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Archive for the ‘God’s faithfulness’ Category

“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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“Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close (Psalm 27:10)”.

Francis Phelan is a bum. That’s what he calls himself and his comrades on the streets of Albany, New York. Today, we call people like Francis homeless.

Francis is the lead character in the book “Ironweed” by William Kennedy. The book won a Pulitzer Prize.

In addition, the story was made into a movie by the same name. Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep were both nominated for Academy Awards for their roles as Francis and his girlfriend Helen.

The story is a moving and troubling one. It’s 1939 and Francis has been running from his past since 1910, when he dropped his infant son, resulting in his death.

His life had once been promising. Francis had even played Major League baseball.

Now he goes from place to place in Albany, trying to find a place to sleep for himself and Helen. Francis scrounges a dollar  or two out of odd jobs mainly to buy booze.

Helen is seemingly the more responsible of the two. She is better with money anyway, and chastizes Francis for his free ways with a buck.

Yet, she is also haunted by her past. Helen came from a good family and appeared to have a career as a singer or pianist in view.

However, she was eventually abandoned by her married piano teacher, a man who also seduced her. Helen, like Francis, ended up on the street.

“Ironweed” portrays the plight of the homeless from day to day. If it is true, as F. Scott Fitgerald wrote, that the rich are not like you and I,  then you could say the same about the homeless.

Out on the streets, it’s open season.  The hobos of Ironweed have a tough existence.

Before he returned to Albany, Francis rode the rails, a common occurrence in the Depression. During one episode in a boxcar, a man who admires his shoes tells Francis”I’m gonna cut off your feet” and proceeds to go after him with a meat cleaver.

Helen has her purse snatched on Halloween by a group of masked urchins. She had what amounted to her life savings in the bag -15 dollars.

Helen also suffers indignities no woman should have to face. Francis, seeking a place for her to sleep, puts her up in a car with a bum who spends his nights in an old wreck of a car.

Francis knows Helen will have to do more for the man than just be pleasant. However, in his mind he doesn’t have many options for her.

Both Francis and Helen are subject to incidents of mental illness. Francis hallucinates that the men he has killed in his travels, including the meat cleaver bearer, are in his presence taunting him.

Helen is invited to sing at a gin house by the bartender, a former renouned singer himself. As she sings, she imagines the audience is hailing her performance with cheers and great applause.

The truth is, when she finishes, Helen receives a mild clap or two. She idly leaves the stage with a sense of disappointment.

The life of the bum includes poverty, crime, mental disability and addictions. A good many of us have never experienced lives like those of Francis or Helen and can’t imagine having to live that way. However, in our current times  having to scramble hour after hour to exist isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

It’s not just the extremists and conspiracy theorists who are warning of potential economic collapse. Every day, I read some report in which a reputable government official or business  person  is decrying the state of the world economy and hinting at a future of economic hardhsip at least as difficult as the Depression.

I’ve never been homeless or extremely poor, although I’ve come close a time or two. It is a hopeless and powerless place to be.

At times I have been  poor enough not to be able to afford health coverage for my family, but with enough income to not be eligible for assistance from the government. During one of those periods, it was extremely frustrating to not be able to find medical care for a sick daughter at a free clinic because we didn’t live in the county offering it. (Our county was next door and didn’t offer such a service.)

When you are homeless and in poverty, or close to it, you feel abandoned. And you are to some degree.

In once scene from “Ironweed”, a drunken woman is sick and drunk outside a city mission. The preacher who runs it is a good man, but he refuses to  take people who are not sober in over night.

Francis tries to help her, but he is powerless except to ask for a blanket and some soup for the woman from the mission. When he returns, he and Helen find her being eaten by wild dogs.

The Bible describes such happenings. People in dire straits are subject to the attack of wild animals (Psalm 79:1-2).

Sometimes the predators are human.  Jesus desribed them as “dogs” (Psalm 22:16).”  Wild beasts of all varieties are out there who would like nothing better to make a feast of some vulnerable person on the street.

We may not have the greatest digs in the world, and might even end up homeless, but the person who follows Jesus can know one thing: they have not been abandoned.

In fact, every day we can live, at least spiritually, in a mansion. The Psalmist wrote:

“One thing I ask from the LORD,
   this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
   all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
   and to seek him in his temple. 
For in the day of trouble
   he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
   and set me high upon a rock.

