WAKE UP YOUR DREAMS:With Good Summer Reads

WAKE UP YOUR DREAMS:With Good Summer Reads

You have dreams that need waking, aspirations of which you are unaware, mental landscapes that will escape your notice unless someone outside your acquaintance introduces you to them. That someone is waiting to take you to new places this summer, giving you hours of enlightening entertainment, for about the price of a large pizza.

Of whom are we speaking? Authors of course, those strange people who spend months, even years, in research and writing isolation so that you and I can travel new worlds in our imaginations.

Recreational reading does several beneficial things. Our brains need rest from the daily grind. Light reading helps us escape.  Most of us never travel to other cultures and cannot travel to other times. Good storytellers also take us places impossible to visit, expanding our horizons and understanding of human nature along the way.

And if you think you don’t have time to read, consider: the average American spends 608 hours per year on social media, and 1642 hours on TV. According to author Charles Chu, who did the math, we can read 200 books in 417 hours![1]

Books are better than movies too. The pace and length of a good novel or memoir replace the storytelling rush job that is a movie with time and space to imagine the world on the page, see the multiple motives and connections a movie doesn’t have time to develop, and strengthen our understanding in the process.

Good books, even if they aren’t overtly Christian, also strengthen our faith and stimulate our dreams. They help us see ourselves as we are and feed aspirations of what we might become.

A book is an investment of your time, so it is important to find a genre’ that you enjoy. If you aren’t sure where to start it helps to read reviews from trusted sources like World Magazine or Focus on the Family. Here are a few on my shelves broken down by genre’. In honor of the 74th anniversary of D-Day we’ll begin with WWII.

WWII, nonfiction – D-Day: The Climactic Battle of WWII, by Stephen Ambrose; Citizen Soldiers, also by Ambrose; Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot, by Starr Smith; Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand; The Generals: Patton, Marshall and MacArthur and the Winning of WWII, by Winston Groom (author of Forest Gump); The Lost Airman: A True Story of Escape from Nazi Occupied France, by Seth Meyerwitz and Peter F. Stevens; A Man Called Intrepid: True Story of the Hero Whose Spy Network and Secret Diplomacy Changed the Course of History, by William Stevenson; Silent Running: My Years on a WWII Attack Submarine, by James F. Calvert.

Historical Fiction – The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, and A Hole in Texas, by Herman Wouk; The Hornblower series, by C.S. Forester. The Aubrey / Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian (caution, strong language).

Biography / Memoir – Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas; Sailor and Fidler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, by Herman Wouk; God and Churchill, by Wallace Henley and Jonathon Sandys; West with the Night, by Beryl Markham; The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, and Charles Lindbergh and the Epic Age of Flight, by Winston Groom.

Mysteries and Thrillers – The Last Days series by Joel C. Rosenberg; The Testament, by John Grisham; Sydney Chambers, series by James Runcie; The Brother Cadfael Mysteries, series by Ellis Peters; Blink, by Ted Dekker.

Nothing here that suits your fancy? Find something that does, dig in and wake up your dreams.

[1] https://qz.com/895101/in-the-time-you-spend-on-social-media-each-year-you-could-read-200-books/

WHY ME, LORD?

We passed and nodded to each other as I exited the Bo Jangles restaurant, the WWII veteran who stormed Normandy on that longest day long ago. He’s gone now, laid to rest with so many of that greatest generation. He raised two sons here, one of whom helped start the Church I serve, and the other I met in Georgia, who connected me with that Church. I’ve had the privilege to know and be mentored by others, WWII and Korean War vets, men who lived a hundred lives in combat before mine ever began. Also, the Vietnam veterans I’ve come to know over the years, some of whom became dear friends.

Why me, Lord? Why was I born between the wars, after Korea, just before Nam? Why did I come of age after it ended, before I could be drafted? I think often of those men and those wars, as well as the men and women of the generation behind me, who’ve been fighting since 9-11, and though I honor them I am also thankful that I did not have to endure combat.

A photo from 2005 rests on the shelf in my office. I’m surrounded by Papuans, reading a Ketengban Bible. A mere thirty years prior they were still stone-age cannibals, living naked in the mountains, killing and being killed, scared of the spirits inhabiting every shadow.

