Sunday Thoughts: Boredom

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Sometimes the everyday hustle and bustle of life rubs and rubs until you become blind, deaf, and dumb with the wear. You stop seeing magic. You stop seeing joy. You stop seeing life.

But, what has truly happened is you’ve stopped seeing by faith and started seeing with fallen, old-man eyes. Faith no longer clouds your view. Only deep dark shadows fill your world. You fall before the boredom and monotony of eating, sleeping, cleaning, chores, bills, needs, election cycles, loads of laundry, care for the young and old, wars and the rumors of war, birth and death. The repetitiveness of the world weighs down on you until you forget.

(NOTHING CHANGES!)

This malaise seeps into our churches. The preaching becomes only so many words falling together, powerless as autumn leaves. The saints are no longer a glorious army of the Lord riding forth on white steeds under Christ’s mighty banner. They’re dull, ordinary, offensive people you no longer wish to be with. Sunday isn’t our day of rest, or the Lord’s Day. It is an interruption, taking away hours that could be spent trying to maintain control of everything else in life, or actually resting.

Believers see with eyes of the world. Our old, dead eyes. We get lazy. We stop being Vigilant. Our Christian-colored glasses slip off our nose and aren’t pushed back up. We haven’t stayed in the fight. We haven’t kept the hope.

The regularity and rhythm of life bows us down.

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Awake! Awake! Awake, my soul!

Renew. Refresh. Push your glasses tight against your nose and SEE by FAITH!

The Kings of the earth rage and God laughs.

His hand isn’t weak. His kingdom isn’t failing or even losing the battle.

Put back on your armor and fight! Fight, by God’s grace and in His might, the temptation to see life with dead, old, rotten eyes. They lie.

See with truth!

The preached word is our mighty King speaking to us. The church is the body of Christ and our true family. Do not let the world push you down in the rut of life and cover your eyes with the muck at the bottom. See the world around you with the light of the Word! Christ has already won the war. He is King over-all and He is saving His people!

This is our true reality, our true eternity.

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(Inspired by Dr. Robert Oliver’s preaching on Psalm 2)

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Job’s Hope in My Infertility

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A friend of mine recently shared on her blog her difficult journey through secondary infertility, how the Lord used that in her life along with lessons from the book of Job, and the happy conclusion to this specific trial.

I’m so thankful for RJ’s open honesty about her battles during this trial and the goodness of the Lord that she experience. Her testimony got my own wheels turning and, as us writers do, I decided to share my own thoughts on the hope found in Job as someone else struggling with infertility minus the happy earthly ending.

How do I process watching someone struggle, find a place of contentment, and then have their desires fulfilled, when I have had many of the same struggles, come to a similar place of contentment, but haven’t had my desires fulfilled?

Funny enough, I do the same thing that helped me find a place of contentment first. I go to the Scripture.

Here is Job enduring great suffering, enduring bad advice from his friends and his wife, coming face to face with God, realizing God is the creator and he is the creature, that God is in control and God is good, repenting in dust, and having all he lost restored above and beyond.

Is there hope for me there? Of course.

Two Kingdom theology is so helpful here. It teaches that Job was in the time of the Old Testament when promises and blessings were very earthly. I live in the age of the New Testament, the New Covenant, when the Kingdom is no longer a physical nation, but a heavenly nation. That means that my life, from birth to death, is the time of Job’s suffering. My restoration, my blessing, comes after death in the next life. My blessing is something of faith and not sight. I don’t look around for earthly physical blessings as something to be expected, though God is materially very kind to me and others. I look to the future and at the church by faith.

The Lord has seen fit not to give me children. At every point of moving into adopting, He has shut the door. Instead of despair, instead of heartache, instead of bitterness, I have hope.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3/ 33-35)

The church. The church is where I find familial comfort here on earth. The older believers are my mother and father, others are my brothers and sisters, and younger are sons and daughters. We may not be tied by blood, but we are tied stronger and more deeply by the baptismal waters of Christ.

But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”

(Galatians 4/26-27)

The story of Job teaches me that I can’t see all that God is doing in my suffering. It shows me how I’m to view others in their suffering, and how not to view them. It shows me the creature/creator difference so that I can have hope in God’s goodness and God’s glory. It teaches me to repent of the ways I don’t cling to and trust Him. It reminds me to be faithful in the midst of sufferings and trials. And last, oh hope of my heart, it shows that God will restore my fortune to me. He is worth waiting on. He’s worth suffering for. He has given me a hope, not in this life, not in this physical earth, but in heaven to come. And while here, he has given me pilgrims to walk beside me, young and old, as the truest parents, siblings, and children a woman could have.

So, while God chooses to bless one sister with an end to her infertility and chooses to leave another in that particular difficulty, He has not changed. He is still in control. He will use this to bless His church and glorify Himself. He is still Good!

What Infertility has Taught Us

 

The Lord, in his wisdom and goodness, gives each and every one of us tailor made struggles to help us grown in holiness. Infertility is one of those struggles for me and several women I know. Even women who are able to have children struggle with not getting to have as many as they like, miscarriages, and difficult pregnancies. Our goal is not happiness, it’s holiness in our individual circumstances.

