Weekend Getaway

Last Friday night as we were headed to the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center near Sulphur, Oklahoma, I wondered where my wife had booked us to stay for the weekend. I didn’t know anything about the hotel. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and I thought maybe we were going to a shack in the woods.

 
I was pleasantly surprised when we drove up to the conference center and it was all lit up. “This place looks pretty nice,” I thought. The empty parking lot made the place look deserted. There were hardly any other cars around. We had the place virtually to ourselves.

 
The hotel was very stylish and modern. There was even Bedre chocolate waiting for us in our rooms. We went swimming in the pool after checking in. There we saw a few other guests already in the pool. The water was warm, and the pool was 3 to 4 feet deep. The kids had a great time in the water. After swimming, we went back to the room and watched the Brewers beat the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS.

 
The next morning, after eating breakfast, we drove to the Chickasaw Cultural Center, which was hosting a pumpkin patch for the kids along with crafts. We also enjoyed free corn on the cob. It was perfect, fall weather—sunny and mild. We went across the sky bridge and looked out over a recreated Chickasaw village. Then we went down the stairs and walked through the town and over the Ikana suspension bridge.

 
We spent the afternoon exploring the Chickasaw National Recreational Area. First, we drove to Little Niagara. We walked across the rocks of the falls and enjoyed the serene sound of the running water. A word of caution—the rocks are slick, and if you have kids be careful because they could easily slip and fall into the rushing water.  Next, we hiked a mile or two to Buffalo Springs. It was a peaceful, secluded spot that included a fresh-water spring surrounded by a circular rock enclosure. The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the rock structures in the park during the Great Depression. I dipped my hand in the cool water. The water was clear, but the algae and moss made it look green when you looked at it from a distance. Leaves gently fell around us as we walked back through the woods; it was an idyllic, peaceful scene. I breathed in deeply the fresh air, and I thanked God for time with family, beautiful weather, and the wonderful scenery.

 
We hiked back the way we had come…to Travertine Island. Then we spent a few more moments at Little Niagara, enjoying the relaxing ambience before heading to downtown Sulphur to see the Artesian Hotel. We walked through several shops around the Artesian. We really enjoyed Sweet Swirlz, a candy store. I don’t know who was more excited—the kids or me. We walked out of there with five or six bags of candy.   We were hungry and tired, so we called it a day and went to eat dinner at Las Abuelitas. On Saturday night, we spent the night in and around the hotel—walking the grounds, swimming, watching more baseball, and reading.

 
We took our time getting around on Sunday morning. My wife wanted to go see the Lake of the Arbuckles. Because of all the recent rains, the water was high enough to partially cover picnic tables and trees. After standing on the edge of the lake for a few minutes, we headed back home. After getting a treat in Davis at Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies, we drove to Sonny’s Café in Purcell to eat lunch. We enjoyed it very much. My wife got a huge chicken fried steak, and I had the Western Hamburger Steak covered in green chilies, tomatoes, cheese, and bacon. The kids had chicken tenders and fries. The fries were extra tasty as well. It was a great way to wrap up the trip.

 
I was very pleasantly surprised by Sulphur and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Surprisingly, even though I was born and raised in Oklahoma, I had never been to Sulphur that I can recall. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it ended up being a wonderful weekend getaway. We got to enjoy nature and relax. The kids had a fun time, too. I would recommend it to others who haven’t been.

Three Lessons from Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago is an epic historical drama and romance film with beautiful scenery, themes, and music. Besides being an entertaining movie to watch and enjoy, Doctor Zhivago is also ripe with lessons for us to consider. Let’s look at three important lessons that we can take away from the story.

 
First, let’s examine the obvious lesson of the movie—communism is a terrible form of government. I love the scene where Yuri Zhivago returns from World War I and arrives home in Moscow only to find that the Soviet government has divided his house into tenements. The idea of private party has been abolished by the Bolsheviks, and the people living in Yuri’s house begin to steal his personal belongings.

 
Now it is important to recognize that there were people starving and suffering in the country before the Russian Revolution. We can all agree that there was great inequality between the rich and poor, but the movie does a great job of showing that Communism only made a bad situation worse. Students of history know that there were multiple factors at play in the origin of the Revolution, such as economic inequality, technological backwardness, and a lack of confidence in Tsar Nicholas II’s ability to govern. But whatever the causes, the cure was worse than the disease.

