Freedom: No Option but Vigilance

True freedom requires eternal vigilance. It is rarely lost in a moment. Instead, it is in the systematic erosion of a multiplicity of moments where genuine liberty vanishes. Countless men and women have sacrificed their time, their treasures, and even their lives to guard this God-ordained right purchased in blood. The cost of this freedom should arouse in each of us a strong sense of its value. Once lost, rarely is it regained in its original form.

I am privileged to enjoy this freedom, purchased through the sacrifice of others, and I am eternally grateful for the gift they have bequeathed to me. My great-great-great grandfather fought valiantly against the British in the War of 1812. My great-great grandfather fell in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, killed by a cannon ball in the last months of the Civil War. My grandfather was an Army doughboy in the Allied forces that assaulted the seemingly impenetrable Hindenburg Line and ultimately broke through and gained victory in World War I. And my own father served in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Theaters as a seaman in the U. S. Navy during World War II.

I am the recipient of their sacrifice and this truth became a reality to me as I stood on the deck of a cruise ship making the imgrestransatlantic crossing from South Hampton, England to Boston. It was a similar path that drew the Pilgrims and my own Scottish ancestors to this country in a desperate desire to worship, work, and live in freedom. They made this treacherous passage in the bowels of overcrowded and unprotected sailing ships, totally dependent on course of the currents and whims of the wind. Theirs was a life-or-death gamble—mine, a 17-day vacation.

unnamedDuring the crossing, I retraced the ancient trails my father (John Olen Hannah) had taken over 70 years earlier. It was there in the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, off the eastern coast of Iceland, where the swirling black waters covered with crisp white foam bury their secrets that I began to understand the sacrifices of his generation and those who preceded him.

My father was a quiet man who spoke little of his war-time experiences. Two things I knew—he had been a part of the naval cleanup crew after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and he had served aboard a Submarine Chaser (SC), as he called it, in the freezing waters off Iceland. Twenty-two years earlier, I had stood upon the USS Arizona Memorial in Oahu, watching the imprisoned 50 year-old droplets of oil eerily seep to the surface from the fatal wound of that entombed battleship, and wondered at the horror he must have witnessed as the mayhem and the carnage of the tangled wreckage washed over his own mind.

But on this day, in the North Atlantic, as I stared into the same bluish-black water he had surveyed seven decades earlier, I begin to grasp a bit of the incalculable price my father had paid. His job was to find German U-boats by visually locating their periscopes as they surfaced in that endless, frigid wasteland of murky salt water. I imagined what it might have been like to search this never-ending watery abyss, and realized rather quickly, it would have been virtually impossible. The chances of the U-boat locating the SC were multiple times greater, yet my father stood his watches and did his duty. He was vigilant. How do I know? I am here—enough said.

As we cruised through those waters, I realized my life, my accomplishments, and all my hopes and dreams come true were the result of his sacrifice. He left his family and his home so I might have a home and enjoy my family. He assailed war-time impossibilities so that I might enjoy all of life’s possibilities. He sacrificed his own personal freedom—ten years of his life—so that I might live free throughout my life. I stand on his shoulders, and it is humbling.

True freedom has a cost and those of us who enjoy it should strive to remember those who purchased it and guard their purchase vigilantly. It is their legacy to us—our inheritance. And if we are to be true to those who have gone before, we must leave the same freedom intact to the generation that follows, or we will have wasted our inheritance and failed miserably. Failure was not an option to our ancestors, and thus, it cannot be for us.

To Explain or Experience? That is the Question

There is a hunger, a craving in all of us for something more. Something we can’t explain or describe. This longing is a desperate need that can’t be satisfied with facts, figures, or fickle fantasy. It won’t be met with any of the alternatives we, as desperate human beings, have attempted to substitute throughout our generations of habitation on this earth. No—power, position, prestige, money, sex, food, drugs, idols, and a thousand other endless, empty pursuits simply lack the power to quell the gnawing pangs of an internal hunger generated from the very genesis of our DNA. Blaise Pascal, a 17th century mathematician and Christian philosopher, summed it up this way: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are…”

 This is not a “me” or “you” problem—this is a human problem. This satisfaction, this craving and helplessness as Pascal calls it, is etched in the primordial memory of our consciousness. The problem is no created thing can scratch this infernal itch and we can’t seem to remember what or perhaps who can.

