Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TRUE GRIT

Last week during the holiday week, me and my two brothers went to see “True Grit.” I am a big fan of both the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis and of course the 1969 version featuring the great John Wayne, and Glen Campbell and Kim Darby.

Almost everyone in the free world is at least somewhat familiar with the storyline. A 14 year old girl leaves home to track down her father’s killer, a former hired man named Tom Chaney, who has since joined up with a gang of thieves lead by Lucky Ned Pepper. To aid her, she hires a US deputy marshal, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn. A Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, becomes the third of their party. The story covers the elements of this adventure.

First of all, let's get this out of the way right now: Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld own this film, every inch of it. The entire cast is fantastic, but there's not a moment that goes by in the film when you're not itching to see Bridges' Marshal Reuben J. Cogburn and Steinfeld's Mattie Ross share the screen. Every scene they share is one we’re going to want to watch again for years to come.

While thoroughly entertaining, “True Grit” also plumbs deeper spiritually. It opens with a quotation from the King James translation of the Book of Proverbs: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth,” the first of several biblical and religious references scattered through the script. And the music in the background was old Christian hymns: “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand,” “Gloryland Way,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

But, clearly the theme song and a major idea of the movie is, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The film begins, as a now adult Mattie does her voiceover setting the story, with a piano playing this beautiful old gospel hymn. And once again, the movie plays an instrumental version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” at varying tempos throughout the film is a subtle reminder that not only is Hattie relying on God’s providence to help her bring about justice and avenge her father’s death legally, but that we all are, whether we realize it or not, leaning on those same everlasting arms. There is a powerful scene in the climax where this comes into full view under a starlit sky—a scene that won’t leave my memory anytime soon.

At one point in the film the narrator says: “You pay for everything in this world. There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”

This is also a central theme to the film as characterized by Hattie’s measuring out the cost of every transaction in life with such meticulous detail. But there is no hiding the grace of God. Even a criminal about to be hanged repents aloud to the crowd and asks for mercy and grace to be extended to his family after his death.

Mattie later writes her mother not to worry when she's on her quest to avenge her father's death: "The author of all things watches over me." When a mortician asks her whether she'd like to kiss her father's dead face, she says, "Thank you, his spirit is flown." In town without money, she's forced to sleep in a coffin at the mortuary, telling someone later that she "felt like Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones." A dying criminal makes Rooster promise to tell his brother, a Methodist pastor, of his fate, adding, "I will meet him later, walking the streets of glory."

Now, keep in mind that the storyline cannot be separated from either its period in U.S. History or its reliance upon Christian virtue as the order of the day in that society.

But these allusions draw attention to the film’s serious reflections on the violent undertow of frontier life. Witnessed from Mattie’s sensitive perspective, the shootouts and other death-dealing confrontations that take place here are never glossed over, but are shown instead to be unnatural and difficult to absorb.

Rating
True Grit is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including a few disturbing violent images and some mildly salty language. Gunfights and a scary sequence involving some snakes make for some intense, although not horribly graphic PG-13 moments. This is not a film for children, by any means. Mature teens or adults are the only ones I could recommend seeing the film.

In conclusion, I did enjoy the many Biblical themes and ideas raised in this Coen brother’s movie. This movie unlike say their movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? where the underlying faith message was far more tongue in cheek than something worth regarding seriously. But the deeper spiritual truths in True Grit are ultimately the basis for what's an engaging tale of a man who learns the meaning of sacrifice from a much younger woman who wasn't afraid to stand up for what's right—even if it meant endangering her own life in the process.

So if you can’t tell from my review, I thoroughly enjoyed True Grit. It has an old-fashioned fighting spirit in this classic quest for wrongs being made right. And truth be told, it takes some "true grit" to remake a beloved classic movie where John Wayne won his first Oscar and do it as well as they did.

Check out the trailer below which really captures the spiritual overtones of the movie:



Now, speaking of the Duke, check out the following YouTube link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qQhODwivLU

This video shows John Wayne winning the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “True Grit” in 1970. Of course we know this really wasn’t just for “True Grit.” It was for a lifetime’s worth of great films. His speech was thoughtful, heartfelt and humble, paying homage to everyone before himself, obviously a deeply moving moment for him. (You can tell I'm a BIG fan hopefully).

It makes me wonder just a bit where have men like John Wayne and the values and “true grit” he represented have gone today…..Lord knows we sure need them today……the Duke had class you just don’t see today!

His Congressional Medal says it all: John Wayne – American.

Monday, December 20, 2010

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!


Only 5 days until the big day -- Christmas! Are you ready? May your Christmas be blessed in every way, with love, joy, peace, and many happy memories.

The following video below I thought was pretty clever and made me laugh! How social media, web and mobile tell the story of the Nativity.While it is true that we do not know exactly when Jesus was born, December 25 is the date that our culture long ago began to honor our Lord and Savior for His birth. For that reason, this is the time of year that the vast majority of Americans give thought to Him.

As Christians, we are to remember the Lord every first day of the week as we participate in the Lord's Supper. (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-32) There we commemorate His death for our sins, we proclaim our faith in Him as we wait for His return, and we examine our hearts in relationship to His body, the church.

Yet, long before there was a cross, there was a manger. Though we are not commanded to formally celebrate His birth, that does not mean that we should forget it, even at Christmas time. The cross would not have taken place apart from the so-called "first Christmas."

So, if indeed you remember Christ this Christmas, remember that He was not born to remain a child wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger. He was born to become our Savior by dying on a cross and to be the Lord of our lives (Luke 2:11).

The message of the manger must always point people to the cross – the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The important thing is that He was born and that He died for our sins. We’re not worshiping a helpless infant lying in a manger. We’re worshiping a risen and exalted Christ who has all power in heaven and in earth.

Robert

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Pursuit of Excellence with Integrity

Below is an excellent article written by Bob Frantz, a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner.

Folks, there is nothing wrong with giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but only when that person has shown good moral conduct prior to an allegation of wrong doing. Newton’s history suggests otherwise.

Saturday night in New York City Cameron Newton came up to the podium and accepted the greatest award in sports knowing he has shown a lack of integrity in the past. And for that night he was the greatest player in college football, but it is fair to say he was not be the best example of someone who exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.

"Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22)

"Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12)
_____________________________

Newton winning Heisman sends the wrong message by Bob Frantz

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

Take note of the final word in that sentence. You may never see it again.

At least not in the same sentence as the words “college sports.”

The sentence above is the very first line of the Heisman Trust’s mission statement, and it was once recognized as an important criterion when evaluating potential recipients of the trophy. Not anymore.

When Heisman voters across the country placed that trophy in Cam Newton’s outstretched hand on Saturday — a position in which his hand is apparently very comfortable — they stated quite clearly that integrity, morality and ethics have no place in the high-stakes, professional world of amateur sports.

Integrity is something that has plagued not only the NCAA, but the Heisman Trust as recently as this past year with the Reggie Bush scandal.
Newton’s well-told, yet simultaneously ignored story belongs in an FBI case file as much as it does any college football record book.

This isn’t the first issue with Newton. In fact, Newton first ran into trouble under Urban Meyer at Florida twice when he was a sophomore.

While at Florida, Newton was arrested for felony charges of burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice when it was found the he stole a student’s laptop from a dormitory and threw it out the window when police came to question him.

Also in Gainesville, Fla., Newton was reportedly caught cheating on three separate occasions as a freshman and sophomore, including a case in which he purchased a paper online and turned it in as his own. Only his transfer to Blinn College in Texas saved him from expulsion from Florida.

And this “ethical” young man accomplished all this even before the pay-for-play scandal engineered by his father that landed him at Auburn.

