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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

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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I sought the Lord, and he answered me;  he delivered me from all my fears….This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles…The Lord is close to the brokenhearted  and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:4,6,18).
  

E.F. “Sonny” Dewey stands in his room in the middle of the night yelling. Is he screaming at his wife, or his kids, or some other person inhabiting his mother’s house? No, he is yelling at God.

Sonny, a Pentecostal preacher portrayed by Robert Duvall in the film “The Apostle”, has been booted from his Texas church as a result of  a power play orchestrated by his wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett). The lady has had enough of his womanizing and abuse, and she herself has taken up with the youth minister.

“If you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace,” screams Sonny.” I don’t know who’s been fooling with me, you or the Devil. I don’t know! I won’t even bring the human into this. He’s just a mutt, so I won’t bring him into this, but I’m confused, I’m mad. I love you Lord, but I am mad at you! I AM MAD AT YOU!” 

“I know I’m a sinner every once in a while, a womanizer, but I’m your servant. Since I was a little boy and you brought me back from the dead, I’m your servant. What should I do? Tell me. I’ve always called you Jesus, you’ve always called me Sonny, so what should I do. This is Sonny talking now!”

Apparently such communication between Sonny and the good Lord is not uncommon. A neighbor calls up and complains to his Momma, who tells them,”That’s Sonny. Sometimes he talks to the Lord, sometimes he yells at the Lord. Tonight he just happens to be yelling at him.” 

Sonny’s anger issues aren’t limited to the Lord, however. At his kid’s baseball game he takes a bat to the youth minister and kills him. Knowing he’s in a heap of trouble, Sonny runs.

Somehow, even in the midst of the horrible mess he has mostly brought on himself, Sonny does not stop communicating with the Lord.

Even as a fugitive murderer, the preacher asks God to lead him. Eventually he arrives  in a rural Louisiana community.

His charismatic personality attracts the locals and Sonny plants a church with an African American minister.  He looks for radio time, and when he find out he has to pay, Sonny is offered a place to stay by a mechanic he helped out earlier.

This act of kindness causes Sonny to tell God, “I’m not mad at you, and I’ll never be mad again.” 

In the bayou and on the radio, Sonny is known as  “The Apostle E.F.”.Although his ministry booms and the church grows, his new life is on a short leash. Jessie hears a fuzzy radio broadcast of his one day and calls the cops.

Sonny is escorted away right after he preaches his final sermon. In “The Apostles” final scene, he is preaching at a group of inmates.

Robert Duvall’s portrayal of Sonny in the 1997 movie, which won him an Academy Award nomination, is not one of a typical suburban evangelical Christian in modern America. In “The Apostle”, we do not experience the stereotypical mega-church family cruising in their minivan and sipping lattes at the sanctuary coffee bar.

What we see is a precursor  of what would hit the media in the coming new century: the reality show. Indeed, the lives of Sonny,  Jessie and other characters in “The Apostle” foreshadow the brokenness of  many people in  America in the second decade of the 21st century, folks who still desire, nay, yearn for, a touch from Jesus Christ.

And not just a pat on the back from His hand. They hunger for a deep experience with Him, and one with power that will rocket their lives into outer space.

But they are broken and exhausted and don’t know how to be fixed and the church isn’t helping. Jesus is all the hope they have.

The life of the real American believer today is more true to the story of the average person we meet in the Old and New Testament. Those people were broken too and they needed the touch of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

What they are getting instead from today’s American Christianity in many cases is church politics and hierarchy reminiscent of the Pharisees and Sadducees,  and expectations they do not have the strength or power to meet.

People whose lives are busted into a thousand pieces may  think it is  only the church which is to blame for their  condition. They should  think again and try to get rid of that mindset.

It is not right to think of  the church and pastors in our minds like we do the government and politicians.

It would be wiser to look in the mirror. Once we get past the fact that what we see there  looks like Humpty Dumpty post tumble, and overcome our despair that we shall never be put back together again by all the king’s horses and all the pastor’s men, we would do well to grasp that we are actually right where God would have us.

Although it certainly doesn’t seem that way, He knows exactly what he is doing.

It is only in our brokenness can we comprehend that we need grace and mercy from Jesus. I may currently be walking around my room after hours yelling at God like Sonny Dewey, but he isn’t screaming back.