  Then my head will be exalted
   above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
   I will sing and make music to the LORD. (Psalm 27:4-6)”

Governments, corporations and corrupt people may try to take away our dignity. That’s impossible though because the source of our self respect is in our relationship with God.

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“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (I Corinthians 10:11-13).”

This weekend I’ve encountered the lives of three people. The most charitable word I could use for their sojourns on this planet would be “dysfunctional”.

I didn’ t meet these folks personally while taking a walk around the lake  or supping tea at Galleria. Nope. I met them in the movies and in a book.

The first person I ran into is well known. In fact, his name is synonymous with evil: Adolph Hitler.

I was familiar with the German-language movie about him called “Downfall”. The film is about his last days in a bunker in Berlin during World War II, and I knew of it because of the postings on You Tube in which his German rants are given subtitles in other languages.

In these diatribes, Hitler is raging against the news about his sports teams. They’re quite funny.

The true story is not so humorous. In his underground headquarters, Hitler demonstrates that he has lost touch with reality.

For example, the dictator insists that certain army groups perform maneuvers to save Berlin and defeat the attacking Russian forces.  All his generals know that these armies do not exist anymore, at least as functional entities, but Hitler is not convinced.

In addition, he muses with Albert Speer, his beloved architect, about the future plans for Berlin. While his own bunker is getting shelled, he views a gradiose model of the city and discusses what will happen after he defeats the Russians who are encircling him as he speaks.

The other character I met this weekend is less well known, but he is a national hero in Finland where I live at the moment. I am speaking of Matti Nykänen.

In the 1980s he was an icon here. Nykänen was a highly acclaimed ski jumper who won numerous Olympic medals (including several gold) and world championships.

As the movie “Matti” shows, he is able to exhibit amazing discipline and skill as he skis down a long ramp into the sky. However, the ski jumper is less adept at controlling himself.

Matti is a boozing, lying, woman-chasing horn dog. Because of his heroics, the authorities look the other way when he gets into trouble and thus aid and abet his dysfunction.

Matti is also a wife-beating jerk.  The movie shows two of his marriages (he has been married four times), and displays the rage he manifests within them.

Nykänen hits rock bottom when due to financial indebteness, he becomes a male stripper. Even he understands this is beneath his dignity, but he is too weak of a personality to get himself out from under the mess which his codependent manager and mate Nick Nevada has gotten him into.

Matti is finally rescued by a woman named Mervi Tapola, a millionaire who eventually marries him. She is as dyfunctional as he is and they make a match.

As I write this,  Nykänen is preparing to enter jail for at least the third time on a charge of abusing Mervi. He has become a national embarrassment.

The third party I met up with this weekend was a man from the Bible called Lot. This fellow’s problem is described in the pages of the Life Recovery Bible:

“Many people in this world live for wealth, comfort, and the easy life. And they want to get it as quickly as possible! To make this happen, they often sacrifice the really important things in life. This was true in the life of Abraham’s nephew Lot. Looking for  the easy road to wealth and comfort, he made decisions that ended up destroying everything he had lived for.”

The Life Recovery Bible notes several examples of the selfish choices Lot made. First, he chose the rich lands of Sodom and left his godly uncle Abraham the rugged hills to live in.  Second, he was willing to give his daughters over to a lecherous Sodomite mob when they demanded he send out some angels when they were visiting Lot at his house.

What makes Lot particularly interesting is that despite these flaws he was cited as a just and righteous man by the apostle Peter (Life Recovery Bible). God spared him from the punishment he inflicted on wicked Sodom (II Peter 2:7,8).

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Even Adolph Hitler occasionally demontrated a soft side.

The movie “Downfall” is based on the account of his secretary Traudl Junge. She said of Hitler:

“I admit, I was fascinated by Adolf Hitler. He was a pleasant boss and a fatherly friend. I deliberately ignored all the warning voices inside me and enjoyed the time by his side almost until the bitter end. It wasn’t what he said, but the way he said things and how he did things.” (Wikipedia/Traudl Junge)

However, it is not so easy to find a positive side to Matti Nykänen. One must read between the lines.

Finnish sports reporter Kari Merilä calls him a “sports hero and a soap opera in the same package”.  In truth, Matti does have to be given credit for his amazing ski jumping accomplishments. It is a difficult sport to master.