Newton was the most dominant player in America, which is undoubtedly what saved him from the NCAA’s eligibility guillotine. Too many dollars and television viewers were at risk for the NCAA to sideline its top attraction and risk an Auburn loss in the SEC championship game. A Tigers’ defeat would have put TCU in the BCS title game, and the NCAA hypocrites would rather have canceled the game than accept such a travesty.

How else can they explain away Cecil Newton’s admission to soliciting his son’s services to the highest bidder? Cecil acted as a de facto agent for Cam, but because he happens to share his client’s bloodline, the player’s amateur status is secure?

The NCAA’s, and Newton’s, excuse is that Cam allegedly didn’t know what his father was up to.

If you believe that, I’ve got a slightly damaged laptop to sell you. It’s not stolen. I swear.

As Sports Illustrated reported last month, Cam wanted to go to Mississippi State, but agreed to let his father make the decision for him. “A few days before Christmas, while sitting at the dinner table in his brother’s house in Jacksonville, Cecil Sr. uttered two words. ‘It’s Auburn.’”

What star athlete would allow his father to completely ignore his own wishes to play at a certain school without demanding to know the father’s reasons?

Even in defending himself, as he tried to do in an ESPN interview Thursday, Newton couldn’t declare himself innocent.

“Everything I’ve done at this university, I did it the right way,” he said.

The disclaimer “at this university,” speaks volumes, as it obviously neglects the solicitation scheme that Pops put into action “before” he arrived at Auburn.

Maybe nothing can be done to the powers-that-be that run the NCAA and its investigation committee, but the Heisman voters had a real chance to do the right thing. They had a chance to restore the word “integrity” to the mission statement, a necessity in the wake of the Reggie Bush forfeiture of the once-sacred
trophy.

They failed.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don’t Be Caught Off-Guard


Today marks the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. We should always remember the day that would “live in infamy” – and learn from it.

What happened on December 7, 1941? Simply put, we were caught off guard. In the decades since the attack, there has been a great deal of investigation, speculation and debate over how this could have happened and who is to blame for “dropping the ball”. What seems fairly certain is that there were some warning signs and data available that, if taken through the proper channels, might have changed the complexion of this attack or thwarted it altogether. Well, I’m not writing this to debate such things, but to make a simple point: It’s not good to be caught off-guard. And even though the attack on Pearl Harbor would have a positive outcome, many lives were lost and many more would perish in the ensuing war in the Pacific.

As Christians, we have a dangerous enemy – an empire of evil, plotting surprise attacks against us. Satan’s greatest advantage is the element of surprise. Many times we just don’t see it coming. The good news is that our Lord has given us “classified” information about our enemy to alert us and keep us from being taken by surprise (2 Cor 2:11)! Consider the apostle Peter’s inspired words: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)

We shouldn’t be surprised when, because of our devotion to Christ, we feel pressure and opposition from those of the world. Notice that Peter didn’t say “if” this would occur, but “when”. Paul declares that persecution would happen to everyone who lives a godly life in Christ (2 Tim 3:12). Jesus also forewarned us of trouble and “tribulation” in the world (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4 & 33) By knowing these things beforehand, we can be prepared and not “freak out”, “melt down” or give in to temptation.

Later in his letter, Peter advises: “Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9) We shouldn’t be surprised when we feel the pull of temptation, rather we should be prepared! We are all subject to the devil’s attacks and need to be on high alert at all times -- never letting down our guard (Eph 6:10-18).

In summary, whether there was sufficient data and resources to thwart the attack on Pearl Harbor 69 years ago we may never know for sure. But this we know for sure: Our “Commander” has given us sufficient data and resources to thwart the devil’s attacks. We need never be caught off-guard!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Before Winter or Never!

From the depths of a Roman prison while awaiting execution as a prisoner of Nero’s in Rome, Paul wrote to Timothy, his beloved friend and brother in Christ: “Do your best to come before winter.” (2 Timothy 4:21). Paul knew that in the winter, the Mediterranean Sea trade all but ceased. Ships would anchor in a safe harbor so as to avoid the violent storms that plagued the Mediterranean during the winter months. If Timothy was going to make the voyage from Ephesus to Rome, it would have to be before the ships stopped sailing.

Now if Timothy waits until winter, he will have to wait until spring; and Paul himself knew that his death sentence was imminent, “the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul knows that he is living his last winter. Timothy needed to drop everything and get to Rome as fast as possible. We like to think that Timothy did not wait a single day after that letter from Paul reached him and indeed he was able to fulfill Paul’s request.

Before winter or never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done “before winter.” Winter’s arrival is a sober reminder of fading opportunities. Winter should bring home to us all the sense of the preciousness of life’s opportunities, but also its brevity.

You can’t wait forever to respond to things that are important. Yet how many times have we had good intentions but somehow we never got around to doing it. We truly meant well, we meant for things to be different. All too often we end up with the “ifs and buts” of life. Some things need to be said now, done now. The opportunity is today, not tomorrow. We must not wait or delay or put things off.

What is it that God is calling you to do? What good deed? What act of forgiveness? What step of faith? What prayer should you pray? What sin should you confess? What bad habit must be broken? What service could you render for the Lord and His church? What class could you teach? What call must you make? What email must you write? What relationship must you repair? Who in your life needs to know Jesus and you’ve been putting off telling them? Whatever it is, do it “before winter.”

Robert,

I recently ran across this very beautiful poem that captures some of my thoughts from above.

Come Before Winter

"Come before winter." are words old and wise
Let us set sail now for the harbor
Of the things we truly prize!

For life's voyage is brief, uncertain,
Soon winter's snows may fall.
How sad to see ships meant for sailing
Which have not sailed far at all.

Ships meant to explore life's oceans,
To know waters deep and wide.
Yet still we lie at anchor
Resisting the outgoing tide.

Life's saddest sight is not the scene
Of souls storm tossed at sea.
For without the storm, the struggle and faith,
How else comes the victory?

No, life's saddest sight is of souls
Who have never yet set sail.
Those who refuse to live much or dare,
These are the ones who fail!

Still move the seasons swiftly,
The Spring, the Summer, the Fall.
"O come" says the Spirit, "come before winter,
Miss not the joy God intends for us all"!
-- James Clark Brown

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

10% THANKS


I love Thanksgiving because it's so simple and straightforward. It's not about a lot of decorating or buying gifts. It is very basic – it's about getting together with family and friends, eating a meal (one of my favorite part), watching a little football – and most importantly, giving thanks to God for our many blessings.

In Luke 17 we read the following account.
As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." (Luke 17:11-19 NIV)

The purpose of my article is not to ask if you or I would be the one in the
above story who gave thanks. I’m sure we all would like to think of ourselves as the one who went back to Jesus to give thanks. Rather I am asking each one of us what percentage of gratefulness do we maintain for the good things God gives us?

The percentage of healed lepers in Luke who immediately gave thanks to Jesus was 10%. Jesus is grateful for the 10% but He comments negatively on the 90% not showing thanks. What about our lives? What percentage of thanks do we give?

Think about last week. Most of us would not have any trouble recalling ten good and wonderful blessings we experienced from the Lord during the week. Now the reflection question, “What’s your and my thanksgiving percentage rate for those ten blessings?” If I were to be honest, and I am here, my thanksgiving percentage rate probably is not much better than the one in Luke’s story: 10%.

Oh, I have my general “thank you-for-everything” prayer I fall back on to cover the week. What I tend to lack is the immediate praise and thanks when I first receive the blessing. Jesus indicates that a 10% instant-thanks-to-blessing ratio is not very good!

