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Archive for the ‘Christian love’ Category

 “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.

 

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“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.

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” ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).”

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day, complaining about a personal injustice. This conversation got me steamed.

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I was more ashamed of my feelings over the matter than the humiliation I encountered when it happened.

So, I took a l-o-o-n-g walk to cool off.  Then I settled down with my books at home.  (This is one of the benefits of having no electronic entertainment, save a boom box. I read a lot.)

After that night of reading, I felt even more ashamed of my complaining.

One of the books I read was called “The End of Poverty”. In it the economist Jeffrey Sachs discussed the condition of the world economically.

One-sixth of the world’s population, says Sachs, is still in extreme poverty. This means that they are not even on the ladder to economic survival.

Sachs cites the female garment workers in Bangaladesh as women who are climbing out of extreme poverty and onto the ladder of opportunity. Of course, they have a long way to go.

They walk several hours a day to and from their homes outside of Dhaka to get to work and back. At their jobs they work on clothes for the Europeans and Americans, 12 hours a day for minimal wages.

On the job and in their travels they are subject to sexual harassment. The life is unimaginable to those of us living at least a minimal good life in a developed country and if we have any heart, it makes us sad, or even angry.

In fact, the media and celebrities regularly decry the treatment of women like those in Bangladesh and shame the companies that employ them. Yet, Sachs thinks this outrage is the wrong approach.

He says that these women are actually on the first rung of economic success. Over time and exponentially, they will improve their lot and those around them.

Still, their plight is unjust. So is the situations of countless other people around the globe in worse conditions.

I wish I had more concern for the injustice done to people like the women of South Asia. Instead, I get caught up in my own petty concerns.

As I read the other night, I continued my progress through aother book, a  Charles Dickens’ classic called  “The Tale of Two Cities”.  Somehow I managed to skip a lot of English lit in school, so I guess it’s never too late.

“The Tale of Two Cities” surprised and moved me. It too is about injustice.

Set in Paris and London during the days of the French Revolution, it details the horrors done to people who were not aristocrats. Indeed, Sachs notes that only in the last 200 years has the world begun to develop economically, with the average worker in Europe earning about 90% of what your average African worker does today.

These peasants were fair game for the richer nobility. Indeed, the plot of Dickens’ novel centers around the consequences stemming from the shocking ill treatment of a serf woman and her family by the boys of a French aristocratic  family.

However, the revolutionaries that took power during the French Revolution are portrayed by Dickens as equal to their “noble” predecessors in terms of their brutality. They took vengeance on anyone who stood in their way, especially if they were associated with aristocrats.

It didn’t matter if they were guilty of a criminal act or not. It was “off with their heads!”

One of the key figures in “The Tale of Two Cities” is a child of one of  the perpetrators of the aforementioned outrage concerning the peasant woman. He grew into a man named Charles Evremonde, called Darnay.

Darnay had rejected his aristocratic upbtinging and moved to England, where he married the daughter of a French doctor who had been imprisoned in the Bastille.  However, to save a former servant of his family imprisoned unjustly by the revolutionaries, he returns to France.

There he is through a series of events sentenced by a revolutionary tribunal to be guillotined. Darnay is a good man with a kind wife and a child and has done nothing to deserve execution, except to have been born into the wrong family.

It appears all is lost for Darnay until an old friend comes along and saves the day. Sidney Carton from England, almost a part of the prisoner’s family and formerly entranced with Mrs. Darnay when she was single, manages to substitute himself through trickery for Darnay at the guillotine.

Carton has led a wasted life and he knows it. He is a man with a lot of bad habits. Yet, he sees in this act the possibility for redemption.

Indeed, as he contemplates what he is about to do, Carton walks late at night along the Seine quoting a statement from Jesus:

 “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die (John 11:25, 26 Kings James Version).

As I read this passage, I thought that the term ‘dead’ could be construed in a couple of ways. One is the common biblical idea of being spíritually separated from God. The other is another common usage, which is that of “death to self’ (Luke 9:23.

