Les Misérables, Love, And The God Of Mammon

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imagesI’ve heard it said that if a dog attacks a person by the arm our instinct is to pull back, which of course makes sense. However this merely encourages the beast to tighten his clamp. What one should do is to force the arm as far into its mouth as possible, which surprises the dog and hopefully forces him to gag thus giving you the chance to yank your arm free.

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Perhaps it is this same logic that Jesus used when he said ” If a man steals your shirt, give him your coat as well.” It would certainly surprise him, because he would surely expect you to chase him or call the police…after all he stole what rightfully belonged to you. But he would surely not expect you to give to him further after he stole from you. The next thing that might happen is that perhaps because his evil was countered by your goodness…he just might be shamed into repenting.  Who knows.

Two amazing things happen here. By you doing the unnatural thing by NOT clinging to a possession, but denying your right to yourself and giving further…you break the back of the god of Mammon. The demon of materialism and greed has no hold on you. I believe a person like this can be used by God to do amazing things for the Kingdom. And because of that, a sinner has an opportunity to repent and have eternal life.

[Quick prelude to my next thoughts: Yes, I know the below-mentioned play is typically looked upon as more suited to our female friends, not very macho, and any dude that willingly goes to to see it without the excuse of having a lady-friend who dragged him to it will be forever dangling the scarlet letter W -  for Wimp - around his neck. Well, for the record, I read the book, I did not go see the play. So there. That settles that. Hopefully the little machismo that I possess is unfettered and in tact]

This is beautifully illustrated in the book “Les Misérables”, when Jean Valjean, a recently freed convict, the story`s unlikely protagonist, has been welcomed into the home of the town`s bishop, Monseigneur Bienvenu when nobody else would receive him. After 19 years of prison this is a surprising and confusing development. Nobody has ever shown him this kind of hospitality or respect. But then Monseigneur Bienvenu is no ordinary bishop..he is one who is after Gods own heart, not puffed up and roiling in the pomp and wealth like most other Catholic clergy of the day. No, his life is a simple one and his heart is nearer that of Jesus than any other.

What happens next is simply perplexing, and I believe, what Jesus means for Christians to emulate.  Continue reading

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The Cost Of Non-Discipleship

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A well written article by Brian Fidler that should give us pause (by us I mean me) as we go about life complaining about slow cars in the left lane, our too small bonus, or the neighbor who blows his leaves into our yard. Enjoy. And please visit Brian’s excellent blog. ~ Keith

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“What is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus?”

I had posed the question to a small group that had met weekly for several months.  It was one part rhetorical, another part practical: I wanted to know myself what difficulties might be faced along the way. The answers came slowly, and we all knew they were pretty weak; not necessarily untrue, but simply not complete.  “We shouldn’t cuss anymore,” one man answered hesitantly. “I don’t know, I guess we shouldn’t get drunk, right?” replied another, who seemed a little embarrassed and looked around for reassurance.  That was it; that was about as good as we could do. Something was missing in our understanding of discipleship, and we all knew it.

Perusing the internet for resources, I stumbled upon the website of a ministry called The Voice of the Martyrs. Over the next few weeks, we studied areas of persecution around the globe, prayed for various Christians in prison, and collected blankets to send to persecuted brothers and sisters in Sudan. Our understanding of discipleship to Jesus grew by leaps and bounds.  And, in an interesting turn of events, it would be only a matter of months before the Lord led my wife and me to begin working for VOM.

During our three years at the ministry, we met hundreds of believers passionate about the reality of persecution, who desired to help Christians who had lost liberties, family members, homes, and, in some cases, even their own lives due to their devotion to the Lord.  With VOM staff, I traveled to Colombia and met widows of pastors whose husbands had been kidnapped or murdered because they wouldn’t stop preaching the gospel. These brave women often carried on their husbands’ ministry, and learned to hold onto faith and hope in the midst of a violent culture. They became heroes to me. In war-torn South Sudan, only miles from the front lines of a civil war, we handed out blankets to brothers and sisters who had few material possessions, but shined in their communities with the joy of knowing the Lord and fought for His truth to become known in their country.

