Every man dies – Not every man really lives

 

I never thought I’d be quoting the Scottish folk hero, William Wallace, as portrayed in the film Braveheart.  But I was blessed to know such a man who “really lived” on this earth, but who passed over to his eternal reward this past week.  There has been so much already said about Pastor James Lee Beall, that my words seem so trivial. 

 Pastor James was a rock star in Christian circles, invited to travel the nation and much of the world to speak to hundreds of thousands and to teach other leaders; yet I was honored to proclaim that he was my pastor for seventeen years.  And in spite of his notoriety, (he had many legitimate titles and could have been called Doctor Beall or Bishop Beall) he preferred simply to be addressed as brother Jim.

The man who gave the farewell address at his home-going spoke of a number of times he was able to glean wisdom from brother Jim over a cup of coffee at the Waffle House.  I only had a couple one-on-ones with the Pastor.  That was my fault, not his.  Because I just knew he could read my soul, and I was terrified of what he might reveal to me.

The first one-on-one was a couple years after we had started to attend Bethesda Christian Church.  I had been assisting the Dean of the Bible College and substitute teaching her Old Testament class whenever she took vacation or had to go out of town.  At the end of the year she recommended that I take over that instructor’s position full time, since she was over-loaded in other areas of ministry.

Brother Jim called me down to his office.  He graciously thanked me for all my service.  He told me how wonderful it was to have my family as a part of the congregation.  He talked about my kids – since he really did know a lot about each one and how they were doing in the school.  Then he explained to me why I wasn’t ready to take over full time teaching of the Old Testament class.  And he was absolutely right.  I had all the head knowledge necessary – but it hadn’t yet moved down that eighteen inches to my heart.

My second meeting with him was at my request.  Three years had passed, and a personal issue surfaced between another family member and ourselves.  In the midst of Sandy and I trying to resolve the issue, the other person said they had called Pastor Beall to complain about us.  Begrudgingly I scheduled a meeting with my pastor that I thought was now necessary.  Dreading the event, and contemplating for hours how I would handle it and what I would say, I showed up at his office.  Once again, brother Jim welcomed me with his magnetic smile.  He graciously thanked us for all our service and asked how the kids were doing – since by now my daughter had graduated from high school and my oldest boy was attending De La Salle.  At some point I began to explain the reason for requesting the meeting.  I had barely begun when my pastor stopped me and said, “John – let me tell you the same thing I told the person who called last week.”  Then he began to relate in clear English, the guidance Jesus gave His disciples for resolving differences between acquaintances.  He shook my hand firmly, smiled and I left – knowing I had the Pastor’s love and support.

Brother Jim couldn’t read your mind, but he could read your spirit – because he was so close to the One who created that spirit.  I didn’t always agree with his position, but I always respected it, as he respected the positions of others who were willing to discuss those differing positions in a mature fashion.  It bugged a lot of people that he was such a stickler for decent dress and appearance.  [He once told a group of young people that they couldn’t attend the Wednesday night youth meeting with purple hair, and that upset several who refused to return to the church.]  This was one area that I didn’t agree with his approach; yet I understood where he was coming from.  For he saw people as God intended them to become, not as they were – and he was doing everything he could to encourage them to reach that pinnacle of success.  He knew that purple hair and certain bad behaviors would hinder that.

At twenty years his junior, I hope that someday I will merit some semblance of the welcome I know he received upon his approach to the Lord’s throne: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

God doesn’t tease us

I never thought I’d be a cat person.  As I grew up I had dogs as pets, man’s best friend.  Then, my son Steve snuck a kitten into our house in 1998.  A couple months later Sandy got another cat “to keep Blacky company.”  I’ve been a cat person ever since.  I’ve learned a lot about cats in the last fifteen years.  They too can be “man’s best friend” – I have one that follows me all over the house, and crawls into my lap to be petted.  And I learned that cats love to be teased.

If I’m lying in bed, one of our cats is bound to climb in and curl up next to me.  I discovered a long time ago, that if I moved my foot or hand under the covers, they’d follow it all around and jump at it, as if they were trying to catch a mouse.  And they never seem to get tired of chasing the movement.  Pet stores obviously learned this same lesson, because they’ve filled their shelves with toys to tease cats: like elastic strings with fake mice attached that your pet chases and you pull back at the last minute, and circular tracks with a plastic ball that revolves inside a rail when the cat paws at it, but which the animal can never “catch”.   A company on TV even advertises a toy that will tease your cat for you, if you’re not around or are just too lazy to do it yourself.  For only $19.95, you can purchase this contraption that moves an object back and forth electronically on a track under a soft carpet-like cover.

