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“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12b)

The video, which has gone viral this week, shows a young woman verbally abusing a tall man in a winter hat on a subway. She mocks his hat, his shoes and other things as her friends and other onlookers look on and smile.

The young man does nothing for a while except stand there and take it. Having apparently had enough, he finally responds by calling her a not-so-nice name commonly used to verbally abuse females.

The woman then rolls her tongue outside of her mouth and smacks him in the head with the end of a stiletto. Reacting, he hits her with a forceful slap to her face. This action sets off a brawl on the train.

My first reaction to this episode was quite judgmental, especially toward the woman. Then I walked through a McDonald’s parking lot the other morning to grab a quick breakfast on the way to work.

This parking lot is not particularly large and is usually crowded with cars and pedestrians. Apparently some young man in a black coupe took offense at me walking in front of his car after he left the drive thru window. I knew he wasn’t happy because he let loose with some curses at me.

Of course, I responded with Christian humility. Uhhh…I wish I could say so, but the fact is I responded in kind. In fact, I was so mad that if he had come out of his car I would have been willing to duke it out with him right then and there, come what may.

Ironically, my next stop was to pick up my antidepressant. As I walked toward the pharmacy, I attributed my behavior to being off my meds for a few days. That’s probably true, but I also know there was something else at work. I just wasn’t sure what.

I have spent a good part of today reflecting on this.  My musings began with the life of Josiah in the Old Testament. He was the Israelite king who created personal and national reforms after a priest discovered the long lost Scriptures (to that time) in the temple in Jerusalem. (See I Chronicles 34).

Here is what the Life Recovery Bible says about him:

When the Scriptures were discovered, Josiah initiated a recovery program for himself and his people immediately.

It is fair to say that Josiah grew up in a dysfunctional and destructive situation. Idolatry and other forms of sinful behavior were an established norm. Josiah had to begin by discovering what God’s ideals for living were.

In time, he was able to break the cycle of sin that had ensnared Israel. He had faith, commitment to God and the courage to pursue both personal and national recovery.

Josiah began his recovery program when he delved into the  Scriptures. As a result, he is considered by Christians to be one of the more godly kings of Israel.

Another godly king, whose story comes a few pages in the Bible before Josiah,  was Hezekiah.  As was typical of ancient Israel, they were threatened by a powerful invader during his reign. Hezekiah began a large defense project he hoped would fend off the enemy. The Life Recovery Bible compares this work to that of building defenses of our own in order to live the Christian life:

Recovery involves repairing or building healthy boundaries that have become weak, defective, or torn down through abuse.

For some of us our boundaries have grown weak as we have let people walk all over us or we have let down our guard against our destructive behaviors.

Part of the recovery process involves repairing our boundaries. We can also construct a second wall of defense by developing a strong support network around us.

…..There is someone on our side who is far greater.

The lessons I learned from the Life Recovery Bible’s commentary are twofold. First, I was right to have set boundaries with that fellow in the McDonald’s parking lot. In fact, I was kind of backed up by this when my landlord told me later,”I’m proud of you.” Now, I think he was proud of my being willing to stand up for myself and fight the guy if necessary.

However, I believe that my response could have been something like this: ‘Why, my good man. Why are we upset. Don’t you see this is quite a full lot and we all have to show some common courtesy.”

The second lesson I learned from the Life Recovery Bible was that the reason I did not respond in a godly manner, other than my lack of a prescription, was due to my lack of boundaries against destructive personal behaviors. I suppose my meds are one form of boundary against them. But I lack the support network and the sort of relationship with God that would build a  further line of defense against self destruction. (And yes, I could have ended up in jail–or worse.)

Saul of Tarsus was no stranger to destructive behaviors. Unfortunately for Christians, his havoc was directed at them. The Bible says he uttered threats against them (although I am sure he didn’t do it on a subway or McDonalds since those didn’t exist at the time.)

Saul had his comeuppance, however. Acts 9 describes his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that left him blind and totally dependent on others. The Life Recovery Bible once more gives us some insight on this Scripture:

Saul was suddenly confronted with the fact that his life wasn’t as perfect as he had thought. Self righteousness had been his trademark. By letting go of his illusions of power, however, he became one of the most powerful men ever-the apostle Paul.

When we are confronted with the knowledge that our life isn’t under control, we have a choice. We can continue on in self denial and self righteousness or we can face the fact that we have been blind to some important issues. If we become willing to be led into recovery, and into a whole new way of life, we will find true power.

For me, the key word from the good people at the LRB is “willing”.

