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.