Advertisers must think that people like to be teased too.  For they tease us with sales for things that we can’t really afford to add to our already burgeoning credit cards.  They tease us with promises of a return of physical beauty and endurance that passed us by twenty or more years ago, if we just purchase and use their product.  They tease us with happiness and joy unspeakable if we’ll move to Tennessee and buy land on the most gorgeous lake in the western hemisphere.  Even the weather persons tease us with offers to instruct and prepare us for the worst disaster of the century, if we just tune into their 11:00 pm report.   The advertisers and the reporters must be having some success, or they’d change their techniques.  But I’m convinced that people are much different than cats – we don’t really like to be teased.  We’re created to be receptors of truth.

Oh, I know, we all make that same mistake of teasing the people closest to us.  And our friends and family usually put up with us – and pretend that they don’t mind – but I’m sure that inside they do mind.  I know I do!  Teasing is a sign of disrespect – and it often hurts a lot.

The Apostle Paul warned of “foolish talking and coarse jesting” as not befitting of followers of Christ.  And Jesus referred to words spoken as our “treasure” and explained how “a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”  Then He went on to say that men will eventually have to account for every “idle word” they speak.

It should actually give us great comfort to know that God is very serious when He speaks – when He promises us something.  He is not like the advertisers all around us on billboards and newspapers and on TV, trying to scam us out of our last dollar.  Nor is He like the newscaster trying to steal our time and focus to listen to his dribble.  Let me share one of my favorite scriptures, which God used the prophet Isaiah to tell mankind about Himself: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

God doesn’t tease us with His blessings.  When He says, “I don’t deal with you according to your sins, nor reward you according to your iniquities; for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is My love and patience and mercy toward those who respect Me,” we need to believe Him.   When He says “As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed your transgressions from Me,” we just need to accept that as true.  And when He, through His Son, Jesus tells His followers that we have been given power to defeat every enemy, whether that enemy is the devil or sickness or poverty, we need to believe that also.

God created our cute pets to bring us such comfort and pleasure in this often frustrating world we inhabit.  But He also molded each one of us, so intellectually and emotionally different from that animal kingdom that we were intended to nurture and protect and get such joy from.  God created us with a yearning to seek out and discover truth, about ourselves and about the universe that we inhabit.  And sometimes we run into a brick wall in our own personal search for truth.  When that happens, as it inevitably will for everyone, we need to be able to go to an objective source that we can trust to reveal truth.  We don’t need that source to tease us – we need God.

Finding Resolve in the most unlikely places

I begin most days the same.  I’d like to say that I read my Bible first thing, but in truth, I skim through detroitnews.com and foxnews.com – the former to see how my favorite sports teams are doing, the latter to keep current on the national and international news.  This past Saturday the name J. D. Salinger caught my eye. http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/08/25/biographers-say-new-jd-salinger-works-will-be-released-starting-in-2015  I knew the author had passed away three years ago at the fine age of ninety-one, and I was surprised to learn that there were nearly fifty years of his “yet unpublished works.”

When I was a freshman in College, only two years older than Holden Caulfield, his teen character in Catcher in the Rye, our class studied the only one of his books I’ve ever read.  It’s kind of amazing that we were actually encouraged to read the book by a University of Detroit English professor – a Catholic Jesuit institution.  In those days it wasn’t unusual for a teacher who assigned the book to be fired or forced to resign.  Even as late as 1979, a study of censorship noted that Catcher in the Rye “had the dubious distinction of being at once the most frequently censored book across the nation and the second-most frequently taught novel in public high schools.”

Like many young people of the time, I identified with the adolescent’s alienation from the conservative society of my parents and my church.  And when our professor told the class that, in an interview Salinger had stated the Caulfield character was based on his own rebellious teen years, I identified with the author as well.  It’s not that my behavior mirrored the immorality and perversion of Holden, who used religious slurs and freely discussed casual sex and prostitution – but it reflected what was going on in my mind.  “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”  [King Solomon, Proverbs 23:7]

Anyway, I wondered what had happened to Salinger, because, as quickly as he had burst upon the public scene, he had pretty much disappeared by the young age of forty-six.  The article went on to explain that he had self-imposed retirement from public life, but that friends, neighbors and family members all reported that Salinger continued to write.  And it’s these later works that his son has authorized to be published in the next ten to fifteen years.