Carton was ‘dead’ in both ways. He had left a profligate life away from God. However, now he had also chosen to die to himself and sacrifice himself for his friend.

As Carton contemplated this action, he must have felt very lonely. The words of a current pop hit tell of what must have been in his heart:

 I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?

Don’t wanna be left left in this world behind
Say you’ll run to my side (Artist: K’NAAN featuring Nelly Furtado)

The complete song describes “losers” in this life´. “Mary” isn’t pretty or popular, and she’s insecure.  She  can “point a finger, but there’s three pointing back.”

“Adam” is  a child totally ignored by his father. He “grew up mad and antisocial” and spent his days playing video games. Drugs were the only way out.

“With one last hope he puts his arms up higher
I can see him crying out, yeah
Is anybody out there?”

Sidney Carton in “The Tale of Two Cities” discovers that there is someone out there.  He chooses to believe in His new friend Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

Carton gains strength and hope from this verse, taught to him by his father. It carries him through to complete the rescue of Charles Darnay. 

Carton had spent a lifetime not trusting and hurting, a victim of his own injustices in life.  Then he met Jesus Christ. In effect, Jesus says to him the same words of another recent pop song:

Don’t wanna break your heart
I wanna give your heart a break
I know you’re scared it’s wrong
Like you might make a mistake
There’s just one life to live
And there’s no time to waste, to waste

Give your heart a break
Let me give your heart a break
Your heart a break
There’s just so much you can take
Give your heart a break
Let me give your heart a break
Your heart a break (Artist: Demi Lovato)
Sidney Carton believes Jesus. He believes Jesus can and will give his heart a break. He turns his broken heart over to Jesus.
 
In doing so, he finds a way to right the wrongs he sees in his own life and in those around him. He gives his life, his dead life,  for his old earthly friend,  and to his newfound heavenly One.
 
I can learn from  Sidney Carton. I see myself in him.
 
Like him, I am dead in many ways. I am powerless. I know I can’t solve  all the injustices in my ownl life or the multitudinous ones out there in the world.   
 
Yet, like Sidney I can start to solve some of the wrongs in this world by believing my friend Jesus and giving up my life to Him. I may not have trusted many people, if any, before but now I can trust Him.
 
When Jesus says it He means  it. When He says He is the Resurrection and the Life, then I can know it’s the truth. His word is as good as gold.
 
After I believe Jesus and give my life to Him, every day, then I can follow behind Him and give up my life for  those He so chooses.  This may not take care of more than a drip of the injustice drowning me and the world today, but it’s a beginning.
 
 

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 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24,25).

Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly opened his show the other day with these comments:

“So there I am at mass yesterday and the sermon is about to begin. Often these homilies are not very relevant, to be polite. But the African priest speaking said something very interesting. He looked at the congregation and said that God wants the faithful to keep their sanity. The priest went on to say that there is a plan for everybody. And if you are misguided you can’t carry through on that plan. Now, think about that. God wants us to be sane. It makes sense. The problem is we’re living in an insane world where some people completely lose their bearings.”

If you are a fan of the TV medical drama House like I am, you see people whose lives have become unmanageable every week, led by the not-so-good Dr. House himself. “Lead” is probably too kind of a word for the fictional Gregory House, as he doesn’t really lead anyone.
 
Play games with them? Yes. Humiliate them? So true. Deceive them? Spot on. But lead them? Not really.
 
As a result, his team of doctors all come across as lost souls.Oh sure. They are technically the best at what they do, but even on the job their lives are corrupted (and that word is charitable to them).
 
First there is Australian Dr. Robert Chase, who  is serially promiscuous. He once was married to a previous doctor on the House team, but it didn’t last.
 
Of the same ilk as Chase is Dr. Chris Taub. He is separated from his wife.
 
Taub has had two children during the separation. He has a child through a nurse and also has a child through his wife, conceived after they were separated.
 