 
Now granted, film critics have criticized the movie for what they think is a trivialization of the Revolution. But I think that the viewer must realize that the movie is basically a love story set against the backdrop of the Revolution. As film critic, Roger Ebert said, Doctor Zhivago “seems political in the same sense Gone with the Wind is political, as spectacle and backdrop, without ideology.” But perhaps one of the unintended consequences of the film is that it does a superb job of showing the horrors of Communism and the Soviet government without being preachy about it.

 
After Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over in the October Revolution, Yuri and his family have to flee the city to a countryside estate in Varykino because his poetry is considered seditious by the government. Yuri soon discovers that his former love interest, Lara, lives nearby in Yuriatin. He and Lara begin an affair, which eventually causes him to be separated from his family. He is forced into service as a medic by Communist partisans in the Russian Civil War. Yuri finally deserts after two years and reunites with Lara, only to find out that his family is in Moscow and will soon be deported to Paris.

 
This brings us to the second lesson we can learn from the film–our choices have consequences. Yuri’s decision to have an affair with Lara is what led him to be conscripted into the war, and it eventually prevents him from reuniting with his family. He loses Lara, as well, and he dies a lonely, broken-hearted man. Obviously, Yuri made a poor choice in regard to his adulterous affair with Lara, and few movies do a better job than Doctor Zhivago of showing a man suffering for his infidelities.

 
The third lesson for us is that sometimes events beyond our control can shape our destinies. One of the themes in the film is how the Revolution affects the lives of all of the characters in the story. Obviously, Yuri’s life is greatly affected by political realities. Because of the government’s reaction to his poems, Yuri is forced to take his family and move to the Ural Mountains. And if not for his move out of Moscow, he likely would not have met up with Lara again. Lara was tied to the Revolution through her marriage to Pasha. She enlists as a nurse in order to look for her husband and ends up working with Yuri at a hospital in the war, where they fall in love. Cynical Victor Ippolitovich Komarovsky is probably the most skillful at adapting to the ever-changing political situation, but even he has to move to the Far East when he takes up a position in the nominally independent Far Eastern Republic. He takes Lara and her child with him as Yuri stays behind.

 
The characters in Doctor Zhivago could not change the events that shaped their lives, but they could adjust how they responded to them—either for good or bad. Perhaps that is why Doctor Zhivago is such a classic movie. All of us can find a character in the movie to which we can relate. Although the setting and events are different in every person’s life, human nature is a constant. We all deal with many of the same desires, challenges, and hardships, albeit on a smaller scale. And it is how we react to these problems that help determine the course we take, both as a nation and as individuals.

No Purpose in the Nexus

 

In the movie Star Trek Generations Captains Picard and Kirk are caught up in the Nexus, an extra-dimensional realm in which those inside feel complete bliss and can have whatever their heart desires. In the Nexus, Captain Picard gets to celebrate Christmas with a family he never had, while Captain Kirk prepares breakfast for his wife in their home and rides horses with Picard. Picard tries to convince Kirk to leave the Nexus to help him stop the madman Soran from destroying a star, and as a result, the surrounding solar system. When Kirk makes a jump on his horse and feels no fear, he soon realizes everything in the Nexus is an illusion. He agrees to go with Picard, even though the odds are against them, because he wants to make a difference.

 

There are some profound lessons here for us if we pay attention. I think this movie does a good job of portraying the choice before us all.  Will we seek a comfortable life where we can get everything we desire or will we choose the harder path of service and sacrifice in which we, like Picard and Kirk, can make a difference?  The Nexus, after all,  sounds like a very appealing place. Who wouldn’t want to go where time stands still and all your dreams come true? There’s only one problem with it–there’s no purpose in the Nexus.

 

You can live a life of pleasure and ease, but soon you will wonder, “What is my purpose? Does anything I’m doing actually matter? Do my actions make a difference?” The life of purpose is more difficult, but it is more fulfilling and rewarding. It goes back to what Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).”

 

Captain Kirk ends up dying as he helps Picard, but he does make a difference. The pair are able to stop Soron from destroying the star. Picard doesn’t get the family he’s always dreamed of, but he does save his other family, the Enterprise Crew.

 

The movie ends with Commander Riker and Captain Picard going through the wreckage on the bridge of the Enterprise. Riker finds an important photo album of Captain Picard’s, and Captain Picard waxes philosophical. Picard tells Riker, “Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived.”

