Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Hope’ 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.”

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (II Timothy 2:3).”

Many think that the idea of embedding reporters with military combat units is a new development.  This method of news gathering was publicized heavily during the recent war in Iraq.

However, it’s  not a new thing.  Ernie Pyle was an embedded reporter in World War  II.  His experiences were documented in the 1945 film The Story of G.I. Joe, which received four Academy Award nominations.

In the movie, mostly based on Pyle’s true life, Ernie is shown volunteering to go to the front lines in North Africa. Later Pyle reported the grunt’s struggles in Italy.

Ernie became famous in America and among the troops for his folksy style and true-to-life journalism. The soldiers saw him as “one of the boys”.

Where the Story of G.I. Joe really catches your eye is in the depiction of Pyle’s life among the Army in Italy. His unit is pinned down in front of a religious landmark, an ancient  monastery on a hill called Monte Cassino.

Because of the historical and religious significance of the site, the American military leadership refuse to bomb the monastery in order to dislodge the Germans there.  As a result, the American soldiers have it tough.

The Story of G.I. Joe shows them in all their agony. They live in caves and mud.    Many of them, including green replacement soldiers are killed. One of the more experienced sergeants goes mad.

Sharing their suffering is Ernie Pyle. He could have been home in the comfortable States at Christmas, eating turkey with all the trimmings. Instead he is stuck in downpours and slime in Italy during a horrible war with smelly, unshaven men.

The toughest thing was watching men with whom you had developed friendships and respect die in front of you. The movie script combined a couple of quotes from Ernie’s reports about the plight of the lowly infantryman.

Pyle wrote that the common solider “live and die so miserably and they do it with such determined acceptance that your admiration for them blinds you to the rest of the war.” In comparison, Pyle said that airmen “died well-fed and clean-shaven, if that was any comfort.”

In the Christian life it seems their is the same dichotomy at work. Some Christians appear to have lives of wealth, comfort and ease. On the other hand, other believers suffer in poverty, disease and live in day-to-day hell.

I suppose you could say that we all are fighting in the same war against the devil. However, I think that is probably little comfort to the Christian who has the life of a foxhole private.

What is comforting is what the Scriptures say about this contradictory grouping of Christians into the well-to-do and the suffering. James writes this:

“Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.  And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.” (James 1:9-11).

Indeed, James tells suffering believers in the same passage:

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4).

Yes, in the Christian life, the reality is not as it seems circumstantially.  We not only can rejoice when we suffer because we know that God can clean up our messes. We can also be joyful because in some measure we are sharing in the same trials that Jesus endured in his time on Earth.

In sharing his suffering, we get to know Him better and become intimate with Him.  He not only knows what we are going through, but we can also grasp in our tough times what he experienced as well (Hebrews 4:15).

It almost makes all the suffering worth it, doesn’t it.  However, it doesn’t mean we have to like the pain.

Ernie Pyle went home from Europe exhausted.  He said,”I am leaving for just one reason . . . because I have just got to stop. I have had all I can take for a while.”

Yet, he went back to war, this time in the Pacific at Okinawa.”I’m going simply because there’s a war on and I’m part of it”, he wrote,”and I’ve known all the time I was going back. I’m going simply because I’ve got to–and I hate it.”

We’re not called to be masochists. Jesus didn’t have that attitude. In fact, He went to the cross “despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

We can do our duty though by focusing our sights on Jesus, letting Him lead us in the battle, and keeping in mind the eternal joy that is coming when the final victory is won.

Read Full Post »

 “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.

 

Read Full Post »

“When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous (Psalm 124:4).”

Today is an absolutely gorgeous late autumn here in Virginia where I live. My schedule this morning allowed me to take my walk through the pastures of the local university–a walk I treasure.

It occurred to me as I closed in on the well-known pond on campus,”What a difference a year makes.” Last year at this time I was living in a Nordic country where the daylight comes late and goes away early

As I walked I recalled the emotions of that late November. I was definitely depressed. I was apart from my family (I hadn’t seen them in almost three months), and the sun was a thing of the past.  Not only did its light only appear a few hour a day, but there was some much overcast that I rarely saw the object itself.

Yet, today there was a bright sun ball in the blue sky. I was surrounded by greenery and water. It was like I had gone from hell to heaven in the space of 12 months.

A passage from the devotional Streams in the Desert describes well my emotional state one year ago:

“All-loving Father, sometimes we have walked under starless skies that dripped darkness like drenching rain. We despaired of starshine or moonlight or sunrise. The sullen blackness gloomed above us as if it would last forever. And out of the dark there spoke no soothing voice to mend our broken hearts. We would gladly have welcomed some wild thunder peal to break the torturing stillness of that overbrooding night.

Yet, something came out of that period. It drove me to my knees.

When I wasn’t working, I had time to spend with the Lord. And I did a lot of that, especially on Sundays.

