Coping with the Difficulties of Life

“As I chanted my Hindu mantras I visualized white light flowing through my bloodstream. It made me feel centered and balanced. I had learned to draw in the white light that I visualized coming from some source above me, and with the sound vibrating through my body, the light traveled through me causing a sensation of calm alignment.”1 Could this testimonial have come from the Apostle Paul? Is this the way he found peace in the difficulties of life?

Paul’s Plan

Indeed not! Shirley MacLaine’s new age mysticism did not parallel Paul’s plan. His practice as detected in his letters contained five components.

      Contentment with Current Circumstances. Paul did not turn from tough times. He was content with anything (Philippians 4:11,12). This contentment was not a fatalistic capitulation to life’s difficulties. Paul believed his difficulties would produce ultimate good: other Christians’ faith would grow as they saw him overcoming, an unbelieving Roman soldier would confess Christ, or young preachers would proclaim more boldly the gospel (Romans 8:28; Phil. 1:12). Paul’s contented acceptance of difficulties resembled the poise of the mighty eagle spreading its wings against the howling wind.

      Trust in a Personal God. Paul’s faith rested in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–not in some impersonal Divine Power of Cosmic Consciousness. His child-like faith radiated, “My God shall supply all your needs. . . “(Philippians 4:19)! When things got tough, Paul knew God would supply on time. This trust grew from a conviction that God who had started a redemptive work within believers would finish it (Philippians 1:6, 2:13). God’s unlimited reservoir of strength stood at Paul’s disposal.

     Focus on the Living Christ. The focus of Paul’s desires was Christ–not his problems. Paul endured imprisonment for Christ’s sake. The chains merely adorned the ambassador of Christ. Paul measured his self-worth and his circumstances in life, not by who he was or what he could do, but by his devotion and service to Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 12:8-10). He joyfully faced all things so that Christ would be exhalted.

    Reliance on Christian Community. Support from believers figured meaningfully into Paul’s plan. Companionship with Timothy, Titus, and others provided two benefits: (1) their prayers saved Paul from hopelessness and defeat (Philippians 1:19), and (2) their emotional and material support comforted Paul when in conflict or opposition (II Corinthians. 7:5-7; Philippians 2:19-30; 4:18). Imprisoned in Rome, he urged Timothy to bring his books, coat, and come before the winter set in–he desperately needed Timothy.

      Use of Focused Prayer. Prayer brought Paul’s needs into contact with God’s resources. Prayer opened the jail at Philippi, brought strength to cope with the ‘thorn in the flesh’, and produced spiritual maturity (Philippians 1:9-11). Paul’s prayer was not a mystical meditation but a conscious communication with the personal God.

Modern Approaches

Modern self-help approaches differ significantly from Paul’s plan. A common focus of these approaches is on one’s inner self.

      Positive Thinking. Norman Vincent Peale popularized positive mental attitude in The Power of Positive Thinking. The ‘magic of believing’ beckons the immense powers of the human mind to imagine a condition into reality. Think earnestly, intently about deep desires and they will come about.

     Meditation and Relaxation. Dr. Herbert Benson’s plan for meditation (The Relaxation Response , 1975) contains four essentials: (1) a quiet environment, (2) a mental device, (3) a passive attitude, and (4) a comfortable position. Using a mental device–a special word, sound or phrase, often called a mantra, this form of meditation seeks to empty the mind in pursuit of inner calmness and union with cosmic consciousness. The Christian form of meditation seeks to fill the mind with active thoughts of Christ.

     Channeling and Crystal Healing. Channeling occurs whenever a person permits a spirit entity to communicate special messages to the mind. Kurt Leland (Menus for Impulsive Living, 1989) received instructions on living impulsively from a spirit called Charles. The “menus” Charles gave Mr. Leland promised to bring magic back into his life–a plan for living gained through channeling.

