Chicago: Swimming (Outdoors) in March?

It had been another cold winter in the Windy city.  My freshmen year at Moody Bible Institute was winding down.  It had been a good year, full of challenges, new opportunities, and lots of new friends.  One of those new friends was an English bulldog named Gunther.  I didn’t need lots of money while in school – just a few bucks a week to eat out the one meal that food service didn’t provide.  I stumbled across this part time job, 3 hours a week at $6/hour = $18 per week, walking my new friend Gunther.  We would walk north a couple of blocks to Lincoln Park with lots of room for dogs to be dogs and walk and run.  It was fun until Gunther forgot what time of year it was.

March in Chicago is still very wintry.  Piles of snow, dirty streets, frozen ponds and lakes – that’s March in Chicago.  As Gunther and I walked through Lincoln Park, we got to the pond just south of Lincoln Park Zoo.  We would always walk around the pond and enjoy its frozen beauty and even occasionally “ice-skating” on it in January or February.  But March . . . walking on frozen ponds in March in Chicago is a risky proposition but not to my friend Gunther.  We were walking around the pond when Gunther stopped, started sniffing near the edge of the pond, and then proceeded to launch himself onto the ice!  The only problem:  it was March and the ice was thinning and my stupid English bulldog friend Gunther went THROUGH the ice!  I thought I was dead.  I grabbed his choke chain and choked him up through the ice and on to terra firma and yelled at him for his dog-like ways!  He looked at me with this nonplussed expression like I was an idiot for yelling at him for his dog-like ways (I was an idiot – dogs have dog-like ways) and proceeded to shake off all of the water and go about his walk.

He didn’t catch pneumonia; he didn’t die; I just learned my lesson:  when on a walk with my friend Gunther in March near the pond in Lincoln Park Zoo, give him a lot less leash on his choke chain!

Lust – On A Par With Dust

via Daily Prompt: Lust

What prompted whoever comes up with these “Daily Prompts” to pick lust – whatever.

First of all, what is lust?  According to dictionary.com lust is  1. intense sexual desire or appetite. … uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness. 3. a passionate or overmastering desire or craving (usually followed by for): a lust for power.

Let’s focus on the words “uncontrolled” and “overmastering.”  That about sums it up.  Lust controls you.  Lust wants to be your master.  It wants to overpower you.  It is ultimately a deep desire to have, to possess, to control.  That is largely what happens in a rape situation.  The sick, evil rapist wants to have, to possess, to control, to have power over his victim.  He wants to be in control.  The twisted irony:  while he is raping to gain control, his insane lust is firmly in control of him.  He, desiring to be in control, is spiraling out of control.  Is the rapist a victim of his own lust?  No, he has chosen to allow lust to control him.  The lust bucket is culpable for his own actions.

What do you think is one of the primary causes, if not the primary cause, for sex trafficking, prostitution, pornography, sexual abuse, date rape, kidnappings by gangs and terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and ISIL?  It is lust.  The vast majority of these disgusting activities are fueled by lust.  There is a thriving sex-trafficking network throughout the United States of America which is fueled by the lust of your neighbors, friends, coworkers, people in your city, community, county.  How many of those Amber alerts, disappearances, runaways are actually victims of our ruthless American sex-traffickers?  I don’t know but I believe it is a high percentage.  Disgusting, evil, heartless – there is no justification, no excuse, no sense to it.

What is the cure for lust?  L-O-V-E.  Love looks to help a person, not exploit them.  Love sacrifices on behalf of another; it does not seek to sacrifice the other.  Love is expressed ultimately by Jesus:  “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8 HCSB).

Lust or love – would you rather be loved or be victimized by lust?

Perseverance

“The Promise” by Chris Cornell

If I had nothing to my name
But photographs of you
Rescued from the flames
That is all I would ever need
As long as I can read
What’s written on your face
The strength that shines
Behind your eyes
The hope and light
That will never die

And one promise you made
One promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As we’ve always done

And you said
“The poison in a kiss
Is the lie upon the lips”
Truer words were never shared
When I feel
Like lies are all I hear
I pull my memories near
The one thing they can’t take

And one promise you made
One promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As we’ve always done

The books still open on the table
The bells still ringing in the air
The dreams still clinging to the pillow
The songs still singing in a prayer

Now my soul
Is stretching through the roots
To memories of you
Back through time and space
To carry home
The faces and the names
And these photographs of you
Rescued from the flames

And one promise you made
One promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And dare to rise once more
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And fill the world with life
As we’ve always done