Streams in the Desert, in the same passage, goes on to portray  what happened to me as well as this author:

“But Thy winsome whisper of eternal love spoke more sweetly to our bruised and bleeding souls than any winds that breathe across Aeolian harps. It was Thy ‘still small voice’ that spoke to us. We were listening and we heard. We looked and saw Thy face radiant with the light of love. And when we heard Thy voice and saw Thy face, new life came back to us as life comes back to withered blooms that drink the summer rain.”

Somehow in my loneliness and darkness my relationship with God grew to be the best it had ever been. It was just me, the Lord and the black.

One of my friends recently told me that he thought of me as Job’s second cousin. I have been thinking of that comment ever since.

In one way I think of it as an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as a man like Job. On the other hand, I have thought that my life and that of Job differ in one respect.

His plight eventually came to an end.  God restored his  fortunes. My difficulties go on and on, with no end in sight.

My pastor told me a couple of months ago,”You’re just in a season of life right now.” The inference was that “this too shall pass”. I looked at him with an expression of,”I don’t know about that.”

Sometimes I see light at the end of the tunnel. For example, I am so boxed in that I pretty much have to use my one talent to get by.

As a result, I think that perhaps God has enclosed me so as to force me into using my gifts. Otherwise, my attitude would be,”I can’t do that. I must do this.”

Now, it appears He has placed me in such a condition that He is telling me,”No. You must do this. You must listen to me (finally!) and do what I called you to do  a long time ago. You just need to trust Me and the promises I have given you.”

That is astounding to me, that God would think that much of me to actually set me on a path to my dreams being fulfilled, especially this late in the game. The jury is still out on whether or not that is what is happening, but I’m listening–and watching for the light to reappear!

Read Full Post »

 

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe (Psalm 4:8).”

It’s hard sleeping this time of year. I live in a Nordic country which is currently experiencing “white nights”.

One former colleague posted the sunrise and sunset times in her hometown above the Arctic Circle on Facebook yesterday. There was about 45 minutes in between these events.

In my location farther south it isn’t as bright,but it’s close. The sun officially sets between 22:00 and 23:00 and rises again about 3:30 am. In between is twilight and perhaps about 45 minuted of darkness.

It’s hard enough to sleep in this kind of environment unless you have good curtains or eyepatches. But it’s even worse when your heart is troubled.

I will be unemployed in about three weeks and I am looking for work. Having to write and talk about myself so much to strangers, especially professional ones, is nerve wracking.

Although I have a lot of strengths on a professional level, I haven’t been perfect. In fact, my recent history includes a failed work experience.

 There are all kinds of details I will leave out here. Also, I do not intend to use this space to argue my case or assign blame. Let’s just say that things did not end well.

This makes it difficult when I go to apply for similar jobs as the one I had. When they ask to speak to my supervisor at this place of employment, I inwardly cringe.

I have no choice but to give them a name. I then know that my prospects with the employer I am currently talking with aren’t good.

 So, there’s a lot of stress right now. I really don’t care what time it is because I just sleep when I feel like it. (As an educator my schedule is pretty flexible in the summer.)

It’s easy in my situation to beat myself up over this whole thing.  People have expectations and sometimes you don’t meet them.

Author and pastor Bill Merritt tells of his own experience where he almost lost his job. He notes that talent isn’t enough anymore.

Merritt says that people want you to actually be able  to relate to them. They want you to ask questions and be interested. They want you to be nice.

“Imagine that!”, he writes.

“Nice” was not always my forte on the job I left badly. I think I did an excellent job there, but I could have handled relationships better. As a result there is an irreparable rupture between me and this company.

My apology was not accepted. Subsequent correspondence to this organization has gone unanswered. 

I’ve improved some since then. However, as noted above joblessness is hovering and I don’t have much going on, and this failure hangs around and occasionally surfaces. 

It is hard to recover from personal failure. This is true in the workplace and at home both.

When you fail people don’t trust you. They get mad at you.  Not only that, you get mad at them, especially if you feel as if your treatment is unjust.

You lose fellowship and friendship. What to do?

Well, as a Christian I know that it’s not a good idea to quit on God.  If I stick with Him, He will stick with me. 

However, if I abandon God, He will abandon me. It’s my choice (II Chronicles 15:2).

I noted above that when there is a relational fracture in the workplace that the parties get mad. I notice that God tends to get mad when people don’t treat Him with respect, too.

The Psalmist tells leaders that they had better submit to Jesus, or else!  Destruction is on the way when our Lord is ignored, rejected or rebelled against (Psalm 2:10-12).

The Psalmist says that God is an honest judge. He gets angry at the wicked every day and takes action against them (Psalm 7:11-13).

