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Daddy, is that Story True, or Were You Just Preaching?
By JAMES W. MOORE
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
GO OUT SINGING
Have you ever noticed how God can use the most unlikely people to get his work done?
The musical Go Out Singing is a sequel to Godspell; it takes up where Godspell leaves off. Look at how powerfully and dramatically the play begins.
The Go Out Singing overture begins when the houselights have faded as usual. It has the sound of a Broadway overture, although slightly more dignified in tone.
After several of the show's tunes have been played, the overture dissolves into a long, high note, which continues to be held as the curtain rises on darkness and the beginning of Scene 1. As the curtain reaches its height, we hear a sound. It's the sound of a rooster crowing. Silence. It crows again.
The lights start coming up slowly, and we see the solitary figure of a man sitting on a rock, head in hands. Behind him, up left, are the gates leading into Jerusalem. Behind him, up right, far in the distance, are the silhouettes of three crosses with bodies on them.
The orchestra breaks from its single note with a soft, stinging chord. The man seated on the rock, Simon Peter, raises his head sadly and sings a song, "And Now This," in which he reflects upon how they had such great hope but now their hopes are dashed because the Lord has been crucified.
Later in the song, Peter sings of squandered chances and missed opportunities. Peter, who denied Christ three times, wishes for just one more chance. He is sure that this time, he would be "twice the man.... twice ... no, thrice the man!"
That's what Go Out Singing is about—Simon Peter's second chance, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the healing of the sick, encounters with Paul and Nero, courage, obedience, persecution, imprisonment, martyrdom, the most unlikely people working against the most incredible odds and working against it all with a song of triumph. The title, Go Out Singing, connects to two fascinating episodes:
* First, Peter and John are in prison. The jailer is asleep, when suddenly, miraculously, the doors open. John whispers, "Let's slip out of here."
"No!" says Peter, "We are not going to slip out of anywhere. We are going to go out singing." Peter and John shake their chains in rhythm and they go out singing.
* Second, Peter, in the final scene, is being led out to be crucified upside down. His friends begin to cry. Peter stops and says, "Don't weep for me ... I'm gonna go out singing." And he does.
When you see it, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry. It will touch you, challenge you, inspire you. But most of all, it will make you go out singing.
Speaking of how God can use the most unlikely people to do his work, consider the case of King James I of Great Britain. Quite possibly no other English king will be longer remembered.
This is most unusual because King James, especially in his later years, was morbidly afraid of death. He became so paranoid, so convinced that everyone was plotting against him, that he was cheerful only when he was drunk. So, he drank more and more to escape the fear. He seldom went to bed sober.
He probably would have been long forgotten as just another king of England—and not a very good one at that—except for one thing: He was responsible for the printing of the best-selling book of all time. It bears his name, the King James Version of the Bible.
In 1604, King James made a snap decision, prompted by an Oxford scholar named John Reynolds. It may well have been that Reynolds convinced King James to permit the printing of the Bible by appealing to his vanity. "Your name will be on it!"
Reflecting on this some years later, Bible scholar J. D. Douglas made a striking observation when he pointed out that the King James Version of the Bible is a dramatic reminder to us of God's amazing capacity for "writing straight with crooked lines."
I have often thought about that fascinating phrase, "writing straight with crooked lines," because it is just another way of saying that God often uses the most unlikely tools to achieve his purposes.
It is an interesting thing to ponder, isn't it? That is, how God uses unlikely people, unlikely events, unlikely tools to get his work done. Could it be possible that God might even use you and me?CHAPTER 2
IF YOU GET WHERE YOU ARE GOING, WHERE WILL YOU BE?
Some years ago, well-known preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick told the story about a man who boarded a bus, fully intending to go to Detroit, but at the end of the long trip when he got off the bus he found himself not in Detroit, but in Kansas City.
He had caught the wrong bus!
Something like that happens repeatedly in life. People on the whole desire good things. Basically, we want happiness, maturity, and meaning. We want good marriages, productive careers, useful lives. We want poise, respect, an honorable old age, and strong faith.
Our intentions are good, but sometimes we catch the wrong bus and thus end up in the wrong place.
That man who started for Detroit, but instead landed in Kansas City, would not believe it at first. He got off the bus and asked for directions to Woodward Avenue. When he was told that there was no Woodward Avenue in this city, he was indignant.
"Now see here," he said, "I know Detroit, I have been to Detroit many times and I have been on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Don't tell me there is no Woodward Avenue here!"
"But, sir, this is Kansas City," someone told him.