The movie shows that Matti does have a soft side. For example, he visits a paralyzed child in the hospital and seeks to comfort him.

Barney Ronay of “The Guardian” says of Matti:

If Nykänen has a redeeming feature, though, it is his enduring, almost unbelievable, popularity. The Finns don’t just tolerate him fitfully. They really, actually seem to like him. “He’s a simple sporting character really,” Peltola (a Finnish reporter)  sighs. “He’s a lovable guy, a friendly guy – always in a good mood. And as a ski-jumping legend, he will always have a place in Finnish hearts.

If we humans, even those as dyfunctional as Adolph Hitler and Matti Nykänen, have the capacity for good, why is it we fail so often? I think Hitler and Nykänen show that part of the problem is that we  have huge blind spots.

The Bible documents a story of a people called the Jebusites whose inability to account for their blindness in some areas led to their defeat. The story tells of how David overcame them and took their city for himself:

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.  On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.]” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.” (II Samuel 5:6-8).

Matthew Henry believes the reference to the “blind and lame” concerns idolatrous images which the Jebusites trusted for protection, noting that David had used similar terms to describe false gods.  Henry even surmises that the Jebusites put the disabled, the “blind and the lame” on their walls of their strong fortress to mock David.

As this story notes, David used a tunnel which the Jebusites used to access water outside the fortress, to defeat them.  It was a blind spot in their thinking.

We Christians have our own spiritual blind spots. I know I do.

I fail to account for areas of my life where I can easily be defeated. Satan is more than happy to fill in my spiritual field of vision and blind me so I am not aware of them.

This means I have to make a conscious effort to protect myself. This work involves being aware of my spiritual, physical, mental and emotional state at all times so I can do that.

I am grateful for the examples of what can happen to people who don’t protect themselves. The Helsinki Sanomat newspaper says of Matti Nykänen:

Contrary to the heroes of traditional tales, Nykänen has no mission, no clear goal which would end the story once it is reached. He is also no prodigal son, as he does not learn from his mistakes.

Thankfully, unlike Matti I do have a goal in the coming year, which is take care of my health in all areas, including spiritually. My error has been in not dealing with my blind spots.

Hopefully, after this weekend I have learned my lesson.

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Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (I Peter 5:8-11).

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!

Even if your home is dangerous and could get you killed, this is true for us all. A prime example comes from two characters in Season 4 of “The Wire”, a  series about the streets of my hometown, Baltimore.

Omar Little is a killer, pure and simple. However, he has been framed for one particular murder of a woman in a store which he didn’t commit.

Dogged police detective Bunk Moreland doesn’t buy the set up. Despite opposition from the lead detective on the case, he proves Omar’s innocence and gets him released from jail.

He elicits a promise from Omar that there will be no more killing. He also offers to arrange his departure from Baltimore.

Despite its dangers, since he has a lot of enemies on the streets, Omar declines. Baltimore is all he knows.

The same holds true for the man who helped set him up, the convenience store owner Old Face Andre.  He goes to see East Baltimore drug kingpin Proposition Joe for protection since he has snitched and told the police who really killed the woman.

At first Andre rejects Proposition Joe’s offer to get him out of Baltimore. However, he wants to stay in his hometown.

Finally, Andre realizes he doesn’t have much choice. Things don’t end well for him, as Proposition Joe actually turns him over to the muscle of West Baltimore druglord Marlo Stansfield who actually committed the murder. They kill him for going to the cops.

I can understand these crooks’ desire to stay at home. It’s where we became the people we are and learned what we know.

In my case, I also consider Virginia my home. I spent my formative years in its southwest mountain regions, and call it my permanent residence today.

However, I am now on an overseas work assignment without my family. It’s not easy being away from home.

If I could go anywhere else in the world, be transported there like a crew member of the starship Enterprise of Star Trek fame, I would choose to go there. I miss my family.

It was on one winter (actually summer for me)  day,from my home I went away Far away from friends and home I longed to roam

But tonight I’m lone and sad, just a little homesick lad
And I’m longing from my old Virginia home

I’m a lad from old Virginia
Bravely knocking my way back home
To that cabin home in the mountain
Never more let me roam (Carter Family)

My contract takes me to the beginning of next summer. I hope to be home with my wife and kids by the summer solstice.

