Archive for the ‘holiness’ Category

 “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked .’I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ (Acts 9:3-6)

Marcus Vinicius is a hothead.  He is also impulsive.

These traits are not curious considering he is a young Roman general. He wants what he wants and he has the authority to get it.

And in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis , what he wants is a woman named Lygia.  She is the adopted daughter of a retired general, and technically a prisoner, as she was captured in war.

Marcus pursues Lygia, but she rejects his advances even though she is attracted to him. Lygia is a Christian, devoted to her Master, and doesn’t see much of a future with this renowned, yet pagan hero.

The young lady’s beliefs are no impediment for Marcus, however. He offers to build a large cross monument in honor of her religion.

Lygia tries to explain to Marcus that Christianity is a matter of the soul, not one of symbols.  Finally agreeing to marry Marcus, she lets on that not only is he in her heart, but Jesus is there too.

Marcus doesn’t get it, though. He thinks he has to share Lygia’s love with a dead man. Even the Apostle Paul, who is in the room with Lygia and Marcus, cannot persuade Marcus of the truth.

In typical fashion, Marcus become angry. As a final demonstration before leaving Lygia’s presence, he rips a cross ornament off her wall and breaks it in two.

Eventually both Marcus and Lygia become caught up in the persecutions of Nero, who has conjured up a fable in which the Christians are blamed for the burning of Rome, which he himself instigated.  Lygia is thrown in jail with many other Christians.

Marcus ends up in the same prison with her for opposing Nero’s persecution. He’s not a  Christian, but he has no love for the crazy emperor’s injustices.

The jail is adjacent to the arena where prisoners are sacrificed to the lions. One by one the Christians are marched out to die.

According to tradition, on the road from Rome  the Apostle Peter met the resurrected Jesus. He asked his Savior,”Where are you going” (Quo Vadis in Latin)?  Jesus told Peter that he was going to Rome to be crucified all over again, obviously a reference to what is happening to His disciples, who Nero is nailing to trees and lighting on fire.  Peter thus gained the strength to return to Rome, where he is eventually crucified on a cross upside down.

In the movie Quo Vadis, the imprisoned Peter comforts  Christians before they face the lions.  They march into the stadium singing, causing consternation in Nero.

Marcus, Lygia and the latter’s giant bodyguard Ursus  are the last to enter. This is because Nero’s wife Poppaea has arranged a special death for them.  She is angry with Marcus for rejecting her advances and jealous of Lygia.

The plan for extinguishing the lives of the three doesn’t involve lions, though. Poppaea has produced a special show for Nero and the crowd.

Before going out to their presumed murders, Marcus explains to Lygia his continued questions about her Christian beliefs. Lygia sees that he may doubt, but als that he is a seeker. She encourages him by telling him that Christ is in his heart more than he knows.

Now in the stadium, Lygia is tied to a stake (her own cross) .  A bull is let into the arena. In between the girl and a death by goring is the powerful Ursus.

Ursus puts up a good fight, but is obviously no match for the final battle with the bull.  However,  something amazing occurs.

Marcus has been brought out in bonds to observe the death of his beloved. As he watches the struggle of Ursus he prays,”Christ, give him strength.”

Ursus defeats the bull, much to the crowd’s delight. Eventually, Marcus and Lygia leave Rome together to begin a new life, an implied one of faith.

The character Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis is illustrative of how faith in Jesus is not necessarily something that comes like a lightning bolt. In Marcus’s case, his coming to belief in Christ was a journey.

His path began with outright opposition to a religion he did not grasp. It culminated in a decision  to step out in trust and call on this Jesus  in whom his beloved believed.

The catalyst for this prayer was his desire to save Lygia from a horrible physical death. Whatever his motivation, his pleas to Jesus showed that his faith in the power of God was genuine. After all, Marcus was a general and understood power.

What Marcus experienced is described by the Apostle Paul. He describes our experience as similar to that of a person who has had a veil removed. Once it is gone, we see God more and more clearly and are transformed to His likeness (II Corinthians 3:18).

Marcus’s experience is different from that of  Paul, however.  While the apostle, himself blinded in terms of faith in Christ, had come to the Lord in a flash, Marcus’s route is more circuitous.

The long journey of Marcus to faith is comforting to me. As I slide down the other side of middle age, I am distraught over my mistakes in life and how dense I have been in not seeing my unbelief and flaws earlier.

For example, I have been reading a  book recently about a certain aspect of the Christian life. In it are surveys which basically help you to ascertain how you are doing in this particular area. I have been reading this book with some despair over what it has revealed about my life.