Finally, it dawned on him with a sickening thud that despite the clarity of his desire and his intention—he had, in fact, caught the wrong bus and he had, in fact, ended up in the wrong place.
This is a great parable for life, because it can happen to us. Think about it a moment.
The prodigal son didn't mean to end up in a swine pasture. That was not his intended destination. He wanted happiness, fulfillment, freedom. But he "caught the wrong bus" and wound up in the wrong place as a starving, defeated, deflated feeder of pigs.
Judas Iscariot didn't mean to end up a traitor. That was not his intended destination, but somehow it happened, and he has gone down in history as the man who sold out his master.
The rich young ruler didn't mean to end up sorrowful, but he "caught the wrong bus" and ended up in the wrong place.
Life is full of that experience. Over the years, I have had the privilege of officiating at the marriage ceremonies of hundreds of couples—charming, happy, attractive young couples (and some not so young) with great joy in their hearts and great hope in their eyes. You know they intend to have happy homes and good marriages.
But as the years pass, and I see so many marriages start for Utopia and end up in the divorce courts, I find myself at the marriage service offering up a silent prayer —"Oh, God, help them catch the right bus!"
I see parents who want so much for their children to have high morals and good values, but they don't spend enough time with their children or have enough discussions with them about things that really matter.
They want their children to have the best religious training, and yet they treat Sunday school lightly and seemingly relieve themselves from responsibility here.
You see, good intentions are not enough. This truth touches us personally too. Most of us desire good things—we want meaning and fulfillment. We want happiness and acceptance. We want respectable character and spiritual wisdom. We want a good prayer life and command of the Scriptures. We want respect from our friends and an old age unashamed.
The truth is that we have high ideals and good goals, but the critical question rises: Are we on the right bus? Are we on the road that leads where we want to go?
In our everyday conversations we have certain phrases that underscore this problem. We say things such as:
* "He is headed for a fall," or ...
* "She is on a collision course," or ...
* "He is off the track" or "out in left field."
What about you and me? Are we on the right road to get where we want to go? Are we doing the things to ensure that we will end up at our intended destination? Or are we on the wrong bus?
So, the question is a crucial one to think about—"If you get where you are going, where will you be?"CHAPTER 3
IS IT SINFUL TO GET ANGRY?
It was late on a Monday afternoon. I was going through some things on my desk when I sensed someone's presence. Have you ever had that experience?
My back was to the door and I was absorbed in what I was doing, when suddenly I felt the presence of another person. I turned around and there at the door to my office stood a young woman.
She was crying quietly. She said, "Jim, I'm sorry about walking in like this, but I just had to talk to somebody." She went on to describe a family squabble that had just erupted over nothing really important.
It could have been avoided or handled differently, she admitted, but it hadn't been, and angry, hostile words and actions exploded through the house. "I got so mad," she said. "I was so angry that I lost control. I couldn't see straight. I lost my head—and now I'm so ashamed. I feel devastated."
She paused for a moment and then she said, "Is it sinful to get angry? It must be because my soul feels so deflated and empty now after my angry outburst."
Then she added, "Sometimes I feel like God has converted every part of me except my temper. I'm a Christian, I try to do what is right, but I must confess that I have a terrible temper. I can get so angry!"
Now, what do you think? What would you have told that young woman? Is it sinful to get angry? One thing is for sure: anger can be sinful. It can become a spiritual cancer. It can destroy us and devastate other people. It can disrupt families, ruin friendships, split churches, and start wars. Anger is a powerful force in human nature which we too often let run toward negative, destructive ends.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of a forbidden anger. He condemned anger, but we also know that later, he, himself, got angry—angry enough to run the money changers out of the Temple. What are we to make of this? How do we reconcile these two? Was Jesus inconsistent?
To answer these hard questions, we need to recognize that there are several different kinds of anger. Below are three common varieties. Let's look at them and see if we can find ourselves somewhere between the lines.
FIRST, THERE IS "ADOLESCENT ANGER," which unfortunately is not confined to the adolescent period.
Sadly, grownups can have childish temperaments. Psychiatrists tell us that people who are short-tempered, hostile, and irritable are basically immature. They may be adults chronologically, but emotionally they may still be little children who want to scream and kick because they can't have their own way. Think about it.
* There is the man who flies into a rage because his toast is burnt.
* There is the woman who quits the club because her name was accidentally omitted from a list of committee members.
* There is the teenager who runs to her room and slams the door and pouts because she isn't permitted to go to the slumber party.
* There is the church member who quits the church because his announcement was left out of the bulletin.