One of the other ladies in my church who struggles with infertility approached me with the idea of writing down lessons she’d learned through this very personal and private trial. I offered to share what she had to say on my blog in the hopes of encouraging others. From that sprang the idea of adding my own lessons and that of another woman I know in another church who also deals with this.

Here are 15 things that the Lord has taught us:

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Leslie Stice

1. I am not in control. I know this seems obvious but I have friends who are teachers and can plan to have all their children in the summer time when they are already off. I get frustrated when I can’t do the same and I have to remind myself of who is in control. I know I’m ultimately mad at God for the situation I’m in and I don’t like that. I think my plans are the best when in fact God knows what is best for me. “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9  

I know God’s plan for my life is better because “… all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

2. Our ultimate call to life is not to get married, get a 3 bedroom 2 bath home, and have kids. You can be blessed with those things in this life but Psalm 1 describes a blessed man in this way, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.” Our ultimate calling is to love and serve God in this life. We are to strive to be more Christ-like and to “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” Colossians 3:2.

It might feel as though you aren’t as blessed when you don’t have a spouse or kids. It doesn’t make you any less of a person if you aren’t married or don’t have kids. Some people make it seem like there’s something wrong with you if you aren’t married or don’t have kids and they try make things “right” for you. I feel sorry for Hannah because she was provoked by Peninnah for years.

The Bible doesn’t talk less about women who were barren nor does it say that they are being punished in some way. When these feelings come about or people say things that make me feel like there’s something wrong with me, I remind myself of the truth.

3. My sin and discontentment not only affects me but also my husband and vice versa. We both want kids so it’s a struggle for both of us to not have any. We don’t like seeing each other sad or disappointed and sometimes we feel like we failed each other. We have to remind ourselves of number 1 and 2 and realize that discontentment can sneak up in any season of your life.

4. A blessing of not having kids is that my husband and I can serve our church in ways we couldn’t if we had kids. We are trying to use this time to serve our church more.

5. Finally, God uses the trials of this life to bring us to our knees. He wants us to pray. I pray that God will be merciful to me and forgive me of my unbelief. James says it well, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:2-8

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Abby Jones

1. Idol Factory: I can make an idol out of anything, even something good like having children. It’s easy to look at others who have what you’ve always dreamed of having, and create a scenario in your mind of ultimate happiness: I’d just be happy if I had kids.

You build up this chief goal and the next thing you know, it’s your god. This leads to bitterness and discontentedness because your god isn’t meeting your desires.

Infertility has caused me to wrestle with worshiping other gods and put me on my guard. Even good and right blessings can be turned into idols if we don’t protect ourselves with truth.

2. God’s Goodness: Infertility has forced me to deal with the issue of God’s goodness. Do I trust God is good? Do I trust God is good when I don’t have children? Do I trust God is good when others have multiple children and seem so fertile and I don’t and I’m not? Do I trust God when I get asked again about having children both by people I know and perfect strangers? Do I believe God is good when empirical data suggests otherwise? See 8.

3. Hope: Does my salvation and standing before God depend on having children? No. Am I outside the Kingdom in my childlessness? No. In heaven we won’t even be married! Am I outside God’s will for my life? No.

See, God never promised me anything but to make me more like Christ and all the blessings that entails. Has God used infertility to bring me closer to him? Yes. Has he used it to loosen my death-grip on this earth? Yes. My hope isn’t in having children. It’s in Christ’s death and resurrection. Even if I was to have children, they wouldn’t be my hope.

The Lord helped me push past that dream and cling ever more to him: my true hope. He kept his promise to use everything for my good.

4. Contentment: Infertility could breed bitterness, or by God’s grace contentment. After many tears, many prayers, and much thought, God gave me a certain amount of contentedness in this area. This was a hard, long battle.

He used my infertility to crush idols, challenge my trust in his goodness, turned my eyes to heaven, and in all that he has given me peace. This in turn has produced:

5. Tenderness: I know what it is to want something with an inexpressible desire. I know what it is to have to set a good dream at Jesus’ feet and trust that its lack of fulfillment is good for me. I know what it is to go to another baby shower, or congratulate another woman on her pregnancy, while trying to hold back the tears. I know the “bitter watches of the night”, the discouragement, sense of failure, and even disgrace. All of this makes me gentler with the struggles of others. You never know the fight someone is engaged in, so you go gently. You talk softly. You watch your words. Infertility has taught me tenderness.

 

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Paige Giarrizzo

1. Christ is My All in All. Infertility is teaching me that Christ is My All in All. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is all I need. Infertility is teaching me that Christ is my only hope, my only strength, my only joy. He is the giver of life, the opener and closer of the womb. Apart from Him, there is nothing. Before infertility, I knew this in my mind but through infertility, God has continually brought me back to Himself. I’m learning He is all I need. His grace is sufficient. When I suffer, I know that Jesus suffered more intensely than I ever will. When I’m lonely, I know that He, the incarnate God, has experienced loneliness greater than I will ever know. Hebrews 4:14 tells us that Christ sympathizes with our every weakness and we can call on Him in our time of need. I’m so thankful for that truth, because infertility has taught me that I am completely reliant on Him for everything.