As Moody Bible Church pastor Erwin Lutzer notes, God has promises for us he intends to keep.

An old friend told me this weekend to think about the term ‘covenant’. In biblical terms, a ‘covenant’ is a set of commitments that God has made with his people.

Lutzer says that God’s promises to us aren’t based on our brokenness, but on his faithfulness and power. If Abraham had gone to God, he says, and posed a set of “what if” questions to Him, God’s answer in each case would be that He would keep his promises to him.

For example, if Abraham had asked ‘what if I lie again” or “what if my people have a king named David who commits adultery” or “what if my descendants crucify your Son”, God’s answer would still be the same.

“How can God talk like that”?, asks Pastor Lutzer. “Because God is not a man like you or I.”

God will not change and he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself. It is upon that that we stand today.”

In the words of an old hymn:

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.”

Like t E.F. “Sonny” Dewey, a man who was purportedly a man of God, many of us are messed up and torn apart and our pieces are spread out all over the landscape.  We would do well to follow his example and hang with Jesus regardless.

The final stanza of the aforementioned hymn says it all:

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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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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“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (I Corinthians 13:11-12).”

Conor Sullivan is a high school lacrosse player with an attitude. When his life begins to fall apart, his attitude doesn’t get any better. In fact, it falls apart with his life.

As portrayed in the movie “A Warrior’s Heart” Conor is a star attack man for a west coast team when his military officer father, just back from Irag, gets transferred to the east coast.  Conor, his mother and his brother go with him.

Conor’s Dad enrolls him in a posh private school, the one he attended and where he himself played lacrosse. Although the coach and Conor’s Dad don’t get along  (the latter stole the former’s girlfriend, now Conor’s mother), the coach agrees to at least give the boy a look. No promises, though.

Even though Conor’s Dad tells him to go into the situation with humility, Conor enters the locker room as if he were God’s gift to lacrosse. Conor less than politely tells the boy holding the position he plays that he will be losing it to him.

Conor already has a temper, and when his father is sent back to Iraq and killed in combat, it explodes. When given a hard check on the f ield, he doesn’t respond in kind. Conor seeks to hurt.

Conor eventually gets tossed from the team due to his unsportsmanlike ways. On his way out, he destroys the school’s trophy case, including the awards given to his Dad’s team.

This last act lands Conor in jail. However, he is retrieved from his cell by a soldier who served with his father, Sgt. Major Duke Wayne.

Sgt. Wayne doesn’t get Conor out of the hoosegow to coddle him, though.  American Indian Duke takes him out to a lacrosse camp run by his tribe.

However, Conor doesn’t see lacrosse for a while. Sgt. Wayne has him tear down an old shack with a sledge hammer for an entire week.

At one point Conor complains he is getting blisters. Duke just laughs at him. He also stays on the boy to get the job done.

Conor assumes that this whole job is just some metaphor meant to show him the error of his ways.  Duke doesn’t own up to any of Conor’s thinking.

In fact, he communicates very little. He just tells Conor,”Don’t speak unless spoken to.”

After his week of shed ripping, Conor plays in a game with counselors and others at the camp. The rough stuff in this game is nothing like he has encountered before, and at one point Duke puts a hold on him that causes him to lose consciousness. Conor wakes up alone on the field.

Eventually, Sgt. Major Wayne drives Conor home.  He is warmly greeted by his family, but no so much by the players on his prep school team.

However, when the school makes it to the national title game against Conor’s former west coast team, the players insist that to the coach that he be allowed to participate. He is talented after all, and also has won them over somehow.

Of course, we all know how this ends. Conor is the hero of the game, and indeed has seemingly learned his lesson. Even though he is roughed up during the context, he doesn’t respond in kind.

As the movie closes, he is still checking in with Sgt. Major Wayne about the purpose of the rough treatment at camp. “Was it a metaphor?”, Conor asks. Wayne refuses to respond, leaving Conor clueless.

Speaking of metaphor’s, I believe Conor’s experience is very much like ours in the Christian life. God gives us a hard situation and we assume we know exactly what He has in mind. We always seem to think we have to learn something from our trials, especially if we think our suffering is self inflicted.

This thinking is really just our attempt to make sense of what has happened to us. We are trying to put the God if the universe into our mental box.

What is scary is that this effort is not just a waste of time. It actually leads us further away from the truth.

Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22,23)

The truth is that in this life we don’t see so well.  We think we know, but our view of reality is skewered by our upbringing, experiences, sinful natures and just place mental denseness.

Our attitude is the ultimate in hubris. Ultimately, if what we are going through is to teach us anything, it is to depend completely on the wisdom of our Coach, Jesus Christ. Our task is to just get the job done, which is done by just doing what He tells us to do.

We need to leave the “whys and wherefores” to Him.

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“Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!  Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.  Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, ‘We have defeated him!’ Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me (Psalm 13:3-5).”

I once had someone tell me in a professional situation,”I can tell you’re not happy here. I can tell by the way you walk.”

I initially was offended by this statement. For one, the person had hardly seen me in three months. In addition, I wondered what my ambulatory methods had to do with my performance in a job that was more mental than physical.

However, the more I thought about it the more I tried to take these comments to heart. It was not the first time someone had commented on my appearance as I walked. Someone close to me once said,”You walk like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

So lately I have been trying to get more of a spring to my step. I have been out walking in the forests in my community, giving my body a good hearty push. No more of this dead man walking stuff!

While I initially had reservations about someone commenting on my body language, in all fairness our nonverbal features do communicate. I should have known better since I teach language and cultural behavior.

One of the great incidents in American history involved a nonverbal action which may have saved the country during the Revolutionary War. It involved an attempt by George Washington to convince his officers not to rebel against Congress due to this bodies lack of payment for the army’s services.

According to William Safire, the officers called a private meeting. Washington learned about it and showed up where he really wasn’t welcome and gave some remarks to persuade them against their potential insurrection.

The speech apparently didn’t have much affect, but something Washington did after it  carried the day in his favor. Here is Safire’s account:

At the conclusion of his speech, which he read from pages of his own clear writing, Washington looked at his sullen audience and drew a letter from his pocket. It was from a member of Congress, he said, explaining the straits the country was in and what the body was attempting to do to pay the debts of the war. He squinted at the writing in the letter and could not go on. The audience of officers sturred in their seats, wondering what was wrong with their commander. Washington then groped in his waistcoat pocket and drew out an item that only his intimates, and very few in his audience, had seen him use. They were stunned to see him requireds to put on a pair of glasses to read the crabbed writing.

“Gentlemen”, he apologized,”you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

Biographer James Thomas Flexner writes.”This simple statement achieved what all Washington’s rhetoric and all his arguments had been unable to achieve. The officers were instantly in tears, and from behind the shining drops, their eyes looked with love at the commander who had led them all so far and long. Washington quietly finished reading the congressman’s letter. He knew the battle was won, and avoiding, with his instinctive sense of the dramatic, any anticlimax, he walked out of the hall…”.

Actions sometimes do speak louder than words. Erwin Lutzer emphasizes how the father of the prodigal son demonstrated his joy at the boy’s return.

Luke describes it:  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.(Luke 15:20).”

Lutzer mentions how uncharacteristic the father’s behavior would have been in the culture of the time. So would have been clothing the boy with his own robe and ring, symbols of authority, as the father did.

I figure that sometimes I just worry too much and it shows. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve.

In talking about the our great country and its standing with God, Lutzer mentions that in the great scheme of things we should as individuals put our presents and our futures on His loving shoulders. I think if I do that there will be more of a lively step in my gait, and a gleam in my eye.

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“The one whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but the one whose ways are perverse will fall into the pit (Proverbs 28:18).”

On January 30, 1972 a large number of people in Northern Ireland decided to thwart the British government’s ban on public protests in their area and took  to the streets.  By the end of the day, 26 people were dead.

The event, known as “Bloody Sunday”, shook Ireland. Meant to be a nonviolent protest against discrimination along the lines of those held by Martin Luther King, Jr. in America,  the protest was just the opposite.

British soldiers stormed through the predominantly Catholic crowd shooting protestors. Official accounts immediately following the massacre cleared the British troops of wrongdoing.

According to the soldiers involved, the killings were justified because the protestors were armed and using their weapons against them. Most eyewitnesses disputed these claims, but to not avail, at least at the time.

As depicted in the movie, “Bloody Sunday”, the truth was that the British troops went crazy. They basically murdered many unarmed civilians without cause.