That is—except God. Pascal provides the solution to the unanswerable question and the insatiable internal appetite: “…Since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”  This abyss in our soul and spirit needs far more than you or I can cram into it—we need God.

We were created by God for God. Let that sink in for a moment. God needs nothing so he did not create us out of a need. No, he created us out of desire. A desire fuel by an unconditional love he longed to lavish on created creatures made in his likeness and in his image. God desired that his heart be experienced—that is known intimately.

Sadly most of us have spent our entire Christian life in an attempt to explain God in a way we can understand. We demand rational explanations, deductive arguments, and laboratory experiments, which are finite at best and flawed at worst, to explain the infinite. We preach three point sermons with revelation, application, and illustration on things we cannot comprehend, or teach in-depth, perhaps inept lessons on things we have no real clue about, or worse, we write endless articles, papers, and books with seven steps to this and twelve steps to that when we are totally out of step in our flawed, yet limited approach. Yes, God did give us a brain to think with, but he also gave us five senses, an impassioned soul filled with emotions, and a spirit that can only receive communication on God’s personal frequency. God is not looking to be explained. He never explains his omnipotence, his omnipresence, or his omniscience. He simply declares it or demonstrates it. So why should we think we can explain him. No, God is intent on our experiencing him.

Perhaps this kind of thinking frightens you to death. Perhaps it sounds dangerous—you know that right brain stuff oozing into good, solid theological thinking. Perhaps you have been trained not to trust your emotions, and because of this, have shut them off completely in your pursuit of God. Instead you have chosen to be dependent on rational, intellectual, and cold, hard objective facts and figures to gratify that voracious hunger. So how is that working for you? Have the fangs of your ravenous soul stopped gnawing? Has your heart stopped longing for something more? Are you still cramming things that don’t fit in that God-shaped vacuum?

Stop the explaining and begin the experiencing. You can use your brain, but realize you are far more than a brain—you are a spirit, soul, and body with a brain, not vice versa. Psalm 46:10 (KJV) says, “Be still and know that I am God…” To paraphrase this powerful statement—stop cramming everything you can into an infinite abyss and allow an infinite and immutable God to satisfy that ravenous desire he’s hard-wired in you.  Be still—stop explaining! And know—start experiencing!

Unity, Diversity, and the Mixing Bowl

God’s heart soars with satisfaction when unity arises out of diversity. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that God loves diversity because it reflects his infinite complexities and his amazing attributes. He did not create a uniform planet filled with identical flora, fauna, or folks. No, he loosed unimaginable diversity in myriads of ways at every level in every aspect of creation. God’s creativity is beyond imagination, off the charts, and anything but cookie cutter.

How do I know? Simply look around. Take yourself as an example. You are unlike anyone else on this planet—past, present, or future. You are unique because God is unique and he made you in his image and his likeness. He is not looking for you to think like someone else, act like someone else, or look like someone else. He made you so you would be you! God loves the differences that each of us bring to the table—the richness of our differing makeups, backgrounds, and talents.

Yet nothing excites him more than when unity rules our diversity. This is not a political thing, a religious thing, a racial thing, or even a “love” thing. This is a Holy Spirit thing! You see, only the Holy Spirit can create unity through diversity and he does it by taking our differences and blending them smoothly into one body (a.k.a. the church—that’s the community made up of people not the building in which they meet).

The Spirit’s method is similar to making a cake with a mixer. As a child, I helped my mom make cakes by operating the mixer for her. I confess my motive was a little less than noble and thoroughly selfish—I secretly coveted the opportunity to lick the cake batter off the blades once the batter was complete.

