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13_Hours_posterA lot of anticipation preceded this film. Its public announcement both in the news and through trailers stirred a massive amount of interest. But, I wondered, “Would the film live up to anyone’s expectations?”

It is a very good movie well worth seeing. But, prepare yourself.  This true story will affect you deeply.

On the 11th Anniversary of the unprovoked attack on the United States’ World Trade Center and Pentagon, hostile forces attacked the US diplomatic center and CIA “Annex” compound. A small band of 6 CIA contractors made up of former Navy SeALS, Marines and Army Rangers take the initiative and do all they can to defend the Americans who are in the crosshairs of the terrorists. These 6 faced overwhelming odds yet managed to fend off the waves of attacks.

A historical fact that left me mystified at the outset of the story is that the USA has over 200 diplomatic outposts of one nature or another around the world. Of those there are around a dozen that are classified as severely hostile and dangerous. The two most dangerous are both in Libya: Tripoli and Benghazi.

Every other country had pulled its diplomatic teams out of Benghazi.  The USA was the only country with a remaining contingency.  It was a city torn by military factions and violent extremists yet its two sites were woefully under-protected.

When the US Ambassador to Libya came to town, he had a protective team of a mere two US combatants.  The compound was primarily protected by local police and native personnel who ran away as soon as the attacks began.  No one trusted these local hirelings so there was no surprise when they betrayed their clients and ran for their lives.

As the story developed, the dangers of a planned attack showed heroism in action.  No help was forthcoming but the few did not hesitate to put their lives in harms way to protect those who were in danger.  Even in the face of administrative fear and hesitation, the 6 fought off wave after wave of terrorist combatants.

Respect for the courage of the few Americans skyrocketed.  Sadness sank into fearful desperation when the US government failed to send in the resources necessary to render necessary aid to the brave 6.  Those two words make up my summary of how this story affected me: respect and sadness.

photo credit: film promotion release poster

 

 

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Every news media outlet was buzzing over the release of the movie “American Sniper”.  Some touted it as a fantastic portrayal of patriotism, liberty and American pride.  Others vehemently condemned it as an exploitation of war or a misrepresentation of snipers as heroes when in the warped opinion of the critic they were in fact cowards. A few even claimed it was of such poor cinema quality that it did not deserve any attention at all.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the animated negative opinions.  Now, I believe that in a nation that protects the freedom of speech, these critics have a right to their opinion.  What was stunning to me was that these vicious views would be directed to oppose such self-sacrificial lives.

I was reading the book when the movie debuted.  Through each chapter I was tracking with Chris Kyle’s life, moments of maturing, struggles with family and horrific episodes in the battlefield.  War was not glorified but devotion, commitment, family and country were.

Clint Eastwood directed the film.  I thought that he captured so many moments of fear, frustration, courage, conflict, joy, encouragement and family.  In a matter of seconds Eastwood told the story of many pages with a single take in the film.

Despite the critics I learned about a man whose sacrifice and skill keeps my liberty safe.  My life has been protected by Kyle’s service.  I for one am very grateful to him and to his family.

I am left wondering how a movie theater in the second week of its release is so full.  If there are pundits out there who insist that we believe and adopt their negative and critical spirit, then why are so many turning away from their stinging words and going to see the movie?  In my mind there are many Americans who love this country and lift up the military with respect and appreciation.

It was not just  the courageous deeds of Chris Kyle on the battlefield.  His wife Taya sacrificed too.  Her steady care for their family during Chris’ deployments were a testament to the family courage.

She was there to help Chris find a way to let go of the war.  It had so captured him that the commitment to let it go and really return home was a much a part of the message of the book and film as was his faithful service.

I heard Taya’s moving words at Chris’ memorial service.  They touched  me as did the movie.  Thank you to the Kyle family for your service and sacrifice.  God bless you and God bless the USA.

Joshua 12-14
Part 5 of 6

Caleb’s example is amazing for all who follow the LORD.  He was perfectly content with God’s sovereign distribution to him.  There was no hint of whining.

Instead a courageous man sees the blessing of the gift and the challenge to secure the gift that was given to him.  Caleb went about making God’s distribution his and then expanded it.  God’s pattern for many is similar: gladly accept what God has given, then maximize that potential in a life of service.

Surround yourself with others who have the same godly perspective.  When they follow your lead and act as stewards of God’s provisions, they too will be a part of a growing ministry.  Then, be sure and reward those who serve alongside of you.  This will seal their loyalty.

God never sets up a pattern of entitlement for people.  At least not while on this earth.  Our eternal reward is in the future.

On earth it is a matter of living faithfully according to His instructions.  Our obedience and mutual loyalty are the functions in daily living.  Whining is never an option.  Fussing and comparing with others is not a part of obedient living?

More later…

IMG_3454Our modern air-conditioned bus with luxury seats climbed the road leading to the top of Mt. Carmel.  This was the site of one of the great Old Testament accounts between the prophet Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah.

The gauntlet was thrown.  This would be a showdown to decide who the true God was.  He must show up at the offering of the sacrifice and must do so by fire.

The prophets of Baal and Asherah had their turn first.  They built their alter, sacrificed their bull and called on their deities to respond with fire.  Their worshipful pleas started in the morning and continued through noon.  However, their gods were silent.

Elijah took liberties to urge them to call louder in case their gods were on a long journey or otherwise preoccupied.  Yes, the prophet of the One True God was taunting them.  They exhausted themselves well into the evening.

Israel 2014 IFL 043Finally, Elijah’s turn came.  To make a point he called for his sacrifice to be drenched with water.  He had this done three times.

There is no water source on the top of Mt. Carmel. If his helpers had to go down into the Jezreel Valley to retrieve enough water for this soaking, that alone was a major undertaking.  But, it did not matter.

After a simple prayer that emphasized God’s glory and honor, God answered with fire.  From heaven this flame came.  It consumed the sacrifice, the altar and the water.  It was immediate and complete.

That great encounter took place right where we were standing.  It was a stirring moment to consider that this one of a kind event took place right where we were gathered.  A light wind rustled the leaves and whistled quietly through the rocks.

Israel 2014 IFL 047Each of us had a few moments to sit at the edge of the mountain top and consider our faith in the One True God.  No doubt we all wondered how we would have responded if we were the single representative of God while facing hundreds of prophets who were followers of a false god.  It was not a matter of truth or falsehood but how courageous would we be when surrounded by hundreds of others who opposed to us.

Truthfully, the reality is that one plus God always equals a majority.  However, the emotional confidence to hold strong against the hostile cacophony by others is a formidable challenge.    Always stand with truth no matter how loud or how large the opposition.

photo credit: brucefong photography and cellphone photography

“Commendable Faith”
1 Thessalonians 2.13-16

The contemporary issues that swirl through every current news report do not merely test the fringes of decency.  Instead, they barge right into the middle of moral and spiritual benchmarks and declare a new definition to the basics of life.  It is unsettling to most in our country.

Conversations that address these modern-day redefinitions are not friendly.  Relativism permeates the discussions.  In particular when historical values are jettisoned in the name of evolutionary thinking, common sense citizens are deeply puzzled.

A priori truths are choices that have been made in the past with the acceptance that they would never have to be made again.  This is like a foundation for a building.  Once it is laid, it will not be changed or adjusted.  It is locked in place.

Matters of our faith and morality are like these. They are not open for adjustment when someone decides that they want to change what is wrong and declare that it is now acceptable behavior.  God made the rules.  The pot still may not tell the potter what to do.

There was another time in human history when the flurry of contemporary opinion attempted to sway the moral and spiritual moorings of truth.  The Apostle Paul in the aftermath of Jesus’ betrayal, humiliation and crucifixion sensed the popular attempt to get rid of His followers.  However, there was a church at Thessalonica that was resilient in their faith.

Courage to hold to their faith became their reputation that spread throughout the world.  When the gospel of Jesus Christ was brought to them they recognized it as truth and received it.  They discerned that while preachers spoke this good news, the message was not from men.  Rather, they saw that it was the word of God.

This was not a decision that was easy or comfortable.  In fact as a result of their faith in the gospel they suffered persecution.  Paul likened their painful experience to the Jesus followers in Judea who suffered at the hands of the Jews.

Faith is not necessarily proven through the crucible of painful trial but it certainly is not stranger to it.  History has proven this.  Furthermore, the Lord Himself experienced this same violent reaction

Paul is the author of the difficult words laying culpability at the feet of the Jews.  They did kill Jesus.  However, Paul is not being ethnically negative here.  It was not a matter of a people or nation that the Apostle is finding offensive.  It was the rejection of the gospel that he feels so deeply burdened.

No one can deny that Jesus was crucified.  Those who were responsible for His arrest, trial and execution are a historical fact.  Nevertheless, the heart of the story is the rejection of God’s Son and the unbelief in the sacrifice for man’s redemption.  This is true.  What is morally right is the acknowledgment of God’s great gift to man for his salvation.

The offense of Jesus’ followers being persecuted is horrific by itself. However, God is offended by a greater disaster.  When Christians are persecuted for their faith, then bystanders see it and refuse to believe for fear of the retribution as well.  The displeasure of God is even more on the effect of treating believers with antagonism.

Hurting others as an intimidation to prevent faith from spreading is a serious spiritual crime.  God calls it sin.  He is keeping track of these sins.  They are piling up.

It is bad enough when a person chooses disbelief over faith when he is presented the gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, when he goes beyond his own rejection and attempts to keep others from believing he will be judged by God most severely. This judgment was certainly felt when Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome.  At the same time, Israel as a nation would lose out on the blessings of being a faithful nation of God, when the church comprised of all, both Jew and Gentile, who put their faith in Christ.

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to keep strong in their faith. In the same vein he wanted those who opposed the faith of believers would be in grave spiritual danger.  Humans easily excuse their rejection of the gospel by distracting their culpability with their dislike for the messenger.

LAPP (Life Application): Look beyond the human preacher and hear the message that God has given him.  Never get in the way of the gospel being presented to people who need to come to faith for their eternity through Jesus Christ.  Believe yourself and then be a part of spreading the good news.

1 Thessalonians 2.1-6

Do you remember when you strongly believed in something but hesitated to speak about or act on it because of opposition?  Maybe it was in a college classroom and your teacher made a comment that you raised your hand to ask for clarification.  Then, you were shut down for questioning his viewpoint.  Others looked at you and mocked silently.  Your convictions shrank under the pressure of hostile looks, attitudes and vitriol.

At other times you remember admiring someone who acted courageously for their beliefs.  They withstood those who opposed them and kept championing their views.  You admired them but also felt the pressure of the ugly onslaught against them.

Most of us automatically follow the self-imposed behavior modifying reaction.  When we get hurt doing or saying something we don’t repeat doing or saying that thing.  Naturally we do not like pain and avoid what brings pain.

Paul experienced horrible opposition when he preached the gospel in Philippi.  What torment he experienced at the hands of those who hurt him hoping that pain would make him stop may never be fully understood by us so many centuries later.  He was not a whiner yet he still called the mistreatment suffering.

Nevertheless, he reminded the Thessalonian believers what they all remembered.  They knew for certain that in the horrific chaos of the Apostle’s ministry there was a good and lasting result.  This aftermath was not imagined or hearsay, it was real and the Thessalonians knew it.

While many would recant after facing horrific treatment for expressing their faith, Paul and his team reacted in just the opposite manner.  They became more determined to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Make no mistake about the circumstances of the experience; it was torture.

What Paul’s enemies inflicted on him was not merely an inconvenience.  Nor did the missionary team simply get the cold shoulder.  They were abused.  Each of them suffered.  Yet, they found courage to speak louder.

Their exemplary faith was fueled with the confidence that their motives were pure.  They were not charlatans.  The source for their desire as proclaimers of the Gospel was without any guile.

These proclaimers acted according to God’s approval of them.  He alone was their sole audience.  God was the only one that they wanted to please.

Comparing God’s approval to man, these courageous missionaries knew that He could see their hearts.  The common motives of men who are spurred on with financial riches or popular appeal did not pollute Paul’s life.  He confidently called on God as his witness.  Human opinion or popularity did not have any place in his life or ministry.

Fame is an ugly motive in life.  Gaining a name among people, while selfishly accruing position or influence, is totally incompatible for a godly life.  The rewards of this direction may or may not succeed.  If it does it only lasts for a lifetime.  All that is gained in this world is left in this world.

Never let fear dissuade you from living a life of courageous obedience.  Faith will lead the way through any hazard thrown against you by men.  Live a righteous life; do what is right in God’s eyes and take whatever the world throws at you.

God will give you endurance, fortitude and strength.  Joy will be yours.  The Word of God makes that promise boldly.

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