Friday, February 25, 2011

A few things I've learned

When I became a Christian, my friends predicted that it wouldn’t last six months.  It has now been a little over forty years.



I haven’t posted my testimony yet on this blog, although I will in the future. (“Testimony” is Christian-speak for how one came to Christ, and what Christ has done for him or her.)  I was saved at the age of nineteen; thus, I have been a Christian for most of my life - - - although I lived long enough, as an unbeliever, to remember the loneliness and the confusion and the horror.

So, four decades having passed,  this is an opportune moment to reflect on some things I've learned. I won't dwell on the things I haven't learned yet: it's too depressing!

These are things that I learned originally from Scripture, or from the wise counsel of my mentors and teachers: but they have now been proven true, in an experiential way, in my own life. I have the scars, and the joys, to prove it....

1. God doeth all things well (Mark 7:37). His plans and His actions and His timing are perfect. He has allowed me to go through the fire (many fires, in fact), but has also led me beside still waters, and shown me beauties and marvels that I would never have seen if He had done things any other way. Every joy, and every heartbreak, has been exactly what I needed. The dreams and aspirations I had as a new Christian have not been fulfilled; my service to Him has not been as spectacular as I had secretly hoped it would be. But that's because....

2. God doesn't need "great men." My maternal grandfather was a wonderful servant of God, with a ministry spanning decades and touching thousands. On her deathbed, my Grandmother said to me (at age nine), "William, you're going to be the one to carry on your Grandfather's work." Well, she was mistaken, bless her heart. I haven't done a tithe of what he did. But God didn't need to replace one "great man" with another "great man," and, anyway, my Grandfather wasn't "great:" he was dedicated and committed and humble. When he went Home, God didn't need to make a little clone. None of us should aspire to greatness in the world's sight, or even in God's sight; we should aspire to please Him, whether by obscurity, fame, constant victory, or frequent defeat. My aspiration was never to be conformed to my Grandfather's image, or to Billy Graham's, or to Jacques Ellul's; by the grace of God, my earliest mentors showed me that my aspiration should be conformity to Jesus Christ. And that has happened, a tiny, tiny bit: but it will be complete one day, when I leave this life.

3. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Gal. 6:7). I could easily preach a sermon on this, but I won't. On this particular day, I will simply say, to those of you who are younger than me (which is probably 75% of you): you'd better believe it. Whether you're fourteen or forty, you cannot sin and get away with it. Of course, God deals with us in constant mercy, and we never answer for all our sins; but the principle is true. Even when nobody on this earth knows of our sin, God knows, and in this life (and perhaps in the next), we will reap the harvest, one way or another. This is more certain than the law of gravity.

4. Things are, very often, exactly the opposite of what they seem. This is particularly true of people. The "great preacher" or "great scholar" is very often a compromiser and a coward, pleasing men when he boasts of only "pleasing God;" the defeated Christian, the drunken Christian, the mentally ill Christian, might have strengths you can't even imagine. The man who appears to be tough and macho and "in control" is usually a frightened little boy inside, even if he doesn't realize it; the meekest and least impressive man or woman you meet might be a tower of strength when the crisis comes. The man or woman who has suffered through several marriages and divorces might have a greater respect for marriage, and a greater horror of divorce, than many of the proud, "once-married" Christian "leaders" who claim to be "focused on the family." The man who goes to prison may be innocent; the malefactor may receive nothing but the world's applause. The girl or woman who appears to be an absolute slut might be what she appears, or she might just be a scared, lonely little girl inside, who simply never learned what life and love is really all about. The woman who gets an abortion (not all, but many) might want a baby more than you can imagine; she's just scared, or stupid, or misguided by the world. Never forget: man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). So should we. We can never excuse or minimize sin, but it was my alcoholic Mother who prayed me into the Kingdom of God, and who then laid the bottle aside and became the mightiest prayer warrior I know. But who would have known it?

5. Be careful who you marry. Amen and selah. If you get this one wrong, you'll live with the consequences for the rest of your life.

6. Crooked politicians and Muslims and angry, snarling atheists are not the enemy: they are victims of the Enemy. We all have personal "enemies" in our life, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about dealing with deceived (even willfully deceived) people who oppose (or compromise) the work of God at every opportunity. We can rant against Obama or Bush or the phony preachers, but they are pawns, not players.