The mixer is designed to blend different ingredients into one mix. The individual and diverse flavors of the flour, sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, milk, and the other ingredients are not lost when blended together. Instead, together they produce an enhanced flavor.

But for this to happen, you need one missing element—a bowl. Without the bowl, the ingredients are spun out and away from one another in every direction. The centrifugal forces of the mixer blades throw out, but the bowl captures the blended components and maintains the unity of the diversity of whatever batter you choose to make. The mixing bowl is the key to the success of the blending process.

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Likewise, God uses the mixer blades of life’s circumstances to force our differences through the mixer. He is intent on building a better batter—one that is diverse, yet unified. A body made up of differing parts that functions as a whole, instead of independently and individually. And he uses the Holy Spirit as the bowl to capture our individualism, our differences, our gifts, and our talents together until we become unified through the blending. In reality—the Holy Spirit is the unifier.

The devil wants the blender to magnify our differences and then separate us based on those differences, but the Holy Spirit desires to blend our differences—to unite our diversity into one compelling force.

Unity is not uniformity. And uniformity never celebrates our diversity.

Yet God does. He celebrates diversity’s sweet batter in unity’s mixing bowl.

The Fallacy of Fear

thWhat exposes your fears? What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid?

Each of these questions reveals where you are in your journey with God. To grasp this post you will first need to answer the above questions—truthfully and completely. Otherwise, what you read will not make much of a difference anyway/

Fear (the kind that paralyzes us) reveals the black holes of unbelief in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Fear is unbelief, yet all of us struggle with it at some level. It may be apparent, or it may be hidden under layers of self-righteous gobble-dee-gook and a pseudo holiness camouflage. Fear is an emotion that creates a feeling of being out of control. Let’s be honest, none of us likes that. But the reality is, none of us are really in control—are we?

Fear causes us to act or react rather than to think and respond. It causes us to fall back on a survive-at-all-costs mentality or it insures that we seize and freeze up in our emotions, thoughts, and faith. No matter which of these options overwhelm us, we don’t respond to the situation or the circumstance with faith. Instead, we revert back to the B.C. (before Christ) mentality where life or death, failure or success, or heaven or hell, are in the power of our own hands. It is amazing, under stress, how quickly we forget the real truth about who is really in control.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7a) is not just a great verse to encourage us—it is a declaration of truth from the very lips of God to set us free. Fear (a feeling of dread that paralyzes) was not one of the emotions God hard-wired in human beings in the beginning. A reverent awe of God (sometimes translated “fear” in Scripture) yes, but not a suffocating paralysis that reduces a person to a quivering mass of protoplasm. Fear is a direct result of original sin and the fall. Fear when boiled down to its genesis is the dread of punishment for our sin. But through Christ, God replaced sin’s punishment with forgiveness and unconditional love

Fear has no real place in your life—at least not the kind that infects us with paralysis. Fear severs our ability to hear the Holy Spirit much like a muscle with a damaged nerve is unable to receive instructions from the brain. In the moment of crisis—you can’t hear anything but crickets chirping. And in a panic, your wounded soul chimes in with, “Where’s God? Why has he forgotten me?”—questions that reveal our underlying mindset of unbelief.

Fear and faith cannot reside at the same address. Fear is the absence of faith, but faith is an absolute aversion to fear. Fear empowers what we think—faith empowers what God says. Our partnership with one or the other determines our pathway.

Here’s a simple truth. When you were born again—born of the Spirit, Jesus Christ took full and eternal responsibility for you spirit, soul, and body. In that transaction called salvation, he, by covenant, agreed to take care of you lock, stock, and barrel. That was his promise to you!

Faith rests in that promise. Fear wrestles against it. That is the fallacy of fear.

Gone…without Explanation

thPlease!!!! No more bad news this week. My heart can’t bear another tragedy right now.

A promising young pop star cut down in the genesis of her fledgling career. Forty-nine bright-eyed young men and women (sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends…human beings) in full bloom, executed by the blind rage and hate of sheer evil personified. The essence of innocence, a two year-old toddler dipping his tiny feet in the cool water of a world class resort, snatched in the jaws of a primeval alligator, dragged from the arms of loving parents, and drowned. Each a different scenario but all with the same haunting result: gone…without explanation. Simply gone!

