God’s Not Dead

Speaking of confusing light and darkness:

If you’re struggling over whether or not to believe in God, I’d like to recommend the series of movies God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2, and God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.

God’s Not Dead came out in 2014 and got such a poor rating (4.7) that we didn’t watch it, but we watched it this past week and realized that the movie is actually excellent, and I’m convinced the low rating is simply a reflection of Hollywood and movie critics in general disliking Christian themes and material.

The first movie contains some helpful information concerning the origins of Earth and the universe and a clear gospel message.

God’s Not Dead 2 takes us to a courtroom, where a high school teacher is charged for answering a question about Jesus in her AP history class.

In this movie, Lee Strobel and Jim Wallace, both capable defenders of the Christian faith, show up on the witness stand. I’m in the midst of listening my way through Warren’s fascinating series on Christianity, written from his perspective as a cold-case detective on the Los Angeles police force, so I’m doubly a fan.

In both movies, the Newsboys make appearances, sharing faith and singing. If you’re not familiar with the Newsboys, they’re a Christian rock band from Australia that’s released 17 albums, 6 certified gold, and their catchy, clever lyrics have been captivating kids since 1985.

According to Wiki, Michael Tait (who now leads the Newsboys) “expressed excitement about the film to The Global Dispatch during an interview, saying that ‘The movie is powerful because of the whole stance of it…just trying to prove God’s existence…sharing the gospel, living the lifestyle, changing the mindset of people around them in this college, in this university’.”

“Duncan Phillips added in a similar interview that ‘Disney’s Shane Harper plays a college student whose faith is challenged by his professor, played by Kevin Sorbo from Hercules.

Dean Cain from Superman is in it, too. So we got to hang out with a bunch of superheroes. The movie raises a lot of questions and a lot of eyebrows from a culture that questions if there is a God’.”

So, the acting is excellent, the message is great . . . what’s not to love? I guess only the fact that the movies stand up for Christ and the Gospel in the midst of a culture that has become often openly hostile to people expressing their faith in Christ.

In God’s Not Dead 2, the lawyer (played by Jesse Metcalfe) points out that the term “separation of Church and State” is not in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. In fact, it first appears in a letter sent by Thomas Jefferson to a baptist congregation, explaining that they should have no fear of signing America’s formative legal documents because they guarantee religious freedom—which is the right for people to practice their religious faith without persecution. (Many of the first pilgrims came from Europe because they were persecuted for their faith in their European settings.) Somehow, America has inverted freedom OF religion to mean freedom FROM religion by excluding any and all religious expressions (at least Christian religious practices) from public spaces.

Talk about failing to discern right from wrong and good from evil!

God’s Not Dead Composed and Sung by The Newboys

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35)

Fact v Fiction in Ford v Ferrari

Probably not everybody is as geeked by hot cars as my husband is . . .

but even if you’re not into speed and racing, I think you might find the 2019 Ford v Ferrari fascinating. At least—I sure did! (“Terrifying” also comes to mind.)

It’s based on the true story of Ford Motor Company’s frenetic battle to develop a car that could beat Ferrari in the world’s premiere 24-hour Le Mans race.

Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles

Like the Le Mans itself, the movie is a grueling 2.5 hour heart-clutching experience, but the acting was superb and the story gripping.

This 2019 masterpiece (IMBd 8.2, PG-13) left me amazed and elated as well as angry and sad.

Like all of the world’s best true stories, there was triumph—

but also tragedy.

Ford v Ferrari had such an emotional impact on me that I had to do some research to figure out what really happened versus what was scripted to make for more tension in the movie.

Although Henry Ford II and Leo Beebe were ruthless, it appears they weren’t quite as despicable as portrayed in the movie.

It sounds like the close relationship between the Texan designing maven, Carroll Shelby, and his British-born driver, Ken Miles was real. (Ken was a mechanic by trade but had nerves of steel . . . he really had driven a tank onto the beach of Normandy in 1944.)

Catriona Balfe as Mollie Miles

Also authentic was the beautiful love relationship between Ken Miles and his sweet wife, Mollie.

Ditto for the love and devotion that existed between Ken and his son, Peter. (In fact, it sounds like Ken truly was an awesome person and highly respected by all who knew him . . . even if they did tease him about being “Teabag Teddy” for loving his English tea!)