I am longing for old Virginia, for old Virginia and you
And I’m hoping the soul within you is longing for me too
To Virginia, just like the ivy, my heart clings ever true
And I reckon in the spring I’ll bring a little ring
To old Virginia and you

Though tonight I’m far from you and old Virginia
I still love you as I did that day in June
And when springtime comes again to old Virginia
I’ll build a little cottage just for two. (Carter Family)

I was a child in Virginia when I got my first sense of God in my life. When I was in high school in the Baltimore area, I asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart and give me a purpose.

That’s partly the reason I am overseas today. I went to school and got a degree that qualified me to teach abroad because I wanted to go into missions.

Now, it’s a job. It has never turned out the way I thought it would be.

Today I have a sense of nostalgia for what God was doing in my life way back in those old hometowns. In addition, I have a sense of regret.

I think the theme song of “The Wire” tells a story of those kids of Baltimore who don’t hang on to Jesus and keep Satan at bay. Over my checkered life, I have been one of them.

The best version of this song by Tom Waits was performed by the children of Baltimore themselves.

Way Down in the Hole

When you walk through the garden
you gotta watch your back
well I beg your pardon
walk the straight and narrow track
if you walk with Jesus
he’s gonna save your soul
you gotta keep the devil
way down in the hole
he’s got the fire and the fury
at his command
well you don’t have to worry
if you hold on to Jesus hand
we’ll all be safe from Satan
when the thunder rolls
just gotta help me keep the devil
way down in the hole
All the angels sing about Jesus’ mighty sword
and they’ll shield you with their wings
and keep you close to the lord
don’t pay heed to temptation
for his hands are so cold
you gotta help me keep the devil
way down in the hole

I feel at his stage of my life that I have been a little like Saul. He disobeyed the Lord and suffered the consequences.

Before the climactic battle with the Philistines which would eventually take his life, Saul went to a witch to conjure up his old deceased spiritual advisor Samuel. This is because Saul had gone so far from God that he got no message from Him when he sought Him out.

When the witch finally did bring him up, Samuel had no good news for him:

Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

 “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

 Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night.

Ironically, Saul’s persecution of David has led to the latter’s exile. David is on the run and far from home because of Saul, who has allowed Satan to come out of his hole and ruin him.

Jack White of the band White Stripes wrote the lyrics to “Seven Nation Army”, which won a Grammy mainly because of its guitar riff. However, it is the lyrics that strike yours truly.

Some say the song is about the opposition and troubles he and his partner Meg White faced as they became popular.  In the song, the protagonist is ready to chuck it all and head for home:

I’m gonna fight ’em all
A nation army couldn’t hold me back
They’re gonna rip it off
Taking their time right behind my back

And I’m talking to myself at night
Because I can’t forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And the message coming from my eyes
Says leave it alone

Don’t want to hear about it
Every single one’s got a story to tell
Everyone knows about it
From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell

And if I catch it coming back my way
I’m gonna serve it to you
And that aint what you want to hear
But thats what I’ll do
And the feeling coming from my bones
Says find a home

I’m going to Wichita
Far from this opera for evermore
I’m gonna work the straw
Make the sweat drip out of every pore
And I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding
Right before the lord
All the words are gonna bleed from me
And I will sing no more
And the stains coming from my blood
Tell me go back home.

White Stripes released a subsequent album entitled “Get Behind Me Satan”. Jack White himself says it is taken from the temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4.

One of the songs has some lyrics I can relate to here in my exile from home:

I get my friend when I need one
I need someone to be one
I take anybody I can get
And sometimes I wanna call you
And I feel like a pet
And I’m lonely, but I ain’t that lonely yet

I go down to the river
Filled with regret
I go down and I wonder
If there was any reason left
I’ve just before my lungs could get wet
I’m lonely, but I ain’t that lonely yet

I think perhaps one of the greatest temptations Satan can throw at me is the feeling of loneliness.  When I get that way, it is hard to keep Satan down in the hole.

There are illicit ways of handling that loneliness. However, heading in that direction would only spring Satan’s fire and fury.

He is out there seeking any way he can to devour me. I know it.

As the song says, when I am lonely I gotta watch my back, hold on to Jesus hand and depend on his angels to deliver me from temptation.

