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Archive for the ‘spiritual warfare’ Category

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’.” Genesis 2:18

The politicians tell us today that there is a war on women. I think that the greater conflict is the battle between the sexes.

It’s no secret that traditional marriage is a difficult thing, and in our age even looked down upon. One fellow told me that he thinks men today think that women are just too difficult and have given up on them. I don’t really know what women think about men, but if the media is to be believed my friend’s opinion may hold true for them as well.

Pop star Sam Smith has written a poignant song about an offended lover which exemplifies a relationship gone bad.

You and me, we made a vow
For better or for worse
I can’t believe you let me down
But the proof’s in the way it hurts

You say I’m crazy
‘Cause you don’t think I know what you’ve done
But when you call me baby
I know I’m not the only one

The betrayal and pain seep from these lyrics. But what stands out even more to me is the how the two people view each other: they both think the other one is nuts, although a case can be made that the offending party is only saying this to their partner to cover their lie.

It is not easy to figure out what to do, but the classic movie “I’ll Be Seeing You” (1944) may give us a clue.

The film opens with World War II soldier Zach Morgan (Joseph Cotton) riding a train full of other service men obviously on leave. Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) sits down across from him and they strike up a conversation.

Mary tells him she is going to Pine Hill to visit her uncle and his family and Christmas. Zach says he is also going to Pine Hill, to visit his sister.

Thus, “I’ll Be Seeing You” begins with the two future lovers lying to each other. Mary is actually a furloughed prisoner at a penitentiary. Zach is definitely not from Pine Bluff and he is an orphan.

As their relationship develops, Zach fesses up to his reasons for lying to Mary. He wanted to be with her.

On the other hand, Mary keeps quiet about her prisoner status, and is reassured by her aunt that she should not tell Zach. They will be together such a short time, she explains to Mary, and the matronly aunt says that she should “have fun like other girls.”

Unlike Mary, Zach confesses to Mary his own furlough status from a hospital, where he is being treated for his psychiatric issues. Mary proves to be a kind and caring woman, encouraging Zach that he can overcome. In fact, it his her voice in his mind that helps him stave off a relapse when he is alone in his room.

The film shows Mary to be someone who is treated somewhat harshly by the justice system. She reveals to her 17-year-old cousin Barbara (Shirley Temple) the reason why she ended up in prison.

Her boss had tried to rape her in his apartment, and in the struggle she accidentally pushed him out a 14th-story window. Although it is clear she acted in self-defense, she is convicted on a manslaughter charge and sent to prison for six years.

In this context, Mary and Zach both fall deeply in love with each other in a few days. Unfortunately for them, and of course unknown to Zach, Mary’s furlough ends shortly after the New Year.

She has to go back to jail to serve three more years. He thinks she is a traveling saleswoman and has to go back to work.

Furthermore, when Zach tells Barbara before his own leave taking that he intends to marry her cousin , she discusses Mary’s true situation, not knowing that Zach is not aware of it.

Zach becomes cold to Mary as they prepare to separate. After Zach refuses to admit what is troubling him, it dawns on her that he now knows the truth. The train leaves with Mary unable to explain.

Arriving home, she encounters Barbara, who is distraught and apologetic. This does not help Mary, however. She forgives Barbara, but she lies on her bed, weeping and forlorn.

All is not lost for her, though. At the end of the movie, Mary is shown walking toward the prison doors in the night. The camera reveals the eyes of a figure hovering nearby.

It is Zach, who embraces Mary and tells her he knew right after the train left he was wrong to leave as he did. He apologizes and says he understands why she did what she did to receive a jail term (although it is not clear in the film why he knows this). He vows to Mary that he will be right there waiting for her until she gets out of prison.

Zach’s gracious behavior toward Mary illustrates a statement made by Jamaican singer Bob Marley:

“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy. … Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”

Zach understood Marley’s sentiments.  He knew Mary was imperfect. But he loved her and wanted her anyway. Zach appreciated that he too was no prize. The value Mary had for him made her worth the wait.

Although both men and women were created in God’s image and for each other, we are both fallen human beings, and have been for a long time. It seems that we forget this truth in our perception of the other sex.

Why this is the case is complicated. I think at the root of the war between men and women is a more cosmic struggle: the one between God and the evil being known as Satan.

When Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounced a curse on Satan, the perpetrator who engineered their demise:

“… I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.” Genesis 3:15

In some fashion, though we ourselves are culpable, men and women are in no-man’s land, caught in the middle between God and Satan.