2. I Need the Church. Infertility is teaching me that I need the local church. Where would I be without the body of Christ? Throughout this infertility journey, Christ is teaching me to truly love His bride. I have been overwhelmed by the love of others who have come alongside me with encouragement, fervent prayer, help, and exhortation. I’ve had people who I don’t know that well tell me that they are praying for us regularly. I’ve even been surprised to find out that dear brothers and sisters in other churches in other states are also remembering us in their prayers. What a blessing this has been! The church has comforted me as they have been comforted. The church has mourned with me as I mourn, with literal tears and weeping, and they have also rejoiced with me as I have rejoiced. My friendships have deepened, my love for Christ has been strengthened, and God has used me to encourage others as I have been encouraged.

3. It’s Not About Me. Infertility is teaching me that it’s not about me. Growing up, I dreamed only of two things: getting married and being a mother. Like many children do, my sister and I used to love to play house. As the older sister, I was always the mother, of course; my sister was the father, much to her chagrin. And we always had lots of children. As a high school student on career “dress up” day, I dressed up like a mother. (Well actually I dressed up like Santa Clause to be funny, but I reasoned that Santa and a mother were pretty much the same thing!) The plan seemed simple. Find a spouse. Have kids. Easy. David and I met in high school and were married in our earlier twenties. The plan was coming together nicely. But God. He had other plans. It wasn’t long into our marriage until we realized things were not going quite as planned. I literally thought we would get pregnant the first month we officially “tried.” But the months turned into years, and our plans, we felt, were crumbling before us.  Through this time we are learning over and over again that it is not about us. We have celebrated many new babies over these years, but never our own. And we are learning, it’s not about us. We are learning to die to self, to rejoice with others, to seek Christ above all. His ways are higher than our ways and the secret things belong to Him. It’s not about me. It’s about Him.

4. Gratitude. Infertility is teaching me to be grateful for what God has given me. We so often focus on the things God is withholding, rather than on the good gifts God has already given. Infertility is teaching me to count my blessings. I am thankful God called me at a young age to follow Him, sparing me years of heartache and searching. I am thankful for God’s gift of a godly husband and a beautiful 10+ year marriage. I am thankful for a wonderful church with a plurality of elders who seek to follow God’s Word. I am thankful for many friends and family members who are in Christ and stand beside me in joy and in pain. I am learning to be grateful, even for the seemingly small gifts God has given. He is showing me that everything I have is because of Him and nothing I have is my own.

5. Vulnerability. Infertility is teaching me vulnerability. I have always had a difficult time developing deeper connections with others and had attributed this to “shyness” or my lack of conversational skills. My circle of friends was very small and I rarely took the time to develop significant relationships outside of this circle, not because I didn’t want to get to know others but because I didn’t want others to get to know me. My insecurities, thoughts, and feelings would be too exposed with too many. However, infertility is teaching me that I’m not the only one with insecurities, heartache, despair, loneliness, joys, and struggles. As I am learning to be more open with others, to share details about my life and what God is doing in these details, I am getting to know many others who experience the same things I experience and who enjoy talking to someone who can relate. Infertility is teaching me to let down my defenses, to show others who I really am, and in turn to develop deeper, meaningful relationships in Christ.

2 cor 4.16-18

Infertility is a pain you carry around for many years. It affects both spouses. It can make you feel on the outside of life looking in. But, God has used it mightily to bless and sanctify me and these two dear sisters. We hope that by sharing basically the same things in so many different words, we can be an encouragement to other couples, to those who are single, to those who are lonely. God is good. He can be trusted. He keeps his word.


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Quote of the Weekend

“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” – Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks

(If you haven’t seen this movie, drop what you’re doing and go see it now. Not only does it stir up happy childhood memories, it let’s you see them as an adult: a tired, worn out adult who needs to be reminded of the magic of forgiveness, who needs hope. Beautiful film!)

Quote of the Weekend

“Even in the darkest moments, light exists if you have the faith to see it. Fear is the poison produced by the mind, and courage is the antidote stood always ready in the soul. In misfortune lies the seed of future triumph. They have no hope who have no belief in the intelligent design of all things, but those who see meaning in every day will live in joy.” – One Door away from Heaven by Dean Koontz

(I found it interesting that a man who I don’t think is a Christian says that you can’t have hope unless you believe in intelligent design. So true.)

Sunday Thoughts: Training

steve-rogers-i-understood-that-referenceA few weeks ago Pastor Eddie Florentino used an illustration for affliction that really stuck with me and has been a source of encouragement to me over the last few weeks. The passage for that morning was Hebrews 12: 4-11:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

While walking us through the text from Proverbs quoted in Hebrews during Pray Meeting, Pastor Eddie asked if we expected Navy SEALs to get easy training? Do we expect their training to be hard or just a walk in the park?

Well, the obvious answer is we expect their training to not only be hard, but the hardest. These men are supposed to be the elite of the elite. They are supposed to make all our other soldiers look like guys hanging out for the weekend. No soldier should have it easy in basic training. To make it easy on them is to do them a disservice because it leaves them open to attack when they go to war. The better trained our soldiers are the better chances they have of surviving and coming home to their families. (You should always worry if the standards of training are being lowered. That means someone is not getting the training they need. That puts them and  everyone around them in danger.) The Navy Seals and all our other special forces should, and do, have training that makes basic look easy. We should hold them to a high standard and we should expect lots of men to be unable to cut it. If just anyone can make it through Navy SEAL training than we have a problem.

So what does this have to do with affliction and why did it stick with me?

It says in Hebrews that our affliction is God’s disciplining and training for us. It is how God molds us and makes us into his children. This world, in some ways, is our boot camp, our basic training, and God uses trials and and sufferings to get us in shape.

Yet for some reason we always complain that our “training” isn’t easy. Why oh why am I suffering?? We moan and complain when the Bible makes it very clear that God is perfecting us. You see that? Perfecting!  I don’t know about you, but that seems like something that would require a lot of work. Perfection isn’t easy.

For six months, I’ve been struggling with health issue, and yet when I put my mind on them as training, as my spiritual boot camp, I find them much easier to bear with hope. I have hope in my trials because I know God is using them to make me a better soldier.

Navy-SealSee, I’ve read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell (one of my top 10 favorite books) and American Sniper by Chris Kyle. Through their books, I have gained a very small understanding of what our Navy SEALs do in their training. I have vicariously experienced the mental and physical strength needed to survive to become a SEAL through their stories. Pastor Eddie’s illustration really struck home with me. I truly felt like Captain America in the picture above. I got that reference. It made many things click into place in my head. Their training is hard for a reason and our training by God is hard for a reason. It made my trials logical because I understood they were God’s work in my heart. God is not perfecting everyone. But, He is perfecting His people and that means my life is going to be a struggle, a battle, filled with trials and afflictions, because He loves me and isn’t going to leave me to myself.

That, my dear brothers and sisters, is hope!

Hope!

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are here to make me more Christ-like, not give me an easy life, and just like a Navy SEAL, I’m in for a world of hurt. Not because instructors or God is mean. No. Quite the opposite. The instructors what to make sure each SEAL is the best he can be so that he survives and helps bring everyone home. There is a point to the suffering the SEALs endure in their training. There is a point to my trials and suffering. God is loosening my grip on this world, making me holy, and teaching me about Himself. One day, He will bring me home.

We are being trained. That is a hope-filled thought.

I may never have gotten to be a Navy SEAL in this life (that’s another blog post for another day) but, God is training me as a soldier of the Lord in a much bigger war with a much greater Captain.

Movie Series Review: Rambo First Blood II

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Trautman: John, where are you going?

Rambo: I don’t know.

Trautman: You’ll get a second medal of honor for this.

(Rambo looks over at the rescued POWs)

Rambo: You should give it to them. They deserve it more.

Trautman: You don’t belong here, why don’t you come back with me?

Rambo: Back to what? My friends died here, and a piece of me did too.

Trautman: The war, the whole conflict may have been wrong, but damn it, don’t hate your country for it.

Rambo: Hate? I’d die for it.

Trautman: Then what is it you want?

Rambo: I want what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us as much as we love it! That’s what I want!

——

We left Rambo arrested and responsible for injuring a small town sheriff who pushed him too hard. This violence poured out of Rambo after he found out the last man in his unit besides himself had died. The cold shoulder Rambo got from the country he bled for, the country they died for, aggravated and irritated his war-damaged psyche.

Rambo II is the start of the Cheese of this series. Rambo II and Rambo III leave behind the true drama of First Blood and become a set of cheesy action flicks. Enjoyable? Yes! As strong as First Blood and Rambo (4)? No. But even in the middle of the cheese, we see the continuation of the idea of the silent war going on in America that couldn’t be won. The government drafted young men and sent them to die. The ones that made it home faced rejection by their country. The soldiers couldn’t win this war because they couldn’t even fight it. They knew about blood and guts. They didn’t know how to combat the hatred they faced from their fellow Americans.

In a way, as much as First Blood shows us what the men faced, First Blood II is almost an apology from the people. It’s the war in microcosm with a chance for the warrior to have his say at the end. I was always told that Rambo was made so that we could feel like we’d won the war in Vietnam, but I don’t think it was. Granted, Rambo “wins” in that he defies the politicians and gets the POWs home, but he didn’t really win. He was still betrayed and he still had no home to return to. The government still didn’t respect they warrior they had made leaving Rambo still viewing himself as a societal misfit. First Blood shows how we lost that war, and First Blood II shows what we left behind. It shows that the men we trained are more at home on the battlefield than in the city. “What you call hell, he calls home.” It makes Rambo the spoke person for POWs and for all soldiers who were spit on and insulted by their country.

The interesting thing about this movie is that in a way it mirrors the entire Vietnam War. Rambo is sent on a mission. Granted he doesn’t just take pictures, he goes into the camp to investigate, but once a mission gets started it’s really in the hands of the man carrying it out. Rambo discovers American POWs and tries to rescue at least one of them. At this point, he’s betrayed by his own government and left to die. In reality, we never fought the Vietnam War to win. We got involved in it, but due to politics and the confusion of Communism, we never won that war. We could have, but we didn’t. We never went all out. Soldiers took a hill and gave it up, took a hill and gave it up. They fought in hot stinking jungles for land we then retreated from. So, in a way, I guess First Blood 2 is us repeating the war, but this time Rambo saves the men and returns home to confront the politician that left him there to die. It is a bit cathartic, but I don’t think the movie is entirely there to make us feel better. It’s more there to let us get a taste of the betrayal and frustration experienced by our soldiers. It’s there to remind us that it is us who betrayed them, not the other way around. The lasting effects of the Vietnam War, for Americans, is not so much the War as it is us forever haunted by the men we betrayed.

