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Archive for the ‘God’s grace’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the words of an old hymn:

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

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

The final stanza of the aforementioned hymn says it all:

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

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“Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said.’Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ (John 8:10-11)

I am taking a risk and writing on a topic that probably could create a lot of misunderstanding. My subject today is a lingerie model.

This particular 23-year old lady was a huge success in her industry. She won a contest over 10,000 other models to get a job with a world famous agency.

She rocketed to the top.

The young lady is publishing a book this spring that is creating quite a stir. It details how she turned from fame and riches to God.

That’s all well and good I suppose, but Christian males should probably be staying away from stories about lingerie models, God followers or not.

Well, perhaps to my credit (or not), I only scanned the story until I pondered whether to write about this woman.  I write for a religious-oriented media outlet and even thought of detailing her story in an article for them.

However, again I demurred because I didn’t want people to think badly of me. Besides, I didn’t know what me editor would think.

What tipped the scales regarding my thoughts about discussing her in print was when an old high school classmate posted her story on his Facebook page and began mocking her.

The lady’s story does at first glance smack of self righteousness. But it is worth looking at because of what it teaches about God.

As she related her story, the woman told how she had attended what she called a “party” at age 15. It was a church youth group actually, and there she learned that Jesus died for her sins.

She was amazed at that.

Yet, she continued to pursue modeling.  She went to New York and hung around other models, including one Christian.

She began to gain success in the modeling industry.

The young woman’s story seems to show that she was already having pangs of conscience about what she did for a living.

For example, she said that she didn’t drink or spend the night with older men like her other peers. The  young Christian model felt sorry for the girls around her who did all this but didn’t seem happy.

One of them was bulimic.

 

She says that although she was going to church and reading the Bible, she wanted to succeed in the modeling industry. So she posed in some racy photos. She was 16.

Then she met a handsome man  on a trip to Mexico with her parents. This man prayed before meals.

She learned he was a Christian her father knew from work. Her father was a poker dealer when was 8, but doesn’t mention if he was at the time.

Even so, she grew up in Las Vegas and all the billboards of half-naked women gave her a concept of beauty that drew her to the modeling life.

But I regress.

She met this Christian man at 18 and married the fellow the next year. She gave up her career in New York.

However, when she was given a flyer about the famous (or infamous) lingerie agency hosting a competition, her husband encouraged her to go for it. She admitted that even though she was growing in her relationship with God and was a newlywed, she didn’t think twice about “strutting her stuff” in the competition.

However, over the next two years she decided that she was being a bad influence on young girls and was convicted about selling sex.

She sent out a Tweet announcing she was quitting the modeling business. The young woman gave up millions of dollars and  even turned down a gig on an extremely popular prime time television dancing  show.

She now lives in Montana with her husband and is planning a Christian clothing line which contains modest clothes. The young lady is also releasing a book called “I’m No Angel”.

She wants to be a role model from here on out.

(“Angel” was the title given to the women modeling lingerie for the company she worked for.)

When I read the aformentioned Facebook post I replied this way:

 I agree with you  that this woman appeared to be pretty immature at the time. Her husband as well. I read the article on her. In all fairness, though, like many people who come to faith in Christ, over time she began to see that what she was doing did not coincide with her new beliefs. So whether or not one agrees with her faith, at least she should be applauded for not being a hypocrite.

What followed was a couple more mocking  posts (not at me, but at her)  and even a blasphemy. At least one woman “liked” what I had to say.

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“As a father has compassion  on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13,14).”

If there has been one mantra in the eight years Dr. Gregory House has been around to utter his philosophies it is,”People don’t change.”  This is why the conclusion of the TV drama”House” was so suprising.

In the final episode House apparently is on a typical path to self destruction, except this time he seems to definitely intend to do himself in for good. This is so he can avoid having to go back to prison for violating his parole.

His suicide is apparently prompted also by the fact that he can’t be there in the last months for his dying friend, Dr. James Wilson, because he has to go back to jail. Wilson has five months to live and House’s remaining sentence lasts six.

As he lies on the floor of a burning warehouse, injured and stoned on heroin, House is arguing with an hallucination. Dr. Cameron, a former subordinate and love interest, is telling him that he is cowardly.

