More About Stability


As I recover from the stroke I had a year ago, I find myself somewhere between walking with a cane and walking without a cane. My issue is balance, as I mentioned back in January. Some might recall that I described the sensation I experienced as sort of, but not quite, like walking on ice. Not quite, because I had the same sense that I could fall when I wasn’t moving. I might simply be standing, but if I turned my head, I could lose my balance.

I say this so that I can make this analogy a bit clearer.

I started thinking about my use of the cane and drawing a comparison with my finding stability in Christ. But that didn’t seem right. After all, Christ is not something I add to my life to just help me do life better. And as I recover, I’m working hard to do without the cane, whereas, I want the opposite to be true about Christ: I very much want to lean on Him more and more.

So is there no value in the analogy? Are atheists right that Christ is a crutch for us Christians because we are too weak to stand on our own? Or, in my case, too unstable?

I’ve never bought the idea that Christians are weak or more needy or less capable. I mean some of the bravest people, before they became Christians, have turned to Christ. I think, for example, of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner whose career was cut short by World War II.

The movie Unbroken depicted his courage and strength of character.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

But there’s more to the story which will be depicted in a second movie coming out this year about Louis’s experiences after the war. His will to survive in the worst of conditions, wasn’t enough, and by God’s grace, he found Christ, and that relationship revolutionized his life.

That’s the truth, then, about Jesus: He doesn’t prop us up, like a crutch would, and He doesn’t act as a mere steadying force in case I lose my balance.

He actually is balance itself. Without Him, life is uncertain, wobbly, shaky. We do look to means outside ourselves to bring life into proper alignment, but nothing works like having a proper sense of balance.

When people have vertigo, they do all kinds of things to cope. Some medicate, some have surgery, some undergo all manner of tests, some endure treatments on their ears or their eyes. And of course, there are people like me who walk with a cane or a walker. Others might even be confined to a wheelchair. Because there’s something wrong. Life isn’t the same when we feel we could topple simply because we walk across the room. We know we have to correct this condition or find a way to cope.

Christ is to our spiritual lives what balance is to our physical lives. Actually, we can live without Him, but to do so we have to adopt all kinds of coping mechanisms. We have to try to restore a sense of balance that only He can provide. We might live our lives for our spouse or children. We might become so work driven that our job defines us. We might take the opposite tack and become party animals or so engrossed in entertainment of one kind or the other that we hardly ever slow down. In fact, slowing down terrifies us. It’s like walking without the cane.

The sad thing is, most people have no idea what’s wrong. They even deny that there is anything wrong. After all, their world has been spinning for as long as they can remember. They don’t know what life without vertigo feels like. They scoff at people who try to tell them what walking without fear of falling is like, people who go cane free.

They’re living in a fantasy, they say. And who needs to listen to their ideas about balance. We’re coping just fine, thank you very much.

The problem, of course, is that the longer we live, the more prone we are to fall.

Most people don’t understand that they have decreased balance until it is too late and they fall. Falls are the number one cause of death from injury in the US (“Balance Disorders,” Magnolia Physical Therapy)

The opposite is true when we have Christ. He is our balance. With Him we cannot, nor will we, fall, spiritually speaking. Not that we’re perfect. But Christ has dealt with our sin which puts our life off kilter.

In truth, He makes all the difference in the world.

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Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment


Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalI like the idea that mercy triumphs over judgment. It seems like something most people in western society embrace. We admire people who forgive, especially in the face of unjust hatred or abuse or mistreatment.

Take the story of Louie Zamperini depicted in the movie Unbroken. Why would that man’s life have such an impact on people today? I think in part because of the mercy and forgiveness he extended to his torturers. Yes, his strength and will to survive were admirable, but if his story had ended with the post traumatic stress he experienced and the drug and alcohol abuse he resorted to as a way to cope, I don’t think Unbroken would have been made.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. That phrase is actually a portion of a verse from the book of James. It’s the first part that gives it context:

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:13)

The discussion has been partiality—favoring the rich over the poor. James then builds the case that those engaged in favoritism are sinners. In contrast to that practice, Christians are to speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. Then verse 13.

So what is this law of liberty? I think it is the first part of verse 13: “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.”

Liberty? Well, yes. We liberate others from our judgment and we are liberated from bearing the responsibility of judging. The point James is making in this section is that we’re not to judge others based on things like how they dress or the gold they flash around for others to see. We’re not to judge the rich as more worthy of our time and attention, of our best service and favored place.

On the flip side, we are not to consider a poor person as unimportant, not worth our time, someone to be dismissed or kicked to the curb.

Verse 13 basically spells out the consequences for treating others that way: we will be judged without mercy if we show no mercy. If we show no mercy to the poor, we’ll receive no mercy in return. This thinking echoes what Jesus said as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1-2)

In other words, the one judging others by what they wear and the gold they possess, will himself be judged by what he wears and what he owns.

If on the other hand, he refrains from judging others and accepts the poor as well as the rich, he himself well be judged by the standard of mercy he’s shown the poor.

