Faith-Based Character Traits (Page One)
Respect for Others
My parents would always tell me that I should not hate the white man, but that it was my duty as a Christian to love him. (An Autobiography of Religious Development, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nov. 1950 essay)
A little boy named Jimmy wanted to join the local YMCA, but there was no way his poor family could afford the annual dues. But one day, a letter arrived at his house saying that he was a member. The family had no idea who had sent the letter and paid for the membership until he was 16-years-old. Every year Jimmy benefited, strengthening his body with weights, running on the track, learning character and skills.
Little Jimmy grew up to become an all pro center for the Raiders, Jim Otto, who wore the number "OO" for the Raiders pro football team, arguably the greatest center to ever play the game. According to player/coach/commentator John Madden, ''If someone came from another planet and wanted to know what a football player looked like, you'd show him a poster of Jim Otto." That's how well respected he is in the world of pro football. He was selected to an incredible 12 Pro Bowls and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he not only did well at football. He's done well with his life, depending on God, worshiping with his family, raising a son who does full-time ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ.
Sixteen years after his free YMCA membership expired, Jim spoke at an awards dinner back in his home town of Wassau, Wisconsin. Before his speech, he sat next to his former pastor, who was now 86 years old and going blind. The pastor leaned over and said to him,
"James, my sons were all grown up when you attended school. I used to watch you on the playground getting into mischief. But I knew you had good qualities. To get those qualities out of you, I bought YMCA memberships for you without your family knowing. And I just wanted you to know that you turned out very well, and my investment was worth it."
It was an anonymous gift by a pastor to keep a kid out of trouble and to help him get on the right path. It was an act of kindness, a totally unselfish gift that many people could afford for someone. But it was a gift that helped shape a life. What child are you noticing that might need some special attention. There's a future mother playing on the playground, a future Olympian pulling her hair, a future pastor swinging on the monkey bars. What act of kindness could we do to make sure they fulfill their potential?
(Written by Steve Miller, from The Pain of Glory, by Jim Otto and Dave Newhouse, Sports Publishing, Inc., 2000, pp. vii, viii, 191)
Have you heard of John Newton? He's a great example of a person who believed a lie and got really messed up. He grew up in 18th century England and went to sea with his father after his 11th birthday. Although his mom had taught him to believe the Bible, at age 16 he read a book that convinced him he should follow his own heart and mind instead. He decided that God didn't exist, truth was only opinion, and that morally he could do what he wanted to. As a result, he became an obnoxious person who respected no one and took every opportunity to try to turn people from God. He even enjoyed inventing new ways to blaspheme God.
This despicable fellow made his living in the slave trade, purchasing slaves in Africa and selling them for a profit. They would chain the slaves below and many would die on the voyage. Women slaves were raped. If they tried to escape, the were punished with painful thumb screws. But one day at sea his ship got caught in a major storm and began to fall apart. When it looked like all hope was gone, he realized in horror that he really wasn't sure that God didn't exist and didn't know for sure that the Bible wasn't true. And he knew that if he were to die and stand before the God he had been ridiculing, he was in major trouble. So, he called out to God, survived the storm, and began to seriously seek God. Soon Newton trusted Jesus with his salvation and eventually became a preacher. He wrote a song that is one of the most popular hymns ever written: "Amazing Grace." (Remember the words? "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see.")
Some of you may have heard John Newton's story before. But what you probably never heard was that, amazingly, for six years as a born again believer, he continued working as a slave trader! It never occurred to him that anything was wrong with it!
Newton's problem was that the sailors he hung around weren't known for their preaching and Bible memorization skills. Until He got hooked up with some strong teaching and some vibrant Christians, his growth was stunted.
As Newton finally got under the teaching of some strong men of God, he began to see slavery through God's eyes and became one of the key people to stop the British slave trade. [Source on Newton: Amazing Grace, The Dramatic Life Story of John Newton, by John Pollock (Harper and Row, 1981)
The point? To overcome prejudice, it's not enough to make a spiritual decision - you must seek out strong believers and begin to grow in your faith. (� Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved)
How many of you have seen "Schindler's List?" This award-winning movie gripped people's hearts, probably as no other before or since, about the atrocities of Hitler's Third Reich. Of all the heart-wrenching scenes from the movie, the one that haunts me the most is where the Nazi's decided to rid themselves of the burden of the Jewish children at the labor camp. They lured the children onto trucks with candy and perhaps promises of a special outing. As the trucks began to leave, some parents discovered the plot and screamed helplessly as they watched their children disappear from their lives
Revisionist historians have to ignore tons of eyewitness testimony to deny this kind of stuff happened. But Hitler's Third Reich kept meticulous records, and even filmed much of the torture and killing.
Feel with me just a moment. The children and parents you saw were actors. But they represent millions who died in the death camps. You can't really despise prejudice till you realize that those children had real parents and grandparents who cried in joy at their births. Parents who rocked them to sleep at night and held them close when they were frightened. Moms who excitedly recorded on calendars their child's first step and first word. Dad's who taught their sons to ride bikes and took them fishing on holidays. All heartlessly murdered because of people who never dealt with their prejudiced hearts.