On the other hand, I know my only hope for true change lies in Jesus. Marcus Vinicius took a long time to figure this out, but God was patient with the general and drew this lost man to Himself.

I am putting my hope in Christ to do the same for me, especially  in this aforementioned area of need. Quo Vadis.

You choose. I’ll follow.



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You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,every knee will bow before me;  every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10,11).

Yesterday a young friend of mine, a former coworker, invited me to his place to play poker with his friends. I gladly obliged since I have always enjoyed visiting his home, talking with his father (who is my age) and messing around with his buddies.

A few hands after we got started, we were ushered into the kitchen where some sandwiches and cookies were waiting. My friend’s mother kindly prepares a little spread  each time we have a game at their place.

As we were munching, my friend’s Dad began to bring out bottles of various spirits. He noted that he himself nor his son drank alcohol, but we were welcome to them.  The father noted the alcohol was so plentiful because he had been given bottles of it by former students and others.

My friend’s other two invited guests were regular drinkers. They had no trouble inbibing. I, on the other hand, am not a drinker except on rare occasions.

When the father mentioned cognac I became curious. I had never tasted what to me seemed to be kind of an elite beverage, and I wanted to try some, so I did.

Later, during our game, one of the drinking players took a short break and went home. He was busted and had to go get some more money.

When he returned he had some famous brand of Irish whiskey with him, and offered me a bit. As with the congac, I accepted the offer and noted how smooth this particular drink was.

As the game went on, I also found myself losing. Although I don’t play Texas Hold ‘Em much, losing to these guys was a new experience for me. I had won the pot the last two times I had played.

Luck I guess. We don’t play for much, but as I am on a tight budget I winced at even the few euros I was giving up.

As I have reflected on this past evening, I am curious about something. What has sparked my interest is my emotional reaction as  I:  was offered and drank alcoholic beverages;  lost money while playing cards.

What I experienced in my feelings last night was guilt. Why is that, I wondered?

In thinking about it, I have determined that my evangelical Christian background influenced my emotions.  It occurred to me to ask myself,”What if so and so knew about this (and certain influential Christians in my life popped up)?”

My reaction to my participation in last night’s events were not earth shattering. Indeed, I had a few sips  of alcohol only. Furthermore, my losses at poker were worth the expense in my view.

I thought,”Where else would I have had so much fun and had such good food and drink at these prices?” Yet, the guilt still floats through my subconscious.

Because of this, I have mentally been running through some biblical principles I know about such issues. For example, I know that the Scriptures make no probibition against drinking alcohol. It only speaks against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18).

I also know that the Bible exhorts believers in principle to not violate their consciences, nor to hurt weaker believers in their practices (Romans 14;13,22). In my case, I am pretty sure my guilt was not the result of the breaking of my conscience, only a reaction to what I believe some folks in the evangelical circles I hang around would think.

In fact, as I have thought further I have even patted myself on the back. I know we are to take care of our bodies as temples of God, and I refrained from the cigars offered (I Corinthians 6:19). I thought,”I have enough health issues. Why add to them by inhaling smoke into my lungs.”

Indeed, I even engaged in a little more analysis and judgment of my own.”Why, Dwight Moody, a hero of Christendom, was a smoker. If some people knew their Christian history, they wouldn’t be so smug.”

What is going on here in my heart? I think an episode of the TV medical drama “House” called “Love is Blind” has helped me to flesh this out.

A young blind  man named Will is brought into the care of Dr. House. While in the hospital he is visited by his girlfriend Melissa.

As the writers of this episode make clear, Melissa is quite controlling.  She treats Will like a child. This is perhaps because Will is a minority and blind and Melissa is a healthy young white woman.

 Will tells the doctors he intends to marry someone else he met while the couple were “taking a break” because of Melissa’s behavior.  “Most of the time she acts more like my mother than my girlfriend,” he tells the female Dr. Adams, who thinks Will is treating his girlfriend badly.

Indeed, Will breaks the news to Melissa during one of her “mothering” incidents that he is breaking up with her. She storms out of the hospital room distraught.

What I perceive in Christianity as it is practiced in some circles in America is this tendency for believers to “mother ” one another . I suppose it is only human nature for people to like to tell other people what they think is “good” for them, but Christians at times like to add the air of God’s authority in their pronouncements, as if they speak for the Almighty.

The truth is that in many cases they are only speaking for themselves and their opinions. Their understanding of what is good and not good for others may or may not be legitimate or appropriate, but they come across as if they bear the “Word of the Lord”.   Furthermore you get the impression that if you don’t follow their way of thinking, you’re be in their doghouse.