The film reveals wounded people in the  crowd being targeted by the soldiers. In one instance, one of them shoots a protestor lying on the ground at point blank range.

The movie’s portrayal of events are true. Later government investigations determined that the killings were out-and-out murder.

One cannot help but become angry watching “Bloody Sunday”.  How could the government allow such a thing to happen?

Surely, the protest was illegal. In addition, there had been violence between radical IRA elements and British troops. However, nothing justified the murders which occurred on “Bloody Sunday”.

Most of my life I have witnessed such protests as this one on television and generally thought the government was in the right. After all, they are there to protect us and ensure the common good.

In fact, I have always been something of a “good soldier”. I am not one to rock the boat or hold contests with authorities.

However, in the last year something has changed in my attitude.  This is because I have begun to be personally affected by what is nothing more than corruption in high places.

For the first time in my life, I have experienced moral rot in high places that has impacted me. I haven’t dealt with the experience very well. In fact, I have at times squealed like a pig.

I think part of this sense of injustice comes from my having originally been one who trusts established institutions and authorities. As  a Christian, I have subscribed to biblical teachings that tell me to submit to these powers (I Peter 2:13-21; Romans 13:1-7).  

I have understood that those in authority arent’t perfect. I understand that they are human.

However, what I have found is that they are in fact not always worthy of my trust, which to me is something needed for respect to happen. I have seen in my own deaslings what I interpret as either chosen ignorance, or perhaps worse, cowardice by people entrusted with power over me.

It has been very disheartening. People who I thought had my back did not.

We humans are created in God’s image.  Yet, I should not be surprised that we don’t carry it very well. God has told us that in His Word:

God presides in the great assembly;
   he renders judgment among the “gods”:

 “How long will you defend the unjust
   and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
   uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
   deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

 “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
   They walk about in darkness;
   all the foundations of the earth are shaken. (Psalm 82:1-5)

When the corrupt are in power over you, your world gets rocked. No wonder the Bible tells us that people in such a condition lay low, hoping to avoid trouble (Proverbs 28:12,28).

Oh, how wonderful it would be to be surrounded by people like David’s mighty men. These fellas had his back.

They looked out for him and kept his enemies at bay. When most people deserted David, they hung tough. These guys are described in II Samuel 23.

For example, Eleazar killed Philistines alone with David until he was too tired to hold his weapon anymore. Of course, the rest of the army only showed up to collect the benefts (v 9,10).

Then there was Shammah. He stood alone in a field when once again the Israelite army had fled. Shammah, however, held his ground and the Lord gave him a great victory (11,12).

When David wistfully longed for a drink of water from the well of his hometown, a troika of  these boys snuck by the Philistine garrison there and brought some back to him. David was so awestruck by this action that he refused to drink the water.

He gave it in worship to the Lord in thankfulness for men who would risk their lives for him on a minor whim (v. 13-17). David knew these men were rare, and a gift from God. 

My favorite “Mighty Man” was Benaiah.  He is described as having done “many mighty deeds”.

My favorite of these  is when he chased a lion down into a pit with only a club. Benaiah scrambled down this muddy hole and killed the beast (v 20). How many people do you know that actually run TOWARD a dangerous animal?

The Scriptures indicate that corrupt authorities who have power over you are similar to a menacing predator. The wise man of Proverbs describes them as “like a roaring lion or charging bear” (Proverbs 28:15).

It is difficult to know what to do when you are faced with people like this. My own prayer of late has been the Serenity Prayer:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Behind all this tainted behavior in high places is a menace the Scriptures describe as a lion: the Devil himself (I Peter 5:8). He is mad as hell because he knows the jig is up, so he is out there ready to take it out on believers like me (Revelation 12:12).

I am willing to follow the biblical admonitions to stay alert and resist him when he attacks . However, I don’t think I have the wherewithal or the courage to actually chase him down into his hole as Benaiah did.

This would mean I’d have to go on the offensive against Satan and his power grab around me. That’s asking a lot from one person.

However, there is a Mighty Man willing to take on the task I can’t. It is the almighty and all powerful king of kings and lord of lord: namely, Jesus Christ.

As I walk the unclean halls of power in my life, which for me are unmanageable, I can trust Him to keep the devil down in his hole there. There is no doubt He will give me the insight to do business that will glorify Him, help me keep my footing on those slippery paths, and protect me along the way.

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