Why me Lord? Why was I not born six thousand feet up the side of an equatorial mountain, child of spear-wielding cannibals? I think about my Ketengban friends, about how far they must travel, generation’s worth, before they will ever have anything like the life I’ve known.

I also think of Jackie, Randy, Doug, and others born ten years or more before me, who limp through life with great difficulty and never without a crutch, each afflicted with polio.

Why me Lord? Why was I born after the discovery of the polio vaccine and other such life-saving treatments?

I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift. I was born in the best country on earth, at the best time on earth, to some of the best people on earth, in one of the best climates on earth, in the most prosperous economy on earth, under the best health care system on earth, equipped with the best Bible scholarship on earth in order to have what I have and do what I do on earth. And so were most of you.

What are we to make of all of that? Only this: Give thanks for the providence of God and let it cause you to seek him and help others do the same.

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.[1]

Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Ac 17:26–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

THE PHISHING SCAMS OF LIFE

The emails look like they are from my daughter, because her name, which is unusual, is spelled correctly. They come to my personal email address, not the office. They say something innocuous like, “you might be interested in this,” and include a link. I almost clicked on the first one, but paused because something didn’t feel right, and looked at the return address. Not my daughter’s address!

I marked it as phishing and deleted it, grateful that I caught it before it infected my computer.

Something similar happened, long ago on a moonless night that changed the outcome of World War II.

Major William Martin, a British subject, was the bait in the greatest phishing expedition of the war. Martin had recently died of pneumonia, and never saw battle. But the Allies, who had just invaded North Africa, thought they could use him, even in death, to great effect.

The Germans thought the next logical attack was coming in Sicily, but needed more accurate intelligence before they could deploy their defenses. Thus: Operation Mincemeat commenced.

One dark night, an Allied submarine came to the surface off the coast of Spain and put Martin’s body out to sea in a rubber raft with an oar. In his pocket were secret documents indicating the Allied forces would strike, not in Sicily, but in Greece and Sardinia. The Allies had calculated the tides and currents in the area and knew within reason where the raft would land.

Major Martin’s body washed ashore, and Axis intelligence operatives found him, thinking he had crashed at sea. They passed the secret documents through Axis hands all the way to Hitler’s headquarters. Thus, while Allied forces moved toward Sicily, thousands and thousands of German troops moved to Greece and Sardinia. Hitler fell for one of the biggest phishing scams of the war.

But phishing scams aren’t limited to wars and computers; they happen in everyday life: in marriages, in jobs, in government, and churches. Jesus called them “temptation,” and we need to know how to avoid them.

Temptation is sophisticated. It presents itself as what we think we want or need. It comes to us in a crisis of desire, or danger, when necessity is upon us, and the stress is overwhelming. We’re looking for the solution, the release, or the fulfillment, all at the same time. The Axis needed inside information. The Allies gave it to them. Temptation gives us what we think we need.

Temptation is rarely hasty. It is, like the sunrise, a gradual reduction of rational arguments against error along with a slow but sure gathering of seemingly sane, balanced, and coherent reasons. Little by little the unthinkable becomes the ordinary, rational answer to our problem. The information planted on Major Martin slowly made its way up the chain of command to Hitler’s headquarters. Each office that passed it on gave it one more stamp of validation. Like my daughter’s name in the address bar, temptation validates itself in order to draw us in.

Above all temptation feels right. It feels like the natural way out of a difficult, intractable situation. It feels like “the answer.” The doors are all open. The path is smooth. We want it to be so. The Nazis wanted Greece secured. They wanted to believe what the information told them. We want to believe what our feelings tell us, even when it is not so.

Finally, temptation makes the alternatives seem harder. There is always another approach, another way to solve the problem, or meet the need. But that way seems unnecessarily inflexible, demanding, and more than our resources can handle. The Nazis knew they could not cover both fronts effectively. They had to choose where to concentrate their resources. Operation Mincemeat made it easier to choose Greece. Temptation always presents the easier path. Why go to the trouble of vetting? Just click the link.

Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”[1]

In other words, pay attention to what’s in that address bar, and pray for the wisdom to spot the phishing scams of life.