Will’s worsening condition provides the scaffolding for my teachable moment in relation to how believers ought to actually treat one another. The doctors determine that the right course of action to save the young man’s life, but it means he may lose his hearing in addition to still being blind.

When he learns the news, Will refuses treatment. He tells the doctors he has had enough of his suffering and can’t bear any more.

Enter Melissa with Dr. Adams. The script best bears out what happens next. 

Melissa: Will, it’s me.
Will: Let me guess. The doctor who thinks I’m an ass wants you to convince me to live.
Melissa: Yes.
Will: It won’t work.
Melissa: I know. So I won’t.
Will: Wow. You’re that angry?
Melissa: I’ve made enough decisions for you. This is your life.
Will: Why’d you come back?
Melissa: Because I love you. And I want to be with you for as long as I can.
Will: Melissa, I’m so scared.
[She moves from the doorway to his bedside and takes his hand.]
Melissa: Me too. I’ll always love you.
Will: Even if I was deaf?
Melissa: Even if anything.


This unconditional love moves Will. He accepts the “cure”, and the next morning asks Melissa to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts.

Melissa treated Will as an adult, allowing him to make his own decisions, including life or death ones. She no longer tried to manipulate him into the path she thought best.

The results of  Melissa’s course in this fictional drama were positive. Perhaps the end result won’t always be so rosy, but it would behoove believers in Jesus Christ to give each other the same kind of freedom.

If a person takes a public stand on some issue important to us, and especially if they are trying to influence others, we  have the right, perhaps even the duty, to oppose them. But on private matters of conscience, cutting each other some slack seems to be in order in my mind. 

A little less arrogance and a little more freedom of choice, “even if”,  would go a long way in today’s world. God Himself gives us that kind of freedom, so why don’t we do the same?

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“By day the LORD directs his love,at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life (Psalm 42:8).”

“I believe that you and me last forever
Oh yeah, all day and night-time yours, leave me never
The only time I feel alright is by your side” (The Kinks, All Day and All of the Night)

Sometimes life comes at me in themes. Today’s theme has to do with homophones.

For the non-linguist, a homophone as defined by Merriam Webster is “one of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (as the words to, too, and two).”  The homophone of the day is “chili”.

I bought some Mexican chili beans for dinner tonight to put on my wheat tortillas. I did this on the recommendation of a friend, who at the moment is something of my diet guru. (He is trying to help me get in shape.)

While I was out riding around with my personal trainer buddy and his friend today, a catchy song came on the radio. It was by a group called “Hot Chelle Rae”, which I learned of later. 

Homophone number two, right? Wrong. After hearing the song I decided to check up on its source, and found the middle term of the band’s moniker is pronounced like “Shell”, not “chili”. 

Finally, as is common in Finland at the end of September, it was “chilly” today. Homophone number 3-can anyone say “bingo!”?

The friend of the guy helping me lose weight has had a horrible week.  First, he had his wisdom teeth out, then he caught the flu. This is probably why Hot Chelle  Rae’s first lyrics from their song “Tonight, Tonight” immediately caught my attention as it came into the back seat of the car:

“It’s been a really really messed up week
Seven days of torture, seven days of bitter…”

My week hasn’t been anything like that, but as I sit here tonight writing this, I think of the lyrics of another song called “Tonight, Tonight”, this time by the Smashing Pumpkins. The lyrics have to do with change and the possibility of it.

“Time is never time at all
You can never ever leave without leaving a piece of youth
And our lives are forever changed
We will never be the same
The more you change the less you feel
Believe, believe in me, believe
That life can change, that you’re not stuck in vain
We’re not the same, we’re different tonight
Tonight, so bright
And you know you’re never sure
But you’re sure you could be right
If you held yourself up to the light
And the embers never fade in your city by the lake
The place where you were born
Believe, believe in me, believe
In the resolute urgency of now
And if you believe there’s not a chance tonight
Tonight, so bright
We’ll crucify the insincere tonight
We’ll make things right, we’ll feel it all tonight
We’ll find a way to offer up the night tonight
The indescribable moments of your life tonight
The impossible is possible tonight
Believe in me as I believe in you, tonight

What I am wondering is if I can truly change. The lyrics by Billy Corgan seem to say ‘yes”, if I hold myself up to the light and “believe”.

According to Roling Stone magazine,”Corgan is a romantic who believes in the redemptive power of love, but he’s also a cynic, having been constantly disappointed by those he loves.”  His song “Tonight, Tonight” is  said to “weave together a story of urgency and longing (AllMusic.com)”.