With this concept, I think First Blood II can be a very important cultural film. It’s important to be challenged to think not just about whether you agree or disagree with the Vietnam War, or if you agree or disagree with how it was handled, but to remember that men, boys, battled, bled and died there. Did they do it for nothing? We need to remember, even in this slightly cheesy small way, that at every turn our soldiers were betrayed by politicians, and then hated by citizens. This was a dark point in America’s history and one I pray that we never repeat.

Rambo is in his late thirties by the time he gets sent to rescue POW’s in Vietnam. These men had been left to die by their country. Of course, Rambo wants to get them out. In many ways, they’re analogous to how Rambo felt when he came home. He made it home but he was left to die like a tool no one needed. His friends, the ones who made it back, died because of the chemicals used by the government. In every way, Rambo is still a POW. I think on a certain level, in rescuing them, he rescues himself, just not completely. His healing doesn’t come until the fourth movie. But, he is pardoned and allowed to go his own way.

First Blood II is the only Rambo movie where he kisses a girl. Another woman appears in Rambo 4, but there is no romantic involvement. I think this is part of the reason he doesn’t return home. The only woman he loved lived and died in Vietnam. Again, “What you call hell, he calls home.”

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Stallone might be mocked or called a bad actor for his portrayal of Rambo. He spends most of the movie just staring a people and has maybe 12 lines total with most of them coming in the last few minutes of the movie. I don’t think this is due to bad acting, but purposeful directing. Rambo isn’t a typical man. He is a hardened warrior trained to do one thing: kill. Trained and discarded by a government who didn’t want to deal with what it had made doesn’t lend to excessive communication. I think the “mile-long stare” of Stallone is perfect for this character. I also think it showed how uncomfortable Rambo is on base contrasted with his easy and comfort in the jungle. My only problem was my surprise to learn that by First Blood II Rambo is almost 40. Stallone looks younger than a man in his late 30’s, but a little research proved that Stallone was born the same year as his fictional character, so once again, Stallone was the perfect choice for Rambo.

I think, finally, that the cheese level of this movie is important because it keeps the story simple. In keeping it simple, the message isn’t mixed up with lots of other themes, it’s…well…simple: We just want our country to love us like we love it. We want them to love us enough not to leave us behind, and not to waste our lives.

This movie doesn’t so much let Americans feel like they won the war, as it uses Rambo to reminded us of what it felt like to fight in a war where the government betrayed its soldiers. At the mid-point of the movie, Rambo and one POW are surrounded by enemies and the American chopper is not 10 feet over their heads. It can save them. It still has time. But for political purposes, it’s ordered to leave them there. That is the moment where you realize that Rambo has been betrayed again by the very government he’s willingly bleeding for. They left him in Vietnam, again. Even with a certain level of cheese, there is no denying the powerful theme in this movie.

I recommend not watching it as just silly Rambo cheese, but as a simple and clear invitation to emotionally and visually put yourself in the shoes of the soldiers who fought the Vietnam War.

Watching this movie with my ‘Christian-colored’ glasses on and thinking of our pastors as warriors—those front line men who sacrifice much in this life that we call normal—I came away with two thoughts:

One, we are reminded of Christ’s great power and beauty. He is the King who will never leave us behind. He will never betray us. He will win the war against Satan. In contrast to the hopelessness we see in Rambo’s story, we are never without hope.

Two, we need to pray for our pastors. They wage war, wade into battle to rescue those in need, and stand scarred and broken. The very people they seek to protect can betray them. Pray that your pastors wouldn’t trust in men, their popularity, or level of acceptance, but that they would have courage to preach the truth and grace to trust Christ.

RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II

On a side note, this is the movie where Stallone calls himself Expendable. I wonder if that gave him the idea for the Expendables movies?

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The Journey

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We’ve all heard the quote that it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination, right? I think there is a ring of truth to this idea. I’ve read Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Jane Eyre several times each. They’re my comfort reads. They’re books I go back to in the winter when I need to be reminded that spring will come again. I know how they end. I know about the Gray Havens. I know about Harry’s children, and I know about Jane and Mr. Rochester’s children. I know how the story ends. I’m not reading the book for the ending. I’m reading it for the beloved journey to the end. I’m reading it to let Théoden ride again. I’m reading it to play Quidditch in my mind. I’m reading it to watch a girl do the right thing when it’s the hardest thing. Over and over I read these books because the journey is more significant than the destination.

As a Christian, the destination is of primary importance to us. The destination is where we finally see hope fulfilled. We see. We see Christ, not by faith, but with our eyes. We will hear his voice with our ears. We will touch him with our fingers. We will finally see our great elder brother, our husband, our captain, our mighty King. Our destination is truly a mighty one.