One of the most amazing things about the movie (for me personally) was learning that all the super intense racing sequences were 100% real without any computer generated effects! Since all the original cars are now worth millions of dollars, they didn’t try to use originals but went to great pains to build authentic-looking replicas.

The only computer-generated visual effects were the crowds! Can you imagine how many extras they’d need to portray the thousands of spectators attending the 1966 Le Mans race?!

The movie failed to give full credit where credit was due for the development of the Ford GT40. Although Shelby and Miles were perhaps the most invested, there was an entire team of Ford engineers scrambling to analyze and perfect their company’s entry for the 1966 Le Mans race.

The “Real” Ken Miles on the left superimposed with Christian Bale from https://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/ford-v-ferrari/

However, for better and worse, the story’s major triumphs and tragedies were real and powerfully portrayed. It’s a story that made me really admire the life and legacy of Ken Miles.

I want to be as determined and tough as he was.

I want to be as brave and steady as he was under pressure.

I want to endure like he did.

I want to be willing to run the race of life with everything I’ve got!

And, I want to remember at all times that doing my best and being my best are even more important than winning the world’s acclaim.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

(P.S.— I wrote this post just before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, and then it seemed superficial to be thinking about cars and crowds for a while, but the sentiment is so true that I’m now ready to share it with you. Amidst all the suffering and destruction, I believe we need encouragement to persevere!

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (79): Arise

He was dead and almost buried. All hope was gone, and there was absolutely nothing the young man could do to resurrect himself. This is the second time in the New Testament Jesus tells someone to “Arise,” but in the first instance, Jesus commanded a man who was very much alive (although sick with the palsy) to “Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thine house” (Matthew 9:6).

It would be a great miracle to heal someone too sick to walk, don’t you think? With all due respect, such a “miracle” could be staged by shysters, although I don’t believe this is what happened, given the circumstances and testimony surrounding the account . . . and the fact that everyone acknowledged the miracle as such, much to the consternation of the religious leaders, who were envious of Jesus’s miraculous powers!

However, the second time Jesus commanded someone to arise, he was talking to a dead man. Living people have willpower, but dead men do not. Once we die, we have no ability to raise ourselves from the dead, no matter how much we might wish to! But God. With God, all things are possible. Do you believe that? Do you believe Jesus can raise someone from the dead?

What about the Church? It’s time for each of us as members of the Body of Christ to arise! Dear Lord Jesus, raise us up to passionate life again! Search our hearts! Cause us to repent. Help us to love everyone the way you love us. Help us to walk in your ways: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, ESV).

On the off chance that you’re feeling “dead” inside, please know that God can raise the dead! He has raised me from spiritual death and given me new life, so I know he can do the same for you! Please don’t give up on life. Please don’t quit trying. I saw a wonderful movie recently called John Light (2019) about an ex-con and his struggles to re-enter the world outside prison. God is here for us. Jesus can raise us from the dead! We all need him. Please let him!

Text for this meditation: Luke 7:14, “And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” (Full account given in Luke 7:7-17.)

“A New Hallelujah”
Writer(s): Michael W. Smith, Paul Joseph Baloche, Debbie Smith
(featuring The African’s Children’s Choir . . .
we need another version featuring an African-American choir, I think!)

Can you hear, there’s a new song
Breaking out from the children of freedom
Every race and every nation
Sing it out sing a new Hallelujah

Let us sing love to the nations
Bringing hope of the grace that has freed us
Make Him known and make Him famous
Sing it out sing to the new Hallelujah

Arise
Let the church Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Africa sings a new song
Reaching out with the new Hallelujah
Every son and every daughter
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

Arise
Let the song Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Let the song arise…

Let the world sing a new Hallelujah
From Africa to Australia
From Brazil to China
From New York down to Houston

Arise
Let the church Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Everyone sing a new Hallelujah
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

Domestic Violence During COVID

This is a tough subject, but one that needs addressing! I was out walking our lane last week and a young woman was trespassing, although when I stopped to talk to her, I discovered that she was either mentally ill or being abused, or most likely some of both. In the process of trying to help her, I’ve been digging into research and discovered that domestic abuse and violence is becoming distressingly higher during the world’s COVID lock down. Hospitals that are not overflowing with COVID patients are actually significantly down in their censuses. Our psychiatric hospital’s census has been down, and I naively imagined it was because families were home together and better able to attend the needs of their mentally ill family members. I don’t know the “true” truth, but it appears that people are avoiding hospitals for fear of contracting COVID, but this does not mean that the mentally ill are being graciously and patiently cared for by loving family members. In fact, alcoholism, drug use, and abuse are sky rocketing, and in the areas where reporting of abuse has gone down, the fear is that this is only because it’s become harder to get the privacy to make calls for help without being detected.

