Continuing with the topic of education, I finished high school with less than stellar grades, which made entry into college difficult, but God remedied that situation by building my reputation, leading me into the Army for a three-year enlistment. Moreover, to complicate matters further, I had dropped out of high school a couple of semesters early, although I immediately took and passed the GED. Regardless, after I had successfully and honorably served in the military, various doors of opportunity opened up for me. I found that colleges, as well as prospective employers, looked at my record much more favorably with a solid performance in the military to my name. Still, I did not yet possess full confidence in my abilities, so God would lead me in small steps to college. I knew that I could learn any course in technical knowledge because I had done so many times in the Army. So, after the end of my enlistment service, I went back to work at United Parcel Service (UPS), a fairly prestigious job and company, which I had worked at for a few months after high school, immediately prior to my military stint. But I started looking into various school programs for learning a technical skill. While I certainly did not mind any manual labor, I knew I did not want to be loading trucks the rest of my life, and I was not real enthused about the various professional tracks I could pursue at UPS -- nothing wrong with that industry or profession, but I knew it wasn’t for me.
Just as I did not desire to work in the package processing industry, I also did not desire to make a career of the military. It was ironic that this is precisely the path God would lay out for me over the course of a few years, contrary to my expectations and desires at the time; at the time, I had no intention of ever returning to the military after my three years and would emphatically tell this to anyone who asked. I was glad that I had served our country for a tour, had seen more of the world than my hometown, had met many wonderful friends from all over our great country, and had successfully negotiated one of the hardest jobs in the adult world: a military occupation. But I thought that the military was definitely not in my future after my three-year tour. There was much that I enjoyed about the military, and it had certainly given me many tools for success such as bulldog determination, iron self-discipline, and an unshakeable confidence in my ability to do almost anything. However, I did not like the constraint on my freedom which I had newly acquired in the process of growing up.
Moreover, the military of the late 70’s and early 80’s was an environment fraught with many social problems, partly as a result of unintended consequences from short-sighted, doctrinaire politicians (and their enablers who allowed it to happen) using the military as a political cash cow to fuel their various progressive, utopian dreams (some of which were good and some bad), the so-called “peace dividend.” But, in a twist of irony, these same politicians would probably make the application of the new all-volunteer force (which they had pursued so zealously) more difficult to implement by constricting funds to the military, which would have a ripple effect that is common to large organizations when undergoing financial restriction, causing repercussions to other parts of the organization that had not been foreseen or intended.
More on this tomorrow.
I pray this blessing for all of you on this day that He has created: "The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace" Numbers 6:24-26 (NKJV).
I’ve written before about the value of an education, but some lessons are so important that they bear repeating. Education and knowledge were always highly valued in our house when I was growing up, as exemplified in my father’s impressive collection of books and his very respectable education level (a master’s) . Subsequently, I just assumed that, at some point, I would attend college, walking in my father’s footsteps, which turned out to be true. There was a time, however, when my college attendance did not seem likely. I made a good-faith effort to gain entry to the storied United States Military Academy, better known by the historical location and name “West Point.” My cousin, Marc Chambers, gave me assistance with the required photo for the admissions packet. I had to tie back or slick back (can’t remember which) my long “hippy” hair (as my cousin Hope calls it).
That was one of my first lessons in setting goals, making plans, and attempting to conquer life’s large obstacles (eating the metaphorical elephant one bite at a time), although God had probably trained me in successively greater steps how to do these things through the various jobs I held. Had I known what I know now, I probably could have won that battle for entry to West Point, but things did not turn out the way I had envisioned. They turned out much better over time. I didn’t know it at those moments, but God had a plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11), and He was implementing that plan, even if I did not know He was at work and even if I did not “seek His face” (1 Chronicles 16:11) on a regular basis. In time, I would find out about those plans and would benefit immensely from His better, wiser ways than the ones I would have chosen.
There were a number of obstacles in my path to West Point (and other prestigious institutions to which I had applied). My grades were not that great, pulled down by personal problems that consumed my emotional energy. This, it turns out, was the sticking point of my entry to West Point. I did not know at the time about the United States Military Academy Preparatory Shool (USMAPS). Perhaps if I had known, I might have gained entry to West Point through that avenue, but it was not in God’s plan, so this door closed. But God lovingly and generously gave me victory in that area years later as I would eventually become a professor of English for a total of five years (in two tours) at this amazing, historical school. I would first have to enlist in the Army as a private and work my way up through the ranks to sergeant. Then, after completing a successful and respectable military enlistment of three years, I would leave the Army for a period and gain entry into the academic realm down a path which only God could have figured out.
