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Archive for the ‘Faithfulness’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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“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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The Lord is my shepherd;  I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows;  he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name (Psalm 23:1-3).

These days of summer I am wont to taking a walk into my Virginia town of about 75 minutes. This journey takes me through the agricultural section of the local university, a large concern.

Every time I make this trek I see something different. For example, last week there were four young bulls playfully fighting, their heads focused inward toward each other. Their bodies jutted out from their heads, making the latter the center of a black kaleidoscope.

Yesterday I passed two flocks of sheep which I had not previously seen. I supposed that not having seen them before  was due to my having gotten out earlier this particular morning.

The sheep in the first flock ignored me, diligently munching on the green grass in their pasture. All except one that is.

This black-faced rogue stared through the fence at me, almost angrily. It was as if it was telling me to get them out of there, or to give them something more than the grass all around.

I thought,”Even for a sheep, the grass is always greener on the other side.” This sheep didn’t know what was good for them.

Here God had provided for their need that which was particularly suited for their position in life. Yet, this particular animal appeared to want something different, perhaps even wishing they were walking outside the fence with me on the way to the coffee shop instead of chewing on a blade of grass!

This sheep reminded me of Harvey Cheyne, a character from a Kipling novel. I learned of him from a  1996 movie called Captains Courageous, which adapted the story for television.

In this story Harvey is an extremely rich 16-year old who is also a self centered brat. On an ocean cruise he falls overboard and is seemingly lost.  However, he is picked up by a small fishing vessel captained by the demanding Captain Troop.

Harvey remains in character after his rescue, insisting on special treatment. He tries to bribe Captain Troop to take him back to shore. Troop tells him ‘no’, noting that they would be out to see for several months to fish, which was the crew’s livelihood.

Troop makes the boy work, something he is not accustomed to. Harvey refuses and hears from the captain,”You don’t work, you don’t eat.”

After a period of resistance, Harvey slowly comes around. He learns the fishing trade with the help of Dan, Captain Troop’s son. He also learns some life lessons and matures into a fine young man.

David Jeremiah tells a similar story of a man who is out to sea on a small raft when a storm hits. As much as he tries, the man cannot prevent the craft from sinking.

Like Harvey, he is picked up by another vessel, this time a large ship. The captain of this boat tells the man,”I’m sure you don’t mind helping out in the galley. We are short handed.”  Unlike Harvey, the man is so happy and grateful over being saved that he is willing to do anything.

David Jeremiah likens this to our salvation through Jesus Christ. We are in the place of rescue from our dire straits at the point of salvation, but we are not saved to inactivity. Jeremiah points out that we are saved by grace, but also for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

I see a lot of application to the stories of Harvey and the man on the raft. I too have been rescued.

During the previous year I was alone in a foreign country, with no family or Christian fellowship. I cried out for rescue from these lonely circumstances.

During this time I was tossed about as if I was on the ocean. I felt adrift and pleaded with the Lord.

Finally, this summer God heard my cry led me back home.  I am finally with my wife and children and ecstatic to be home and connected to my friends and church.

However, I am also currently unemployed. I can see from the episodes o f Harvey and the raft man that I have a choice to make in terms of how I view my new condition.

I have determined that I should not expect to sit around my house and do nothing as Harvey did.  The crew (my family) needs my help, not a freeloader.

Part of me does feels like Harvey did when he was first rescued. I have these thoughts of being too important or too “good” for certain tasks.

However, another part of me knows that I may have to take what seems to be an unpleasant job in order for me and my family to continue to survive. I am so grateful to be away from my own personal “ocean” that I am willing to do anything to avoid being tossed overboard again.

I have a suspicion that even work with menial tasks can teach me something new and lead to a broader ministry. In Captains Courageous, Harvey plans to build a hospital in Captain Troop’s hometown out of thanks and gratitude once he is back on shore.  He can do this because through his perseverance in his messy fishing job his life is restored.

I believe God can lead me in the same way, taking what appears to be a dead end job and make it into something special. Looking at others and thinking that they have it better than me, or that my little “pasture” is too beneath me misses the point of who I am and what God has created me to be for His glory.

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” ‘When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?’  The LORD is in his holy temple;  the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth;  his eyes examine them.  The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. 
On the wicked he will rain  fiery coals and burning sulfur;  a scorching wind will be their lot. For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face (Psalm 11:3-7).”