If you or anyone you know or love is being abused, there is a Hotline for National Domestic Violence in America: 1-800-799-7233. I haven’t actually tested this number, but if you call and find it unhelpful, there probably is a number in your city or country where you can call for help. In America, you can always call “911” and they can direct you. For most people, the danger of coronavirus, though real, may not be as potentially lethal as a violent spouse. For instance, an article in the New York Times on April 17, 2020 reported that “according to various unofficial Covid-19 trackers that calculate the death rate by dividing total deaths by the number of known cases, about 6.4 percent of people infected with the virus have now died worldwide.” This same article went on to say that the death rate “in the United States, [is] around 4.3 percent, according to the latest figures on known cases and deaths.” According to other sources, at this point 80% of those dying are over 65 or have an underlying medical condition. So, if you are under 65 and otherwise in good health, your chance of sustaining a serious or life-threatening injury from a violent partner is greater than your risk of death from COVID, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help!

Last night Alan and I watched the 2019 adaptation of John Bunyan’s immortal tale, Pilgrim’s Progress (animated version). We both loved it, and I want to recommend it. But beyond thinking it was a well done retelling of one of the world’s greatest classics, one the most significant points of the movie is that if we call out to God for HELP, He will help us. This is not just fairy-tale romance, this is true! God will reveal himself to those who seek him sincerely: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God is alive and well, and He is able to help you. I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do if you’re in distress, but I can promise you that if you sincerely repent and surrender your heart to God, He will save you and show you the right path to take. He can do for each of us what no human being can do, and He will if we ask.

My (new) young friend at first could not believe that God loved her, as her father had never claimed her and her mother had died in January. She said she wanted to kill herself because God—if he did exist—did not love her and wouldn’t want her or help her. Thankfully, she did listen to God’s Word and did believe! “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If you will reach out and ask God for help, he will help you too! Please reach out!

(Please don’t think I’m taking this problem lightly in any way by using graphics from the animated version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, but (of course) I can not use real photographs of real people for this terribly difficult subject. God knows what you need. He can help you!)

When to Wed?? Unasked-for Advice from a Busy Body

A few weeks ago one of our young friends married his beloved bride in his living room with family and friends watching online . . . formal reception to follow . . . whenever we get through the COVID crisis!

We have another young friend who’s paid for deposits for their planned June 13 wedding, and now she’s anguishing over what to do. Should they wait and hope it all works out, or cut their losses now and just get married with the reception to follow?!?

If you’re thinking about getting married but wondering how and when, I’d like to recommend a really cute “feel good” movie called Winter Wedding (the 2017 version also called Wedding Wonderland). It’s about a young couple trying to figure out if they should wait for summer and her “dream” wedding venue or get married in the winter. Of course, there are all the issues of trying to please everybody else, but in the final analysis, the message was: “Do what you two (the couple) really want to do!”

This, I think, is sterling advice for any of you thinking about marriage sometime in the not-to-distant future! Of course, I’d better think so, ’cause that’s just what Alan and I did 47 years ago when our dream plans for an April Easter wedding (back in 1973) were falling through! If you’re interested in the details (which you probably aren’t), they are here:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/the-armstrong-archives-1-wedding-in-just-one-day/

Suffice it to say, we had a “Winter Wedding” (or a “Wonderland Wedding”) in just one day. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the wedding in the movie, but neither of us have ever been sorry we didn’t wait those extra two months. The plot of this film may seem ludicrous for some of you, but Alan and I just smiled at each other and held hands!