More on this tomorrow.
I pray that His love and peace will fill you and that His truth will light your path.
Ray Charles’ had an instant hit in 1972 when he released “America the Beautiful,” from the album Message from the People. His mellifluous, melismatic, gospel-influenced version of ‘America the Beautiful’ struck a chord with Americans, just as the song itself has for the last 120 years. Although it was written so long ago, the song has maintained persistent popularity since its inception. The well-known words to this patriotic song were written in 1893, published in 1895, by Katherine Lee Bates, a 34-year-old English Professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She wrote the lyrics and Samuel A. Ward wrote the music, but they each had written and published their part of the song separately for other venues. Bates, at the time, wrote the poem after seeing the stunning beauty of our great country when she traveled to Colorado Springs to teach a summer school session at Colorado College in 1893. She later published the poem in the July 4, 1895, edition of a church periodical called The Congregationalist, although she titled the poem “Pike’s Peak” in honor of the famous mountain with the same name in Colorado.
After publication, her poem gained continual, ever-greater popularity as it was matched to various tunes that were in vogue at the time, but it wasn’t until 1910 that the two parts of the song came together, which would be, tragically, seven years after the death of Ward. Bates and Ward would never even meet.
There’s a very interesting web article about the song at Pophistorydig.com. Some excerpted quotes are pasted below:
“According to some accounts, the poem’s original author, Katherine Bates, was making [a] pointed critique in this verse of the materialistic and self-serving robber barons of the 1890s, and was urging America to live up to its more nobler self and ideals. She was also honoring the memory of those who died for their country. Charles too, in his selection of the second verse as lead, is making this emphasis as well and more, as Newark Star-Ledger columnist Charles Taylor explains in a 2004 article for Salon.com:
‘…Think about what that reordering does, what it means to hear those words before the familiar ‘O beautiful, for spacious skies…’ Beginning with images of sacrifice and death, then moving on to a prayer that asks — with no guarantee of being answered — that those sacrifices not be in vain, Ray Charles implies that America must earn the verse that follows.’”
As popular as the song was prior to Ray Charles’ release, his emphasis on the military sacrifice required to ensure liberty, as the Taylor article notes, certainly put it in a new light. As noted yesterday, freedom is most certainly not free. The highest price required is and has been paid by the blood, sweat, and tears of the nation’s veterans and currently serving troops, but I believe we all can and should contribute to the burden in some way, however large or small as God leads us.
I pray that you enjoy your God-given rights and freedoms today in peace, security, and thankfulness.
Since today was Veteran’s Day (in the United States), I read back over some of my favorite poems about military service. One particular favorite is Rudyard Kipling’s “Tommy,” published in a volume of his poems in 1892. The theme of the poem is the disrespect that troops sometimes get from those that don’t appreciate the sacrifice. Although the protagonist is a British soldier, the situations in the poem are probably common to all who have served, regardless of nationality. Thankfully, this is probably not a common experience for our currently serving troops as they have received amazing support from the American public. Moreover, unlike the Vietnam era, military service these days is highly valued and honored.
If you want to read the entire poem, you can by clicking on this hyperlink. I excerpted enough below so that you can get the gist of the poem.
"I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play."
"Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit."
"You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!"
There are so many sacrifices that go into military service, but most things in life that have great value require sacrifice. Our American freedoms and values are certainly worth the sacrifice. I have served myself (23 years on active duty and a combat tour), but I am grateful to all those that served before me, served with me, or currently serve. Freedom certainly is not free. It has come at great cost with over 1.3 million deaths attributed to the totality of American wars from the Revolution up to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When counting the cost to lives, though, we cannot forget the war wounded, totaling over 1.5 million. So, although freedom has come at a high cost, it will be secure as long as there are courageous men and women who are willing to stand in the gap and pay the cost even if it requires that “last full measure of devotion” (Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address”).
May God bless America!
I have always been fascinated by God’s personal interactions with human beings, especially in the early years when mankind was still young and, I presume, still possessing much of the glory of his/her Creator which would diminish in time from the weight of sin over thousands of years. There are some that say this glory and innocence is brought into this world anew with the birth of babies, freshly crafted by the loving hands of our Omnipotent God (Jeremiah 1:5), each one infinitely unique. William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850), the great poet from the Romantic era of English literature, captured this idea most eloquently in his “Ode Intimations of Immortality” (published in 1807 within a collection of his poems):
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!"