The Cameron in House’s mind is telling him that he is just debating with her as the place burns down around them to let the time pass so he doesn’t have to decide whether to get out and live or just pass on in  the flames, as she is suggesting he does. (He’s earned the right to die and leave this world of pain, she has told him.)

“You’re afraid of this decision, and you are trying to argue until fate takes it out of your hands. You’re taking the cowardly way out. And worse… you’re too cowardly to even admit you’re taking the cowardly way out”, the imaginary Cameron tells House..

House replies,”You’re right. But I can change.” For someone like me who has watched the series for years, this statement comes as a shock. As noted above, this violates a major House life principle.

House stands up to go, yet apparently is too late. The flames seemingly engulf him.

However, as we viewers learn later, he has escaped out the back door. He has faked his death.

Wilson, giving a warped eulogy at House’s funeral, thinks at that point that House is dead by his own drugged out hand.  House’s friend tells the funeral patrons:

“House was an ass. He mocked anyone —patients, co-workers, his dwindling friends — anyone who didn’t measure up to his insane ideals of integrity. He claimed to be on some heroic quest for truth, but the truth is, he was a bitter jerk who liked making people miserable. And he proved that by dying selfishly, numbed by narcotics, without a thought of anyone. A betrayal of everyone who cared about him.  A million times he needed me, and the one time that I needed him…”

Those who have followed “House” over the years would wholeheartedly agree with Wilson’s summation of the curmudgeonly doctor’s character. However, even as he speaks he is getting a text from House that says,”Shut up you idiot.”

Wilson understands from the text that House is alive and well.  He leaves the funeral and meets up with him. When Wilson sees House, he tells him:

You’re destroying your entire life. You can’t go back from this. You’ll go to jail for years. You can never be a doctor again.

House replies,”I’m dead, Wilson. How do you want to spend your last five months?”

The reason House has decided to go on and has engineered this whole circumstance is so he can be there for Wilson. For once, House does something completely out of character, unselfishly giving up his future and right to die (if he wanted to) for his friend. Apparently, people can change, at least according to the writers of this series, who have spoken the opposite through Gregory House for the last several years.

At least they posed the question.  Their portrayal of Dr. House over the years does beg the question,”Can people really change?”

Pastor Bob Merritt was faced with this question when he was confronted by a leadership consultant hired by his church. Merritt had been ordered by his church board to undergo counseling by a man Merritt calls “Fred” as a condition of further employment.

Merritt had watched his church grow from 350 to several thousand in two decades. However, as he describes in his book “When Life’s Not Working”, his method of leadership was brusque and unrelational.

Merritt had to listen to Fred and his assistant read a two hundred page document bearing the results of interviews with friends, family and coworkers which revealed his faults. For two days.

Merritt told Fred, who worked around the country with numerous CEOS, “I don’t know if I can change”.  Fred told him that statistically only 40% of his clients did. The other 60% percent stumbled on to things like lost marriages and careers.

“When Life’s Not Working” reveals that Merritt is one who did change. The key to it, he says, is humility: take the negative feedback you get seriously.

Merritt says two things drive people to consider change: fear and pain. Apparently Dr. House was confronted by both in that warehouse and decided to finally change.

Last week I was also debating with myself if I would ever change. I am not much older than Merritt, who is 53. When you get to this age, change is difficult.

I was fed up with my lack of progress in my character. As a Christian, I was hoping for much more transformation by this time.

I have had the chance recently to do a little gospel sharing with friends, and it occurred to me that I ought to share the gospel with myself to see if I was truly in the faith, or at least to help me review the fundamentals of Christianity.

So as I fought with myself over whether or not I could change, I did that. I sat on my sofa and reviewed some key principles:

* All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory , including me (Romans 3:23);

* The payback for sin is death, both spiritually and eventually physically (Romans 6:23);

* It is appointed for men to face God’s judgment after they die (Hebrews 9:27)

* God sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins so we wouldn’t have to face this judgment, proving His love (Romans 5:8);

* Jesus not only died, but He rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-5);

* His resurrection is for me, too, if I accept it through believing in Him (John 11:25,26).