But, at the moment of salvation we are not suddenly made perfect. We aren’t whisked away to paradise. We aren’t taken from this world. We aren’t even taken out of our sinful flesh. We are left to toil, suffer, and ultimately to die. For we are humans are we not? We are mankind even as Christians. We are left in the world God made for us until we die.

The Holy Spirit puts this time, this journey, to good use. He uses it to sanctify us and make us more like Christ. That is the point. The good in Romans is not good as in happiness and comfort, but good as in “conforming us to the image of Christ”. We are constantly being melted down. We are being weaned off this world, trained—like soldiers in basic training—to live by faith, lay up our treasure in heaven, love the brethren, and grow in grace and understanding. We are not magically righteous. We are made righteous.

For us the Journey is important.

My husband put it this way when he was preaching on theology the other night: The theological logic is as filled with blessing as the theological truth.

The journey is filled with blessing just as much as the Destination.

We may not understand why God decided not to just rapture us out at the moment of regeneration. We may not understand why God decided not to make us perfect at our first breath of faith, but we can rest in His Word. The journey is important.

Romans 8: 18-30: (ESV)

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

There is a journey here, a path to follow from predestined to glorified, from suffering to being conformed to the image of Christ. And just like the stories I love, I know the destination. I know where the journey ends. That gives me hope in the journey, but it also gives me the ability to focus on the journey.

The first time you read Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Jane Eyre every fiber in your being is focused on the destination. But when you know the destination, your focus is on the journey. I know how the story ends. Knowing the end frees you to focus on the growth of the characters. You can see Frodo fail. You can soak in Neville’s courage. You can analyze the conversations between Jane and Mr. Rochester. You can focus on the journey because you know the end.

Life is the same for a Christian. (Oh the wonderful beauty of God’s wisdom, and the lesser yet still amazing beauty of stories.) You know the end, if you have faith in Christ, which frees you to focus on the journey here on earth. You can focus on the war against sin, your fellow saints, the means of grace, truth, love, and the beauty of the bride of Christ—His Church. You know where you’re going and you know how you’re going to get there. Focus on the journey.

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Music, the Silver-Lining

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Hope in the darkness. It’s hidden in the midst of great sadness.

I don’t normally dedicate my articles to specific people, but this is for Emily Shiflit. Emily and I were having a discussion about music when we first met each other. She mentioned that some of the songs I brought up seemed short on hope. She wanted to know why I liked songs that seemed hopeless. She shared some of the songs she liked. The lyrics were great, but the music grated on me. Why? What is it that I look for in music? Is the music I enjoy hopeless? If so, why do I like it? Is it all subjective? Lots of thoughts and too big of a discussion to fit in a Facebook message or text, hence a blog post.

Self-examination can be very revealing, encouraging, saddening, or just interesting. I’m normally a happy and upbeat person. I often see the silver-lining, so to speak. But I love things that are sad, gray, and melancholy. I like the rain that falls from the silver-lined cloud. I also feel, or have an angry passionate streak, which tends to come out in my love of heavy metal and Irish Punk music. Then, there’s the nostalgia side of me that loves Christmas and folk music. Like most of you, I’m an odd person.

But what is it about contemporary Christian music that generally just grates on me? Why is it that I turn on the Christian radio station and instantly start gagging? Why is my ‘Lord’s Day’ playlist so short?

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I love the imagery in the lyrics of this song. Remember that winter will fade and spring will come again. There is something very Narnian about it.

The focus is only on the silver-lining. The music, for much of contemporary Christian songs, is…mambsy pambsy. This was a term which me and my siblings invented, or stole from a book, which communicates someone being weak in a refusal-to-get-their-hands-dirty-and-get-the-work-done sort of way. It’s weak, wimpy, and almost a waste of space. This is how I view the music of most contemporary Christian artists. I’m not talking about the lyrics, just the notes they use to communicate truth. Music should match the truth being communicated. Their music is soft, inoffensive, mild, and annoying. There is no brokenness communicated in the music. There is little longing, little anger, little sadness, and thus little truth, little hope, and little salvation. The smaller you make God, the smaller you make salvation. The smaller you make the offense, the smaller you make grace.

When I was a child, I listened to a lot of Christian music. When I was a child, happy music was my fare. But when the rain came, when my faith was tested, when the trials of life crowded in around me, and the depth of my own depravity came to light, I found praise songs and most contemporary Christian music lacked depth. They were fine for the spring of life when all is green and bright, but they quickly burned away when the hot summer sun glared down upon them full of damnation and driving away every cool shadow. The Christ in those songs couldn’t have endured the cross. The Christ in those songs didn’t love me anymore than my boyfriend did. The praise didn’t include standing on the very cusp of the pit of hell and being rescued when you deserved to die. They didn’t include sin. They didn’t include my worthlessness. They were happy and thus weak. They failed to understand that to have a silver-lining you must have a very dark storm cloud blocking the sun.

Seeing the silver-lining should never deny the thunder cloud hiding the sun. 