Bobby Hattaway is a Civil War hero who returns home in triumph. Unfortunately, a boyhood friend has gone bad while he was away and turned their town upside down.

In the made-for- TV movie “Lone Rider”, Stu Croaker is Cain to Bobby’s Abel. Bobby is respected, while Stu is feared.

Stu is a swindler who cheats and murders to get what he wants, which is control of all the land and businesses in town.  He is on his way to gaining his desires when Bobby rides in.

At the point of  Bobby’s return, Stu is about to put Bobby’s father out of his mercantile business and take over the Hattaway family farm. Bobby’s father took a loan from Stu, whom he thought he could trust, and is now unable to pay it because business is bad.

The reason for the bad business  is that Stu has had his ruffians steal the Hattaway’s  supplies time and again before they get to town. There is nothing on the shelves to sell.

Bobby tries to act honorably and pays off what his father owes to Stu. However, this is only a short term solution. Stu wants what he wants.

He tells his thugs to turn up the heat on the Hattaways. The first victim is cousin Curtis, who is beat up when his suppy wagon is attacked, and roughed up again when he goes into the saloon (owned by Croker) for a beer.

The final straw for Bobby, however, is when his father is murdered in his store late at night. His Dad tells him as he dies that Stu shot him in the back. Bobby weeps as his father passes.

Now, it’s war.

Stu’s problem is that he wants to be Bobby, but he doesn’t have it in him. He even went as far as marrying Bobby’s old flame while Bobby was off fighting, but unlike his friend in the old days, he treats her like dirt.

Stu isn’t respectable, but he tries to gain it the only way he knows how–through evil methods. When his wife returns from the funeral of Bobby’s father, and Stu learns where she has been, she explains that she went because the Hattaway’s deserve respect, even though they themselves are bad people.

You would think perhaps Stu would get the message. However, all his wife’s statement does is enrage him.

He decides it is time to take Bobby out. However, Bobby is not one to run from a fight. After making sure his mother and newfound love are safely out of harm’s way, he plans the final confrontation with Stu. 

In the end, in a reversal of the Cain and Abel story, it is Stu who loses his life. Bobby, who road into town alone, gains the support of his old army buddy and even the sheriff, who seemed to be in Stu’s pocket up to then.

Bobby lives happily ever after. He marries his sweetheart, the business thrives and he even becomes the new sherriff.

Bobby isn’t the only Lone Rider around. The Bible has its own. His name was David.

David was a war hero like Bobby. However, he gained an adversary in King Saul, who previously was almost like a father to him.

David had to run from Saul, and grieved over his situation with his best friend, who just happened to be Jonathan, the king’s son (I Samuel 2o:1-42). David had to flee and lost the companionship and support of his buddy in the doing. He was truly alone.

While running, David stopped to get some provisions and a weapon from a priest. Then, when he tried to seek refuge with the Philistines, his country’s enemies, he ran again out of fear when he got the sense that their king was opposed to him being around.

At this time, David was scared and grieving. However, he didn’t remain in that state.

Like Bobby Hattaway, David began to take responsibility for what was happening around him. He sent his loved ones out of harm’s way and gathered around him men who had also been harmed by Saul.

When he learned that the family of the priest whom he had visited while running had been murdered, he saw himself as accountable to them. David acknowledged his careless disregard for the fate of the priests.

He had seen one of Saul’s men at the home of the priest when he went there and thought that perhaps the man might tell his boss.  Yet, David was shortsighted and didn’t follow through to do something about it.

When the priests and their families were murdered, David tried to make amends. He brought the lone surviving son of the priest he had visited under his protection. (See I Samuel 22:1-23 for the story of David’s acceptance of his duty to those impacted by his plight ).

It is true when life becomes hard, it’s a necessary thing to grieve.  In fact, it is one of  the recovery principles for those who have  brought their troubles on themselves.

In addition to grieving, though, we ought to develop our sense of responsibility for our lives and the fate of those close to us. The grief eventually has to turn into positive action away from the confusion.

The required step forward is to do the things necessary to turn the chaos in our lives around and do the same for our loved ones.  This move toward health is obligatory, especially if we have been the direct cause of  the disorder in the lives of others, but even if we haven’t.