Sam Smith’s lyrics also reveal another truth: men and women want and need each other. He writes:

For months on end I’ve had my doubts
Denying every tear
I wish this would be over now
But I know that I still need you here

This is the dilemma. Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus is quoted as saying, “Women. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.” I imagine women could say the same thing about men.

If my friend’s observation that men have given up on women is true, then I can see from my male point of view at least one solution to the battle of the sexes. They should heed the words of Bob Marley and imitate the actions of the fictional Zach Morgan.

Men and women ought to be less demanding, realize we are all on a journey ad find a partner that is worth suffering for and endure. We do need each other.

words of Bob Marley and imitate the actions of the fictional Zach Morgan.

Men and women ought to be less demanding, realize we are all on a journey ad find a partner that is worth suffering for and endure. We do need each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the words of an old hymn:

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

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

The final stanza of the aforementioned hymn says it all:

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

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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.

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“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him (Psalm 98:1).”

A new year is supposedly a time of change. What most people think about is making resolutions to change themselves in some way.

This isn’t the theme of the current animated fantasy movie “Brave”.  According to the protagonist Merida, a princess, the person that really needs transformation is her mother Elinor.

Elinor and her husband King Fergus have invited allied Scottish clans to their castle so that the first-born sons can compete for the hand of the teenage Merida. However, the spunky young lass wants no part of this arrangement.  This is understandable, as she can run rings around the doofus boys who are her suitors in every way.

In scenes as old as the hills, Merida and Elinor have clash after clash. Teenager against parent. What a surprise.

Merida is out in the forest one day when she encounters a “will o’ the wisp” which leads her to a witch’s cottage. Merida arranges to buy a cake which the witch has promised will “change” her mother.

After Elinor unsuspectedly eats a piece, she is changed alright. She is turned into a bear.

This is bad enough, but the impact of the event is exacerbated by the family history. Her husband King Fergus is renowned for having fought and defeated a monster bear, losing his leg in the process. So the king has no love for bears.

Merida and Elinor flee the palace and find a holographic recording left by the witch. This message says that the spell will become permanent “by the second sunrise” unless Merida “mends the bond torn by pride”.  Merida takes this to mean that she is to repair the family tapestry she tore during one of her fights with her mother.

Merida and Elinor reenter the castle and take the tapestry as they are being pursued by Fergus and the clans.   Merida mends the tapestry as they once again flee.

In the exciting conclusion, Merida fights off her own father and the others, telling them “”I will not let you kill my mother!”.  Of course, they have no idea what she is talking about.

In the process, the evil bear defeated by her father shows up and attempts to swallow Merida. Elinor fights off her fellow bear and this enemy is killed.

As the sun rises on the second day, Merida remembers the parameters of the witch’s curse and throws the tapestry over Elinor. However, it appears to be too late.

Merida cries and kneels before her mother and exclaims

“Oh, no! I don’t understand. I… Oh, mom, I’m sorry. This is all my fault. I did this to you, to us. You’ve always been there for me.  You’ve never given up on me. I just need you back. I want you back, mommy. I love you.”

Merida feels the touch of her mother and looks up to see that her mother is once again human. Elinor hugs and kisses her daughter.

“You’ve changed!”, Merida screams. Elinor replies, “Oh darling. We both have.”

The real bond torn by pride has been mended: by love.

I think many of us are like Merida. We claim we need to change, but what we really want is for the people who are causing us grief to be transformed.

What we don’t understand is the impact our own negative behavior has on those around us, especially those close to us. We most likely have had a major role in making the person who they are today.

We like Merida could state,”I have done this to you.” Our barking, cajoling, yelling, manipulation and and abuse have done major damage.  Furthermore our attempts to remake others to suit us have actually harmed them.

The teenager Merida had to go through hell to see that the solution to the problem she was having with others lay within her. At the end of the movie, she says:

“Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.”

Merida took the first step in changing herself. She had the courage to look within. Then she  confessed her lack.  God calls us to do this as well (I John 1:9).

However, we shouldn’t  just stay in remorse. We ought to move on to love, compassion and understanding of the other, as Merida and her mother did.  Doing this will at least change us.

More than likely, though, continued love of the other will also result in their changing as well. However, even if the other person doesn’t change, we will engage in what Emerson Eggerich calls “The Rewarded Cycle”. Even though the other person doesn’t respond to our love (and we may have to wait a long time), God will reward us for our effort.