I will say, if you’re asking for my advice (which I know you’re not), “Ask God! Pray about it! He’ll know how to make your wedding just perfect!!” And, one other bit of unwanted advice from the Peanut Gallery that I’ve learned over the years: “Orchestrating your wedding truly is a challenge…but it seems like nothing compared to conducting the rest of your life! (if I may say so myself).” 🙂

His God instructs him and teaches him the right way. All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent” (Isaiah 28:26&29 NIV).

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Speaking of loving your neighbor as yourself, the 2019 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is so much more than simply a true life recounting of the friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod!

It’s a story about learning to love and forgive.

Of love lost and love found.

Of reconciliation after injury.

Of Hope.

The real journalist, Tom Junod, with the real Fred Rogers

It’s a wonderful example of how a modern-day saint (Fred Rogers) loved a cynical stranger (magazine journalist) and turned him into a lifelong friend.

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This beautiful day in the movie world is G-rated and perfectly appropriate for young kids.

But, like the true classic it is, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has a deeply personal message for adults on emotional wholeness and healing.

I was also blown away by Fred’s genuine love for people (all people—great and small) and his gentle wisdom in living out what it looks like to be a good neighbor.

Matthew Rhys as “Larry Vogel” (script name for Tom Junod)

At one point “Larry Vogel” asked Fred’s wife what he did to keep being such a genuinely good person. Among other healthy habits, she mentioned that he read the scriptures every day and prayed for people by name. In an interview that I read after watching the movie, I found this quote by Tom Junod: “He clearly wanted me to pray. He clearly believed in prayer as a way of life. He prayed every day of his life. He woke up in the morning and prayed, and wrote, and prayed for people. And so I wrote that. The answer to: What did Fred want? He wanted us to pray. I have actually tried, since that moment, I’ve tried to pray.”

A generation of children (and adults) singing to Mr. Rogers on the subway

What a legacy to leave: A life of living like Jesus, loving your neighbors, meditating on the scriptures daily, praying constantly, and encouraging others to pray!

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood ran for thirty-three years, beginning in 1968—the year I graduated from high school. His lifetime commitment to helping children earned him more than 40 honorary degrees and international fame, but he remained steady, kind, and humble throughout . . . using his life to serve others in love. What a beautiful legacy! I am sorry that I was “just the wrong age” to profit from his gentle teaching, but I am very thankful to Lion’s Gate for producing this inspiring story for all of us to enjoy!

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13, ESV).

(For more information on Fred Roger’s life and legacy, I reviewed the 2018 documentary about him, with some additional quotes, which can be found here:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/wont-you-be-my-neighbor-would-you-have-liked-mr-rogers-for-your-neighbor/

Also, I’ve noticed that you can get dozens (hundreds?) of half-hour episodes from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for free on Amazon Prime and can probably see most of his programs for free on Netflix or YouTube. My guess is that these gentle shows about life, our world, and learning how to deal with our emotions would still be helpful for small children today.

Harriet and Slavery . . . Past and Present

It’s terrifying to face the evils of society. Incredibly painful. Gut-wrenching. We’d rather not even think about it.

Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman

However, the battle between good and evil rages whether or not we’re willing to acknowledge it or engage in the battle.

Leslie Odom Jr. as Abolitionist William Still

Blind eyes and hard hearts allowed the horrors of the death camps where millions of Jews were exterminated during World War 2. Deaf ears and love of comfort allowed the terrors of black slavery that existed before the Civil War in the U.S.

Harriet was helped by Quakers

We like to think that we’d all be abolitionists if we’d lived during the 1800’s . . . but would we?

Harriet is a powerful look into the lives and times of slavery in pre-Civil War America, and I wish everyone would take the time to watch it, even if it makes us wince and lose some sleep.

Harriet Tubman’s Last Words

Harriet recounts the true story of one of America’s bravest women: Harriet Tubman. She was born around 1822 as a slave; she died in 1913 at about age 91 and was an amazing example of courage, faith, self-sacrifice, and compassion.

As a small child, Harriet was beaten every time the white baby she was tending would cry. She recalled being beaten 5 times before breakfast one morning!

Photo of the notice run in the newspaper offering a $100 reward for the capture of “Minty” (Harriet) and her brothers after they escaped in 1849. (Wiki)

Much of her life as portrayed in the 2019 story is consistent with history (with the usual literary license and compacting of some historical events).