[1] Matt 26:41 NIV

AND SO WAS FULFILLED

Back in the late 1980’s, when George H. W. Bush (aka “Bush 41”) was running for president, one of the criticisms hurled his way concerned the circumstances of his birth. “He’s the child of up-east, old-money privilege and can’t connect with the common man,” was the gist of it. The fact that he was also a decorated combat hero of WWII and had made his own way in the hard-knock oil business after the war didn’t matter.

I love the way the future president handled that slam, “It’s true, I was born in Massachusetts,” he said. “I did that to be closer to my mother.”

That quote came to mind recently as I re-read the Christmas story in Matthew’s gospel. A repeating phrase (See 1:22; 2:15; 2:17; 2:23) rings like a chorus at the end of each element of the narrative: “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophet.”

Six hundred years before Messiah’s birth the prophet Isaiah said he would be born of a virgin, and Jesus was.

Seven hundred years before, the prophet Micah said Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and Jesus was.

Seven hundred and fifty years before, the prophet Hosea said he would come out of Egypt, and he did.

Four hundred plus years before, many Old Testament prophets alluded that Messiah would be a Nazarene, and he was.

And just like Mr. Bush, the baby Jesus had no control over the circumstances of his birth. He “did it to be closer to his mother.” Yet everything about his first advent testifies to the earthly fulfillment of an eternal plan formed for our good by a loving heavenly Father.

I offer three conclusions from this that I hope will enhance your Christmas meditations.

First, know your Bible. Read it well and deeply. Each prophecy came from what, to us, might seem obscure references. Many of us wouldn’t know about Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, and the rest of the prophets, were it not for the Christmas story. But they weren’t obscure to Matthew’s readers and they weren’t the only prophets he quoted. A similar refrain runs at least twelve times throughout his gospel, confirming for his Jewish readers that Jesus really was the fulfillment of all their messianic hopes.

Life often seems obscure to us. The better we know our Bibles the more things come into focus.

Second, trust God even when you cannot see the plan. No one, save perhaps the Magi, saw this coming. No one knew to combine the predictions of the various prophets in the way they ultimately accumulated in the person of Jesus.

The providence of God in the outworking of his plans is to us inscrutable. We can only see the beginning from the end, whereas he sees the end from the beginning. So trust him. Walk the path of faithful obedience and don’t try to figure out how he’s going to accomplish his plans.

Third, put your hopes squarely on the second advent of Christ. The specific fulfillment of all the prophecies surrounding Jesus’s first appearance points us to the reliability of all the other promises of his return. God was silent for four hundred years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Then, in the space of three decades, the fulfilled predictions of Messiah piled up on one another in the person of Jesus.

God’s further promises will come to pass as surely as any we celebrate this December. Put your hope in him.

SLOWLY SERIOUS SUMMER READING

Some of our lives speed up in the summer. I’m thinking of my farming friends who are already working well before sunup and late into the evening this time of year. But some of us, thankfully, get a chance to slow down and recharge.

Few things refresh my batteries like a good book slowly absorbed in the shade of long summer day. I like to begin the season with fun stuff that helps me completely disconnect from everyday life, and slowly work my way toward more serious titles.  If you’re looking for some good summer reading, here are my favorites from the last twelve months.

A Man Called Intrepid – by William Stevenson. Ever wondered how Churchill managed to outwit the NAZIS, engage the aid of a war-resistant America, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in history’s greatest conflict? Wonder where the American CIA got its start? How Ian Fleming created James Bond? The biography of Sir William Stephenson, (no relation to the author, whose surname is spelled with a “v”) is the most fascinating non-fiction account I’ve ever read of a global intelligence operation. Personally code named Intrepid by Churchill himself, Stephenson, who was an air-combat veteran of WWI, a scientist, engineer, and wealthy industrialist, risked his life and his personal fortune to help not only Great Britain, but America set up and run the spy rings and covert ops that were essential elements of Allied victory in WWII. Reading it is not only entertaining, but also an excellent education in the geopolitics of the mid twentieth century that still shape today’s world.

