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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow,” I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end to a perfectly topsy turvy day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Occupy Wall Street website has this point of view:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

    

 

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“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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The LORD will vindicate me;  your love, LORD, endures forever–  do not abandon the works of your hands (Psalm 138:8).” 

Goodbyes are difficult. Endings are often sad.

I am experiencing this firthand this weekend. After close to two months of coordinating a program for 18 young scholars from another country, I will be saying goodbye to them at the airport tomorrow morning. I will miss them.

As I told my boss when he congratulated me and asked me if it was worth the late night phone calls, I had a blast.  Meeting and working with and for them was a real opprtunity to learn and grow and make new friends.

You could say I have grown to love them. I believe, with some of them, the feeling is mutual. It was a life changing experience for both me and them.

Yet, in this life, loves comes to an end. People move on with their lives. Marriages end in divorce. It’s quite sad, really.

One thing  I will always remember about my students who are leaving tomorrow is their singing.  Their music accompanied us wherever we went.

But the “dance” with these folks is over.

Leonard Cohen wrote some lyrics which talk about the end of love in this life. Here are  the opening lines of his song:

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in..”

Cohen discusses the macabre origin of his song, Dance Me to the End of Love:

”  ‘Dance Me to the End Of Love’ … it’s curious how songs begin because the origin of the song, every song, has a kind of grain or seed that somebody hands you or the world hands you and that’s why the process is so mysterious about writing a song. But that came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt.  So, that music, (referring to a lyric here) ‘Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,’ meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved, so that the song — it’s not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity.”

Even the end of love is passionate. And gloomy.

Thirteen is a former doctor who used to work with Gregory House M.D., the main character of the medical drama “House”. She is so secretive about her past that she likes to be referred to by the number she was given as a candidate for the post.

In a recent episode, Dr. House checks her out of a prison. She has been away for a year, and House’s persistent question as they drive away is,”What did you do?”

House wants her back on his team. It’s obvious. She is a great doctor.  But he has to know.

Along the way, as they interact, House digs the answer out of her. “I killed a man”, she tells him.

It takes some further digging on House’s part to learn the true story.  Thirteen euthanized her brother.

Thirteen and her brother (who House didn’t even knew existed)  both have a progressive, fatal disease. When the illness becomes unbearable, he tells her “it’s time” and she infuses fatal medicine into his veins.

Thirteen pleads down to misuse of drugs, since the law can not prove murder. Thus, she spends six months in jail, where House encounters her.

Thirteen is not only emotionally stricken by what she felt necessary to do out of love for her brother, she also is overcome with grief over the fact that one day she will be in the same shape and there will be no one to do the same for her.

She is also amazed at the lack of emotional response from House over her story. He just stares at her with a blank, unemotional look. Thirteen tells him, referring to the end of his recent love affair,”No wonder she dumped you.”

Yet, at the end of the episode, House and Thirteen have formed a strange, faulty bond. He tells her in the car, at night, as he drops her off,”I’ll kill you.When the time comes, I will do it.”

Thirteen looks at him, again with amazement, and says,”See you Monday.”

Love is so imperfect in this world. It causes flawed behavior such as that portrayed in  House, and Satan even uses it to create appalling circumstances such as that of the forced performances of the Holocaust described above.

Yes, sometimes in this life, love does come to an end.

When I looked exhausted the other day after weeks of working with my students, someone commented about it. I asked them,”Have you ever given your heart and soul to something and it comes to an end?”. The person replied,”Yes, my family.”

Sadly, even family love can terminate in this life. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, siblings-all may not only NOT love each other, but may end up even hating each other.

Thankfully, I have discovered that with one Person, love doesn’t end. I am referring to God.

Even at death, His love is there. Regard Cohen’s lyric:  

“Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.” God does that for His beloved when it’s time.

One day I will see Him in all His glory:

“Let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love.”

He will take me to the wedding feast of the Lamb:

“Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love.”

“The end of love”  is an oxymoronic phrase when it comes to God. It’s silly, even. There is no end to HIS love.

Even before the end of love, as I head into my closing years I have hope of experiencing His love here and now, with my wife, and with my kids, and even theirs, because God is good:

“Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love”.

As my life heads toward it’s close, I surely can relate to Jeremiah’s lament:

“I am the man who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath. 
He has driven me away and made me walk
   in darkness rather than light; 
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
   again and again, all day long.