Newcomer Dr. Jessica Adams is more moral it seems, but has been a victim of men like Chase and Taub. Her husband cheated on her with a woman he met on the plane coming back from their honeymoon. 
 
She seems to have sworn off men, and works all the time. As Taub says of her, “Adams works 80 hours a week fixing bunions on hobos because she can’t face getting to know someone new.”
 
Another recent addition to House’s entourage, Dr. Chi Park, is a young Asian American woman who is still living at home. It’s not that she wouldn’t want to ge involved with men, it’s just she is afraid to offend her family, or so she says.
 
Furthermore, Park  has a major inferiority complex. She tells Taub, when he advises her to go out with a guitar player who asked her for a date,”I’m not that good at guitar. Or flirting or small talk. I’m not as pretty as Adams, I have stuffy clothes, and I hate my hair.”Finally, there is House. He is currently married to a woman solely for the purpose of getting her a green card illegally and it is common for him to take up with hookers. His last meaningful relationship, one with his boss Dr. Lisa Cuddy, ended with House in jail.
 
House  drove his car into the woman’s house  after she broke it off .  Cuddy had come to the conclusion everyone else has: House is hopeless. 
 
On this theme, in a recent episode the “patient of the week” is a man named Henry. His  girlfriend, a woman wh he says “changed his life”broke up with him a few months ago.
 
Henry keeps a life-sized doll customized to look like this woman. Like House, the breakup sent  the poor chap off the deep end.
 
As the doctors discuss whether Henry has a disorder or is just weird, House says sarcatically,” You know what’s really crazy? Living with a human being. Someone with opinions and feelings. Gets mad just ’cause you want to take Salsa classes with them one night a week.  One night.”
 
Taub adds”,He’s just running away. He hangs out with a doll, he never needs to fear rejection.” Park replies,”It’s sad.”
 
House them comes in for the kill. He tells his team individually,”Your doll is your kids( to Taub). Yours is your parents (to Park), yours is your charity (to Adams). All excuses for not being in a relationship.”
 
Not neglecting Chase, House tells him,”You don’t go looking for the right person. You just shack up with whoever’s in the room, and then you get surprised and/or divorced when it doesn’t work out. 
 
“I’m surprised you haven’t asked Adams out yet.” (The sparks have been flying during this episode, something which the perceptive House definitely has noticed).
 
Interestingly enough, it is Adams who later does the asking, after seeing what Henry has become. She tells Chase, who is suspicious,”It’s time for a change”
 
Equally interesting is that Chase the playboy turns her down. He tells her,”I don’t really think that’s a good idea for me right now.” Chase also has learned something from Henry’s case, and from House.Of all people, it is Dr. House, one of the most relationally dysfunctional characters in television history, who has hit on a truism:  We need healthy relationships.
 
Unfortunately, in our time, the tail is wagging the dog. Technology has replaced humans as our source for flesh and blood human dialogue and interaction.
 
Even as late as the early 20th century it wasn’t that way. In Ireland, for example, people would gather around the hearth and fire of a storyteller in large numbers, listening to him tell exciting tales handed down from one generation to another.
 
Today, we  meet with people through machines. One of my students lamented this, saying that people of his generation never see each other anymore. They just text.
 
I think some of the most misunderstood people in the Bible are Job’s friends, men who existed long before Facebook and MySpace. The first half of the Old Testament book which bears Job’s name  shows that he  and his friends really go at it: face-to-face.
 
Knowing the end of the book of Job, we usually think of what insensitive boobs the man’s friends were. However, I think we have them wrong.
 
First, when they learned of Job’s suffering they gathered together to console him. They didn’t even say a word for a week and wept with him (Job 2:11-13).
 
Their arguments were not unkind. They were meant to rattle Job’s brain and get him to think. His responses were of a like kind.
 