7. The King James Bible is the final propositional revelation of God in the English language. It is the perfect word of God, and is settled forever in Heaven. You can either accept that at face value, and let God bless you through His word; or you can wander through the wilderness of "new translations," and find out the hard way - - - if you don't harden your heart first, so that you no longer even recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there may be truth and value in the new versions, just as there may be truth and value in a good Christian biography, or in a book by Watchman Nee or Andrew Murray; but these things are not the word of God. And you will never know the true depth and joy of real Bible study until you commit yourself to the King James Bible. I know: I used and taught and even preached out of the "new versions" for thirteen years.

8. The most important thing in your life is your personal, daily relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not your job. It is not Bible study. It is not "church." It is your relationship with Jesus. Neglect that, and you may become the most dazzling "Bible scholar" on earth, but you'll be a failure and a victim and a fraud.

It's all about Jesus! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Simeon's Triumph

Simeon Johnson, of Pearl, Mississippi:
Boot black and farmer and factory hand.
Simeon Johnson, community pillar:
Prayed for the white folk, but preached to his own.

Simeon Johnson was always a worker:
Did any odd jobs that the Pearl folk could find.
But when the time came that he had his own family,
He moved up to Jackson, like turning a page.

Simeon's people were slaves in the old days,
But that was the past, and his babies were now.
So Simeon learned how to run elevators:
Stepped into a cage, and was there forty years.

Nobody really knew Simeon Johnson:
Not the white folks he lifted, or those he took down; 
Not his wife or his children or all of the deacons 
At Jackson's Fourth Baptist, his heart's earthly home.

No one, not even the angels in Heaven,
Knew when Bethlehem's Baby would come back with His sword.
But Simeon served Him at Jackson's Fourth Baptist,
Passing out fans, and enjoying the word.

Only the Lord really saw Simeon Johnson:
Saw the thoughts of his mind, and the ache in his soul:
For Simeon Johnson loved His appearing,
And looked every day for the skies to unroll.

On a Sunday, when all of the white folks were playing,
And the Fourth Baptist deacons had sat down to eat,
The trump and the shout of the Lord finally sounded,
And Simeon Johnson departed in peace.
(Luke 2:25-30; 2 Timothy 4:8)


Monday, February 21, 2011

Travesty

I don’t usually write about current political issues here, for the simple reason that nothing is more stale than yesterday’s headlines, and I don’t want the blog to be dated.  But when a miscarriage of justice is carried on over a quarter of a century, it rather ceases to be “topical.” 

Jonathan Pollard was a civilian analyst for American Naval intelligence.  In the early 1980s, he became aware that information crucial to the welfare of the state of Israel was being deliberately withheld by certain elements in the American intelligence sector. According to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel, this information should have been shared with that nation.  So, owing to the enormous importance of the information, Pollard took it upon himself to do so.

In 1985, he was arrested and charged with espionage.  Two years later, in spite of a plea bargain he had reached with the prosecution, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.  His attorney never filed an appeal.

Despite the fact that he was passing information to a friendly government, which had a legal right to that information, Pollard received the harshest sentence ever handed down in a similar case.  He has now been in prison for 25 years, and is in very poor health.  Pleas for clemency in Pollard’s case have been made by such diverse political figures as Dan Quayle, Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP, Arlen Specter, Mike Huckabee, Barney Frank, Rudy Giuliani, and many others: obviously, this is not an issue of "right vs. left," but right and wrong.  Calls for clemency have also come from the European Congress, and from various religious organizations and leaders - - - evangelical, Catholic, and Jewish.

And yet, clemency continues to be denied.  But in recent months the movement to free Pollard has gathered steam, as witness the following two videos. The interview with Jon Voight is from January, 2011. A link to Pollard’s home page, which contains the full facts of the case, can be found in the “Free Jonathan Pollard” button in the left margin. 

video

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The ultimate Sherlock Holmes

It's been said that Sherlock Holmes is one of the three most universally recognized characters in fiction: the other two being Mickey Mouse and Superman.  Over the years, Holmes has been portrayed, on the stage and screen, by a truly impressive (and bizarre) group of actors, including John Barrymore, Sir John Gielgud, Charlton Heston (poor casting, that), Peter O'Toole, Roger Moore (even worse casting), Robert Downey Jr., and, of course, Basil Rathbone.

But many Holmes fans around the world, including me, would say that the definitive Holmes was played on Grenada Television by the British actor Jeremy Brett.  The idea was to film the entire Conan Doyle "canon," in a very faithful manner; 41 episodes were eventually completed.  Brett was born to play the part: it became his signature role, the highlight of his career, and the delight of Holmes fans everywhere. Happily, the entire series is available on DVD.