  He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
   and has broken my bones. 

 He has besieged me and surrounded me
   with bitterness and hardship. 
He has made me dwell in darkness
   like those long dead.

  He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
   he has weighed me down with chains. 
Even when I call out or cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer. 
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
   he has made my paths crooked.

  Like a bear lying in wait,
   like a lion in hiding, 
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
   and left me without help. 
He drew his bow
   and made me the target for his arrows.

  He pierced my heart
   with arrows from his quiver. 
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
   they mock me in song all day long. 
He has filled me with bitter herbs
   and given me gall to drink.

  He has broken my teeth with gravel;
   he has trampled me in the dust. 
I have been deprived of peace;
   I have forgotten what prosperity is. 
So I say, ‘My splendor is gone
   and all that I had hoped from the LORD.’

  I remember my affliction and my wandering,
   the bitterness and the gall. 
I well remember them,
   and my soul is downcast within me (Lamentations 3:1-20).”

 This is where I find myself at this stage of my life, right smack in the third chapter of Lamentations. If this is true, though, then I have a bright future.

God has allowed all this into my life for His reasons.

Jeremiah understood this. He didn’t end his lament with a pity party. He thought of the dance to come, and this gave him an expectation of better things from God:

 “Yet this I call to mind
   and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.

 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. 
I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.’

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him; 
it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD (Lamentations 3:21-27).”

Love in this world is as flawed as life itself. Furthermore, this world’s love will come to an end.

On the other hand, God and His love won’t ever end. In the middle of my own lament, this gets me out of bed in the morning.

My dance partner God awaits.

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” ‘If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer (Matthew 21:22’).”

I’m a big fan of  the alternate history fiction genre. All you have to do is twist one little thing in the real story, and you have yourself an intriguing book. The story unfolds like the true history, it’s just that the reality is affected by the change.

In one book I am reading, one of the characters is an American woman stuck in Berlin at the beginning of the Second World War.  American is neutral, but the Nazi government won’t let her out.

Not only that, but every few blocks some policeman or Nazi stops her and asks for her papers. No particular reason; they are just enjoying their petty power.

The woman, Peggy Druce, tries to go to a German ally and actually gets an official to give her a visa to enter that country. However, at another stop in the Berlin bureaucracy she is denied an exit visa.  The American Embassy officer she complains to explains that Peggy is having this trouble only because these little dictators like to say “NO”.

The power game was not limited to the enemy side during World War II. The true history of that conflict notes that the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor may have been thwarted if some government and military personnel acted on what they knew.

In one telling episode from the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora” (based on the facts of the attack), a U.S. Navy ship sinks a midget Japanese submarine trying to enter Pearl Harbor. The commanding offer of the ship passes along the news, but he is ignored.

The officer in charge of passing on the information from the communication desk  insists on confirmation. He just doesn’t believe the officer of the ship, since this man is new at his command. Plus, you get the idea since it’s Sunday morning, he just doesn’t want to be bothered.

The soldier at the communication desk is flustered and tells the officer in charge that he believes the information ought to be passed up the chain of command.  The officer yells into the phone,”I want confirmation!”, and hangs up.

Later, both the communication officer and the officer who refused to pass along the news are looking out the window watching the conflagration of ships smoking and blowing up.  The communication officer looks at his colleague and saracastically says,”Is this confirmation enough for you?”

I think we Christians believe God doesn’t listen to us.  We view Him as the kind of  petty bureaucrat described in the above stories. 

In a form of cyclical cause and effect our  lack of trust in the Object of our requests actually brings about what we fear: God in fact doesn’t listen to us because of our unbelief.

Since we don’t listen to Him, He in fact doesn’t listen to us. He made this clear to the people of Israel in ancient times when He shouted:

 ” Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
   For the LORD has spoken:
‘I reared children and brought them up,
   but they have rebelled against me. 
The ox knows its master,
   the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
   my people do not understand.’…(Isaiah 1:2,3).

The prophet likened these rebellious Israelites to the infamous people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who God fried with fire and sulphur because of their heinous acts, which were  totally out of character with what He desired:

 “Unless the LORD Almighty
   had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
   we would have been like Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9).”

Here’s what God said to these people:

“When you spread out your hands in prayer,
   I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
   I am not listening (Isaiah 1:15).”

When Jesus showed up hundreds of years later, the descendants of these Israelites hadn’t seemed to improved much in their belief. They denied His authority as well.