As for Hitler, the torture and destruction of Jews was not just a terrible necessity to develop a better society. His mind became so twisted that he enjoyed the suffering. He ordered his men to film the killings so that he could view them personally. He probably watched with popcorn and coke.
As a young student, Hitler was probably a lot like you. He ran in the fields with his friends, played games, and even at one time dreamed of becoming a priest. If anyone had suggested to him that he would one day murder millions of people, he probably would have laughed out loud at the joke. But he never came before God to ask Him to forgive and heal his prejudices. Instead, he nurtured them until the rage burned within. And if we don't deal with the prejudices in our own hearts, we have no idea how twisted our minds can become.� (Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved)
Popular Christian professor, author, and speaker Tony Campolo once threw an unusual late night party that well illustrates this point. (While this really happened, he changed the names, setting, and a little of the dialogue.) Campolo flew from the States to Hawaii and found his internal time clock all out of whack. So at 3:30 AM he wandered the streets of Honolulu looking for a place to eat. Finding a sleazy, greasy diner still open, he sat down and ordered a cup of coffee and a donut. About that time, eight or nine prostitutes came in and sat down on either side of him. Campolo suddenly felt an urge to make his exit but decided to stay when he overheard their conversation. A prostitute named Agnes said that she would be thirty-nine the next day. Her "friend" replied, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing �Happy Birthday'?"
Agnes chided her for being so cruel and ends by saying, "I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"
After hearing that, Campolo hung around till the women left. Then he asked Harry, the greasy man behind the counter, about them. Upon finding that they came in every night, he suggested that they throw a party for Agnes. Harry loved the idea and called his wife out of the back room to share it with her. She said, "That's wonderful! You know Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind, and nobody ever does anything nice and kind for her."
So early the next morning they did everything up right. Harry baked the cake and Campolo decorated the entire diner, complete with crepe-paper decorations and a sign that read, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" Somehow, the word must have gotten out about the party, because by 3:15 AM Campolo found himself in a restaurant packed with prostitutes! When Agnes arrived at 3:30 sharp, they screamed in unison, "Happy Birthday!"
Agnes was so stunned that she could hardly stand up. And when the cake arrived with all the candles lit and the accompanying birthday song that she had probably never heard sung in her honor, she began to weep. She couldn't bring herself to cut the cake, hesitantly asking if anyone would mind if she just kept it for awhile.
Campolo no doubt stunned everyone by offering to lead in a prayer. Afterwards, Harry said, "Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?" He responded, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning." After a pause, Harry almost sneered his answer. "No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!"(Condensed from Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a Party, Word Publishing, 1990, pp. 3-9. Used by permission.)
"We please him most not by frantically trying to make ourselves good but by throwing ourselves into his arms with all our imperfections and believing that he understands everything and loves us still." (The Root of Righteousness, found in Verwer, George, Out of the Comfort Zone, Vision, Grace, Action, OM Publishing, Waynesboro, GA, 2000. p. 57)
(This could be a skit) This story never happened, but if you can place yourself in the story and experience the feelings of Sean, you'll begin to grasp today's topic. Sean is a 9th grader who's secretly crazy about (name the latest dream girl that guys generally concur is a babe) Brittany. He keeps track of her concert schedule so that he can snatch up the best seats whenever her band plays in a nearby town. He knows he has no chance to go out with her. He's a nobody �a lowly freshman in a nowhere town with no connections. He might as well be invisible at school. If he were to transfer out tomorrow, no one would care or even notice. He's not athletic, academically inclined or physically attractive. Sean can't even get the attention of the middle school girls in his neighborhood, much less a star. He knows he's a loser. But hey, when it comes to Brittany, it never hurts to dream.
So one evening after supper he's listening to a CD on his bed when he gets this phone call from a girl who claims she's Brittany. Now Sean may not be that bright, but he's no idiot. He knows that the freshman cheerleaders are probably having a sleepover and making prank calls. His little sister must have ratted on him about the Brittany posters in his room. So he just plays along with the gag.
The girl says, "Hey Sean, I've seen you at several of my concerts and for some reason I couldn't get you off my mind. So I had one of my bodyguards trace you down and get the scoop on you. He tells me you're a pretty nice guy. I know this must seem weird with me calling you and stuff. But this Hollywood crowd is so artificial, so plastic. For just once I'd like to go out with a decent guy, talk about normal stuff and not have to worry about someone just using me to break into a music career."
So after about 20 minutes of small-talk, she makes her move. "So Sean, would you like to get together sometime?"
Sean, deciding to play along with the gag, replies "Well, let me look over my Day-Timer". (He flips some pages of a phone book to make some noise.) "I've got Friday night free the week after next."
There's a pause and she says, "Looks good on my schedule too. I suppose you're too young to drive. Mind if I pick you up at your place?"
"Sounds great!" says Sean.
After they hang up he starts getting depressed. What kind of a future could a guy have who is always the end of someone's joke?