For example, Zothar, speaks about Job’s idle talk. Job replies after Zothar speaks that his friends  think they are “it” and that it is clear from their arguments that when they die, wisdom will disappear (Job 11:1; 12:1,2). Job’s friend Eliphaz, after the patriarch goes on for a while,  basically calls him a blowhard(Job 15:2)!
 
I could see me having the same kind of conversation with a couple of my close friends. We will nag, insult, cajole and kid to make a point, knowing full well that below the surface is love, caring and brotherhood. We want the best for each other. 
 
We need in-your-face living and loving relationships, even though they are costly and painful. We need them although it may mean sacrificing our time and energy to be with people who may be different from us.
 
Facebook, your cell phone, and Skype just don’t cut it, that is if you want to keep sane.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,every knee will bow before me;  every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10,11).

Yesterday a young friend of mine, a former coworker, invited me to his place to play poker with his friends. I gladly obliged since I have always enjoyed visiting his home, talking with his father (who is my age) and messing around with his buddies.

A few hands after we got started, we were ushered into the kitchen where some sandwiches and cookies were waiting. My friend’s mother kindly prepares a little spread  each time we have a game at their place.

As we were munching, my friend’s Dad began to bring out bottles of various spirits. He noted that he himself nor his son drank alcohol, but we were welcome to them.  The father noted the alcohol was so plentiful because he had been given bottles of it by former students and others.

My friend’s other two invited guests were regular drinkers. They had no trouble inbibing. I, on the other hand, am not a drinker except on rare occasions.

When the father mentioned cognac I became curious. I had never tasted what to me seemed to be kind of an elite beverage, and I wanted to try some, so I did.

Later, during our game, one of the drinking players took a short break and went home. He was busted and had to go get some more money.

When he returned he had some famous brand of Irish whiskey with him, and offered me a bit. As with the congac, I accepted the offer and noted how smooth this particular drink was.

As the game went on, I also found myself losing. Although I don’t play Texas Hold ‘Em much, losing to these guys was a new experience for me. I had won the pot the last two times I had played.

Luck I guess. We don’t play for much, but as I am on a tight budget I winced at even the few euros I was giving up.

As I have reflected on this past evening, I am curious about something. What has sparked my interest is my emotional reaction as  I:  was offered and drank alcoholic beverages;  lost money while playing cards.

What I experienced in my feelings last night was guilt. Why is that, I wondered?

In thinking about it, I have determined that my evangelical Christian background influenced my emotions.  It occurred to me to ask myself,”What if so and so knew about this (and certain influential Christians in my life popped up)?”

My reaction to my participation in last night’s events were not earth shattering. Indeed, I had a few sips  of alcohol only. Furthermore, my losses at poker were worth the expense in my view.

I thought,”Where else would I have had so much fun and had such good food and drink at these prices?” Yet, the guilt still floats through my subconscious.

Because of this, I have mentally been running through some biblical principles I know about such issues. For example, I know that the Scriptures make no probibition against drinking alcohol. It only speaks against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18).

I also know that the Bible exhorts believers in principle to not violate their consciences, nor to hurt weaker believers in their practices (Romans 14;13,22). In my case, I am pretty sure my guilt was not the result of the breaking of my conscience, only a reaction to what I believe some folks in the evangelical circles I hang around would think.

In fact, as I have thought further I have even patted myself on the back. I know we are to take care of our bodies as temples of God, and I refrained from the cigars offered (I Corinthians 6:19). I thought,”I have enough health issues. Why add to them by inhaling smoke into my lungs.”

Indeed, I even engaged in a little more analysis and judgment of my own.”Why, Dwight Moody, a hero of Christendom, was a smoker. If some people knew their Christian history, they wouldn’t be so smug.”

What is going on here in my heart? I think an episode of the TV medical drama “House” called “Love is Blind” has helped me to flesh this out.

A young blind  man named Will is brought into the care of Dr. House. While in the hospital he is visited by his girlfriend Melissa.

