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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Star Trek - A Better Way

Last week, I slipped away with my son and son-in-law to see the new Star Trek movie, Into Darkness. We left the girls at home.  They had better things to do.

 It was fun to re-connect with the old characters: Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, “Bones” McCoy, Scotty, Mr. Sulu, Lieutenant Uhura and their nemesis, Khan.  Of course the original actors are gone, except for a cameo appearance by Leonard Nimoy as the aged Spock.  Through the magic of cinema and imagination we were transported back to their youth and the beginning of the five-year voyage to “go where no man has gone before.”

I didn’t grow up with Star Trek. But Gene Roddenberry’s Original Series, launched in 1966, caught my imagination.  My son did grow up with Star Trek, the Next Generation, and taped every episode on VHS (If you wonder what VHS is, look in a museum).  When he was twelve, we gave him a book detailing the schematics of the Starship Enterprise. 

In the Original Series most episodes had underlying moral and social themes exposing racism, bigotry, greed and blind ambition; promoting friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice.  Invariably the age-old conflict of good and evil was played out among the stars. Often, the plot sought to reveal the conflicts resident within each of us.

Except for vastly improved special effects, this newest Star Trek movie stayed true to the original pattern.  After two hours of violence and vengeance, woven with the interplay of logic and emotion, the young Captain Kirk draws the final conclusion in his address to an assembly of Star Trek Cadets: “Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are.”

His conclusion echoes lessons passed down to us from centuries past, lessons lodged in history and reality.  Jesus said, “Do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two.”  “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.” 

These are hard lessons in a world where senseless murder and the slaughter of innocent men, women and children has become commonplace.  Indeed, our first instinct is vengeance. But there must be a better way. There must be a higher road.

 Jesus showed us the way by how he lived, what he said, and the way he died. When He was cursed, slapped and ridiculed with a crown of thorns, he refused to fight back. When He was nailed to the cross, He refused to curse his tormentors and, instead, prayed for their forgiveness. 

Inspired by His example and empowered by His resurrection, His followers transformed the Roman Empire within three centuries. Jesus’ life and teachings inspired such social reformers as Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.  Most movements to free the oppressed, relieve the poor, heal the sick and care for the outcast, the widow and the orphan can trace their origins to Jesus.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Memorial Day

Today we will fly our flag outside our house to honor Memorial Day. It is a tradition my wife brought into our marriage from her father who served in the Pacific during World War II. All across our country the stars and stripes will unfurl in the breeze, lifting and dropping, whipping and snapping above the roof tops of schools, factories and government buildings; flying over parks, parades and cemeteries. Millions will stand to their feet in stadiums across America and sing of the broad stripes and bright stars reflected by bombs bursting in the night.

Forty-six years after Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, that flag hung in ominous stillness above Fort Sumter. Bearing the stars of the states that rose against it, surrounded by the sound of screaming men and thundering horses, it led the way into man-made storms of grape-shot and cannon fire. Almost a century later it was planted on the black sands of Iwo Jima where young Marines gave their lives to lift its blood-stained cloth above their heads. The flag still marks Tranquility Base where the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind. Most of us have stood at the graveside of flag draped coffins and many mothers have held the crisply folded flag to their breast, solemnly handed to them by white gloved soldiers.

This Memorial Day the flag reminds us that America is still an experiment. Two and a quarter centuries is a very short time and our nation is still relatively young. Lincoln’s prophetic words at Gettysburg still ring true. We are a new nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Our generation, like every other generation must rise to the test to prove whether “that nation, or any other nation so dedicated and so conceived can long endure.” Every Memorial Day we are called to a new resolve that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Memorial Day helps us remember young men and women who gave their lives on the battle field. But the most important battles to be fought for the future of our nation will not be with missiles and guns. The most important battles will be fought in the hearts of men and women. The preservation of our nation, its hopes, dreams and ideals, depends on the character of its people and their leaders. Honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity, goodness and faith are the elements that will determine the future freedom of our nation.  

In Proverbs, the Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Prov. 14:34) Isaiah says, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He shall bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa. 42:1). Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations. Every person will ultimately be accountable to Him and our greatest challenge is to reflect His character and His glory.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Graduation: Visions and Dreams

Young men and women robed in caps and gowns will assemble on high school and college campuses all across our country this month. Grinning behind dangling tassels, they scan the audience in search of family and friends who search for them Cell phones and cameras illuminate the stadiums with sporadic flashes of light in an effort to capture the moment.  Few events match the excitement of graduation.

