Category: Thinking Christianly

Grace in Horrific Times

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There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, more than ever before in history.

There are more natural disasters occurring than ever before in recorded history.

There is a growing spirit of division among people, as evidenced in current discourse, events, politics and elections. So much of this division seems fueled by fear, anger, and distrust.

There have been horrific times before in history. We humans like to think we have learned from those experiences and that we wouldn’t let such things happen again. Can we learn from history? Will we? Or must history repeat itself?

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Cladach has released books that feature true stories of God—and his people—at work even during the most horrific historical times. For instance:

  • Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia (in the book, NO MORE FEAR).
  • A political terror-hostage crisis (in the book, HOSTAGE IN TAIPEI).
  • Christian and Muslim refugees in Africa and the Middle East (in the book,A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH).
  • Spiritual hunger during the Communist revolution in Russia (in the book, PAPER POPPIES).
  • Jewish children and their pets during the Holocaust (in the book, FAITHFUL FRIENDS).

All these personal memoirs happened in extremely tumultuous times and circumstances. Each describes injustices, cruelty, and evil forces unleashed on nations, people groups, and individuals. Each of these stories also gives witness to God’s personal presence, providence, and grace.

We offer these stories in the hope that readers will find renewed perspective, faith, and love.

Both Wise and Innocent

Photo ©David Lawton

As the world seems to get smaller, do you feel more and more powerless? We continue to believe that each individual—and each group—makes a difference. What we do, how we think, our actions and prayers—along with the currents of God’s purposes and the showers of his love—cause ripples that can bring lasting change for well-being in our world.

“I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil….The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)

Quiet, Strong, and Positive Social Justice

 GUEST POST:

Think of the most polarizing social issues. Now think of your daily life, the people around you that you love, that you meet, that you pass at lunch on the street. If you didn’t watch the news and weren’t inundated by media, would you be full of animosity and vitriol towards any of them who hadn’t wronged you personally?

Your response to my question might rightfully be that people wouldn’t be aware of important issues and problems without so much media. Maybe. But I wonder whether media isn’t causing the problems to snowball and take on global lives of their own, instead of quietly and locally wasting away?

People might actually get along better as local individuals—and better recognize that perhaps they actually do get along pretty well with all kinds of people with all kinds of views—if they weren’t constantly hooked into the mind-feed. And I can guarantee that the issues wouldn’t be dominated by sound bites and catch-phrases promoting simple dichotomy of complex issues and crushing the possibility of honest dialogue.

And that’s where I should end the post; but I’m going to continue in a sort of wistful way to say that we can’t take away the press, even if it is often hired to promote special interests in their attacks of other interests. But we can take a break from the constant mind-feed and, instead, consider anew the real people around us, consider our own decisions and thoughts and actions and how we might do some good in the world.

Maybe that could be social justice. And maybe it would be quiet and strong and positive, acknowledging the imperfections—not only of the injustice-doers, but of the world generally, and especially ourselves. And there would still be crime, and there would still be poverty, and there would still be inequality, but maybe we could all be more loving, more content, more peaceful and thereby make our lives a little better and make the lives around us a little better.

–David Lawton


Photo Credit: Collage © Mark Fraley. Original Art from the book, Creation of Calm by Mark Fraley.

Why “God Bless America”?

Many political speakers—both Republican and Democratic—end their speeches with the words, “God bless America!” This brings questions to my mind:

  • What do they mean by those three words? Are some parroting words that to them are empty of meaning but perceived as politically expedient? Are some repeating a mantra that is to them essentially a superstition? I think when most people say “God bless” they are invoking prosperity, protection, guidance/wisdom, and well being on the recipient. I personally do want all those things for the country in which I was born, in which I have lived my life, the home of my children and grandchildren.
  • Whose blessing are they invoking? We can no longer take for granted that a person asking for the blessing of God, is thinking of the God of the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—the Creator, Father God whom Jesus came to reveal. Even Christians can find themselves idolizing a lesser “god” and loving the blessings (such as wealth and influence) more than the Blesser.
  • Why do we ask for God’s blessings? Even those who put their faith in an economic, humanistic, or social ideology may say these words for “good measure,” “just in case,” to win the following of a block of voters. Or, maybe they really believe God wants to bless America. Maybe some even feel we need God’s blessings. We pledge allegiance (many of us still do) to “one nation under God.” Doesn’t this show we acknowledge, want, and need the help of a Higher Power? We need more-than-human help to achieve aspirations, defeat evil, protect against enemies, educate and prepare and provide for future generations; steward natural resources and care for creation; we have a “charge to keep.”
  • How does God bless nations? It seems, according to the biblical record, that God blesses nations because he has a plan for them, because of the faith of their members, because of their humbling themselves and seeking his help and presence, and because of his love for all his creation. He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. He gives manna, he calls out leaders, and he diverts disasters, saying to evil, “This far and no more.” He gave us Jesus who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
  • What does God’s blessing look like? Through his providence, his creation, his mercy, he gives to us not what we deserve, but what pleases him, what furthers his purposes and plans and increases his “kingdom.”
  • Why does God bless people and nations? According to the Bible, God’s blessings are meant to lead us to repentance, encouraging us to return to right relatedness to him, others, ourselves, and creation. God’s very nature is love. He is working with all things to empower us to live in goodness. He really cares about us, as he equally cares about all individuals and people groups and nations of this world he created. He blesses us so we can know his love and goodness. He blesses us so we can in turn bless others.
  • What responsibilities come with God’s blessings? First, we have the responsibility to seek his blessings. We are given the responsibility—the ability to respond—and receive/take the blessings bestowed. That may involve periods of waiting and watching. We have the responsibility to acknowledge God’s blessings, to give thanks for them. We are given the task of holding firmly but lightly God’s blessings, so we can share them with other Peoples and nations, so we can pass them on to the next generations. We are given the responsibility of being faithful stewards of the blessings of God, working together for the well-being of all.