As the writers of this episode make clear, Melissa is quite controlling.  She treats Will like a child. This is perhaps because Will is a minority and blind and Melissa is a healthy young white woman.

 Will tells the doctors he intends to marry someone else he met while the couple were “taking a break” because of Melissa’s behavior.  “Most of the time she acts more like my mother than my girlfriend,” he tells the female Dr. Adams, who thinks Will is treating his girlfriend badly.

Indeed, Will breaks the news to Melissa during one of her “mothering” incidents that he is breaking up with her. She storms out of the hospital room distraught.

What I perceive in Christianity as it is practiced in some circles in America is this tendency for believers to “mother ” one another . I suppose it is only human nature for people to like to tell other people what they think is “good” for them, but Christians at times like to add the air of God’s authority in their pronouncements, as if they speak for the Almighty.

The truth is that in many cases they are only speaking for themselves and their opinions. Their understanding of what is good and not good for others may or may not be legitimate or appropriate, but they come across as if they bear the “Word of the Lord”.   Furthermore you get the impression that if you don’t follow their way of thinking, you’re be in their doghouse.

Will’s worsening condition provides the scaffolding for my teachable moment in relation to how believers ought to actually treat one another. The doctors determine that the right course of action to save the young man’s life, but it means he may lose his hearing in addition to still being blind.

When he learns the news, Will refuses treatment. He tells the doctors he has had enough of his suffering and can’t bear any more.

Enter Melissa with Dr. Adams. The script best bears out what happens next. 

Melissa: Will, it’s me.
Will: Let me guess. The doctor who thinks I’m an ass wants you to convince me to live.
Melissa: Yes.
Will: It won’t work.
Melissa: I know. So I won’t.
Will: Wow. You’re that angry?
Melissa: I’ve made enough decisions for you. This is your life.
Will: Why’d you come back?
Melissa: Because I love you. And I want to be with you for as long as I can.
Will: Melissa, I’m so scared.
[She moves from the doorway to his bedside and takes his hand.]
Melissa: Me too. I’ll always love you.
Will: Even if I was deaf?
Melissa: Even if anything.

SPOILER ALERT

This unconditional love moves Will. He accepts the “cure”, and the next morning asks Melissa to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts.

Melissa treated Will as an adult, allowing him to make his own decisions, including life or death ones. She no longer tried to manipulate him into the path she thought best.

The results of  Melissa’s course in this fictional drama were positive. Perhaps the end result won’t always be so rosy, but it would behoove believers in Jesus Christ to give each other the same kind of freedom.

If a person takes a public stand on some issue important to us, and especially if they are trying to influence others, we  have the right, perhaps even the duty, to oppose them. But on private matters of conscience, cutting each other some slack seems to be in order in my mind. 

A little less arrogance and a little more freedom of choice, “even if”,  would go a long way in today’s world. God Himself gives us that kind of freedom, so why don’t we do the same?

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:43-46).”

 

We keep hearing about “the 1 percent” and “the 99 percent” these days. This is because of the “Occupy” movement, which is seeking to trumpet the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

The gap in wealth between these two is said to be growing in these tough times.  Money isn’t the only thing that seems to seperate these two groups.

The rich seem to think of the occupiers as smelly unwashed deadbeats who should get a job. The 99 percenters think of the other 1 percent as greedy so and sos who came by their position in life unfairly.

This week a large number of Ferraris were involved in a rather high profile smash up in Japan. When I saw the images of these expensive vehicles showing how they had been mangled, I posted a story about them on my Facebook wall and noted,”I bet the 99 percent are clapping.”

You can’t get away from a discussion on the “percenter” these days. Even in Finland, the little country I presently work in, there was a story this week which published the names of the 100 richest people in the country.

What characterizes the debate is acrimony. The rich believe they have earned their money fair and square through hard work and effort and dismiss the 99 percenters as lazy riff raff who could join them if they only made the effort.