In his well-known book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of the high cost of being an apprentice to Jesus, about the invitation to take up our crosses to follow Him.  Those crosses may and certainly do entail remaining pure in a corrupt world, but they also mean for many of us that we hold onto the Truth (and let Him hold onto us) regardless of what is taken from us.

Throughout my time at VOM, this reality hit me several times. But I learned, too, and perhaps in a way more profound still, that there is also cost of non-discipleship to Jesus – emptiness, meaninglessness, disconnection from all that we were made for.  This is a higher cost still.  When measured next to the offer of life we are given in the gospel, life deep and true and full, the cost of discipleship is rather small indeed.  This is the real “secret of being content” (Philippians 4:12) that allows persecuted believers to hold onto faith in the midst of trials, that allows all of us – we are with them, united in faith with them and they with us – to remain steadfast and firm when confronted with the burden of cross-carrying.

We get life, pure and simple. We get to learn from the Master. We get our hearts healed and freed that we may walk in the “path of life” (Psalm 16:11). We get restored back into community and unity with God.  The real question, then, isn’t what’s the cost of discipleship? but what’s the cost of non-discipleship? It’s a cost too high for any of us to afford, one that Jesus already took upon His back, thank God.  Persecuted believers seem to know this well, and it is a good discipline for us all to learn.

Brian Fidler worked at The Voice of the Martyrs from 2002-2005. Today he is a Licensed Professional Counselor working in Joplin, MO. He’s been married to DeAnn for 10 years, and last year the couple welcomed daughter Isabella to their family. Read Brian’s blog here.

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Is God Really Here When I Suffer?

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Although I’m back from my hiatus please don’t expect daily blogs.  I feel the need to ease back into this…sort of like warming up the car in winter.  Thanks for the support.    ~ Keith

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It’s been a while and I’ve learned a few things since last March.  Maybe I should say re-learned because the older I get the less I think there are new things for God to teach me…only things that He taught that I forgot. It’s like the entire history of the Israelites forgetting God is directed right at me.

We all have our favorite passages and verses in the Bible.  One of mine is Habakkuk 3:17,18.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a guy, an American, a romantic, or a little of all three, but in so much of life I am attracted to those narratives dealing with the overcoming of struggles. It’s a theme in my favorite movie, Braveheart, my favorite book, Wild At Heart, my favorite superhero, Spiderman, even my favorite sports town, Washington D.C. (although there are signs this could be changing…there will always be Chicago (Cubs) or Cleveland (all teams).

It doesn’t take much digging to find the celebration of the human condition throughout history.  In theater, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, (and most other plays – guess that’s why they’re called tragedies) depicts the “star-crossed lovers”; in art, one of the most famous paintings is the Van Gogh self-portrait whence he was ear-less or The Scream; in music today, the most popular song of the 90′s on most polls lists “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. A truly depressing song. There is something strangely kindred to most of us about the tormented soul. We align with it. We have all been there.

But I’m finding that all the dreamy notions of human strife, the fantastical illusions of beating all odds in a destitute valley of tears are lost when it becomes my true experience. When mine is the cup of suffering, no thanks, I’d rather not.

Simply put suffering sucks.

There is little enchanting about losing your job, losing your house, being addicted to drugs, agonizing under the weight of depression, seeing loved ones die before their time, watching as your children suffer, or feeling helpless as your marriage crumbles despite all attempts to prevent it. And of course that is just the tip of the iceberg.

So what are we to do when, with the assurance of the cynical “death and taxes” axiom, our lives are descended into a period of trial.  Even a lifetime of it. What then?  It is no longer something we see in the movies, experience in a classroom, or even read in our Bible.  It is real.  It is painful. What do we do?