Presidents, principals, guest speakers and valedictorians will speak of new horizons, a future yet to be written, a world to be changed. They will urge those who have reached this achievement to have faith in themselves and to never stop learning, never stop believing, never stop dreaming.

All graduates who walk across stages to receive their diplomas represent unique stories.  Few are as unique as Bob Zonneville.  According to Brian Albrecht's article in The Plain Dealer, Bob Zonneville graduated from Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio last Saturday at age 88.  A World War II Veteran, Zonneville fought in the 8th Infantry Division across Europe and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. He was twice wounded, once by a hand grenade and later by artillery shrapnel.

Zonneville says he started college in his eighties because of his wife, Carol, who passed away in 2008.  A career school teacher, she constantly urged him to get his college education. “I thought, maybe in her memory, I ought to do it.”   Given the opportunity to enroll in non-credit courses at his advanced age Zonneville said, “Nah. I’ll pay the tuition.  I’m going to be a student.  I’m going to get the credits.  I’m going to do the work.”

 One 19-year-old classmate said, “He’s also always telling us to do better for ourselves and keep succeeding.”  One professor said, “His enthusiasm is contagious, and his positive outlook on our younger generation is refreshing.” Another said, “He always wants to learn something new. He’s determined to participate and be involved.”

Graduation commencements inspire us because they not only recognize significant achievement, they celebrate new beginnings, new possibilities and opportunities.   Education offers to the young the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that equip them for the future.  For those who are older, a chance to re-tool and pursue new dreams.  

God is always about new beginnings.  He challenges the young to set their feet on a path that leads to life. To those who are older, He offers opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over. Paul wrote in Corinthians “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”

Graduation reminds us of God’s promise at Pentecost. “Your young men shall see visions.  Your old men shall dream dreams.” God wants every person to discover His vision for their life.  Though none of us in our youth can possibly know the twists and turns that lie before us, we can know that God has a vision and a plan for our life. No matter how long we live, we are never too old to dream new dreams about the future and make the world a better place.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Angels Among Us

The winds have dispersed the mushroom cloud that hovered over the small town of West. The dust has settled.  The President of the United States, the Governor of Texas and other dignitaries have come to join in the memorial for those who lost their lives.  Most of the first responders have been buried.  Families are returning to their homes, picking through the rubble. People from as far away as Prague in the Czech Republic continue to respond with generosity.

The memories of that moment that leveled four city blocks and created a tremor the size of a small earthquake will remain for a lifetime.  As the dust settles, and as people start the long arduous task of rebuilding West, many are seeing evidences of an unseen hand at work. 

As West transitions from Disaster Relief to Disaster Recovery, they are continuing to witness the grace and goodness of God.  Some of the churches near the blast were heavily damaged.  The Brethren Church  will meet this Sunday for the first time since the explosion.  First Baptist has suspended all their scheduled activities to focus on prayer, worship and recovery. 

This week, I prayed with pastors from the Brethren, Methodist, Assemblies of God, Baptist and Catholic churches in West.  As we visited several said they were convinced there were literal angels looking over them.   While no one mourns more deeply the loss of the fifteen who died than the people of West, they referred to story after story of how God protected those who survived and the remarkable fact that more did not perish.

The Bible speaks clearly about the existence of Angels. Contrary to popular opinion, angels are not people who have died and gone to heaven and earned their wings like Clarence, in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Angels have appeared at pivotal moments in history. An angel spoke to Abraham and spared the life of his son, Isaac.  Angels appeared to Jacob, later to Moses, and ministered to Elijah. The angels announced the birth of Christ. And an angel stood watch over the open tomb when Jesus was raised from the dead.

Perhaps many in West are discovering in personal terms something we tend to forget. When we are in our darkest moments, we are not alone.  God gives his angels charge over us. (Psalm 91:11).

First Baptist West posted this statement on their website: “As trite as this may sound, the greatest and most meaningful way anyone can help us is to pray and don't stop praying for a long time.  Although this tragedy is a terrible experience and has been absolutely horrific, we have a peace that doesn't make sense and our strength is renewed day by day.  Those blessings are the only things keeping us going, and those blessings come a result of the prayers of people all over the world who are interceding for us.  We sincerely covet your prayers and we appreciate them more than we can begin to understand.”