Let’s each one continually move our instant-thanks-to-blessing ratio toward 100%. Friends with all the blessings that God has bestowed upon us let us always approach the throne of God with Thanksgiving.

Our young people sing the words to the beautiful song, “For all that You've done, I will thank You For all that You're going to do! For all that You've promised and all that You are is all that has carried me through, Jesus, I thank You.”

Which reminds me: I am thankful for each of you, my friends, my brothers, my sisters and my family. Enjoy the holiday and be safe. Go with God.

Robert

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time to Invite Ssomeone to Church



Recently we had a visitor attend worship at Central where I preach. She was invited by one of our members. She is greatly struggling. Here's what she wrote on the back of her visitor card:

"I am a single mother of 3 daughters and one has a lot of anger issues and I am in need of prayer and help to help her get her life straight. She is 14 years old and has spent 10 days in detention at school. We don't have a great relationship."

Friends there are so many people out there hurting, wanting help, needing to find God, needing answers, they want to go to church and have a relationship with Christ. But so many of them don't know where to go and are worried about what people may think about them just showing up there out of the blue. Many would jump at the chance to be invited by YOU. Some will say no, but some will say yes. You could save a life today.

Who will you invite?

"Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus." (John 1:40-42)

Robert

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

WHO CRUCIFIED JESUS?

One of Rembrandt's more famous paintings is entitled The Three Crosses. When one looks at the painting, your attention is drawn first to the cross on which Jesus died. Then as you look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, you are impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, your eyes drift to the edge of the painting to catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Some art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross.

The old spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And we must answer, “yes, we were there.” Not as spectators only; but as participants, guilty participants.

One author has written, "It is a simple thing to say Christ died for the sins of the world. It is quite another thing to say that Christ died for my sins. It may make us feel better to point the finger at those who put Jesus on the cross, but it is a shocking thought that we can be as indifferent as Pilate, as scheming as Caiaphas, as calloused as the soldiers, as ruthless as the mob, or as cowardly as the disciples. It isn't just what they did --- it was I who nailed Him to the tree. I crucified the Christ of God, I joined the mockery."

It was each of us who participated in Christ’s death and yet He willingly took the cross upon Himself to reveal to the best of God’s love and bring us salvation. The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Friends place yourself in the shadows with Rembrandt. You too are standing there. But then recall what Jesus said as He hung on that cross, “Father, forgive them.” Thank God, that includes you and me. Horatius Bonar (1808-89), who has been called the 'prince of Scottish hymn-writers', expressed it well about the sacrifice of Christ:

Twas I that shed that sacred Blood,
I nailed him to the Tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
Yet not the less that Blood avails
To cleanse me from sin,
And not the less that Cross prevails
To give me peace within


Robert

Monday, October 25, 2010

Redemption and Josh Hamilton


Way to go, Rangers! Yes, Texas, of all teams, is this year's American League champion and is headed to the World Series for the first time in the franchise's 49-year history.

The Rangers are truly the feel good story of baseball and the postseason this year. Their best player, Josh Hamilton, nearly ruined his life and his career by substance abuse and addiction. Their manger, Ron Washington, nearly lost his job after testing positive for cocaine last year. He, like Hamilton, gratefully got a second chance.

Now, back to Josh Hamilton. He truly is an amazing story of God’s power to redeem and change a life.

And Josh's life and commitment are having an influence on his teammates.
Back at the end of the regular season a few weeks ago, like most teams, the Rangers celebrated their winning season and playoff berth with a champagne locker room celebration, but one person was missing, Josh Hamilton. The reason of course was because Josh happens to be a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. So in order to avoid any temptations, he left the celebration when the alcohol came out. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Hamilton was offered that way of escape and took it, but in doing so missed the celebration with teammates. However after the Rangers won the American League Divisional Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team recognized his faithful commitment and honored him with a ginger ale celebration instead.



Check out the video below which tells some about Josh Hamilton’s rise and fall and rising again feel good story of how God turned his life around.



“15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:15-17)


Robert

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Loving Relationship

The most important command, above all others, is to “love the Lord you God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Jesus says that all the commands and doctrines of Scripture can be summarized by this one concept. (Matthew 22:40)

The old saying goes, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Sometimes we get lost in all the details of the Scripture that we miss the big picture. We can become so overly consumed with all the commands and doctrines of God’s Word that we miss the real point. Too often we mistakenly think that right doctrine is the destination of our faith. It is not! The real destination is relationship with God. Sometimes detailed doctrine causes us to lose sight of the real goal of our faith—falling in love with God.

That is not to say that doctrine and precise obedient are not essential. After all, you can’t even have a forest if there are no trees. The trees make up the forest. Likewise, individual doctrines are, as one writer so eloquently put it: “the small pixels that combine together to paint the beautiful portrait of true relationship with God.” John put it best when he wrote, “…but whosoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” (1 John 2:5) Being motivated by His intense love for God, Jesus was compelled to “do exactly as the Father commanded me.’ (John 14:31 NASB) His motivation was not command-keeping that resulted in love for God. It was His love for God that produced a loving, and exact obedience.

When Jesus says that the most important command is to love God with all that we are, He seems to be describing a life that has completely fallen in love with God. Well, what does it look like to be completely in love with God? To understand this question maybe we should reflect upon the times that we have experienced the overwhelming emotion of falling in love with someone.

Usually, the first thing that happens when you fall in love with someone is that your mind is completely consumed with that person. Constantly distracted, you cannot seem to focus your mind on other things. Your mind is filled with thoughts of the object of your love.

Dallas Willard describes what being in love with God is really about. In his book “The Great Omission” he writes, “The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object.” If you are in love with someone, you don’t have to remind yourself to think about them. Being in love means that you naturally can’t get the one you love off your mind. The face of your loved one is ever before your mind. That is what it means to really be in love with God.

The French monk Brother Lawrence called attention to the fact that one must “practice the presence of God.” In other to “fall in love with God” he suggested that one must discipline himself/herself to constantly have an awareness of God’s presence. Similar to the lyrics of the favorite Christian hymn, “Be with Me Lord”, we must strive for a “constant sense of thy abiding presence.”

This is the very principle that God, a man after God’s own heart, had come to realize. He wrote in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” David is essentially saying that he had learned to make it a constant practice in his life to “set the LORD” before his mind. David’s mind was consumed with a constant sense of God’s presence. He had fallen in love with his God. Have you?

Robert

Saturday, October 9, 2010



Discover a church that's all about you! Progressive-church.com is a funny but sadly truer than than we'd like to admit spoof spoof off Progressive Insurance Company.

This is, of course, a bit on the extreme side. But churches have gotten into the habit of pretending like sin doesn't exist and instead preaching the "feel good" sermons. There's a lot of sad truth in that video.

Robert

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Coming Down from the Mountain


It came about that He took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray…when they had come down from the mountain, a great multitude met Him…” (Luke 9:28, 37).

Coming down from the mountain we find Jesus armed and ready to do battle for whatever opportunity, challenge, or test came His way. He rebuked His disciples, took compassion on a distraught father, released a little boy from demonic possession and then taught a lesson on humility. Not bad for a day's work!

So how did He do it? The same way you and I get prepared to deal with every-day life in the valley as it comes unrelentingly and mercilessly at us - go to the mountain. But note: Jesus didn't go to the mountain to get away from it all--He went to be with someone - His Father!

Nothing is more obvious in Jesus' life than His deep hunger to commune with God. But unlike Jesus, we make our mistake when we think the path to strength and renewal is found in getting away on vacation. As wonderful and refreshing as that can be (and at times needed), we must realize that the energy we seek to replenish and restore is found only in contact with the Life-giver Himself.