After a couple of weeks he sort of gets over it, although every time he hears some girls laughing in the lunchroom, he assumes they're laughing at him.
So come Friday night he's at home trying to find a quiet room away from his 13-year-old sister's friends, who are having a sleepover. Then the doorbell rings. His sister answers and all the sudden the giggly girls go silent. It's one of those silences that's so silent that it's loud. You know what I mean? Sean walks into the living room to find Brittany standing there, surrounded by a bunch of speechless 13-year-old girls. She looks over to see Sean and asks, "Well, are you ready?" A million thoughts race through his mind. "Just a moment," he says. Mm�mmm�make yourself at home. "And Sis, could you and the girls keep Brittany company while I finish getting ready? He walks casually to his room, which becomes a tornado of activity to prepare for a date his wildest imaginations could have never dreamed possible.
Do you know what Sean just experienced? The biblical word is "grace." There are several ways the word grace is used in the Bible, but one way is when a great, important person is willing to step down and help a lesser person who is in need.
And what do you think is Sean's emotional response when the girl of his dreams, a girl who's totally out of his league, actually accompanies him on what turns out to be the first of many dates? (He's totally blown away. He's astonished. He's amazed. He's speechless.)
And you know what? One of the foundational keys to living the Christian life is to understand just how much lower, how much less deserving we are than Sean, how much greater God is than Brittany, and how much more God went through to find us and have a relationship with us. If we truly grasp that, we'll understand why John Newton wrote a song and named it "Amazing Grace." You'll be so astounded, dumbfounded, and speechless that your life will never again be the same. And after you comprehend how God accepted you when you were totally undeserving, perhaps you'll see how foolish it is for us to refuse to accept those we consider "beneath" us. (Steve Miller, copyright 2003, from "Grace" series in Legacy Curriculum)
Imagine that Sunday you the spend night with a friend whose parents are out of town. You get into his father's liquor, party all night, and begin ranting and raving about how the school's a boring prison and someone needs to liven things up. So early Monday morning, thoroughly drunk, you break into the father's gun collection and head to the school. You go into the principal's office and make an announcement over the intercom that classes are cancelled but a party is taking place in the cafeteria. You take the principle hostage and publically humiliate him, covering his face with chocolate pudding and making him crawl over the lunch tables, barking like a dog. You exit through the computer lab, shooting up all the computers, spray painting obscenities against the principal as you leave.
From that point on, most everything's a blur until the next morning when you wake up in the local prison. You quickly realize that the party's over. An officer stops by to inform you that although fortunately no one was injured, you and your friend did about $1,500,000.00 damage to the school and you so humiliated the principal that he didn't come back to school the next day.
Now close your eyes and try to picture yourself sitting in the holding cell. As you sober up and realize what you've done, you shudder. You know that you'll spend a good portion of the rest of your life in prison. And to make matters worse, your scuzzy-looking cellmate has been looking you over a little too fondly. Just when you think matters could get no worse, the officer stops back by and says, "Hey, I just got word of who your judge is gonna be. It's judge Griffiths, fondly known around here as �The Hanging Judge.' No one ever gets a break from him. You may not know him, but you probably know his son. He's the principal at your school! That's right, the one you totally humiliated in front of the students and faculty!" Whatever hope you had of getting off the hook has now been dashed.
But then the Principal shows up with an officer, wanting to speak to you alone. He looks at you kindly and says, "I've always believed in you, and I still believe in you. I've refused to press charges. I'm a wealthy man and will pay for all the repairs. You're a free man." In a moment of time, you go from hopeless despair to ecstasy. You deserved everything bad, but he gave you everything good. How would you treat that principle from now on?
So, we are all miserable sinners who deserve punishment. What do we expect when we come before the righteous Judge? Punishment. But what does he offer? Grace and forgiveness. But it goes way beyond what the gracious forgiveness that the principal showed. (� Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved)
"Jesus comes not for the super spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace." (From: Breenan Manning's book entitled The Ragamuffin Gospel. From the collection of Barry St. Clair)
Justice is receiving what you deserve. Mercy is not receiving what you deserve. Grace is receiving what you do not deserve. (Anonymous)
In Luke 15 we find Jesus talking to whoever will listen and eating with people that the religious big shots despised: tax gatherers and sinners. The religious crowd grumbles about it and Jesus tells them a story in verses 11-32 to explain God's heart for sinners. I'll put it in a modern setting, reading it as part of a letter that a young 19-year-old named Neal writes to his brother about his previous year.
Alternative: Instead of reading this "letter," play the "Prodigal Son Suite" by Keith Green. This powerful song goes through the life of the Prodigal Son in a way that only Keith Green could present it.
I want you to know exactly what happened to me over the past year, so that you can avoid the hell I went through. After my high school graduation, I sat down with dad for a little father-son talk about my future. I wore a conservative pair of khaki pants and a collared knit shirt. You know, the routine we always did when we wanted something from dad. I convinced him that a few of my friends and I had been planning to launch a computer business for some time and we felt it was time to strike now while the market's hot. Then I gave him that apologetic look, like I didn't feel quite right about asking this, but then looked him in the eye and asked, "Could I take the money you set aside for my college and my portion of the inheritance and use it to pursue this dream?"
