Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger - a Talented Tragedy

I liked Heath Ledger. I think he was a highly talented actor who had a lot of potential of becoming the superstar of his generation. I first saw him in “A Knight’s Tale,” which is a terrific movie. He played a young English lad who wanted to become a gallant knight. It was a wonderful story and Heath played his part perfectly.

Podcast version here

The next time I saw him was in Mel Gibson’s epic “The Patriot.” Heath played Gibson’s eldest son, bravely fighting for American Independence against the British troops. Once again, Heath’s acting was tremendous and along with Gibson, he carried the movie.

I didn’t see him in “Brokeback Mountain,” because I wasn’t interested in the movie. My family tells me that he played his character well and that he should have received the Oscar. I was so looking forward to seeing him play the Joker in the next Batman movie. It will be so hard to watch him on the silver screen and realize that he is dead.

I can’t believe that such a talented young man no longer exists. He had the world at his feet and should have accomplished so much more. He could have been the next Marlon Brando, Lord Olivier, or Clark Gable all rolled into one. Instead, he’s destined to become this generation’s James Dean, with just a few movies to his credit.

In Knoxville, we’re also mourning the untimely death of Brad Renfro, a local boy who could have become a talented actor. Sadly, he also died young and leaves behind grieving family and friends. I wish that things could have turned out better for both Renfro and Ledger. They could have become examples of gifted, successful actors to their peers; now they will just become cinematic memories.

Joel 2:28 And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

O how I wish that the Spirit would pour over this young generation to produce young adults who will prophesy and young men who will have visions for a better world! As an old man, I dream of a new people and new world full of Christians who are committed to the Lord and zealous for His ways. I pray that one day I will see them emerge and be able to encourage them to lives their lives for Christ, His Commission, and Kingdom.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, walk among the young people of our world and please touch their hearts. Move their spirits and inspire them to work for a better world and a happier earth. Raise up leaders among them who are strong and focused, determined and committed to You. Bless this generation to be the best Christians that the World and the Church have ever known. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotion and religious newsblog "Heaven's Highway"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Ambitions

Sometimes our ambitions to succeed can become idolatrous monsters to feed.

I have never really been comfortable around ambitious pastors. I’m of the old school that believes if you want a bigger church to lead, then grow the one that you’re leading right now. I’ve been in ministry for 22 years and in that time I’ve only led two charges. The average time that a pastor spends with one church is about four to five years, so by this time I should be leading my fifth or sixth congregation…if I was truly ambitious.

Podcast version here

It’s not that I don’t have ambitions and dreams for the congregation that I lead, or that I have jettisoned all my hopes and goals for the future. I just think that stability and dependability in pastoral leadership are more important than paper credentials and scholarly works. Those pastors who want to reach the top of the ladder are driven by a worldly view of success. For me, success is listening to God and trying to do what He wants for His Church and its people.

Matthew 20:22 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?""We can," they answered.

When the mother of James and John approaches Jesus about having her two sons sit beside Him in His glorious Kingdom, she is being ambitious on their behalf. Like any mother, she wants the best for her children, so she asks Jesus to grant her sons this ambitious request. James and John don’t ask this of Him directly, probably because they understand that Jesus isn’t big on power struggles within His chosen band of disciples. Sheepishly, they get their mother to petition Christ on their behalf. If they were truly ambitious, they would have personally asked Jesus to grant the request.

I like how Jesus answers them. He lets them all understand that He is also working under a Higher Power and that such a request is not His to give. He makes them aware that in order to be worthy of such a high honor, they would have to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the Kingdom. They answer this positively, in the hope that Christ will give them these positions of power. Jesus accepts their willingness, which has more to do with ambition and greed rather than service and loyalty. They will be required to sacrifice themselves for the cause, but it’s still up to God to allot the appointed thrones on the right and left of Christ.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to be overcome by our ambitions and in our zeal to fulfill our dreams, we lose a precious part of ourselves. James would be martyred for the cause and John would be exiled for many years. They both would pay a heavy price for their ambitions. If we also become obsessed with greatness and glory, then we can lose our humility and honesty, our faith and fidelity. There’s nothing wrong with wanting things to be better in our lives, but when we sacrifice our families and friends, our church and our charity, then we have taken the wrong path and have turned our ambition into an idolatrous monster that feeds upon our greed.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep us from grandiose schemes and ambitious dreams that would ruin the precious things in our lives. Help us to maintain a sense of balance, so that our desire to succeed does not become an idol of our greed. Allow us to seek to please You with our faith by placing our goals and dreams into Your hands. May we also use our successes to resource the eternally glorious work of Your Kingdom. In Your Holy Name, we earnestly pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily blog post "Heaven's Highway."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Ordinary People with Extraordinary Messages

Our church members were studying Acts 12 this week in their daily devotions.
Podcast version here

Don’t you just love the honest reactions in this story from Acts 12? Christians are praying for Peter to be released from prison, and then when he turns up at the front door, no one believes it. Instead of thanking God for a miracle, everyone is quick to presume that it must be Peter’s ghost. I just love these first Christians – I can really identify with them.

I can imagine that just before Peter arrives, the people are very serious and highly focused with their prayers. “Lord, keep Peter safe and bring him back to us.” “O Lord, free Peter from the satanic authorities that have bound him.” “Lord, bring justice to us by letting Peter return among us.” I’ve been to those kind of prayer meetings myself. All the right words being spoken, but no real heart behind the petitions.

Acts 12:15 "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."

When Rhoda persists that Peter is back, they call her crazy and then tell her that she’s seen a ghost. They just don’t believe what she is saying, but why? Is it because she is just a servant? Is Rhoda a young person? Does her opinion count so little amongst the others?

It seems to me that God is doing His usual thing: He selects the weakest and the least to present the good news. Rhoda’s lowly position as house servant is exalted by God; she becomes His messenger, His herald of good tidings.

The world continues to think that Christians like Rhoda are crazy, unimportant, and insignificant. And yet God continues to use the lowliest amongst us to effectively get His message across. We may live in a society of mega-churches and famous church-speakers, but the real work of the Gospel still takes place in the everyday homes and workplaces of ordinary people. The Rhodas of this world may seem to be of little importance, but in the eternal scheme of things, it’s the ordinary Rhodas in the church that bring in more people to Christ’s Kingdom.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, use us in ordinary ways to present Your extraordinary message to other people. In the insignificant tasks and daily routines of our lives, grant us opportunities to serve You and to share the Gospel. In Your Holy Name we pray. Amen.