As I am getting older, the question to me is how to get unstuck and overcome the disappointment in myself and in life in general. If I don’t have the same sense of urgency as Corgan, I should, given my age.

I suppose one tactic would be to just ignore the whole thing. This is the approach of the protagonist in the song by “Hot Chelle Rae”.

The reason his week has been so awful is that his girlfriend was unfaithful to him. His plan in dealing with it is to clain what happened to him doesn’t matter and to party his head off:

La la la, whatever, la la la, it doesn’t matter, la la la, oh well, la la la

We’re going at it tonight tonight
There’s a party on the rooftop top of the world
Tonight tonight and were dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign
I don’t know if I’ll make it but watch how good I’ll fake it
Its all right, all right, tonight, tonight

I woke up with a strange tattoo
Not sure how I got it, not a dollar in my pocket.

Pretense and addiction is only one method of trying to face the idea of  change.  Two people, one real and one fictional come to mind when I think of the possibility of metamorphosis and how to engage it. They both had hellish lives, but they chose different outcomes.

One of the people I have in mind is Mike Flanagan. He’s a legend from my favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles.

Outwardly successful these days as a baseball executive and broadcaster, Flanagan went out in the woods a couple of weeks ago and ended it all with a shotgun.  It came out in the Baltimore Sun today that he had threatened suicide several times in the past.  Flanagan apparently could not reconcile his anguishing thoughts this time, and given the absence of anyone to prevent it, je finally took his life.

The other person who I have thought of in terms of change is a character from “The Wire”, a Home Box Office (HBO) series with Baltimore ties as well. Namond Brice is a middle school kid caught in a difficult world.

Namond’s father is Wee-Bey Brice, the imprisoned enforcer of the local drug syndicate that has held sway in his neighborhood. The son is expected to follow in Daddy’s footsteps.

The problem is that Namond, despite his attempts, cannot pull it off. He is a likeable and gregarious boy who just doesn’t have what it takes to be a corner boy and future drug kingpin.

Namond finally realizes this when he watches a close friend, a rising star in the drug business, badly beat up a small boy who has been caught stealing narcotics from the business. Namond is there, but is horrified and runs away.

Eventually, he faces the truth with weeping and tears that he is not his father and will never be. Willing now to move on, he moves in with a teacher,  former major police officer Bunny Colvin, who has taken him under his wing. Namond is ready for change and a new life.

The recovery groups will tell you that acknowledging that your life is out of control is the first step in getting a handle on it. Namond realized he was up against forces too great for him, and he sought help from the willing Mr. Colvin.

Two  contemporary kings of ancient Israel and Judah also saw that they weren’t strong enough to deal with powerful obstacles in their lives. Both the son of Saul, Ish-Bosheth, and David, who was beginning his ascendancy by ruling in Judah, had unruly army commanders.

Ish-Boseth’s problem was Abner, who got upset when the king confronted him over a dalliance with one of Saul’s concubines. Abner got very upset and threatened to go over to David’s side.

When Abner actually did so, David’s general Joab used the occasion to murder his counterpart. He was taking revenge for Abner’s killing of his brother during the ongoing civil war between the Israel and Judah (II Samuel 3:1-30).

David was appalled at Joab’s actions and disavowed any participation in them. However, he acknowledged that he was too weak to confront his general. David’s response was to tell his men,”May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds (II Samuel 3:38)!”

David understood something which he wrote lyrics about in his own song in the Book of Psalms.  He comprehended that he belonged to God (Psalm 24:1).

To me this is the first step in making a change. I have to remember Whose I am. 

When forces out there seek to enslave me, whether it be addictions, human oppressors, or the Evil One himself, I have to remember to Whom I owe my allegiance.

You alone are my strength my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

You’re my friend
And You are my brother
Even though You are a King
I love You more than any other
So much more than anything

I want You more than gold
Or silver
Only You can satisfy
You alone are the real joygiver
And the apple of my eye (Lyrics by Martin Nystrom)

Tonight,tonight, I see the only way to real change in my life is not through indifference or checking out. It is through every moment of every day relinguishing my life to Jesus.

It’s His anyway, but the obedience part has sure been the hardest thing I have ever had to learn.



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“May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD (Psalm 104:34).”

Days like yesterday are rare for me. It was a day to remember.

First, it was just incredibly gorgeous. The temperature was temperate, the air was dry, the skies were clear and the sun was bright

My Sunday began with a visit to an open air market in the center of my town here in Finland. There was a large throng of people because this day the autumn farmer’s market was being held.