Rejoice in the Lord, be joyful in God our Savior.

In my experience, performing this seemingly simple act in the midst of the crisis is the most difficult thing I have ever done. In fact I find that I mostly complain, cry, worry, and stress out.  But in grace when God gives me the ability to truly rejoice, the color of life seems to return.

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Taking A Hiatus

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A missionary once told me that he was able to always stay grounded by keeping the main thing the main thing.  That is to say, putting his relationship with Christ front and center above all things.  So in an effort to re-align my priorities – read: put Christ first again – I am taking a hiatus from writing/blogging.   And now one last story. At least for now.

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At risk of embarrassing my 7-year old, Joshua, he was a small part of this decision.

For the last month or so he has been getting up early to come and sit with me while I drink my coffee and read the Bible.  It’s come to be known as our “Baby Juice” time. Weird name, deep meaning. Let me explain.

Whenever he wants to  bring a drink into the den or living room he prefers to put it in an old sippy cup he used to use as a toddler so as to not to risk spilling and making a mess. (For those of you who are wondering, yes, he can drink successfully out of a cup.) So, nearly every morning he gets up at 7:00, makes his “baby juice” as he amusingly calls it, and comes to sit in my lap.  Just to hang out with Daddy.  He has even woke me up when I overslept with a whispered, “Daddy…let’s do baby juice time.”

Needless to say it has been the highlight of my mornings.  What a thrill to spend this time with my little boy.  What a blessing that he comes to me. It really has brought me great joy to bond with him in this way.  And I know it won’t last so I savor every minute.

The spiritual metaphor seems obvious, but it wasn’t until about a week ago that God convicted me that he has been desiring some “baby juice” time with me for a long time. Due to lack of this much needed time with God my heart had slowly gotten used to doing without His presence.  My heart was growing cold, I was stressed, angry, and sin was becoming easier to overlook.  Like many believers I was content to ride on my good intentions, going to church, and leaving God a bunch of I.O.U.’s.

So I am dropping a few things in order to spend that much needed “lap” time with the Father.  And one of them is writing my blog.  I sincerely don’t know how long this will take, but I am not worrying about it. For the first time in a long time I’m not worried about anything.  I am merely enjoying getting to know my Father again.  Listening to him and looking at him, being  loved by him.  Praise Him for His grace.

To all of you who read my blog regularly…Thank you. I’ll be back. Lord willing.

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A Valentines Day Redux

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My apologies for 2 weeks and no blog. Life is busy. Good. But busy. As I get opportunities I will write. Until then, enjoy my blog from a year ago today. Thanks.

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For every teenager your life up to a certain point is fairly predictable – you will go to school, you will have homework, you will get acne, you will argue with your parents, but you still feel warmth and acceptance and a sort of belonging from your mom and dad.  But then, at that certain point, which is different for everyone, your parents do something that yanks all that out from under you like the proverbial tablecloth trick…and yes that is your teenage life crashing all around you just like the dinner plates, glasses, and silverware.

It is in one swift motion that you realize your parents are at worst, aliens, (not the nice ones, but more like the “V” ones) or at best, were kidnapped along with Patty Hearst, and are still brainwashed, to begin making your life miserable on THAT VERY DAY! For me that day was April 15, 1985. I was 16.

 Now before I can continue, there is one important piece of information that is essential for you to know in order to grasp the true gravity of my ordeal – the one that happened on that fateful day in 1985. For all that know me now, with the image of masculine, rippling muscles and lumberjack-like rugged looks (hey! quit laughing), will find this hard to believe, but in high school…I was a nerd.  Yes, it’s true.

Now I don’t watch Glee, but from what I understand about the show, I would have fit in perfectly. I was even in (GASP!) the band. So as you might imagine, for me, getting dates with young ladies was the equivalent of the calf roping event at a rodeo. And the girls I was getting dates with could probably be best described as “unrefined”… I think one even shaved (not her legs).  So, you understand, dates were scarce, and dates with actual girls from this planet were unheard of.  Now back to the “my parents are aliens” part.