Since I regularly fellowship with God, I have often wondered what it was like for Adam and Eve to walk in the garden when the world was new and unblemished, talking with their Creator in a personal way as a father to a child might while walking in the park. I have had many good times of fellowship with God, especially lately as I walk a few times a week at the local park, enjoying the bright autumn colors and the cooler weather, speaking to Him as I walk alone (yet never completely alone as He is always with me). Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have a stronger sense of His physical presence, to know that He is there in body as well as spirit. I guess these are all questions that I might get to ask Him when I am in His presence forever on the other side of this veil, if He has not already put all such knowledge within me as I enter that world. Paul suggested in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that we would have such fullness of knowledge when we were in God’s presence: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”
For now, though, it is enough for me to know that these four things are always true, every day and every second of every day: (1) He loves me with an all-consuming love that is so powerful and pure that I will never be able to comprehend it, (2) He guides me with His wisdom as much as I let Him, (3) He empowers me to do His work when I turn to Him for help and spend time in His presence so that He can fill me with His Spirit, and (4) He is always with me, even if I can’t discern His presence sometimes. This last one is, I’m sure, one which everyone struggles with at some point in their lives, wondering whether He is really there. But as His Word promises many times, He will never leave us nor forsake us, regardless of whether we can feel or see His presence. God does not lie, and there is no lie within Him, so we can take Him at His word even when our thoughts and feelings try to tell us otherwise.
At the very least, He is always within each believer in Christ since His Holy Spirit was placed within us at the moment of our salvation as His seal of ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22).
I pray that you will walk in and be filled with His measureless, perfect, peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
As noted in yesterday’s blog posting, I recently watched on Netflix the 2009 documentary “God of Wonders,” but people can also see the entire program on Youtube. The awe-inspiring cinematography coupled with stunning facts about our amazing world and universe show that, without a doubt, there is a Creator and that He does love us more than we can ever comprehend. As the film shows, the beauty, complexity, and order of creation all display God’s love of beauty, His amazing power, His limitless intelligence, and, perhaps best of all, His tremendous love for us. There can be no doubt about His great love for us since He has provided all this for our enjoyment as well as to teach us about how great He is and how far He is above us in His character, wisdom, etc.
Given all the wonders of creation, it is amazing that there are still people who doubt that there is a God, but some day, we will certainly all stand before this Holy and Righteous God and will be required to give account of our lives (Romans 14:12). I would hate to stand before Him without the covering of the Blood of Jesus. Yet, there will be many that will be there in that very situation (Revelation 20:11-15). But their lack of belief will be without excuse according to the Bible. We are told in Romans 1:20-21: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
As this passage explains, God reveals evidence of His existence and His love everywhere in creation. Anyone with an open mind who is seeking the truth, even if they are born in the furthest uninhabited corners of the globe and don’t have the benefit of a modern education or scripture, they will still be able to figure out that there is a Creator from the abundant evidence that God provides everywhere in nature. As I’ve written in previous blogs, the ancient Greeks figured out the incredible complexity and order throughout nature and figured out that such order required causation, and they subsequently determined that there had to be a Higher Being behind it all.
From the study of the ancient Greek philosophers during the middle ages, many scholars learned of the Greek’s determination that there had to be a “first cause,” although the Greeks didn’t know His name. From Wikipedia: “'the First Cause is also the Prime Mover of the world; and, since motion is a fact revealed by the senses, the Prime Mover must exist by necessity, a being unable to be otherwise than it is. Consequently, it is also perfect and thus the ultimate object of desire, or the ‘Supreme Good’. And, since nature operates for a purpose, the Prime Mover must also be intelligent. Being eternal it is divine…' and we now know of it as ‘God.’ The ultimate cause, or source, of all natural phenomena occurring in the natural world had been discovered.”
Moreover, many Native Americans even figured it out through the wonder and beauty of nature without the aid of scripture. Consequently, many of them worshipped what they called the Great Spirit.
I pray that you will know this Supreme Being today in a personal way through the doorway to God, His Son Jesus (John 10:9 and John 14:6).