* Believing in Jesus  means receiving Him and entering into his family (John 1:9,10);

* This salvation from my sins and death is not because of my performance, but is a gift that I need to accept by faith (Ephesians 2:8.9).

Jesus illustrated the nature of his salvation when some religious leaders brought him an adulterous woman. Here is the account from the Gospel of John:

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11)

When I get to heaven I want to ask Jesus what he was drawing in the dirt. Some people think he was listing the sins of the religious leaders who were ready to condemn the adulterous woman.

I don’t know, but I am wondering if he was reminding Himself that we humans are indeed dust. This realization of that Jesus understands my frailties as a human being relieves my soul.

Although I want to pursue his command to “sin no more” and change, I am grateful that He cuts me some slack. This makes me love Jesus even more and want to become the best person I can be for Him.

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“When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it;  the light of my face was precious to them (Job 29:24).”

I think six months of winter is a little much, even for the Finns. Finally, today I have seen the possibility that it might be over.

As I walked by the largest lake in the country around noon, I could see pools of water developing. They were intermingled with the ever -weakening ice and the last vestiges of the white snow that has dominated the landscape here for months.

I groaned inwardly as I walked through the harbor in my town.  Having any winter the last week of April made me long for something different.

I also sighed inside because the icy lake, though beginning to turn liquid again, reminded me of my own soul. After a lifetime I have grown tired of the winter in my being and at last have begun to see my frozen spirit begin to melt.

These feelings come on a day that it seems major issues in my life all confronted me at once. This tends to happen when a computer is used. Too much communication, or perhaps not enough real life.

Recently a pastor told me that I was just “going through a season in my life”. When it was obvious to him that I was getting ready to object, that nothing was going to change, he added,”Oh, this doesn’t mean necesarrily that your circumstances will change, but…”.

I don’t remember the rest. I probably can’t recall because I was stuck on the unsettling truth of his first clause just sinking in.

Today I am fed up with myself. Not only that, I am disillusioned with the world I live in every day, including the features of modern-day Christianity.

I guess I’m not alone in that. Andrew Sullivan just wrote a piece in Newsweek advising Christians to follow Jesus and not the church.

No news there. The letters to the editor in the following edition both praised him and criticized him for his article.

I guess I am feeling a bit singled out today though, perhaps by Jesus Himself. I ask,”What I want to know, Lord, is why I have to keep paying the price for my sinfulness and other believers I know seem to be getting a pass?”

I know for a fact that they struggle with the same stuff I do: temper, sexual temptation, greed, envy, self indulgence…the list could go on and have made the same mistakes as a result of failing in these areas. Yet, these folks seem to be carrying on, their smiling Facebook images glaring out at me each day.

I, on the other hand, have to pay the piper for my lifetime of not really following Jesus all the way. Without going into detail in public print, let’s just say I have a bunch of messes, mostly originating from the biggest cesspool in my life: my heart.

I cry with the Psalmist,”My problems are going from bad to worse (Psalm 25:17a).”  (He adds pleadingly,”Save me from them all!”)

These same people who are getting a free ride on their sins, from my point of view anyway, are not shy about telling the rest of us what to do about ours. (I don’t know, even as I write that it seems a little unfair. I do the same thing-trying to play God in the lives of others.)

What I wonder is if my earthly life can still be redeemed. I am beginning to feel like one of my favorite fictional characters, Dr. Gregory House-the king of curmdgeons.

House consistently displays his flaws from week-to-week in the TV drama that bears his name. Into his eighth and final season, it doesn’t appear as if the not-so-good doctor will ever change.

He is left with only one loving aspect it seems. This was revealed recently as he dealt with one of his colleagues, Dr. Robert Chase.

Chase is about to tell a nun who had previously struggled with her beliefs that her renewed faith and desire to return to the convent has to do with a chemical reaction to her brain from a near-death experience, not a spiritual awakening. Chase has fallen in love with the nun and wants to keep her.

But he has his own issues, which House sees right through. It’s not that House is particularly religious -far from it.  He just realizes Chase would be making a big mistake, trying to bring the woman back to him for all the wrong reasons.

For one, Chase himself has just had a near death experience. A few weeks before a patient nearly stabbed him to death.