It is truth that makes the silver-lining shine. Remember, hope is a light in the midst of great darkness. That means you have to pass through that darkness to reach your hope. So, why do I love Mumford and Sons even though the hope in their songs is often hidden behind sad, and somewhat angry folk music? Because that’s real life. Hope is often hidden deep beneath darkness.

Why do I love Metallica’s Master of Puppets? Because we are enslaved to our sin and it is damning. That comes through in the song in a far more real and visceral way than most contemporary Christian music.

Dark, heavy, but true. This is what sin does to us.

Dark, heavy, but true. This is what sin does to us.

The Bible teaches us that Christ did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. Christ didn’t come to make us perfect and give us perfect lives. He came to make us like Him. Not only should the lyrics communicate this struggle, this war, this perpetual battle between flesh and spirit, but so should the music. Our modern ‘worship’ is all about feeling good, but go back and listen to some old hymns. Listen to the sober tone to their music. Listen to how the music swells and grows, drops and dives, as the sinfulness of our own hearts is exposed by the light of God’s grace.

I don’t hold to separating out Christian and Secular, since God gifts both saint and sinner with artistic talent. I think lessons and truths (small truth, big Truth only comes from the word of God) can be gleaned from both. I also know that our emotional reaction to art has much to do with what we bring to the table. A song that speaks to you may seem insignificant to me, while a song that makes me weep may annoy you. Isn’t art an amazing thing? Isn’t it amazing that God saw fit to include it in our lives?

Emily, I hope this helps explain why I love the songs I love. Thanks for sparking the conversation that lead to this article! And please, don’t take this as me thinking my songs are better than anyone else’s favorite songs, this is more an exploration of self. I’m sure there are plenty of counter arguments to what I have said in justifying my own song choice. One of the interesting parts about getting older is how I have returned to the roots of contemporary Christian music with a renewed love of old hymns. The truth set to sober, serious, heavy, music feeds my soul when I sink down in the pit. They help me more easily remember the truths of scripture and sometimes memorize scripture themselves. For me, it’s a returning after years of avoiding “Christian” music almost all together. God is always good. He does not give us only sunny days, but provides us a song in the rain.

 

One of the Christian bands that I, so far, enjoy. Their lyrics are pretty good, not great, but good, and I like their music so far.

Gungor is one of the Christian bands that I, so far, enjoy. Their lyrics are pretty good, not great, but good, and I like their music. They have that haunted tone that I love so much.


 

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Guest Post: Rob Akers on Blogging

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Rob, with only mild kicking and screaming, agreed to be the last guest blogger talking about why they blog. I can understand the fear of being the last one in a row of excellent writers, but I trusted Rob and that trust wasn’t unfounded. On his blog, Rob shares personal thoughts, which are always amusing, and he also shares the story of his time in the Middle East. I found Rob through a mutual respect for our men and women in uniform and have enjoyed reading his posts. Now he’s asked me to do the first Alpha Reading on his novel. I have his permission to bleed all over it. I took him at his word.  He may regret it later, but it’s too late for that!

Rob is a husband and father residing in Culloden, West Virginia. An airline pilot by trade, he served twelve years in the West Virginia Air National Guard at the rank of Major. He deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan among other foreign nations and earned multiple medals including three Air Medals, four Aerial Achievement Medals and two Meritorious Service Medals. He is a freelance writer for the Putnam Herald-Dispatch and the online magazine The Magill Review. He hosts his own blog and has been published in a collection of works including the Words for Warriors Project. He is working to complete his first fictional novel.

Check his work out!

Next week will be the last installment of this series where I will talk about why I blog. But for now, enjoy Rob’s thoughts.


 

Hey Y’all,

If you are thinking that the usual link to Abby’s Gentle and Quiet World took you to a strange place, don’t be alarmed. This is only a temporary phenomenon that will soon be replaced again by the quiet and wonderful musings of the beautiful soul that is Abby. Unfortunately, Abby made a poor decision; she invited me to take control of the airwaves for the day. Let the record state that she approached me, offering me a seat at the motherboard of one of the most wonderfully peaceful places on the internet. Initially, I declined the invitation. But she persisted and we all know how a persistent woman can get what she wants. Is that called preaching to the choir or saying it like it is?

Abby told me that she wanted a man’s perspective on blogging. I always welcome comments from a professional and Josh is the walking embodiment of a professional writer. But Josh likes to wear those little biker shorts while pedaling his mountain bike in the hills of Colorado. I know from experience that it is really tough to be a man while wearing spandex. That is what my friends said when they caught me walking down Bourbon Street, dressed in a fishnet shirt and biker shorts. My friend, Mercedes kept calling me “En Fuego.” I still don’t know what that means and this is a story that I probably should cut short.

My point is that I refused Abby’s request to write this article because I didn’t want to be responsible for leaving man smell in the boutique. She said that potpourri and candles work wonders. Then I asked what does an audience of respectable women want to hear? She said just to be myself and we all see where that took us. I asked what could possibly go wrong. She said that y’all would immediately know that my wife is a lady of honor, full of the Spirit, compassion, integrity and that you would bless her soul. Out of excuses and ideas, I took a double dose of testosterone, a cycle of steroids and a shot of Five Hour Energy before I summoned up the courage to say yes. Ladies, strap in tight and hold on because we are going behind the curtain.