At Risk – by Stella Rimington. Interested in more up-to-date spy thrillers? Stella Rimington satisfies with her fictional heroine, MI5 agent Liz Carlyle, member of the British Intelligence Joint Counter-Terrorist Group. Rimington, who was the first female director of MI5 from 1992 to 1996, knows whereof she speaks, spins a good yarn, and provides insight into the kinds of asymmetric warfare western governments fight every day against international terrorism.

Looking for something a bit more personally edifying? On the self-help side of things I’ve found the following serious titles quite encouraging.

Blue Genes: Breaking Free from the Chemical Imbalances That Affect Your Moods, Your Mind, Your Life, and Your Loved Ones – by Paul Meier M.D. and Associates. Meier, who is not only the founding psychiatrist of Meier Clinics, but also holds advanced degrees in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, completed his psychiatric residency at Duke University, and was one of the founding members of the Focus on the Family Physicians Research Council, has written over 70 books, including the bestsellers Love is a Choice, and Happiness is a Choice. One of his earlier books, Don’t Let the Jerks Get the Best of You, was tremendously helpful and introduced me to the importance of serotonin in brain chemistry. His insight into the connection between brain, body, and spirit is, in my opinion, unsurpassed.

Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve – by Lewis Smedes. Have you or someone you love been wounded? Hurt? Irreparably damaged by a close friend, or loved one, or even a complete stranger? Read this book. We’re not talking about minor slights here; we’re talking about the big stuff: infidelity, assault, murder, sexual abuse. And don’t let the title throw you off. No one every truly forgets, not even God, and Smedes does a brilliant job of explaining that. These injuries go deep and have the power to fester into soul-wrecking, permanent disabilities if they are not healed by the Great Physician. Smedes shows the way into his office.

VETERAN TEACHERS

I’ve never met a perfect soldier. Let’s get that out of the way up front. Veteran’s and Memorial Days tend to bring out the worst in those of us prone to purple prose about our heroes, so it’s important to be clear that the men (sorry, I don’t know any female soldiers) I’m about to recognize were regular guys with all of the problems and faults of all the regular guys you’ve ever known. What sets them apart are the values they espoused and aspired to, values they passed on to me and that I hope to pass on to you.

I was born fifteen years after the end of WW II. As I was growing up and going to technical school, college, and seminary, the men who fought that war and the ones that followed were living through mid-life and beyond, serving as leaders, teachers and mentors to those of us who were to inherit what The Greatest Generation had fought to preserve, nothing less than Western Civilization.

Their names won’t mean much to you, but the dross was burned off the values they held by the battles they fought. So here are their names and the things they taught me.

Lewis Askew, who flew Corsairs from the deck of the Benjamin Franklin in 1944 and shared his story about the bombing that took 750 of his shipmates, taught me that men can persevere through the deepest tragedies if they know why they fight. John Durden, who repaired tanks in General Patton’s Third Army and taught me transmissions and drivelines, showed me that honor lost was hard to reclaim. Phi McClain who drove a Jeep across booby-trapped roads in France and became my spiritual mentor taught me the importance of knowing and being who you are, and that fun can be found just about anywhere. Mark Walters, who built bridges and runways from Normandy to Berlin and on through Korea, taught me leadership under pressure and the value of listening. B. Gray Allison, who flew the B 24 bomber over Western Europe with the 8th Air Force and founded the seminary I attended, demonstrated the power of faith and a positive attitude as well as scholarship coupled to a passion for souls. L. R. Barnard, chaplain to his majesty’s armies and master of theology to me, taught me the value of history and the wisdom of a wider perspective. Master Chief Bob Bennett, whose friendship, loyalty and encouragement taught me to believe in others, even when they don’t believe in themselves. Paul Steube, who flew Huey gunships with the Sea Wolves in Vietnam, demonstrated duty, and the power of sheer determination. These and so many others who are passing from this earth, and many thousands more coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and dozens of unnamed battlefields in the war against Islamo-facism, knew things about duty, and honor, and sacrifice, which can only be learned in combat.

It is a beautiful and majestic thing to see a man take up a commission, a role, a service, to become an agent of a higher, nobler purpose than self and persevere in that mission to the absolute end of endurance or even life itself, for the sake of others. That’s what men and women like these have done for us as they serve in our nation’s military. Let’s remember not just to honor them, but to honor the values for which they stand.

2 Timothy 2:1-4