Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas: the Rest of the Story

In the beginning the Eternal God spoke into existence everything out of nothing. There was nothing and suddenly, at His Word, there was everything. Then God created all that lives and teems on the earth and crowned it with the pinnacle creation, humankind. When He had completed it all He deemed it "very good".

There was no evil, pain or suffering, but there was choice: the man and the woman could choose to obey and trust God or choose not to. The Deceiver exploited this, came and seduced them into disobedience, and introduced into the world evil which spread to all who have ever lived. Made in the image of God, yet with a warp in our nature that turns us away from Him.

God knew that no matter how much we might try, we could not reform ourselves, that He Himself must redeem us. So God called a man named Abram, changed his name to Abraham, and promised him that "through you all peoples of the earth will be blessed." For 2,000 years, Abraham's people, the people of Israel listened as God told them through the prophets how to know His coming: he would be one of them, born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem, that He would show the people the Kingdom of God, would heal the sick and would redeem us from our fallen nature through His death, then be raised again to life.

Then the Babe was born, shepherds rejoiced, magi brought gifts and a tyrant king raged. The Child grew to manhood, and accomplished all that was foretold for millennia: the sick were healed with a touch of His hand, the dead were raised, the principles of God's kingdom were taught and modeled before our eyes.

The Deceiver schemed against Him, seduced enemies to kill Him and thought he had spoiled God's plan of redemption. But the victory was God's when the Redeemer was raised from death to go prepare a place for all of those who would choose His Way.

The Babe in a manger is not complete without the cross. The cross is not complete without the Resurrection. The resurrection is not complete without His return to restore the earth as it was in the beginning.

Those who choose Him for their life become citizens of the New World to come and are called to live as He lived when He walked among us, to become ambassadors, representing Him and inviting all who will hear to join in His offered redemption.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.--Colossians 1:13-14

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Your Healing Presence

This time of year is very busy, but I made time recently to go visit an old friend whom I hadn't seen in a while. I had worked with him in a former job and I heard that he had recently had a rather severe stroke and was in a nearby rehab center.

It's the Christmas season which is busy for most people anyway, plus in my business the end of the year is hectic. But this had to be made a priority.

When I entered his room a nurse was tending to him and I'm sure he was surprised to see me. She finished and I greeted him, took his hand and told him I'd heard he was in a rough place right now and I wanted to check on him.

He has always been a talkative, expressive man. But the stroke has taken that ability away from him. The entire time I was with him he tried to talk, but it was completely incomprehensible. It frustrated him greatly. At several points he paused, grimaced and I saw his eyes well up with tears.

Though I controlled my emotions, I grieved inwardly for him. I caught him up on a few life things, prayed with him, and left.

It is common to feel inadequate visiting someone in such great need because we believe we should have something to say, to share, some wisdom or comfort, but we cannot find the words. This is not the first time I've stood at the bedside of someone in terrible suffering, but God in His grace has shown me that words are not what is needed, but presence is. When those we care about are suffering, what is needed most is merely our being there for them so that they do not walk through this valley alone. Like anyone I have felt the sense of inadequacy of not knowing what to say. But when I unburdened myself from that self imposed responsibility, and realized that just to be present in their hour of need was it's own form of comfort, my unease drained away.

Some years ago, in the midst of my own health crisis, there were those who took the time to be present in their own way in my life, and I will never forget their kindness. A friend alongside brings a healing power which we can easily underestimate. And we can take it from the Lord Himself, it has eternal importance.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

Saturday, December 12, 2015

No Offense, but...

In my last post I talked about how we, as a society, have become so thin skinned. Being offended has become America's favorite past time and has spawned a thriving business opportunity in what I call the Indignation Industry: cashing in on being offended.

Of my three reasons why we have become so brittle as a nation, the last affords the best chance to individually change and grow in character: to become big hearted, the kind of person who is generous, patient, gracious, willing to over look a slight. Turning an entire nation starts with the turning of ourselves individually.

In a conversation this week the topic of great leaders came up and I thought of the biography of Abraham Lincoln that I read a few years ago, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln", by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I loved the book because it didn't merely detail the history of Lincoln's life and the events of the Civil War. It gave penetrating insight into Lincoln's character and from that I'll illustrate my belief that to be not easily offended, we must be big hearted.

Of the many character qualities Lincoln had, one of his greatest was his humility. He was written off by his rivals for the 1860 presidential election because of his rough upbringing and his homely, unkempt appearance. His opponents for the Republican nomination were some of the most brilliant, famous and successful men of their day. Most of them and other party leaders treated the country bumpkin "rail splitter" Lincoln with condescension, even contempt. Yet Lincoln never showed the slightest offense at this treatment, remaining serene and responding with graciousness, even kindness for which he was well known. Shockingly, Lincoln overcame the entire field of prominent men, won the nomination and won the presidency.

Knowing the enormous issues that faced America with southern states in rebellion over slavery, Lincoln knew he needed a cabinet composed of the finest minds possible to guide his presidency. So he picked for those posts the very men who had opposed him and in some cases openly disdained him over the years. One by one, as they worked closely with him in his cabinet, they were won over by his gentle kindness, generosity and humility. Of them, William Seward and Edwin Stanton became his close friends. In Stanton's case that was most remarkable because Stanton had been publically critical of Lincoln in the past and in temperament he was stern and choleric, the polar opposite of the affable, gentle hearted Lincoln.

Lincoln could work with men who had been previously so opposed to him because he was humble. He knew that he needed their brilliant counsel more than he needed submissive men whom he could easily control. Humble people have not put themselves on a pedestal, needing the praise of others to affirm them there. With no inflated ego, there is nothing to puncture with sharp criticism.

Lincoln was roundly known also for his kind heartedness, a quality that is founded upon love of others more than self. It is a quality uniquely joined to humility. Stories of Lincoln putting others' needs foremost abound. For example he liberally pardoned soldiers charged with desertion and dereliction of duty because so often they were teenaged soldiers, boys shouldering men's uniforms and terrible duties, youngsters frightened at being thrown into the maw of a savage war. Lincoln did not have the heart to have these youth executed.