Shirley MacLaine championed the use of crystals as a method of bringing calm and balance in life. Crystals may be worn as jewelry around the neck or rubbed over the body to absorb bad energy. They also serve as utensils during psychic rituals such as channeling. One practioner positioned a quartz crystal at each of the four corners of the bathtub to focus energy into her body while she bathed. Supposedly, crystals contain the ability to focus psychic energies to bring inner healing.

Who is Right?

James Thomas’ book, The Seven Steps to Personal Power, 1992, epitomizes the proliferation of modern self-help approaches. The steps seem simple: (1) Claim the power within, (2) Create what you need, (3) Create emotional balance, (4) Set your heart on change, (5) Go with your inner voice, (6) Know the power within, and (7) Connect with the Divine.

Simple? Maybe. Biblical? Not really. The focus is egocentric, not Christocentric. I prefer Paul’s plan: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

1 MacLaine, Shirley. (1985). Dancing in the light, New York: Bantam, p. 8-9.

 

One Hundred Years Ago Tonight!

The Christmas Truce 1914! On that notorious Christmas Eve, christmas-truce-1914German soldiers lifted their voices in song that spoke of the hope of Christmas, “Silent Night, Holy Night!” The sounds from the war weary men wafted across “No Man’s Land” to the alert ears of British soldiers. At first, they responded with a taunting rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” As the night hours gave way to the breaking of Christmas Day, the hardened commitments of soldiers on both sides of the blood soaked and death filled battlefield gave way to a basic human need for peace and tranquility.

Calls from each side invited the other to join in no-man’s land for a time of peaceful human exchange. Thus began the “Christmas Truce of 1914.” Twentieth Century expert, Jennifer Rosenberg gives an interesting account of this moment in human history:

“On Christmas Eve, many German soldiers put up Christmas trees, decorated with candles, on the parapets of their trenches. Hundreds of Christmas trees lighted the German trenches and although British soldiers could see the lights, it took them a few minutes to figure out what they were from. Could this be a trick? British soldiers were ordered not to fire but to watch them closely. Instead of trickery, the British soldiers heard many of the Germans celebrating.

Time and again during the course of that day, the Eve of Christmas, there were wafted towards us from the trenches opposite the sounds of singing and merry-making, and occasionally the guttural tones of a German were to be heard shouting out lustily, ‘A happy Christmas to you Englishmen!’ Only too glad to show that the sentiments were reciprocated, back would go the response from a thick-set Clydesider, ‘Same to you, Fritz, but dinna o’er eat yourself wi’ they sausages!’ [6] 1

In other areas, the two sides exchanged Christmas carols.

They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang ‘The first Noël’, and when we finished that they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, ‘O Tannenbaum’. And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words ‘Adeste Fidéles’. And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.[7] 2

The Christmas Truce

This fraternization on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas was in no way officially sanctified nor organized. Yet, in numerous separate instances down the front line, German soldiers began yelling over to their enemy, “Tommy, you come over and see us!”[8]3  Still cautious, the British soldiers would rally back, “No, you come here!”

In some parts of the line, representatives of each side would meet in the middle, in No Man’s Land.

We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans – Fritz and I in the centre talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying. We stood inside the circle like streetcorner orators.

Soon most of our company (‘A’ Company), hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us . . . What a sight – little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. Where they couldn’t talk the language they were making themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill! [9] 4

Some of those who went out to meet the enemy in the middle of No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day negotiated a truce: we won’t fire if you won’t fire. Some ended the truce at midnight on Christmas night, some extended it until New Year’s Day” (Rosenberg, http://history1900s.about.com/od/1910s/a/christmastruce.htm).

One hundred years later, we have lived through the bloodiest century in human history. Current events around our world suggest that the blood shed, racial strife, and ideological warfare will only intensify.

Can we find the courage and willingness to pray that God would inspire people and nations on all sides of the conflict to come together in a moment of recognizing that we CAN HAVE PEACE when we embrace the Prince of Peace–He whose birth we celebrate today. Happy Birthday, Jesus! And Please Help our World!

