New Year's Day Meditation
What we do in life echoes in eternity.
Grant Wacker’s review of “Unbroken”

Grant Wacker’s review of “Unbroken”


UnbrokenDon’t miss the review of “Unbroken” in today’s Wall Street Journal, written by Grant Wacker.

Wacker is a fantastic selection to write the review, as he is the author of the recently released book, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation.

Of course, the connection between Graham and “Unbroken” is that the hero of the movie, Louis Zamperini, found faith in Christ through Billy Graham’s preaching–but only after he came home from the horrors of World War II.

Here are few paragraphs of Wacker’s review –do read the entire piece:

As Ms. Hillenbrand tells the story, after mechanical problems caused Zamperini’s B-24 Liberator bomber to crash into the Pacific in 1943, the bombardier endured 47 days drifting on a life raft, and then two horrific years in a Japanese prison camp. When he returned to California at the end of the war, Zamperini fell into a maw of nightmares, alcoholism and severe post-traumatic stress, obsessively dreaming of taking revenge on the Japanese.

In 1949 Zamperini’s wife implored him to go with her to Billy Graham’s tent revival in downtown Los Angeles. The second night, Zamperini “walked the sawdust trail”—and publicly professed his newfound faith. He tossed out booze and cigarettes and embraced a lifetime of selfless Christian service, including a trip to Japan to forgive his tormentors.

Though Ms. Hillenbrand recounts Zamperini’s conversion, she doesn’t say much about how it influenced the rest of his life. In the movie “Unbroken,” Billy Graham goes unmentioned, and Zamperini’s redemption narrative is largely reduced to a few title cards flashed before the closing credits. Yet Zamperini himself believed that the religious event was the pivotal moment of his long journey. In his 2003 memoir—titled, like one he published in 1956, “Devil at My Heels”—Zamperini recounts the tent-revival experience in detail and thanks Billy Graham in the acknowledgments “for his message that caused me to turn my life around.”

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What we do in life echoes in eternity.

Gladiator

In the 2001 movie, “Gladiator,” the great General Maximus (played by Russell Crowe) was a man of virtue in action. He actually had very few lines in the movie, at least compared to the evil Caesar Commodus who never seemed to shut up in long-winded speeches of self-glory and self-pity.

In the opening lines of the movie, however, Maximus said these two lines as he prepared himself and his men for battle:

“Strength and Honor!”

and

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

A Roman General’s praying to his ancestors and dwelling on an eternity in “Elysium” is not the same as who a Christian prays to or the eternity in heaven we long for. And yet, both of these phrases from the lips of this fictional Roman can serve us well in our own Christian moral imagination.

And likewise instructive is what was said about Commodus by his own father: “Commodus is not a moral man, you have known that since you were young. Commodus cannot rule, he must not rule.”

Christian, in 2015 let us pray for these things: strength, lives of honor, and to be governed by rulers who are moral.

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St. Francis Contemplating a Skull: A New Year’s Day Meditation

St Francis Contemplating a Skull by ZubaranWith the turn of a new year comes the opportunity for evaluating our past, present, and future. Rather than floating along through life as though little is at stake, God desires that we walk in his wisdom. The prayer of the psalmist should be our own:

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
But how do we gain such wisdom? God is the beginning and end of all life-giving truth:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James
1:5).

God graciously spoke to us through the Bible.

He also established that the testimony of the created world serves as a magnet, pulling our mind and heart to Him. Mountains, oceans, galaxies, animals, and plants—these all speak of a powerful and magnificent Creator (Psalm 19:1).

Also, our daily routines should awaken us to our dependence on God. Several times a day our stomachs shout, “Feed me!” Sleep overtakes us each night. But why? Why do we have to submit to these demands?

We submit because we are human. We are created with God-dependence written into our muscles and bones. Daily, these physical limitations remind us that we are not God. No matter how important we may think we are, at least once a day Earth continues to travel the galaxy even as we slumber and snore.

But it is not so with God. He never sleeps. That is why David can sing:

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
David could sleep in peace because He knew that the sovereign God needs no sleep.

So, sleeping and eating are tools to direct our thoughts toward God. But what other tools are there for our use? Francisco de Zurbarán painted “St. Francis Contemplating a Skull,” teaching us that death itself is a powerful prompt for contemplating eternity.

Zurbarán lived in the 17th century, a time of religious wars and political upheaval. Even with the beginning of modern science, the average human lifespan was still under 30 years.

Shakespeare wrote Hamlet when Zurbarán was just a boy. Do you remember the graveside scene in the play, where the young prince comes alongside some gravediggers? In a day before steel coffins, Hamlet picks up a skull from the dirt and asks the diggers to whom the skull belonged. Hamlet was amazed when they told him the skull was from a man named Yorick, for this was the court jester who had entertained him as a boy.

Hamlet says:

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?”

Hamlet meditates further, contemplating how even powerful men like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar could not escape the indignity of death. He remarks that the dust of Caesar could at this very moment be the dirt that keeps wind from coming through the bricks in a home.

Shakespeare and Zurbarán produced their works with like-mindedness, one with a pen and one with a brush. Both Hamlet and Francis contemplated human fragility and mortality as a result of looking at a skull. Where there was once life, now there is just bone. Just as death came to the skull’s owner, so too shall death come to the skull’s holder.