But that's not all - Jesus took His friends-close personal friends who were defined by the word "love." Rejuvenation was never meant to be a private endeavor, even the Son of God wanted and needed His "buddies" to help him, strengthen Him and watch over Him (Lk. 9:28; Mk. 14:34).

So, to the mountain we go. But as we do, remember that the strength we need comes only through divine contact and human camaraderie, just like it did for Jesus.

Robert,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Place and Power of Prayer


Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (Dan.6:10). Here we find the real secret of this man’s greatness. Daniel was a captive in Babylon and yet in this instance he was not subject to the laws of the king. He was not subject to the directions that were imposed upon him. He was really concerned about doing the will of God. He knew God's will, and whatever the circumstance or occasion, he was governed by that will in spite of the danger and opposition that this aroused. He was a true and faithful man. Daniel’s example validates the place and power of prayer.

A Newsweek poll indicates that most Americans seem to agree concerning the power of prayer:

54% report praying on a daily basis
29% say they pray more than once a day
75% pray for strength to overcome personal weakness
73% think prayers for help in finding a job are answered
79% say God answers prayers for healing someone with an incurable disease
87% say that God answers prayers

We should note that how many people believe in something is not a guarantee of its existence, or that even people regularly practice it. There is much about prayer that we don’t understand. Yet this we know: the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16). What a source of blessing and encouragement to the Christian! How hopeless life must be for the skeptic who knows nothing of prayer.

Before his death from myelodysplasia(preleukemia), the famous scientist Carl Sagan wrote his final book entitled, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, in which he included prayer along with astrology, spoon-bending, witches, ESP, spiritualism and repressed memories as examples of the persistence of irrationality. Sagan persisted in his agnosticism until his death, with no appeals to God, and no hope for an after-life. How lonely and how sad to face eternity with no assurances.

A great song that many of us have grown up singing in the church says, “Oh, how praying rests the weary! Prayer can change the night to day: so, when life seems dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.”

Daniel gives us a wonderful example of how powerful a weapon prayer is in the spiritual battle that is raging. About just how much prayer can bring us closer to God. (James 4:8)

In a sin-racked world, we have no other hope. Thanks be to God for the avenue of prayer!

Robert

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Should We Burn or Criticize the Quran?

Don't know if you have seen on the news recently about members of a church in Gainesville, Florida who are planning to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11 by hosting an "International Burn a Quran Day." The Dove World Outreach Center says it is hosting the event to remember 9/11 victims and take a stand against Islam. With promotions on its website and Facebook page, it invites Christians to burn the Muslim holy book at the church from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

"We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times," Pastor Terry Jones told CNN's Rick Sanchez earlier this week.

First of all, I want to join my voice with those who have condemned this initiative as a manifestation of ignorance, hatred and intolerance. I mean, what good would burning a Quran do to the world? Will it stop Muslims from believing in their holy book? I don’t think so. Will burning a Quran dissuade Muslims from fanaticism and terrorism?. Far from it. Instead it might even make more Muslims to embrace extremism and fundamentalism.

Just the other day, the Wall Street Journal reported that General David Petraeus said that Dove World Outreach Center’s planned Koran burning will endanger our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. I would say so! We have soldiers on the ground in two Muslim countries.

So what should we do to honor victims of September 11 attacks?

The Dove World Outreach Center or anyone concerned about the spread of Islamic terrorism should not bother burning a Quran. We should devote the day to a critical dialogue with Muslims. One of the undercurrents of Islamic terrorism is lack of mutual dialogue, understanding and appreciation of religions and beliefs between Muslims and non Muslims. September 11 should be used to break that age long darkening taboo that Quran cannot be criticized; that Quran contain eternal truths that cannot be challenged or questioned.

The day should be used to debate, discuss and highlight those passages and injunctions which encourage Muslims to embrace fanaticism and terrorism. September 11 should be a day to critically examine Quranic passages. The day should be devoted to posing and attempting to answer those questions that shed more light on the history and teachings of the Quran and Islam like -who wrote the Quran- when? where? how? And for how long?

Who called the Islamic holy book the Quran? Which provisions of the Quran were original to the authors and which were copied or borrowed from other and older sacred texts? Is Allah a myth or a reality? Is Allah’s dictation of the Quran to Muhammad a historical fact or fiction? Was Muhammad sent by Allah or was he a self acclaimed messenger of Allah? Will Allah truly reward Muslims in the hereafter? Or is the Islamic paradise a transcendental illusion? Is there a paradise packed with virgins kept by Allah for those who die fighting his cause? Has Allah any hand in the jihads of this world?

Those who carried out the September 11 attacks and other terrorist attacks around the world were 'inspired' mainly by the teachings and interpretations of the teachings in the Quran. They were inspired by fake promises contained in this 'holy book'.

And of course, not to mention the most fundamental issue of all: the Divine nature of Jesus. If Jesus was truly an inspired prophet of God (but He was not God), as the Qur’an teaches, how could Jesus have made such claims to be indeed the Son of God? (cf. John 10:30; John 1:1-14).

How should Christians respond?

It seems to me that the best road for a gospel-saturated Christian to take is not standing on the one side of the road with all-exclusive hate or on the other side with all-inclusive love. Both are ultimately extremes that do not address the heart of the issue. The middle road seems to be the only-exclusive love that Christ offers through the Cross, which rejects hating enemies (Matt. 5:43-44) and loving the world (1 John 2:15-17) while embracing love of enemies and hating sin. The response we must have as Christians is to reject the utter hatred of people like Pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center, while at the same time not making the mistake of being purely reactionary by standing on the other side of the road, united only in protest, not in love and truth.

It seems like I have read somewhere in the Bible where it says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..” (1 Peter 3:15) We must make sure that we are both honest and sincere in seeking God’s will, and always that we are doing our best to, “speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15)!”

The problem is that far too many Christians have no or little convictions about their own faith. Not to the point of being willing to present those ideas without apology to non-believers. Too many Christians are timid in their declaration and life witnesses that Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)

You see, proclaiming that Christ is Lord is all fine and dandy behind closed doors on a Sunday…but try that in a park or public area and almost all Christians within hearing will wince and turn away rather than offer an “amen”.

Also, as Christians, we not only need to get the logs out of our eyes, but we also need to speak truth and not bear false witness. This means that we must be accurate and fair when we describe another religion.

Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in the world, and for the past several years it has been making tremendous inroads in American society. And maybe one reason why that is the case is because you have to believe in something in order to offer it so another. And you have to at least try to live your faith in order to be in any way credible as a witness. These are not the sort of people a doubter will listen to.

I’m afraid that we are first going to have to re-convert ourselves. Then we’re going to have to convert our surrounding culture. Only then will we have a good alternative to offer the Islamist rank-and-file.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6)

Robert

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sifted Like Wheat

Jesus was concerned about Satan’s efforts to destroy His own apostles. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32, NLT).
Satan asked for Peter. I wonder if Peter though of this event later on when he wrote about that “roaring lion seeking to devour God’s people. (cf. 1 Peter 5:8) Peter knew what it was like to be stalked by the lion.

This attack from Satan must be diligently considered. Satan desired to “sift you as wheat”. When wheat is sifted it is filtered through a sieve and the wheat was separated from the chaff (or worthless kernels of the wheat). This process makes the wheat purer than it was before the sifting. Of course, without sifting the real wheat could not be identified and used.