Stanton, even after he had worked with Lincoln for some time and had grown to love him, could still in anger sharply criticize decisions by the president, such as once calling him a "d*mned fool!" When told of this Lincoln smiled serenely and said, "If Stanton said I was a d*mned fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right."

Where do we find such people today? We have become a brittle people today because we have become self centered and egotistical. When we are motivated by love of self more than of others, we bruise and bristle easily and the entire culture becomes more coarse and hostile.

We don't study great men like Lincoln anymore. We consider history boring and we miss the wealth not only of history but of insights into great people who navigated those awful times. We also overlook those more common people right around us who might be gleaming lights of refined character from whom we can learn. Because our eyes are ever on ourselves, we can't look outward to others who model greatness.

To be one who is not easily offended requires, for one thing, that we become a life long learner. We must look outside of ourselves. Learn from the likes of Lincoln, or even from the quiet souls within our own lives whom we over look because first, they don't seek attention and second, our gaze is continually turned inward. To look to them is the first step toward humility and our tendency toward taking offense will recede. Joined with that must be the cultivating of a heart that cares for others, willing to take another's well being into consideration, often above our own. With that perspective it becomes much harder to be provoked over some slight that may come our way. How can we be offended, when self is not at the center of our universe?

Change begins with me, with each of us individually, from whom it can spread and transform a nation.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hurt My Feelings, I'll Hurt Your Livelihood

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Fortunes are being made these days by opportunists in what I call the Indignation Industry. All you have to do is claim that someone has offended you in some way and you may be able to wring a nice little court settlement out of them for your "pain and suffering" while the people who run afoul of such sensitivities can lose their job, or their business and their social standing. The threshold for violating such standards are very low indeed.

In 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, journalism schools were bulging with young writers like me intent on becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein. In my newswriting class, we learned the legalities of liable and slander: you can express any opinion you like about someone as long as you do not accuse or imply that they have done something immoral or illegal. You can call somebody and idiot as much as you want, but you cannot call them a crook unless you know it to be factual and can back it up. Even then, unless they have been found guilty in a court of law, you cannot report it in the media as fact. This is why news outlets, when reporting on an arrest, must refer to it as "alleged", as in "police allege that Smith held up the bank." Until there is a conviction in court, "alleged" is the required qualifier. But to say something that merely hurts another's feelings, though tacky, is something we endure as a cost of having freedom of speech.

Yet aside from crime reporting, the landscape has changed dramatically over the last 20 years or so. Nowadays employees regularly attend "sensitivity training" classes to avoid the slightest misstep in their language and behavior, lest they offend someone. The ways that this can happen are many and they are nuanced. Suspensions, firings and lawsuits can result from the slightest violation. Public figures are often skewered in the media for perceived insensitivities and careers can be tarnished as a result. College campuses today are aflame with protests akin to the 1960's as students demonstrate against "micro aggressions" and "triggers", meaning even the slightest perceived slight of race, gender or some other aspect of humanity's ways of differentiating ourselves. College faculty and staff live in fear that they will be drummed out of their positions for the slightest misstep.

It seems we are divided and antagonistic against one another more than ever. Our society is hypersensitive, ready to be aggrieved at the slightest insult, even if the offender doesn't intend or even realize they've caused offense. Technologically we've advanced in fantastic ways. Relationally, we've regressed perhaps and equal amount.

So we have arrived at the unhappy place where if you commit the intangible offense of hurting someone's feelings, you can be punished in very tangible ways that cost you your livelihood. Some observations:

First, such obsessiveness over the faintest shades of perceived insult is an aspect of our affluence. We have the luxury of getting the vapors over some picayune offense because we don't have much else to worry about. This is why you see such hypersensitivity and the public protests in the western nations of Europe and America, recumbent as we are in our wealth compared to the rest of the world. When you aren't too worried about whether you'll eat today, whether your village water supply is contaminated with cholera or whether some terrorist wants to kill you, your mind can wander to other bogeymen of your own imagining.

Second, our unity as a nation has become frayed and tattered because we have lost a shared belief in a common ideal, that America is a nation made up of diverse people aspiring to make their lives better because we have freedom to do so. In those countries like I just described, where life is more a matter of mere survival rather than prosperity, often the hindrance to upward mobility is the lack of freedom due to corrupt and oppressive governments. America has prospered because America is free, or has been largely so for most of it's history. Though societal prejudices may exert barriers to some ethnicities and cultural identities, they can be over come by anyone, and there is hardly a place on the planet with better opportunities to improve one's lot in life than America. Yet that tremendous blessing and opportunity has become overlooked. We ignore that blessing common to all of us, even disparaging the nation that grants such freedom, and turn on one another, biting and devouring one another. Because we take for granted the freedom we have, we see one another as enemies whom we believe are holding us back in life.

Finally, we've lost the quality of being big hearted. We are becoming small, narrow and touchy. We've forgotten what it means to shrug off a thoughtless comment, to have the maturity to ignore a slight or insult. We are coddled and self-entitled with the result that it's all about us. Me, myself and I are our three favorite people, so it's no wonder we are so thin skinned. Rare today is the person who, if someone makes some tacky remark, can simply think to themselves, "Oh well. So what?" or even better, give them the benefit of the doubt that they meant no harm.

To attain that level of maturity requires that we become other centered, that we allow God to build in us the unselfish love that Paul describes in the passage from 1 Corinthians cited above. If we allow the Spirit of God to grow that unselfish love within us, grievous slights will occur less and when they do we will be quicker to let them roll off of us rather than stick and provoke. We can become more forgiving, and with that will come a more unified people supportive of one another, less combative.

It might drain the profit out of the Indignation Industry, but the riches that will replace it are far more lasting and gratifying.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How Should Christians Handle the Starbucks Cup Situation?