If you are like me, you have a tendency to dwell on  the results of the curse we are under in this world and our own failures and say “Woe is Me!”. However, the third stanza of a popular New Year carol tells me that this is not God’s desire for us:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

Jesus came at Christmas to dispense with the evil portrayed in “Brave”.  The curse doesn’t have to be allowed to stay in our homes, our workplaces or other spheres where we have influence. It can be booted.

What is needed is  the courage at the New Year to change ourselves by appropriating and spreading His encouragements in our relationships with others.

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 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;  my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:5,6).

As Christmas Day approaches, my nation is reeling from a terrible massacre of 20 innocent six and seven year old children in Connecticut by a deranged 20-year old. He also killed six adults in the school, using a military-style rifle, before shooting himself in the head with a pistol.

Five days later, the country is in shock. The usual issues have popped up, i.e. the need for gun control and the requirement that we do some soul searching about how we treat the mentally ill.

One commentator wrote that such mass killings today are prompted by three things: 1) extreme anger 2)isolation 3) too much time on the Internet.  To me this is a scary cocktail because I see all three operating in my life at times.

What is particularly troubling is isolation. As a person of faith, I find the feeling of being abandoned by God as the worst form of this.

One former pastor turned politician, Mike Huckabee,  got into  some trouble with some people of one political persuasion when he answered the question  “Where Was God?” He told his listeners in an interview that this was an interesting question since for the last few decades we have been kicking the Lord out of the public schools.

In an episode of the old TV series Touched by An Angel, Monica the angel finds herself in a situation where she too asks the question,”God, where are you? Why can’t I feel you with me?”.  She has witnessed a building blow up due to a bombing with a lot of people inside.

Earlier she had met a little girl named Madeline who was to be her assignment from God. This child was in the explosion. Monica  watches as her colleague the Angel of Death approaches the building, and her heart breaks.

That’s it for Monica. She walks away, walking down the road to who knows where. She has left her post.

As she walks, a charming man in a black sports car offers her a ride. Monica knows who the fellow is.  It’s Satan, otherwise known as Lucifer, the Devil and a host of other names.

Satan has seen his chance to knock an angel out of the heavenly realm and wastes no time tempting Monica. He is conniving, helpful and clever. Why, he understands Monica. After all, he tells her, I’ve been there.

Monica and Satan are now out in the desert, and he says to the distraught Monica,”I remember when you walked through the desert unshod,  unafraid, an angel of God.  Confident of your divine mission.”

Monica is upset, but she tells Satan she wants to be alone. He tells her that she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do. “We don’t have to be friends”, he says,”but we don’t have to be enemies.

Monica replies,”You are the enemy.” Satan’s rejoinder? “I’m not the enemy. I’m the alternative. That’ s what you’re looking for isn’t it?”

Satan even asks Monica to come work for him. “You don’t have to work for Him you know. There are options.”

Monica doesn’t want to forget God, though, as the devil suggests she do.  But Satan doesn’t quit. He even asks her where God is as she has done?

When she tells the devil that God is where He has always been,Satan asks,”Then what are you here for?” Monica answers: “Because I am hurting.  Because as much as God loves them they hate each other. Oh, they say the words and they write the books and the songs about love and they make the vows of love, but they don’t love!

Satan then lets Monica observe a scene where she is a human wife and mother. This is because Monica thinks that just maybe she could love better than they can.

The devil offers her this chance. Monica is drawn to this opportunity. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be a mother”, she tells the devil.

After that, despite Monica’s protest that she is God’s and belongs to Him and that she is returning to Him, Satan continues his deceptive assault.  When Monica tells Satan that she will find God again, he replies:

“Where? At Madeline’s grave?  Year after year, century after century Monica, you watch the suffering and the sorrow.  All you can do is stand by and utter the words that sound so hollow every time you say ’em: God loves you.”

After more arguing, including a theological one about the meaning of suffering,  and more temptation to become human, Satan asks her,”How long can you go on like this? Lost between heaven and earth. You must be so lonely.”

Monica tells Satan,”Sometimes.” And as she weeps and falls on his chest in tears, she says,”Sometimes I am.”

Satan sends her off to the desert to think about his offer. He tells Monica to find a high place and when she is ready to just jump. He’ll be there to catch her.