I knew dad's emotions would be mixed. You know how much he wanted us to do the college thing. And he really didn't want to risk me losing that money that he hoped I would use take care of him in his old age. But I reminded him about how he always told us of his regrets that he played it so safe in life, managing someone else's print shop instead of taking the risk to set up his own.
Perhaps just seeing his oldest child sitting there in the living room, nicely dressed, speaking to him man to man about a feasible business simply overwhelmed him. Whatever the case, after spending a few days looking over the business plan (that I'd found on the internet), he took me to the bank and transferred an incredible $600,000.00 over to my name. I looked him sincerely in the eye and said, "I won't let you down." At that moment dad probably relished in what he considered one of those father-son moments that he'd always look back on fondly. His son's transition into manhood. The beginning of a business venture that would surely make him proud to be my father.
But behind a sincere expression my hard heart was saying, "Stupid old man. He's worked fifty hours a week making his employer rich while he's lived a frugal life in order to save for a retirement that might never happen. Somebody needs to enjoy this wealth before it all disappears into a nursing home."
I was already packed, so I lit out of town without even calling to say goodbye. I thought of no one but myself. My whole world centered around me. As I left the Baxley city limits, I rolled down my window, clinched my fist and shouted defiantly, "In five years I'll return rich and famous! You wait and see. You'll be lined up for my autograph." My dream was to break into Chicago's nightclub business so that I could spend my nights hearing great bands and hanging out with the party crowd while I built my fortune.
Oh yea, I picked up a few "necessities" along the way. For me, image was everything. So I traded in the ailing Ford Taurus for a brand new Porsche. Then I bought some clothes worthy of my new image. With all that money and my natural charm, I quickly broke into Chicago's social world of the local movers and shakers. At one party I met an incredible brunette named Veronica who worked for a financial firm. As I explained my dream of owning a club, her eyes lit up. She had been thinking of leaving her job to start up something of her own. We hit it off so well that within a few weeks we had moved into an upscale apartment near some of her acquaintances.
The Prodigal Son: The context provides the key to interpreting this parable. The religious elite grumble because Jesus receives sinners and eats with them (15:1,2). In response, Jesus tells three stories, of which this is the last, to show God's love for lost people.
v. 15 � "For a Jew no occupation could have been more distasteful. A rabbinic saying runs, �Cursed be the man who would breed swine."' (Morris)
v. 20 � "In that part of the world it was generally not considered dignified for an elderly man to run; yet, he runs."
v. 22 � "Best robe" is a status symbol. "Ring" is probably a signet ring�an indication of authority." (Hendriksen)
Her friends treated me like an equal, listening intently to my ideas. I thought I had them wrapped around my fingers. And since they had lots of business experience, their advice to form a business partnership sounded wise. Together, we could make some serious money out of his inheritance. Within a few months, I was riding on the clouds. I was 19 years old, owned a hot club that pulled in top emerging bands, partied with incredible people, spent money wildly on whatever my eyes desired, had Veronica to manage the finances, and every chick adored me. Just six months out of nowhere land, and life was unbelievable.
Things went great for another six months. But suddenly the bottom fell out. I checked the financial records personally for the first time. I found that although Veronica was clueless about the finances. But her friends weren't clueless. They had been slowly draining my bank account dry by billing Veronica for exorbitant consulting fees and borrowing money in my name from the local Mafia.
Now it was payback time, and I was dead broke. Veronica left in the Porsche to get her nails done and never returned. But the mafia arrived the next day, offering me three choices: pay up immediately, work for them, or die. Needless to say, I accepted their generous job offer. During the day, I did their dirty work, making dangerous drug transactions and threatening people who were behind on their payments. My paycheck was a bowl of soup and enough cocaine to keep me going for a day. At night I slept in an abandoned building with other addicts. I lived in constant fear - fear of the mafia, fear of the police, fear of those who beat me and abused me at night. Finally my drug habit got so bad that the mafia gave me a serious beating and threw me out. Later that night, as I was going through my favorite garbage can looking for food, I began to think of how good I had it back home � my own bedroom, security, hot meals, a family that loved me. Then it occurred to me that dad occasionally employed homeless people through the Salvation Army. They didn't get much pay. But at least they had food and a safe shelter.
I wrote dad a letter explaining to him what had happened. I had lied to him, humiliated him, wasted his money, and certainly didn't deserve any favors. Nor did I even dream of him allowing me back home as a son any more. I just wanted a lowly job with food and shelter. I would try to get home over the weekend and I hoped he'd be willing to consider hiring me.