Chase defends his rationale and attacks House for his intent to bring him to his senses:

Chase (to House): She’s throwing away her life because of blind faith.

House: So are you! She’s found something she wants to build her life around. It’s a total illusion, but apparently she’ll take a little ignorance with her bliss. And you want to take that away?

Chase: How many times have you thrown the truth in people’s faces?

House: Because it’s the truth, not because we’re gonna live happily ever after.

House: Either your relationship just blows up like every other non-magical romance, or she stays with you but blames you for stripping all the meaning out of her life.

Chase: (angrily) This has nothing to do with the truth. You don’t like that I’m reassessing my life, that I want to change it, that I can.

House: Anyone can screw up a life. I never said that wasn’t possible.

Chase: You’re incapable of human connection, so you want everyone to be like you.

House: If I wanted you to be like me… I would be urging you to make a stupid, stubborn decision that blows up your life and leaves you lonely and miserable. You reassess your life when you’ve made mistakes. You didn’t. You just got stabbed. 

Thus, the only goodness that can come from House after a life of curmdugeonliness is to tell someone else,”Don’t be like me!”.

I am hoping my life isn’t so far gone that I end up being some old guy who tells young whippernsnappers,”Do as I say, not as I do (or did).”

What I discovered though as I walked through the harbor today is that what really matters is what Jesus Christ thinks of me, not what others, even those closest to me, think. More than that, what He thinks of me is more crucial than what I think of myself.

What I know is that Jesus died to give me grace. He paid the price for my sins, past, present and future.

Can this aging leopard change his spots at this date (Jeremiah 13:23). I don’t know, but if any transformation is going to come about, it is going to happen through completely turning my life over to the care of Jesus.

So instead of looking at my dirty smudges, and the frowns of those around me who don’t care much for them either, I think it’s best I just look into the face of Christ. There I’ll get a smile.

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 “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—  he who watches over you will not slumber;  indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore (Psalm 121:2-8).”

Gregory House, the doctor on the TV series that bears his surname, is appearing before Dr. Cofield.  House is being questioned by Cofield about a mecial case that went terribly awry.

House defends himself: “My process is proven. Good things usually happen. Bad things sometimes happen.”

Cofield replies: “And when bad things happen, we should figure out what went wrong, so we can learn from it and correct it.”

House isn’t buying it. He has been around long enough to develop his view on such matters.

House disagrees, telling Cofield tartly,”So that we can assign blame instead of recognizing that bad things sometimes happen. It was nobody’s fault.”

The “it” was the near death of House’s colleague and subordinate Dr. Chase. He was stabbed with a scalpel in the heart by a patient who went berserk.

Dr. Cofield hears the testimony of House’s team and learns of the manaical methods he uses. He comes to the conclusion that the case was a fiasco.

Cofield determines that House is responsible for setting an atmosphere that led to the stabbing, even though the team agrees with their boss that the stabbing was “nobody’s fault”. House is only saved from being suspended and sent back to prison because it would constitute a parole violation by the last minute testimony of the wife of the patient who knifed Chase.

The patient was transferred to another hospital, but his wife tells Cofield that House told her of the cause of his problems as he was being taken away and has saved his life. Cofield suddently switches what appeared to be a guilty verdict to one exonerating House.

Surpisingly, House calls Cofield a coward and tells him he only declared the situation as nobody’s fault because of some spouse’s bursting into the room and intervening. This is surpising. House is a curmudgeon and has never been one to admit mistakes.

However, down deep he does care,, and he blames himself for what happened to Chase. In the end, House goes to Chase, who is going through physical therapy in order to walk again.

House uncharacteristically says to Chase,”Cofield says what happened to you was nobody’s fault. He was wrong. I am sorry.”

House has experienced a sense of shame and tries to deal with it. Since the beginning of the episode he has been transformed to saying that what happened was “nobody’s fault” to admitting his guilt.

Erwin Lutzer, the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago,  says that there are two kinds of shame. One is the objective shame we experience before God, who justly calls our actions “sin”.

Then there is subjective shame. This comes from our experiences. For example, we may be shamed because of being abused in a terrible home while growing up.