It is true that Harriet rescued 70 slaves in 13 expeditions and advised many more.

She usually left on Saturday evenings during winter to avoid detection, because notices about runaway slaves wouldn’t be printed until Monday, and plantation owners didn’t like going outside in the cold to search for themselves.

Harriet experienced visions directing her, which she attributed to God. She was deeply Christian. She really did pray for God to kill her evil master, who died suddenly a week later! (She later expressed ambivalence about her prayer after her cruel master died.)

Nicknamed “Moses” for her God-inspired ability to lead people to freedom, Harriet never lost a single soul: “I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger” (Wiki).

During the Civil War, Harriet worked as a nurse and made pies and rootbeer in the evenings to sell so she could support herself.

She also worked as a spy and map maker, and she was one of few women in American history to ever lead an armed assault during war—along the Combahee River, where 750 slaves were freed.

“Unidentified photographer, A large albumen photograph of Harriet Tubman by Tabby Studios in Auburn, NY. Enlarged from an older print.” Public Domain (Wiki)

As an elderly woman, Harriet needed surgery to relieve pain from the childhood head injury she had received, but instead of using anesthesia, she chose to bite down on a bullet, as she’d seen Civil War soldiers do while having their limbs amputated! She was one tough lady!

In honoring Harriet Tubman when her biography was written, the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, wrote this: “The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. … The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.”

If you watch Harriet and lose sleep the way I have, I would like to encourage you to start praying about what you might be able to do to help stop slavery, because slavery is not just an artifact of history. Slavery is very much an alive and evil ongoing issue. In fact, human trafficking is the fastest growing “enterprise” in the world today. Thursday I want to share some information about present day slavery and one avenue for helping fight it.

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Dear Judy

Dear Judy,

Alan and I watched the new movie about your life, and the acting was brilliant, but it broke our hearts.

How dare anyone force a child to work 18-hour days? Where were your parents, and why didn’t they protect you from all the oppression and intimidation you suffered while growing up as a child star?

Getting you hooked on prescription medications as a child was criminal. I think today such injustice would be grounds for jail sentences . . . if people found out and cared enough.

Meanwhile, your greedy “handlers,” who were getting rich from your beauty and talent, continued to oppress you, robbing you of the pleasures of a normal childhood.

And, it didn’t stop when you grew up.

Hooked and confused, you continued to sing and dance to the tunes of the world that made you rich and famous . . . and continued your misery.

You couldn’t resist the roar of applause and approval. (Who could?) Always looking for love— but finding no one who truly cared for you as much as they cared for your glamour.

And, who could resist the temptation to want you for your face and fortune?

No, you couldn’t resist the lure of fame and fortune, even though it destroyed you and your attempts at marriage.

Five husbands and three children later, you discovered to your horror that you had given up—not only your childhood, but your adulthood, your marriages, your hope of family and love—and even your personhood.

What a tragic end for someone who started out with so much greatness and potential!

My heart grieves for you,
Kathi

. . . You know, the world isn’t kind. People are selfish by nature. I’m sure all of us could relate story after story of heartache and ruin happening today in the lives of those around us. Not just “somewhere over the rainbow” or “out there,” but right here, close in our hearts and in the lives of our loved ones and neighbors. God has given each of us the freedom to choose how we will live, but—just like Judy—we often choose very destructive habits and passions over what we know to be right and good. Yes, many are abused as children which causes disabilities and confusion, but the choices we make as adults are our own, and we are responsible for those decisions.

Don’t ever buy the line that God will never give us more than we can take. That’s not in the Bible, and it’s patently untrue. We do get into situations that we can’t handle on our own. But, I believe God allows the overwhelming circumstances so that we will be driven to Him for help, and He promises that He will rescue those who seek him with all their hearts.

Was there never a time in Judy’s life when she heard the gospel? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God promises that those who trust in Him will be provided a way of escape, but it’s up to us to take it!

Do you feel overwhelmed, and like your life is so messed up that there’s no hope of recovery? Do you find yourself not believing it possible to overcome all the pain and suffering you’re been facing everyday? “There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?” (Psalm 4:6a). I have been really struck by this verse of late. There is so much trouble in the world that it’s tempting to look at the evil and miss all the good! But, then the psalmist goes on with a request: “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” And, when we ask, He answers.