So, what’s my part?  Well the Psalmist tells ME if I want to sleep at night that I should:

-submit to Jesus myself (Psalm 2:12b);

-control my 0wn anger and trust God (Psalm 4:4,5);

-pray for God’s active protection and action against my enemies (Psalm 3:1-4,7);

-ask God to take care of my reputation (Psalm 4:2,3);

-ask God to rescúe me from the mess in my heart and out there in the world (Psalm 6:1-10).

This last point is especially  profound. Until last night I thought of God as someone who would come in like the calvary to perform his rescue. I didn’t see Him as someone who stuck around the garbage dump I’ve created in my heart and life.

However, it occurred to me yesterday evening that Jesus is down there with me in the junkyard. He is there waiting patiently for me to acknowledge Him while I sit in the stench.

This thought reminded me of an old booklet from my youth. Robert Munger wrote a short story called My Heart Christ’s Home which was popular at the time.

In this piece Jesus is invited into a man’s home. Room by room he begins to set the man’s house in order.

Eventually, the man realizes he can’t keep his house clean and asks Jesus to do it. However, Jesus tells the man that He has no authority there: He is just a guest.

The man turns the deed of the house over to Jesus. From then on, the man is just the servant in the house and Jesus is master.

I learned last night that Jesus is not content to stay on the outskirts of our lives. I had forgotten this and didn’t think He wanted to be down there in the muck with me, but He does.

Yet, the Psalmist says He does. He wrote,”For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God”. (Psalm 7:9)

When we give over ownership to Jesus, we can sleep soundly. David found this out. He wrote:

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side (Psalm 3:5,6)

When Jesus enters the trash heap, it is not His intention to let it stay messy. He intends to clean it up, if I let Him.

If I do, I think I will sleep better despite the white nights. I will have the assurance and peace that He is there to take care of my messy heart and the rest of my trashy life out there.

Read Full Post »

“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.

Read Full Post »

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you;  you are the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10:14).”
 
re·sil·ience Listen to audio/rɪˈzɪljəns/ noun
 
[noncount] 1 : the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
▪ The rescue workers showed remarkable resilience in dealing with the difficult conditions.

 2 : the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
▪ the resilience of rubber ▪ Cold temperatures caused the material to lose resilience. (Source: Merriam-Webster English Language Learner’s Dictionary)
 
Dan Berchinski has resilience. His main squeeze Rebecca Taber does, too.
 
The Army lieutenant stepped on a hidden land mine in Afghanistan in the summer of 2009 and lost both legs, in addition to suffering a broken jaw and shattered arm. He is now back in the States recovering.
 
At his side is Rebecca Taber. Her relationship with Berchinski is portrayed in the Washington Post this week. 
 
She is a typical young woman in Washington, D.C. where she works and lives, and where Dan is rehabiltating. Like many young people in D.C., Rebecca is smart and determined.
 
She is a former student body president at Yale, has a coveted job at a D.C. consulting firm and is currently on loan to the State of Delaware in an importan post. However, her main focus is Berchinski.
 
Before he went off to war, they had met and romanced a little. However, the relationship did not seem to have much of a future.
 
After Dan was sent home, Rebecca was determined to be his friend and stand by him. She visited him in the hospital several nights a week after work.
 
The friendship has blossomed into romance. When she is not working, she is with Dan.
 
Dan himself has suffered none of the trauma usually associated with the returning combat soldier.  Greg Jaffe of the Post writes in his article “Love After War”:

Dan carried some anger about the war, which he thought was bloated and wasteful. But he considered himself lucky. He felt responsible for Yanney’s death (note: a soldier under his command) who died shortly before Dan was injured), but it did not haunt him. He experienced no nightmares, no post-traumatic stress disorder and none of the memory loss associated with traumatic brain injury. He still had his hands.

 Later in the article, Jaffe says:

The truth is that Dan is mostly fine. Doctors at Walter Reed view him with admiration and some puzzlement. He has been able to set aside his trauma and move forward with humor and little regret.

A lot of that can be credited to the influence of Rebecca. She set up a white board in his room where she wrote personal and professional “to-do” lists for him. He now maintains them by himself.

He is venturing into business. In the future, he and Rebecca want to attend business school a Harvard or Stanford together.

How many of us could have the resilience of a Dan Berchinski or a Rebecca Taber?  When all hope seems to be gone, what is left?

I doubt many of us think we would have the inner moxie to carry on as they have. I don’t think I have it in me to do what they have done.
 
 One man I admire in the Bible for his resilience is David.  He seemed to bounce back a lot.
 
Once his family members and those of his combat comrades were kidnapped by some raiders while David’s troops were out campaigning. The men thought of stoning David because of his poor leadership.
 
What did David do? He got on his horse and led his men to recapture all their families. (I Samuel 30:1-19).
 
Then there was that “thing” with Bathsheba. He was resilient there, too.
 
“Come on”, you say. This was one of David’s darkest hours. What is there to celebrate about adultery and the murder of your lover’s husband?
 