Social media is abuzz about Starbucks management's decision to not put any sort of Christmas decoration on their cups other than them being red. Another rumor is that the employees are not allowed to wish customers "Merry Christmas". One post I saw said "Starbucks hates Christians" and someone else has urged that when the Starbucks employee asks your name, tell them "Merry Christmas". That way, when your drink is ready, they are forced to say "Merry Christmas". Hah! Gotcha!

When I was a younger man I might have agreed with such methods, proud member of the ranks of Combative Christianity that I was. But age has sanded down my reactionary edges. Now I'm more apt to make a few observations first, maybe even see if Scripture gives us some insight. Wish I'd learned that sooner.

First, both the decision for the cup design and forbidding employees to say Merry Christmas (if true) was made way up the command structure of Starbucks. To confront the employee at the counter over decisions made by their upper management is harassment of someone who has no say so in those matters. Why should we make their job a hassle over something for which they have no control?

Second, do you really believe "Starbucks hates Christians", even if someone in upper management did or did not make a disparaging comment toward Christians in the past? Or do you think that every employee of Starbucks hates Christians? Does that mean that the person serving you behind the counter does? I know a woman who goes to Starbucks everyday because one of the employees is a dear Christian friend. We cannot paint every Starbucks employee with a broad brush.

Third, aren't there much greater concerns in the world for we as Christians to be passionate about than this little tempest in a teapot? There are situations where we are truly called to stand for what is right and for justice. Store employees not saying "Merry Christmas" is not a hill on which to die in the cause of justice. We must learn to choose our battles.

What insight can Scripture give us in such a situation, where we perceive someone is slighting us, "dissing" us as believers, or to whom we perceive we should offer correction? Let the apostle Paul guide us from 2 Timothy 2:24-26:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth..."

We are to be gentle and kind even with those who oppose us. And really, as I indicated above, the person behind the counter is not likely to be "opposed" to you. Tying up the line of people waiting for their morning caffeine fix is not the place to conduct cultural warfare. If you feel the need to express yourself on matters like this, write an email to the person responsible for the decision, but even then, seek to persuade, not vent.

Our mission in this world is to win people to Christ, not win arguments. Snarky, cheap shot tactics will not win hearts to the Savior. Those methods only satisfy some fleshly impulse to get even with someone for a perceived disrespect of our beliefs.

A better approach? Thank the person behind the counter for their service in a gracious way. Ask them how their day is going and maybe about some aspect of their life. Take interest in them as a person, not as a target to be taught a lesson through some manipulative stunt. Stuff a couple of dollars into the tip jar and wish them a Merry Christmas. Then come back in the future and continue the relationship. Rather than alienating them from Christ through immature behavior, we might through our kindness as Paul exhorts, "lead them to a knowledge of the truth." That is what we are called to do in this life.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

It's Not All About "Getting to Heaven"

What I have come to label as Americanized Christianity presents a view of the Christian life that in many ways varies significantly from Scripture and church history. One such variance is the almost universal emphasis on "getting to heaven" and this being virtually the sole reason for devoting our lives to Christ.

The Bible actually says very little about heaven, but much more about the future resurrection of all who have ever lived. Jesus taught about "the kingdom of heaven", but that teaching was about the principles and laws of how God's kingdom functions, not about the afterlife. The principles of the "kingdom of heaven" are about how believers are to live and relate to others in this life, as prelude to what the world will be like when Christ returns and brings his kingdom to earth.

What the Bible does talk about frequently is the resurrection. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the great "Day of the Lord" when the dead would be resurrected from their graves to face judgment. Virtually nothing is said in the Old Testament about heaven as an abode for departed spirits, but it says much about a the great day of the resurrection. Daniel chapter 12 is an example:

“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

When Jesus went to Lazarus's tomb, He told Martha "Your brother will rise again." Her response was, "Yes, Lord, I know that I will see him in the resurrection." Notice Jesus didn't say "Your brother will go to heaven" and Martha didn't say, "Yes, I know I'll see him in heaven one day." That's because the Old Testament...the inspired Scriptures up to that time... spoke of a future resurrection, but not about going to heaven.

This doesn't mean that there is no heavenly realm. Paul spoke of being caught up "to the third heaven" where he saw and heard things beyond his ability to describe. There are other references to a heavenly place in Scripture. So heaven is perhaps where we abide until the resurrection day. But Paul also says that on that day "the dead in Christ will rise first", and that's the resurrection. And note that they "rise", indicating they have remained on the earth until that moment.

And then what? The saints that arise will then reign over the earth with Christ and the earth will become "the kingdom of God" or "the kingdom of heaven", what God intended the world to be like before Adam and Eve rebelled and the world became fallen. Now the earth will live and function as God intended in the beginning.

Until that day, we who have devoted our lives to Christ are to live as Christ did, to model Christ and His kingdom to those who have yet to be born into the kingdom through faith. We are to live lives guided by His Spirit, lives of generous, unconditional love and kindness, being other centered. A theology that promotes receiving Christ in order to "get to heaven" is a theology that starts off with the wrong emphasis, an emphasis on the self-serving punching of your ticket to heaven just to escape the gruesome alternative of eternal separation from God. Instead, we receive Christ so that we can become like him and minister to the needs of others, and in so doing, invite others to join us as citizens of Christ's kingdom.

Whole books have been written on this subject and my point here is not to deny the existence of heaven. I believe in heaven, but not in the way that we have distorted it. Perhaps as the result of the "me" centered hedonism of our culture, Americanized Christianity's theology virtually ignores the resurrection, substituting it with an eternal abode in a sort of cosmic Disneyland of endless bliss, leaving unanswered what the purpose of it all is. The resurrection has been virtually forgotten and more importantly, this theology ignores the purpose of the resurrection, when God through Christ reconciles all things to Himself and restores the earth to the way it was meant to be. Resurrected believers from all of the ages reign with Him over the earth, each one having a purpose to carry out and to give glory to God. It's not one long eternal vacation cruise. We have a purpose to serve in God's kingdom on earth and in glorifying him forever.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Freedom that Is Not

Before beginning this post, I want to say that I'm changing my postings pretty significantly, mostly in length. My intent from now on is to publish much shorter pieces, easier to read and digest, beginning now by finishing the thoughts of the previous post on sex, the Bible and culture. This will still be longer than what my intent is to work toward, simply because I need to wrap up the last post.

Rather than a detailed study of the Genesis account of humankind's fall into sin and how that applies to human sexuality, let me just make some observations.

First, as discussed last time, the created world and the humans that God had set over it were "very good". In it's original, pristine state, everything existed and functioned as God intended it. Yet in chapter three of Genesis the deceiver comes and seduces Eve to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He didn't attack Adam, he went after Eve, thus pitting her against Adam to whom God had given the original command not to partake of the fruit.

When both the man and the woman partook, the text says "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked". Their physical eyes were not what opened since it says beforehand that Eve saw that the fruit was a delight to the eyes. So the fact that their "eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked" means that their understanding was opened.

Why the entire focus seems to be that with the knowledge of good and evil they realized they were naked is a mystery. Then, when the Lord calls for them in the Garden, Adam says that he hid from the Lord because "I was afraid because I was naked". So again the focal point of the consequences of the fall is that they knew that they were naked. Also, Adam says that he was afraid. Fear was the first negative emotion introduced into the creation.

From this point forward human beings are all born with a dual nature: created in the image of God, but now with a twist in their very being, a warp in the human character that causes us to be alienated from the God who created us. We are all a fallen race. That is why when God sent a Redeemer to save us from that fallen nature, He had to be born through the divine agency of the Holy Spirit of God planting the seed of the Messiah into a virgin. No mere mortal man could be the Redeemer. No one who was himself a fallen person could be the Redeemer. Only God Himself could accomplish redemption.

As it pertains to human behavior and to sexuality, because we were now a fallen race with the tendency to veer away from the way God intended things to be, thereafter God established laws as boundaries to restrain people from abusing the way He had designed the creation and our relationships with one another.

Humankind constantly seeks to flaunt those boundaries and has throughout history. Today, the rebellion against any form of sexual restraint is nothing new, it is in fact as ancient as the Fall itself. But the irony is that the "freedom" we seek to gain by casting off the restraints set by God, is in reality bringing ourselves into the bondage from which God sought to set us free. True freedom for Adam and Eve existed briefly before they fell and they became ashamed of their nakedness. That world is gone.

We live now in the fallen world in which God has had to impose boundaries for our protection. We kick against those boundaries thinking we are gaining freedom, but in reality, we enslave ourselves to the shackles of the fallen creation. Seeking to be free, we only embellish our servitude to the fallen flesh from which we are made.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why Does God Seem to Have So Many Hang Ups About Sex?

Sometime it seems like God is such a buzz kill.

After all, doesn’t it seem like so much of the cultural conflict in America, even in the world, boils down to conflicts over sex? Facing off against one another are the sexually liberated masses against the Bible thumping fundamentalists, clinging to archaic biblical rules, right? The sexually liberated western world seems to be crying in exasperation to the old biblical ethic, “Enough! Die already! The modern world has moved on without you!”

From the beginning of the human race people have chafed at the boundaries set for them with regard to human sexuality. So the behaviors of today are nothing new; they are in fact, ancient. From the earliest pages of scripture we see the stirrings of the “sexual revolution”, and so in that sense, what began in America, and more specifically in the radical “counter culture” movement in the 1960’s was only the latest chapter in humanity’s quest to be “sexually liberated”. The clash between the biblical people of God and the sexual revolution activists is a millennia old battle.

There is, however, a difference in how the conflict has been waged in 20th and now 21st century America. Whereas in times past the skirting of biblical sexual standards was done individually and surreptitiously in illicit couplings, in the 1960’s everything was thrust out into the open. Biblical standards of sexual ethics were seen as repressive and a tool of powerfully elite, patriarchal oppression. Sexual restraint was pulled down like a statue of some hated and now deposed political figure, smashed to bits and trodden underfoot. Following this clarion cry of a new sexual order, what had been done more judiciously since the beginning of human history when sexual ethics were at least broadly acknowledged(if not actually followed), was now done brazenly under a new standard that seemed to give it a new legitimacy.

In their 1960’s retrospective “Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the 60’s”, Peter Collier and David Horowitz give a detailed history of the radical counter cultural movement in that tumultuous time. Horowitz was deeply involved in the movement as editor of the radical newspaper “Ramparts”. They make clear that their movement was made up of Marxist-Leninists whose ultimate intention was violent revolution and overthrow of racist, imperialist, oppressive “Amerika”. They believed the United States to be guilty of violent oppression both at home and abroad, and therefore the violent smashing of all traditional standards in America was necessary to fulfill the dawn of a new, communist “liberation”.

Among the standards that had to be destroyed were traditional sexual ethics. They write of the movement’s leaders in the radical organization “The Weatherman”:

Trying to push the limits in the sexual domain as well, they initiated a “smash monogamy” campaign to destroy bourgeois sexual hang-ups in the same way that street fighting was meant to “smash” bourgeois prohibitions against violence…The campaign against monogamy was begun by the women, who had decided that sexual exclusivity led to inequality…”

The radicals of the Weather underground shed all of the traditional restraints, including opprobrium against group sex, believing they were ultimately smashing oppressive restrictions on human freedom. The last standard to fall was prohibition of homosexuality:

One of the last taboos was homosexuality, and the Weather command forced itself toward experimentation in this direction, instructing male and female cadres to “make it” with members of the same sex.

Again, sexual promiscuity did not begin with the 1960’s counter culture movement. What changed in the 1960’s was that a vanguard of radicals had the audacity to openly declare that millennia old biblical sexual ethics were dead, to proclaim that there was no longer to be shame in any sexual expression, however brazen, and to hail a new age of human liberation. Prior to this, sex outside of biblically established norms certainly occurred, but did so furtively and against culturally accepted boundaries. The counter culture movement set out to obliterate those boundaries and set into motion the ongoing clash of cultures we still see today.

What is it about those biblical standards of sexual ethics that makes them so repressive that people had to throw them off? Traditional Christians (as well as those of other “Abrahamic” religions—Jews and Muslims) cite the Bible as their standard on sexual behavior, and since they believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, are we to conclude that God Himself is sexually hung up and conflicted? Did God create a powerful instinctive urge within us that He then forbids us to enjoy freely, thus maliciously creating a tormenting, lifelong conflict? Does that make God the ultimate source of a lifelong purgatory of repressed sexual desire?

Since the theology of sexual purpose and ethics in the Bible is so large, for this post I will limit to the original intent described in the creation account and what went wrong. The more detailed unfolding of the sexual condition of humankind will come in a follow up post.

Also, although critics dispute the validity of the biblical creation account in light of modern science, one thing that seldom gets addressed in that debate is this: in the biblical creation narrative resides the best description of the human condition and of human behavior of any early creation account. No other ancient description of human origins comes close to nailing the dual characteristics of humankind’s vast potential for greatness and simultaneous possessing of the destructive warp in our nature that the Bible calls sin.

The topic of sex regarding procreation comes up twice in the biblical creation narrative of the first chapter of Genesis, first in verse 22 in which He blesses the sea life and birds and says “Be fruitful and multiply” and decrees that they shall fill the seas and the air. Then He again pronounces this declaration over the first humans in verse 27-28, coupled with His declaration of humankind’s authoritative charge over the earth:

So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In chapter two of Genesis, Moses, the author, delves into the detail of God’s creation of Adam, then how He fashioned Eve from Adam’s own flesh. At that, Adam exclaims his delight in the magnificent creation of his mate and for the first time there is the hint that this joining is more dynamic than just for procreation (Gen. 2:23):

”This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.”

To this Moses adds commentary that give us the first indication of the mystery of God’s intention for the human marital, sexual relationship and says that in this first marital bond there was no taint, no cause for shame: (vs. 24-25):

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

This succinct narrative is packed with meaning from which several insights can be gleaned.

First it should be noted that only with man did God create the female in a separate act and indeed even the man himself was created differently from the other creatures of the earth. All other creatures He created by fiat declaration, “let there be”. Man, on the other hand, was created “from the dust of the earth”, not spoken into existence ex nihilo, from nothing. Then, when He creates the woman, it is given its own narrative and again the method is different from that of the animals of the earth. With the animals, no mention is given of separate acts of creating male and female. But the woman is cloned out of Adam’s body.

Clearly the creation of human kind was to God a special act. This is evident from the fact that He made man in His image. About the meaning of that whole books are written, but suffice to say that it conveys man as having attributes of God, the imprint of divine being: consciousness, intelligence and the ability to think abstractly, the full range of emotions, the ability to create, to grasp time, to plan and take command of his world, and much more. Most importantly, it made man, unlike the animals, able to commune with God.

Humankind was made into flesh like the animals, yet was intended from the beginning to be much more than the animals. This has numerous ramifications not least of which is how God intended human sexual relations. In short, we are not mere animals for which the sexual union is procreative only. Spiritual and relational dynamics are at play with humans that are non-existent for animals.

Note also that God presented Eve to Adam. God didn’t just form her and when Adam awoke, she was waiting there with no explanation. Instead, the scripture says that “He brought her to the man”; God introduced Adam to her. God made her through a special act and made a grand gesture in presenting her to Adam.

The man and the woman were both naked, yet not ashamed. In this pristine state, yet untainted by The Fall, sexuality as God designed it was good, created free of any hint of dysfunction or shame.

Finally, Moses immediately links this specially created union to the marital covenant. Moses says, in effect, that the purpose and pattern for marriage was established in the very first human marriage, the marriage in which the husband and wife were the direct creations of God and whose union was divinely orchestrated.

This has profound implications for how God views marriage, but for now the final observation is this: that when Moses describes that the man and woman become “one flesh”, it means that the union of a husband and wife…sexually, spiritually and emotionally…symbolizes that they originally were one flesh when Eve was yet still uncloned from Adam’s side. In the creation narrative, woman came from man and in their sexual union, she symbolically returns to oneness with him. This is part of the divine, spiritual mystery infused by God into the union of man and woman. It was the original template that God authored.

All of this occurs before The Fall, when all that God had made was “good” and remained in innocence. No sin had yet entered the creation, and so what God had created…including sex…was good. Though there is no mention of Adam “knowing” Eve to this point, when God created humankind and declared for them “to increase in number”, sexuality was implied, and that it was good.

Therefore sexuality was part of the original world that God created and in the beginning it was good as God originally designed it. In the next chapter of Genesis everything goes terribly wrong, holistically wrong in the fullness of human existence and the very fabric of the created world. That will be the subject of the next post.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Love Your Enemy? How About Just that Person Who Annoys you?

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.--Matthew 5:43

Richard Wurmbrand was a humble man and a man whose life should humble us. In the Cold War era following World War 2, Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor in Romania where he spent 14 years in prison simply for being a believer in Christ and preaching the gospel.

During the 20th century Hitler's Nazi Germany garnered most of the attention as the locus of political evil in the world. All told World War 2 cost 53 million lives, including the 12 million who died in Hitler's concentration camps. But global communism slaughtered over 90 million, mostly hidden in the gulags, shuttered away from the view of the world. Hitler screeched his venom publically. Communism, in every country it enslaved, stealthily and secretly sent nearly double the number of Hitler's victims to their graves, facts that only emerged after communism collapsed across most of the globe.

Of all the communist hell holes on earth, Romania was one of the worst and it was here that Richard Wurmbrand spent 14 years being beaten times without number, nearly starved to death and repeatedly put into freezing rooms barely dressed and left until near death. His communist tormentors tortured him and other prisoners with malicious glee. His wife was also imprisoned for three years of hard labor. Other family members were murdered by communist officials. Years later, after his arrest and emigration to the west, Pastor Wurmbrand testified before the U.S. Senate about his years of captivity, and he shed his shirt to show the committee the terrible scars on his torso from his torture.

Pastor Wurmbrand would have been justified, by most standards, for hating his captors. He would have been justified in longing for revenge, or inwardly delighting in the knowledge that one day they would descend to the fires of hell for their wickedness. By most standards.

But not by the standards of Christ whom Richard Wurmbrand served. So it is humbling that he wrote in his biography, "Tortured for Christ":

There is a human level on which communism must be utterly fought against. On this level we have to fight against Communists too, they being the supporters of this cruel, savage ideal. But Christians are more than mere men; they are children of God, partakers of the divine nature. Therefore, tortures endured in Communist prisons have not made me hate Communists. They are God's creatures; how can I hate them?

He goes on later:

The Christian teaching is clear. Communists are men and Christ loves them. So does every man who has the mind of Christ.

Pastor Wurmbrand describes how his fellow Christians in prison would be returned to their cells after a session of torture and would immediately begin praying for their tormentors. Sometimes the very men who had tortured them were themselves later accused of a crime against the state and imprisoned with Wurmbrand and other prisoners. The Christian prisoners would come to their defense, shielding them from retribution by other prisoners out of their Christ like love for these, their enemies.

These testimonies leave us, cozy Americans, comfortable Christians, with no frame of reference in that we have never even come close to such persecution. We cannot fathom such treatment and so, lacking perspective, we magnify and vilify what is only trivial as though it were heinous oppression. Christians in America view mere criticism as "persecution" simply because they have never faced the real thing.

There are ill winds stirring in America, although what they portend in the near future are still far from the treatment of Christians behind the opaque borders of communist prison-nations and under Islamic regimes. Christian businesses are being penalized into bankruptcy for standing by biblical marriage standards, because they will not participate in ceremonies which violate one of the basic sacraments of the church for millennia. Terrible and unjust, yes, and one could not be faulted for wondering if this is merely the beginning. Yet for now, at least, a far cry from the Soviet gulag.

But Pastor Wurmbrand's story provides an example of how we Christians should respond to our "enemies" in America. Some scenarios come to mind.

The culture wars for starters. For two generations now, conservative Christians have fought battles to uphold moral principle such as protection of the unborn. And certainly a prophetic voice was called for to stand in the gap for justice. Some, in their zeal, have demonized their cultural/political opponents with bombast and hyperbole. But as Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Council of the Southern Baptist Convention has said:

The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them (2 Tim. 2:26). When we see that we are warring against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, we can see that we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The path to peace isn’t through bellicosity or surrender, but through fighting the right war (Rom. 16:20). We rage against the Reptile, not against his prey.

Can we love, say, Planned Parenthood officials peddling baby parts, or other of our spiritual and cultural opponents, knowing, as Pastor Wurmbrand did, that Christ Himself loves them and died for them as he died for us? Can we love like the family members of those slain in the recent South Carolina church massacre and declare that we forgive like they forgave the killer of their loved ones?

Let's consider a milder scenario of someone who has not killed or maimed anyone, but perhaps someone amongst family, friends, co-workers who may have done us wrong: slandered, cheated or taken something precious from us. Do we have the capacity to see them as Christ sees them and to love them? When we are wronged at this level, can we, as Christ did from the cross, forgive them?

Too difficult still? Well then one more scenario. Can we love the neighbor who leaves his garbage cans out long after trash day? Or who lets his dog bark continuously? Can we love and forgive the family member who makes unthinking remarks that bring hurt unintentionally? How about the co-worker whose incompetence makes our work more difficult or has annoying habits or an obnoxious voice that scrapes a nerve? Or the guy who cut us off in traffic? Maybe not technically our enemy, but can we love them, the seemly unlovable who are simply annoying, not menacing?

Of course we can't, at least not with this woefully inadequate carton of flesh in which we all dwell. Rather, the power to love at this supernatural level comes from the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God in our relationship with Christ. Our role is to be in submission to His leading, to desire to have the mind of Christ, and for that we must be willing to let the Spirit soften and humble our hearts.

Only then can we respond to provocations in Christ likeness, with patience and kindness, not returning invective with invective but with gentle love. Our reply can be firm, but tempered with compassion because we see the need in them rather than the offense in us.

All of this is not to say that there are not times when, because of abusive relationships, we should not separate ourselves from those who harm us or our loved ones. We do not have to volunteer ourselves for abuse. Nevertheless, even in the separation, we can pray for and have compassion for those who are captive to their fleshly passions and to the will of him who is the enemy of all humankind.

If we are to carry out our mission as ambassadors for Christ as Paul described us, we must love more than just those who are easily lovable. We must love the unlovely and unlovable, even those who persecute us, just as Christ did. Our battle is not with them, but as Russell Moore points out it is with the principalities and powers at work that manipulate them. Seen with those eyes, our attitudes and actions in love will win more hearts for the Kingdom of God than combativeness on issues big and small.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Mighty Butler is Our God?

The BBC series Downton Abbey has taken Western Civilization by storm with a period piece soap about the lives of British nobility. I will admit I'm all in. My favorite character is Carson, the burly butler who harrumphs from scene to scene, scolding the household staff as he serves the needs of the fictitious Grantham family. Carson provides a handy metaphor for illustrating the health of the Christian culture in America today.

There are many teachings and practices within the Christian church in America that I believe are the result of superintending American culture over an authentic biblical world view. Certainly every generation and locale of Christians see the world through lenses influenced by both the Bible and aspects of the culture into which they were born and live. But to what extent are they influenced biblically and what extent culturally?

Ten years ago in 2005 sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton published their book "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers". Based on the results of a study funded by the Lilly Endowment, and followed up with additional surveys by the National Study of Youth and Religion at Notre Dame University, the authors concluded that American youth collectively had cobbled together a spiritual worldview from moral principles found across several religions not particular to Christianity. Among protestant rooted homes, teens who came from households involved in conservative Christian denominations tended to hold more to traditions inherent to Christianity than those from more mainline protestant or from Catholic and Orthodox, but no group was completely free of mixing beliefs.

What emerges from the study is a patchwork belief system where God is the creator of all, wants us all to be nice to one another but otherwise doesn't put many expectations on us--can't risk hurting self-esteem--and who is available to help us with needs for which we ask. The authors coined the term "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" to describe this belief system. Moralistic: it posits a God who is himself good and wants us to be generally good. Therapeutic: God wants us to be happy and feel good about ourselves. Deism: God generally doesn't meddle in our lives other than to help us with the needs we put before him.

Which brings me back to Carson of Downton Abbey. Carson, like any well trained butler, must maintain a delicate balance of dedicated service to the family, yet remain detached and discrete. He is a faithful presence never far away, standing just to the side of the dinner table or downstairs in the servants' work areas, where he orchestrates the necessary household duties to satisfy the needs of each member of the Grantham household. He oversees a staff of cooks, maids and valets there to accommodate the smallest whim of the family members. He holds strong opinions and occasionally shares them with Lord Grantham when asked, but only when asked. He grumbles at the new fangled ways of the changing times but is powerless to stop them. Carson is the portrait of the God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Blend the ingredients of fierce individualism, ebbing influence of traditional Christian values, unbridled materialism and "look at me" narcissism of the social media era and you have the recipe for an Americanized cultural theology where God is but the Cosmic Concierge to our demands. We have reduced God to little more than the purveyor of our capricious desires.

Were we to glance back into ancient history when people carved idols to display in their homes, idols of fertility gods, rain gods, ancestors and other talismans meant to please a pantheon of deities so as to grant favor to the worshipers, we would find such superstition mildly amusing in our modern sophistication. Yet in our imaginations we have done the same: we have carved a mental image of the one true God as a deity reduced to what we suppose Him to be, Carson at our service, and not what He is in reality.

Yet this reductionism did not originate in the Millennial Generation. Rather, it's roots lie in the "Me Generation" of their parents...my generation, born after the sacrificial generation of the Great Depression and World War Two. We built this mighty economic engine but also plunged headlong into materialism, consumption and debt. With our fierce work ethic we provided well materially for ourselves and our children, but along the way we tapped into private and public debt to such a degree that any hiccup in the economy is magnified inordinately by debt obligations falling into default.

My generation fought for civil rights, opposed unjust wars, faced down communism, built some of America's greatest businesses. But we also piled government debt obligations on our children and their children to a shocking and shameful degree.

We went all in on a feel good, sexual revolution that now has borne bitter progeny: abortion, the "hook up" culture and rapidly disintegrating marital relationship boundaries.

So shall we preach to our millennial kids about their vapid projection of God as a valet to their whims when it is we who sowed the seeds of that world view?

From all of this sowing of the wind a whirlwind is stirring, although the changes wrought will be wrenching before they becomes redeeming. The financial and economic shanty we have erected teeters every closer to collapse. We just simply cannot sustain the debt path down which we have been careening financially and economically, so many notable experts are predicting unprecedented financial reckoning. Yet from the rubble a responsible economy can be rebuilt. The SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage will bring with it real, not supposed, persecution of biblical orthodox (small o) Christians, and also even more bitter social fallout, yet will force the Body of Christ in America to return to their mission to win people to the gospel of Christ, not win arguments on volatile issues. The Obergefell decision may be the best thing that could have happened toward restoring the church to the gospel mission driven force it was meant to be.

America is headed for dramatic change and the way will be perilous and painful. There is no way to avoid it. But painful change can either bring destruction or rebirth. There is a roll to play for my generation not only in national but generational and individual redemption. It will start with admitting our faults, then learning and turning from them. But then the virtues that produced good during our generation...work ethic, resourcefulness, traditional family values...will fuel and sustain the rebirth.

Our children who followed our example into decadence have a role to play in the redemptive work as well. The millenials harbor a virtue toward standing up for the oppressed and needy, even while seeking their own self gratification, and in that budding virtue lies the seeds of rebirth, the chance to turn fully toward selflessness and personal sacrifice.

Sitting sovereign over it all is not Carson, the grumbling yet powerless butler, but El Shaddai, the omnipotent YHWH God, Author of all things who will bring the discipline in order to bring the redemption. The disciplining hand of God is meant to bring repentance and restoration, not simply retribution.

Ultimately comes the fulfillment of that which the Bible calls the Kingdom, God's restoration of things as they should be, a Kingdom that brings glory to Him. The road between here and the ushering in of that Kingdom is the rocky ride that lies just ahead.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

True Love that Really Wins

A lot of the current public discourse has been hash tagged “Love Wins”, which got me reflecting on true love that really wins.

When I meditate on all that I have been blessed with in life I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am a blessed man and have received grace upon grace, more than I deserve from the hand of God. Over the course of my lifetime in some cases I have gotten good things that I desired that turned out well. Sometimes I have not gotten things I thought that I wanted or needed, and it turned out for the good that I did not receive them. Other times I strived for something, obtained it, and it was, as the proverb says, “like gravel in my mouth”, a painful lesson about my limited grasp of what is best. Thankfully God has given me what He knows is best, not what I think is best in my puny understanding.

The Providence of God reigns in every case. I have nothing that has not been granted to me by the grace of God, and even when I received things I craved that turned out badly, I believe the hand of God was at work to show me that my flesh often desires what is contrary to my good and He sometimes allows it in order for me to learn that truth, and to instead turn to Him for provision.

What is true for individuals can be true for groups of people, even nations. Some things we crave are noble and true: freedom, health, prosperity and posterity. But some things we crave lead us down a path that we envision as right and good, but which lead to death, both in spirit and character.

It is not our “right”, nor are we “entitled”, to fulfill every grunting passion that inflames us, whether it be individually or collectively. There is a difference between freedom and licentiousness. That's an old term you don't hear much anymore, but it basically means to give oneself over to any fleshly appetite no matter how perverse; to live with unbridled restraint to pursue whatever passion our carnal nature desires. And the more we yield to such tempests raging within us, the more the cravings will be fanned into a bigger, hotter inferno burning out a hollow place within.

The Apostle Paul speaks of this ratcheting intensity of fleshly passions when he says in Romans 6:19—

For just as you once presented yourselves as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

In chapter one of Romans Paul speaks of how people can so give themselves up to destructive passions that God at last removes His hand from them and allows them to sink to the maximum into their lawless passions. That is a terrible, perilous place to be.

As I write this, I’m at the beach (which explains my waxing philosophical). A raft or beach toy left in the surf gets tossed around, out of control, by the raging of the sea. Likewise, our fleshly instincts and the chaos of the world buffets us like so much flotsam on the waves. We think we are in control of ourselves, but we are not. But there is a way to the stability and safety of the shore.

While the human race was mired in rebellion against the God who spoke the universe into existence, collectively denying Him and shaking a fist in His face, God, in His boundless mercy, came in human form, took the penalty upon Himself that was due to us in our rebellion against Him, went to the grave, then rose triumphant over death. The case against us was overwhelming, yet the Righteous Judge stepped down from the high bench, having pronounced judgment upon Himself, and took our punishment for us. By turning to Him, placing our trust in His redemptive work on the cross and submitting to His Lordship, we are redeemed from our sinful nature and enter into eternal life with the God of all creation.

This is how true love really wins:

For God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.—Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Him is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.—John 3:16-18

Often we demand to be accepted, to receive our “rights”. God accepts us how we are, but in His wise and boundless love for us, He does not leave us as we are. Instead, He redeems us then begins the work of molding and shaping us into the Image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In recent days the evidence mounts…rapidly…that we as a nation are perilously close to that dreadful place I described earlier from Romans chapter one: that we have so relentlessly pursued the most puerile carnality that God may be about to, if He hasn’t already, remove His hand of protection. The nation is filled with racial strife, we are pursuing every dark corner of rapacious sexuality, and our materialism has driven us to unprecedented financial recklessness. If we continue this way, terrible days are ahead for America and the world.

Yet I cling to hope through prayer that we as a nation will turn from the path we are careening down and call out for the God who has so graciously blessed us. God can and has moved in powerful ways when the hour seemed darkest, and if we let Him, if we choose Him, He will again.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Severe and Tender Mercies

In the course of a day I recently encountered two separate situations of people who were care givers of someone with Down Syndrome. In the brief glimpse I got of their lives in those moments, their demeanor of care differed dramatically.

The first encounter: I was in a local hospital going to a doctor's appointment. A woman was escorting a young man with Down Syndrome to the same elevator, and, as it turned out, to the same clinic on the third floor where I was going. The young man was slow and distracted easily and so when the elevator arrived and opened, I and another passenger entered while the woman called to the young Down Syndrome man to come with her to get in the elevator. She was short and curt with him. "Hurry up! Come on, people are waiting!" She turned to me and the other man and apologized. "He's a little slow." The young man dutifully started toward the elevator and it became clear that he had some sort of difficulty walking and he moved at a slower pace. The woman, self conscious that others were waiting, barked again for him to hurry even though he seemed to be going as fast as he could. Yet the whole incident lasted less than a minute and neither I or the other man were in the least bit inconvenienced.

Upstairs she again prodded him along with sharp words to shepherd him into the doctor's office. Thereafter I was parted from them as I went to my appointment and they to theirs. I do not know if it was he or the woman seeing the doctor, nor could I tell if she was his mother or other relative, or if she was some appointed care giver like a social worker. But I couldn't help but wonder if her curtness with him was an ongoing habit, or merely a mode of managing him in public so that he didn't inconvenience others.

The second encounter: in the grocery store, just hours later, a young mother was pushing her grocery cart through the store shopping. As she did so, she spoke almost continually and with tenderness to a very young Down's Syndrome child, no more than 18 months old, in the child seat of the cart. She whispered sweetly about what was next on her list to get, smiling and cooing over the little one. Her demeanor could not have been more different than the first woman. This encounter was shorter, but gave every indication that this young mother cared for her child with loving kindness.

It would be irresponsible to jump to conclusions about either situation, especially the first, and conclude that the woman caring for the young man with Down Syndrome is calloused and harsh with him all the time or that the young mother is always a model of patient virtue. The situations are also poles apart. The young mother is caring for a baby, possibly not walking yet, less able to get into messes, not as likely to test the patience of a frazzled, exhausted mother. The young man, mobile, capable of wandering and dawdling, is more able to try the patience of his care giver.

Yet I couldn't help but view the first woman with some disdain, even though I simultaneously realized that her job was difficult beyond anything I have experienced. I don't bear the burden she likely shoulders on a daily basis. But could she not, I wondered, shepherd the young man with more patience and compassion, and preserve some of his dignity as a person? One got the sense that she remained in a near constant state of low grade exasperation with him, that it was his responsibility to meet her requirements more than her responsibility to patiently care for his needs.

Jane Gross is a New York Times writer who has written extensively on caring for the elderly based on her care giving for her elderly mother. In one blog entry she wrote about taking her frail mother to a clinic for an MRI:

I learned this much: Never shame your mother into rushing to keep up with you. First of all, it’s not nice. Second, both of you will have to cope with her broken hip if rushing leads to a fall. And this: Simply slowing the pace isn’t sufficient. If your mother is as observant as mine was, she will see it if your face reflects impatience; it will make her feel guilty or embarrass her.

No one can be placed in the role of caring for another, whether it is their own loved one, or a patient under their professional care, without in some measure giving away part of themselves to the person with whom they are charged. Someone filling that role deserves respect. But it seems from the examples I saw that there are those who give away more of themselves than others, who, with greater self sacrifice, realize that care giving extends beyond meeting the physical needs, but includes care of the soul, of giving respect, dignity and kindness. Giving only what is required will meet physical needs yet starve the heart. Giving away the greater mercies of patience, gentleness and compassion, nourishes the vulnerable heart of one whom the rushing world overlooks, and who needs it more than most.