The author himself told The New York Times in 1974 that he wrote daily, although only for himself – “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing,” he said at the time.  So again, I find myself identifying with J. D. Salinger, but now the reclusive one.  I have written two books myself, which I’m in the process of self-publishing through CreateSpace.com.  But each has languished for a considerable period of time on my computer hard drive, as I edit, rewrite, edit and rewrite again – and again – and again.

I guess I never understood and appreciated the courage and risk an author took to his or her ego and self-esteem when they published a creative piece of themselves.  It is a fearful thing to open up what’s in your mind to the public at large – to the evaluation and criticism of friend and foe, to familiar and strange voices – for everyone has an opinion and is free to express it – and does so fearlessly, especially in this age of the anonymous internet.  Yet that is both the wonder and the angst of publishing your work.  One of the reasons I began this blog was to test my personal resolve to deal with negative criticism that was bound to come out of such a diverse culture – of which 75% likely disagree with a significant part of my mores.

Though I truly understand Salinger’s assessment that “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing,” this week I took the step of establishing an ISBN for my book, Candlemass – a Paul Leit and Mike Trombley Mystery.  All that remains is for me to download the file and complete the design of its cover.  This will complete the second phase of my personal test of resolve and boldness.  It’s less important that someone actually purchase the book than it is that I satisfy myself that “I can do this!”  If I can, then I’ll be able to move out on the publication of the more important work, Soaring above the Storm – Practical Applications in Spiritual Warfare.  A number of people who previously attended classes my wife and I taught a couple years ago using the materials which serve as its framework have already expressed interest in getting the final document.

So if you’re a Christian and you believe God is true to His promise to guide us in every step in life when we seek His direction, then I would value your prayers for wisdom and strength to complete this task.

If two of you on earth agree about anything

My local church has a Saturday morning men’s prayer meeting.  They’ve met faithfully every week since 1992.  That’s about fifteen years longer than I’ve been a member.  There’s a core group of men who come nearly every week, and others join in as their work and family schedules permit, or as needs arise in their individual lives.  Rain, snow, or holiday season, nothing interferes with the gathering, unless Christmas or Easter actually fall on a Saturday.  These men obviously understand and believe in Jesus’ bold promise that “… if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Agreement is such an important concept in accomplishing anything significant in life, whether natural or supernatural.  Businesses, academic institutions, even government agencies, they all know that it’s not enough to come up with a brilliant idea – even with financial backing, it will go nowhere without leadership and peer support and encouragement.  And nearly every week at our men’s meeting I witness and hear testimonies of the spiritual law of agreement in action: marriages and families put back together, individuals set free from addictions, and physical, mental and emotional healings.

Yet this past Saturday, after a period of sharing needs and what God has been doing in our lives, as we stood to begin to pray we faced an unusual conflict to agreement.  One man shared that he had been praying for God to remove our President from office, for his breach of the U.S. Constitution and, more importantly, the law of God.  While many nodded in agreement, another vigorously protested.  The latter explained how he had grown up in an African dictatorship, and had learned to pray daily for his leaders, who wouldn’t have thought twice about breaking into his home and arresting the head of the family or cutting off someone’s head.  He explained how several years of persecution passed, but the people continued to pray.  Then God moved in that country, and the dictator’s successor recently accepted Christ as his Lord, and now serves God.  He too acknowledged the need for a change in our leadership, but viewed the next election as the most legitimate means to that end.  As his declaration wound down, a third man spoke up with similar passion, equating the President’s actions to the dictator his friend was able to eventually escape only by resettling in America.  He insisted that our supreme leader too was allowing and supporting the decapitation and surgical destruction of millions of in-womb citizens every year.

Almost as quickly as the debate had ensued, our group of men seemed to recognize that we were treading into the realm of disagreement, and we backed off and refocused on the specific needs of the men present:  a son who was going through difficult times, an aging mother who had financial needs, a man in the grip of depression.  Yet, as we prayed for these, I sensed a cloud of unease still hung over the group.