Notes

  1. Lieutenant Kennedy as quoted in Brown, Christmas Truce 62.
  2. Jay Winter and Blaine Baggett, The Great War: And the Shaping of the 20th Century (New York: Penguin Books, 1996) 97.
  3. Brown, Christmas Truce 68.
  4. Corporal John Ferguson as quoted in Brown, Christmas Truce 71.

 Bibliography

Brown, Malcolm and Shirley Seaton. Christmas Truce. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984.

Winter, Jay and Blaine Baggett. The Great War: And the Shaping of the 20th Century. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

The Face of God

Walking around the west end of the Crystal Cathedral, I approached a bronze colorized sculpture depicting the Holy Family on their way to the Land of Egypt. I had never seen bronze sculptures that had been colored. The life sized donkey on which Mother Mary rode resembled the typical donkey gray. Mary’s white and blue robe sparkled in the sunlight. Joseph’s brown robe and tan tunic with a rust-colored band around the head caused me to begin wondering about the color of the family’s skin. As I drew closer, I could see that the face of Mary had the color of a Jewish woman. “Given our politically correct society and the desire of the leadership at the Crystal Cathedral to touch the entire world, what color is the face and hands of Baby Jesus?” I pondered as I moved from the rear of the sculpture. I could not have imagined that which the artist did—he had used highly polished chrome for the face, arms, hands, and legs of the Baby. Mary and Joseph’s skin colors looked like people from the Middle East.

Surprised at this out-of-place color in an otherwise realistic sculptural ensemble, I moved within a couple of feet of the art piece and studied it for a long moment, looking especially into the face of the Baby Jesus. Then it struck me as I say my OWN reflection on the shiny cheek of the Baby: “How appropriate! This mirror-like surface on the Babe allows everyone who comes closely and gazes intently to see themselves in the face of God!” I said, “That will fit my theology!”

“Looking into the face of God … can be a self-revealing moment in which we see ourselves in light of the nature and character of the Holy One who comes to us in human form.”

Did I worship at that moment? And the numerous moments since then as I have looked again and again at the photographs that I took? Did I worship the bronze sculpture made by J. Seward Johnson and dedicated on January 31, 1999 at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California? Yes to the first two questions. No to the third.

Looking into the face of God can be a scary, terrifying, fear-filled moment. It also can be a self-revealing moment in which we see ourselves in light of the nature and character of the Holy One who comes to us in human form.

But the face of Jesus was not scary. Those azure blue eyes—colored like the waters of the Mediterranean Sea—which the artist had encased in the hard, cold chrome drew me in. The deep smile and the frock of hair dropping over the forehead of the two-year-old Son of God gave a welcomed invitation to contemplate and worship God who is from eternity past to eternity future and for all peoples the King, Priest, Creator, Judge, Revealer, Redeemer, Shepherd, and Father.

As I reflect on that experience, I am reminded of the Pauline injunction to the Romans who themselves had elaborate images and visual stimulants: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).

As we move into the Advent Season and then across the beginning of a New Year, lets rejoice that the King has come in such a way that we all can see ourselves in His face. We can find renewal and hope as we look to Him. We can find our minds and souls transformed by the power of His life. His face then becomes reflected in ours!

Brad & The Image of God

Our son, Brad, continues to make good progress. Spoke with him last night (Monday) to see how he’d made it through his Sunday responsibilities. He gave the Sunday morning sermon from a stool on the platform and sipped several swallows of water. But did well. You should be able to hear his sermon on the Lakewood Bible Fellowship website (Sermon Podcast).

Here’s an interesting tidbit. While Dianne and I were in Lake Charles over Valentine Weekend, one of Brad’s parishioners commented to me, “Your son, Brad, really does look like his mother. I am sure that you have had lots of people tell you that!”