Jeremy Brett, who started acting at the Old Vic and the Royal National Theater in England, did not have a lengthy cinematic resume; his most notable film role, when he was a mere stripling, was as Freddie Eynsford-Hill, Eliza Doolitttle's hapless inamorata in 1964's My Fair Lady, opposite Audrey Hepburn. In later years, he suffered from bipolar disorder, and died in 1995 of heart failure.  But, just as Irene Adler was always regarded by Holmes as "the woman," Jeremy Brett is regarded by many enthusiasts as the Sherlock Holmes.  Nobody ever did it better.


video

(Please disregard the "petition" notice at the end of the video; it refers 
to an outdated campaign to resurrect the television series.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sins we don't confess

When was the last time you asked God to forgive your sins? 
 
What sins did you ask Him to forgive?

And what sins did you forget about?

If you're like most Christians, real, Bible-believing Christians, it probably hasn't been very long since you asked for God's forgiveness. Most of us are very familiar with 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If a man or woman is truly following Christ, he or she is aware of their daily sins. Either our conscience convicts us, or the Holy Spirit convicts us - - - or both. And we know that we need forgiveness and cleansing on a regular basis: usually, a daily basis. For some of us, an hourly basis!

Please understand, I'm not talking about confessing our sins in order to be saved. If we've received Christ by an act of the will, at a specific moment in time, our sins have already been forgiven: past, present, and future! But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12). Jesus has already taken the punishment for our sins: for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21). All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). The sins that I committed before coming to Christ have already been punished; so have the sins I've committed today, and those I'll commit tomorrow. That's what salvation and forgiveness are all about.

But, on a day to day basis, we're told to confess our sins: not to secure our salvation, but to restore and maintain our fellowship with Jesus Christ. And, except for a few dear Christians who don't understand Bible doctrine, most of God's children do this, and do it regularly.

I think that I've prayed 1 John 1:9 more than any other verse in the Bible. I've prayed it at least two or three times a day, for the forty years I've been saved. I'm constantly aware of the fact that I'm full of sin, and that I can't really have fellowship with God until I've cleared things up (or, rather, asked Him to clear them up!). Obviously, this applies to the overt, obvious things, like losing my temper, or gossip, or "little white lies," or lustful thoughts. When I'm guilty of those things, nobody needs to hit me over the head with a crowbar to get my attention: I know I've done wrong. Usually, I ask God to forgive me right on the spot; sometimes, it may be a few hours later. But I try to keep "short accounts" with God, and not let the sins pile up.

If you tell a lie, if you snarl or snap at your spouse, if you watch something you have no business watching, you don't need a preacher to tell you that you've sinned. And we usually confess those sins pretty quickly. They're so obvious, so glaring, that we're like guilty children: we can't rest until we've cleared things up with our Father.

But those are the easy ones - - - easy to commit, and easy to recognize. If I look at pornography, or drink a 6-pack of Coors one night, "just to help me relax," or spread slander about another Christian, nobody needs to tell me I've sinned - - - unless I've hardened my heart, in which case God has to whack me around a little bit.




But have you ever stopped to think about the sins you don't confess? Not just the ones you forget: God understands that we don't remember everything. That's why 1 John 1:9  says, If we confess our sins (the ones we're aware of), he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness - - - the ones we've forgotten about, but would confess if we remembered. God wants to forgive, and He doesn't just "bend over backwards" to do it: He was stretched out and hung on a cross to do it.

It's not my intention or desire to make anybody feel guilty, or place a burden on you. But I've noticed certain sins in my life, over a period of years, and they're very serious sins - - - probably more serious than drinking a can of beer or skipping my tithe. Maybe you haven't been guilty of any of these, but I have.

Quenching the Spirit of God.  We all know that, at the moment we're saved, God the Holy Spirit comes to live in our bodies, and He never leaves. He comes to teach and guide us, and to glorify Christ in us: Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you (John 16: 13, 14). He comes to give us power to do right, and power to resist wrong. He does all kinds of things in us and for us and through us. He's the Source: the Spirit of Jesus Christ, indwelling and enabling us. Anything that we say or do or accomplish, that has any spiritual value, is done by Him, and not by us.

But, just as God has given us free will, and mysteriously given us the ability to reject His Son's offer of salvation, just as no man or woman gets saved "against their will," so the Christian has the ability to follow the Holy Spirit's guidance, and operate in His strength, or reject that guidance, and operate in our own strength. The Spirit says, "Witness to that man sitting at the lunch counter." We can obey, or disobey. He says, "Pray for Sally; she's having problems." We either obey, or we say "Later, Lord, I'm kinda rushed right now." Or, we face a temptation, and we know that the Spirit can overcome it for us: but we don't turn to Him. We try to deal with it in our own flesh, our own strength. And we actually prevent God from doing His will in our lives.