As I had listened to the debate, I realized my own prayers ran somewhere in between the two extreme positions of our group.  For a long time I had been praying that God would either change the President’s heart (and the hearts of most of our political leaders) or remove them from office, whether that be by election, impeachment, or any other way God chose to use.  Yet we had already gone through two national elections, and God seemed to be turning a deaf ear to my and many other Christian’s prayers.  What was hindering our prayers?

I once heard a preacher say that God answers every pray – it’s just that we don’t always like His answer, so we ignore it – especially when it’s a resounding NO!  It sounds clever, but I’m not sure the man was right.  I think there are some prayers that God just doesn’t pay any attention to, for one reason or another.  For example, when I and a million other Michigan Christians prayed for the Tigers to win the World Series last year, He clearly thought that was a silly request; though the fans from the San Francisco Bay area who were praying that their Giants would kick the Tigers’ butts probably would dispute that their prayers didn’t help.

The Bible is clear, that we are to pray for those in authority over us.  Still I couldn’t cite a single scripture where God has promised to change the heart of a rebellious leader.  In fact, the one scripture relating to government leaders that I’ve heard most often quoted,  1 Timothy 2:1-2, mentions “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” as the rationale and expected outcome of our prayers for “the king.”

I wondered: can God change the political and social environment in America – or has it gone too far down the path of destruction to reverse course?  Does God change hearts – or does He just give men opportunities to know Him and to ask for a new heart?  I still have a lot to learn about God and about prayer.  So I looked to God’s written Word for an answer.

God, through Moses gave Pharaoh ten opportunities to repent and let His people go free, before He destroyed the first-born of every living thing in Egypt, then later destroyed the pursuing army.  Pharaoh had refused the new heart God offered to give him, and the consequences were inevitable.  Jesus gave the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and lawyers opportunity after opportunity to repent and acknowledge that He was the Messiah, but most of them turned down His offer of a new heart and hardened their hearts of stone even more – and the nation suffered the consequences of both spiritual and natural destruction, the latter at the hands of the Romans.  The Apostle Paul was sent to minister to King Agrippa, in an episode described in chapter 26 of the Book of Acts.  Paul reminded Agrippa of the doctrines of his Jewish faith and prophesies about the coming Messiah that he’d learned as a boy.  Yet, in one of the saddest conclusions of all time to an opportunity presented, Agrippa responded: “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”  He eventually became a traitor to his own nation, was expelled by the Jews from Jerusalem and fought on the side of the Romans against his people.

America’s one hope is the Church.  The Body of Christ must step it up several notches.  While our leaders disappoint us, we must be willing to stand in the gap for them, take responsibility for their shortcomings, repent on their behalf and continually pray that God will not abandon them, but keep offering them opportunities to change their hearts before it’s too late.

The Apostle James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  So often we hear about “the power of prayer,” yet there is much to learn about answered and unanswered prayer.  God wants to bless His people; but foremost He wants a holy and righteous people.  Everything else is secondary.

Fortunately, we have history and God’s abundant mercy and patience on our side.  Of course, we have the ultimate example in Jesus, the Son of God, who laid down His divinity to take up a shattered people’s cause and gave us all the opportunity to be set free for eternity.  But we only need to flip through the pages of the Bible to find additional examples.

Abraham was allowed to negotiate with the Creator of the universe for the salvation of the evil city of Sodom.  Moses, Caleb, and Joshua each took turns repenting on behalf of the nation of Israel, that God would not destroy the people whenever they rebelled against Him.  And many other OT leaders stood in the gap for their nation, and we have access to their success stories, such as described in Isaiah 36.  As God promised: “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.  For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.  I will save you from all your uncleanness.

I know this last promise is specific to the people of Israel – a promise whose fulfillment began in 1948 and will not be completed until Jesus returns.  However, it should also give hope to us in this nation.  America was founded on Christian principles and historically has done so much good both for God and for mankind.  America has sent out more missionaries throughout the world than any other country, and America has generously restored untold numbers of people’s lives who have suffered tragedy across the globe.  So let’s stand together and never cease from praying for our political leaders in all branches of government – let’s accept their failings as our own and repent on their behalf – and perhaps they will be given a few more opportunities to listen to and obey their Master and Creator and bend their knees to His Son.