America’s Soft Thinking Problem

I’m thankful for my parents, teachers, and pastors who taught me along the way that there is such a thing as absolute truth. They taught me that there are things which are clearly right or wrong; that God’s Word is our standard by which we judge the worthiness or unworthiness of an idea or theory; and that logic and reason are to be favored over emotions and popular opinion.

It seems that today in America, however, we’ve lost the notion of truth. We’ve become a society which operates according to our feelings. “If it feels good, do it.” “If it makes you happy, it must be right.” We tolerate everything except for the truth. We don’t even know what the truth is anymore. I call it America’s soft thinking problem. The number one problem in America is the same one as in the book of Judges. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. People no longer subscribe to a universal accepted standard of right and wrong.

What really alarms me is that many in the upcoming generation cannot think for themselves. They blindly swallow whatever their professor, the news media, or their friends tell them. Where are their critical thinking skills? Where is their application of reason and logic?

This phenomenon was exhibited clearly in the recent hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Many on the left automatically believed the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, simply because she was a woman. Evidently in the #MeToo era, every woman is to be believed and every man is guilty of sexual assault. Even though the witnesses whom Ford claimed were at the party denied that it happened, those on the Left said that Kavanaugh must be guilty. Facts no longer seem to matter, because feelings trump facts in post-truth America.

Liberal Senator Cory Booker used the phrase “her truth” at the hearings as if there were more than one truth. Kavanaugh and Ford gave conflicting testimonies. They both could not be telling the truth. Senator Booker later said that it didn’t matter if Kavanaugh was guilty or innocent…he shouldn’t be appointed. But shouldn’t the truth matter? If Kavanaugh was telling the truth, that means that Ford was lying. Why should Kavanaugh not be appointed due to false allegations? And if Ford is lying, why should she be considered a hero? It most definitely does matter whether Kavanaugh is innocent or guilty, but in this post-truth bizarro world that we live in, it’s as if both can tell “their truth” and be equally respected. And Ford is automatically right and Kavanaugh is automatically wrong because Ford’s a woman and Kavanaugh is a man.

We hear a lot about the “Snowflake Generation” and how they must be coddled so that their feelings aren’t hurt. They cannot bear to listen to a speaker on college campus who challenges their left-wing views. Orwellian measures are taken against anyone who dares to speak against the accepted line of thinking. Dissenters to liberal orthodoxy must be labeled as haters or bigots. Minds are closed, and thinking is almost non-existent.

These trends extend to religion as well. The ecumenical idea that “all roads lead to heaven” is also becoming more accepted, even though the different religions make conflicting truth claims. Logically, they cannot all be correct, but because tolerance is the chief virtue, no one can gather the courage to tell others that they are wrong. So everyone must be right, right?

This soft thinking problem extends to evangelicals as well, especially those who promote social justice. Those who promote open borders say it is unloving to limit immigration and control our borders. Yet is it loving to not protect your own citizens from danger? Loving your neighbor doesn’t just mean letting everyone in the door. It also means protecting your family from harm.

The reason why so many people hate President Trump is because he often gives the raw, unvarnished version of the truth. He rarely gives the politician’s answer, the politically correct version that the liberal media want to hear. He usually tells it how it really is. And since people are responding with their feelings and not logic, many of them get upset.

Isaiah 59:14 mentions truth being fallen in the street in ancient Judah. That’s where we are today in America. It is due in part because many in our nation have rejected God and His Word or they are ignorant of it. But another contributing factor is soft thinking. What is the solution? It is fourfold. One, we need to teach the upcoming generation the Word of God. Two, we must teach them that there are such things as absolute truth and right and wrong. Three, we need to teach them that we cannot make emotions our guide for decision making. Feelings change and are often unreliable. Finally, we must teach our kids critical thinking skills through the use of logic and reason. If we do these things, we can start to reverse this soft thinking trend and get back to the bedrock of unchanging truth.

Hope and Mercy

Eighteen-year-old Sheila Jackson had walked in with two souls and left with none. She could not escape the sinking feeling that she had made a grave mistake. This would be a dividing line in her life—Sheila pre-abortion and Shelia post-abortion. And already she did not like the latter.