I bought and installed two RCA “smart tv” converters from Walmart several months back. Subsequently, we have the capability to access the various internet movie and television show services, which is a lot better most days than watching the very limited selection of programs on cable tv. We had started a subscription to Netflix before we got the converters, so once we had this capability, we no longer had to bother with the snail mail movie service for receiving and returning movies. I have really enjoyed the instant access to various programs, including many Bollywood movies or other foreign films, British comedies such as “Fawlty Towers,” and a plethora of popular American movies and documentaries. One excellent program that I stumbled across this week is a 2009 documentary entitled “God of Wonders.” After I found this on Netflix, however, I also discovered that the producers of this video have generously posted the entire video on Youtube so that anyone with internet access can watch the program.
The 85-minute video is one mind-blowing fact after another about the amazing world around us, the incredible universe beyond this world, and the infinitely intelligent and powerful God behind all of this. For instance, they discuss the enormous energy that is contained within thunderstorms.
“Thunderstorms are an amazing display of the Creator’s might. An average thunderstorm pours down several hundred million gallons of water, equivalent to the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls every 6 minutes. The same storm releases ten million kilowatt hours of energy, equivalent to a 20-kilo-ton nuclear warhead. Large, severe thunderstorms can be ten or even one-hundred times more energetic. At any given moment, hundreds of storms are occurring somewhere around the world. This amounts to about 16 million thunderstorms each year… A bolt of lightning may reach over five miles in length, contain over 100 million electrical volts, and soar to temperatures approaching 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a split second.”
This is just a small selection of the many jaw-dropping facts that the program presents along with amazing cinematography and eye-opening quotes from numerous reputable, well-educated scientists who are also men of faith.
More on this tomorrow.
I think I’ve written before about the famous Christian writer and apologist Josh McDowell. He has quite an amazing story, once being an agnostic who questioned and challenged the profound truth of the Bible, of Jesus, and of Christianity. However, as he has told his story numerous times in various media, once he set out to disprove these truths definitively, he found that all his previous agnostic beliefs were untrue and that God is the ultimate truth and the source of all truth (John 14:6). Moreover, as his bio on his website explains, “After trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, Josh’s life changed dramatically as he experienced the power of God’s love. [Subsequently] [a]fter his conversion, his plans for law school turned instead to plans to tell a doubting world about the truth of Jesus Christ.” He has, since his conversion, “written or coauthored 138 books,” “…addressed more than 25 million people, giving over 26,000 talks in 125 countries,” and through Operation Carelift, which he founded in 1991, he has ministered to the physical needs of people around the world, delivering “…humanitarian aid (food, clothing, and medical supplies) worth more than $46,000,000.” As amazing as his story and his influence are, he is certainly not alone. In his book More Than a Carpenter, McDowell goes through the solid and convincing evidence for Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. One of the most profound bodies of evidence is found in the transformation of individual lives. The story starts with the amazing transformation of the disciples who abandoned Jesus in abject cowardice, yet just a few months later, at the Pentecost, they would be filled with God’s spirit and would be transformed into bold witnesses for the gospel for the remainder of their lives, all of them even suffering cruel deaths (except for John) for their beliefs, refusing to recant their faith in Jesus. Also, there is the amazing story of the transformation of Saul of Tarsus from a zealous persecutor of the new believers into one of their boldest and most effective witnesses. This is not, however, only the story of the Apostles or famous Christian leaders like Josh McDowell. This story of transformation is the story of all of us who have placed our faith in Jesus. Of course, His transformative power occurs in varying degrees in each believer, depending on: how much time they spend with Him or spend meditating about Him and His word; how much control they relinquish to Him over all the areas of their lives, their hearts, and their minds; how humble and submissive their hearts and spirits are to His voice, His teaching, and His conviction; how much time they spend fellowshipping with other believers, ministering to them, and being ministered to by them; and how much they submit to and participate in His work. But even the least of us, I suspect, will still have many stories to tell when we get to Heaven, of God’s amazing love and His work in their lives. I pray that you will daily experience His transforming power in your life.
I might have shared this story before, but a few months back, my wife and I were trying to get a removable seat placed back into our van. I cannot remember the requirement that caused us to put the seat back in the van, but it was probably some church event or trip in which additional people besides our immediate family members would be riding in the van. In any case, we have not installed or removed this seat too many times, so each time, we have to relearn the process. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it sounds. Inevitably, when such a convenience as a removable seat is added to a vehicle, the engineers often overestimate the ease of their mechanical setup or process, probably thinking, “Well, if I can do it, anyone can.” Of course, we are not all engineers, and our minds often don’t work in a precisely logical fashion, so what may seem perfectly sensible and easy to a college-educated engineer with years of experience may not seem so simple to the average person.