There were vendors everywhere selling their wares. Visitors could buy clothing, pick up a variety of vegetables and fruit, purchase crafts and take their kids over to look at three little pigs.

I got my day started right by standing in line for some porridge. It was hot, tasty and cheap.

Then I wandered over and bought some coffee from one of the kiosks. A good cup of brew always gets me in good spirits.

Once I was done at the market, I walked over in what the Finns literally call the “good air” (nice weather) to the thrift shop to see if I could find a sweater. I was not successful, but at least I had checked off one of the things on a long-term do list.

Since I was in the vicinity of the elementary school where two of my kids had gone, I walked over there. Sitting on a bench where I used to wait for them after school, I thought of and prayed for them.

Earlier, I had determined that I was getting my American food fix. Therefore, I walked a couple of kilometers farther and went to McDonalds.

There I watched the track and field world championships on their television while I munched on my chicken sandwich and french fries. It came to my mind how disciplined these young athletes were.

It was clear that they had trained hard for their events. To me, the victorious had “sisu” (Finnish for “guts”).

The events I watched were a metaphor for life. In a long distance race, people led early, then fell behind. One American came out of nowhere to finish second. One young fellow stumbled and fell and ended up far in the back.

In all the events  I watched, there was always someone who blew it. When they did, it always reminded me of the opening comments to a popular sports show I watched when I young. The commentator would say “the thril of victory”, pause ,and then add “the agony of defeat” as some ski jumper crashed and burned.

The winners I watched on Sunday were those with perfect form and concentration. The best example was the female hammer thrower from Germany who tossed  a heavy metal ball close to 80 meters.

After the fast food,  I sat in the pretty harbor downtown and read my old Reader’s Digest. It too had examples of disciplined people who had focused thinking.

One story was about a homeless teenager who managed to go to Harvard. She noted in the article that her success wasn’t due to thinking about survival, but thinking about her goals. Every day she took actions in line with those.

Another narrative told about two 22-year old Norwegians who managed to survive a polar bear attack as they attempted to become the first people to kayak around an Arctic archipelago. As one of the young men was being mauled, the second one had the focus to pull out his rifle and kill the bear.

His mangled friend was yelling,”Shoot, shoot, or I die”. However, the boy with the gun made sure he wouldn’t shoot his friend before he fired.

In addition to killing the bear, the fellow kept his friend warm and awake while waiting for an emergency helicopter. His saved buddy told Reader’s Digest that he owed his life to him.

The most well-known story in the Bible of someone who thought of his friend in a similar way was that of Jonathan and David.  Jonathan, at the risk of his own life, saved David from his own father, a king who was trying to kill him.

First, Jonathan talked some sense into his father Saul and got a reprieve for David. When Saul went back to the idea of knocking off his friend, Jonathan warned David, who was able to escape (I Samuel 19:1-7; 20:1-42).

The day was waning as I left the harbor.  My day out ended at church. I hadn’t been to a service since I arrived in Finland from the States several weeks ago, and since this one was in English, I took the opportunity to go.

As I walked in, I found I was the only congregant. I stood in the lobby, chatting with the pastors.

They were getting ready for the refreshment time (which in this case began before the service) service and I asked them if I could help. As it turned out, what one pastor needed help with was reading a Bible passage and a prayer from the liturgy since they were losing their voice.

This was a privelege to me, to help lead the service for the handful of people who were there. God encouraged me through it.

As I walked home in the mellow dusk, I thought of what a great day it had been. It was a day of light and beauty in many ways.

It has occurred to me that God is in His nature like the day I had just had. The Scriptures say He is “wrapped in light”  (Psalm 104:1,2).

God is a giving Person. I don’t feel like I have been particularly pleasing to Him of late, and I was moved by His love.

I also think God was trying to teach me walking with Him. It is so much more pleasurable than sin.

The wise man of Proverbs wrote:

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
   shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 
But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
   they do not know what makes them stumble. (Proverbs 4:18,19). 

I know God gave me yesterday as a gift, all wrapped up with a bow. Today, I am gaining the understanding that He wanted to exemplify to me what He is like through this day, that indeed He is the real gift. 

On a practical level, I learned that having the mind focused on God, good goals and other people is what brings me in touch with God and into His light.  It sure beats filling the head with garbage.

I was so tired, in a pleasant sort of way, that I could barely hold my eyes open last night. I was satiated with holy pleasure and peace.

In fact, one of the most moving things that happened to me yesterday was when the pastors circulated, grabbed my hand and said,”May the peace of Christ be with you.” This brought tears to my eyes.