I replied, “He is actually the spitting image of his maternal grandfather, PaPa Ezell.” That has reminded me of some conversation I have had with a group of students in my “Theories & Theology of Leadership” class. We’ve been discussing what was meant by the statement in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our own image and after our likeness. . .” Humanity is created in the image of God.

Here are five dublets that I offered to the class as ways in which men and women reflect the image of God:

  • Rational & Intelligent. God gave humanity the ability to think logically and rationally, to take pieces of information and combine them with other information to make a concept that is meaningful and valuable. We can process information that is substantially complex and make sense of it. These are skills/abilities that no other living organism possesses.
  • Moral & Spiritual. Men and women have a sense of right and wrong. We have the discernment of good and bad. We have the ability to connect to God who is a spirit. No other living organism demonstrates these abilities.
  • Relational & Social. Humanity is a social being–we are made to interact with other human beings. The level of community and communication is much deeper or higher, whichever you wish, than those communities of animals and other organisms.
  • Creative & Dominant. God gave humanity a creative power that no other living organism possesses–the ability to create a living soul through human reproduction. This creativity reflects the incredible creative nature of God. He instilled in humanity the propensity to dominant creation. In fact, he instructed Adam and Eve to subdue the earth and rule over it. We should look at the environmental issues in light of this mandate from God.
  • Dialogical & Free to Choose. And finally in my list, God gave humanity the ability for meaningful and intelligent conversation, dialogue with each other and with Him. Our conversations with others and with God come of our own choosing–we DO NOT HAVE to dialogue with Him. He gave us the freedom to choose our own course.

So, there you have my list. What do you think? Should something be added? Or subtracted?

Anyway, I was quiet pleased that Brad’s parishioner gave a joyful and pleasing compliment to his mother, Dianne.

A Night to Remember (update link below)

Earlier today, I took up the ole violin and played the Harvey Schmidt “Try to Remember” tune that I remember hearing on the radio when in high school. Didn’t know the lyrics then and had to look them up just now!

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September . . .”

Well, that song and my playing its tune on the violin has nothing to do with anything other than the fact of REMEMBERING! Tonight will be a night to remember–it will not be hard to “try to remember!”

For just over twenty-two years my family and I have lived in Jackson, Mississippi. Brad was a fifth grader when we moved from the Indianapolis area. We were Indianapolis Colts fans at the time. Moving to the South and with a Mom who spent the first twenty plus years of her life fifty miles north of New Orleans, Brad quickly converted to “Saint-hood,” having moved into WhoDat Nation. He and his Mom with the rest of the family have cheered the New Orleans Saints in the good times and the bad. We agonized when Bobby Hebert (pronounced “a-bear”) quarterbacked the team’s losing seasons and then to an unusual playoff game!

As the circumstances of the past week played themselves out, tonight Brad found himself still in the hospital. His Mom and Wife whipped up some homemade shrimp etoufee with all the trimmings and packed the delicacies into his hospital room for a Super Bowl Party!

I can only imagine! Hope there was no one really sick on that hallway! This will be a night to remember as two die-hard Saints fans with their supportive family spread across at least three states cheered the NO Saints to victory. Thanks for Facebook and cell phone calls!

In the midst of it all, I have confidence that God knows what lies in store for each of his Saints–even those in the hospital–and will protect them, give them health, and allow His presence to accompany in the face of whatever adversaries come against us.

Meg has posted a very informative update on Brad’s condition on their family blog, EasleyPark2. Thanks for praying.

THREE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

Does God have a plan for my life? Often a question can best be answered by asking other questions. Here are some: Can you think of a mother who has no will or plan for her son? Can you conceive of the president having no will, desire, or law to govern the conduct of our nation? Can you imagine an army general who has no plan for his soldiers? Have you known an employer who had no plan for guiding the labor of his workers? If the mother, president, general, and employer are genuine and caring, they certainly do have plans. In the same way, “it makes a good deal of sense that the God who is the master Designer, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe would also be interested in the plan of our lives. He who hung the worlds in space must be concerned about us, His creation,” concluded George Sweeting. Yes, God does have a specific plan for you that no one else can accomplish. Because God never intended that you should live life alone, He gently calls, “Let me direct your life. Let me touch the keyboard and I’ll make music.”