Well, apparently the week prior to “the day”, the planets aligned, and  Lori K., at the time the most beautiful girl I knew (who would actually talk to me) said “Yes” when I asked her on a date…and also at that particular time in my life, my mother was the proud owner of a Triumph, a TR7 to be exact.  For those who don’t know, it is a sports car. Enough said.  And apparently the stars were still aligned because she also said “Yes” when I asked to use it on my date with the lovely Lori K.  So, beyond my wildest dreams, I have a date with a real girl who I get to impress in my parents sports car.  For a teenage nerd, it does not get any better than this.  Then…the day came.

So I’m getting ready for my appointment with heaven, probably caking acne goop on my face, when I begin to notice some troubling signs.  I see my parents…also getting ready for what appears to be…a date.  So I nervously ask…and they are indeed going out on a date the same night as me, wow, what a coincidence…OR EVIL PLAN.  So, now as I’m shifting into panic mode I ask THE QUESTION.  ”So”, I ask my mom (who is beginning to resemble an alien) rather unassuming, “are you taking Dad’s truck?” “No” she responded in a way that seemed both whimsical and evil at the same time…”we’re taking the Triumph, you can take the truck”.   Clearly, my mother was an evil alien.

Me Discovering I have To Take The Truck

Yes.  I had been relegated to a special place in Hell (in my unsaved mind).  With one fell swoop my entire life had been diminished into a parody of Shakespearean proportions. I had to take the truck. Now, you might think that most teenage boys wouldn’t mind taking a date in a truck.  You would be right, except now.

You see, my dad’s truck was the best kind of truck – for a contractor – it was pale black, not shiny or glossy black, more like primer and less like paint.  It had huge tool bins on both sides and a ladder rack.  And not just any ladder rack, he even had the “4″-high dog ears” attached to the ladder rack…you know…to keep the ladder from sliding around.  It gets better.  Since my dad, Lord bless him, was so frugal, he wasn’t going to waste money on an automatic transmission.  No he had the grinding “four on the floor” that required a leg with the strength of the Hulk’s to push down the clutch. Not to mention, dusty seats, skinny (read: not cool) tires and rims.  I really cannot think of how it could have been any worse.

Well, to Lori’s credit…she thought it was all very funny..she still went out with me,  we even had a good time.  We went to the Norfolk water front.  I parked in the parking garage. We had dinner. I had almost forgot how horribly I had felt only hours earlier.

Than, it happened. Remember those 4″-high ladder rack dog ears…they are, as I found out, just high enough to grab an electric parking garage exit sign…and pull it down…sparks flying and all.  I think the tic’s coming back. Happy Valentines Day.

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How Bad Bosses Can Teach Us To Pray For Our Enemies (Part 1)

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My Boss (Yes, He Has Yellow Eyes..YELLOW EYES!)

I’ll never forget the day that my humiliation came full circle (and led to prayer). I drove up to the house. And getting out of my SUV ready to perform my last inspection of the day I saw my client. It was my old boss, Brad, who’s sole purpose in life for a year and a half was to make my life a veritable nightmare. Mostly because he knew I was a Christian.

And in seconds, a wave of once forgotten emotions pounded into me like a flurry of cannonballs. My heart sank as I recalled life with a mean, bullying manager.  On the bright side it had been 6 years since I was a desk jockey being harassed daily by Brad.  Maybe he had changed. No such luck. Why?

Because on seeing him recognize me, that smile, that horrible curling, Grinchy smile appeared on his face. The knot in my stomach was what I imagine Ralphie felt hearing the evil laugh of Scott Farkus (of “A Christmas Story” infamy) and seeing those yellow eyes. Yes, yellow eyes!  I took a deep breath and walked towards Brad.  I was ready to start crying Uncle. Continue reading

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