Lutzer says shame began at the Fall. It was there that he says the “blame game” began.

 After the fall Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent.  

As a result, there is a defense mechanism in the human psyche that is going to say,”I am not responsible you are responsible”. Lutzer notes that some people are psychologically incapable of taking responsibility for their sins and their mistakes,and they will through ingenious  ways seek to  destroy all the people around them to protect themselves from exposure.

 Lutzer notes that society aids and abets this. It says to reconstruct the reality around us to exonerate ourselves from shame.

Shame, says Lutzer, is felt deeply and it can ruin us. Is it any wonder we go to such lengths to avoid it.

I find myself this day trying to make sense of shame. I was told today that my contract at my job would not be renewed.

Frankly, I saw it coming. My attitudes and responses to these circumstances have not been the best. I have been trying to exonerate myself and put the blame on others.

The truth is that the blame for my demise is difficult to ascertain.  I can’t decide if I was a victim of office politics or if I dug my own grave. Even so, there is shame.

In the last year I have learned an important lesson that I hope will help me deal with m job loss, at least in terms of my view of my identity. It involves having gained an understanding of whose land I live in.

Much of the world lives in what I call “the land of apples”. In this place, what matters is the plaudits of others, trophies and respect from men, and things like acclaim from your employer. I have decided that this land is not my home.

Where I try to live every day now is in “the land of oranges”. They are sweet oranges because Jesus lives there and runss the place. This country runs on the basis of His promises and His grace.

My thoughts fall in with Lutzer’s ideas about dealing with shame. He notes that Jesus took our shame on Himself.

Lutzer says His crucifixion was shameful. It destroyed His  reputation, silenced Him, exposd His obvious weaknesses, lead to His abandonment, and diminished Him (Hebrews 6:6).

In the midst of my shame at losing my job, it would be easy to go after some people. However, it is clear to me that this is not God’s way. It is better to entrust myself to His care.

Furthermore, my natural inclination would be to be shamed and beat myself up over today’s developments. This is fruitlless. What is fruit-full is to continue to live in the land of oranges as I have been training myself to do.

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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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” ‘I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’  The Lord, the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel, says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,  to the one who is the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.Princes will bow low because Lord has chosen you. He, the faithful Lord, the Holy One of Israel, chooses you’ ((Isaiah 49:6b-7, New Living Translation, Life Recovery Bible).”

The time between the first and second world wars of the 20th century was a period of languishing for some military officers.  This included the famous George S. Patton of the United States Army.

Patton chose as his career field the area of tanks. Unfortunately, until World War II, they went unappreciated.

Less well know was Fredric “Johnny” Walker of the Royal Navy. He devoted himself to anti-submarine warfare, which also was not held in high regard.

Indeed, when Walker went to a specialist course in this area after World War I, he was consigning himself to a backwater of military prestige.  The field of anti-submarine warfare was a dead end when it came to glamour and promotion.

Walker spent years on the Big Ships. He became disillusioned with his peacetime service.

What was worse for Walker was the view his superiors had toward him in the 1930s prior to World War II. He received poor evaluation reports.

One of these was given  by a commander-in-chief in the Far East. Walker was the commander of his personal yacht, a post not suited for the purposeful officer.

Eventually, Walker was able to get back into anti-submarine research prior to the outbreak of hostilities. However, it was not until German U-boats began to strangle Britain that the military brass began to pay attention to him and his area of expertise.

In the biography of Walker called “The Fighting Captain”, author Alan Burns says that no one did more than Captain Walker to regain control of the North Atlantic. In the Foreword to the book, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin writes, “Captain Johnny Walker’s contribution to the winning of the shipping war was immeasurable.”

Indeed, Walker was something of an unsung hero of World War II. Burns notes that no one generally knows how close Britain was to being brought to its knees because of the success of the U-boats. 

In summary, Frederic Walker was a disrespected nobody until he was reborn during the greatest challenge of his life and his generation. His role during World War II changed everything for him.

When you are young as Walker was when he was an ambitious young midshipman, you are full of hopes about the future. Greatness lies before you.

Then “life happens” and you find yourself in middle age (or worse) staring at the walls and wondering what happened. All those hopes and dreams never materialized, and your kids are closer to 30 than you are.

