Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Steep Price of Freedom

First a disclaimer: I never served a day in the armed forces. I participated in ROTC for a couple of quarters at Ohio State, but once I fulfilled the requirement, got out. It was the Vietnam era. The military wasn’t “cool,” at least on college campuses during the late 1960s.

But my father served in the Army – more than 22 years, in fact. He fought in infantry and armored divisions during World War II, in Europe and Northern Africa. He was wounded twice, receiving two Purple Hearts to prove it, along with other commendations.

When the Vietnam War was just escalating, before hardly anyone even knew where Vietnam was, he retired from the Army. Having inside information about what was happening over there, realizing it was a virtual no-win situation, he said, “I’m not going back for a third bullet.”

My dad wasn’t a coward. He had served nobly and sacrificially in “the big war.” Thankfully he survived physically, although nightmares that occasionally awakened him at night, screaming, indicated his psyche did not return from conflict 100 % intact.
So this Memorial Day I don’t have memories of camaraderie, friendships forged in the clutches of combat. But my father did, and I’m forever grateful for his and others’ courageous dedication and service, serving the USA, its freedom and values against foes overseas.

Sadly, we still have soldiers – men and women – fighting in conflicts overseas. Thousands have lost their lives in the Middle East, giving their all to protect our nation and its people from a repeat of terrorist acts that etched 9/11 deeply in our memories.

Growing up, the John Wayne movies made war look heroic, even fun. I suspect films like “Saving Private Ryan” hit much closer to the realities and horrors of war. So I’m even more thankful for those who have died for America, as well as for those who have suffered injuries to the body, mind and spirit. May we never forget!

I’m even more thankful for the true “ultimate gift”: the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ who, like the soldiers we remember this weekend, died so we could win a war. Except the war He fought was not against ideologies, but against the very source of evil – something the Bible calls “sin.” “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Knowing the sacrifice He was about to make, Jesus told His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Since the birth of our nation, countless thousands have laid down their lives for “friends” – men, women and children that would enjoy freedom in this life. Jesus died that we might experience spiritual freedom, not only in this life, but also in the life to come.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

King James and Me

Did you know the King James Version of the Bible was first published 400 years ago? Happy birthday, KJV!

King James and I go back a long way. Growing up, the KJV was always used in our church and Sunday school. (There wasn’t much choice back then.) As I mentioned in an earlier blog, during my senior year of high school I read the Bible front to back, kind of as a project. Reading five chapters a night, it took about nine months. I understood very little of what I read, however, and when finished I stuck the Bible back on a shelf and wondered what to read next.

Then in 1978 I started attending a church where the Bible was taught in a practical, relevant way for everyday life, using a modern translation – the New American Standard. For me it was almost like dying and going to heaven. God, I realized, doesn’t speak in only 17th century Elizabethan English. When I prayed, I didn’t need to “beseech” Him, and I needn’t refer to the Lord as “Thou.” He was perfectly okay with “You.”

That’s not to knock the KJV. Some passages in the oft-called “Authorized translation" still resonate best, like Psalm 23. Its wondrous, poetic composition -- “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters…” -- still gives me a sense of peace and comfort.

But the original manuscripts that merged to make up our Bible were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, common languages to that area at that time. God desired to give His Word to everyone, not just to professional theologians and clerics.

I appreciate tradition and literary form. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we wouldn’t want to rewrite, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo,” to read “Hey…Romeo! Where you at?” But even though I once majored in English, I dislike reading Shakespeare because I don’t understand half of what he wrote.

So I’m thankful for the KJV (which by the way has undergone numerous, significant revisions itself over the years). But even more grateful we’re no longer confined to reading verbiage, so familiar to people in the early 1600s, that presents considerable consternation for many of us in the early 21st century.

Its progeny – like the New American Standard, the New International, New Living Translation, Revised Standard, even the Amplified – are continuing to carry out the mission: Revealing to us who God is, helping us understand how we are designed, and telling what He expects of us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Not the End . . . Not Yet

As you probably noticed, the world did not end on Saturday at 6 p.m. as predicted. (There was some debate over whether it would be Eastern or Pacific time, but no matter.) So by popular demand – or maybe not – we’re still here.

This means we’ll have to endure another interminable Presidential race in 2012, along with the customary option of choosing the lesser of two evils. (If two Southerners were to contest the race, we could select the lesser of two weevils.)

Because the world did not end, we’ll have to endure more of Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. The national media will continue its quest to establish Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel as the biggest criminal since the Boston Strangler. (Actually, Tressel’s biggest error was probably writing books about values and virtue, and then proving himself human – and a sinner – by failing to fully live up to them.)

“American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” will rewind and trot out another assortment of hopefuls, aspiring divas, over-the-hill celebrities and wannabes, along with myriad reality shows that are totally out of touch with real reality.

Baseball will continue its crawl through the summer, making snails look like speed freaks. Fox News will continue its arch-conservative bombast, while other cable news networks will continue holding up the liberal side, perhaps with a bit more subtlety, but biased just the same.

Because the world did not end, we will continue to hear of wars, rumors of war, along with reports of natural and manmade disasters. We will continue to espouse tolerance, unless you’re talking about followers of Jesus Christ, in which case it’s okay not to be tolerant.

At this point, no one knows what happened to Harold Camping, the California preacher who prognosticated the world’s end. Perhaps he took his name literally…and went camping. All I know is he’s another silly reason for nonbelievers to justify their disbelief by pointing to crazy Christians and “fundamentalists.”

I have no doubt that one day the world – as we know it – will end. We just don’t know when. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So we can’t put a date on our calendar and plan accordingly.

But the Lord did affirm there shall be an end, a great global denouement. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:42-44).

The question we each must ask ourselves: “Will I be ready?”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Who Knows What a Day Will Bring?

Two weeks ago today, countless thousands of residents across Alabama, Northwest Georgia and Southeastern Tennessee were hunkered down as wave after wave of tornadoes stormed through this region. To me, it ranks alongside the two-foot blizzard of March 1993 as the most momentous weather days for our area.

Most of us survived the day with little more than the inconvenience of power outages, disrupted communications and a few trees downed. But more than 300 people lost their lives. Thousands more had their homes destroyed or seriously damaged. For them, April 27, 2011 will be their own “date that will live in infamy,” to borrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unforgettable quote.

Two days after the storms I drove to Atlanta for a day of meetings. On my drive back home, traffic near Exit 348 at Ringgold, Ga. – where much of the tornado carnage occurred – had slowed to a crawl, almost in silent homage for those who had died or suffered great losses. One road sign read, “Ringgold Historic District.” Many of the historic structures had been swept away.

Ironically, several days later the weekly edition of “Monday Manna,” a business devotional I write and edit, was distributed around the world entitled, “Deep Roots for Weathering Life’s Storms.” I had prepared that particular commentary two months earlier, observing that having a spiritual root system anchored by faith in Jesus Christ can enable us to endure the great challenges of life.

Reflecting on “the day of the tornadoes,” there’s another lesson to be learned. For days, weather experts had warned of an impending major storm, but no one anticipated an event spawning 259 tornadoes across the region in a single day. Many people awoke that morning expecting to stick close to home for safety; few thought their lives could be changed forever.

Perhaps that is why Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…. Each day has enough troubles of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

April 27 also served as a reminder to cherish each day we don’t have to cope with horrific storms, whatever forms they take. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).