Obedience to Christ has always been an issue with me. When I was in college I went to a conference and learned that Christ wanted to be my Lord, not just my Savior. I drove home angry, feeling I had been “had”. “No one told me about this,” I thought.  My concept at the time I think was that I only needed “fire insurance” and I didn’t think much about Jesus’s desire to change me.

I have had problems with obedience to Christ ever since. I have never learned to obey Him. More importantly, this comes I believe from not knowing why I should obey, other than that I am told to by Christian leaders. This hasn’t been enough of a motivation for me.

This morning during my reflections I came new a new understanding from the words of a  praise song I listened to. It told me  why Jesus is worthy of my obedience. It opens with these lines:

“Worthy is the,
Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song, to Him who sits on
Heaven’s Mercy Seat” (words by Kari Jobe)

The bottom line is that Jesus, by nature of who He is and His work on the Cross for me is worthy of my obedience.  How Jesus must tire of my recalcitrance. I’m even proud of my stubbornness, irascibility and curmudgeonly ways, thinking of them as an eccentric family trait.

Like Josiah, I see the importance of obeying the Word of God.  To me they are a road map for living. However, Jesus points out in the Scriptures an error of the Bible believers in His day that can be just as true of me and I suppose other believers.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” (John 5:39-40).

RC Sproul makes this point in a sermon on John 5, noting how we modern day believers still try to maintain some sense of self importance and control over their own lives. He decries the use of a bumper sticker with this message.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

“How arrogant is that,” says Sproul. “I want them to write a new bumper sticker: ‘God says it. That settles it.’ It doesn’t matter whether I believe it. It was settled long before my assent and long before I concur with the message. If God Almighty opens His holy mouth and says something, we don’t need another witness. It’s over. It’s settled.”

Sproul further explains the primacy of Jesus Christ and obedience to Him by referring to Paul’s statements to a group of Athenian philosophers:

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30-31).

This message is in contrast, says Sproul, to the current evangelistic techniques  of today which emphasize our “receiving” of an “invitation” from God.

What is needed is for me is  to “sing a new song” to Him that sits at the mercy seat at the Father’s right hand.  This should be a song of willful, happy obedience to Jesus.

Why? Because He is worthy of my obedience, and it is not an option.  Oh, and did I say “He is worthy?”

“With all creation I will sing praise to the King of Kings and I WILL  adore You.”(Kari Jobe)

I have some ideas how this obedience will translate into my daily life, but more importantly, I now have a reason for this submission to the authority of Jesus.

Filled with wonder,
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is Power
Breath, and Living Water
Such a marvelous mystery (Kari Jobe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow,” I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end to a perfectly topsy turvy day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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.

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Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).”

“Big Jim” Cole is not off to a great start.  He has inherited several hundred acres of prime land in Wyoming, but keeping it is another story.

First, there is the matter of the neighbor who is determined to take it away from him. Jed Curry lost the land to Big Jim’s grandpa in a poker game fair and square.

But Jed persistently angles to get it back for his sons. They are young men, but they are only adult in terms of their physiques.  They regularly harass Big Jim and his family.

Then, there is the old enemy who shows up in town.  Former lawman Big Jim sent Cass Dowdy (once a friend and on the right side of the law)  to jail and the latter aims to settle the score.

Finally, Big Jim has a wild beast to deal with. This animal  is destroying his new ranch piece by piece.

The human foes pale in comparison to this monster, Big Jim’s worst nightmare. His biggest problem is a grizzly bear appropriately named Satan.  The bear is the main focus of the story told in the movie “Night of the Grizzly”.

Satan is not just any grizzly. He is plum crazy. The bear  kills and destroys just because he can.

Satan wrecks Big Jim’s fences, kills the beautiful bull he had intended to use to populate his herd, and decimates his flock of sheep. While not pleased, Big Jim doesn’t plan to let the bear stand in his way. He goes after Satan, but fails, at least in the beginning.

Satan keeps on pillaging. He kills two men, including Big Jim’s longtime friend and employee  Sam Potts. The grizzly takes off the arm of another man.

The night before Big Jim’s decides to hunt and kill Satan once and for all, his wife Angela threatens to leave if he carries out his plan. She has had enough. She can’t really be blamed inasmuch as she has had plenty of sleepless nights in the past wondering if Big Jim would come home alive when he was chasing desperadoes.

Big Jim gives her the “a man’s gotta do what he has to do” speech. Not only will killing the grizzly rid them of their own personal problems, but the reward money will get them out of the debt they have incurred because of Satan’s evil activities.  However, Angela is not convinced and tells Big Jim that when he comes back, the rest of the family will be gone.