Maybe if I do this, I’ll make it home in one piece.

 

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When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous seek refuge in God (Proverbs 14:32).”

“All in”, I said.  The deciding moment in the game had come.

I was sitting at the train station of  my town, waiting for the bus, when I decided to call a friend. He is a young man I used to work with.

My friend agreed to meet me and pick me up. About 20 minutes later he came driving up in his black, growling Corvette.

It wasn’t long before he had gathered a couple of his friends for a rousing game of poker at his apartment.  This was a renewal of the contests we used to have before I moved away a couple of years ago. Having returned now, I was looking forward to the night.

We don’t play for much money. It’s coffee money really.

Most of the night, I was down. In fact, one of the boys across the table from me had such a load of chips it looked as if he was building a fortress over there.

I thought the game would be over fast.  We had just gotten started.

However, poker is a game of ebbs and flows. The two fellows to my left and I hung in enough to make a game of it.

Finally, it was just me and the young man with all the chips. I looked at my cards.

In my hand was two hearts. On the table were three more.

In poker parlance, I had what is called a flush. That’s a pretty high hand.

That’s when I went all in. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, so I pushed all my chips into the pot.

I won. I took all the money. What seemed earlier like a sure defeat earlier had turned into a resounding victory.

This must have been curious to my fellow players because it was obvious I didn’t play much. I was a little shaky on the procedures and rules of the particular game we were playing.  Still, I came away with the pot despite my inexperience.

It isn’t always the most talented or experienced who come away with the laurels, in games or any other avenue of life. A believer in Jesus Christ may know that he gains victory DESPITE his abilities and resources.

David once went “all in” on a building project he had in mind for the Lord. He planned to build a temple for Him.

However, David wasn’t going to be able to see it through. He was old. His son Solomon was going to have to man up and finish the temple.

David did what he could though. He gave all his wealth for the project so his inexperienced son could get off to a good start (I Chronicles 29:1-5).

David ultimately didn’t trust in Solomon to get the project done. He put his faith in God to bring it off. It was the Lord who had provided the wealth David had donated to the temple construction (I Chronicles 29:10-13).

Ultimately, though, David didn’t know what the result would be. He was hoping that there would be a large palatial structure built for his Lord, but he wouldn’t be around to see if it would come about or not. He invested in the project by faith in a calculated risk. David went all in with the cards he had.

It takes a certain attitude toward God to be able to do what David did. In some respects, when we follow Jesus Christ we have to do what we believe we should do and let the chips fall where they may. If things don’t work out, then we believers know God is around to pick up the pieces if need be.

A high priest of Israel demonstrated this attitude toward God. Eli was facing punishment for not restraining his evil adult male children.

One day God communicated to Eli’s servant Samuel what he was going to do to Eli and his descendants. It wasn’t pretty.

Eli wrangled the message from God out of Samuel. When he heard it, Eli, an old man, responded, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in his eyes (I Samuel 3:18b),”

In reading this, I was moved by Eli’s surrender to God. He knew he deserved what was going to get meted out to him and was willing to accept his punishment.

More than that, though, Eli revealed that he had faith in the character of God. He knew that even in the mire that God would be merciful in some fashion.

Matthew Henry says about Eli’s reply,” With such a threatening prospect before him, his piety and meekness were wonderful.”  Henry writes to all believers, “Such is the spirit of meek and unmurmuring submission in which we ought to receive the dispensations of God, however severe and afflictive.”

It is a scary yet wonderful thing to be in the hands of the living God. Sometimes our mistakes and sins get us into such stews that our only recourse is to go all in with Him.

For example, it is almost surreal to look at your bank account and realize that the only money you have on hand this day is the coins and small notes on your dresser. Your entire worldly wealth can be placed in your pants pocket.

There seems to me to be two responses to be made when you are in such a state. You can either panic, or you can humbly say,”He is the Lord. Let Him do what is good in his eyes.”

I for one, when I am  in such a condition, want to trust in the goodness of God. Tomorrow is another day.

The lyrics of Don Moen are comforting:

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me
He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength
For each new day
He will make a way
He will make a way

By a roadway in the wilderness
He’ll lead me
And rivers in the desert will I see
Heaven and earth will fade
But His Word will still remain
He will do something new today

I am encouraged by these words of Moen. I think I will send the video to a person who I know will be facing a tough time tomorrow.

