Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Quality Most Rare

Often small clues provide insight into people's character. Small gestures, offhand comments, the accumulation of small behaviors can provide a glimpse into a person's soul.

It is June 6th of 1944 and the largest invasion force in world history has gathered in England and is preparing to cross the English Channel to storm the Normandy beaches of France in the assault to free Europe and the world of Hitler's Nazi tyranny. Months of preparation and training have led to this colossal moment in world history. Soon hundreds of thousands of American, British and other Allied forces will pour across the Channel, facing withering fire from Nazi emplacements fortifying the coast to claw out a beach head from which to begin the liberation of Europe, but at a fearful cost in lives. Of each of the five beach heads, the one code named "Omaha Beach" will produce the most ghastly casualties as 3,000 mostly American soldiers will die on just the first day of fighting, devoured in the "Jaws of Death" as Omaha came to be known.

In the lead up to the invasion, Dwight Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of the Allied forces in Europe, toured the troops preparing for battle. He walked among the common soldiers, shaking hands, engaging in small talk of hometowns, families,fishing and baseball with men who quite possibly might not survive the next 24 hours. At one point, in a gesture of humility and service, the former Kansas farm boy who now headed this mighty military expedition noticed that a soldier burdened down with his pack and equipment had an untied boot. Eisenhower kneeled before the soldier and tied his boot for him. This man who, with a word, had the power to send forth hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight humbly served one of those men in a momentary, simple act of kindness.

Humility is that most precious and least esteemed of character qualities. Pride and vanity are the most seductive and therefore most pervasive of flaws. It is ever so easy, especially as one gains success in life, to be infected with self. In both my work and in ministry I have had occasion to meet quite a number of celebrities and people with nationally prominent ministries. It is instructive to see how success affects people.

Among the celebrities I've met in my years in broadcasting some have been very full of themselves and a few...a few...have remained humble. The worst was a television sit-com star who was rude to the point of being mean. By contrast, we once brought in comedian Dana Carvey when he was at the peak of his popularity. He was personable and I happened to ride on the elevator with him. At one floor the building's janitor came onto the elevator and Carvey struck up a conversation with him.

Once I went to the airport to pick up a nationally known ministry figure who wordlessly thrust his bag at me to take for him then walked toward the exit to the parking lot. To be fair, his plane had been delayed and it was late and he was very tired. In the car he warmed a little and made conversation, then the next day was more engaging. But still...

By contrast I once was in Washington D.C. for the National Religious Broadcaster's convention. In the hotel lobby I walked around a corner and literally bumped into Billy Graham. We actually collided into each other. He was tall and his brilliant blue eyes had a merry twinkle to them. He smiled, stuck out his hand and warmly shook mine and said, "Hello!" I was pretty flummoxed and didn't know what to say except a stammering hello back. I can't recall if we exchanged other words or not. He went on to the entry door of a hall where then President George Bush the elder was to speak with him to a crowd. I noticed that every person passing through the door was wanded by the Secret Service, but when Billy Graham approached they just waved him through.

How refreshing and rare it is to encounter people, both the great and the small, who retain a sense of humility, who realize that no level of worldly success and esteem justifies arrogant self absorbtion. We wrongly associate humility with groveling and self degradation, when in reality, a person with healthy humility is strong and has a better self image than a person with an exaggerated sense of self importance. After all, from dust we were formed and to dust we all return, no matter what station in life we reach.

In physics a black hole is a dead star in which its matter has collapsed inward upon itself, generating a gravitational field so powerful that the very fabric of space itself warps into the hole and nothing passing too near can survive without being consumed. An apt description of the self aggrandizing personality and what happens to their world and relationships around them.

Scripture often commands us to be humble. Let another's mouth praise you and not your own, Proverbs tells us. Christ said that he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. James admonishes us to not be too proud to associate with the lowly people in life.

Jesus Himself, King of the universe, came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Through our words, our deeds, our acts of kindness and selfless giving, we distribute the love of Christ to a hurting and dying world around us and daily defeat the relentless tyrant of self seeking to rule us. It is the crucifying of self, the taking up of the cross of Christ daily, moment by moment, that molds us each day closer to reflecting His image, moves us to serve others and which will one day bless us with the word of the Master, "Well done, good and faithful servant".

Saturday, February 1, 2014

We're Too Little

One of the most profound lessons on God's grace came to me 20 years ago when my oldest daughter was just a little girl. A household calamity produced an "out of the mouths of babes" moment that has stayed with me for a lifetime.

We had just moved to central Texas from the Dallas area. One afternoon we went to the house of my wife's grand parents, Nanny and Pappaw for lunch along with other family members. While the adults talked the kids played around the house.

Suddenly there was a loud crash and sound of shattering glass, followed by the shrieks of a child. We rushed into the living room to find our daughter Danae sobbing beside a table. She had been walking behind two chairs with a table between them, passing between these pieces of furniture and the wall behind them, when she hooked her foot on the cord of the lamp standing on the table, yanking it off the table to crash to the floor. It was one of those Victorian style lamps typical to homes of that generation, all glass with flowers embossed on the shade. Now it lay in shambles on the floor to Danae's utter horror.

And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It was a childish accident so we saw no need for discipline, but while my wife Joi cleaned up the lamp I took a sobbing Danae back to a bed room to calm down by having her lay on the bed for a while. Through tears Danae asked if she was in trouble and I told her no, but that we would have to buy Nanny a new lamp. I left her to calm down, hopefully to nap, and returned to the group.

About 45 minutes later I gently opened the door to the bedroom and peeked in to see if she was sleeping. I couldn't see her face, but she was still and quiet, so I thought she had fallen asleep. But just as I was backing out of the room, in a timid, tiny voice Danae said something that I couldn't make out.

I went to her and sat on the side of the bed and asked her what she had said. She meekly replied, "I can't pay. I'm too little."

It was sweet and vulnerable and I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with love for my sweet daughter at that moment. I gave her a smile and hug and reassured her. "Don't worry sweetheart. Daddy will pay for the broken lamp."

Now I can be pretty dense and slow so the implications of what Danae said didn't settle in with me right away. But a few days later the Lord showed me a lesson from that moment that has stayed with me ever since.

Danae had realized that she was responsible for breaking the lamp, but that she had no way to pay for it. And in that realization she grasped her helplessness and knew that she needed another, her Daddy, to pay for her. A substitutionary price must be paid to set things to right.

Our own sin and brokenness cannot be paid for by us with our puny attempts to make ourselves right. We can't pay. We're too little. But don't worry, our Daddy has paid for our brokenness and the brokenness of this world through His Son's work on the cross.

We may try to assess our lives by how much of a mess we may or may not have created, or think that we "are a good person" and have our lives reasonably together. The degree of messiness in our lives is not the issue. We are still broken. Some of us may be better at cleaning up the pieces, be better at "sin management", but all of us are broken because we are alienated from God by the separation from Him permeating our very nature. We are a study in dualism: made in God's image, but separated from Him by the fall of humanity from the very start of the human race.

In moments of candid lucidity we realize that we cannot possibly "pay" for our brokenness. We are too little. But our loving Daddy has already seen to it. He made the very costly payment for our sin and brokenness at the cross of Christ, His Son. And so in our vulnerable timidity, as we meekly admit our weakness and our need for Him and what He has done for us, He wipes our tears, quells our quaking hearts by holding us close to His, and reassures us: the debt is paid, "It is finished."

With those words all is restored and we are free from the guilt, free from obligation for a debt we could never pay, free to rejoice in the Father's unconditional and boundless love. We are free indeed.