That's "quenching the Holy Spirit," and we're not to do it. God gives us various commands, all at once: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:16-19). If we quench the Spirit, we've disobeyed God. It's a sin.

Have you ever done it? Yes, you have. Have you ever confessed it?

Grieving the Spirit.  I don't know if this is worse than the other, but it's in the same ball park, and it's a terrible thing. Ephesians 4:30, which contains one of the greatest promises of eternal security in the Bible, also contains a sober command: And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

How do we grieve the Spirit? The same way you'd "grieve" anyone: we make Him unhappy, we cause Him grief. It's nothing weird or spooky.

Any Bible believing Christian knows that the Holy Spirit of God lives inside his or her body. He's there all the time; He never goes to sleep, never takes a weekend off, never leaves us. But have you ever considered what that means?

It means that what I look at, the Holy Spirit looks at: whether it's a sunset, or the face of a grandchild, or a dirty, sex-centered television program. It means that what I listen to, the Holy Spirit listens to: whether it's a collection of hymns, or the voice of a loved one, or a false prophet preaching false doctrine. It means that what my body does, the Holy Spirit participates in, whether it's a good night's sleep, or fellowshipping with my spouse, or ingesting nicotine or caffeine or alcohol. Some of these sights and sounds and activities please the Spirit of Jesus Christ; some grieve Him. But, even in the midst of our foulest sin, He never leaves us. He just (I say it reverently) suffers, and grieves. Haven't we already laid enough agony and grief on Him?

Have you ever grieved the Spirit? Did you confess it, and ask Him to forgive you? Or did you just focus on the act itself: "I'm sorry I got drunk, Lord." Well, that's a good confession. But it goes deeper. You grieved the Holy Spirit when you did that: and grieving Him is a sin that needs to be confessed.

Failure to pray.  Of course, we sin when we neglect any of the "spiritual disciplines:" witnessing, assembling with the brethren, or studying the word. Any time we neglect these things, we need to ask God's forgiveness. But there's something especially serious in this matter of prayer: something that's connected to the heart of God Himself. Samuel says to the nation of Israel, Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you (1 Sam. 12:23). In failing to pray for God's people, he wouldn't have been sinning against the people, primarily: more importantly, he would have been sinning against God. Not only that: look at the exact wording, "in ceasing to pray for you." It's not that Samuel never got around to praying for them; he probably prayed for them a lot. But he knew that he'd be sinning against God if he ceased praying for them: if he said, "Okay, I've done my duty, I've prayed for them, now I can quit." That's why the New Testament says Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). It doesn't mean that we never get up off our knees; God isn't weird, and He doesn't make weird demands! It means that, once we've started praying about something, or for someone, we should keep it up. We should see it through, if possible. I have people in my life for whom I've been praying for forty years: praying that they'd get saved. Not family members: former teachers and professors. But I'm not boasting: such faithfulness is not the pattern of my life. I'm guilty of not praying at all for a lot of people.


We take this matter of prayer much too lightly. How second-rate our prayers are sometimes! When you hear a prayer request, and say "Yes, brother, I'll be praying for your co-worker," or "Yes, sister, I'll pray for your unsaved neighbors," do you really do it? Really? I don't; not always. I pray for them at that moment, but I often don't make it a matter of deep, intense prayer. I forget about it. Or I put it on a list, and then don't look at the list as often as I should. I have been privileged to know some great prayer warriors; alas, I am not among them. Pray for me!

I could park here, and talk a great deal more about prayer, but that's not the subject of this post. The subject is this: when was the last time you confessed your prayerlessness, or the dry, automatic, fleshy nature of some of your prayers?

These are things we don't confess.

We're good at confessing the temper tantrums and the fleshly lusts (sex, food, drugs) and the really obvious sins. But what about these other things, that strike so sharply at the heart of God?

Shouldn't we confess them, too - - - or do these "spiritual things" not worry us as much as the others?


If you're an unbeliever, of course, the issue isn't confessing your sins, or grieving the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit isn't with you ... yet.  The issue for you is becoming personally acquainted with Jesus Christ:  receiving Him, through an act of the will, according to John 1:12.  And that can be done in a moment's time ... or overlooked for a lifetime.  It's up to you.
.....