How are you spending your life? Hear the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

Perhaps you live as though this world is all there is to be had. Paul reasoned that, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

But we, following Paul’s own conclusion, know that the dead will be raised. We know that there is life after death. We know that Christ died on the cross and was buried, but His body did not rot in the grave. We know that God raised Him to life again, brought Him back to heaven, and that He will come again in glory and power. We know that the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). We know that God will judge all mankind by the standard of Jesus Christ, and that only those found in Christ will receive salvation from the punishment of sin (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 20).

As a new year begins, give some time to prayer and meditation on your physical mortality. This may sound like a depressing proposal, but it should not be so for a Christian. Be sober-minded about the length of your life, especially in light of the length of eternity.

Perhaps you should spend an afternoon walking around a cemetery, reading the gravestones and calculating how many of the people buried in the ground lived lives shorter than your own. Consider how each one of the deceased had the opportunity to do just as you are doing now. They each had the opportunity to consider their life in light of eternity. They could have read verses like Hebrews 9:27:

“Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
How they responded to such knowledge at that time determined where their soul resides even now.

While you are still in the land of the living, give thought to the things of Christ and follow him . . . today!

Only one life, will soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last!

_____

Scott LambScott Lamb serves as the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and the president of Reformation Press publishing.

This article originally was published in 2009 at the online site for World Magazine.

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On torture, can we handle the truth? We’d better start trying

You cant handle the truth(RNS) In the movie “A Few Good Men,” Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) barks at Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise):

“You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” former Vice President Dick Cheney channeled the spirit of Nicholson’s character. Host Chuck Todd mentioned how U.N. special envoy Ben Emmerson considers the CIA actions mentioned in the recent “torture report” to be worthy of criminal prosecution. Cheney’s response: “I have little respect for the United Nations or for this individual who doesn’t (have) a clue and had absolutely no responsibility for safeguarding this nation and going after the bastards that killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.”

Then, Cheney added: “I’d do it again in a minute.”

In a world of endless double-speak, Cheney and Jessup have such clear conviction of the rightness of their actions. Of course, Jessup ended the movie in handcuffs, and some would argue the same should happen to those involved in “enhanced interrogation” procedures.

Indeed, everyone has an opinion about the report released last week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. What is the evangelical response? Why are we hearing silence from some and a disparate cacophony from others? Certainly the mind of Christ is not divided on the issue, so why does the church not speak unequivocally with one voice on matters like torture?

First, there is no “official evangelical response” because we evangelicals have no central voice of human authority. Show me your 10 evangelical friends on Facebook who “like” torture and I’ll show you 10 who “unlike” it. OK, that sounds pretty stupid, but so is the automatic assumption that conservative Christians accept — and worse, advocate for — “enhanced interrogation” simply because it happened under a Republican administration.

We don’t. Or at least, a lot of us don’t.

Sure, some evangelicals may be virtual sycophants for a particular political party agenda. But most I know are working hard to live with a biblically informed convictional faith in a world that operates largely as if God does not exist. Therefore, I would contend that the recent events filling the headlines are apropos for preaching on Sunday. Even as we head into Christmas, a chorus of evangelical prophetic voices could speak about torture in gospel terms.

Every preacher is expected to talk about Christmas this Sunday. This is the week that the mystery is quite literally born. In the darkness of Rome’s oppression, God personally intervened in human history. Jesus was born to low-class parents who were a religious minority in a nation under a dictator’s occupation and oppression. The darkness did not flee from the earth when Jesus was born, nor when he was tortured and killed for sins he did not commit.

But then he rose from the dead. Surely that eradicated the darkness, right? No. But it did unleash the light in a way that can never be undone. Jesus did not promise “from this day forth it would all get progressively better.” He did not bring an end to the tyranny of evil in the hearts of humanity. What he offered was himself and through him, a life lived for the glory of God, in every circumstance.

So, what should evangelical pastors be saying about torture? Certainly, pastors should not parrot talking points issued by their preferred political party. Instead, Christians should remember Jesus, who the New Testament reminds us “endured from sinners such hostility against himself.” Is that a cop-out? A pietistic platitude to distract from the matter at hand? Not for a Christian.

Look, we believe in and follow one who was tortured. What’s more, the Bible reveals that by his suffering and death, all who believe in him have forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

We rejoice in our salvation; yet we sorrow knowing that he suffered in our place. We grieve the torture of the innocent one, the Christ.

But we also grieve over the torture that sinful humans inflict upon one another. War is hell. There is no perfect justice nor completely preventable act of terror. And torture — in its many forms and varieties and degrees — would not exist if the world were free from evil. That’s why the sinless savior died: to redeem a world broken by sin.

But that end has not yet arrived in its fullness. We await that day in what is called the meantime. It’s the time in between, but it’s aptly named.

In the mean time, we seek ways to protect the helpless from those who would kill them without cause. In the mean time, we want our security and we’d rather not have to think about the methods used to secure it. Therein lies the truth. Is it possible we can’t handle the truth, as Col. Jessup says in “A Few Good Men”?

For the Christian, that cannot be the final word, and ultimately, it won’t be. We will give an account of ourselves — including our anti-terrorism activities. And the God who sits on the throne in that final day of judgment will be someone who has firsthand knowledge of what torture is. He will ask: “Did you do unto that captive what you would want done unto you … in captivity?”

LaBergeCarmen Fowler LaBerge is president and executive editor of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals.

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