Anyway, as usual, we struggled with the process of trying to understand the enigmatic diagrams, pushing levers, pulling straps, pivoting the seat back and forth, with lots of impressive grunts and plenty of sweat, but after about 45 minutes, the seat was no closer to being secured in its proper place than when we had first wrestled it into the van. It finally occurred to me that I could probably ask for the Lord’s guidance or wisdom, and He would certainly help as He promises to do in scripture. Miraculously, as soon as I spoke the prayer aloud, “Lord, we need a little help here,” I pushed on the seat at just the right angle, and it slipped into the right place almost without effort.
There are many verses that address God’s offer of assistance or deliverance and praise for His faithfulness in assisting and delivering (2 Chronicles 25:8 ,Psalm 28:7, Psalm 40:17, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 50:9, and Hebrews 13:6). As I’ve drawn closer to God over the years (and He to me – James 4:8), I find that I rely more and more upon Him for all things. I once believed that it was disrespectful to God to ask Him for the little things for which I needed help during the day, such as a prayer for a parking space to miraculously open up when I was running late, or assistance finding something important that was lost. I’m not sure why I believed that I was only bothering God to ask Him for such things, but based on my research of the scriptures and based on the teaching of the Holy Spirit especially these last few years, I’ve learned that God wants us to come to Him for all things, big and small. It is not disrespectful because He knows we are flawed, and many times, when we fail to ask Him for help, we end up expending so much more effort and time, when a simple little prayer spoken at the beginning of the event would have gained God’s power within us, His external assistance (as addressed in the verses above), and His wisdom which He is generous in sharing (James 1:5).
With these three things aiding us at the beginning of a task, we will find that so many difficult things become easy. Moreover, by thinking of Him first and by thinking of seeking His assistance first before we make decisions, develop plans, and leap into action, we are not burdening Him nor disrespecting Him. We are, instead, learning to place Him first in all things, which is a healthy step toward developing greater understanding, love, fear, appreciation, gratitude, and respect for our Almighty God.
May you walk in the warmth and comfort of His Infinite Love this day.
From our house in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, we can drive about an hour and a half down the scenic Bluegrass Parkway to the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg, Kentucky
From Kentuckytourism.com, “The Shakers played an important role in American religious history, developing the longest lasting communal society. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is America’s largest restored Shaker community, with 34 carefully restored buildings and 3,000 acres of preserved farmland.”
Wikipedia describes the Shakers as follows: “The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, known as the Shakers, is a religious sect. Founded upon the teachings of Ann Lee, Shakers today are mostly known for their cultural contributions (especially their style of music and furniture), and their model of equality of the sexes, which they institutionalized in their society in the 1780s.”
The Shakers were a Christian sect that started in 1747 in England and then crossed the Atlantic to emigrate to the American colonies in 1774. They had some unusual practices such as their very ecstatic, charismatic worship services which earned them the moniker “Shaking Quakers.” Also, they were know for their completely celibate life for all members in communal colonies of men, women, and children (from couples that joined but lived celibate after joining, while their children were raised in a group by other members of the commune). Despite their unique characteristics, they fit right in to the tremendous and wide-spread revival called the Great Awakening that swept the colonies (and later states) from the early 18th century to the late 19th century (actually divided by scholars into four distinct periods of religious revival).
As mentioned up above, they were led by Anne Lee who “joined them by 1758 and soon assumed leadership of the small community. The loss of four children in infancy created great trauma for ‘Mother Ann,’ as her followers later called her. She claimed numerous revelations regarding the fall of Adam and Eve and its relationship to sexual intercourse. She had become the ‘Mother of the new creation,’ who called her followers to confess their sins, give up all their worldly goods, and take up the cross of celibacy.”
I’m always fascinated by the various religious sects under the umbrella of Christianity that have arisen throughout Christian history, including the many Amish that we occasionally see driving their distinctive black, horse-drawn, box-like buggies around Elizabethtown. I’m continually amazed at how generous God is in accepting our many individual (sometimes ignorant) approaches to Him, following our limited ability to comprehend, our unique personality traits, our unique vision of what constitutes worship, our unique experience of life, and our unique conscience and understanding of Him and of scriptural truth.
It is yet one more example of His limitless, boundless love for us.
I pray that His sweet love will cover you this day.