The Bible is full of the stories of men and women who received promises and dreams from God, and then came up against reality. As they moved out into life, these messages from the Lord seemed to be a distant drummer.

For example, Abraham was told to move his brood to Palestine. It is commonly called “The Promised Land” because God has promised it to him.

The Life Recovery Bible notes that Abraham didn’t see much when he arrived. The country was ravaged by famine. He must have had a few questions.

Joseph had a dream as a teenager that he would be lord of his brothers. The next thing he knew, he was stewing in a prison in Egypt for several years.

To his credit, the Life Recovery Bible says of Joseph,”…through all his trials, Joseph remained faithful to God. It would have been easy for him to start playing the victim and just give up.”

It is impossible to know how Jesus felt exactly in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, the Scriptures give us some idea.

Jesus sweated blood. Matthew 26 tells us he said to his closest friends,”My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”

The friends of Jesus fell asleep. They were a nonfactor in his suffering. This wasn’t very helpful to a man with a crushed soul.

Jesus was alone. His anguish was so great he asked His Father if perhaps there could be a Plan B, something other than dying for the sins of the whole world.

Theologians make note that Jesus took the shame and guilt of our failures on Himself at the Cross. Could it be that those emotions of taking the sin of the world on Himself began in the Garden, as He experienced insurmountable grief and hopelessness?

Jesus didn’t deserve such treatment, but like Joseph he did not give up.  He fulfilled His mission, rose from the dead and can offer eternal life to us instead of the death he was facing in the Garden.

Jesus knew that in this life that He had to die before life would come. He said before His crucificixion:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)

 It seem in this temporal life that we do have to face death as Jesus did, before we reach the promised resurrection, and we have to do it every day. All the self-made garbage has to go. (Luke 9:23; I Corinthians 15:31).

Letting go of this stuff is painful and gut wrenching. We have to face it and feel the shame over it before we dispense with it. We have to die.

Jesus added to the above statement about the necessity of His death: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:26)

For some of us, resurrection and honor seem to take a lifetime. We feel like Frederic Walker must have felt between the wars. We feel like life has passed us by and the hope of being useful to our God has vanished.

Here’s the hope people like us have. The Scriptures say that God does have a purpose for us and that we will glorify Him.

We don’t know how. Yet, the truth is that God has us in His quiver, as it were, holding back this special arrow. He’s waiting for the right moment to use it (Isaiah 49:1-3).

In the meantime, He polishes us, retools us, shapes us.  

Our experience in this sharpening and rebuilding in the plan of God is one of grief and frustration. God has given us His promises, but their fulfillment is nowhere to be found. Our whole lives seem to have been a waste:

 He said to me, “You are my servant,
   Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
   I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand,
   and my reward is with my God. (Isaiah 49:3,4)

We’re stuffed in God’s bag, with no light and no hope or purpose. What is God’s reply to this complaint?

 He says,”You’re time will come. Hang on. You’re an arrow in my quiver.”

Paul spent his life barking down the wrong tree until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Through our Lord’s grace, he redirected Paul in a moment of time and made him His messenger to the world of His day and ours (Acts 9:1-15).

To his world Paul was the missionary to the Gentiles, who did not know anything about God. To us, he is the author of a great deal of the New Testament by which we live.

Remember the pickup games as a child when captains chose their teammates? In the game of life, Jesus chose Paul. He chose Abraham and Joseph, too.

Guess what? Today, He chooses you and me, also. You can’t lose if you are on Jesus’s team!

 It’s tough feeling like a loser. The University of Virginia football team, the Wahoos, usually mediocre, won a big game against a ranked opponent yesterday.

Their coach Mike London told Sports Illustrated of the effect of the victory:

“This is one of those wins that can change the perception of what you think about yourself,” the second-year coach said. “Last-second play against Indiana. Last-second play against Idaho. Overtime. But this is one of those wins against a good team with a lot of accomplishments that you can try to turn the corner on, about how you think about yourself.”

This is how I feel about the truth that Jesus chooses me. I have gone from being one of the world’s all time losers to a winner. It changes everything I think about myself and my future.

Wahoo!

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