They will need to go all in with God this week. So will I in my circumstances I think, but God is my refuge.

 

 

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“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (I Peter 2:10).”

Want to see a microcosm of the world community? Take a plane trip overseas.

As I write this, I am sitting in a foreign airport. It’s the middle of the night.

Some people in this terminal are sleeping. Others, like me, are up reading, snacking or whacking on their computers.

I have been traveling for over 30 hours now, and I have seen and heard people from all over the world. As I sat in a major European airport earlier today during a long layover, the races, languages and cultures of most of the major groups of mankind were represented.

In this globalized age, people’s jobs take them to far flung nations. I listened on my first leg as the man and woman behind me talked of their employment in the Middle East.

They also talked of their personal lives. Both were engaged to be married, and both had fiancees that lived on different continents than they did.

As I sat in with a mass of humanity in the terminal during my long layover, a man with a South Asian accent told the young Canadian woman he was talking to that he was an electrical engineer from Philadelphia. She was a white videographer on her way to Africa to record the work of a charity.

This woman explained to her fellow conversationalist that she just loved her work.  She told him that she had wanted to be a doctor until in high school she was editing some video and under pressure found that she would rather complete that task than the chemistry and biology assignments she had due.

This woman’s job included working with celebrities who do charity work. The man from Philly told her the obvious: “you have an interesting  job!”

It may seem like it, but globalization isn’t new. One of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, a woman named Ruth, also found herself working abroad, except her job wasn’t as glamorous as some of the people I heard today.

Ruth was basically a social welfare recipient in her new land of Israel and participated in their version of a welfare-to-work program. She went out to glean leftover grain in fields. This was a provision made by the Israelites for poor people.

In those circumstances, a lot of things could have gone wrong for Ruth. In Chapter Two of the biblical book named after her, it is made clear that as a poor foreign woman, she was subject to abuse.

God took care of Ruth in her new country, though. He led her to the fields of a righteous man named Boaz who just happened to be one of her and her mother-in-law’s guardian-redeemers.

A guardian-redeemer was a person in Israel who by law was responsible for caring for needy relatives. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, both poverty-stricken widows, surely qualified for receiving the help from a person of this ilk.

Boaz did more than the bare minimum under the law for Ruth and Naomi. He not only let Ruth glean in his fields, but he also insisted upon it for her protection.

Boaz also gave her instructions how to be efficient in her work, and provided water for her (Ruth 2:8,9). However, he didn’t stop there.

Boaz personally invited Ruth to sup with him, she just a poor worker and he the owner of the operation! In addition, he made it clear to the other workers that they were to take care of her abundantly as well (Ruth 2:14-16).

While Boaz may have been a kindly older gentleman who took pity on a young poor woman, there was something else at work here. Boaz had heard of the godly reputation of Ruth and her treatment of Naomi and wanted to reward her(Ruth 2:11-12).

God use Boaz to recompense Ruth for her integrity. He saw to it that when the chips were down that she and Naomi would be taken care of.

In my present circumstances I can garner a lot of personal application from the story of Ruth and her guardian-redeemer Boaz. Like Ruth, I am a person who has hit on hard times and has had to move overseas to make a living, leaving my people and my own family behind.

Anytime you do something like this kind of move on a shoestring budget, it is a gamble. Things could go very well, or they could go very wrong. 

I am encouraged that God cares for His people in such circumstances. As I proceed by train to my final destination in a few hours, I will take this encouragement with me. It is clear that God is willing and able to take care of me in my dire straits.

However, I can also learn from Ruth’s actions as well. If anyone deserved such treatment, it is her.

Indeed, Ruth could have stayed back in her home country, but she loved Naomi so that she moved with her. Love prompted her packing her bags.

Ruth not only loved Naomi, but she loved her God, too. She  sought to  run to God for refuge in her own circumstances instead of to some other empty source of help. (Ruth 1:15-18; 2:12b). She was not a member of the Israelite community, but she wanted their God and believed His power.

One other aspects of Ruth’s conduct in her circumstances stands out,also. As she received the care of Boaz, she carried herself with  a humble and grateful attitude and gracious words(Ruth 2:13).

Ruth communicated to Boaz that she knew he was doing her  a favor and hoped his disposition toward her would remain! She also let  Boaz know that he had given her emotional rest through his kindness and understood how wonderful this was since she was not exactly a paragon of success in Israelite society.