Does this sound familiar? Be honest. Have you grown up? Or are you still the victim of adolescent anger? What makes you mad? Cold coffee? The ring in the bathtub? An improperly squeezed toothpaste tube? A traffic jam? Homework? A missed parking place?
Some people show by their tantrums that they have quite simply never grown up. Like little children, they have made themselves the center of the universe and when their world is crossed or shaken, they get cross and shaken! All through the Scriptures, we are warned about the sinful misuse of anger and we are urged to mature spiritually—to grow up!
SECOND, THERE IS BROODING, SEETHING ANGER. We can say without a doubt that this kind of anger is sinful, because it is anger seeking vengeance, anger that will not forgive. It is murderous, destructive, dangerous anger.
In the Greek language, there are two words for anger. There is thumos, which is anger that quickly blazes up and then quickly dies down. And, there is orgé, which is the anger that broods and seethes and looks for the chance to pay somebody back. There is nothing that will separate us from God and devastate our souls and bring hell into our lives more quickly than orgé. There's no question about it. It is as sinful as sin can get.
THIRD, THERE IS CONSTRUCTIVE ANGER— RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION. As always, Jesus is our best example of righteous indignation. Two dramatic things can be said about his use of this emotion:
On the one hand, he was never upset by unkindness directed toward himself! He was never personally offended! He was criticized, questioned, rejected, accused falsely, lied about, pushed and shoved, taunted, beaten, spat upon, cursed at, and nailed to a cross. But all the way through, when he was reviled, he reviled not again. They did all that to him and when they finished, he said: "Father, forgive them!"
Let me add a quick note here. This does not mean that we should permit anyone to abuse us. If we are in an abusive situation, we should report that and get out of it as soon as possible. I am simply saying that Jesus' anger was never selfish and neither should ours be.
On the other hand, Jesus did get upset by injustices done to others! He did get upset when he saw other people being exploited or mistreated or cheated or hurt. When he saw a woman judged without mercy, he was upset. When he saw religious leaders place custom and tradition before human need, he was upset. When he saw people cheated in the Temple, he was so upset that he overturned the money changers' tables and drove them out.
Jesus was never upset by any unkindness directed toward himself, but he was upset by injustices directed toward others. Our problem is that, more often than not, we reverse this. We get personally offended and fail to see others being exploited or mistreated.
Be honest now. What makes you angry? In summary, someone put it like this: "You can tell the size of a person by the size of the thing that makes that person mad."CHAPTER 4
WHEN YOUR HEART IS BROKEN
Sooner or later, heartache comes to all of us. Sooner or later, one way or another, all of us will get our hearts broken.
Sadness, sorrow, disappointment, mourning, grief—whatever you wish to call it—will rear its head and cover us over like a heavy blanket. The "broken heart" is a fact of living. We do need help in knowing how to deal with it, how to work through it, and how to grow on it.
What does faith say to us about the grief experience? How does faith help mend the broken heart?
There are, indeed, some special resources in the Christian faith that help bring healing to the hurt heart. Let me suggest a few ideas that I think can serve us well as we walk through the dark valley of sorrow.
FIRST, CLAIM THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH. Let the arms of love of the church family surround you and support you. Let the prayers, the casseroles, the tender handshakes, the gentle hugs, the letters and cards and phone calls be means of strength for you.
Let the worship services be celebrations of faith and helpful reminders that no matter how alone you may feel in your heartache, you are not alone—God is with you! Nothing, not even death, can separate you from God and his love.
So, let the worship and fellowship of the church surround you and uphold you. No matter how hurt you may feel, no matter how painful the experience, come back to regular church events as soon as you can. Let the church be an integral part of the healing process.
SECOND, CLAIM THE NEW POWER OF HELPING OTHERS that only comes from having gone through the grief pilgrimage. Those who have gone through sorrow have a new empathy, a new sensitivity, a new compassion, a new power to do something for others.
In Matthew 5, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted!"
Notice the word "comforted." It comes from two Latin words: cum, which means "with," and fortis, which means "strength." So, the word "comforted" literally means "with strength"! Thus, Jesus was saying: "Blessed are those who have gone through sorrow for they are 'with strength.'"
Albert Schweitzer put it like this: "Whoever among us has learned through personal experience what pain and anxiety really are ... no longer belongs to himself alone; he has become the brother of all who suffer."
Therefore, claim the strength to help others that only comes on the other side of trouble, that only comes from walking through the valley of grief.
Excerpted from Daddy, is that Story True, or Were You Just Preaching? by JAMES W. MOORE. Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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