How can I find out what that plan is? This is a challenging question. I dare not pose any easy answer. However, a simple thought has occurred to me; I share it in light of this question. Talking directly with a person is the best way to determine what he or she wants you to do. To discover God’s will, talk to Him personally. There are two channels through which you can talk to God – (1) prayer, and (2) the Bible. George Mueller explained, “I ask God in prayer to reveal His will to be aright.” Concerning prayer, the Apostle John promises, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us; and if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him” (I Jn. 5:14-15). Through the Bible, God can direct you regarding His will. Paul Little quizzes, “Has it ever struck you that the vast majority of the will of God for your life has already been revealed in the Bible?” The starting point for knowing God’s will for your life is by talking directly to God through prayer and the Bible.

How should I prepare? Preparation should parallel God’s will. If He wants you to be a chemical engineer, you should seriously study chemistry. If He wants you to be a cattle rancher, you should give diligent attention to agricultural issues. Because He wants you to be a victorious, radiant Christian living brightly in this dark world, shouldn’t your preparation be solid and significant? If He wants you for Christian ministry, He expects you to prepare adequately. I suggest you should prepare seriously, diligently, and in light of what God wants you to do.

Someone has suggested that it is better to live thirty years, than to exist for seventy. Find God’s will and GO! I close with the cowboy’s prayer:

A short life in the saddle, Lord,
Not long life by the fire.
— Louise Buiney

The Bible in 50 Words!

Adam bit
Noah arked
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled
Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh plagued
People walked
Sea divided
Tablets guided
Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peeked
Prophets warned
Jesus born
God walked
Love talked
Anger crucified
Hope died
Love rose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.

Author Unknown

A FATHER, SON, AND MULE…

Missouri-Mule-Wallpaper__yvt2The other day we were discussing an interesting statement by the Patriarch Jacob. He said about one of his sons, “Issachar is a strong donkey!” (Gen. 49:14) To say the least, this is a most interesting statement, especially since a father related it to his son.

While reflecting upon Jacob’s remark, I remembered my Dad’s Arkansas mule. Ole’ Jack was an intriguing animal; he had been around our place since the day he was born. Seriously, Ole’ Jack made an impression upon me that I hope will not be erased.

Like all miles and donkeys, Jack had long ears. And they could turn every direction and hold almost any position. To watch his ears operate would remind one of the rotating radar screens at the control tower of the municipal airport. Those ears were sensitive. The slightest sound could be heard; and heard with sufficient accuracy to enable Jack for action! That impressed me – the sensitive ears.

Jack was built solid. His tough hooves enabled him to maneuver among the mountain rocks with ease. Just to look at Ole’ Jack’s neck and back suggested durability and strength. If there were work to be done, harness Jack and he’d pull the load. Again, I was impressed with Ole’ Jack – especially his strong back.

I noticed something else about my Dad’s mule that tended to be “non-mule-ish.” He wore a halter. A lead rope could be tied to the halter and Jack would follow wherever he was led. He would stand patiently tied to the tall white oak tree for hours. That halter harnessed all of Jack’s strength and placed him at the disposal of my Dad. I have been impressed by Ole’ Jack’s submissive will.

Now back to Patriarch Jacob’s comment: “Issachar is a strong donkey.” Sensitive ears, strong back, submissive will. If Jacob’s monologue indicated that his son exhibited sensitivity to God’s voice, possessed strength to do God’s work, and demonstrated submission to God’s will, then his statement is a beautiful challenge to all of us. If being like a donkey means that we have a keen sensitivity to God, strength to do His work, and submission to His will, then let’s pray to be like Ole’ Jack!