 Another human was passing on to me the peace of Christ. Just the touch of someone who was doing in their role of  God’s shepherd was extremely heart wrenching.

All day long God was saying to me, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” I am so glad I took Him up on it.

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 “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.  You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.  Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one;  clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously  in the cause of truth, humility and justice;  let your right hand achieve awesome deeds (Psalm 45:1-4).”

It’s not exactly news that Hollywood movies  and TV dramas and sitcoms seem to glorify the profane. The nature of these media is contantly debated.

Novels and biographies also seem to glorify the seedy aspects of the human race as well. It is perhaps because I read a novel the night before whose protagonist is a less than stellar man that I woke up thinking about  why the characters in our electronic and paper-based productions are so popular.

I came to the conclusion that it is because the people in our movies, TV shows and books are interesting.  This led me to ask,”Why can’t righteousness be interesting?”

Being holy and good conjures up images of boring churches,  tedious activities and mundane people. Who wants to be bored? Life is hard enough.

Oh, occasionally our press glorifies the godly among us. Mother Teresa was praised for her work among  the poorest of the poor in India, and rightfully so. Yet, when this saint died on the same day as Princess Diana, the glamourous, yet troubled, royal personage of England, guess where all the attention went?

Even this week there was a TV program in which Diana’s secret tapes were aired. They were full of self loathing, adultery and dysfunction.

I haven’t seen much on Mother Teresa since her death. I guess her life of hard work, suffering and self sacrifice  just isn’t something we want to dwell on.

The formula that works in novels and stories is a crisis that builds and gets progressively intense.  The storyline is exciting and the characters involved are at risk.

Much of the risk in our current day cultural realia is caused by the destructive actions of struggling people. This is what draws our interest.

The majority of us, as Henry Thoreau said, “lead lives of quiet desperation.” More than likely, these days, we are desperately bored.

This is one of the factors cited as the cause of recent violence across the globe by young people.  Some say their riots and destructive actions aren’t the result of political disenfranchisement or poverty.  These kids just have too much time on their hands and need to stir up some excitement.

What makes immoral behavior and violence thrilling? I believe that what appeals to us about wretched TV doctors, illicit and stupid fathers, sensual vampires and bloody  crime scenes is their extreme natures.

Even  our  sports exhibit extremity. We want far out danger and we want excessive risk when we either participate in them or watch them. Folks are even willing to give up their lives to get the thrill.

Is it possible to go to extremes of goodness? How about engaging in a high degree of holiness and out-of-this world kindness and compassion?

Would this get people’s attention? Can there be  enough risk and danger involved in righteous activities and enterprises to titillate the senses of people? Is the personhood of God sufficient to stimulate us?

Many, many times the people of Israel didn’t think God was exhilirating enough for them.  For example, at one time Israel was ruled by God Himself,. His prophets carried out His governance.

This system wasn’t  adequate for the people of Israel, despite God’s previous miracle working among them. They wanted glamour and pomp, so they asked the last of their judges,a man named Samuel,  to find them a king.

Samuel did so, but as he stepped aside he gave the people a little history lesson. He reminded them of God’s supernatural deliverances in the past, including one worthy of a Hollywood production: the dividing of the Red Sea which allowed the Israelites to escape from the armies of Egypt (I Samuel 12:6-10).

As a parting exhibit of God’s electrifying capabilities, Samuel arranged for the Lord to send a major” shock-and-awe” weather event. The people were sufficiently “wowed”, even to the point of fearing for their lives.  They got the message that God was pretty awesome and exciting (I Samuel 12:16-19).

Samuel’s response to the people’s change of heart was to tell them to serve the Lord in goodness  with all their heart.  When they were tempted to get bored,  he advised them to think about all the crackerjack stuff  God had done for them in the past (I Samuel 12:20-25).”

If you want something in the media that will thrill you, and reflects how wondrous God is, try this on for size.

I know that even when I focus on  God’s greatness in my own life that I will still get intrigued by the screw ups of those portrayed in movies, on television and in books. However, I have to draw the line at admiration.

What is admirable is the glorious God we worship and the people who get it and mirror His greatness.

Jesus demonstrated how awesome the good work of God could be:

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”   Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. (Luke 7:11-17)

Jesus comforted a heartsick woman. He was compassionate. Jesus brought a dead boy back to his Mom.

Isn’t that pretty awesome?  The people who saw it thought so. It surely made headlines!

Why should my life be boring? It doesn’t have to be.