Maybe like Bobby Hattawaywe are honorable people for whom life has just dones its worst. On the other hand, we may have been similar to Stu Croker and out of corrupt hearts done dirt to ourselves and others.

In any case, it’s our duty to change things. However, we can’t do it on our own.

At the end of  movie, one of the townspeople remarks to Bobby, who is walking on the arm of his new bride,”There his is, the ‘Lo-o-o-ne Rider’.”

Bobby replies,”Used to be. Used to be. Not anymore”. Bobby had friends and loved ones in his corner now.

Coming out of the hell we have made for ourselves or have had made for us, we can’t be a lone rider. We need others. More than anyone, we especially need God.

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“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God (I Corinthians 4:1-5).”

Last night at a bluegrass jamboree, I heard this old gospel musician tell this joke:

“When I was young, I got the call to preach. However, I didn’t have much opportunity. I would go anywhere, though.

Once a minister asked me if I was a preacher. I told him ‘yes, I do the best I can”.  He said, ‘Do me a favor. I have two services this weekend. I will take one and you take the other’. I told him, ‘Sure’.

The minister told me my service was a funeral. He told me it was way out in the country and gave me directions.

When the time for the service came, I drove out to the country looking for the funeral. I went down some really windy roads, deeper into the ‘hollers’.

Finally, I saw two men sitting up on their backhoe, eating sandwiches. I said to myself, ‘Yep, this is the place’.

I got out of my car and walked to the hole dug in the ground. I thought, “This man deserves to be sent out well. I’m going to give him my best.

I preached up a storm. I talked for over 30 minutes.

When I was done, I walked to my car. I heard one of the backhoe operators say,’That was amazing’.

The other man said,”It sure was. I have been laying septic tanks for over 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like that’!.”

Life can be really confusing.  Even with the best intentions, we take the wrong step.

Sometimes we are just plain stuck. Despite the opportunities, we don’t have the wisdom or resources to make something out of them.

Life is not only confusing, it is not fair. Some people are on easy street, and others struggle along.

For those struggling, the frustration is great. It is palpable  in these lyrics sung by Eric Burdon and The Animals in the 1960s Vietnam War era:

“In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refuse to shine
People tell me there ain’t no use in trying
Now little girl you’re so young and pretty
And one thing I know is true
You’ll be dead before your time is through

See my my daddy in bed, He’s dyin’
Yeah his hair been turning gray
He’s been working and slaving his life away
We gotta work
work
We gotta work
work, work, work

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life
For me and you

 I know it is true…
You’ll be dead before your time is due
Yes You Will

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life
For me and you

Hey!
We gotta get on out…
outta this place…
You know its true Girl.”

According to that great Internet source, Wikipedia, the song ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place” resonated especially with U.S. fighting forces in Vietnam. Indeed, research done among Vietnam veterans a few years ago showed the song struck a chord among them more than any other of the period.

The researchers said,” “We had absolute unanimity is this song being the touchstone. This was the Vietnam anthem. Every bad band that ever played in an armed forces club had to play this song.”

The reasons are obvious. No one wants to be in a combat zone.  It is a deadlly and confusing place to be.

We all want a better life. In fact, in America, we have something we are to pursue called “The American Dream”.

We in America have been little touched by war, at least on our home soil. Only when we are foreigners fighting on foreign soil do we meet up with its horrors.

 War is exactly where we Christians find ourselves in this world. We are foreign fighters on foreigh soil because we belong to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and are in His army. The only way out of the conflict is total victory.

Unfortunately, we tend to mistake who the enemy is . Like grumbling GIs, we cite God as the source of all the troubles we face in this war.

First, we blame Him for all the confusion we face in the battle. Second, we think God is not just and fair in His decisionmaking.

The only place to gain the truth about what is going on is the Scriptures, our Christian Army Field Manual.  It says that it is our Enemy Satan and his demonic cohorts who are  causing all the problems in this war (Psalm 11:2).

In addition, the Manual says our confusion is not from God, but from demons (I Timothy 4:1), the other army’s rank and file.  God is not the One who is writing our bewildering part in the script of life (I Corinthians 14:33).

When I look around at my fellow soldiers in this battle, the human ones, whether ones who belong to the enemy or the ones in God’s army, I regret to say  I am not impressed. With a couple exceptions, I think we are a slovenly bunch.