I know where the rocks ain’t

Written a year after the tragedy, Gordon Lightfoote’s song made the SS Edmund Fitzgerald the most famous Great Lakes shipping disaster in history.  The Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes at the time.  Yet on November 10, 1975, during a Lake Superior gale, it sunk suddenly in 530 feet near Whitefish Bay – without sending any distress signals.  All 29 hands in the crew perished.  A day earlier it had set out from Superior  Wisconsin en route to Detroit on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon.  With the volatility of the current recession, hurricane force winds hit and the Fitzgerald, and several other ships were trapped in treacherous seas.  Visibility was extremely poor, the radio beacon at Whitefish Bay was knocked out by the storm, and the Fitzgerald lost its own on-board radar.  Its only communication was with another ship 10 miles away, which tried to guide it to safe harbor.

In times such as these, it’s easy to feel like you’re on a ship and disaster is just around the bend.  Should you let down the life boats and get off or should you ride out the storm?  There aren’t a whole lot of options once you’re in the storm.  And chances are, it’s not all your fault that you’re in this predicament.

You can begin pounding your breast and saying “Woe is me” – or you can take this as a great opportunity to exercise your trust in God and allow Him to show you how this opportunity can be turned to His glory and to share God’s goodness and love with others.

Refer to chapter 27 of the Book Acts, which describes a portion of the Apostle Paul’s journey to Rome, to stand trial for some false accusations made by religious leaders against him.  At one point, the captain of the ship made a bad decision to sail at a dangerous time of year, in spite of Paul’s warnings.   The ship was caught in a “northeaster” wind of hurricane force, much like the one that destroyed the SS Edmund Fitzgerald.  The crew used all their skill to combat the storm, even throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the load; but after being battered continuously for days, they gave up all hope of being saved.  The book says that Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.  Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’  So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.  Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”  

The story continues that at one point the sailors pretended they were going to lower some anchors from the bow, and instead let the lifeboat down into the sea, planning to escape.  Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”  So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.  This was an amazing act of faith in Paul’s God for unbelievers, and it paid off.  Paul even urged everyone to eat, since they’d need the strength to survive.  “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.  They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.   The ship struck a sandbar and ran aground, and the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping; but the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept his men from carrying out their plan.  And all 276 on-board survived as God promised Paul.

This lesson demonstrates that, instead of focusing on the problems all around you, you need to focus on what God wants you to become, and how these circumstances are going to contribute to your maturity in reaching your destiny.  It reminds me of a short story I once heard.

A young man once applied for his first job as a navigator for a local shipping route.  When the old Captain saw the young fellow come in, he figured there was no way this kid could fill the job.  He thought he’d just be polite and ask him a couple questions.  That would demonstrate why he wasn’t qualified; then he’d send him on his way and he could interview a more experienced candidate.  His first question was simply, “Young man, do you know where the rocks are?”  The young man answered, “No sir.  I’m not sure I do.”  But before the captain could say another word he continued, “But I know where the rocks ain’t.”  The old Captain gave him the job on the spot.

Sometimes we feel that we need to search out the rocks: to study the rocks, to understand the rocks.  We’re drawn toward the rocks for some odd reason.  Our curiosity?  Their perceived beauty?  Any number of reasons.  It’s a strange reality, but a person will always move in the direction that he is focused on.  If he is focused on his problems or his sins, that’s the direction he will advance towards.  However, if he is focused on God’s forgiveness, His love, the person’s own self-worth – well, the conclusion is obvious.  Some pastors, teachers and evangelists need to consider this reality as well when they minister.

Along the coast, lighthouses were specifically built, so ships could avoid the rocks.  We are called to be lights to the world as Christ is our light.  Jesus constantly reminded his disciples: “You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
He’ll show us where the rocks ain’t.  Sure, we’ll experience persecution and storms or tests and trials in our lives; that’s how God helps us mature and teaches us and hones off the rough edges.  These are the things that he uses to reveal to us our weakest areas, so that we can work on them to seek His perfection.

But if a vessel hits the rocks, it’s going down.  The rocks represent those things that cause us to fret and worry.  That’s what Jesus has promised to steer us away from, toward safety.  Can He pull us out if we hit the rocks and begin to sink?  Sure He can – just like He did for the apostle Paul; if we let him.  But His desire is that we allow Him to steer us clear of the rocks in the first place.