God definitely has the wherewithal to stir things up. He just wants all the excitement to be of the righteous variety.

I think I will start my own reality show which focuses on God’s goodness and greatness in my life and in the lives of others as He works through me. Sound uninteresing?

Stay tuned.


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“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Ephesians 3:2o-4:1).”

I know there are a lot of times that I personally try to arrange my circumstances, and when things turn out in my favor, I call it a “miracle”.  I let out a little information here, tell a friend there, and salvation is in my corner.

Yet, on other occasions the inexplicable happens. Sometimes the series of events are life changing.

For example, I once visited a beach resort the year I graduated from high school with a friend. Our main goal was to have a good time.

However, we decided to go to a gathering of people up the boardwalk somewhere. In this crowd was a group of young men from a Christian group.

A few months later, I was walking on the campus of my university and recognized one of the fellows I had met at this rally at the beach. This led to a several year involvement with this Christian group which radically changed my life.

Numerous times I have been given money out of the blue. It has happened on so many occasions that I cannot remember them all. These monetary provisions were unsolicited.

I have visited places I thought I would never see again. Then, one day, I find myself living and working in them.

Of course, not all of the unexpected happenings have been positive. On several occasions I have been laid off a job or quit before the inevitable occurred. It seems, though, that I have always bounced back rather quickly when this happens.  

There is an amazing story in the Bible, recorded in I Samuel 9,  involving a young man who suddenly had his whole life change around. This fellow named Saul was just out looking for his father’s donkeys when the totally unexpected occurred.

Out of food and just about out of money, Saul’s servant suggested they go visit a prophet he knew about to see if they could get some help finding the donkeys. Saul checked his wallet and told his servant that couldn’t do so because they didn’t have the funds to present the customary gift to the prophet.

Saul’s servant dug in his pocket and found a little silver. They went looking for the prophet.

When they found him, Saul was astounded at the greeting he got. The prophet, a man named Samuel,  began fawning on the young fellow.

Samuel said to Saul:

“Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart.  As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” (I Samuel 9:19b,2o)

Samuel was nonplussed. He told Samuel that he wasn’t but a young feller from the least family in the least tribe of all of Israel. How in the world could Samuel be telling him these things.

Samuel treated Saul to a royal dinner. The next morning he told him to send his servant away because he had a message for him from God.

What Saul didn’t know was that God had approached Samuel the day before and forewarned him of the visit.  God said to Samuel:

 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.” (I Samuel 9:16)

When Saul showed up the next day, God told Samuel, “This is the man I told you about yesterday.” Thus ensued the royal treatment Saul experienced.

What blows my mind about this story is how God arranged everything up to the minute. He had it all worked out.

A critic might say that God only told Samuel what He knew would occur. This cynic would say that God arranged nothing.

However,  the Bible reflects this not to be the case. In another example, it tells how God gave Abraham a son at  the exact time He had said it would occur (Genesis 21:2). There was a miracle here not only in timing, but in God providing a child to an old woman.

A similar miracle occurred with a woman the Scriptures calls the Shunammite. Elijah told her she would have a son at a certaim time the following year, even though her husband was old and presumably infertile, and it happened (II Kings 4:8-17).

The wise man of Ecclesiastes says that God makes everything beautiful in its time.  He also says God sets a time to judge good deeds and bad. And speaking of good and bad, this wise man says that God makes the positive times as well as the negative ones (Ecclesiates 3:11,17; 7:14). 

The apostle Paul told the Athenians that Jesus is the governor of our lives. He said to them,

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:26-28).”

Grover Gunn says of God’s divine foreknowledge that its nature is active, not passive. He notes that God doesn’t just have a heads up on the future, but arranges it in detail.

This is beyond my comprehension. How God can work it all out so that His plan is carried out is just incredible to me.

It is also beyond my understanding as to whether or not I can mess up God’s plan for me. I suppose that is a topic for another day.

However, knowing that God is arranging every minute of my existence to bring about His good purposes motivates me. It challenges me to live in such a way, i.e. in accordance with his will, so  that I DO NOT potentially screw things up.   

Every minute counts.

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“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22-25).”

“Don’t matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin’ the same.” – Bodie, in an episode of the HBO series “The Wire”.

In the hard streets of my hometown of Baltimore, as they are portrayed in the TV show “The Wire”, drugs are a hot commodity. In fact, they are a “hot potato”.

You might remember this children’s game. A group of kids stand in a circle and pass around a bean bag (the hot potato) while music is playng. When the music stops, the person left holding the “hot potato” is out of the game.