Unbeknownst to Big Jim and his wife, their son Charlie has overheard the whole spat. The boy is troubled by the conflict between his normally loving parents and decides to take matters into his own hands.

He sets out after Satan himself, with his gun and pint-sized dog in tow. Learning of this the next morning, Big Jim follows Charlie, intending to rescue him and knock off  Satan, too.

Before he can even get to the boy and the bear Big Jim has to engage in a gunfight with Cass, who is also after the reward. The latter is temporarily blinded during the shootout by a gunpowder flash and Big Jim continues on to the final battle with Satan.

In the final crisis, Satan comes close to winning. He  corners  Charlie in a tree and Big Jim in a hole.

However, Cass (who has recovered his vision) comes along and goes after the bear. He wants the money, but he also cares for Charlie and obviously doesn’t want harm to come to the boy.

In the chaos, Cass is killed by Satan. This, however, gives Big Jim the time and opportunity to finally gun the bear down

Big Jim’s battle with the appropriately named Satan is one of courage. His story reveals the nature of courage, which is that it  is a paradox. One aspect of a paradox, as defined by  Wikiquotes,  is that it is a “situation which defies logic or or intuition.”

The logical thing for Big Jim to do would have been to know when he had been licked and leave town. His wife’s intuition told her that “getting out of Dodge” was the sane and safe course of action. Right thinking would have meant that he would have listened to his wife.

However, Big Jim wanted a new life, one that had promise for him and his family.  Thus he made up his mind to fight for what he wanted despite the odds.

G.K.. Chesterton, “The Prince of Paradox”, wrote these words:

The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it.  

Chesterton further analyzed the nature of courage this way:

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers.

Jesus calls us at times to do the unreasonable or illogical thing.  Take for example His teaching in Matthew 6 in which he tells His followers to not worry about provision.

Jesus explains that worrying about things like food and clothing is the mark of a “pagan”, not of a believer.  He tells his disciples that if they live for Him and make His kingdom their primary concern that God will give them what they need from day to day. (See Matthew 6:31-33, Life Recovery Bible.)

This command goes against the grain of someone like me who has been raised in the materialistic American culture. “Why”, I tell myself. “I can’t (fill in the blank with a seemingly impossible task which involves putting Him first over my finances). We’ll go off the abyss.”

Yet, this is what Jesus tells me to do. I have to decide if I am going to overcome my fear and do it.

I am motivated by the idea that if I do what He commands, I will be rewarded. God  will open the floodgates of heaven for me (Malachi 3:10). He even wants me to put Him to the test, and counter the prevailing logic.

I am aware that standing next to those floodgates is my own personal grizzly who is also named Satan. He is far worse than anything Hollywood can create, AND he is real (I Peter 5:8).

My mind tells me to give up and go another direction. After all, when I encounter overwhelming opposition, isn’t this the wise course?

Not so. Like Big Jim, if I want to gain my inheritance and see the promises of God fulfilled in my life, then the only strategy is to go on the offensive and beat back old Satan. It’s paradoxical and even my body cries out in pain as I go about something that my intellect tells me is totally absurd.

I am encouraged in my fight  by what the apostle Paul wrote in relation to obstacles. He noted that we are like sheep being slaughtered, every single day. But Paul said that I  overwhelming victory will be  mine through Jesus Christ who loves me despite the dangers (Romans 8:37-39).

Time to lock and load.  Gotta go and get my 10-guage.

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“So do not fear, for I am with you;  do not be dismayed, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you;  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).”

My oldest son and I have both gotten into a reality show called “Stars Earn Stripes”. The premise of the show is that male and female celebrities, through feats of dare and do, make money for charities  which benefit those who serve or have served in the military.

Each star is paired with a real soldier who mentors them. These men are the real deal. They are decorated snipers and members of special forces.

As part of the show, the authentic servicemen put their celebs through tough training. They teach them how to fire a weapon, stay afloat with a huge amount of gear on, and safely perform acrobatic-type deeds.

After this period of training, the teachers and their celeb students go off on a difficult mission. The whole scenario is definitely meant for the testosterone set, as there is plenty of shooting and a lot of explosions.

When the stars achieve a favorable outcome, they are awarded “stripes”. This earns them money for their designated charity.

Failure in the main mission means relegation to a “shootoff” between another competitor.  If the star loses, he is eliminated from the show.

In one episode, a male star is troubled by the prospect of having to jump out of a helicopter high in the air. He is to only be secured by a tether. His destination is a rooftop, where he is to land.  After touching down, he is to rappel down a sheer wall.

This man is not the macho type, and in fact it is not clear why he is even a celebrity. He is one of those people who is “famous for being famous”.  When he is shown, the subtitle on the TV screen notes that he is an “entertainer.”

However, he has proved his mettle to date. In a previous show  his female celeb partner, a wrestling diva, tells an interviewer that this man is a weak link. Yet, he comes through with flying colors.

Now, as he looks at this week’s task, he is scared to death. He walks with his trainer, telling him his doubts. He is torn because not only is what he is being asked to do is unsafe, but because he does not want to let down his comrades and the charity he is seeking to benefit.

Finally, his team jumps on the helicopter. At the moment of truth, this star jumps into the air, lands on the building, and rappels down it. He successfully completes the entire treacherous mission and stays in the competition.

Afterwards, his mentor and the Army general in charge of the show commend him. In their lauds,  they tell the star that his ability to face down his fears and still accomplish the task he was given is the definition of true courage.

I could relate well to this celebrity’s predicament.   These days I too am facing the prospect of taking on a job I am not temperamentally suited for.

Furthermore, I know it will be a test every single day.  One of my close friends, when I told him of this job, said to me,”If you take it, bring a gun.”

When I think of myself in the day-to-day situations involved in carrying it out,  I think of all the things that could go wrong. I become fearful.

Yet, I don’t have much choice at the moment. Like this star, I have people depending on me to overcome my fears and move on to success.

The longer I live the Christian life, the more I understand that it is made up of one trial after another similar to those portrayed on “Stars Earn Stripes”.  However, I am learning that as  I encounter these difficulties, I gain insight into the thoughts of the Scriptures, which tell us to rejoice in our trials.

The Bible tells us that to successfully negotiate our tests, we need to exercise single-minded trust in God. As the celebrities put their safety into the hands of their expert soldier mentors on “Stars Earn Stripes”, we are to put our faith in the God of all wisdom who is capable of bringing us through (James 1:2-6).

In the past I have seen trials as something just to endure so I can move on to greener pastures. My mental image of them is like that conjured up by William Shakespeare in “MacBeth”.

“Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!”

However, I no longer view them as annoyances (or worse) which get in the way of what I want in life. I now see them as the essence of life itself.  I have learned that life in God is indeed to be a daily trial of  faith.

The reason I can hold this perspective now is not because I am deluded or insane. Nor is my view due to some special talents in my possession.

My slant on trials is based on my growth in comprehending the nature of the God I serve.  I believe now that He puts these potentially vexing circumstances in my path so He can show Himself faithful in delivering me through them.

God has a plan for my life that concerns me doing good and glorifying Him. This course doesn’t involve me sitting on my  duff and sipping Dr. Peppers as I watch others participate in combat. The path God has set for me includes  meaningful tasks that accomplish His purposes and give light to others as to who He really is.

Unfortunately, somebody else has a plan for me, too.  This person is known as Satan.

AKA the devil, he intends to have me wallow in my fears to the point where I choose not to participate in God’s purposes for me. Minimally, Satan works so that I  procrastinate in carrying out God’s plan and hide in my foxhole.

L.B. Cowman’s  devotional “Streams in the Desert” notes how God used Paul’s life as an example of a person who endured great suffering, but who refused to be defeated.  In fact,  Cowman reveals that such incidents as the apostle’s  shipwreck were used by God to glorify Himself and shed light on His nature.

Cowman writes of God’s process in trials:

It is a common misconception that the Christian’s walk of faith is strewn with flowers and when God intervenes in lives of His people He does so in such a wonderful way as to always lift us out of our difficult surroundings. In actual fact, however, the real experience is quite the opposite.  And the message of the Bible is one of alternating trials and triumphs in the lives of a “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), everyone from Abel to the last martyr.

Indeed, in God’s scheme of things He uses trials to give us the big time rush of exulting in victory with Him.  He involves us in these difficulties out of his love for us! Amazing.

Having this knowledge in my service manual I know will help me to overcome my fears as I move into my daily missions (i.e., trials).

 

When I am fearful, I must remember the words of the greatest English bard, Mr. Shakespeare:

“Our doubts are traitors, 
and make us lose the good we oft might win, 
by fearing to attempt.”  

Further, I must definitely keep in mind his words as he attests to God’s heart in giving me my trials:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.” 
― William ShakespeareHamlet

 

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