Tag Archives: Hope

Happy Birthday America!

Happy birthday America! It’s been 241 years since you were birthed in the revolutionary belief that all men (and women) are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What an amazing experiment our founding fathers began when they agreed on the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776 and the Continental Congress ratified it on that first 4th of July.

What a grand experiment indeed! Their decision sparked a war of independence against the most powerful nation in the world at that time. A skirmish outside Boston became a shooting war that bloodied the soil of thirteen individual colonies and galvanized these sundry immigrants into one single nation. Blood may have purchased their freedom, but great wisdom and amazing cooperation secured it for the following generations.

That cooperation has failed occasionally along the way, yet that great wisdom has righted the wrongs and found a way to regain the cooperation. This is nowhere better seen than in the issue of slavery, which ultimately resulted in a great Civil War—a war between those united, yet divided states. Yet somehow, someway—the cooperation was regained and the nation endured and grew.

This nation has readily endured sending her young men and women to foreign nations to fight and even die, so that freedom would not be thing only we enjoy. We have cooperated with allies and have withstood dictators, megalomaniacs, and armies intent on world domination, refusing to turn our head to the plight of those who were weaker. Great wisdom and cooperation have been the resources that have galvanized this nation in the aftermath disastrous events like Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Yet today, 241 years later, it seems partisanship and utter selfish stupidity has supplanted wisdom and cooperation. We are a nation divided by beliefs, political parties, morality, news media outlets, and a thousand other things. We can’t even agree to disagree. Instead, like little children who can’t get their way, we’ve taken our toys and gone home. Intent of getting what we can, canning all we get, and shooting anyone who gets close to our can. Our laws and our government are not working because neither side is willing to use wisdom and cooperate for the good of the nation. Instead, what’s good for a few tends to overrule what would be better for all.

And in this morass, we have turned away from our Creator. Our founding fathers never envisioned a country without Jehovah God. They understood he was source of the freedom they were willing to die for. He was the fountainhead of liberty that birthed this nation into existence. It is true they wanted no state church to dictate their worship, but read history and you will find they hungered to worship God Almighty. Yet, the wisdom of this age has defied his laws, in a  foolish attempt to legislate him out of power and existence. We have embraced the idols of multi-culturalism, perversion, hedonism, relativism, and socialism—and called that which were never gods, our gods. And in doing so, we have called good evil and evil good.

And wisdom and cooperation have become about as rare as the dinosaurs. The politicians of Washington, the financiers of Wall Street, or the media moguls who broadcast coast-to-coast and around the world have no answer. That’s because the answer is not found in “what I want or the group I represent wants” but rather in wisdom (which can only come from God) and cooperation (which can only come when each of us are willing to see someone else as more important than we are).

Will this nation survive and stick 250, 300 or 500 candles in her birthday cake? I hope so, but this I know—it will not happen without wisdom and cooperation and “me the people” must once again become “we the people!”

On Being Truly American

I am a Southern boy, born and bred in the land of sweet tea, grits, and high humidity. My drawl may be slow and drawn out, but I too speak the King’s English just like they do in Boston, but without the extra “r” in words that have no “r’s,” or in sunny California, but choosing “y’all” over “you guys” every time. My “i’s” are long, and sometimes, depending on what part of the country I’m visiting, I have to spell the word “ice” instead of asking for it so the waitress knows I’m talking about frozen water instead of a posterior body part. I refer to all soft drinks as Coke’s instead of pop, but I prefer a Diet Dew.

I am proud of where I come from. I have never once in my life been ashamed of my birthplace. As my wife’s grandfather used to say, “It’s the best place in the world.” I know there are folks who think I should be, but I’m not! On the other hand, from time to time, I have found myself ashamed of some of the things my neighbors have said or done down through history. But, let’s be honest, stupid people are spread thick like peanut butter across every nook and cranny of this whole wide world. Every generation, nation, culture, or people group has its own share of stupid people. As Forrest Gump says, “Stupid is as stupid does.” But stupid is an individual trait that is sometimes catching, like a bad case of diarrhea. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “stupid,” (or for that matter diarrhea).  My granddaughter tells me it’s a bad word according to her mother, who stares at me every time I say it with an icy glare that could freeze antifreeze, but it does communicate my point.

My ancestors were immigrants just like yours were if you live in this country. They came from somewhere else—looking for an opportunity to make a living, build a family, follow a dream and worship God freely. My people were soldiers, sharecroppers, peddlers, and coal miners who worked long days for little or no money. They were honorable men and women, doing what it took to survive and thrive in a land filled with opportunity. They were not perfect. They did not do everything right. But—they were just people—so where yours.

I am an American. I still get a lump in my throat when I see the flag or hear the swell of the notes as the national anthem is played. I don’t determine my value based on my ethnicity, color, or country of ancestral origin. And neither do I determine the value of anyone else that way. I don’t refer to myself as Scottish-American, African-American, Arab-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, or any other of the million and one places you can leave and make your destination America. The “where” my ancestors came from does not determine who I am or who I will be. Take away my skin and my blood is red just like yours. Cut me and I bleed just like you do. Call me a name or shoot me the finger and I want to punch you just like you would if you were on the receiving end.

Regardless of where you come from, what you call yourself, or what you believe, we are all connected—by origin and by destiny. All of us are the descendants of one single couple. God didn’t create a community on a cul-de-sac with all the colors of the rainbow. He simply created one couple and conveniently left out the explanation of their color, ethnicity, and national origin. In other words, your guess is as good as mine. It is after all, a guess. So why waste any more time postulating and prognosticating about it. We are, after all kin—brothers of different mothers and sisters of different misters.

You may not like our president or the congress, but I’ve lived long enough to realize that is the case with most presidents and most congresses. You may not like my politics and I may not like yours. But we—not you alone or me alone—are Americans. Our destiny—not yours alone or mine alone—is bound up in to our unity of purpose and our mutual respect for one another. I may not agree with you and you may not agree with me, but we desperately need each other—if for no other reason than to maintain the unique diversity of this great country. This nation was founded by a coalition of folks who came from different places and different beliefs with little in common and countless things they disagreed on except they were tired of being told what to do by an absentee king whose only interest was their tax money. In fact, the only thing they had in common was an insatiable desire to be free.

Freedom necessitates diversity. It requires all the cultures of the North, the West, the East, and yes, a whiff of the South thrown in for spice and good measure. It demands a multiplicity of races, beliefs, and politics who disagree, but find a compromise that works for all of the people most of the time rather than a few of the people all of the time. Freedom that works for only a handful is not really freedom at all. It is slavery dressed up in a cheap Halloween costume.

I celebrate my Southern culture and upbringing. I revel in the beauty and the majesty of the state in which I was born. I take joy and pride from where my people originally hail from. I feel comfortable speaking the King’s English in my own regional dialect. And I could live off grits, gravy, fried chicken, collards, and buttermilk biscuits. But I can’t be an American without you. You see, I don’t make America—America. And neither do you! It is only together—in you and me with all our differences on display—that America exists and freedom can reign.

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.

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!