That Saturday morning I persuaded a former employee from the nightclub to drive me home. I cleaned up as best as I could. But my ill-fitting clothes couldn't hide all the scars and needle marks. The whole way I rehearsed what I was going to say: "I've messed up bad. I know I don't deserve to be your son. Please could you find it in your heart to let me be an errand boy at the print shop. I promise to do a good job for you." But just before we turned onto our street, I told the driver to stop so that I could look and make sure none of my neighbors or old friends were around. I didn't want anyone to see me looking like this. But as I looked down the street toward my house, I choked up with tears. There was my aging dad, anxiously piddling around in the front yard, pulling a weed here or there, and then gazing intently, hopefully at every passing car. Draped on the front of the house was a huge banner that said, "Welcome Home, Son."
I began to instinctively walk down the tree-lined sidewalk toward the house. When dad spotted me, I immediately began my little prepared speech, but he broke into a run, then grabbed me by the neck as he sobbed uncontrollably, saying over and over, "You're alive! You're alive! We had almost lost all hope but now you've come home alive. Come inside, get you a decent bath, then put on some nice, warm clothes from your closet. I'm taking you with all my associates and relatives to the most expensive restaurant in town. It's time to celebrate. I just can't believe that you're really home!"
Now remember, I didn't make up the story. Jesus told the original version 2000 years ago. Who does the father in the story represent? (God) Who does the son represent? (a person who's rebelled against God) What point was Jesus making? (God loves sinners and wants to receive them.)
If Rick grows up in a rough neighborhood where he is known as the "goody-goody" because the hardest drug he uses is marijuana and he never uses knives when he beats up strangers, then he can't see his bad points as all that bad. Sheila comes from a nice, but not religious family. She sees herself as incredibly spiritual because she hangs out with the church crowd and reads her bible occasionally. But place Sheila and Rick in a home with the apostle Paul as a father and mother Theresa as a mother and they'll both feel they are wicked creeps.
Now take that a huge step further and let the brilliantly white, spotless, totally pure Son of God appear in their home. You are there visiting. Even Mother Theresa's and the apostle Paul's white clothes look like coal miner's clothes in comparison. Suddenly they all realize how black their pride, unforgiving spirits, and secret sins appear before God. You feel worse than a spiritual worm. You're a dirty, fat, stinking worm.
Only when we understand the extent of our own sinfulness before a holy God can we fully appreciate His grace. And when we're astonished at His grace, perhaps we'll be able to show grace towards others who are undeserving. (� Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved)
The great evangelist Billy Graham and his team came up with a series of resolutions to keep them from falling into the traps that they'd seen others fall into. In the item on sexual immorality, "we pledged ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet, or eat alone with a woman other than my wife." (Just As I Am, pp. 127,128)
Some of you love the rush that comes from living on the edge. You know, like telling your parents you are going to Sue's house, while Sue tells her parents she's going to your house. But both of you end up at the all night party at Bob's house. Or like taking that occasional dare to drag race your car on a lonely road in the middle of the night. Or secretly dating that person that your parents would never approve of. You may brush it off as "just a stage that everyone goes through." But every now and then, when you realize what your lifestyle could cost, you shudder, because whether you casually call it "living on the edge" or dismiss it as "a stage I'm going through," you think about the cost of rebellion more deeply.
A fellow named Mike had an experience in the Vietnam War that has kept him content living under authority ever since. Upon arriving in Vietnam, he was assigned to join an elite group of Green Berets in a camp right on the edge of enemy lines. These Special Forces were trained in hand-to-hand combat and search-and-destroy missions. Their protective boundaries included two eight-foot barbed-wire fences and a hundred-yard clearing beyond the fences, which was laced with land mines. When the Beret's needed to leave or return from patrol, they knew the paths through the mines.
One day a guy under Mike's command decided to venture outside the boundaries for some fruit in the nearby jungle. After all, they had seen no signs of the enemy since they had arrived, and the fruit had been tempting them all. So as his buddies watched, the friend followed a path he had learned, venturing to the edge of the forest. But suddenly, he whirled around and made desperate run for the fence. But it was too late. The sickening sound of enemy weapons filled the air, tearing him to pieces in moments. The enemy came pouring in from the jungle, putting on an intense fight for hours. Fortunately, Mike survived. Back in the States, he shared the lesson he learned from this incident: "You want to know why I don't fight God when it comes to areas he tells me in His Word to avoid? Because I've seen what it's like to walk outside the fence, and I don't want any part of it." (Tim Kimmel, Little House On The Freeway, pp. 73,74) � Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved
* * * * * * * * * *
John Newton's godly mom taught him the Bible from an early age. But during his teen years he decided to turn against God, become a sailor, and take charge of his own life. He became an atheist and threw away all the morals his mom had taught him. At first, it seemed so freeing. He could say anything he wanted to, even inventing new ways to blaspheme God. He had no sexual restrictions. He treated people the way he wanted to treat them.
But no one can live that way without consequences. What looks like the ultimate freedom quickly turns into the ultimate bondage. Eventually, some of the people he treated poorly became his authorities and treated him mercilessly. He was traded to a slaver in Africa who eventually treated him like a slave. In fact, Newton sunk so low that he became a despised servant of slaves. He once found himself on his hands and knees digging up roots to have enough to eat. It was the "Prodigal Son" story all over again!