Yet, sometimes I think my own General, Jesus Christ, is handing out medals to the undeserving and putting guys like me the stockade. To my mildewed brain, I would expect this of Field Marshal Satan, but not from my Commanding Officer.

Again, my Field Manual, the Bible, gives me my operating instructions. It tells me that God is just and good, and if I want medals, I need to be the same (Psalm 11:7).

However, as a griping doughboy, what gets to me is when my comrades in arms take it upon themselves to make judgments about me. These unsolicited utterances hurt, though they may indeed be true.

Part of the reason I feel wounded is that they come from “friendly fire”,  from people I love.  These  fellow grunts  who share my foxhole speak as if they are authoritative –like they themselves are prophets of God.

Again, turning to my Field Manual, I notice that the Author has given me an illustration of how to respond to this kind of incident on the battlefield. The story is about three people: General Moses, Colonel Aaron and Women’s Army Corp leader Miriam.

Aaron and Miriam decide to take oral potshots at Moses. First, they slam him for his personnel choices. Then, they themelves decide Moses isn’t worthy of his post, and that they are just as capable.

Moses, interestingly enough, doesn’t pull rank on Aaron and Miriam. He doesn’t bark at them or throw them in the brig for insubordination.

In the Field Manual, there is a parenthetical sentence that tells me why Moses  doesn’t respond this way. He is the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3).

Moses knows that where he is in life is from the Lord. He knows he is nothing special (I Corinthians 4:7), even though his comrades believe THEY are.

Moses is a good general because he is just like his own Commanding Officer, Jesus. He is rewarded for being on the same page as his leader. Because he is like his Lord, Moses gets face time with Him that others don’t (Numbers 12:6-8).

When God struck WAC Miriam with a wasting disease as  punishment for her insubordination, Moses showed some real class. He went to his Commanding Officer and asked for a lighter sentence.

Occasionally, we see others in our modern age like Moses, who have the right perspective on who they are in God’s army. 

Ray Stedman, in his book “The Fight of Faith”, tells the story of a young man whose wife was seriously ill. He woke up in the middle of the night to write these words:

“My wife may die before morning, but I have been with her for four years. Four years! There is no way I can feel cheated if I didn’t have her another day. I didn’t deserve her for one minute.

And I may die before morning. What I must do is die now. I must accept the justice of death, and the injustice of life.

I have lived a good life, longer than many, better than most. I have had 32 years. I couldn’t ask for another day.

What did I do to deserve birth? It was a gift. I am me.  That is a miracle. I have no right to a single minute.  But some are given a single hour, and yet I have had 32 years.

Few can choose when they will die, but I choose to accept death now.  As of this moment, I give up my right to live and I give up my right to her life.”

My role in this spiritual war I am in is to accept my orders from my General Jesus and leave the sniping around me to Him to resolve eventually. My response should not be to go AWOL and seek to douse the hurts of the friendly fire and the enemy through immoral means. It will just land me in God’s stockade.

No, when I am hurting and wounded, I need to go get my instructions from General Jesus on what to do because He is NOT  unfair, unjust or the source of my confusing existence as the enemy propoganda would have me believe.

Instead, I need to see Jesus as the origin of right thinking, action and judgment (Psalm 111:10). Lastly, if I am going to take any opinions regarding who I am and my performance to heart, it should be His, not those who share the battlefield with me in this life. 

In the meantime, it is my role to conscientiously, loyally and lovingly man my post.

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“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).”

Yesterday I got up at 2:45 am to do my job. I was expected to be at a local hotel in the wee hours in order to escort a group of international students to their departure airport four hours away.

We arrived at the airport without incident. However, the next couple of hours were  definitely not quiet ones.

As the 18 folks in our charge checked their luggage, you could see their mixed emotions. In addition to being bleary-eyed from no sleep, they also were conflicted about leaving and going home.

In my view, some of them were holding back. They didn’t want to face the goodbyes.

Shortly thereafter, we took the students to their gate. However, we had to go through hell and back to escort them further.

First, we had to leave the security scanners and go back to their airline to get badges. This took forever, and a lot of walking.

After that ordeal, we had to go through all the security a normal traveler does, including half-disrobing, to get to their gate. And more walking.

We arrived about a half an hour before boarding began. This group of sweet people, normally outgoing and musical, were generally somber and reflective.