Why? That’s the answer to the million dollar question my heart and soul longs to hear. If I can answer this burning question, I can explain the darkness, accept it, and move on.

Deep down inside, a part of me wants to simply turn away and not look, as if that feigned ignorance would make the horror of these events evaporate like the morning mist off the mountains. But even when I close my eyes, the visual reminders hang on the craggy peaks of my mind like scarlet banners. Though I want to, I cannot ignore these horrific moments. Yet, I cannot explain them away either.

In that vacuum, that religious part of me charges to the forefront to give a viable, even believable explanation—to justify, rationalize, and defend a system of cherished beliefs. But the shields and spears of sovereignty, justice, and judgement, of cause and effect, and of choice and reciprocity, create more questions without answering why. And, it makes it easier to rationalize away my revulsion at the utter distress our nation’s shared experience. I will not rationalize these moments away—the people involved are far too precious…and real.

Ultimately, from the depths of my spirit—my faith part of me cries out in despair, “Why, O God, why?” In the tumult of those moments, every answer ever given in human history shoves its way to the forefront of my mind and jockeys for position—loud, obnoxious voices with nothing to say. Finally it all becomes quiet—graveyard silent. And a reflection occurs—perhaps I’m seeking the answer to the wrong question. Yes, they are gone…and perhaps there is no explanation—at least not one I can understand.

And then it bursts forth—a thought, as it pushes its way into my shattered sanctuary of tortured solitude, echoing with intensity. A still, small voice—not a mortal one and certainly not my own. Then, this voice answers with the real answer instead of a question: “Why will not be the solution, but rather what are you going to do in the midst of it? What are you going to do because of it?

 

Compassion: The Missing Link in the Church

Jesus-Cristo-e-os-judeus-1As an American society, we have allowed our fears to take control of how we think, act, and who we will elect to leadership in this country. We are so afraid we will lose our jobs and our socio-economic standard of living if we don’t  stop illegal immigration that we no longer see the desperate plight of men, women, and children willing to die for a chance to improve their living conditions in this country. We so are terrified by the terrorist that we are willing to turn our backs on those who are helpless and hopeless in their flight from war, persecution, and famine. We are attempting to insulate ourselves from these real situations by ignoring the faces of those people, demonizing them, and then despising them because they don’t act, think, or worship like we supposedly do. Add to this, the outrageous promises of the politicians and it only reveals what the majority seem to believe anyway.

So—what about the church? Does she think the same way? The church is the thermostat. As the church goes—so goes our nation. What about individual Christians? As individual Christians go—so goes the church. By the way, unless you are 100% Native American, you are an immigrant—no matter how long your family has been in this country. Somewhere in your family tree is an ancestor who crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande.

Something is missing that once made this country different and once made the church a champion of the downtrodden. That missing link is compassion. We seem to have become a compassionless people who are willing to govern themselves with compassionless governments that make and enforce compassionless laws. Our hearts seem all of a sudden to have grown cold and callous.

What is compassion anyway? Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune and accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate suffering. Compassion is different from pity. Pity feels but does not act—compassion does both.

It seems that the church has reverted back to the old fears, prejudices, and intolerances of the lost world and now lives guided only by fear and self-survival. Or—has the world simply picked up its attitude and its actions from the church and started living them out. There seems to be little difference when it comes to the subject of compassion. Both groups seem indistinguishable from the other.

Jesus never acted out of fear. Survival never found a place on his daily “to-do” list. No, Jesus acted out of compassion. His entrance into the world was the act of a compassionate God. He came to seek and to save those who were helpless and hopeless. He was driven by compassion and his actions resulted in him dying for our sins. But his resurrection insured that we could live with the same compassionate intensity he displayed every day as he ministered. His compassion set the demonized free, gave new legs to the cripples, new eyes to the blind, healed the lepers and the diseased, and raised the dead. Read your Bible, it was compassion that focused his love and grace to meet human needs and suffering. His compassion produced an atmosphere pregnant with the possibilities for miracles. Genuine miracles by God are always fueled by compassion.