Now each of us would probably have responded to Jesus' warning the same way Peter did. Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” (v. 33) Our faith in God is unwavering, until it is tested. This was to be the ultimate test for Peter, and Jesus knew that his friend would fail by denying Him three times before men. (Luke 22:34)

Yet Jesus prayed for Peter. But notice what he prayed for. He prayed that his faith would not fail. A faith that fails is not one that never sins, but one that refuses to repent (return to Christ). Even though Peter would fail his test by denying Jesus, he fulfilled Jesus’ request – that he repent and strengthen his brethren. (cf. John 22:15-19; Acts 2)

Back to this business of “sifting.” Notice again that Jesus DID NOT pray that there would be NO sifting. God allows us to be sifted. Only in the sifting can that which is useless be separated from that which can be used. And one way for us to realize what we are made of is to be tested. You see, testing is not so much that God is trying to find out something, but that He is trying to show us something about us and Himself.

God teaches His children through problems just as school students are given problems as part of their learning experience. Yet, most Christians fail to count trials as joy (James 1:2). They see them as some strange thing that has happened to them (1 Peter 4:12). Rather than growing from the trial, Christians complain and seek relief rather than spiritual growth.

Peter allowed his sifting to become his greatest moment of recovery and faith building: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV)

What about you? Do you see trials as an opportunity to grow spiritually or as an unwelcome intrusion that you can do without? Think about it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Christian Response to the Mosque at Ground Zero

There have been many headlines the past week or so regarding the construction of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. It’s kicked up quite a dust storm of controversy. And it’s caused me to reflect quite a bit.

The past few days I’ve wondered what a wise response might be to the situation. I’ve tried to listen well, read up on all the information and think critically – and Christianly – regarding the issue at hand. I’ve wondered what a proper response would be – not as an American, not as a American Christian, not as a Republican or Democrat, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as a follower of Jesus and who seeks to honor Christ in the way I live and think and act and speak.

The issue is such an emotional issue that if we’re not careful we can allow our passion to get the most of us.

What has caused the most controversy are the comments of President Obama recently at a White House Ramadan dinner, where he said:

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

First of all, let me strongly and clearly state that I do believe we need to all make sure that we are not lumping all hateful Islamic terrorists in the same category with all Muslims And if Muslim/American relations are to be improved (as I think they must be) it would be best if we befriended Muslims first. This doesn’t happen through policy in Washington, but by action in your – in my – local community.

Let me further say to answer what seems to be the key critical question and issue of: Is building a mosque at Ground Zero the wisest thing to do?

I think clearly most Americians (as the polls indicate) think no it is not!

Yes,many on the political left have argued that Americans and particular Christians, we should be more “tolerant” on this issue. But that knife cuts both ways.

I also wish that the Islamic community in New York City would also be “tolerant” of the situation, realizing how volatile, symbolic and emotional this area of the U.S. is and what it means to Americans. It’s a lightning rod of American ideology. Our lives changed forever on that fateful day. And quite frankly, not enough time has gone by for the American people to truly heal from such a horrendous experience of September 11, 2001.

For more on this point and other related thoughts, check out this link:

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/pamela_k_taylor/2010/08wisdom_lacking_on_all_sides_in_ground_zero_mosque_affair.html

Pamela Taylor is a moderate Muslim and her editoiral I believe is worth reading on this point.

Now the more important question practically speaking needs to be: Could a compromise be struck? This is my hope and prayer. Could the mosque be built in Manhattan 20 or 25 blocks away from Ground Zero, rather than just two? Wouldn’t it be an act of tolerance by the Islamic community to voluntarily choose to back away from this situation with some perspective and be willing to move it a further distance away?

However, as a Christian, I have to take seriously Jesus’ teaching of peace and love. Christianity is about making peace. Jesus Christ said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" Christians should be more eager to work towards peace with the religion of Islam, and not placing the responsibility of being "first peacemakers" upon the Muslims. That is wrong.

Times of hardship and tension have often been ideal opportunities for demonstrating the truths of our faith. Regardless of our personal political beliefs or the outcome of this scenario, Jesus did not come as a political revolutionary but as one bearing a message of transcendent spiritual truth. Part of his example, although unconventional and unpopular in the wider pop-culture, was a mandate to “love our neighbors,” to “love our enemies,” and to “pray for those who persecute us.”

For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, we’re called to love our neighbor as yourself. But it gets more specific than that. Our call is care for the Triad close to the heart of God: the alien, the orphan and the widow. What does it mean for us to care for those who are foreigners, immigrants, those non-citizens in the U.S and abroad? I believe this includes Muslims, yes even Muslims at Ground Zero in mosques.

I know some reading this will disagree. Some my object asking, “Does this mean I am abandoning my spiritual or moral positions in favor of religious pluralism?” Absolutely not. I do not pretend that I see the Muslim faith and Christian faith as compatible and I do not rescind that I believe the best hope for healing in our communities is found solely in the way, the truth and the life of Jesus Christ. Political correctness aside, I am not ashamed to say this.

But still importantly, and much related to this is to also kind of go along with what Pamela K. Taylor writes in the link above, one of the most important contributions her article makes is how this debate is shaping the perspectives that the rest of the Muslim world has on Christians in America. Christian missiologists should take heed.

No doubt, the situation is quite complex. I’ve not tried to over-simplify the issue at hand, but simply force us to look at the situation critically – as much with our heads as with our hearts.

May the Lord give us wisdom and sensitivity as we discuss these matters.

Robert Prater

Oh, on a more lighter note, but still an effective response to consider, check out the following article and post:

http://jamesbrett.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/a-mothers-response-to-the-ground-zero-controversy/

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A False Gospel



There is a time to tear down false teaching like Piper does so passionately and powerful. We also have of course Jesus’ teachings, Paul’s letters, Peter’s letters, and John’s letters are full of such activity. However, may we be more defined by preaching the correct Gospel of grace and forgiveness and righteous living than we are by being against the false gospel being preached today by many preacher (including prosperity preachers, which like Paul said, is no gospel at all, i.e., Gal. 1:7)

In our passion for the true Gospel we must be against any false gospel which undermines the uniqueness and glory of the true Gospel. But may our battle against the counterfeit flow primarily out of a passion and love for the glory of the true Gospel.

The true of the matter is that knowing God and Jesus is not about gaining happiness, wealth, community status, high positions and prosperity. Those who have earthly treasures are to use them generously to help the poor and to ensure that the Gospel is preached. Yes, we are all thankful for the material blessings God has given us. We need to use them wisely, laying up treasure in heaven. Otherwise, we may be surprised to find out that what we have been trusting in was not the Gospel at all, but rather a “God” and a Gospel of our own invention - one that has not saved us when we stand before God on that Day.


“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs………Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:10, 17-19 NIV)

Robert

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Living Water and Broken Cisterns


Notice these sobering words as God commissions Jeremiah to declare His people's guilt on two charges: "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13) Water is the source of life.

It is absolutely essential to life! We can exist without food for a time, but we cannot live without water! Water has another function basic to our life. We use it for cleansing, for getting rid of dirt. The Bible uses water as a symbol in both those ways (and a host of others). God as the spring of living water is the source of life, and of cleansing.

In the Old Testament, Almighty God says only He is the source of living water. He tells those who are spiritually thirsty to come to him and drink. Jesus says, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (Jn 7:37).

Judah's twin sins were forsaking the true God and worshipping human gods. It's the same for us. Are we making up our own gods, or our own way of worshipping God? Are you looking for your own tailor-made source of spiritual truth?

This is the sin of humanity as a whole. It is true of those who build physical idols and worship them. But it also true of those who say, "well I like to think of God in my own way." Who think they can improve on the God they find in the Bible. That's a mental idol. Even as Christians we can do this. Jeremiah speaks to God's people, not the pagans. God says, "MY people have forsaken me..."