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Bible thumper

Okay, it's time for a laugh. The late Jerry Clower was a fertilizer salesman from rural Mississippi, who went on to become one of the most popular storytellers in America - - - although you'd never see him on HBO or "Saturday Night Live." (He was in the tradition of Will Rogers, not Chris Rock.) But he was and is beloved by millions, and deserves to be remembered. Warning: this clip does not contain any bathroom or bedroom references, and so may not be recognized as "humor" by everyone.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

When I was a teenager, reading this as a required text in school, nothing could have been more tedious or irrelevant.  But decades pass, and understanding, whether sweet or bitter, casts a different light on things.  One of T. S. Eliot's finest poems, it is read here by the English actor Michael Gough.


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mermaids

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

African-American?

As a Caucasian male of a certain age, I've heard a great many terms used to describe Americans of African heritage.  Having lived through the fifties, I remember when "colored people" was the socially acceptable term, despite the fact that it could really be applied to anyone: even Caucasians are "colored," unless they're Albino: we're various shades of pink or beige, which are colors. But these days, to use the term is utterly unacceptable .... unless, of course, you're a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as my Mother was.

Why does that organization cling to that term?  For historical reasons, I would guess; but it gets confusing at times, doesn't it?  Even with the very best intentions, even with the most liberal spirit, it's hard to keep up with the "proper" terminology in such matters.

A child of the 1950s, my teenage years coincided with the 1960s, and during that decade, the terminology was changing like the phases of the Moon. It was Stokely Carmichael who broke away from the use of "colored," and began to proclaim the need for "Black Power."  The term quickly caught on, and was used by political groups (the Black Panthers) and seminal "soul" musicians: James Brown had a monster hit with his song "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)." More important, the term entered the mainstream, and remains in the mainstream today: offending a few, but accepted by most.

But, again, how confusing it gets, if one is fascinated with words and etymology.  "Negro" was the official term, even before "Colored" became the popular choice; and, as the author Frank Yerby (himself a man of African descent) pointed out, "Negro" is simply the Spanish word for "black."  Yerby thought the squabble over terminology was puzzling, too.

But most Americans of African descent (there's a mouthful!) are not black; they're various shades of brown.  If you go to India, you'll see some black people: but they're Asian.  The confusion continues.  Nowadays, "brown," in the United States, is usually used in reference to Latinos, or, sometimes, to Native Americans, who prefer to call themselves "red," in keeping with  tradition.  In Native American parlance, the Indian equivalent of an "Uncle Tom" is an "apple:" red on the outside, white on the inside.

For a time, in the 1960s, a popular choice was "Afro-American:" this was when "Afro" hairstyles, or "naturals," became popular.  Well, "Afro-American" was good enough for me; but it wasn't good enough for Jesse Jackson, who began to insist on the term "African-American" in 1988. Jackson believed that the cultural heritage of Africa was too important to be left out of common parlance; but, really, how did "African American" improve on "Afro-American?"  Aren't they pretty much the same?

We will, of course, not address the hateful diminutives and epithets that are commonly used, and are outside the bounds of polite discussion.

I think they are, anyway.  The very political comedian Dick Gregory entitled his autobiography Nigger, and embraced the term.  I think it was an unfortunate choice for a title, but it wasn't my book.

"African American" is the current "official" term in the United States, used on federal government forms, along with many other hyphenated terms: Asian American, Hispanic American, etc.  But that's just the government.  Governmental terminology need not be taken seriously, unless one is a defendant in court. And yet, even the feds are of divided opinions: hence, the Congressional Black Caucus.

I recently read a blog entry by an African immigrant to the United States, who happily referred to himself as "black," until he was rebuked for it ... by his Caucasian girlfriend!  It's a sad day when political correctness intrudes into the sweet murmurings of romance.

Some black people prefer "African American" because, like Jesse Jackson, they are very much aware of the historical importance of their heritage: the Middle Passage, for example.  But that doesn't always apply.  The current President is most certainly an African-American, but his genealogy is not marred by the experience of slavery.  His African ancestors were never in chains.

It's not a problem that keeps me awake at night, and I hope it doesn't keep too many blacks awake at night.  ("Black" is the term I use, and I'm sticking with it, except when addressing someone who prefers one of the other terms.) But, as a student of words, it fascinates me.

I suspect that this situation will never be fully resolved, and I'm not sure that it should be.  People should be free to call themselves what they please.  But those of us who occasionally get confused must be pitied, not scorned.  The confusion is legitimate.

As for myself, I will indulge my confusion in a very pleasant way, by thinking of a genuine, literal African American: the actress Charlize Theron.


Charlize Theron hot