Jesus tried to show them who He was. He fulfilled prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He  entered the temple of God and raised a ruckus, telling the people there that they had turned His house of prayer into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:4-13).

All these folks could do at Jesus’s demonstrations was to complain about the children who were praising Him, which in their minds was blasphemy.  He replied to this whinery by asking:

“Have you never read,’From the lips of children and infants
   you, Lord, have called forth your praise’ (Matthew 21:16b)?”

Even Jesus’s disciples didn’t understand the authority God the Son had to do things, even the simplest ones. When he blighted a fig tree in a flash, they were amazed (Matthew 21:18-20).”

The things recorded about the Israelites and their descendants are not alternate history. They really happened.

They should be a warning to us, but I don’t think we believers today are much better, at least I’n not. We pray and hope for answers, but in our heart of hearts we think we’re just whistling in the wind to a God who acts arbitrarily and on a whim. It makes you wonder why we are called “believers”.

We see God as a minor potentate instead who may or may not care to hear, just like our human autocrats do.  What a pity.

Unlike our tight-fisted, small-minded bosses, rulers, officials and functionaries, God is the loving, generous sovereign of the universe. What He says goes, and He’s just waiting to help us out.

Believing this truth is a prerequisite to having our prayer requests  listened to and answered.  If we understand God is good AND the majestic Magistrate of the cosmos, we will run to Him with joy with our issues, requests for assistance, and “stuff”.

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“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship  and said:’Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;  may the name of the LORD be praised.’  In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:20-22).”

I have been back from Europe for a little over a year now, and it has been a tough adjustment.  Frankly, my life was easier over there.

I don’t want to romanticize my experience in the country of Finland where I lived.  Life was difficult there, too.

However, the “go-go-go” of American culture has gotten to me.  Half the time I feel I have been given the bum’s rush. 

I can relate to the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s song “Free Man in Paris”.

“The way I see it he said, you just can’t win it
Everybody’s in it for their own gain, you can’t please ’em all
There’s always somebody calling you down
I do my best and I do good business
There’s a lot of people asking for my time
They’re tryin’ to get ahead
They’re tryin’ to be a good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody callin’ me up for favors
And no ones future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on
Stokin’ the star maker machinery behind the popular song

I deal in dreamers and telephone screamers
Lately I wonder what I do it for, if I had my way
I’d just walk through those doors, and wander
Down the Champs Elysees
Going cafe to cabaret, thinking how I’d feel when I find
That very good friend of mine.”

I know why I came back to the USA. I needed to be a responsible husband and father.  My wife and I both felt this was the best place for our family.

Hindsight is always “20-20”, but if  I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would have made the move.  I’ve given up a quiet life for the pressure inherent in American life.

I always wanted to go overseas, all of my life in fact. My prayers were answered when I had the opportunity.

I fulfilled that dream. Unfortunately, the dream sometimes turned into a nightmare over there, too.

The above diatribe reflects that I have again picked up the American male malady. It’s called “whining”.

David Geffen unfortunately had the misfortune of having his whine immortalized by Joni Mitchell.  The latter wrote “Free Man in Paris” after talking with him.

Sufjan Stevens has commented on the origin of this song:

“Some of her best songs embark on the persona of conversation, capturing the voice of the people she observed around her. Did her friends tiptoe around the vigilant songwriter, worried they may one day be rendered in the inquisition of a song? If so, Joni’s radio hit ‘Free Man in Paris’ may have been music entrepreneur David Geffen’s worst nightmare. The song is built around Geffen’s own words, laid out verbatim, in quotes, taken, perhaps, from some offhand remark he let slip in passing: a cool, condescending diatribe against the headaches of the music industry.

If taken at his word (or Joni’s translation, per se), Geffen comes off an as A&R curmudgeon, wary of the tedium of Hollywood, pining for the romance of Paris. The obvious irony, of course, is that Geffen’s indignation is aimed at the very industry he helped create.”

David Geffen’s experience brings to mind that of a man named Zechariah. They both epitomize the saying,”Be careful what you wish for” (or perhaps pray for).

Zechariah also had the misfortune of having part of his story immortalized, in the Bible no less:

“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.  But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

  Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,  for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’

 The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.’

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.  When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak (Luke 1:5-22).”

I think it must be tough to be an angel. In addition to people being scared out of their wits when you show up, they don’t believe you, even when you carry a message from God.