A mental idol is anything that springs from not trusting and obeying Jesus. As Os Guinness points out, "In today's convenient, climate-controlled spiritual world created by the managerial and therapeutic revolutions, nothing is easier than living apart from God . . . Modernity creates the illusion that, when God commanded us not to live by bread alone but by every word that comes from His mouth, He was not aware of the twentieth century. The very success of modernity may undercut the authority and driving power of faith until religion becomes merely religious rhetoric or organizational growth without spiritual reality" (Os Guinness, “Sounding Out the Idols of Church Growth,” http://gospel-culture.org.uk/guinness.htm [accessed 3 Jun 2010)

But Jesus was poured out like water (Ps 22, Jn 19) as an offering for our sins. It's not a matter of building better cisterns for ourselves, but of simply drinking of, and washing in, the spring that God provides. Revelation 22:17: "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." May we never forsake this spring of Living Water and turn to our own broken cisterns!

Robert

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Burnt Cabin part 4

Burnt Cabin part 4 of our concluding camp slideshow. The morning drama! Very chilling and powerful stuff!

Robert

Burnt Cabin part 3

All-star game, fun times, and Saturday morning. Kris Allen's song "Live LIke We're Dying" has not been authorized by all right holders. The audio has been disabled:(!

Robert

Burnt Cabin part 2

Team activities and sports.

Burnt Cabin Camp

Here is part 1 of our camp slideshow of our recent session at Burnt Cabin camp. It was an incredible week of spiritual feasting on God's Word and "The Passion" story (CSI: Cross Scene Investigation).

Enjoy!

Robert

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Those who Honor Me

The movie Chariots of Fire was about a young man from Scotland who ran in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. After qualifying as the United Kingdom's representative for the 100-meter dash, he found out that this race was to be run on Sunday. As a devout Christian, he refused to run on the Lord's Day. He wanted his victory to be for the glory of God. Since he was the fastest runner in the world at that time, he would have won the Gold Medal. Great pressure was put upon him to run on Sunday, but he refused.

Another young man from the United Kingdom was to run a 400-meter race on another day. He had already won a Gold Medal, so he offered his spot in this race to Eric Liddell. Eric accepted, ran the 400-meter, and won the Gold Medal.

Before the race, a young Christian from America handed Eric a note. On it was scribbled, "Those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed." (1 Sam. 2:30)

In 1981, Chariots of Fire won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It's a great wonderful movie the whole family can enjoy. One with a powerful and inspiring message. The story of Eric Liddell was told all over the world. He was honored for his commitment to God.

May God give us all the strength and courage to honor God by refusing to compromise our commitment to Him.

Robert Prater

Friday, June 11, 2010

CSI: Jerusalem Trailer

Check this cool promo video for our theme at Burnt Cabin this year.

It's going to be a life-changing theme for some we pray.

Burnt Cabin Camp

Tommorrow I make my yearly trip to Tahlequah, OK to spend an awesome week at Burnt Cabin Christian Camp. I have been connected with this camp as both as camper, counselor and in recent years as the director since 1986! It's a very, very special place to me. I meant my wife Maggie there.

This year is shaping up to be incredible! We should have around 130 campers!! Please keep me and all counselors and staff and campers in your prayers throughout the week for our safety. But most importantly, that all the kids will have a wonderful time and connect with God their Creator in the days of their youth. (cf. Eccl. 12:1). This is the reason we have planned this camp. So that our youth will grow in their faith in Christ and make life long Christian friendships.

Below is this year's camp theme!

Robert Prater
________________________


Have you noticed that some of the most popular shows on television are investigative detective programs? One current popular show is CSI which stands for “crime scene investigation.” It’s a television series about an elite team of forensic specialists who investigate criminal cases in the cities of New York, Las Vegas, and Miami.

It was a “Crime Scene Investigation” like no other. A man tortured, beaten, and killed. While he was popular with the people, many wanted him dead. After a mock trial the powerful and influential had their way. He was given a hasty burial, but the body has disappeared. Was there a clue left behind? Were there witnesses to what happened? Were the charges justified? Rumors fly and each side stands by their story. Was the body stolen? By whom and why? Did it just vanish? How will this first century mystery be solved?

In this study you are invited to become part of the CSI: Jerusalem crew. Your mission is to investigate the scene at Jeru¬salem and examine the circumstances and reasons behind the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago. Most importantly, you’ll be challenged to not only believe in Jesus but to allow Him to transform your lives through His forgiveness and love. Do you have the courage to join the team and then commit to what you find out?

Your CSI Lead Investigator (Director),
Rob Prater

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Gospel According to Baseball


If you’ve had any exposure to the media over the last week, chances are you’ve heard quite a bit about the perfect game that wasn’t quite. Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was one out away from pitching the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history when first base umpire Jim Joyce missed the call on a close play at first base. Rather than having tossed a perfect game, Galarraga now owns the most famous one-hitter that the MLB has ever seen.

Even more surprising than the missed call has been the character shown in the reactions of Galarraga and Joyce – understanding from the pitcher, regret from the umpire. Sports errors and character are usually not mentioned in the same sentence.

A full-time umpire since 1989, Joyce admitted his mistake after the game.
He said to reporters, “I just cost the kid a perfect game. I was convinced he beat the throw until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career. And I messed it up.” He promptly apologized to Galarraga, robbed of his record forever.

Even more amazing was how Galarraga displayed grace as he immediately publicly forgave Joyce. Galarraga gave the umpire a hug and said, “Everyone makes mistakes.” Surely not missing the irony he shrugged, “nobody’s perfect.” The next day the pitcher and umpire met at home plate for the customary exchange of lineup cards. They shook hands. Galarraga was still smiling. Joyce wiped away tears.


Both Joyce and Galarraga handled a very bad call in a very good way. It is, after all, only a game. The game of life is far more important than the game of baseball. Human relationships are imperfect and that means they require the ability to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness. Joyce and Galarraga did just that, and reminded all of us what it means to be fully human. The apostle Paul wrote, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) To forgive is not only to be fully human, but to reflect the Divine!

Joyce and Galarraga will forever be linked by a bad call in the game of baseball. Their exchange of an apology and forgiveness means they will also be forever linked for both making the greatest call in the game of life, the call to reconcile!

Robert

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Impacting our World

Take a tour of Bubble Creek Canyon, a master-planned community where you can live in a Christian bubble and truly be set apart. If you move into this neighborhood, you won’t have to worry about interacting with a heathen world ever again!

We would probably feel spiritually protected here, but I am not sure how much good we would be able to do for the Kingdom.

This exaggerated illustration challenges us to make an impact in our world.

So besides poking fun at ourselves — how can we as the church move people beyond the bubble? I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you doing in your church? What really works?

Robert

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST - The End

In case you were under a rock or on another planet, you are fully aware that Lost series finale aired last night. It was a very emotional and sad finale of Lost where we did not get any real answers to the countless questions that surfaced during the last 6 years. Of course, there are two extremist views of “Lost” – all plot vs. character – and I suspect most are more like me, somewhere in between. The show has always been more about the characters than the mysteries.

Now as far as the final show goes…..I thought most of it worked pretty great; the reunions in the sideways (Sawyer and Juliet in particular, but all of them were splendidly played), Sun and Jin (who got their English back one last time), the farewells in the real world, the final battle between Jack and Smoke Monster on the cliff, etc. You would have to be made of stone to not get choked up at one or multiple points, whether it was Jack passing on the protector job to Hurley (an appropriate end for the "fan surrogate character" as he's been called) or Kate and Charlie again helping Claire deliver Aaron, or Locke forgiving Ben, or one of a dozen other moments like those. Really, up until those last minutes, which I'll get to in a bit, I thought it was a wonderful final episode.

As far as that ending……..with them ending up at the church…..Now, I’m not 100% confident in my interpretations (which is stating the obvious), but here’s my thoughts…..my take is that indeed we discover via Christian Shephard aka Jack’s dead father that all of the people on Oceanic 815 including Desmond, Daniel, Charlotte, Kate, Sawyer, Miles, Claire, Sayid, Sun, Jin, Locke, Hurley, Benjamin, etc. did really live on the island but when they died they moved on to L.A for their flash-sideways world was the afterlife – taking place after everyone died, but not in any real time frame. In the end, the characters’ experiences on the island bonded them together – “the most important time of your lives” – and they all reconnected in the afterlife, before moving on to… the light.

As with everything else in “Lost,” there are statements and then there are layers. For instance, most of the “recognition” moments took place when two people in love encountered each other in the afterlife. And in the afterlife, everything always seemed to work out. The couples that were supposed to be together ended up together. Love won out. Hurley was the “luckiest man in the world.” Locke was cured of his paralysis. Things just always seemed to work out. For everyone. That’s how many people in our post-modern world see “the afterlife.”

Now I can't say I found "The End" wholly satisfying as closure for this season or the series.

I do believe it’ll be years before another cult hit like this comes along. We’ve all just witnessed something special I think. One of the greatest dramatic TV shows of all-time.

I have come to see the show not just as entertainment but also an exercise in storytelling, debates in modern moral dilemmas, and reflection upon theological and spiritual undertones.

These theologies are NOT always overtly Christian on LOST, but they make us think about the Christian life so that we can gain perspective in our own lives.

Please, don't get me wrong. Lost is not a particularly Christian show, even if there are spiritual overtones (good verses evil, faith, redemption, love, etc.) Fact is, there are elements of many philosophical and religious traditions, and as such, it should not be placed in the same category of creative works as, say, those by C. S. Lewis, who wrote stories that intentionally reflected a worldview of Christian orthodoxy.

Nevertheless, one of the valuable things about watching Lost is that it invites us to confront our ideas of who God is. Is God personal and forgiving? Is He cold and uncaring? Is He distant and unknowable? Does He leave us to our own devices? Or does He actively intervene?

So if Lost fans are seeking within its narratives the secrets of life, meaning and significance they will eventually walk away disappointed and frustrated.

But the good news is the "Good News" -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost" As believers in Christ, we can appreciate the echoes of truth that reverberate in quality entertainment options like Lost, but we get to have a personal relationship with the One who is the Truth. And through Jesus, who is the Word, we have access to a God who has chosen to make Himself known to His people. (John 1:14, 18)

To put a spin from our Christian perspective, my hope is to, as Desmond would say,“See you in another life brother.” (John 14:1-6)

God bless,
Robert Prater

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer


This is a sad video of the reality of a great deal of today's “contemporary” churches whose primary objective is to be “relevant.” We need a Biblical and spiritually healthy blast of what worship is really supposed to be….not what the modern church is looking like.

The simple worship of the early church was quite surprising to pagan visitors. Indeed, this very fact caused much enmity of unbelievers.
“Another circumstance that irritated the Romans against the Christians was the simplicity of their worship, which resembled in nothing the sacred rites of any other people. They had no sacrifices, temples, images, instrumental music, oracles, or sacerdotal orders; and this was sufficient to bring upon them the reproaches of an ignorant multitude, who imagined that there could be no religion without these.” (Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, p. 30)

Worship is all about God (Psalm 146; Rev. 19:10). What that means is God is our primary concern when it comes to worship. Much of what drives man’s worship today (not exclusive for today, been true historically) is self and not God! Today much of the focus is to conduct worship in such a way that it becomes attractive and appealing to people! Nothing wrong with that to a degree. But we must always be reminded and taught that worship is not about us, but God!

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)

God bless,
Robert Prater

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Christ has no hands here but yours

This picture above is from a real statue that exists outside Christ the King Catholic Church in San Diego. The hands were broken off by vandals around 1980. Instead of repairing the hands, the church decided to put up a plaque at the base that states, 'I have no hands but yours.' This is a reference to a poem by St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) that reads the following:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

The statue without hands is still there in San Diego, a powerful symbol of a great truth. We ARE His hands. And He wants us to use them in His service, which means in the service of others.

Some people try to do, love, give, abstain, or serve just enough to get by. I guess you can live life that way. But, there is another way...a better way.

There is a way that gives more than it takes, that loves more than it is loved, and that experiences Christ in such a way that it cannot help but to extend itself practically so that people may actually catch a real glimpse of Christ by looking at us. That's the way I want to live. When I arrive at the end of my life, I pray that I have spent myself in a mission that is worth more than my comfort or self interests. Those are convicting words and a great challenge. I hope to live up to them.

"He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, "Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else." (Mark 9:35 New Living Translation)

For Christ,
Robert Prater

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Homeless good Samaritan left to die on NYC street

Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, a Guatemalan immigrant, was the kind of person people in New York ignored. He was dirty and homeless, but it didn't mean Tale-Yax wasn't human. It seems, actually, he was a pretty good guy. When a woman was attacked by a knife-weilding man in a short-sleeved green shirt and green hat, Tale-Yax, 31, leapt into action. He paid dearly for his heroic effort after he was stabbed. After falling the ground at 144th Street and 88th Road in Jamaica, Queens, around 5:40 a.m. on April 18, many people walked by him without doing anything to help. He laid there, first bleeding in pain and then motionless, for more than an hour, as dozens of people walked by, nobody stopping to help, according to a surveillance video obtained by the New York Post. One person even took what appears to be a photo with his cell phone before leaving Tale-Yax, who finally received assistance -- via 911 call -- at about 7:20 a.m.

I couldn’t agree more with the assessment and comment made by one person commenting on another preacher’s blog: "It is time to stop being afraid, it is time for revival of humanity, it is time to care. 'Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.' We let Jesus die on the sidewalk!"

Check out the video yourself below!

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Everything today in our culture (just watch TV and listen to music) teaches us to focus on our selves… our self promotion… our self awareness, our self indulgence… our self comfort… our self concern… our self everything. In its cancerous pollution way, sin has led to us believing that the only course to our meaning and relevance is through ourselves.

I think what greatly breaks my heart in this story is that I can see myself “not doing enough”… I see just how easily I am guilty of this and how my engagements… my feeling of needing to get things done on my schedule and my fear of getting dirty or “attacked” may hinder me from having helped Hugo out… or making sure at least the ambulance would have found him sooner. I am heartbroken because in a society and culture that prides itself in being the most forward-thinking… considerate and modern… Hugo’s story shows just how far we have missed the mark. It shows just how different and contrasted is the person that is selfless vs. the ones that are selfish.

The selfless one died saving another. The selfish did nothing… watched him suffer… and got to live their lives still pursuing selfish motivations. Doesn’t this story sound familiar? This is the story of Jesus Christ. He is the one that lived a perfect and holy life, and then was falsely accused and died selflessly to save many others. What is amazing is that he not only lived a life that was perfect and without sin, but in his death, he rose 3 days later and now sits beside God advocating and speaking on our behalf… for those standing there watching him suffer and did nothing. This is the Son of God that did this for us, and shows you just how much God loves us that He would send His beloved Son to live and die for us.

Hugo’s death also breaks my heart because I believe that many of us self-professed Christians are at times no different than those many people that walked by and did nothing/not enough. Who is our neighbor? The question that came to my mind and a few others is… were any of those people that walked by Christian? I tell you it doesn’t matter, but I bet you that I would not be surprised if some were, and failed to do anything.

Where are YOU at? Which one of the people are you in the story of the Modern Day Good Samaritan? Is your life so about yourself… that you are oblivious to those around you? To the basic compassion and grace and opportunities to love? Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax is the Jesus in his tragic death. Where are the Jesus’ around you?

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

May God help us break the sinful selfishness in us!

Robert Prater


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Letters to God


Check out the link below for the trailer for this new movie.

A heartfelt tale of inspiration, hope and redemption, 'Letters to God' is inspired by a true story of what happens when one boy’s walk of faith crosses paths with one man’s search for meaning—the resulting transformational journey touches the lives of everyon

This movie hopefully will be a good reason for people to face their own faith and for this reason alone, it will be a must-see family film

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God bless,

Robert Prater

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Daddy's B-Day Princess!!


Today my precious daughter Mackenzie turned 6 years old.
I can still remember the day she was born, as though it were yesterday. Sigh! She is sooooo beyond words excited to be 6 … because 6 means she’s officially a big girl (according to her). It’s major … I agree!

She is such a remarkable little person. Witty, kind, smart, but ornery, bold, my little Taylor Swift diva, creative — it is a privilege to be her parent.

She has certainly brought out the best, and the worst, of us both. For that, I thank you.

Here’s my promise that I will keep to you
: to do my best to model the love and example of Christ in my life, to teach and encourage you in God's Word, to love His church, to fit you with all the skills and knowledge that you will need to make a good, fulfilling life for yourself, filled with love and adventure and, when it's time, to have the courage and wisdom to let you go!

Happy Birthday To My Little Princess

Happy birthday hugs and kisses

Little Princess girl of mine

Little toy ponies, Barbies and books

Sweet innocent looks

You’re still sweeter than honey

Still more precious than gold

I forget to tell you often enough

Just how you’re so special

So loving and so very smart!

Happy birthday my little princess

You still rule my heart!


Happy Birthday my “Sissy", "Sweetpea!" Have a great, great day!

Love,

Daddy, (and Mommy too)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Something Close to Nothing!

People will no doubt continue to remain bitterly divided of the health care debate despite the new law/reform Congress passed last night. Good and honest people can and will arrive at different conclusions and have vastly different viewpoints as to what is best for this nation.

I have no doubt President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of their cohorts who voted in favor of Obamacare yesterday think they are making a more perfect union.

But, in my opinion, I think Congress has done something close to nothing to reform America’s health care system.

The sad reality is that for those of us who think the ballooning national debt is a key indicator of our nation's health and prosperity, the country is in desperate straits carrying a sense of falling that is undeniable. The continued expansion of government control and intervention coupled with massive spending increases make it difficult to be optimistic about our country's future.

The financial facts of this bill were continually ignored by the 219 members of the House who voted on this massive entitlement bill. Read at the bottom the Op Ed piece in the New York Times (of all sources) which laid out the truth about this bill. (“The Real Arithmetic of Health Care Reform”)

Given the government's history or grossly underestimating the actual costs of entitlement programs, I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t trust the government to hold my money.

Now, one last point, while everyone has an obligation to help those who are less fortunate, it is important how that duty is fulfilled. I simply believe that President Obama's desire for the government to carry out that responsibility is misguided and will lead to more government waste and neglect of the very ones they claim to want to help.

If you remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan, there's a priest and a Levite who use their freedom in different ways than the Samaritan did. They chose not to help the man who was lying by the side of the road. But the Samaritan used his freedom, and Jesus encouraged his followers to use their freedom to help the poor and the sick. And when you do that, the care that they receive ends up being better.

Many are predicting that the government's effort to provide medical care to the poor will be an “administrative and bureaucratic nightmare" because of the all the politicking and litigation involved.”

This country has a lot of soul searching to do when it comes to what's best for our nation's health care needs

People are afraid that this new health care law will lead to socialized medicine, no choice of doctors or hospitals, and their list goes on and on.

It is indeed a time of reflection and prayer. In the end, We must always remember what the God of heavens says about Himself and about the righteous and wicked,

"Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save. When their spirits depart, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them--the Lord, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien, and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever
..."

Psalm 147:3-10a (NIV).

_____________________________

The Real Arithmetic of Health Care Reform
By DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN
Published: March 20, 2010

ON Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that, if enacted, the latest health care reform legislation would, over the next 10 years, cost about $950 billion, but because it would raise some revenues and lower some costs, it would also lower federal deficits by $138 billion. In other words, a bill that would set up two new entitlement spending programs — health insurance subsidies and long-term health care benefits — would actually improve the nation’s bottom line.

Could this really be true? How can the budget office give a green light to a bill that commits the federal government to spending nearly $1 trillion more over the next 10 years?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.
Gimmick No. 1 is the way the bill front-loads revenues and backloads spending. That is, the taxes and fees it calls for are set to begin immediately, but its new subsidies would be deferred so that the first 10 years of revenue would be used to pay for only 6 years of spending.

Even worse, some costs are left out entirely. To operate the new programs over the first 10 years, future Congresses would need to vote for $114 billion in additional annual spending. But this so-called discretionary spending is excluded from the
Congressional Budget Office’s tabulation.

Consider, too, the fate of the $70 billion in premiums expected to be raised in the first 10 years for the legislation’s new long-term health care insurance program. This money is counted as deficit reduction, but the benefits it is intended to finance are assumed not to materialize in the first 10 years, so they appear nowhere in the cost of the legislation.

Another vivid example of how the legislation manipulates revenues is the provision to have corporations deposit $8 billion in higher estimated tax payments in 2014, thereby meeting fiscal targets for the first five years. But since the corporations’ actual taxes would be unchanged, the money would need to be refunded the next year.

The net effect is simply to shift dollars from 2015 to 2014.
In addition to this accounting sleight of hand, the legislation would blithely rob Peter to pay Paul. For example, it would use $53 billion in anticipated higher Social Security taxes to offset health care spending. Social Security revenues are expected to rise as employers shift from paying for health insurance to paying higher wages. But if workers have higher wages, they will also qualify for increased Social Security benefits when they retire. So the extra money raised from payroll taxes is already spoken for. (Indeed, it is unlikely to be enough to keep Social Security solvent.) It cannot be used for lowering the deficit.

A government takeover of all federally financed student loans — which obviously has nothing to do with health care — is rolled into the bill because it is expected to generate $19 billion in deficit reduction.

Finally, in perhaps the most amazing bit of unrealistic accounting, the legislation proposes to trim $463 billion from Medicare spending and use it to finance insurance subsidies. But Medicare is already bleeding red ink, and the health care bill has no reforms that would enable the program to operate more cheaply in the future. Instead, Congress is likely to continue to regularly override scheduled cuts in payments to Medicare doctors and other providers.

Removing the unrealistic annual Medicare savings ($463 billion) and the stolen annual revenues from Social Security and long-term care insurance ($123 billion), and adding in the annual spending that so far is not accounted for ($114 billion) quickly generates additional deficits of $562 billion in the first 10 years. And the nation would be on the hook for two more entitlement programs rapidly expanding as far as the eye can see.

The bottom line is that Congress would spend a lot more; steal funds from education, Social Security and long-term care to cover the gap; and promise that future Congresses will make up for it by taxing more and spending less.

The stakes could not be higher. As documented in another recent budget office analysis, the federal deficit is already expected to exceed at least $700 billion every year over the next decade, doubling the national debt to more than $20 trillion. By 2020, the federal deficit — the amount the government must borrow to meet its expenses — is projected to be $1.2 trillion, $900 billion of which represents interest on previous debt.

The health care legislation would only increase this crushing debt. It is a clear indication that Congress does not realize the urgency of putting America’s fiscal house in order.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was the director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2005, is the president of the American Action Forum, a policy institute.