For instance, I know another Judy. This lady’s husband and only son are alcoholics, but she is radiant and happy. Truly, I sometimes wonder how she does it, but I know it’s supernatural grace! I know someone who was badly abused by her step-father as a child but now is a vibrant and deeply compassionate young woman, walking in freedom and light. She has experienced the reality of “They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed” (Psalm 34:5). I knew a woman whose mother died when she was a toddler. She grew up in abject poverty, was raped while serving in the military as a nurse, and married a man who was repeatedly unfaithful. Still, this magnificent woman chose over and over again to trust the Lord, to obey His Word, and to walk in love. She has been a source of inspiration and blessing to all who knew her.

No matter what our background or our present circumstances, we can choose to do what is right and good. We can choose—one choice at a time, one day at a time—to beg God for grace to make the right choice and to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him.Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:1-8)

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
(—Helen H. Lemmel, 1922, Public Domain)

  1. O soul, are you weary and troubled?
    No light in the darkness you see?
    There’s light for a look at the Savior,
    And life more abundant and free!
    • Refrain:
      Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
      Look full in His wonderful face,
      And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
      In the light of His glory and grace.
  2. Through death into life everlasting
    He passed, and we follow Him there;
    O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
    For more than conqu’rors we are!
  3. His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
    Believe Him, and all will be well:
    Then go to a world that is dying,
    His perfect salvation to tell!

Traveling with Togo

Want to snuggle up and watch a heart-warming true story about an incredible dog who was named the most heroic dog in history by Time magazine in 2011? This cold winter weather is perfect for staying inside and being glad we’re not actually out in the blizzards of Alaska back in the winter of 1925, when the event actually occurred.

Togo was released at the end of 2019 and has all the dog prints of a true Disney classic: a PG rating, 8.2 on IMDb, great acting, stunning cinematography from Alaska, and full of suspense, courage, and love.

It’s a remarkable story about Togo, a sickly, undersized husky pup with an oversized ability to get into mischief, the heart of a true survivor, and a passion for his master. Willem Dafoe does a masterful job portraying Leonhard Seppala, the stubborn Norwegian who had to balance love for his wife with his professional wisdom as a musher, where wrong decisions can end in death for both the master and his dogs.

The challenge? To bring serum from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska during the worst winter in twenty years during weather too dangerous for flights. Why? Because a diphtheria epidemic was threatening to wipe out most of the area’s people.

Leonard Seppela and his team of huskies crossing Norton Sound of the Bering Sea

Nome, Alaska, is just 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle and is located on the southern coast of Seward Peninsula at Norton Sound along the Bering Sea. Today, there are fewer than 4,000 living in Nome, but due to people lingering after the gold rush at the turn of the century, in 1925 the little outpost of Nome was the largest town in Northern Alaska.

In order to carry the serum across 674 miles from Nenana (where the serum had been transported via train from Anchorage) to Nome, more than twenty teams using over 100 huskies were organized, and the event was widely broadcast as the “Great Race of Mercy.”

Many of us have watched the movie Balto. This movie immortalized the lead dog who ran the last 31 miles to bring the serum into Nome, but Leonhard (which means “lion-heart”) Seppala and his faithful dog Togo ran the penultimate race: 264 miles, sometimes enduring temperatures of —30°F. with wind chills making it feel like —85°F.!! Until this movie came out, Leonhard and Togo were pretty much the unsung and forgotten heroes.

Julianne Nicholson as Constance Seppela in Togo

The race was not for glory, it was for good, and the most magnificent message for me was watching the love, resolve, and reward for the couple who risked everything to save their community. It was unbelievable to me that they didn’t get the praise and glory they deserved, but I think that is more often true in this life than we will ever know. I am reminded of Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 9:11, where he laments: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

In our personal pilgrimages through life, few of us are asked to do terribly dangerous and risky things, but all of us are asked to run our race faithfully, for good, and not for glory! But, there is a promise in the example of Jesus, who ran the race before us for joy and for love of God.

May we run our races as doggedly as Togo . . . and like Togo, to please the One we love!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).