As the boarding began, so did the waterworks.  Students approached me with hugs, culturally significant gestures of respect and  kind comments.

What affected me the most, though, were the tears. With some of them, gushers came from their eyes.

I had determined beforehand that I wasn’t going to let loose emotionally. After all, I was their professor, their leader.

I was a professional. Furthermore, someone had to keep calm, didn’t they?

I refused to emotionally get wrapped up in the moment. In hindsight, this was a big mistake.

These people loved me, and I loved them. I will probably never see most of them again.

If I wasn’t crying then, I am now.  I am weeping over a lost opportunity to show them I cared.

The apostle Paul did in similar circumstances. He was saying goodbye to some leaders of a church once, and told them they would never see him again.

Paul knelt and prayed with them. They in turn wept and embraced him (Acts 20:36.37).

Oh, I wasn’t a total clod with my students. I returned their hugs and told the as they left, “God bless you guys.”

Yet, I didn’t weep. I should have. It would have been appropriate, more than that, really.

Some macho creed and a desire not to appear emotional kept from crying with them, though. It was stupid.

Catholic priest Gregory Boyle, in his book about ministering to gang members in Los Angeles (Tattoos on the Heart), relates a story of how a former gang member stood with him in grief.

Freddy comes by his office after the killing of coworker, himself a former gang member who was shot down by rivals. Freddy asks the priest how he is doing.

“I know your heart is breaking,” Freddy tells him, crying as the words come out. “I wish I had a magic wand to pass over your pain.”

The priest the homies call “G” writes:

“As an adult, I cannot recall every crying with another person more fully than at that moment. We both just lose ourselves in sobbing. Usually, I’d put myself as the homies say “on check status”, but even I couldn’t pull this off at the moment. I’d been holding this enormous, outsized grief “in check” for so long  and had sudden permission to release it in the gentle urging and vast heart of Freddy.”

Freddy goes on to tell “G” that if he had a choice between a million dollars and alleviating his pain, he would choose the latter. Further, Freddy tells the priest the reason: “G” had stood with the homies amidst the pain of the barrio and “swept them up”.

Freddy tells “G” that if he could, he would sweep “G” up, too. The priest, eking out a response in the middle of sobs, replies,”You just did.” 

When it comes to relating to and helping people, Boyle notes that it is more important to be faithful than successful. It is more important to stand with someone, to identify with them.

Boyle writes,”It’s as basic as crying together. It is about ‘casting your lot’ before it ever becomes about ‘changing their lot.”

My students are gone. I can’t go back. There is no “do over” when it comes to my farewell with them.

However,  I still have a family I live with every day. They’re humans with real problems, fears, distresses, and pain.

I can become more compassionate and caring with them, not just in action but in expression. I don’t always have to be stoic.

In fact, I think they could use some show of passion from me, especially when it comes to their pain. Maybe once in a while it would be good to let myself go in their presence.

This means I have to be vulnerable with my wife and kids. That’s a tough one for me.

It means first of all that I will have to look inside and determine how I actually AM feeling about their pain. Will I find real compassion there? Oh God, I hope so.

Getting in touch with myself and my emotions is a good place to begin in order to SHOW compassion to others.  It’s a fearful thing, but with God’s help I intend to do it.

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 “Let love and faithfulness never leave you;  bind them around your neck,  write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man (Proverbs 3:3,4).”

This week I taught my English class for internationals how to write a haiku. I don’t really care for poetry that much, but I have always liked this form.
 
Perhaps it is because of its simplicity. As someone said to me recentlyt, anyone can write a haiku.
 
The original form of haiku is written as written in Japanese is very terse. Therefore, to communicate the idea of the style in English, the form,  i.e. the stanzas and syllables have to be even shorter than they are in Japanese.
 
After I read my students  a sample of my own work, I had them to do it. From what I could tell, they did a wonderful job. One Indonesian girl ran up to me and proudly showed me her work.
 
This must be my week for Japanese culture because I ran into a version of an old Frank Sinatra hit done recently by Japanese-American singer Hikaru Otada. She adds new life to a song I never have cared for in the past.
 
Utada seems to be an admirable young lady.  That great everyman source Wikipedia says of her breakthrough in the late 1990s:” Unlike other pop-stars at the time, she was more focused on becoming a singer and songwriter while other Japanese female singers were attempting to become idols.”
 