Newton managed to escape Africa, only to find himself desperately bailing water off a storm-tossed ship at sea. They barely survived the storm, but found themselves drifting dangerously northward with no wind to take them back to England. The weather grew colder and their food supply dwindled. And just when he must have wondered what else could possibly go wrong, the captain began to draw a parallel between their trials and the story of Jonah. The captain surmised that John, with his blasphemies and rebellion, was just like rebellious Jonah, who was the cause of his troubled ship at sea.
John shuddered. He knew where the captain was going with the story. The Old Testament seamen threw Jonah overboard in order to save their ship. By the grace of God, the winds shifted, Newton made it home alive, was saved and became a preacher, but not until he had reaped the horrible consequences of what originally looked like the ultimate freedom. Only then could he understand the grace of God to save such a rebellious wretch, and write the song Amazing Grace, which would become a one of the most-loved hymns of the church. Think about Newton's life the next time you sing it. [Source: Amazing Grace, (The Dramatic Life Story of John Newton), by John Pollock, Harper and Row, 1981.]
John Newton's background may tell us something about his rebellion. He had a loving mom, but she died before his 7th birthday. His dad was a ship captain who ran his family the same way he ran his ships. He expected John to jump at his every order and never showed any affection. John couldn't even laugh in his father's presence unless his father laughed first. He feared his dad. His other authority figures were also negative. When his father remarried and left for sea, he left John with a step mom who didn't love him. School was no better than home. His headmaster was a tyrant. (Written by Steve Miller, copyright, 2002. Source, Amazing Grace, opt. cite)
In the light of John's bad experiences with authorities, it's no shock that he rebelled. Neither is it surprising that he enjoyed cursing God, the ultimate authority. A recent study found that many atheists had poor relationships with their father, which they transferred over to a hate for God the Father. (Faith of the Fatherless, by New York University psychology professor Paul Vitz)
* * * * * * * * * *
Jim Morrison, of the successful 60's rock group, "The Doors," had all the potential in the world. With an IQ of 149, he breezed through school with high grades and little effort. His parents took care of his material needs. Among classmates he had the kind of personality that made him fun to be around, saying and doing off-the-wall stuff that made everyone laugh. Around his 9th grade year he tied one end of a string around his ear and kept the other end in his mouth. When people asked about it, he explained that he had a tiny bucket hanging down his throat to collect saliva for a medical test. His parents paid for his college education. Once he got into music, he had that rare magnetism that record companies look for � the ability to draw in an audience and hold them spell bound.
But with all this potential, he spent much of his days in gloom and misery, abusing his body with massive amounts of drugs and alcohol until his heart called it quits at the age of 27. What happened? I think that at the root of his fall was his rebellion against his parents and the wisdom of his authorities. (Listen up, guys. Some of you will see yourself in Jim's childhood.) Even in the fifth grade he loved to shock his elders with his language. His den mother kicked him out of cub scouts for sassing her. In his middle school years he refused to participate in family functions. In high school he resented authorities. When he got kicked out of a theatre for causing a disturbance, he smarted off to the policeman. Later in life he would often call them pigs, whether or not they had done anything to him. Instead of trying to please his parents, he drank, drew lewd drawings, and read books that glorified rebellion, like books on demonology. He cheated openly in class and laughed at his mom when she got mad at him.
The apostle Peter described Morrison's character in II Peter 2:10,18,19: "�those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority�. They promise� freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity � for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him."
Where did his rebel lifestyle lead him? Jim became progressively more callous, cruel, and out of control throughout his life. His writings show an obsession with death, violence, sex and magic. He felt no loyalty to his girlfriends and sometimes threatened them with knives. He did his faithful girlfriend Pamela a favor by introducing her to drugs. She would later die of an overdose. He once married a girl in a witch's ceremony, but later told her he would take no responsibility for his child with which she was pregnant. He said that having the child would ruin their friendship and he would take no responsibility for it. He promised that he'd be at her side to support her if she had an abortion. She went through with the abortion - alone.
Jim's publicist wanted a statement to define his purpose and direction. In part, it read,
"I've always been attracted to ideas that were about revolt against authority�I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning."
When the publicist wanted information about his parents and family for a fact sheet, he said that he had no family and that his parents were dead. Although someone objected that this would be unkind to his parents, he wouldn't budge.
Like all parents, I'm sure that Jim Morrison's had their shortcomings. But they at least deserved his respect. They paid for his clothes and provided a secure place to live. He never had to work during high school and they paid his way through college. But he never seemed grateful or thankful. The only way his mom could get him to write home was to withhold his spending money until he wrote. When his mom and brother came to his concert to see him, he refused to even meet with them. Eventually, he stopped keeping in touch altogether and told his managers that he didn't want to ever talk to her again.