Five Steps to successfully maneuvering through turbulent times

Few of us can honestly say we’ve had trials as extreme as the apostle Paul.  In his second letter to the church at Corinth, he recited some of these: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Yet, a little later Paul boasts in Christ: “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

  1. Turn off bad news.  That may mean avoiding certain people and entertainment, including some TV shows.  Our spiritual enemy would have you to focus on bad news.  Worry will steal your joy and keep you from God’s best for you.  Lighten that emotional load you carry and, by all means, stop looking in the rear-view mirror at your past mistakes and failures.  Trust that God has your best interests in mind.
  2. Believe in yourselfGod believes in you.  Get your mind off your own potential problems by helping others in more difficult circumstances.  Reach out to those inside and outside your family or circle of friends – people at work – even strangers.
  3. Look forward.  Let God show you opportunities to be blessed and to bless others.  Learn to listen to His voice.  And meditate on good things and on the Lord.
  4. Prepare to engage the storms.  The only way to successfully do this is to reflect God in your life.  Jesus puts it this way:  “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things [everything you need in life] shall be added unto you.”  The only way you will have the knowledge to reflect God in your life is if you get to really know Him.  You get to know God by reading and meditating on His written Word (the Bible), by communicating with the Him (prayer), by living a disciplined life, by exercising your faith (which will increase through use) and by fellowshipping with the people of God (His Church).  We need that network of support in our lives.
  5. Reach safe harbor – Finish strong – Never quit!  No matter how bad the situation looks – it’s never over when you have God on your side.  An excellent scripture to put on your refrigerator and read often is Micah 7:7-8   But as for me, I will look to the Lord, and be confident in Him.  I will keep watch; I will wait with hope and expectancy for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.  Rejoice not against me, O my enemy! When I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me.

Where Science and the Bible intersect

I’m a faith person.  The Bible says I have to be a faith person: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  A lot of my Christian friends have blind faith.  But my constitution demands evidence of the truth or the goodness of something before I throw my support behind it.  Fortunately for people like me, God and His people over the millenniums of time have left a lot of evidence.  I’m always in the research mode and my sensors are set on high for any news report that purports to demonstrate a link between scientific discoveries and Biblical history or prophesy.

This year alone, FoxNews.com has reported on several archaeological excavations that claim to prove a variety of stories from the Bible.  This worries a lot of scholars like Professor Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University who says he’s concerned that archaeologists are simply relying too heavily on the Bible itself as a source of evidence to initiate their digs and to interpret their findings.

He can probably blame 19th century men like Edward Robinson and General Sir Charles Warren.  In 1838, Robinson was the first to investigate the Holy Land, when he and his missionary friend Ali Smith roamed the country and identified some of the most important biblical sites.  And between 1867 and 1870, Warren conducted the first thorough survey of the Temple Mount and its environs.  His finds were meticulously recorded for the benefit of future generations to follow.

But the true renaissance in Israel of archaeologists looking for historical evidence of biblical stories began in 1968, about a year after the Six-Day-War.  And it’s continued in earnest into the 21st century.   The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls two decades earlier, which validated much of the Hebrew Bible, undoubted influenced these archaeologists’ interest in the Holy Land.  The area of the Temple mount specifically has long been the focal point of geographical and historical studies. The Ophel Mound in Jerusalem sits at the heart of Biblical archaeology and the site’s rich research history continues to yield incredible discoveries to this day.

Ophel, by the way, means fortified hill or risen area, similar to the Greek term Acropolis.  The Ophel Mound in the City of David, generally considered to have been the original Jerusalem, is beyond the southern edge of the Temple Mount, with the Tyropoeon Valley on its west, the Hinnom valley to the south, and the Kidron Valley on the east. The valley separating the Ophel from what is currently referred to as the Old City of Jerusalem was once deep, but now lies hidden beneath the debris of centuries.

Anyway, a few days ago, when I saw another one of these stories about a discovery relating to the Ophel Mound, my interest was peaked – and I wanted to share it with others.  www.foxnews.com/science/2013/07/31/3000-year-old-inscription-translated-biblical-history/#ixzz2aid5dssb.  The story focused on the fresh translation of a mysterious language by an ancient Near Eastern history and biblical studies expert named Douglas Petrovich.  Petrovich claims to have cracked the code for inscriptions written on jugs and monuments found across Israel in recent years.  His analysis characterizes the language as the oldest form of written Hebrew.  An earlier interpretation had presumed that the inscriptions were Canaanite in origin.  If Petrovich’s analysis proves true, it would be evidence of the accuracy of Old Testament tales.  If Hebrew as a written language existed in the 10th century (the time of David and Solomon), the ancient Israelites were recording their history in real time as opposed to writing it down several hundred years later.