As a viewer, I know that this is like receiving an offer from a slick used car salesman. However, as Monica walks, Satan sings to her.

The devil is known as an angel of light, and his song is beautiful and seemingly promising. Furthermore, it seemingly gives Monica dignity as the lyrics tell her that she gets to make her own decisions apart from God.

No one here to guide you

Now you’re on  your own

Only me beside you

Still your not alone

Truly no one is alone

Sometimes people leave you

Halfway through the wood

Others may deceive you

You decide what’s good

You decide alone

But no one is alone (Mandy Patankin)

Monica eventually comes to the precipice,  and Satan is there to catch her.  She utters the same words to the her Heavenly Father that Jesus did on the cross to God–“Why have you forsaken me?.

Right after this  a bouquet of Monica’s favorite flower , the lilac,  suddenly grows from a stone. Satan has told her as a human that lilacs will smell much sweeter.

However, God has just revealed Himself as the Creator of all beauty.  He is trustworthy and greater than t he ugliness Monica sees in the world.

Satan may have wooed her. But God is the better Romancer.

She is not alone in any sense. Knowing he has been defeated, Satan fades from view.

Monica asks God for  forgiveness. She tells God she wants to come home.  She is restored and returns to her duties as an angel who takes care of humans.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be abandoned.  When He  turned 12, he went to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover feast. After it was over they headed home, but soon realized that Jesus was not with them. They had forgotten Him at the feast.

After three days they found Him.  His mother said to Jesus,“Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Jesus replied, Why were you searching for me?” Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house (Luke 2:48,49)?”

Popular preacher T.D. Jakes says of this incident,”They found him right where they left Him: in his Father’s house”.  Jakes exhorts today’s believers not to forget Jesus themselves while celebrating the feast that bears His name.

Isolation is a terrible thing. It opens us up to all manner of evil and Satan’s lures. As I said, it scares me, especially if I there is a sense that God has left me.

Mike Huckabee offered viewers one other explanation as to where God was at that school during the killings. He explained that while evil was present, God was there in the presence of the first responders and the teachers who courageously protected their kids.

I too have realized where God is in my own community.  Jesus is right where I left Him. He is over there at the church in my town that I’ve been staying away from for so long. And He’s there in the pastors and people who go there.

It’s a foolish thing to walk away from God. He’s the only source of beauty and love in this sometimes ugly world.

 

 

 

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Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).”

“Big Jim” Cole is not off to a great start.  He has inherited several hundred acres of prime land in Wyoming, but keeping it is another story.

First, there is the matter of the neighbor who is determined to take it away from him. Jed Curry lost the land to Big Jim’s grandpa in a poker game fair and square.

But Jed persistently angles to get it back for his sons. They are young men, but they are only adult in terms of their physiques.  They regularly harass Big Jim and his family.

Then, there is the old enemy who shows up in town.  Former lawman Big Jim sent Cass Dowdy (once a friend and on the right side of the law)  to jail and the latter aims to settle the score.

Finally, Big Jim has a wild beast to deal with. This animal  is destroying his new ranch piece by piece.

The human foes pale in comparison to this monster, Big Jim’s worst nightmare. His biggest problem is a grizzly bear appropriately named Satan.  The bear is the main focus of the story told in the movie “Night of the Grizzly”.

Satan is not just any grizzly. He is plum crazy. The bear  kills and destroys just because he can.

Satan wrecks Big Jim’s fences, kills the beautiful bull he had intended to use to populate his herd, and decimates his flock of sheep. While not pleased, Big Jim doesn’t plan to let the bear stand in his way. He goes after Satan, but fails, at least in the beginning.

Satan keeps on pillaging. He kills two men, including Big Jim’s longtime friend and employee  Sam Potts. The grizzly takes off the arm of another man.

The night before Big Jim’s decides to hunt and kill Satan once and for all, his wife Angela threatens to leave if he carries out his plan. She has had enough. She can’t really be blamed inasmuch as she has had plenty of sleepless nights in the past wondering if Big Jim would come home alive when he was chasing desperadoes.

Big Jim gives her the “a man’s gotta do what he has to do” speech. Not only will killing the grizzly rid them of their own personal problems, but the reward money will get them out of the debt they have incurred because of Satan’s evil activities.  However, Angela is not convinced and tells Big Jim that when he comes back, the rest of the family will be gone.

Unbeknownst to Big Jim and his wife, their son Charlie has overheard the whole spat. The boy is troubled by the conflict between his normally loving parents and decides to take matters into his own hands.