The 1 percenters, on the other hand, think the rich have been special privileges which gave them an advantage. They resent the fact that some people come by their money through inheritances, tax breaks or speculation.

One Newsweek article I glanced at asked the question whether or not all the hubub would cause the rich to stop spending their dough. Not hardly, said the magazine.

 The Occupy Wall Street website has this point of view:

“We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”

I sympathize with these comments. Just about everything they describe above has happened to me.

It is easy to become envious when your friends are off to the Canary Islands during the holidays while you have the choice of paying your rent or the airfare needed to go see your family. This is the choice I had to make recently.

When you are poor, you dare not make a mistake. I lost my flat key yesterday.

It cost me 20 euros to replace it. That’s food money for me, man!

One friend has written a novel and wants me to write a review on Amazon for him.  “Just download it. It will cost you 3.99.” 

I think a lot of the 99 percenters know that 3.99 can sometimes be a lot of money. The wealthy just don’t get it.

The last time I was here in Finland, I left my little boring city twice in three years for a total of a day and a half. I couldn’t afford the transportation costs to go anywhere.

My summers were spent down at the harbor reading my books and living vicariously through the people on their lounging on their boats and drinking at the boat bars. I got the same ambience they did. I just didn’t pay as much!

I could go on and discuss “why” I am in the financial condition I am in and the 1 percenters are better off. I suppose I could find pros and cons when it comes to my own decisionmaking and theirs.

However, that’s not my purpose here. What I want to relay is what I see the Scriptures as having to say on this subject of being in the top echelons or as one belonging  to the group that barely scrapes by. There are some lessons on this in I and II Kings in the Old Testament.

The latter part otf I Kings describes the most wicked king Israel had had up to his reign. His name was Ahab (I Kings 16:29-30).

Ahab was king during a severe famine.Yet, he himself had plenty of livestock, silver and gold, and an apparently healthy family (I Kings 17:1, I Kings 18:1-6; I Kings 20:1-7).

Ahab was in the 1 percent. However, it wasn’t enough for him.

He wanted to buy a vineyard from a man named Naboth. However, the latter did not want to sell because it was part of the family farm handed down from generations.

When Ahab’s wife caught him sulking like an 8-year old over this rejection, she did something about it. Jezebel had Naboth killed so Ahab could take control of the property (I Kings 21:1-16).

At this point God had had enough of Ahab’s shenanigans and sent Elijah to pronounce judgement. However, a funny thing happened as a result of the prophet’s rebuke.

The wicked Ahab humbled himself before God.  As a result, God postponed the judgment to after Ahab’s death (I Kings 21:17-29).

If I were in the 99 percent back then, I would really be perturbed at God. “Why Lord, how could you let this greedy, murderous 1 percenter off because of a little sackloth and ashes?!”, I would say.

The thing here to acknowledge is that God loves the one percent, too. Jesus didn’t just die for the 99.

Indeed, he taught this lesson to his disciples. He told them:

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.  In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14

Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey popularized a song written about this passage in the late 19th century at their revivals:

 There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry,
Sick and helpless and ready to die;
Sick and helpless and ready to die.

“Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They are pierced tonight by many a thorn;
They are pierced tonight by many a thorn.”

And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of Heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!” (Words by Elizabeth C. Clephane)

If we are in the 99 percent, we ought to be praying for the 1 percenters. We can pray God sends an Elijah to them and they turn to God and do His will.

Lately  on my prayer list I have put a request that my ongoing financial struggles would end. I am tired of being a 99 percenter.

However, the Lord seems to be telling me that I am already loaded. I don’t have a huge nest egg or money under my pillow, though.

What He has reminded me is that I have access to Him, who is the richest and most powerful Being in the universe. It is nothing for Him to provide for me, or to even give me a little fun once in a while!

Look at what He did for the people in the time of Ahab’s and his wicked son. Through Elijah and Elisha he provided more than enough for those who came to them, knowing they were representatives of the Lord.

Through them God provided nutritious food, enough money and clean water. In addition, by the miracles of these godly men He protected them from the poor health their poverty could produce (I Kings 17:7-24;  II Kings 2:19-21; 4:1-7, 38-43; ).

However, God didn’t forget the 1 percent. He provided the best health care of a kind not even available to them. He brought a rich woman’s son back from the dead (II Kings 4:8-37).

The truth is that this woman supported Elisha, God’s prophet. She’s proof, you 99 percenters, that there are godly people among the 1 percent and that they suffer the world’s ills just as we do.

In God’s economy, there isn’t a 99 percent or a 1 percent. We’re His children and He takes care of us one way or another.

Perhaps if we thought that way in this day and age, we wouldn’t be doing so much shouting at each other.

 

    

 

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“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55)

My niece Bethany Fowler-Jimenez died this week. She was 33 years old.

I was heartbroken when I learned the news and I have been in that state since. This morning I asked myself why. After all, I hardly ever saw Beth.

Sitting on my sofa and weeping (and I am not ashamed to write this), I think I came to understand why her passing hurts so much. There are several reasons for the sense of loss I feel.

First, Beth was family. She was the daughter of my only brother, himself very dear to me.

In this day and age, you would think the word ‘family’ doesn’t mean what it used to. Still, as the old German proverb says, blood is thicker than water.

There’s something almost mystical in relationships between those who share the same DNA. Beth and I were joined by mutual histories, triumphs and failures carried down to us from previous generations.

Second, as an adult Beth had become my friend. Once when my family and I were thinking of coming to her area, she learned of it and made a point to contact me and invite us into her home with open arms.

We did come and we did spend a weekend with her and her family. It was a fun and enjoyable experience as we got to know her husband and kids, and even her multiple dogs!

Beth not only was my niece and my friend, but she was a person who treated me with honor. In recent years, this one especially, she has contacted me for advice and made no secret of her respect and love for me. Indeed, when Beth told you she loved you, somehow you knew she truly meant it.

Her young son and I share a name together. Blood is thicker than water; names connect us.

William Shakespeare wrote,”If it be a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul.” Beth honored me and that fed my spirit.

Speaking of spirituality, there was a time this year when Beth caught me on Facebook and began a chat with me. She asked me how I sensed my calling in life was from God.

Beth told me she was asking this because the older she got, the more she found herself turning to Scripture and prayer. “I have learned to let go and let God a little bit more”, she wrote.

She related to me a meeting she had had with a female chaplain recently. This woman touched her so greatly that it had made her cry.

Beth wrote to me:

“The cry was a good cry because I almost felt like the conversation we had cleansed my soul and took me further into my faith and it renewed  my hope that God has a plan for me.  Im just not sure what it is and how do I know that’s it..I don’t wanna miss the boat!”

Beth talked about how she felt drawn to helping people since she was 18. She became an emergency medical technician as a result of that.

Her posts told me that she was thinking of going to nursing school. Her motivation came from this passage from Matthew in which Jesus is telling a parable:

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

   “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

   “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

   “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’(Matthew 25:31-40).

For me, Bethany didn’t miss any boats. Unbeknownst to her, she had already loved me in the manner Jesus describes here and made Him proud.

Beth told me she loved the Psalms. This morning as I was thinking on her life, I read Psalm 91. I believe the Psalmist had her in mind when he wrote these words:

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you  from the fowler’s snare [AND IF I MAY PAUSE HERE, WE FOWLER’S HAVE A LOT OF THEM) and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,  nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, Nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes  and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”  and you make the Most High your dwelling, 1no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands,so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra;    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

 “Because (s)he[loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue her    I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name.  She will call on me, and I will answer her;    I will be with her in trouble,  I will deliver her and honor her.  With long life I will satisfy her  and show her my salvation.”

Beth, you are in Jesus’s boat now. Knowing this has lessened the sting the scorpion wanted to make of your passing. See you on the other side.

Uncle Tim

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