I hope and pray to God that I behave as well as Ruth did under such circumstances.  I know I have little else to give the Lord and those assisting me but my thanks, but if that is all I have, then it should be offered!

I also pray my actions would be holy in this new environment. God deserves to be glorified for his goodness to me in providing this post for me and my family.

The people God leads to help me deserve a loving disposition from me, too. They don’t need the attitudes and actions of a curmudgeon and a grouch in response to their own goodness.

Just as Boaz was an ambassador of the people of God to Ruth, I am one here, also (II Corinthians 5:20).  As God shows me mercy in this new land, even through some of them, it is my task to reflect it back.

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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness (John 12:46).”

I used to have an office mate from Germany who had a full time job where I worked, but was hardly ever there. He would come in, teach his classes and leave.

One day, he looked at me and sang “should I stay or should I go?”. I laughed, because I knew the answer to that melodic question.

The song was made famous by a punk group of the 70s and 8os called The Clash. Their name seems fitting because of their style and what they sang  about.

The groups beginnings were influenced by the development of the genre at the time. Mick Jones, one of the founding members, watched one of the famous punk groups of the 70s. 

He said of that experience, “You knew straight away that was it, and this was what it was going to be like from now on. It was a new scene, new values—so different from what had happened before. A bit dangerous.”

The Clash made a major impact on the music scene. They left a legacy, influencing modern groups like U2

 That great web source Wikipedia quotes punk musician and author John Robb about the impact of the group: “The Clash were utterly inspirational, utterly positive, and they offered a million possibilities.”

The Clash sang about things that mattered. Instead of singing, as one contemporary put it, “bowling down California highways”, their lyrics concerned their real lives in London and political issues they believed in.

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” was about an up and down relationship one of the group members had with a girlfriend. Here’s the first stanza:

“Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?”

However, I listen to it and think of my own indecisiveness at the moment. I have a big decision to make, and things could go either way.

I would just as soon God write in the sky, “Do this!” However, he doesn’t seem to work that way. It’s driving me crazy: 

“Always tease tease tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine, next day is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?”

I am unemployed and need to leave my family to go make some money. The job is overseas. 

“Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An’ if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know!”

As I am in my mid-50s, this is an important decision. As I think of the potential effects of my choices, I just don’t know the best option,

“This indecision’s bugging me
Esta indecision me molesta
If you don’t want me, set me free
Si no me quieres, librame
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be
Dime que tengo que ser.”

If anyone knows me, it’s God. However, He’s won’t give me finality on the thing.

“Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?
¿sabes que ropas me quedan?
Come on and let me know
Me tienes que decir
Should I cool it or should I blow?
¿me debo ir o quedarme?”

There are a lot of issues when it comes to making a major decision.  I did some research about decisionmaking the other day and found surprisingly that intuitive thinking, i.e. using your gut, is a good thing. Sometimes you just know what to do.

Overthinking the consequences isn’t really a good idea. This is because no one knows the future.

The wise man of Proverbs wrote,”Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring (Proverbs 27:1).”

What is really on my mind this morning is the legacy thing.  What will be the effect of my choice on my family? Where will it lead in terms of what I contribute to the Kingdom of God before I pass on?

So many questions. It’s no wonder that the group that sang “Should I Stay or Should I Go” called themselves “The Clash”.

The one Person I need not fight with is God. He is not a tease and I am indeed His. God wants me.

God also knows what’s best for me (Romans 8:28) . In addition, He knows me fully (Psalm 139:1,2).

The Psalmist tells me several other things when I begin to question God’s faithfulness and character in my situation:

*God is right there with me in the midst of my decision (Psalm 139:7-10).

* I may be in the dark right now, but He isn’t (Psalm 139:11,12).

* I can trust myself to some degree because God made me the person I am (Psalm 139:13-16).

*God’s thoughts on my situation are paramount and precious (Psalm 139:17-18)

My prayer at the moment comes from the Psalmist:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23,24).”

I don’t want to spend my time now, in the immediate future or in the long run mucking about. I want my life to matter for my family and for eternity.

God surely knows this and can be trusted to help me make the right choice. He is utterly positive, completely and totally inspirational, and He offers a million possibilities.

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