He sets out after Satan himself, with his gun and pint-sized dog in tow. Learning of this the next morning, Big Jim follows Charlie, intending to rescue him and knock off  Satan, too.

Before he can even get to the boy and the bear Big Jim has to engage in a gunfight with Cass, who is also after the reward. The latter is temporarily blinded during the shootout by a gunpowder flash and Big Jim continues on to the final battle with Satan.

In the final crisis, Satan comes close to winning. He  corners  Charlie in a tree and Big Jim in a hole.

However, Cass (who has recovered his vision) comes along and goes after the bear. He wants the money, but he also cares for Charlie and obviously doesn’t want harm to come to the boy.

In the chaos, Cass is killed by Satan. This, however, gives Big Jim the time and opportunity to finally gun the bear down

Big Jim’s battle with the appropriately named Satan is one of courage. His story reveals the nature of courage, which is that it  is a paradox. One aspect of a paradox, as defined by  Wikiquotes,  is that it is a “situation which defies logic or or intuition.”

The logical thing for Big Jim to do would have been to know when he had been licked and leave town. His wife’s intuition told her that “getting out of Dodge” was the sane and safe course of action. Right thinking would have meant that he would have listened to his wife.

However, Big Jim wanted a new life, one that had promise for him and his family.  Thus he made up his mind to fight for what he wanted despite the odds.

G.K.. Chesterton, “The Prince of Paradox”, wrote these words:

The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it.  

Chesterton further analyzed the nature of courage this way:

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers.

Jesus calls us at times to do the unreasonable or illogical thing.  Take for example His teaching in Matthew 6 in which he tells His followers to not worry about provision.

Jesus explains that worrying about things like food and clothing is the mark of a “pagan”, not of a believer.  He tells his disciples that if they live for Him and make His kingdom their primary concern that God will give them what they need from day to day. (See Matthew 6:31-33, Life Recovery Bible.)

This command goes against the grain of someone like me who has been raised in the materialistic American culture. “Why”, I tell myself. “I can’t (fill in the blank with a seemingly impossible task which involves putting Him first over my finances). We’ll go off the abyss.”

Yet, this is what Jesus tells me to do. I have to decide if I am going to overcome my fear and do it.

I am motivated by the idea that if I do what He commands, I will be rewarded. God  will open the floodgates of heaven for me (Malachi 3:10). He even wants me to put Him to the test, and counter the prevailing logic.

I am aware that standing next to those floodgates is my own personal grizzly who is also named Satan. He is far worse than anything Hollywood can create, AND he is real (I Peter 5:8).

My mind tells me to give up and go another direction. After all, when I encounter overwhelming opposition, isn’t this the wise course?

Not so. Like Big Jim, if I want to gain my inheritance and see the promises of God fulfilled in my life, then the only strategy is to go on the offensive and beat back old Satan. It’s paradoxical and even my body cries out in pain as I go about something that my intellect tells me is totally absurd.

I am encouraged in my fight  by what the apostle Paul wrote in relation to obstacles. He noted that we are like sheep being slaughtered, every single day. But Paul said that I  overwhelming victory will be  mine through Jesus Christ who loves me despite the dangers (Romans 8:37-39).

Time to lock and load.  Gotta go and get my 10-guage.

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“So do not fear, for I am with you;  do not be dismayed, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you;  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).”

My oldest son and I have both gotten into a reality show called “Stars Earn Stripes”. The premise of the show is that male and female celebrities, through feats of dare and do, make money for charities  which benefit those who serve or have served in the military.

Each star is paired with a real soldier who mentors them. These men are the real deal. They are decorated snipers and members of special forces.

As part of the show, the authentic servicemen put their celebs through tough training. They teach them how to fire a weapon, stay afloat with a huge amount of gear on, and safely perform acrobatic-type deeds.

After this period of training, the teachers and their celeb students go off on a difficult mission. The whole scenario is definitely meant for the testosterone set, as there is plenty of shooting and a lot of explosions.

When the stars achieve a favorable outcome, they are awarded “stripes”. This earns them money for their designated charity.

Failure in the main mission means relegation to a “shootoff” between another competitor.  If the star loses, he is eliminated from the show.

In one episode, a male star is troubled by the prospect of having to jump out of a helicopter high in the air. He is to only be secured by a tether. His destination is a rooftop, where he is to land.  After touching down, he is to rappel down a sheer wall.