His rejection of all authority didn't bring freedom. He became enslaved to his appetites. His drinking got so out of control that the band had to hire baby sitters to accompany him to ensure he would show for their concerts. At the age of 27, his abused body finally gave up and he was found dead in his bathtub.(Source: No One Gets Out of Here Alive, by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, � Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved)
* * * * * * * * * *
Those psychiatrists who are not superficial have come to the conclusion that the vast neurotic misery of the world could be termed a neurosis of emptiness. Men cut themselves off from the root of their being, from God, and then life turns empty, inane, meaningless, without purpose. So when God goes, goal goes. When goal goes, meaning goes. When meaning goes, value goes, and life turns dead on our hands. (Renowned Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung)
"Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." (Augustine)
Some people seek joy but never find it. True joy is found in a proper relationship with God. Never make a goal out of a byproduct.
Joy = Jesus first, Others second, and You last.
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, said,
"The less I spent on myself and the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become." (Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, Multnomah Press, Sisters, OR, p. 20)
"�knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring and constructive mind." "What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy of living." (Sept., 1937 letter, found in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, Selected and edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1979, pp. 70,71)
President Eisenhower's rules for his staff: "I want everybody smiling around here. Always take your job seriously, but never yourself. Don't forget to pray."
Think that money and superstardom would bring you lasting happiness? Think again, says football superstar Deion Sanders. As for athletic success, he played both major league baseball (leading the National League with 56 stolen bases) and all-pro cornerback in football. As for financial success, his deals include a seven-year, $35 million contract with the Cowboys and $8 million-$12 million a year in endorsements. But all that money couldn't buy him happiness. "All my life," said Sanders in 1997, "thinking football, baseball, finances, women, personal accomplishments could bring peace in your life...It didn't. Be a part of two Super Bowl-winning teams. Be in a World Series. You'd think that this man has peace. But I never had it until now. I wake up every morning, rejoicing." What made the change? In the wee hours of a June morning, he woke to bright lights and gusty winds blowing through his room. He responded, "Lord, if that's you, just take me. Come and get me." (Written by Steve Miller. Source: USA Today, Aug. 29, 1997, by Jarrett Bell, pp. 1C,2C)
We do not usually discover happiness in the pursuit of it. Most often it is a by-product, coming to us as we are in the midst of giving ourselves to another. Jesus said in several contexts and in several ways that we find ourselves by losing ourselves." (The Friendship Factor, by Alan Loy McGinnis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1979, p. 25)
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he can not imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis, From the book, Weight of Glory)
Brother Lawrence was a humble cook who worked in a Monastery kitchen his entire life. No one would have ever heard of his life if he hadn't written a small book entitled "Practicing the Presence of God" published almost 300 years ago. The words Brother Lawrence lived so long ago still hold wisdom today.
When Nicolas Herman was a child, his mother and father taught him to love the Lord. He joined the army as a young adult where God really became "real" to him every day. While in the army he was taken prisoner by the German army, who threatened to hang him for being a spy. God's presence allowed Nicolas to face the possibility of death with peace. The Germans had never seen this response to death threats and released the young man. Returning to his own army, Nicholas was soon forced to return home to his parents to recover from an injury.
While recovering from his wounds, Nicholas spent time praying, reading God's Word, and reflecting on his future. He made a firm resolve to accept the teachings of the Gospel and to walk in the footprints of Jesus Christ. This propelled him to live in a desert, much like John the Baptist. He found his spiritual life harmed by that time in the desert, so he sought out a Christian brotherhood to live out the rest of his days. Nicolas went to Paris, entered the Carmelite Order, and changed his name to Brother Lawrence.
Upon entering the order he was assigned the most humble tasks, which he accepted without grumbling. He used his time in the kitchen to begin to cultivate a deep presence of God in his heart.
"It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore my God, Who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king. When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God."
"During my work, I would always continue to speak to the Lord as though He were right with me, offering Him my services and thanking Him for His assistance. And at the end of my work, I used to examine it carefully. If I found good in it, I thanked God. If I noticed faults, I asked His forgiveness without being discouraged, and then went on with my work, still dwelling in Him. Thus, continuing in this practice of conversing with God throughout each day, and quickly seeking His forgiveness when I fell or strayed, His presence has become as easy and natural to me now as it once was difficult to attain."
On his deathbed, Brother Lawrence continued doing what he did every day in the kitchen, "Blessing God, praising God, adoring Him and loving Him with all my heart." On Feb. 12, 1691, at 80 years of age, Brother Lawrence finally met God face to face in eternity. (Written by CK Miller� Copyright 2002, adapted from The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, 1982, Whitaker House.)
Although one of the basic ten commandments says to not take the name of God in vain, only 64% felt it was always wrong to use God's name in vain, only 50% of those in the northeast.
From Public Agenda survey of over 2000 adults, Aggravating Circumstances, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, released in 2002, which took a detailed look at what Americans are thinking about courtesy, manners, rudeness and respect. http://www.publicagenda.org/specials/civility/civility.htm
What if people treated the army with the same commitment they treat church? (Idea: Try this as a skit.)