This is a practical matter, I think. Too often in our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualistic, entrepreneurial society we are quick to look at someone who is struggling and reach the conclusion they are drug addicts or lazy or shiftless or takers. I know people who don’t want to give to the homeless because “they’ll spend it on booze.”

I’m not saying we should start giving money to every beggar who asks for “bus fare to get home” or whatever the pitch might be. I am suggesting we should extend mercy instead of judgment—which to me means I should not assume the worst in people, especially in people less fortunate than me. It means I should consider taking Peter’s tact when he was faced with the beggar at the temple gate:

And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.

When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”

And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (Acts 3:2-6)

OK, I’m not suggesting we can fix all the external problems of those with whom we come into contact—not our friends or co-workers or family, let alone strangers we encounter on the street. But we can give them what we do have—the love of Jesus.

How to demonstrate that love is something God needs to show us, but He never will if we’re mentally filing through our list of judgments against the person.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. If we wish mercy to be extended to us, why would we hold onto judgment of others?

Louis Zamperini, b. 1917 – d. 2014


Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalA great number of people may not be familiar with the name Louis Zamperini, but the man’s fame is beginning to spread. In May the Whittier Daily News carried an article reporting that this ninty-seven-year-old would be the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Rose Parade, this after the book about his life, Unbroken, hit the New York Times best-seller list. On top of that, a movie based on the book is due out this coming December.

The only sad part of this story is that Louie Zamperini passed away earlier this month. The joyous part, besides his successful athletic career and his World War II heroism, is his transformed life. Some might even say Louie was a miracle.

As a fifteen-year-old, Louie was bordering on juvenile delinquency, though I don’t know if that term was in use yet.

Thankfully, his success as a runner provided him with a meaningful channel for all his energy and drive and got him off the streets and into school. After setting records at USC, he made the 1936 US Olympic team.

However, another turn in his life lay ahead. World War II dashed his hopes of returning to the Olympics to run for a medal.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

Once again, events in Louie’s life changed him:

He returned from the war a haunted man, filled with bitterness and rage, his once promising running career over. Suffering from what today would be recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini took to heavy drinking. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

God had preserved and protected this man for a reason, though. He had not seen the last of dramatic twists in the direction his life would take. In what I consider to be Apostle-Paul-like fashion, Louie changed again, this time not because his circumstances were different, but because he was.

Then everything changed.

After attending a 1949 Billy Graham revival tent meeting on the streets of Los Angeles at the insistence of his wife, Cynthia, Zamperini said he experienced a rebirth and Christian conversion that was to guide the rest of his days. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

Probably the greatest evidence of his changed life was his ability to forgive those who had tortured him, in particular the commander in charge of both the prisoner of war camps in which Louie was taken. In essence, when he met Christ, the supernatural power of His Spirit brought peace to Louie’s life.

After Louie met Billy, the former POW never had another prisoner-of-war nightmare. He lost his desire to kill the Bird [the commander responsible for his torture]. He no longer hated the guards who’d tortured him. He forgave Jimmie Sasaki [a Japanese man who had graduated from USC] for pretending to be his friend when he really was his enemy. The turmoil of his life was replaced by calmness and a conviction that he’d found the right path.

Zamp began to speak about his experiences. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his new faith, but he resolved that he would never push his thinking on anyone (Awesome Stories, p. 12).

No need for Louie to try to make people listen. God clearly has opened a door for the world to hear bout this one changed life.

I don’t know if the movie will mention Louie’s coming to Christ or even Victory Boys Camp, the organization he founded in 1952 for troubled teens. But that’s OK. Louie Zamperini’s life can be an example that prepares soil for some or shines the light on the path to Jesus for others. God can use him even now after he has heard the “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” from the Master he served.

When he was adrift on that raft back in 1943, he’d prayed

If you will save me,
I will serve you forever.

For years he struggled to live the life God had saved without serving Him in return. I don’t really believe in “bargaining with God,” but it’s apparent that God in fact wanted Louie to serve Him.

Louie fought against God’s call on his life. His wife wanted him to go to listen to that preacher Billy Graham, and Louie said no. Over and over he said no. When he finally gave in, he left early. His wife asked him to go back. Finally he agreed, only if they would leave at the point that the preacher would tell them to bow their heads.

Zamp returned to the tent, fully planning to leave at the predetermined time. Then, he heard Billy say these words:

    What kind of life are you living? Are you satisfied with your life?

Louie reacted to Dr. Graham’s words:

Just then, my whole rotten sinful life passed before my eyes and I began to get an inkling of what I feared I had to do. Only I didn’t want to do it. Why? Men prefer darkness to light. How could I give up the parties and the liquor and living for the moment and the fun? (Devil at My Heels, page 241.)

Zamp grabbed Cynthia’s hand and told her they were leaving. When he got to the aisle, something made him change his mind:

…I got to the aisle. I stepped onto the sawdust path and knew it was my crossroads of decision. I fought against it, perhaps harder than I’d ever fought, but in the end I made my decision, turned right, toward Billy Graham, released Cynthia’s hand … (Devil at My Heels, page 242.)

(Awesome Stories, p. 11; quotes from Louis Zamperini’s autobiography)

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