“The promise to survive, persevere and thrive and fill the world with life as we’ve always done.”  Chris Cornell, who penned this incredible song just a few months before his untimely death by suicide, was asked to write this for the movie of the same name.  The movie was about relational dynamics that become intense as the Armenian genocide in WWI occurs.  Such senseless slaughter, such disdain of life, such disregard of fellow human beings.  Even in the face of such reckless hatred and evil, make the promise to “survive, persevere and thrive.”
The song fit the movie well I suppose but I suspect it was also largely autobiographical.  I believe it was the desire from the heart of Chris Cornell, the former Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman with enormous talent and enormous demons.  I believe he was trying to convince himself that the promise to survive, persevere and thrive was worth the effort.  Unfortunately, he came to the realization only a few months later that he couldn’t keep his promise to himself, his family, his friends.  He just couldn’t survive, persevere and thrive any more.  Survive, persevere and thrive to what end?  To fame, fortune, adulation, power, whatever you want?  In the end Chris Cornell followed the logic to its bitter end:  life without Jesus, no matter how rich and famous and successful one is, is devoid of meaning and purpose.  Therefore, the only logical choice in such a life that will not bow the knee to Jesus is to extinguish it.  Life without Jesus is hopeless, empty, frightening, utterly filled with despair.  The solution in such a life-less prison of a life:  turn to Jesus in repentance and submission to His will OR end it all.  Why do so many people choose the latter, choose to end it all, one way or another, when freedom from despair, purposelessness, and meaninglessness is only a prayer away?
“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10b HCSB).  Jesus showed up on this earth 2000 plus years ago in order that we, His creations, would have the opportunity to choose life and have it in abundance.  Life to the full – not just survive, not just persevere, but to THRIVE – that is why Jesus came.
Chris Cornell said it rightly:  we are on this earth to survive, persevere and thrive.  Unfortunately, he ended his life before he plugged in to the only power source capable of enabling ultimate survival, perseverance, and thriving in this life and in the life to come:
                               JESUS CHRIST
Ultimately, we can’t rely on any human promises.  We are all weak, we all fail at one time or another.  It’s not for us to rely on our promises; it is for us to rely on the promises that will never fail, the promises of God, e.g. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b NIV).

Pushed To The Breaking Point

“However, a man does not exist who does not fall short of total consistency.  Each non-Christian holds to a mixed world view.  It is impossible to live inside his system logically, so he borrows liberally from gospel capital, on his own terms, of course.  He loves what the gospel can give him (rationality, significance, pardon, identity), but will not part with his autonomy and hence must steal from the Christian system to survive.  The more consistent he is with himself, the closer he draws to the breaking point.  Having first discarded God, he tends to jettison anything which smacks of association with God, which, as he finds in the end, is everything worth having.  Therefore, he stalls his engine on the line of despair in the attempt to avoid either distasteful termination, salvation under God or despair in a naturalistic prison house” (Clark Pinnock, “Set Forth Your Case,” 50-51).

It would seem that there are many people whose engines are stalled “on the line of despair” these days.  How many of us, after realizing that life lived under our own standards is empty, attempt to stall our engines to keep from crossing over the breaking point?  Keith Emerson, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence, Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, Junior Seau, Andre Waters – they all reached the breaking point after trying to keep their engines stalled.  They determined that they could no longer avoid “distasteful termination,” a.k.a. suicide.

“The good news [the gospel] calls man back to the living God, the fountain of all rationality, love, significance, morality and freedom.  It urges him to forsake his rebellion which only yields him irrationality, absurdity, silence and despair, and to accept the Christian set of presuppositions within which life is possible.  There is a danger implicit here.  If you take away man’s lie, you may be taking away his hope.  So the Christian witness needs to act gently and in love, lest the person he seeks to win should bolt to the point of total breakdown.  Unmasking the natural man is the dark side of apologetics, but a needful part.  The mask must first come off if man is to see himself as he is” (Pinnock, “Set Forth Your Case, 52).

This begs the question:  how is the natural person going to get their mask off?  Is there an instruction manual, a “how to” guide to unmasking oneself or does the natural person need help from someone who is already unmasked?  If they need help from an “unmasked” person, where are these “unmasked” people and what will it take to get them to proactively help in unmasking those in their circle of influence, i.e. their family, friends, and acquaintances?

When Told To Shut Up, Just Say NO!

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.  And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men.  For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.  So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”  They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.  So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (emphases mine). – Acts 5:34-42 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts5:34-42&version=NASB

In the face of hostile threats, “they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”  In the face of ridicule, slander, lies, character assassination, being “stabbed in the back” – are you and I willing to suffer shame for the name of Jesus?  

“that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11 NASB).

Angst, Pain . . . Death? Step Up To The Plate

“I hope there is a lesson that can be learned in the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. We need to support our artists to be healthy and loved even when they evolve out of the sadness that inspired our favorite songs. Depending on pain to create is a dangerous road to travel. I can’t help but wonder about the sonic and vocal brilliance we will, now, never get from Chester Bennington.
Long live a god of rock” (Clay Kane, CNN online).
We are so messed up on multiple fronts.  The fans of superstars like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington hold them up to be superhuman, evolved superbeings who can sing about pain and sadness and the crud of life but they are okay because they are famous and rich.  How many more suicides stemming from the emptiness of fame and fortune do we have to endure before we wake up?  Our “heroes” are weak human beings just like the rest of us non-famous, non-wealthy humans.
Idolization, i.e. making something/someone who is created to be the Creator:  “Long live a god of rock.”  It is perhaps a cathartic statement but it is utterly nonsensical in reality.  As the Shema states, “Hear, O Israel!  The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4).  There are no gods of rock.  There are very talented musicians who have the courage to sing about life and its pitfalls but who don’t have any answers to help fill the void of emptiness in their own lives.  Hence:  suicide.
Are there any answers to be found?  Is life truly hopeless?  Does “life in the fast lane” have to inevitably “surely make you lose your mind” or is their hope in this life?  Are there real, tangible, life-changing answers to the angst, the pain . . . death?
I guarantee you one thing:  Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington were searching for something to live for.  They were under no illusion.  Life is pain and you can live in denial about it or sing/scream out loud about it.  “Nail in my hand, from my Redeemer, you gave me life, now show me how to live” (“Show Me How To Live,” Audioslave, Chris Cornell lead vocals).   For years Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Dave Grohl, Jerry Cantrell, and many more have been searching for answers to life’s most perplexing questions.  Some, like Kerry Livgren (Kansas), have searched and found the answers.  Where are those answers, who has them, and who is willing to share those answers with the countless millions who are searching for them?
” ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?  As it is written:  ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ ” (Romans 10:13-15, NIV).
Is there anyone out there with beautiful feet bringing the good news to the Chris Cornells and Chester Benningtons?  Are there any Christians out there who knew Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington and who shared the good news, the gospel, with them?  ANYONE?  Did P.O.D., who did shows together with Linkin Park, bring their beautiful feet and share the gospel with the members of Linkin Park?  I hope so.  Are there any other Christian music groups who have ties to non-Christian music groups who are using those ties to reach their “Jerusalem?”
What about the rest of us?  How many countless million non-famous people also struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide just like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington?  Why do you think Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Linkin Park sold so many millions of albums?  People like what they can relate to.  Your friends, your family, your business associates, your neighbors are all struggling with something to some degree or another.  Look past the facade, the pretty smile, the “I’m doing great!” lie.  Deep down, people want answers.
Hey Christians, it’s the bottom of the ninth with 2 outs and the bases are loaded.  Your turn to step up to the plate and pound the gospel out of the park and into your family, friends, coworkers – a.k.a. your neighbors.  You won’t have to “hit the ball” real hard because the Holy Spirit is your power source.  Just . . .
step up to the plate and swing

Fear, Weakness, Griplessness 

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=Isaiah%2041%3A10&version=HCSB

Is there anyone out there who is afraid?  Is there anyone out there weak and powerless?  Is there anyone out there whose grip is slipping and who is ready to give up and let go?

Been there.  Sometimes in life you get broadsided, you get blindsided, you get pounded.  If this happens consistently over a period of time, it can become discouraging, debilitating, paralyzing.  The temptation is to give up and let go. 

I am reminded of the story of JFK when his PT boat in WWII was sunk and the survivors had to swim for their lives.  Many were badly burned. It was Kennedy, the PT boat commander, who kept the men swimming, in enemy controlled waters, until they reached land.  Eventually they were rescued.  The temptation, especially for those badly injured, was to give up.  Hadn’t they given enough?  Hadn’t they served their country?  Why couldn’t they just slip beneath the waters?  Their leader, their commander would not allow them to quit.  He kept leading them on till they were back on terra firma.

What about when the PT boat of your life gets rammed by your enemy, your badly injured, and you have to swim in enemy controlled waters just to survive?  Do you have the strength to make it through on your own?

God wants to be your leader, your commanding officer.  He wants to help you through the dark and dangerous waters.  He wants to hold on to you when you’re afraid.  He wants to give you the strength to make it successfully through the deep, dark challenges of life.  

He’s been there.  God the Son, Jesus, was rejected by His earthly family, rejected by His friends, rejected by His fellow Jews, rejected by the Romans.  He was mocked, tortured, and absolutely the lowest point – He was rejected by His Father, God the Father.  He was utterly alone.

Then Sunday came.  He rose from the dead.  He defeated death.  He defeated Satan.  He defeated hopelessness, powerlessness, fear.  His grip is strong because He is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He reigns right now and will reign forevermore.

Are you afraid, helpless, ready to let go of your grip?  Turn to Jesus.  Surrender to Him.  He alone has the power, the authority, the scars to lead you where you need to go.