The key to Petrovich’s translation is an inscription on a 10th century B.C. jug that was discovered near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem last year, which has been labeled “the Ophel Inscription.”  However, the same script has parallels from several other sites, including Tel Batash/Timnah, Izbet Zartah, Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Tel Fekheriyeh just to name a few.  So there are profound ramifications in this discovery for our understanding of the Bible.

Of course there are many who do not like to mix “the hard facts of science,” with stories from the Bible.  When a similar inscription was found in 2008 at a site many now call one of King David’s palaces, Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein said romantic notions of the Bible shouldn’t cloud scientific methods, and he warned the press against the “revival in the belief that what’s written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper.”  Archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel who recently led a ten-year excavation of the possible palace of King David, overlooking the valley where the Hebrew king victoriously smote the giant Goliath, admits that “… there is a revolution in this type of inscription being found.”  But he summarily dismissed it as “like a [cellphone] text.”  In his opinion, the writing on the jug is just a type of shorthand farmers of the 10th century used, and not an official way of communication that was passed on.

I’m always amazed that so-called experts, with similar backgrounds and training, can look at the exact same evidence and come up with conclusions that are 180 degrees opposite to each other.  And that’s the case here.  In Petrovich’s words, “It is just the climate among scholars that they want to attribute as little as possible to the ancient Israelites.”  In my opinion, I think it’s simply a fear throughout the post-modern scientific community and academia of anything that purports to make the Old and New Testaments into historical accounts of real-life events.  And that fear seems to be magnified several degrees in the face of anything that serves to connect the dots between the events described in the Bible and relating to Christian doctrine.

But I ask, what’s wrong with relying on the Bible to initiate archaeological, or any other scientific discoveries?  In the past, it was the norm for Western scientists to look to the Bible to lead them in taking that first step toward better understanding their natural world.  Matthew Maury the 19th century father of oceanography, is a good example.  He noticed the expression “paths of the sea” in Psalm 8:8 written 2,800 years before his time and said, ”If God said there were paths in the sea, I am going to find them.”  He took God at His word and went looking for these paths.  We are indebted to his discovery of the warm and cold continental currents. And other early scientists like Galileo believed that the Bible contains scientific truths and that it is the function of wise interpreters to discover these truths.

If you’re like me, you want to see and touch the evidence that you’re reading about.  With regard to the Ophel inscription, here’s the next best thing: Douglas Petrovich’s analysis of the Ophel inscription www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2013/07/25/New-Find-Jerusalems-Oldest-Hebrew-Inscription.aspx#Article and two videos made by students who assisted the archaeologist working the site where the recent discoveries were made

Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Institute of Archaeology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has excavated in ancient Jerusalem for over 30 years.  She directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.  In 2009-2010, Herbert W. Armstrong College students volunteered on the first phase of the Ophel Excavation directed by Dr. Mazar.  The first half of the second phase of the excavation ran from August to December 2012, with over twenty representatives from the college assisting Dr. Mazar.  Watch the excavation in action! http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/video-inside-the-2012-ophel-excavations/

In April 2013, Dr. Mazar reopened the second phase of her Ophel Excavation, uncovering the ruins of King Solomon’s complex near the foot of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This May, the college sent fourteen students to Jerusalem to volunteer on the dig. These digs have centered around a cistern from the Second Temple period as well as some underground caverns and tunnels. The current assumption is that the cistern collected rain water for public use during the time of King Herod.  The Jewish historian, Josephus, mentions that many of the Jews hid in underground caverns and tunnels during the time of the Roman overthrow of Jerusalem around 70AD. It is possible that some of these tunnels that are mentioned in the video are the same ones mentioned by Josephus. http://exploringbiblelands.com/2013/07/03/more-information-on-the-ophel-excavations/

 

Why did I keep that?

Not too long ago I was reorganizing the basement shelves and came across a box of memorabilia from my elementary and high school years.  It’s not the first time I’ve looked through this stuff – I do this sort of reorganization every five years or so – and each time the pile gets thinned down a little.  Other than thousands of photographs, which I’ve been pretty good at putting into albums in a bookcase, the memorabilia stuff can now fit into one small cardboard box.