As one whose family generations have lived in America since Revolutionary times, have joined the Westward expansion to seek opportunity and fulfill what they perceived as God’s call, I have been a recipient of the blessings God has bestowed on this great land and nation. I have lived near the mountains, on the prairie, and beside the ocean “white with foam.” I grew up saying, with my hand on my heart, “I pledge allegiance to … one nation under God” and singing at the top of my lungs, “God bless America.” When I said those words, I was acknowledging the Almighty God as the source of all good and hoping for his favor.

I believe, generally, when we say “God bless America,” we are still invoking the God of the Bible. I also believe we sometimes forget that the Bible says God’s blessings come with responsibilities and that we aren’t blessed to feel good. May we never get so “blessed” and comfortable that we aren’t touched by the plight of the poor and oppressed. May we never become so complacent with our great blessings that we quit feeling our need of continued help from above. May we never allow our blessings to become idols and find ourselves worshiping the gift instead of the Giver, that we don’t let our great blessings lead us to pride. We must remember that we are blessed to bless others.

God bless America!

 

 

Better than Destruction and Despising

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I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book, Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).

As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:


by John Buzzard:

I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.

I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.

“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.

Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”

My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.

Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.

 

This post is excerpted from the book, STORM TOSSED by Jake Porter (a pen name for author John Buzzard).

Eternal Snows and A Sacrifice of Love

A blizzard during Easter week (which we had here in Colorado) is a new experience for me. Pure white snow covered the ground when I wanted spring color to dot the landscape. But during this holy week, the pervasive, gleaming whiteness began taking on significance and speaking to my heart. The words of a familiar, Irish poem came to my mind:

“I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.”
                       ~Joseph Plunkett

As the storm passed and sun shone, the gleaming snow cover became for me a constant reminder of the body of Jesus—his very life—layed down, poured out, for us. As the ground, the trees, even the houses received the crystalline snow driven by the wind, so by faith we can receive Christ’s pure sacrifice, applied to our hearts by the grace of God. This complete, loving, redeeming sacrifice then covers our sins, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and the hope of eternal life.

The effects of this “eternal snow” go even farther, however. Today the snow on our yard, trees, and garden has melted and watered the greening grass and the perennials that are waking up for spring. Similarly, the gracious provision of Jesus not only covers us, but seeps into our beings, giving newness of life to our hearts and minds, nourishing our souls, imparting the very character of the One who poured out his life for us.

Now I’m viewing this snow during Easter week as a gift from God. Sometimes visual images and metaphors reach into our hearts more effectively than words of reason. Sometimes they help the words of truth get from our minds to our hearts. How thankful I am for these true words:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10)

“I lay down my life…” (John 10:14)

Afflict the Comfortable?

Bullet holes in the front door of the Alexander’s home in Taipei. Two members of the family were used as human shields and shot in police crossfire. Yet the Alexanders forgave their terrorist captor and helped lead him to faith in Christ before he faced execution for his crimes.

The famous newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer is said to have had this motto:

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Do you think this is a good motto for a Christian writer? And maybe for a Christian reader?

Jesus gave comfort to the afflicted. He saw the real needs of individuals and responded in love and power. Today, the Lord works through his people to give comfort to those who are burdened, oppressed, and bereft; to build up others in love and faith to sustain them in the difficulties of life.

On the other hand, Jesus often unsettles us—afflicts us, if you will—with his words and actions. He criticized the religious and political establishments. He gave his time and attention to the weak, the sick, the unlovely, the powerless. He spoke directly to the heart.