 

Before she had gone into the clinic, she had seen a man carrying a sign which said, “Choose Life.” The man’s eyes connected with Sheila’s. “Don’t do this. You’ll regret it,” he said. She wanted to talk more with him, but Sheila’s boyfriend, Eric, hurried her inside.
As she sat in the waiting room, she thought about what the man had said. She couldn’t get it out of her head. But he didn’t understand–she didn’t have a choice. Her parents had pressured her to do this. They told her that she was still in high-school and that having a child would ruin all of plans for college, not to mention the embarrassment of having a child out of wedlock. Eric was noncommittal and told her that he would be fine with whatever she decided. She secretly had hoped he would tell her to keep the baby. She needed some kind of support to be strong and make the right decision, but everyone wanted to run away from the situation and make it disappear.

 
Eric and Sheila walked out of the clinic towards Eric’s car. It was a blustery, cold day in early February. “Just take me home. I want to go to sleep,” she told him.
“Are you alright?” Eric tried to show concern. Sheila was in no mood to talk. She hadn’t expected it to be like this. Before the abortion, she thought maybe she would be able to put it all behind her, but now she knew better.

 
On the way home, Sheila kept seeing things that reminded her of the baby. They passed a billboard with an advertisement for a hospital. It had a picture of a baby with the words, “We help you bring new life into the world.” Nothing could have made her feel worse. And right before they reached her neighborhood, they stopped behind a car which had a “Baby on Board” sign. She wanted to crawl under a rock and hide from the world. She felt so guilty, so unworthy. She hated herself. How could she ever be happy again?
Eric dropped her off at her house, and they really didn’t say much to each other except “good-bye.” She wasn’t sure what she felt now for Eric. A part of her resented him, but then she thought it was unfair to blame him when she had plenty of responsibility in this.

 
Sheila went straight to her room and got into bed. She lay there a long time and thought about what she had just done. She eventually fell asleep and dreamed that she was at a birthday party at her house. Her parents were there along with some of her other family. When she entered the kitchen, there was a baby boy in the high chair with a birthday cake in front of him. It had one candle on it. The baby smiled at her, and she smiled back. She went over and picked him up. It was her baby. She felt such joy holding him. She gazed into his eyes, and he smiled back at her. Then suddenly he lifted up his head and got an angry look on his face. He looked directly at her and said, “Why did you kill me?”
Sheila jumped up out of bed in a cold sweat. She was breathing heavily, and she began weeping bitterly. She didn’t know it was possible to feel such guilt. It crushed her soul and made it hard for her to breathe. She felt like she was going to collapse onto the floor.
Sheila thought that maybe she should try to read her Bible. She hadn’t read it in a long time. She randomly flipped it open, and her eyes fell upon Proverbs 6. She began reading the chapter, and she came across verses 16 and 17. Hands that shed innocent blood were third on the list of the things that the Lord hates. She quickly shut it. She felt nothing but judgment and guilt. Everything seemed hopeless.

 
The emotional pain she felt now was too great for her to bear. She began thinking of ways she could commit suicide, but after a few minutes she decided that wasn’t a good idea. She couldn’t do that to her parents and family. She was always taught that suicide was not the answer. That was just a way of giving up and not facing her problems.
She wanted to call her best friend, but she felt too ashamed to talk to her. She decided to risk going back to sleep, hoping she didn’t have another nightmare. She got back in bed and pulled the covers over her head. She would hide from the world as long as possible.
Somehow Sheila survived the next few weeks. Eric and her soon broke up. It was a mutual decision. She went to school each day, but her mind was not on her studies. She sat in class and stared off into space, not hearing a word her teachers were saying. She was off in the world of her own mind. Guilt and obsessive thoughts consumed her. She withdrew socially from her circle of friends and extra-curricular activities. Life had lost its spark, and now everything seemed gray and hopeless for Sheila.

 
As she drove to and from school each day, she passed by a church. It had a marquee with a Bible verse on it that changed every week. Sheila found herself reading it quite often. It was always very encouraging and made her feel better. She thought about trying to go to church sometime. She and her family had not been to church since she was in elementary school. She had to admit to herself that she kind of missed going. As she drove by this day, she noticed that the sign said they had services tonight at 7 p.m. Maybe she would go.

 
Sheila went home and had dinner with her parents. She told them after they finished eating that she was going out. They asked where she was headed, but she didn’t say. She felt weird telling them she was going to church. Since her parents hadn’t been in a long time, she feared that they might not want her to go.

 
When Sheila arrived at the church, she walked in and sat on the back row. She was late, and the services had already begun. The choir sang, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” After the song, the pastor went up to the pulpit and began the message. He asked the congregation to turn to Psalm 130. The title of the sermon, “For with the Lord there is Mercy,” appeared on two screens on either side of the stage.

 
Never before had a sermon pierced Sheila’s heart like this one. It was heaven sent. As Sheila listened to the pastor’s words, everything else around her faded. It was as if he were speaking directly to her. The message was exactly the balm that her wounded soul needed to hear.

 
The preacher wrapped up his sermon, and a picture of Jesus on the cross appeared on the screens. Sheila looked at it and understood the Gospel for the first time. Jesus suffered and died on that cross for her sins, including the sin of killing her baby.
“And he rose again the third day,” the preacher said as he explained the Gospel. Hope welled up in Sheila’s soul. Jesus conquered death and rose to new life. This impacted her in a profound way as she pondered the death of her child.

 
When the preacher gave the invitation and asked everyone to stand, Sheila remained seated in the pew and poured out her heart to God in prayer. “God, have mercy upon me; please forgive me. Give me a second chance, Lord. Don’t deal with me in your anger or wrath, but in your love and mercy. Please save me, Lord Jesus.” She felt God touching her soul. She hadn’t felt that warmth in a long time. For the past several weeks, it had felt like God had turned from Sheila and shut her out. But now she experienced his new life and resurrection. There was hope to be found, and mercy, too—and she found them in Christ.

 
Sheila had walked out of the abortion clinic a different person, but for the worse. Now she walked out of that church a changed person, but this time for the better. What she had destroyed, God had restored. She couldn’t bring her baby back, but maybe she could convince other women to avoid her terrible mistake. Tomorrow, she would go back to the clinic and try to do just that.

Reflecting on 9/11

On this 17th Anniversary of 9/11, I went back and watched again the news coverage from the morning of the terrorist attacks. It is still somewhat surreal to see the planes fly into the Twin Towers and to watch the buildings collapse and not be there anymore. Sadness comes to my heart when I think about all the people who lost their lives on that day—a day in which people woke up like any other day, never expecting anything like that to happen.

I think of the first responders who were so brave to head straight into impending danger. I think about the sense of fear and helplessness those on the planes and in the buildings must have felt. I think of the people killed and injured at the Pentagon and the heroism of those on United Flight 93. I think of those who called loved ones from the plane to say “I love you” one last time.

That day America realized it was vulnerable, just as it had 60 years earlier when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We all felt a little less safe after 9/11. It did something to our national psyche. No longer was security of the homeland guaranteed.

But I also think about the incredible unity and brotherhood that took place in the weeks after 9/11. The cathartic power of sports was on clear display when New York Mets player Mike Piazza hit a home run in the first MLB game after the attacks. I remember when members of Congress gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and locked arms and sang “God Bless America.” Those kinds of things brought the country together and gave people hope. I remember how people turned back to God and began to think about the brevity of life and their own mortality. It seemed like revival might break out, but sadly it didn’t last.

It may sound cliché, but as we think back on the events of that day, I hope that we can be spurred to be a little kinder to each other; to seek unity and brotherhood; to love instead of hate; to cherish our families and friends; and to seek God and repent of our wicked ways. Events like 9/11 remind us that life is fragile. Let us come together as one nation under God, pray for revival, and once again love one another. And instead of saying, “God bless America,” which He so clearly has in so many ways, let us pray that America would bless God through repentance and faith, thanksgiving, and loving one another.

Laughter is Good for Your Health

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine:  but a broken spirit drieth the bones.  Proverbs 17:22

There was a time in my life when joy had dried up like a barren wasteland. I was bitter over the way I had been treated by some people who were close to me.  My prayers didn’t seem to be making a difference, and I looked for relief. Where did I find it? In laughter. I found a favorite television show whose reruns came on every night, and those moments of merriment each day got me through those “desert” times.

Many books, like Norman Cousins’, Anatomy of an Illness:  As Perceived by the Patient, have been written on the subject of laughter. The above verse from Proverbs confirms what medical science has recently discovered. A merry (other translations say joyful or cheerful) heart is like a medicine to the body. According to HelpGuide.org, laughter relaxes the body, boosts the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins, protects the heart, burns calories, and helps to diffuse anger.  Now that’s a lot of benefits.

Another asset gained from laughter is that people will likely enjoy your company more if you make them chuckle.  Why was Ronald Reagan liked by people who held different political views from him? He had a great since of humor. He always seemed to be optimistic and have a smile on his face.  If you get a chance, type in “Ronald Reagan jokes” into YouTube and enjoy a few laughs.  People naturally gravitate toward happy people, especially ones who make them laugh.  How many times have you seen a beautiful woman marry a not-so-good-looking guy, and when asked why she married him, she says because he makes me laugh?  Humor is an attractive quality.  No one likes people who take themselves too seriously.  We all need to be able to laugh at ourselves.

The well-known preacher, Chuck Swindoll, has an entire CD on jokes that he has told in his sermons.  I listen to it in my car sometimes, and it always seems to make me smile.  Swindoll said that he wants to be remembered as someone that could laugh and have a good time, not as a long-winded preacher who came down hard on life.  He said that he gets letters from radio listeners who say, “You can quit preaching, but don’t stop laughing because yours is the only laughter that we hear in our house.”

Of course we can’t laugh all the time. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  And in verse 4 it says, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  It also says that, “Sorrow is better than laughter:  for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”  Some things we can’t learn when everything is going well.  Hard times make us examine things and grow in character.  We all know that life isn’t just one big party.  Reality has a way of setting in and cutting those good times short.

A friend of mine once expressed concern about the lack of humor in the Bible.  I pointed him to 1 Samuel 21:15.  David was fleeing from Saul, and he came to Achish, king of Gath. When the king’s servants recognized David, he became afraid and feigned madness and scratched on the doors of the gate and let saliva run down his beard.  Achish’s response was classic, “Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence?  shall this fellow come into my house.”  The NIV’s translation is even funnier, “Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?  Must this man come into my house?” Achish is saying I have enough mad men here.  I don’t need anymore.  It’s subtle, and that’s what makes it so good.

My advice would be to find a way to laugh at least once a day.  Find a clean TV show that makes you laugh out loud. Or maybe it’s a friend that always tells a good joke. It’s easy to let the problems and responsibilities of life make us long-faced. We need to remind ourselves to lighten up once in a while and have a good guffaw.

Well, I can’t write a blog post on laughter without closing with a joke.  Ronald Reagan liked to tell jokes about the Soviet Union.  He said there was a ten-year wait on acquiring an automobile in the old Soviet Union.  And you had to put down the money in advance.  So one day a man went and bought an automobile.  The man at the car place told him to come back in ten years.  So the buyer said, “In the morning or afternoon?” The seller kind of chuckled and said, “What difference does it make?  It’s ten years away.”  To which the buyer responded, “Well, the plumber is coming in the morning.”  Good day.

 

 

Justice or Mercy?

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.” Psalm 118:1

One of my favorite movies is The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel, based, of course, upon the Alexandre Dumas novel by the same name. In the film, Caviezel’s character, Edmond Dantes, is unfairly put into the prison, Chateau d’If, after being betrayed by his best friend Fernand Mondego and his shipmate, Danglars, for transporting a letter from Napoleon off the island of Elba. On the wall of Dantes’ cell is an inscription that reads, “God will grant me justice.” Consumed by revenge, Dantes regularly uses a rock to trace the words to motivate himself during his thirteen year stay in confinement. He eventually meets a fellow prisoner, a priest, who reminds him that vengeance belongs to God. Before dying, the priest tells Dantes of the treasure of Spada and makes him promise to only use it for good, not revenge.

 
Dantes is able to escape due to a combination of providential circumstances and his own ingenuity. He then sets out to find the treasure which the priest had told him about. Once he acquires it, he takes on a new name, the Count of Monte Cristo, and proceeds to exact justice upon all those who betrayed him. In the process of seeking his revenge, he almost loses the love of his life, Mercedes, who had wed Fernand when she was falsely told that Edmond had been executed. She manages to soften his heart and reminds him that he cannot escape God. He repents of his hatred and vengeance and finds a new gratitude to God for all that he has been given. He realizes that the priest was right, and he promises to now use the treasure only for good.

 
Besides being an awesome movie because it’s set near the end of the Napoleonic Era in France and based upon a classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo can teach us multiple life lessons, especially ones concerning revenge and forgiveness. Dantes desperately wants God to grant him justice, but by the end of the story, he realizes that he needs to let go of his hatred. When we think about our lives, do we really want God to grant us justice? Don’t we rather need God to grant us mercy?

 
Thoughts of justice and revenge will lead to a cold heart and a dried-up life. We become obsessed with our hatred and anger. A much better way is to let go of the anger and let God handle our enemies. This attitude frees us up to enjoy the blessings that God has given us. Besides, we are not innocent ourselves. Have we not also done wrong to others? Do we want them focused solely on their desire to get us back for how we have injured them? Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:44 to do four things to our enemies: love them, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. Isn’t that how we want others to treat us as well? Another good reminder is found in the Beatitudes, in Matthew 5:7, where Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

 
So, again, do we really want justice? No, what we should say is, “God, grant us mercy.” And like the above verse from Psalms says, we should be grateful for that mercy. Thank God that He is good and merciful. What a wonderful Savior we serve! Just remember, though, that God will treat you how you treat others. If you go around with a strict and severe measuring stick and a heart void of mercy, that may be how you will be treated as well. And that is a sobering reminder.

Make History Great Again

 

When I was in college, I took classes on the French Revolution and Napoleon. My professor assigned us books to read that would supplement the lectures. One book was on the economic and demographic statistics of France during that period. It was as dry as an old cupboard. I was bored out of my mind, and I had to force myself to read it. The professor also assigned a biography of Horatio Nelson. I breezed right through that book and appreciated the lessons on character that I gleaned from it. I’m currently reading a book on Napoleon from that course that I didn’t get to read while I was taking the class. It’s also a biography, and it’s one of the most interesting and informative books about Napoleon that I’ve read. What is my point?

 
There’s been a change in how history is taught. It seems to me that history used to be much more about teaching through biographies and stories. Kids would soak up the material, which was replete with heroes and traitors, victors and villains. Instead of stories to learn and heroes to emulate, the teaching of history now seems to consist mostly of sterile, scientific analysis of trends and patterns at best, and bashing of Western Civilization and America through a lens of victimhood and oppression at worst.

Let’s discuss the analytical aspect first. The heart and soul has been taken out of history. If you flip through a typical college textbook on American History, you will see very little biographical information and anecdotal stories on traditional figures and even less of detailed description of battles and such. You will find new information on minority rights movements, whether it be by race, gender, or sexuality, and you will also find the emphasis has shifted from personalities to patterns, especially economic ones.

Now we should teach about slavery and the oppression of blacks, because obviously that’s a huge part of American history. The nation fought a Civil War over it, dealt with racism and segregation, and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But what makes all of that so interesting to study is the personalities–people like Abraham Lincoln and MLK Jr.

The problem arises when historians try to paint all the rich, white, male Founders as bad people. Then you change the whole idea of America from a positive to a negative one. Much of the anti-Americanism in historiography today can be attributed to what happened in the sixties. When the Woodstock generation grew up and began to take over instruction on college campuses, a shift took place in how American history was taught. Instead of presenting America as a guardian of liberty, democracy, and the Judeo-Christian tradition, the new history sought to paint the United States as a racist oppressor. Of course, the Neo-Marxists and the Frankfurt School also had a major impact.

But I digress. My main point is not to rail against anti-Americanism, so much as it is to challenge the methods and means by which we teach history. It’s no wonder why many kids don’t want to learn history. They’re bored. They don’t care so much about knowing the economic minutia of the early colonial period or the price of cotton in the Old South, as they do about George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware at night on Christmas and his perseverance in the harsh winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge. They want to hear about the rise of Frederick Douglas from slave to statesman, the determination of the Greatest Generation as they faced the Great Depression and World War II, and the courage of Rosa Parks as she refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” on a bus to a white passenger.

I think we could learn a few things from the emotional sensibilities of that early 19th-century movement in our jaded age. So, I say let’s get back to the heroic lessons on Washington’s character, honor, and integrity as well as the fascinating stories of Napoleon’s adventures and romances, his victories and defeats. Let’s study MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and read again his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Let’s focus more on the personalities which make history come alive. Let’s make history great again. Or at least let’s make it interesting.

What are You Reading?

books-bookstore-book-reading-159711.jpegIf you are like me you may be reading several books at once and going back and forth between them. Currently, I have the following books on my nightstand:  All Quiet on the Western Front, The Count of Monte Cristo, Message in a Bottle, and a book on Napoleon. I would like to know what you are reading. Leave a comment below: