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".

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