In once scene of an episode called “Time After Time”, a squad of police are planning a sting on a corner drug deal operation. The sergeant of the group tells the officers to ignore a “runner” when they show up because, inevitably, he will not have the stash of drugs.

When the police arrive, a runner comes down the street as expected. He runs to a hiding place and picks up a bag and keeps running.

The sergeant changes his mind and the police pursue the boy. However, he loses them and the drugs indeed remained in the hands of the dealers in any case.

In another scene, a legendary drug runner named Cutty is released from jail after 14 years. A drug boss in the prison with him gives Cutty a phone number to call when he gets out so he can receive a homecoming “gift”.

The present is a large amount of narcotics. Cutty sits in his house amidst the stash thinking about how to deal with it.

Cutty observes a dealer one day making sales and approaches him. He doesn’t want to sell the stuff himself as he just got out of jail and doesn’t want to risk going back.

Cutty makes a deal and turns his drug stash over to the dealer. Of course, when Cutty returns for his money, the dealer stiffs him.

Cutty has no recourse because the dealer pulls a weapon on him. There isn’t any paper trail either.

In “The Wire”, the dealers, especially the big bosses, are very careful to avoid being caught with any connection to the drug trade. To them, the drugs are a hot potato to be kept out of their hands.

The police try awfully hard to position themselves to catch the leaders with drugs. However, this is well nigh impossible because the dealers are clever and know the game. They don’t want to be tossed from the game and end up in prision.

The Bible had its own “hot potato”. It was called the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark was built in Moses’s time to house the Ten Commandments, which were written by the hand of God. It was a holy piece of furniture, not to be treated cavalierly.

How one fared when they came into contact with the Ark all depended on their attitude toward it. If they treated it with holy respect and treated is as the gift of God it was, then they fared well. However, if anyone disrespected the Ark and its status as coming from the Holy God, then they suffered for it.

The Ark once fell into the hands of Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. They put it on display next to their god Dagon.

The Philistines casual atttitude in handling the Ark, treating as a symbol of another god in a pantheon, was not pleasing to God. After their god had been half demolished and their people afflicted with tumors, the Philistines wanted nothing to do with the Ark. 

When the leaders called for the priests and diviners to tell them what to do, they were given a history lesson. The religious leaders told them:

“Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? (I Samuel 6:6).

The religious leaders of the Philistines told their boss’s to send the thing away and to do it with a proper honorarium. They did just that, sticking it on a cart with some golden symbols and sending it in the direction of Israel.

When the first town in Israel received the Ark, the people rejoiced. They held sacrifices and a celebration.

However, some of the people were no better than the Philistines. They treated the Ark as a carnival-like curiosity and pried off its lid to see inside. These people died.

When this town saw this, they didn’t want this hot potato. They sent it away to another town.

The people of this new town obviously knew how to respect God and His Ark. They appointed a priest, who guarded it. This town kept the Ark for 20 years (I Samuel 7:1,2).

The Ark obviously could be detrimental to your health. It was no wonder people treated it like a hot potato.

One man touched the ark on its cart when the oxen stumbled, and the Scriptures called it an “irreverent act” .  God killed him right then and there  (II Samuel 6:6,7).

King David was not happy about God’s actions here. Indeed, he was angry and also afraid of God afterwards.  He dished it over to someone else like a hot potato (II Samuel 6:8-10).

This fellow named Obed-Edom The Gittite housed it for three months and his whole family was blessed (II Samuel 6:10-11).  Perhaps this Ark was not such a hot potato do be gotten rid of after all.

We believers today may not have an Ark pass our way anytime soon, but God does offer us its equivalent: His holiness. My experience with this modern “ark” is that I treat it like a hot potato, also.

I say I want it, but I am not willing to take it seriously. When I interact with this thing called “holiness” and don’t follow God’s recipe, I end up getting burned like the people of old in Palestine who didn’t handle the Ark correctly.

Like them, I am just to cavalier about God and obedience to Him. God doesn’t take kindly to this kind of double-mindedness (See James 1:5-7).

Like the Ten Commandments in the Ark, my new birth in Christ is a gift. I actually have His Word and His Spirit planted in my heart (James 1:17,18).

Is it any wonder that God smacks me when I ignore the holiness He has given me as if it was an old relic in a box to be pulled out when I felt like it?  When I get mad or sulk over His rebuke, it just sends me farther away from what God wants of me (James 1:19-21).

Those Ten Commandments that were from the hand of God are now imprinted on my soul. If I am serious about them, I know where to find them.

The question is,”Am I?” Or do I intend to keep playing with fire and getting burned?

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