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The topic is why do I blog? The easy answer would be because I have something to say. But that isn’t true. I don’t feel like I have to express myself to be happy and complete. In fact, I prefer to sit out of the spotlight and throw verbal rocks at those in the public eye. In times past, I served as an Air Force pilot. Returning from the Middle East, my wife and another lady were interviewed by the local news station while they waited for us to land. They agreed to allow the cameraman to follow them, record the reunion and then interview my friend and myself for the nightly news. When I stepped off the airplane, my wife ran up and gave me a huge hug and kiss. I didn’t mind that by the way. Out of the corner of my closed eyes, I felt the presence of a stranger.

I came unglued yelling at the cameraman and reporter. I told them that they were not allowed to film me and if they didn’t turn off the camera immediately I would break it. As I remember it, the words came out a in a hostile tone smothered with inappropriate language. I have embarrassed my wife before and since but the possibility of being filmed never entered my mind as the ideal start to the reunion. They did stop filming us and walked away. My friend and his wife had center stage for the one minute segment on the local news station. It turned out to be very cheesy, we all laughed later. The moral of this story is that I really don’t want to be on TV. I really don’t want to write for the local newspaper, I don’t want to be a blogger and I don’t want to be famous. I could be perfectly happy living a quiet life, staying in my little cocoon, raising my kids, working nights for my airline, watching TV during the day, doing fantasy football and never venturing out into the public arena.

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Why would anyone do something they don’t want to do? I am a seasoned veteran of life having lived out all seven of the deadly sins to their fullest extent. All I learned after twenty years of excess is that the allure of sin nearly turned me into a dead beat, ex-husband. Fortunately, my wife is a lady of extreme forgiveness and understanding. In the last ten years, I have tried to replace hate with love. It is a hard way to live and I am by no means a finished product. But I began to recognize that love is the path to true happiness. It is the path to forgiveness and to healing. When my life came crashing down, someone told me the secret. The Bible verse Matthew 22:37-40 held the key behind my future life and to my blogging/writing career. I urge you to read it for yourself, I interpret it to say; Love God with all you got and love every human on the planet the way you would like to be loved.

I don’t write for me, I write for others. If you read my blog you might think the main goal of my writing is to write stories about my life in the Middle East. But those stories are for my kids. They are too young to understand today but they should know about the guy that would become their dad. I occasionally write about the novel that I am working on. But the purpose of that novel is to honor the men and women who keep us safe and to serve as a fictional example of how we should deal with evil. That answer is with Love, by the way. I write for the local newspaper. But the articles I write tell the story of the local community in a way that honors and encourages us all. I write for The Magill Review but I write to bring a different perspective that goes much deeper than what we would find in any mainstream news publication. I accept invitations to do guest articles on friend’s sites. But that Abby invited me in and gave me the run of the place. Sometimes smart people do dumb things. Ha Ha!

I am still the same fun loving guy that is documented in the stories above. But now the lenses that I view the world are colored by love. Yes, I still like my music loud and inappropriate. Yes, I am prone to an off color comment in the wrong company. I do get a kick out of the look I get when I say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong people. I don’t enjoy the elbow from my wife and her reminder that I am out of control. But I can’t help if people don’t get my extremely sarcastic, gallows worthy humor. I built a reputation and an aviation career on the fact that if you give me an inch, I will take a mile.

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I will leave you with this. When you come across the guy or gal who doesn’t quite fit in with what is going on in your world. Don’t be surprised if they throw out an unsuitable comment that hangs in the air like a floater in the punch bowl. Just redirect them like you would your five year old. But sometimes you can’t stop a guy like me because his mission to bring a shot of reality to your life. There is a chance that he is doing it because he likes rattling the cage or maybe he is doing it because he wants you to have a greater appreciation of your husband. In either case, never let him know he is irritating you because that is the best form of encouragement. Sometimes all you can do is accept him because even a knucklehead needs love and acceptance. And sometimes, your example can teach that knucklehead to love and accept others. We are all works in progress and when given a chance, that scoundrel might turn into someone that you can trust when life veers off the tracks and will surprise you with a wonderfully positive outlook when times are tough.

I want to thank Abby for the invite and access to all you wonderful folks. Once again she proves that she is a lady that walks the walk. At my heart, I am a writer of fiction. One of the stories I told is 100% true and the other is complete fiction created at 01:30 AM. Choose wisely.

On my site, I always sign off with this phrase: Until next time, keep on rockin. I truly hope there is a next time because I have enjoyed the trip behind the curtain. I hope you did too. Faith, Hope and Love to all.


I think Rob’s article was the most interesting of all my guest posts…if that’s the right word. 😉 Actually, I really enjoyed the fact that he took the more humorous point of view. Again, we see another take on blogging, and we get some good advice: Write for others. Josh said this same thing in his article. Notice the beauty of writing? Josh said it one way while Rob said it another, both made a good point. We are here to love and serve one another. Your blog should be no different even if the themes are as diverse as the guest posters I’ve featured this month. Thank you for reading. Next week I’ll answer the question as our last article on the issue.

Check out the other Guest Posts here:

Heather FitzGerald

Deanna Brown

Raelea Hiller

Josh Magill