Gabriel probably had been given some leeway by the Lord in terms of how he handled Zechariah’s response. So ole Gabe decided to shut him up for a while. Gabriel, who sang with the angels, had had enough of hearing the human whine.

We ask God to do the impossible, and when He does it, we don’t care for the results. It’s a wonder God hasn’t sent the lightning down a long time ago.

I would have. But he’s God, with infinite patience.

The next time I get my prayers answered, I ought to avoid whining about the consequences. After all, God in His love deemed it appropriate to give me what I asked for.

So what if the results weren’t what I expected. It’s not His fault.

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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?  My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust;  they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame (Psalm 22:1-5).”

I collect baseball caps. Over the years I have obtained numerous hats that have some meaning for me.

I have also lost a lot of them. One load was left behind in a Middle Eastern country after I left there at the last minute. Other caps have just been misplaced.

For example, a friend of mine took me to a professional football game and gave me a cap of the home team.  I loaned it to my teenage daughter one rainy day, and she lost it.

That story has a happy ending, though. After several months my daughter came to me and told me she had found the cap my friend had given me. 

I believe this was not just a coincidence. I had put a list of caps I wanted on my prayer list and it included a replacement for the cap my daughter had lost. Instead, the Lord gave me back the original cap!

For years I have wanted a cap from my alma mater.  A couple months ago I reunited with a classmate from my university days and he had brought me, unsolicited, a cap and shirt from our old school.

I hadn’t put this cap specifically on my list. However, the Lord did more than I had asked for. Fancy that!

A couple weeks ago I was caught between a rock and a hard place in my circumstances, and I uttered out to God these words:”Lord, what am I going to do?”. The small, quiet voice of God seemed to reply,”Pray specifically.”

I tend to pray generally. My prayers are more of the “bless my job” variety. Instead, I believe the Lord was telling me to be very detailed in my prayer life.

There’s historical precedent for this kind of praying. One of my heroes is George Muller, who is famous for this kind of effective prayer.

When I believed I had gotten this message from God about praying specifically, I picked up his biography in the church library. I think this must be at least the third time I have read the story of this saintly man’s life.

The author, A.T. Pierson, notes this about Muller: “And of George Muller it may well be said that he was to be, for more than 70 years, the man who conspicuously looked up to heaven to learn what he was to do. Prayer for direct, divine guidance  in every crisis, great or small, was to be the secret of his whole career.”

In the last couple of weeks I have seen some answers to my more specific praying. I have already mentioned in an earlier post the intervention of a believing brother who volunteered to take care of a glaring need for my family. Indeed, he called last night to remind me of his wish to help.

One item on my prayer list is “meat”.  We need more protein in our diet. But meat is not cheap these days. However, on two occasions this past week we have obtained healthy, good meat at no cost to us.

One of the reasons George Muller became such a prayer warrior was because he witnessed a man praying on his knees the night he was converted. According to Pierson, Muller made praying in this fashion a cornerstone of his life.

The apostle Paul also was a man of great faith. Even at his conversion he knew He needed to ask God for specific, clear guidance in everything.

He once gave testimony to this to an unruly mob in Jerusalem. Here is his story from the book of Acts:

 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me.  I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

  “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

  “ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.  My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

  “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

   “ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’  My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

  “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.  He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth.  You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.  And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance  and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’

 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you.  And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles (Acts 22:6-21).’ ”

Paul communicated with God, and he listened for His reply, even at the beginning of His new life in Christ. God answered his prayers, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly through other  believers. 

Even when no one else will come to our aid, God is availabe in prayer. The Psalmist wrote a prayer of his own that illustrates this truth: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help (Psalm 22:11).”

In addition to God giving specific prayer answers from His own hand and at from the efforts of  other believers,the Lord sometimes uses us as the answer to our own requests.

As a biblical scholar, the apostle Paul had to be familiar with the exhortation of the Psalmist to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).” I am sure Paul had to have prayed this prayer himself. It is more than ironic that in one case he sought to bring peace to a crazy crowd in this city.

Perhaps I have discovered the source of my ineffective prayer life. Through the voice of God Himself, and through the lives of my predecessors in Christ, I have learned that I need to be very specific in my prayers to God.

I believe He delights in giving me answers to even the little requests in my life. They’re not small to Him because they are coming from me.Like a father with a child, He loves me and takes pleaure in giving me good things.

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