Does the Lord want to use you as a writer to challenge and unsettle those who are insulated in ease? Perhaps the Lord wants to remind us of his call to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort those who mourn.

To be used this way, you may need to let him move you out of your “comfort zones” of shallow thinking, self-protection, and playing it safe. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read the Acts of the Apostles. Read about the lives and deaths of the early-church martyrs. Read about Christian persecution and martyrdom in the world today.

Other suggestions for reading that will “afflict” us out of our false comfort and into a life of more compassion and faith:

John and Judy Pex’s story of their work in Eilat, Israel. Reading about the Pex’s 30 years of personal evangelism in Israel can fortify you with the desire to live out the life of Jesus, perhaps even opening your home, your arms, or your prayers and giving to reach others with God’s love.

Stories of Christian refugees fleeing the genocide in south Sudan will disturb your ease but may also give you perspective on the troubles you face.

Reading about the Alexander family’s hostage experience at the hands of a Taiwanese terrorist may afflict you when you realize what evil there is in the world and what sufferings God allows his people to go through; or the Alexander’s story may comfort you to see how they were able to show love and salvation to the very man who caused them great bodily injury and emotional harm.

Now a word to readers: Open your hearts to what our Lord, who himself comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, may be saying to you. Don’t just read books that offer escape and make you feel good and even more comfortable. Read books that challenge you, maybe even afflict you with a desire to show compassion.

A Christian Writer’s “Wildly Unbalanced Life”

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I hear writers bemoan the demands and distractions in their days (including technology) and how hard it is for them to achieve balance in their lives. Perhaps you’ve felt that, too. You’re working at the computer and think you’ll just check Facebook for a few minutes. An hour later, you wonder where the time went. Or you hear the musical tone that tells you new emails or text messages have arrived on your cell phone. You were just about to focus in on the theme of a blog post you’re preparing to write. You touch your phone screen, read the text and one thing leads to another. Let’s see, where did that inspiration, that thought, that focus go?
Not to mention the many “oughts” that press constantly upon your consciousness: I ought to read more, pray more, call so-in-so, go shopping, attend those meetings, deep clean my house/office, sort through papers, watch those recommended movies, re-decorate my house, exercise more … while tweeting, blogging, posting, submitting copy to editors.
So, how do we achieve “balance”?
Or, is that even the right question?
I got help on this issue a few days ago when I attended the “Writers on the Rock” Christian writers conference in Lakewood, Colorado, as a workshop presenter. Happily, I had opportunity to go to a session taught by Allen Arnold of Ransomed Heart Ministries. “Balance isn’t the key,” he told us. “God wants us to write—not for him or about him—but with him. This leads to a wildly unbalanced life. Let other things fall away.”
Demonstrating his teaching, Allen presented a creative, God-breathed message that brought clarity to my mind and both piercing and encouragement to my heart. In fact, the heart was his theme.
“Infuse Your Creativity with Heart” was his topic. “Nothing great was ever achieved without great heart,” stated the workshop blurb in the conference program. “Yet writers often become disheartened, discouraged or overwhelmed” (that’s where I started this post, remember?) “and when they do, their stories slowly begin to die.” Allen’s workshop promised to tell us “how to discover the truer you, consecrate your creativity, and feast on hidden Spiritual Manna.” He delivered on that promise.
A tall man with a joyful smile and eyes that seem ready to laugh with you or cry with you according to your need and the Lord’s leading, he said, “God cares far more about the story you’re living than the story you’re writing. Live well. Then write well.”
Does living well mean keeping up with everything the world, and even the church, often tells us we should keep on top of and keep “in balance?”
“You can’t write a better story than you’re living,” Allen Arnold states. “Nothing is more important than how a story was born—what your heart is like at the time of writing. … Your writing changes when it becomes about presence over productivity.”
If writing and connecting with readers to encourage them, lift their sights to Jesus, come alongside them, instruct them in the living Word, bring them hope through a well-told story, is what gives you life … then this may be what the Lord is calling you to do; and to live out this calling, you will have to let some other things fall away.
Tend to your heart. Then write and connect and live a “wildly unbalanced life” in—and flowing out from—the presence of Jesus.

Update: I recently got Allen Arnold’s book, The Story of WITH : A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create. I recommend it! ~ C.L.

Easter is the Reason

Easter (that is, Jesus’ resurrection) is the whole reason why I …

  • have hope in the future.
  • find prayer, praise, and song rising from within me.
  • must also die (to self) but can also truly live.
  • desire to tell others about the empty tomb.
  • have something worth telling/writing about.
  • want to publish the Good News!
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