This man is not the macho type, and in fact it is not clear why he is even a celebrity. He is one of those people who is “famous for being famous”.  When he is shown, the subtitle on the TV screen notes that he is an “entertainer.”

However, he has proved his mettle to date. In a previous show  his female celeb partner, a wrestling diva, tells an interviewer that this man is a weak link. Yet, he comes through with flying colors.

Now, as he looks at this week’s task, he is scared to death. He walks with his trainer, telling him his doubts. He is torn because not only is what he is being asked to do is unsafe, but because he does not want to let down his comrades and the charity he is seeking to benefit.

Finally, his team jumps on the helicopter. At the moment of truth, this star jumps into the air, lands on the building, and rappels down it. He successfully completes the entire treacherous mission and stays in the competition.

Afterwards, his mentor and the Army general in charge of the show commend him. In their lauds,  they tell the star that his ability to face down his fears and still accomplish the task he was given is the definition of true courage.

I could relate well to this celebrity’s predicament.   These days I too am facing the prospect of taking on a job I am not temperamentally suited for.

Furthermore, I know it will be a test every single day.  One of my close friends, when I told him of this job, said to me,”If you take it, bring a gun.”

When I think of myself in the day-to-day situations involved in carrying it out,  I think of all the things that could go wrong. I become fearful.

Yet, I don’t have much choice at the moment. Like this star, I have people depending on me to overcome my fears and move on to success.

The longer I live the Christian life, the more I understand that it is made up of one trial after another similar to those portrayed on “Stars Earn Stripes”.  However, I am learning that as  I encounter these difficulties, I gain insight into the thoughts of the Scriptures, which tell us to rejoice in our trials.

The Bible tells us that to successfully negotiate our tests, we need to exercise single-minded trust in God. As the celebrities put their safety into the hands of their expert soldier mentors on “Stars Earn Stripes”, we are to put our faith in the God of all wisdom who is capable of bringing us through (James 1:2-6).

In the past I have seen trials as something just to endure so I can move on to greener pastures. My mental image of them is like that conjured up by William Shakespeare in “MacBeth”.

“Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!”

However, I no longer view them as annoyances (or worse) which get in the way of what I want in life. I now see them as the essence of life itself.  I have learned that life in God is indeed to be a daily trial of  faith.

The reason I can hold this perspective now is not because I am deluded or insane. Nor is my view due to some special talents in my possession.

My slant on trials is based on my growth in comprehending the nature of the God I serve.  I believe now that He puts these potentially vexing circumstances in my path so He can show Himself faithful in delivering me through them.

God has a plan for my life that concerns me doing good and glorifying Him. This course doesn’t involve me sitting on my  duff and sipping Dr. Peppers as I watch others participate in combat. The path God has set for me includes  meaningful tasks that accomplish His purposes and give light to others as to who He really is.

Unfortunately, somebody else has a plan for me, too.  This person is known as Satan.

AKA the devil, he intends to have me wallow in my fears to the point where I choose not to participate in God’s purposes for me. Minimally, Satan works so that I  procrastinate in carrying out God’s plan and hide in my foxhole.

L.B. Cowman’s  devotional “Streams in the Desert” notes how God used Paul’s life as an example of a person who endured great suffering, but who refused to be defeated.  In fact,  Cowman reveals that such incidents as the apostle’s  shipwreck were used by God to glorify Himself and shed light on His nature.

Cowman writes of God’s process in trials:

It is a common misconception that the Christian’s walk of faith is strewn with flowers and when God intervenes in lives of His people He does so in such a wonderful way as to always lift us out of our difficult surroundings. In actual fact, however, the real experience is quite the opposite.  And the message of the Bible is one of alternating trials and triumphs in the lives of a “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), everyone from Abel to the last martyr.

Indeed, in God’s scheme of things He uses trials to give us the big time rush of exulting in victory with Him.  He involves us in these difficulties out of his love for us! Amazing.

Having this knowledge in my service manual I know will help me to overcome my fears as I move into my daily missions (i.e., trials).

 

When I am fearful, I must remember the words of the greatest English bard, Mr. Shakespeare:

“Our doubts are traitors, 
and make us lose the good we oft might win, 
by fearing to attempt.”  

Further, I must definitely keep in mind his words as he attests to God’s heart in giving me my trials:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.” 
― William ShakespeareHamlet

 

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