Where’s yours? Are you willing to see past the politics, the angry rhetoric, the spewing froth of fear, and the overwhelming needs—to see the people? Jesus saw the person! He looked in their eyes and did not turn his head.

Will you?

Or will you look away, close your eyes, or change the channel when the pictures of lifeless Syrian refugees wash up on the shores of Greece or the dead bodies of illegal Hispanic immigrants who lie scattered in the mesquite thickets of Texas and Arizona, clutching empty plastic water bottles in one hand and a plastic sack containing all their worldly possessions in the other. Jesus looked and he acted.

Will you?

Pity is not enough. Compassion demands the church respond. If she does not—this nation will not. But if she does—God will empower her with what she needs to do what he would do. But first we must once again regain what we have lost—our compassion, the missing link that makes us like Christ.

Storm Kits for Life

The word “storm” is an adequate metaphor for those moments of chaos we all encounter from time to time as we walk out life. Rough and tough times, unforeseen pitfalls, and uncontrollable situations are common to us all. Trouble is an equal opportunity employer that never discriminates regardless of race, creed, social standing, or sex. At this moment in your life, you have just exited a storm, are experiencing a storm, or should be expecting a storm. It is not if but when.

Natural storms follow weather patterns so we learn to expect them. And so does trouble and tribulation, but our belief system is oddly different. We somehow believe “it will never happen to me.” Therefore it always seems to catch us unaware and unprepared. And boom—the storm hits and life gets turned upside down and inside out. Huddled in piles of anxiety and fear, we put our head in our hands and cry, “Why me!”

Job put it this way: “Man who is born of woman, is short of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).Trouble is on its way. The only question is—will it stop at my house today? Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with the inevitability of that trouble tornado or thunderstorm of trials than cringing in dread and despair. Perhaps we should all put together a simple storm readiness survival kit.

First, we need to be weather aware. Good times don’t last forever. The stock market that goes up will come down. You will not be 100% healthy all of the time. And people will disappoint you, disagree with you, disappear on you, and even die on you. There is some kind of storm on your horizon. So—be alert!

When the trouble hits and the winds seem like they will rip you apart, dig your feet in and stand firm. Storms are temporary even if they come in multiple waves. They do not last forever. Hunker down—God loves you and he is bigger than any storm that rages around you. You don’t have to hang on to him, because he has you by your hand and he will not let go. Even though you feel like the wind is tearing you apart—relax. God will not forsake you.Tuscaloosa, Alabama Tornado 2011

Next, find the eye of the hurricane—by that I mean find a quiet place in the midst of the storm and have a genuine conversation with God. For heaven’s sake talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Be totally honest and voice the fear, the despair, the discouragement, or the feelings of destruction or doom you are experiencing. Ignoring those feelings will not lessen their destructive impact. Release them before they have an opportunity to raze your faith. Then use what little faith you have left to thank God for his protection and his provision. Being thankful in the midst of the storm is a sure sign you will be standing when the gale ceases and the sun breaks out once again.

0512-0705-3017-2448Finally, once the wind subsides and the sun pops out, assess the damage, clean up the debris, and get on with your life. Don’t allow trouble to deter you from your purpose or freeze frame you in a place of less than or self-pity. Move forward—don’t live looking back. Find others who have survived similar storms and share your stories together. Learn from their experience, as well as yours. Experience is actually a good teacher if we learn from it. If we don’t learn from past experience, rest assured—history will repeat itself at some point in the futuTrouble is a part of life, regardless of the depth of your faith, the demeanor of your influence, the development of your pocketbook, or the discernment of your wisdom. You can’t avoid it, no matter how well your storm shelter is constructed. But—you can survive it and even thrive from it, if you strive in your preparation for the next one. Just check the radar—at some point another storm will blow in. Prepare now, you will be ready!