Most of the few items I’ve retained over the years can easily be explained, like my boy scout badges and emblems, the souvenirs I traded for at the Jamboree in Colorado, or even my eighth grade report on Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with its colorful illustrations of Ichabod’s flight through the night.  But then there’s the one high school essay I’ve hung onto all these years – on Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.  Why did I keep that?

It was the beginning of my senior year at De La Salle.  It was also Brother Cronan’s first teaching assignment.  In his mid-twenties, fresh out of college he was my English instructor, and he was cool.  Short and thin of frame, he had a handsome always-smiling friendly face, and a buzz cut.  His accent reminded me of my cousins in Pittsburgh, but I think he came from further east.  Brother Cronan seemed happy with his vocation and we laughed a lot while he taught.  And I wanted to make a good first impression on this man I admired.

It was early September, and he handed out a reading list and asked us to pick a book for our first report – he’d give us more directions in a couple weeks.  I picked The Red Badge of Courage and immediately began reading it – a little each night.  Near the end of the third week of classes Brother Cronan gave us our instructions – we were to choose a major character and write a five hundred word essay on a situation or difficulty the character faced and how he or she dealt with it.

Friday night I had a football game and I played middle linebacker.  I’m not sure why, because I was only 5’8” and 180 lbs and I wasn’t very good at pass defense.  We beat Salesian – one of our two wins that year.  Saturday morning I began writing the report.  I did well in math, science and foreign languages – but writing was not my forte.  Still, I was determined that this report would be great.  Brother Cronan would see my character, Henry Fleming in a new and unique light.  My tools, a dictionary and a thesaurus – I would use colorful words in ways I’d never used them before, and unique words that I’d only read in books, but had never used myself, and definitely big words (at least three syllables seemed like a good criteria.)

I wrote the first sentence.  Then I wrote it again, adding adverbs and adjectives and prepositions.  And I wrote it again and again – nouns turned into noun clauses, adverbs into adverbial clauses – the thesaurus my guarantee that I didn’t repeat a word when a previously unused synonym was available.  That first sentence turned into a sixty word introductory paragraph.  In that pre-computer age, it took me over two hours to write.  But I had developed a process that would enable me to work much faster on the rest of the report.

By Sunday afternoon I had completed an approximately 550 word essay – in eleven sentences.  For those of you in Rio Linda, that’s fifty-five words per sentence, as Rush Limbaugh would say.  Then I wrote it again, on two clean sheets of paper, in my best cursive, and stapled the pages.  As I read it one final time before I set it aside to do other homework, I just knew Brother Cronan would be moved by my masterpiece.  I even imagined him reading it to the class and citing it as an example for others to emulate.

I handed my essay in Monday morning, along with everyone else in Room 40 – and I waited for that great moment.  Near the end of the week Brother passed our essays back, with nary a comment.  At the top of my paper was a B-.  I was dumb-founded.  There were no notes on the front side of either page.

Embarrassed, I turned the essay over on my desk.  That’s when I saw the single sentence he had written on the back in red ink.  “I would have given you an ‘A’ but you and I both know you didn’t write this yourself.”  God bless Brother Cronan’s heart – I had been too clever for my own good – he had concluded that I had a college student help me.  He didn’t know my only sibling was seven years my senior, had graduated from college two years earlier, had started a job as an electrical engineer and was currently on a small island in the Philippines, in his words, “dodging headhunters’ blow-darts.”

Should I plead my case to Brother Cronan?  It wasn’t in my nature to do that.  I’d just have to suck it up.  So, when the class ended, with my head down, I moped out of the room and moved on to Chem lab.

So why did I keep that essay?  Did I learn a valuable lesson from the experience?  I’m not sure I did.  Writing still doesn’t come easy for me – and I still put enormous amounts of time and effort into it – much more than anyone else I know.  Has anyone else ever read that essay?  Not really!  And it’s probably a good idea they haven’t – because it reads like it was written by a seventeen year old boy who was trying to impress his teacher by using big words he didn’t really understand and long dangling sentences.  But at that moment in my life, I was proud of the effort I had put into that essay, and I felt good about the end product.  And I knew the truth, even if I was seriously misunderstood by someone I looked up to.