Ms. Utada apparently knows that to be a success she has to hone her craft and work hard. She doesn’t seek to just be “famous for being famous”.
 
It’s a real temptation for Christians today, including yours truly, to discard the work ethic  required to be exemplary believers and aim instead for becoming Christian pop culture “heros of the faith”,  without meeting up with the disciplines required. We want to be Christian divas, God knows why.
 
Hiraku’s opening to the classic song “Fly Me to the Moon” shows she knows what it takes to make life work:
 
“Poets often use many words
  to say a simple thing
  But it takes thought and time and rhyme
  to make a poet sing.”
 
To make a Christian life “sing” requires superior character (I Timothy 3:1-13). This is not obtained overnight, nor does it come easy.
So you want to be hot stuff in Christian circles?  Be careful what you ask for. It’s a worthy goal, but it may take a lifetime.
 
This is because we came into this world in plebeian fashion. We have a lot of sin and experiences from our youth to overcome.
 
Upon birth into this world, we were hit by a flying curse (Zechariah 5:1-4).  Thanks be to God, we have Him to heal the torment caused by it.
 
Hikaru Utada, introduces this healing from God:
 
“With music and words
  I’ll be playin’
  For you I have written a song

  To be sure that you’ll know what
  I’m sayin’ I’ll translate as I go along.”

 
God does the same for us. He wants our lives to be an expression of Him, if you will, a beautiful song.
 
When we come to Jesus Christ, He puts a desire in us. Jesus gives us the longing  to soar from the plight of the curse:
 
” Fly me to the moon
  and let me play among the stars
  Won’t you let me see what spring is like
  On Jupiter and Mars

   Fill my heart with song
  and let me sing forever more
  ’cause you are all I long for
  All I worship and adore.”

 We don’t even know what our hearts are singing, but God does. He translates for us as we go along:

 
  “…In other words
  hold my hand
In other words
  darling kiss me

 “… In other words
  please me true
  In other words
  I love you.”

  Our souls crave love which seems to be in this world at a considerable distance away . We want God to fly us to the moon and beyond, where His loving arms await . It seems so unattainable because of the curse.

 
We want a Lover of Our Souls who will be faithful. We love Him, although we don’t know why, and we want to hold His hand.
 
We know we won’t find this faithfulness in our fellow humans.  We aren’t as true as we should be.
 
Yet, I believe and hope against hope that life can be a poem, one we write together with Jesus, despite the curse.
 
Catholic priest Gregory Boyle writes,”What the American poet William Carlos Williams said of poetry could well be applied to the living of our lives: ‘If it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem’.”
 
Does life have to be all suffering all the time? I think not. I think perhaps this is not what God had in mind at the Creation.
 
Boyle’s colleague in a ministry to gang members says,”God created us because He thought we’d enjoy it.” Boyle himself adds,”God so loved the world that we’d find the poetry in it.”
 
However,  a life of  lovely lyrics requires our participation. We won’t get it by sitting on the sofa watching karaoke.
 
Hikaru Utada this year took a sabbatical from her music career. Why?  To focus on self improvement.
 
According to the Japan Today website, she wrote on her blog,“I want to study new things, and see and experience things in this big world that I don’t know about.” 
  
To me, this girl is “all that”. She knows it takes a heart to learn and a will to focus to get  to where she wants to be, not just as a musician, but as a person.
 
God wants to fly us to the moon. Indeed, He used Brian Littrell of the music group The Backstreet Boys to express what’s in His mind:”Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.
 
When thinking of this quote, which I saw on a plaque in a bookstore the other day, I consider the source. Littrell is a committed believer in Jesus Christ.
 
He was born with a heart defect which has threatened his life on several occasions, according to Wikipedia.  He finally had a hole in his heart repaired in the late 1990s.
 
As believers in Jesus, we all require heart surgery.  God has performed that through Jesus Christ.
 
Apparently we’re now capable of shooting for the moon and the stars. We are able to be noble in this life.
 
“Noble is
what I want to be
 
It doesn’t
fall from trees, my friend
 
Nobility
takes a choice to aim
for glory”.
 
While we shoot for the stars in this life, we know one day we’ll get there:
 
“Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away). 

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away). 

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away) 

In the meantime, well,…you know.

 

 
  
 
 
 

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