After the close of World War II a minister asked a returned GI to speak in his pulpit one Sunday. He consented on one condition � that the congregation would sing "Onward Christian Soldiers." The congregation began singing the hymn, but the GI interrupted immediately after they sang the words, "Like a mighty army." He began to speak. "'Like a mighty army moves the church of God" � that might have been all right once, but the trouble now is that about ten million men know exactly how an army moves. And it doesn't move in a way a lot of you folks do in church � or do not move.
Suppose the army accepted the lame excuses that many of you think are good enough to serve as an alibi for not attending church. Imagine this if you can: Reveille at 7:00 AM. All squads on the parade ground. The sergeant barks out, "Count fours. One, Two, Three. Number four is missing. Where's Private Smith?"
"Oh," says a buddy by the vacant place, "Private Smith was too sleepy to get up this morning. He was out late last night and he needed the sleep. He said to tell you he would be with you in spirit."
"That's fine," says the sergeant, "remember me to him."
"Where's Brown?" asks the sergeant. "Oh," says another chap, "He's playing golf. He only gets one day a week for recreation, and you know how important that is."
"Sure, Sure," says the sergeant cheerfully, "Hope he has a good game."
"Robinson," explains a buddy, "is sorry not to greet you in person, but he is entertaining guests today and, of course, couldn't come. Besides, he was at drill last week."
"Thank you," says the sergeant smiling. "Tell him he is welcome any time he finds it convenient to drop in for drill."
Honestly, now, could any conversation like that happen in any army? Don't make me laugh! If a GI tried to pull that stuff he would get twenty days in the guard house. Yet you talk like that every week in church � and say it with a straight face, too. Like a mighty army! Why if this church really moved like a mighty army, a lot of you folks would be court-martialed within the hour. (Source unknown)
Harriett Tubman led many slaves to freedom through her famous "Slave Train." Her Christian principles guided her as she rescued over 300 people from slavery and death. A former slave herself, Harriet returned 19 times to the south on freedom missions. Thus, she earned the name of "Moses," named after the famous Israelite who set his people free. There was a price on her head of over $40,000 if someone captured her.
For a woman who couldn't read or write, she became famous across America. She had a saying as she suffered many hardships on the road: "Lord, you have been with me through six troubles. Be with me in the seventh."
Harriet Tubman continued her courageous exploits during the Civil War. She became a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union armies. In one campaign she personally led 750 Southern slaves to freedom. General Saxon reported she "made many a raid inside the enemy lines, displaying remarkable courage, zeal, and fidelity."
Many escaped slaves who owed their freedom to Tubman probably felt as Harriet Tubman did when she said, "I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. Dere was such a glory trou de trees and ober de fields, and I felt like I was in heaven." (� Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved)
"When a football coach wants to build a good team, he does not send it out on the field to play with soft pillows; he puts it to work against rough opponents, a bucking frame, a tackling dummy, and he puts it through exercises that are strenuous. God does the same thing with us, to give us the strengths of steadfastness and patience in our character: He marches us at times against tough opponents, against temptation, against public opinion, against discouragement."
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. King's roots were in the African-American Baptist church. He was the grandson of the Rev. A. D. Williams, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church and a founder of Atlanta's NAACP chapter. His father was Martin Luther King, Sr., who succeeded Williams as Ebenezer's pastor and also became a civil rights leader. Martin followed in his grandfather and father's footsteps to become a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama.
It was during his pastorage in Montgomery, that Rosa Parks, on December 1, 1955, refused to obey the city's rules to give her seat to a white man. Five days later black residents launched a bus boycott and elected King as president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association.
As the boycott continued during 1956, King gained national prominence as a result of his exceptional oratorical skills and personal courage. His house was bombed and he was convicted along with other boycott leaders on charges of conspiring to interfere with the bus company's operations. Despite these attempts to suppress the movement, Montgomery buses were desegregated in December, 1956, after the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama's segregation laws unconstitutional. Subsequent mass demonstrations in many communities culminated in a march on August 28, 1963, that attracted more than 250,000 protesters to Washington, D. C. Addressing the marchers from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" oration. Following is a paragraph from that speech:
"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." (for complete text of this message go to: http://web66.coled.umn.edu/new/MLK/MLK.html)
During the year following the March, King's renown grew as he became Time magazine's Man of the Year and, in December 1964, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite fame and accolades, however, King faced many challenges to his leadership.
Because of his convictions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. paid a tremendous personal cost for the way he lived out his values. While marching in Chicago in 1966 to promote open-housing in that city, a man who marched with him said, "Those cherry bombs that the counterprotesters would set off when we were marching -- Dr. King would jump a mile when they went off," said Dr. Quentin Young. "I could see he was really scared, but he never wavered. That to me was real heroism."
Dr. Martin Luther King's message was from the Scriptures. And he applied them to his fight for equal rights,often conflicting with the leaders in the movement like Malcolm X who were promoting violence as the solution to racism. Dr. King preached the same message as his own hero, Jesus.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that," said King. "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
"Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing by sin and desire nothing but God and I care not a straw whether they be clergy or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the Kingdom of Heaven on earth." (John Wesley)