What is honorable here is that when David and his affair were outed, he didn’t sit in his room drinking a Guinness. He”manned up” and took responsibility.
 
Sure, he grieved over his sin. However, his attitude was more than “sorry that I got caught.”
 
He fasted and prayed and begged God for the child he had fathered with Bathsheba. When the baby died, David had the fortitude to carry on and even comfort his wife Bathsheba. (II Samuel 12:1-25).
 
He made the best out of a bad situation by acting honorably, and so did God. In fact, out of that whole mess Solomon was conceived and born.  You may know him as the wisest man to ever live, the author of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. 
 
 What enabled David to bounce back from his defeats? The Scriptures indicate it was his humility with and hope in his God.
During the Ziklag affair, when he himself was weeping and his men were ready to take him out, the Scriptures say he “found strength in the Lord his God (I Samuel 30:6b).” During the Bathsheba incident, he admitted his sin, didn’t shoot the messenger (Nathan the prophet), and even had the courage to comfort his wife Bathsheba.
 
Shortly thereafter, David went back to being the king and the commander of the army. The Life Recovery Bible says of him:
 
To David’s credit, even though he had made some poor choices, he made a dramatic comeback. He went back to doing the things he should have been doing all along. After a relapse, we would be wise to follow David’s example.
 
Sometimes even bloggers must show resiliency. As I was writing this earlier, I lost a good part of the text I had written. I hate when that happens and think if never returning to piece it back together again: it’s too much work!
 
Therefore, I went and made a cup of tea and read a book. I figured that perhaps God might have some other message here to write later if this particular piece of writing was important. I didn’t expect the message to come so soon.
 
It came from my book,  called “The Judas Gate”, a thriller by Jack Higgins. In the chapter I was reading over my tea, there is an encounter between the antagonist and a priest.
 
Jason Talbot, has just lost his grandfather, a nasty old man whom he hated. The priest is trying to convince him to forgive the man.
 
The priest tells him:
 
“Forgiveness is everything. Christ even forgave Judas when he stepped in through the gate at the Garden of Gethsemane to betray him.
 
Jason replies:
 
“Well, as he hanged himself, it didn’t do him much good.”
 
The priest answered:
 
“Because he couldn’t forgive himself. Once he stepped through that gate -The Judas Gate as it has become known -there was no going back. It is the same for all of us when our actions betray our loved ones, we also betray ourselves.” 
 
Had Judas accepted the forgiveness of Jesus and forgiven himself, perhaps things would have been different. As it was, Judas saw himself as having no hope in this life or the next, went through with his awful task and then killed himself.
 
When Dan Berchinski was laying on the battlefield with horrible wounds, he told his fellow soldiers that the man who had died in the platoon was the lucky one. He felt with his injuries that his life was over.
 
Little did he know as he lay there that out of it all he would get a Rebecca. Post reporter Jaffe writes:
 
Rebecca sometimes wonders whether she would have felt the same attraction to Dan if he had come back from Afghanistan intact. She lists the qualities in him that she most values: his strength, his humor, his ambition. “I am still kind of torn whether these sides existed or whether the injury brought them out,” she said. “The qualities I admire most in Dan weren’t immediately apparent to me.”
 
Indeed, the last sentence in the Washington Post article reads,”Without his injury, she never would have dated him.”

The Art of Manliness blog discusses resiliency today. It says we are more resilent than we think.

The title of his piece is “This Too Shall Pass”.  He goes on to cite studies of how resilient we are after horrible events, which would explain Dan Berchinski’s response. He also mentions how life is filled with “peaks and valleys”.

I am not sure about that. It seems for a lot of us, life is one big crevice from which it is impossible to escape. Things seem to go from bad to worse.

In those circumstances, it becomes really easy to lose hope that there will ever again be any happiness. All we have from all appearances is another day of struggle ahead.

It is pretty hard to bear, whether you brought the circumstances on yourself or this corrupt world just treated you unfairly.  What to do?

In the former case, we ought to learn from Judas, who did not forgive himself. Perhaps others may not ever forgive, but Jesus does.  Indeed, He died so he could offer it to us, so how can we reject it!

The Scriptures do not say it, but David probably forgave himself, too. How could he have ever gotten the strength to get back in the saddle at home or work again otherwise?

Who is as isolated and alone as an orphan? God says he sees what’s happening with those who are alone in their misery and takes care of them.

He is  the only hope we have that life will get better. His support is  the only reason we have to get out of bed in the morning.

When we do, the “woe” has to go and the hope has to flow into our bloodstream with our morning Joe.  The truth that Jesus is on our side is the reason we can still have hope in this life.

For a pessimist like me, that’s hard to fathom, but man, it’s the only way to keep going. My message to myself is, “Why not show a little humility and believe Him for once?”

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »