Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Obedience’ Category

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 7.16.20 PM

 

One night recently, my wife Diana and I returned from a long trip and took the Flyaway bus from the LAX airport to our home in one of Los Angeles’ suburbs. The bus was about a third full when we boarded, but quickly filled up as additional passengers came on at other stops around the airport.

I soon became aware of the conversation between a man and a young woman in the seats across from ours. Since the aisle was very narrow and the man was less than three feet away from me, I could follow snatches of their conversation, even though they were speaking softly. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, with an East European accent, she in her late teens or early twenties.Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 7.26.03 PM

At first the conversation reflected that of two people meeting for the first time, he asking her questions about where she was from, her reason for coming to Los Angeles, her name, family life, likes and dislikes. She was from South America, visiting the USA for the first time, traveling alone, and contemplating attending college here.

He complemented her on her beauty, said that he was a photographer who had been responsible for giving many models and actresses their start in Hollywood, showed her his iPad photo portfolio of glamorous young women, and started pitching her on how he could do the same for her.

I glanced across at them and saw how smoothly and charmingly he was making his pitch, and how innocently and engrossed she was in what he was offering.

I suddenly became very concerned for her.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 8.11.37 PMOver the years there had been many criminal cases of girls and young women coming to Los Angeles to seek their fame and fortune, only to vanish, be murdered, drugged, enslaved, and forced into prostitution here or abroad by sex traffickers. Many of them were met and befriended at train and bus terminals or at airports by smooth-talking men who convincingly weaved their webs of promises and visions of glamor, only to entrap and ultimately destroy them.

Was he one of those men? Was she one of those gullible young women? Had he targeted her as a lone traveler outside the airport? Why had he chosen to sit down beside her when there were so many empty seats when he came on the bus? Were those photos on his iPad legitimate photos that he had taken of real women, or were they copied from websites and magazines and used as his own to ensnare women?

Were my questions and concerns baseless, just wild imaginings from my jet-lagged mind? Or were they promptings from the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of discernment and leads us into all truth? (1 Cor. 12:8-11; John 16:13)

I shared my concern with Diana, and together we kept watch through the remainder of the bus ride. Our concern grew when we saw them exchange cell phone numbers.

When we were about five minutes from the bus terminal, the bus driver announced over the intercom that passengers needed to have their bus tickets ready in order to pick up their suitcases and exit the terminal. If they didn’t have a ticket, they could use their credit cards to buy one at the terminal. Cash would not be accepted.

The young woman exclaimed, “Oh no, I only have cash!”

He assured her, “That’s all right. I’ll pay for you.”

She thanked him, and he went on to offer to give her a ride to anywhere she wanted to go.

Their conversation tapered off soon after that, and I looked over at him and saw something that startled me and deepened my concern even more—his eyes were closed, his head was tilted back against the headrest of his chair, and he sighed deeply and smiled as he gently stroked his chest, as if congratulating himself.

The image was of a man who knew that he was about to reel in his catch, that his prey was undoubtedly about to be snared. He exuded total confidence that he had caught this one.

No longer was I unsure about this man. I believed that he meant to harm her. But what was I to do?

I did not want to leave the bus terminal and leave her with this man, and I didn’t relish the idea of confronting him when we got off the bus to reclaim our luggage, but if I had to, I would. But what would I say? How would he react? No doubt, it would create a scene in front of the other passengers, bus driver, and baggage attendant.

So I prayed. I asked God to surround the young woman with his protection and to keep her from being harmed by this man. I asked God to give me the boldness and the words to intervene when we got off the bus. And I asked God to protect me from harm in what I was about to do.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 9.51.10 PMWhen the bus arrived at the terminal, we all disembarked to wait for the attendant to unload our suitcases from the bus. I was about to approach the man when the young woman saw a friend waving to her from behind the railing. In the friend’s hand was a bus ticket!

The young woman ran to the friend, hugged her, took the ticket, and went back to get her luggage.

I quickly went over to the friend and said, “Excuse me, your friend met a man on the bus, and I couldn’t help overhearing what they were talking about. Please tell her that she should not trust him and should not go anywhere with him. If she does, her life could be in danger. She should have nothing to do with him!”

The friend’s expression was one of surprise when I suddenly approached her, but as my words and urgent tone sank in, her expression brightened and she thanked me profusely.

Just as quickly, I stepped back and returned to Diana who had been watching the man hover around the young woman as she waited for her suitcase. Our luggage was the last to be unloaded from the bus, and by the time Diana and I gave our tickets to the gate attendant and headed for the taxi stand, the young woman and her friend were gone.

The man, however, was frantically trying to get his credit card to work at the automatic teller machine, which seemingly wasn’t cooperating.

During the short taxi ride to our home, I silently praised and thanked God for how quickly he answered my prayer and averted the young traveler from having to go with the man into the night. And I prayed that she would heed the warnings I gave to her friend, especially when the man undoubtedly would try to reach her on her cell phone.

Since then, I’ve continued to pray for God’s protection over her and that she might come to know Jesus Christ as her savior. And I’ve prayed that the man, whatever his intentions that night, would also repent of his sins and follow Christ.

I might never know if her life was in danger that night, but over the years, as I have grown in my faith walk with Christ, I’ve learned to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, for sometimes it really can mean the difference between life and death.

****

Read Full Post »

While Scripture passages such as Romans 8:31-39 assure us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is always the temptation for us to accept God’s eternal salvation in which our sins are forgiven and we are assured a place in heaven, yet be reluctant to go deeper in our walk with Jesus because he might demand too much of us in this life.

We enjoy the benefits of our Christian faith and participate occasionally in church events—Sunday services, Easter and Christmas celebrations, weddings, baptisms, funerals or memorials—but often avoid commitments that demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Unwilling to move out of our comfort zone, we give minimally of our time, our resources, and ourselves to God, the church, and to others, leaving the bulk of God’s Kingdom work to the very few dedicated souls among us.

To all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, he says, as he did to his disciples:

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49; see also Matt. 7:24-27)

Jesus is not comparing Christians and unbelievers, but two types of Christians—those who listen to his teachings and obey them, and those who listen to his teachings but do not obey them.

What we do with the words of Jesus—especially his Sermon on the Mount teachings about the characteristics of being his disciples (Matthew 5-7)—determines how we respond to life’s hurricanes of crises:

• Obedience to Christ’s teachings creates a strong foundation that will withstand life’s crises.

• Disobedience to Christ’s teachings inevitably leads to major collapses amid life’s crises.

While life’s storms and hurricanes are sure to strike every one of us at some time or another, obedience leads to protection in the midst of these crises. Disobedience doesn’t.

When we read Matthew 5-7 and understand what Jesus teaches and what he calls us to become and to do as his followers, we soon realize that he is calling us to be a unique people whose values are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems.

For example:

• Jesus calls us to both care for people who are poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, and be willing ourselves to be poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, for to such belong the kingdom of God. However, those who are not poor in spirit—the proud, the self-assured, the powerful, the arrogant—are not in God’s kingdom.

• Jesus blesses those who are gentle, meek, and lowly. But the world rejects such qualities as weakness, and places no value on such people.

• Jesus teaches us to seek God’s praise. The world teaches to seek its praise.

• Jesus calls us to seek the Father’s eternal treasures. The world entices us with money, fame, and earthly success that soon fade.

• Jesus calls us to purity of heart and truth. The world persecutes the pure of heart and opposes the truth.

How seriously do we consider such teachings of Jesus? Do we see them as impractical in today’s fast-paced, complex, and sophisticated world? Do we see them as unrealistic? Irrelevant? Too hard?

Or do we, like Peter, consider Jesus’ teachings and respond, “Lord, you alone have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Yes, through the love, grace, and mercy of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, we have eternal life—now and forever. And yes, we have Jesus’ assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28).

But we must never forget that not only do the words of Jesus give eternal life, they also contain many warnings to those of us who are prone to ignore them.

There is grace in “once saved always saved,” but there is also the caveat: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

The Christian journey, therefore, involves the duality of living with both certainty and caution; assurance of eternal salvation and warnings; balancing God’s gift of grace with our individual responsibility to live obediently in response to that grace.

This duality is expressed beautifully by the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes:

“Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”

May we embrace the duality of following Jesus as today’s disciples—assured of our salvation but always careful to live obediently with deep reverence and fear.

Read Full Post »

On a recent ocean voyage in the Pacific, I had the pleasure of daily observing schools of playful dolphins that accompanied our ship, and, on one occasion, we ventured close to a pod of whales.

The sight of the whales reminded me of the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet, who tried to run away from the mission to which God had called him, but was swallowed by a “great fish,” presumably a whale.

So I decided to reread the book of Jonah, and as I meditated on the story, I was confronted by the following considerations and insights.

The first was that, whereas I had always accepted the traditional interpretation that Jonah was alive in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, a comparison of Jonah 1:17 and Matthew 12:40 led me to consider the possibility that Jonah died in the belly of the fish but was resurrected after the fish vomited him out onto the beach!

When the religious teachers and Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a miraculous sign to prove that he was from God, he replied:

“Only an evil, faithless generation would ask for a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so I, the Son of Man, will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” (Matthew 12:39-40, New Living Translation, NLT)

Since Jesus was predicting his own resurrection from death to life after being in the grave for three days, was he implying that Jonah, too, was dead for three days and was brought back to life?

And what about Jonah’s own words that seem to imply an experience of death and resurrection?

“I called to you from the world of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!” (Jonah 2: 2b, NLT)

“I was locked out of life and imprisoned in the land of the dead. But you, O Lord my God, have snatched me from the yawning jaws of death!” (2: 6b, NLT)

The language of Jonah 1:17 – 2:10 is ambiguous in the sense that it could be interpreted either way—that the prophet was alive in the belly of the fish, or that he died in the belly of the fish and God restored him to life when the fish vomited him onto the shore.

Because Jesus likened Jonah’s experience to his own death and resurrection, I am inclined to accept the latter interpretation.

Second, I was reminded that God’s grace and salvation was—and is—offered to all people throughout the world, yet it was a concept that Jonah and the people of Israel found difficult to accept because of their belief that God’s salvation was reserved only for them as God’s special nation.

So when God called Jonah to take his message of repentance and salvation to Israel’s powerful pagan enemy, Nineveh, Jonah was so angry that God would offer grace and mercy to such a vicious and hateful people that he disobeyed God. Instead of journeying northeast to Nineveh to deliver God’s message, he headed down to the seaport of Joppa and boarded a ship heading west to Tarshish, presumably in or near Spain or Sardinia.

And as the familiar story goes, God sent a life-threatening storm that abated only after Jonah revealed to the ship’s crew that he was running away from God, and they followed his suggestion to throw him overboard to appease God and end the storm.

Jonah’s confession to the pagan crew (Jonah 1: 9-10), his description of the Lord as “the God of heaven, who made the sea and land,” and God’s powerful demonstration of immediately stopping the storm combined to cause the crew to turn from their pagan faith, pray for forgiveness, offer sacrifice, and commit to following and serving the living and powerful God of Israel.

Not only did Jonah’s act of running away from God inadvertently lead the pagan crew to receive God’s grace and salvation, but when Jonah finally reached the outskirts of the city of Nineveh and shouted, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” he was amazed at the people’s immediate willingness to believe God, repent, fast, and wear sackcloth in mourning.

Waves of populace repentance radiated and surged inward from the suburbs and throughout the city that by the time Jonah reached the center of the city three days later, he found that even the king and his royal household and nobles had repented and had joined the rest of the city to wait out the forty-day period in the hope that God would spare them.

When God saw that they had stopped their evil ways, he had mercy on them and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3: 10).

Thankfully, God’s mercy and message of salvation continues today, and we are the beneficiaries of his grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through the witness of countless numbers of faithful servants throughout the ages who have faithfully answered Christ’s commission to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere (Matthew 28: 19; Mark 16:15).

Third, in looking at Jonah, we see some of his flaws and characteristics in ourselves. For haven’t we been reluctant to do something that we knew that God wanted us to do?

Haven’t we, at some time, been willfully disobedient in doing something that we knew that God wanted us to do?

Haven’t we been angry and raged at God when we didn’t get what we wanted, when he didn’t answer our prayers the way we expected, or when we felt that he failed us?

Haven’t we been jealous when God showed favor to someone other than ourselves, when we felt that we deserved God’s blessings instead of that other person or group?

Haven’t we been biased and prejudiced towards another person, family, group, race, nation, religion, denomination, school, college, or political party, thinking that we are better than they are, that we are God’s chosen, and that we are right and they are wrong? And haven’t we failed to recognize Jesus among them?

In Jonah 4, we see the fickleness, self-pity, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and argumentative moods of Jonah as he waited outside the city, expecting to see the destruction of the city and people; we see his immaturity as he lashed out at God after losing his plant shade, and we sense that despite the fact that he finally fulfilled his mission and had been given a second chance at life and ministry, yet he hadn’t learned his lesson and he hadn’t grown in his spiritual journey!

Have we matured and grown spiritually?

The book of Jonah ends in the following way (Jonah 4: 9-11, NLT):

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even enough to die!”

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a city?”

In the same way, the Lord says to us, “There are nearly seven billion people on earth today. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such people?”

Let us not be reluctant when God calls us to minister to any of them.

###

Read Full Post »

Having spent the last four weeks polishing the final draft of my memoir before sending it back to the publisher, I decided to watch the DVD of “The Hiding Place,” directed by my late friend and mentor, James F. Collier, whom I mention in the memoir.

Jim, as he was affectionately called, had the kind of Christian film career to which, I believe, God had called me. Jim had directed a string of successful feature films for Billy Graham’s Worldwide Pictures, that were instrumental in inspiring and leading many people to Christ.

Hearing my testimony of how I became a Christian through a movie, “Angel in Ebony,” and how I left my career as a pastor to become a Christian filmmaker, Jim took me under his wings when I was a graduate film student at UCLA, and was always available to critique my scripts, advise me, and encourage me as a young filmmaker.

I tried for several years to find investors for one of my films, and when an investor finally promised to put up $1.5 million to make the film, it was largely due to Jim’s help and presence during my presentation.

But when the deal eventually fell through, I was so deeply disappointed and depressed, that I questioned my calling and considered quitting filmmaking.

It was at this low point in my life that God used Jim to bring a special word of encouragement to me. Though I don’t have Jim’s exact words recorded, his advice went something along these lines:

“My brother,” he said (he always called me brother), “one of the things that I have observed in life and in reading the Bible, is that God doesn’t always call us to be successful in the way the world views success, but he always calls us to be obedient. As a follower of Christ, you are successful when you are obedient to him. And in that obedience, you’ll have to wait on his timing for things to happen, not your time schedule; and in learning to wait and trust in God’s timing, you’ll learn patience.

“Don’t despair when God seems slow in acting. Just continue to obey him in your daily life. Be patient, and wait for him to act in his perfect timing, for he knows best. You might have to go through some tough times, but stay the course, be faithful, and trust him.

“Moses had to wait forty years tending sheep in the desert before God called him to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. And David had to wait twenty-three years after God anointed him as king before he became king over all of Israel, and some of those years were spent as a fugitive, hiding in caves from Saul who wanted to kill him.

“So, my brother, wait, be patient, be prepared for a long journey, and above all, trust and obey the Lord through whatever difficulties he might lead you.”

Jim’s words of advice and encouragement have remained with me.

In May 1991, I received news that Jim had died at the age of sixty-two. He and his wife, Jean, had moved up to their ranch in Creston, north east of San Francisco, and while he was checking his property one night, fell down an embankment where he was severely injured. He lingered in the hospital for a few days, but died within a week.

I was greatly saddened by his death, and remembered clearly our meeting at which he gave me such encouragement when I was at one of my lowest points of my life: Wait. Be patient. Be prepared for the long journey. Trust and obey Christ as he leads through the difficulties of the long journey.

That message can also be found in Jim’s movie, “The Hiding Place,” the true story of Corrie ten Boom, who survived the Nazi concentration camps after her entire family was killed for hiding Jews in their home in Holland.

I encourage you to get a copy of the DVD and watch this very inspirational film. Or you can click the links below and watch it on your computer in the following order:

Trailer: watch?v=YWg47sLwlHk&feature=related

Clip 1: watch?v=hhVC9q_ZlDs&feature=related

Clip 2:watch?v=yRgD4z8F3rA&feature=related

Clip 3: watch?v=XoFwNeiAm04&feature=related

Clip 4: watch?v=rNG-L7wIibA&feature=related

Clip 5: watch?v=d-FYG-nTGx8&feature=related

Clip 6: watch?v=SJopT76slTw&feature=related

Clip 7: watch?v=VyXe4txpt9I&feature=related

Clip 8: watch?v=yKbIpfW3fa8&feature=related

Clip 9: watch?v=Qm_ruUyXThA&feature=related

Clip 10: watch?v=wHc_jmRXsMU&feature=related

Clip 11: watch?v=-EN3MlRBGHM&feature=related

Clip 12: watch?v=uj6M-AxQATA&feature=related

Clip 13:watch?v=xjRCuXoZUrA&feature=related

Clip 14:watch?v=aKHRVl5QMa4&feature=related

Clip 15:watch?v=kXYV435Fe3U&feature=related

Read Full Post »

Some years ago when my son, Chris, was around seven years old, I was preparing the charcoal barbecue grill in our backyard when a white-hot coal brisket fell off the grill and onto the ground. Chris was nearby and immediately bent down to pick up the lump of coal with his fingers.

“Stop!” I shouted, “Don’t pick it up!”

But he continued his downward movement and picked up the coal.

There was a one- or two-second delay before he dropped the searing coal and let out an ear-piercing scream as he flailed his hand in an effort to cool his fingers, followed by him sobbing and writhing in agony.

I quickly dipped his hand in the cool water of the swimming pool and had him keep it there until I got him some first aid out of the house and applied it to his palm. After his sobbing subsided, I told him how important it was to obey warning commands immediately, for ignoring those commands could lead to painful accidents or even death.

My words to him were not some simple platitude, for uppermost in my mind was an incident that I experienced when he was a toddler that could have robbed him of a father.

One morning in 1980 I was driving west on Riverside Drive in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley when I stopped for the red traffic light at the intersection with Cahuenga Boulevard. As the lights turned green, I was about to proceed through the intersection when I heard a clear, sharp voice in my head saying, “Stop!”

It was such a strong, startling command that I obeyed instantly and kept my foot on the brake.

Seconds later a car ignored the red light and zoomed through the intersection from my left and continued north, leaving me gasping with the realization that, had I moved into the intersection with the green light, the car would have plowed into the driver side of my little Datsun car and I could have been killed.

So clear and strong was the voice in my head, I was certain that the Holy Spirit had spoken to me in that instant! Had I ignored that voice and that warning, Chris might have
been orphaned that day.

Although I’ve never heard that voice again in that manner, I continue to be conscious of the different ways God speaks to us through his Scripture, through his people, and through our conscience.

And very often, God’s message to us through our conscience is, “Stop!”

Romans 1:18-20 tells us that all people have an inner sense of what God requires, for the truth about God is known to us instinctively.

Our conscience tells us to stop, back away, and even flee when we find ourselves being attracted to some temptation that we know would be enjoyable in the short term but destructive in the long term.

Sometimes we try to shut our ears to the “Stop!” messages of our conscience, and we struggle within ourselves between what we desire and what we know God wants for us.

Sometimes our “Stop!” messages involve our relationships with others, especially if we are considering a marriage or business partnership. 2 Corinthians 6:14 tells us, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” As Christians we should not team up with unbelievers in partnerships because it might weaken our Christian commitment, standards, and integrity, and it could prove disastrous.

And sometimes God uses our family, our friends, and our church brothers and sisters to tell us, “Stop!” Stop traveling the path we might be on…the drugs…the drinking…the pornography…the unhealthy eating habit…the violence…the overworking…the out-of-control spending…the idleness…the lying…the promiscuity…the cheating…the gossiping…the hate…the vindictiveness….

A “Stop!” from God is always for our good and in our best interest, and to ignore it is to put ourselves in danger of detrimental consequences. Sometimes the consequence is immediate, sometimes it is long range, and sometimes it is eternal.

Nowhere is this clearer than in our relationship with God. If we have been running away from him, he continues to call to us to stop, repent, and commit our lives to him. If we insist on closing our ears to his voice, eventually we’ll become deaf to his call and our separation from him will be eternal.

That is why the Scripture says of God,

Today you must listen to his voice.
Don’t harden your hearts against him
as Israel did when they rebelled,
when they tested God’s patience in the wilderness.
(Hebrew 3:7-8, New Living Translation)

Today is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2, NLT)

I’m thankful that I did listen to his voice that day in Toluca Lake, for Chris, who is about to turn 32, is a constant reminder of how different life could have been for us had I ignored that “Stop!”

********

Chris, at age 8

Chris and me recently

Clicky

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: