What Leading Worship Looks Like in a P.O.W. Camp

Shuman

The following article about Lt. Commander Edwin Shuman appeared in the Beaumont Enterprise a couple of years ago.  It was too moving to keep to myself.  I hope it will inspire you to worship God this Sunday with conviction, sincerity, and gratitude.

 

On December 3, 2013, Lt. Commander Edwin Shuman died at the age of 82. During the Vietnam War, Shuman was captured after his Navy jet was shot down. In the fall of 1970 he was transferred to the large Hoa Lo prison, which American prisoners nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton. As Christmas approached, Shuman orchestrated a resistance movement to defy the guards’ insistence that they not worship. In the large cell of 43 POWs, Shuman stepped forward as the highest-ranking officer and asked, “Are we really committed to having church Sunday? I want to know person by person.” He went around the cell pointing at each man individually and the decision was unanimous. At that point he knew he would be the first one tortured. The following Sunday, Shuman stepped forward to lead in prayer and was quickly seized by the guards. The next four ranking officers did the same and they too were removed to be beaten. The guards were furious as the cell was in chaos and they were beating the POWs with their gun butts. At that point the sixth-ranking officer said, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.” That time they finished it. The scenario continued like falling dominoes in other cells and the guards finally gave up. From that Sunday until the prisoners were released in 1973 they held a church service every week. Fellow prisoner Leo Thorsness recounted Shuman’s heroics in his memoir, Surviving Hell, where he wrote, “Forty-two men in prison pajamas followed Ned’s lead. I know I will never see a better example of pure raw leadership or ever pray with a better sense of the meaning of the words.” The greatness of America is built upon this type of godly commitment. Beaumont Enterprise, 12/25/13, p.4A

 

Peace, and a Bucket of Popcorn

What’s the price for peace?

About $15 an hour.

That sounds cheap, doesn’t it?

But remember, you get what you pay for.

What are you paying for?  Here’s a breakdown of where peace can be found and what you are getting when you purchase it:

  • Go to the nearest Movie Theatre.
  • Select a mindless RomCom to watch. (RomCom = Romantic Comedy)
  • Purchase a ticket for $12.
  • Buy a bucket of popcorn for $10 and a large drink for $8.
  • Sit in a dark room focused on a big screen for 2 hours while all of your troubles wait outside in the parking lot.

So for $30, you get 2 hours of distraction from the world (a cheap peace) and all of the popcorn and Coke that you can drink.

A movie theatre is an excellent metaphor for the kind of peace we can make for ourselves in this world: it can be bought with enough money, it satisfies us for a moment, and like most RomComs, leaves us dissatisfied in the end.

At the theatre, we are distracted for a moment, and we can escape our worries for a couple of hours at a time. But when our movie is over, we are forced to return to all of our problems.  Our troubles meet us at the door.

Jesus offers us peace, but a better peace than the theatre.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

The peace Jesus offers is an unconditional gift.  It’s too expensive to be purchased.  His peace is part of the grace relationship we have with our heavenly Father.

The peace Jesus gives us is an eternal peace. It’s not an earthly distraction that diverts our attention. The peace Jesus offers protects us in the midst of life’s troubles.

The peace Jesus provides is a healing peace.  It’s not an escape from our problems.  Rather than distracting our hearts from our worries, Christ’s peace guards our hearts.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

The immeasurable peace of Jesus is infinitely better than the paltry peace we can make for ourselves in this world.

 

Cling to the One who Clings to You

 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7

My flower bed was a mess when I returned from Colorado.  I forget how well plants grow here in SE Texas. 

We didn’t have plants in the summer time back home.  We didn’t have anything green in the yard by the time the 4th of July came around.

But here, in Nederland, everything stays green and lush and healthy.  It’s like we’re in the Garden of Eden, watered with physical and mystical rivers of abundance.

The funny thing is, I don’t even have any flowers in my flower garden.  I suppose if I planted flowers, hedges, and beneficial plants, the rains would stop, the dew would cease to appear every morning, and a great drought would be upon us.  Since that’s not the case this year, I had to get out there and start pulling weeds.

I tried to poison the weeds before I for Colorado.  I bought a container of weed killer and figured one good spraying would be enough to last all season. And it probably would have been enough poison anywhere else, but not here in Nederland. In Nederland the weeds are powerful.  I think I only made them more determined to grow and flourish.

Trimming the weeds doesn’t work.  Unless you get the roots, the plant will spring right back up.  Unless you pluck it entirely from the soil, a remnant will survive.

So Rylie and I got out in the yard and we spent a couple of hours pulling weeds, making sure we got the leaves, stems, stalks and roots.

When we pulled a weed from the ground, it didn’t come out cleanly from the soil.  Each weed extracted a ball of soil from the flowerbed.  We threw the weeds, dirtball and all, from the flowerbed into the yard.  I think we threw half the soil from the flowerbed into the grass along with the weeds.

The roots systems are truly amazing.  The weed we plucked had tendrils of roots, twined together and clinging to the soil; they held tightly onto everything they touched.  These were roots designed to survive.  These roots were why you couldn’t just cut the weeds off at the soil level.

In our walk with Christ, Jesus himself is the soil in which we are planted.  He is our foundation.  Everything about our lives are rooted, and built up, in him and on him.

There’s a powerful metaphor here.  Our faith, rooted in Christ, needs to Cling to Christ, just as the roots of those weeds we were plucking need to cling to the soil they are planted in.

We cling to Jesus because we have no other savior. He is our sole savior a well as the savior of our souls.  He supplies us with everything we need to walk in him.  He provides us an abundance of spiritual nourishment to carry on our tasks and to stay planted in him.

When the winds blow and the rains come, we cling to him.  When we feel like we are losing out grip, we find that he is holding firmly onto us.

Regardless of how strongly we think we are grasping him, the truth is, he is holding onto us with an infinite strength.  Jesus doesn’t let go. He doesn’t relinquish us.  He holds us for eternity.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3

Where is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Is it among the nations of the earth?  Can we drive there?  Is there a bridge to it?  Where is a map of it?

Kristi and I drove a lot over the past month.  We drove through the plains.  We drove through the forest.  We drove in the hills and into the mountains.  We saw a tremendous amount of God’s good creation, but we didn’t see a sign indicating that we had entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

The kind of kingdom Jesus speaks about in the Sermon on the Mount isn’t the kind of kingdom we’ll hear about on the news, or read about in the paper.  It’s not a kingdom with borders.  It’s not the kind of kingdom that competes with other nations for territory or power.

Jesus’ opening words in his sermon indicate the Kingdom of Heaven is a different kind of kingdom.  Those who are citizens of God’s Kingdom are “poor in spirit.”

Obviously, God hasn’t read the recent self-help titles at the book store.  A trip through Barnes and Noble would indicate that we have an insatiable appetite for power, wealth, and pleasure.   We’re not interested in poverty, but prosperity.  We want to be enriched, not impoverished.  We want more, not less.  We want satisfaction, not contentment.

The world rewards the powerful. Fame and fortune are what seem to make people happy.  But the happiness thew world offers is a façade, a thin veneer that erodes in time.  The blessings of the kingdoms of this world are fleeting.

But in the Kingdom of Heaven, the poor in spirit are blessed.

A great reversal from our way of thinking.

But then again, God’s ways are not our way.  Nor or our thoughts like his thoughts.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
Isaiah 55:8

The Kingdom of Heaven is populated with people who have declared bankruptcy!  Spiritual bankruptcy, that is.

The Kingdom of Heaven is where those who have become dissatisfied with the ways of the world take refuge.  The Kingdom of Heaven is where the anemic soul finds nourishment. The Kingdom of Heaven is the home of the humble.

The Greek word for “blessed” can also be translated as happy.  There is a practice that leads to happy living in the Kingdom of Heaven: Prayer.

Prayer that expresses gratitude toward God makes the heart happy.  The poor in spirit recognize readily how richly God has favored them and blessed them and provided for them.  Our God is rich in every way and he shares his goodness abundantly with his children.

Prayer that confesses our need for God maintains our happiness in God.  When we confess, we are not merely reminding God about the areas we’ve fallen, we are reminding ourselves that we have a savior.  Jesus died for our sins, but he rose victoriously from the grave to overcome the consequences of our sin.  God provides us a way to deal with our sin in Christ.  This world teaches us to hide, or to excuse, or to justify our sin.  God tells us to come to him, to confess our sin, and be forgiven.  In being forgiven, we are changed.  Happy is the citizen of Heaven who has come away from his sin!

Prayer builds a happy trust in the King of the Kingdom of Heaven.  As we bow, and acknowledge God’s authority over our lives, we place our lives in his hands.  We say with our savior, “Not my will, but thine be done.”  An old hymn states it well, “For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”  Obedience is the result of trust.  We can’t make sense of God’s plan.  We can’t fathom all that he is doing or desires to do.  But we can trust.  We can muster the trust to obey, even when cannot see the path beyond our arm’s reach.  In the Kingdom of Heaven, we live happily, and blessed lives, as we prayerfully make God king of our hearts, day after day.

So where is the Kingdom of God?  It’s wherever we worship God as King.  It’s where people have wisdom enough to honor and adore him.  The Kingdom of Heaven where God’s authority is acknowledged.

The Kingdom of Heaven is wherever people make their first allegiance to God as King, Jesus as Savior and the Holy Spirit as their sustainer.  We experience a little bit of Heaven on Earth as we relate to the King of Kings during the little period of time we are given on this planet.  We witness to the goodness of our God as we seek to share his blessings with those who have not yet found their way into the kingdom he offers.

In our poverty, we
Discover abundance.
In our falling, we have
Found your resurrection.
Through your grace, we are saved.
Blessed are the souls who
Call your Kingdom their home.

Devo on God’s Word: May the Message Live on in Me

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Colossians 3:16

God does not give of himself to us in partial measures. What we have of God, and from God, we have in abundance. He throws us a feast, even in the presence of our enemies.  In God, our cup runneth over.  He gives his children what they need, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, and poured into our laps.

When the Bible speaks about our savior, there are just a few pages to cover his birth, his miracles, his prayers.  There are many pages taken with his teaching.  And many more pages committed to his death, burial and resurrection.  We have a rich account of his life and we have the undying testimony of the early church who were eyewitnesses to his glory.

The message of Christ should be as alive today among us as it was in the hearts and minds of those early believers.  The message lives on in our dogged dedication to discipleship. The message lives on in the acts of love we perform in Jesus’ name.  The message lives on as we die to ourselves in order that Christ might live through us.

When Christians, who have been deeply touched and blessed through their relationship with Christ, come together in worship, they cannot help but to lift their voices in joyous songs to God.  Our hearts are full of gratitude to God for his abundant salvation.

Have you taken stock concerning how the message of Christ inhabits your life?  Is it a welcomed guest?  Does it come and go according to your mood?  Or do you enjoy its permanent company as you learn from the founder and perfecter of our faith?

Do We Want God, or a Myth About God?

This morning we are looking at a difficult message from Scripture. In the book of Leviticus, God gave specific details as to how the sacrifices were to be presented at the Tabernacle.  Certain parts of certain animals were to be offered at certain times for certain offenses, and all of these instructions were to be followed to the letter.

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I don’t know if the events that take place in Leviticus 10 occur the day following the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests in Leviticus 9, but one thing is clear:  the trespass that brought death to Aaron’s sons came pretty quickly after they received their instructions and began their ministry.

Leviticus 10 is a difficult passage because it confronts the warm-fuzzy thoughts we have about God.  The story of the death of Nadab and Abihu are a corrective for a Me Centered, Emotionally Fueled, Permissive kind of theology.

There are three errors this passage aims to correct:

1. God Does Not Have To Be NICE.

God is not limited to being nice, according to our notion of what nice is.  God is a Great Physician. He uses his scalpel, when necessary, to root out sin so our lives might be fruitful. God does not have to be nice, but we can trust that God is GOOD.

2.  God Does Not Want To Be Our Cosmic Buddy.

I had a hat (purchased for me in California) that read, “Jesus Is My Homeboy.”  As fun as that hat was, I didn’t wear it out in public.  God does not want our fraternity.  God seeks to develop “Fear of the Lord” among his followers.

“Fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom.  Familiarity leads to discursiveness.  “Fear of the Lord” leads to awe, reverence, respect and an appreciation of the grace of God in our lives.

3.  God Can Be Accessed Any Way We Decide

Nadab and Abihu brought “Strange Fire” before the Lord.  The NIV translates it as “Unauthorized Fire.”  The exact meaning is shrouded in confusion, but the point is clear enough:  God was not pleased with their innovation or their imagination.  The sacrifice he desired from his priest involved a commitment of Obedience.

The rejection of the “strange fire” is a reminder that not every path leads to God.  Not every good intention will be accepted.  Not ever heart that feels a spiritual warmth will be embraced by the Almighty.

God doesn’t move as we expect him to move; he is much better than that.  Even when he isn’t “nice” he is good.  And we trust his goodness.

God is not our buddy; he is our Creator, Sustainer and Savior.

We come to God by the grace of God.  We offer to him fire that he has given us: the fire of our faith.

May the fire of faith in Christ be so  brilliant that it illuminates our path from here to the here-after.

 

Devotion on God’s Word: I Must Be Transformed!

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 
Romans 12:2

Transformation is God’s goal for our lives.  As the Father leads us by the hand, by the heart, and by the mind, he is continually reshaping us into the image and likeness of his Son.

In order for our minds to be renewed, they must be filled with new information.  God’s word is information that leads to transformation.  As our minds are filled with his commandments, vision, and stories of sacred history, they shed the patterns of this world like a thick coat on a hot day.  The patterns of this world no longer hold us captive once we have seen the possibilities of the Kingdom of God.

The disciple who wants to please God considers God’s word.  Reading God’s word is a participation in the divine communication of truth.  The more familiar we are with God’s word, the more familiar we become with his will. God’s will for us is always part of his nature: “Good, Pleasing, and Perfect.”  God does no evil for he is love.  God delights in his beautiful creation so his will is pleasing.  And since God is perfect, and does all things well, his will is perfect.

When we find God’s will for our life, it becomes like the “pearl of great price.  The merchant that found the pearl went way and sold all he had in order to purchase it (see Matthew 13:45-46).  He rejoiced that he was able to exchange those things which are temporary for something eternal.  God’s work leads us to that precious, hidden pearl, of God’s will for us.

What are you holding onto that prevents you from accepting and participating in God’s will for your life?  The transformation of the mind begins with the intelectual conviction that God’s word is true and good and perfect and pleasing.  Pursue these things though God’s word and see if you will not grow up into Christ by the renewing of you mind.

Devotion on God’s Word. Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

The yoke of Jesus is not a yoke for beasts of burden, but for men and women with burdened souls and weary hearts.  Oxen and draft horses spend their strength, and exhaust their lives, leaning into their master’s yoke.  Jesus’ disciples take his yoke upon their shoulders to learn from him.  The yoke Christ offers gives us eternal life.

The yoke of Jesus is not a yoke of tyranny.  It is a yoke of love and grace.  His yoke is love because it is part of his invitation to salvation.  His yoke is grace because it offers rest and restores our soul.

A disciple can only bear one yoke.  Taking the yoke of Jesus means exclusive and absolute dedication.  When we are yoked with Jesus, we follow his direction.  We make progress in the Christian life as we yield to the savior.  The yoke of Christ’s teaching is our liberation from the past, our strength for today and our hope for tomorrow.

Christ’s yoke gives purpose to our life.  The animal that is unfit for the yoke is destined for destruction.  Jesus’ yoke is a sign of our worth and dignity.  We identify ourselves with the “King of kings and Lord of lords” as we wear his harness.

We do not bear Christ’s yoke alone.  The one who invites us to take his yoke is in the yoke with us.  We pull in tandem with Jesus.   In the yoke, Jesus bears the greater weight, and does the greater work, but he shares all the reward. Our work in the yoke is a work of gratitude and obedience.  His yoke is a daily reminder of our relationship with him. Jesus is always close at hand, right beside us, and leading us into the Kingdom of God.

Devotional On God’s Word. Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
Psalm 119:105

Light and darkness cannot coexist.  The deeper the darkness, the brighter even the smallest flame appears.  Light dispels darkness.  Without the light of God’s word, we walk in the darkness of confusion.  God reveals his path to us by the light of the Scriptures.  God’s word clarifies the path marked out for us with the brilliance of his wisdom.

The light of God’s truth brings every aspect of our lives into perspective.  In his light, we know who we are and by his light, we walk by faith.  Because we have his light we know where we are and where we are going.  Drawing closer each day to his light is the goal of our existence.

When we turn away from God’s word, we turn into our own shadow.  Rebellion against the light of God’s revelation makes our darkness unbearable. The moment we repent and turn back to the truth, the fullness of the light of God is present to us.

God’s word is a constant light.  Scriptures’ energy is never diminished and its flame is never extinguished. The closer we live by the light of God’s word, the more we gain from it.  The closer we live to it, the more of our path we can see by it.  The better we live with it, the more we embody the light.

God’s spoken word is seen best in the light of the living word, Jesus Christ.  John says of Jesus: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”  Jesus is the eternal word of the Father made flesh and sent to dwell among us.  God gives us his written word to study and obey, and he sends us the “Word made flesh” to follow and adore. The written word and the living word work in cooperation.

We find traces of Jesus all throughout the Scriptures.  And when we find enough of the Scriptures in our hearts, perhaps others will find Jesus in us.