night, why would there be book titles like the ones I saw for sale at all. We obviously are lost a lot.

One of the ways we stressed-filled US Americans try to relax is by watching NFL games on TV. Every week they’re rated as some of the most viewed programs.

They’re definitely popular now as the NFL is in the middle of the playoffs.  I confess to being glued to particular contests.

One of most famous of these games took place right before Christmas in 1972. The Pittsburgh Steelers were facing their archrivals, the Oakland Raiders, for the right to advance forward towards the Super Bowl.

What is legendary about this game is one particular play.  It came with 22 seconds left in the match, with the Steelers behind 7-6.

Quarterback Terry Bradshaw took the snap and went back to pass. He faced a heavy rush.  Running to his right, Bradshaw almost slipped to the turf, but he recovered, ran to his right and threw the ball down the field toward halfback John “Frenchy” Fuqua.

Just as the ball reached him, Fugua was smacked by Raiders cornerback Jack Tatum, infamous for his brutal hits. The ball caromed off of Tatum.

What happened next has gone down in football lore. Just as the ball was about to hit the ground, Steelers running back Franco Harris scooped the ball out of the air, ran to his left, stiff armed a pursuing Raider defender, danced along the sideline and ran into the end zone for the game winning touchdown.

As one would expect, the fans went nuts.  They rushed onto the field and mobbed the celebrating Steelers players.

Fuqua told reporters this after the game:

“I can tell you this: I did not take my eyes off the ball, as you can tell from the way that my body was. What happens from that point on was truly Immaculate.”

The event has evermore been known as the Immaculate Reception.

I have been pondering of late why I seem to have little victory in my Christian life. The Immaculate Reception is a fine object lesson for me in my thinking.

You see, the Pittsburgh Steelers were going about their business trying to win the game. Frankly, things did not look good. It appeared that they were about to go down to defeat.

Yet, something extraordinary happened.  When Bradshaw threw that ball, a normal action for him, everyone thought the ordinary would occur. The ball would either be caught by a Steeler, fall incomplete, or perhaps even be intercepted by a Raiders player.

No one expected the ball to take a funny bounce and miraculously fall into the hands of Franco Harris, who was in the right place at the right time. Harris didn’t hesitate, though. He took advantage of the situation and ran the ball in for a score.

Now what did the Pittsburgh Steelers have to do with their victory. Pretty much they were just available to receive the gift handed to them. I figure this must what my role is to getting victory in my Christian experience.

Recently I have been listening to the sermons a preacher from the mid 2oth century at the recommendation of my pastor. Major Ian Thomas was a man who understood what it took for a Christian to live victoriously. Thomas said,”Jesus Himself is the very dynamic to meet all his demands.”

The idea from Thomas is that Jesus doesn’t give us strength, for example. He IS our strength.

Likewise, Jesus doesn’t give us victory. He IS or victory. Thomas likes to say,”We’re just the suit of clothes Jesus wears.”

This is surely biblical. Jesus Himself said,”I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).”

Why, what Jesus said is anti-American! Aren’t we supposed to lift ourselves up by our bootstraps?

Even the American hero Benjamin Franklin said that “God helps those who help themselves.” With all due respect to the otherwise admirable Mr. Franklin, this popular sentiment is hogwash and not scriptural.

The other morning I awoke and I believe God spoke to me. Oh, not audibly.  It was just the still small voice we Christians we hear from His Spirit at times.

What  came to me was this: “Cease striving.”  This message has returned to me several times since this week.

When I get anxious, I hear “cease striving”. My only response has had to be obedience. I just tell the Lord,”Ok.”

This may be Un-American, but I don’t care. I am as big a patriot as the next guy, but I have a higher citizenship.

Read Full Post »

“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him (Psalm 98:1).”

A new year is supposedly a time of change. What most people think about is making resolutions to change themselves in some way.

This isn’t the theme of the current animated fantasy movie “Brave”.  According to the protagonist Merida, a princess, the person that really needs transformation is her mother Elinor.

Elinor and her husband King Fergus have invited allied Scottish clans to their castle so that the first-born sons can compete for the hand of the teenage Merida. However, the spunky young lass wants no part of this arrangement.  This is understandable, as she can run rings around the doofus boys who are her suitors in every way.

In scenes as old as the hills, Merida and Elinor have clash after clash. Teenager against parent. What a surprise.

Merida is out in the forest one day when she encounters a “will o’ the wisp” which leads her to a witch’s cottage. Merida arranges to buy a cake which the witch has promised will “change” her mother.

After Elinor unsuspectedly eats a piece, she is changed alright. She is turned into a bear.

This is bad enough, but the impact of the event is exacerbated by the family history. Her husband King Fergus is renowned for having fought and defeated a monster bear, losing his leg in the process. So the king has no love for bears.

Merida and Elinor flee the palace and find a holographic recording left by the witch. This message says that the spell will become permanent “by the second sunrise” unless Merida “mends the bond torn by pride”.  Merida takes this to mean that she is to repair the family tapestry she tore during one of her fights with her mother.

Merida and Elinor reenter the castle and take the tapestry as they are being pursued by Fergus and the clans.   Merida mends the tapestry as they once again flee.

In the exciting conclusion, Merida fights off her own father and the others, telling them “”I will not let you kill my mother!”.  Of course, they have no idea what she is talking about.

In the process, the evil bear defeated by her father shows up and attempts to swallow Merida. Elinor fights off her fellow bear and this enemy is killed.

As the sun rises on the second day, Merida remembers the parameters of the witch’s curse and throws the tapestry over Elinor. However, it appears to be too late.

Merida cries and kneels before her mother and exclaims

“Oh, no! I don’t understand. I… Oh, mom, I’m sorry. This is all my fault. I did this to you, to us. You’ve always been there for me.  You’ve never given up on me. I just need you back. I want you back, mommy. I love you.”

Merida feels the touch of her mother and looks up to see that her mother is once again human. Elinor hugs and kisses her daughter.

“You’ve changed!”, Merida screams. Elinor replies, “Oh darling. We both have.”

The real bond torn by pride has been mended: by love.

I think many of us are like Merida. We claim we need to change, but what we really want is for the people who are causing us grief to be transformed.

What we don’t understand is the impact our own negative behavior has on those around us, especially those close to us. We most likely have had a major role in making the person who they are today.

We like Merida could state,”I have done this to you.” Our barking, cajoling, yelling, manipulation and and abuse have done major damage.  Furthermore our attempts to remake others to suit us have actually harmed them.

The teenager Merida had to go through hell to see that the solution to the problem she was having with others lay within her. At the end of the movie, she says:

“Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.”

Merida took the first step in changing herself. She had the courage to look within. Then she  confessed her lack.  God calls us to do this as well (I John 1:9).

However, we shouldn’t  just stay in remorse. We ought to move on to love, compassion and understanding of the other, as Merida and her mother did.  Doing this will at least change us.

More than likely, though, continued love of the other will also result in their changing as well. However, even if the other person doesn’t change, we will engage in what Emerson Eggerich calls “The Rewarded Cycle”. Even though the other person doesn’t respond to our love (and we may have to wait a long time), God will reward us for our effort.

If you are like me, you have a tendency to dwell on  the results of the curse we are under in this world and our own failures and say “Woe is Me!”. However, the third stanza of a popular New Year carol tells me that this is not God’s desire for us:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

Jesus came at Christmas to dispense with the evil portrayed in “Brave”.  The curse doesn’t have to be allowed to stay in our homes, our workplaces or other spheres where we have influence. It can be booted.

What is needed is  the courage at the New Year to change ourselves by appropriating and spreading His encouragements in our relationships with others.

Read Full Post »