(Disney’s version of the story runs very close to the reality, although they had a somewhat abbreviated, “happily-ever-after” style ending. If you want to read more of the thrilling [scary] details, there’s an excellent Wikipedia article listed below.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonhard_Seppala

Genius and Insanity

One of the most fascinating movies I saw in 2019 was The Professor and the Madman, a biographical drama colored by mystery and murder . . . but most of all—pathos.

This moving drama records the appointment and passion of James Murray, who was hired to finish compiling and editing the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, known today as The Oxford English Dictionary. Professor James Murray, a brilliant, self-taught linguist who spoke six languages and had a working understanding of at least fourteen more, became obsessed with the project, which burgeoned into a phenomenally difficult (and practically speaking, virtually impossible) job.

The project was begun in 1857; Murray was hired for ten years starting in 1879; but, in reality, the dictionary was not printed in its complete form until 1928, more than seventy years after the project was first envisioned!

First, I want to share a few “fun facts” about languages I’ve learned through studying, and then I want to share a few thoughts about the movie. There are more than 6,500 languages spoken throughout the world, but almost half the world’s people speak primarily 10 of them: English, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, French, Standard Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, and Indonesian. Among these languages, English is the most spoken language in the world, and it’s also the Number One trade language around the world, so it’s worth learning! English is “the language of the sky,” and every pilot must be able to identify themselves and communicate in English.

Jennifer Ehle as Mrs. Ada Murray, Dr. Murray’s wife

Interestingly enough, English is also considered by many to be the language with the most words/meanings, although that’s hard to define. English has over a million words if you count the various meanings of each given word. For instance, the newest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary takes 60,000 words to define the 430 various usages of “set.” Also, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) defines 616,500 words, but there are hundreds of thousands of words that are not included, many scientific or borrowed from other languages but not in common enough use to be considered uniquely English, various forms of slang, compound words, and on and on! If you count tenses, plurals, etc, the list goes on seemingly ad infinitum (or at least ad nauseam).

Hope you didn’t mind that rabbit trail, but all this to highlight both the importance and the difficulty of the task assigned to Professor James Murray!

As another side light, the movie had an exceptionally gifted cast, including Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, and the film was done with painstaking care to detailing the truth (except concerning the madman’s romance), stunning cinematography, artistic sensitivity while retaining historical integrity, and a deeply moving theme of seeking redemption.

The movie was the brainchild of Mel Gibson, and he took more than twenty years in research and development, but it ended as a painful disappointment to him, which seems tragic but almost fitting, since Professor Murray never saw the completion of his beloved dictionary.

I don’t want to spoil the story and suspense, but the underlying pathos of the movie concerns the brilliant help that Professor Murray receives from Dr. William Minor, a retired American army surgeon who helped with the completion of over 10,000 entries but was in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum and considered criminally insane. Among other provocative themes, The Professor and the Madman has stirred me to even greater compassion for the mentally ill.

The “Madman” is haunted by the need to somehow redeem himself and find forgiveness for sins. What he does in the movie is beautiful, and I loved learning the story, but there was also a deep sadness that I don’t think God intends. Sin is terrible, and terribly wrong, but there is no sin beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. Although we have to live with the regrets and scars from our sins, God invites us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. When it comes to giving and receiving forgiveness, we can extend forgiveness to those who’ve hurt us, but we can only humbly accept forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. Most of the time, no amount of effort can take away the pain and loss (although we should do everything we can to restore and make right the wrongs we’ve committed).

In the final analysis, our sins can only be atoned for by the blood of Christ, who died to pay the penalty of death we deserve. By accepting his sacrificial death in our place, we receive eternal life through Him. That will not “settle the score” between ourselves and those we’ve hurt in this life, but that will grant us forgiveness and eternal life in Christ. It should also make us humble and able to forgive those who sin against us . . . passing forward the gift of mercy and forgiveness to others.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God
is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

There is a Redeemer
—Keith Green

There is a redeemer
Jesus, God’s own Son
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah
Holy One

Jesus my redeemer
Name above all names
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah
Oh, for sinners slain

Thank you, oh my father
For giving us Your Son
And leaving Your Spirit
‘Til the work on Earth is done

When I stand in Glory
I will see His face
And there I’ll serve my King forever
In that Holy Place

Thank you, oh my father
For giving us Your Son
And leaving Your Spirit
‘Til the work on Earth is done