Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just As I Am

I have a Fernando Ortega rendition of "Just As I Am" in which Billy Graham's voice can be heard faintly in the background. Dr. Graham is reminiscing about a recent illness in which he believed he was dying. As he mused on his past he realized what a great sinner he has been and how much he needs God's daily forgiveness. 

Billy Graham? A great sinner? Yes, and enough of a saint to know it.

We really ought to put an end to the notion that we’re okay. It's true that we ought to feel good about ourselves, but that confidence must come from the knowledge that we're greatly loved children of God and not that we're very good children. No, we’re always in the wrong. As Martin Luther said, we’re "dust and ashes and full of sin." That’s why Jesus taught us to pray every day, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

I read somewhere that John Newton suffered from dementia in his final years and often lamented the loss of his memory. “However,” he confided in a friend, “I do remember two things: “I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior.” Those are the only things anyone needs to know.

The first step in becoming a truly good person is to stop pretending that we’re any good and ask God to begin to make us as good as we can be. It takes a long time and there’ll be a lot of failures. (You can count on that!) But God is faithful and in his time, in his way, he’ll do it.

You can count on that as well!


Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Golden Rule

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So (therefore) whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:7-12).

Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher Hans Küng coined the phrase “Global Ethic” to refer to certain moral principles held in common by all religions. The essence of these principles, he concluded, is the Law of Reciprocity: “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” or, as it’s otherwise known, “The Golden Rule.” Put another way, it is the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Here are some examples

If your eyes be turned towards justice, choose for your neighbor that which you would choose for yourself. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 64)

A state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must be so for him also; and a state which is not pleasant or delightful for me, how could I inflict that on another? (Samyutta Nikaya, V, 353.35-354.2)

Brahmanism: "This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you". Mahabharata, 5:1517 "

Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
(Confucius, Analects, 15.24)

Ancient Egyptian:
Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." (The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, circa 1800 BC)

This is the essence of morality: Do not do to others which if done to you would cause you pain. (Mahabharata, XIII.114.8, V, 1517g)

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Imam Nawawi’s Collection of Forty Sayings of Muhammad, No. 13)

A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. (Sutrakritanga 1.11.33)

Do as you desire goodness for yourself, as you cannot expect tasty fruits if you sow thorny trees. (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Slok 23, p. 1379)

Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien)

That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself.  (Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5”

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor – that is the basic law, all the rest is commentary. (Rabbi Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
"And what you hate, do not do to any one." (Tobit 4:15 4

Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12)

It appears that God has placed The Law of Reciprocity into every human heart as a summation of the moral law (as expressed in written law). What then makes Jesus’ version exceptional?

The uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching lies in a conjunction: “Therefore.”  “Therefore” suggests a conclusion based on a premise, the premise being that we have a Father in heaven that wants to give, and give, and give.... “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Therefore...”

God's love and generosity is the motive behind all that we do: We have a loving, generous father who desires the best for us; who set aside his own self-interest to show the full measure of his love. We love because he first loved us. N.T. Wright has written this: “Jesus was neither the first nor the last great moral teacher to offer this so-called ‘Golden Rule’, and it sums up a good deal of his teaching. What distinguishes him from the many others who have said similar things is that underneath the moral lesson is the love of the heavenly father. What should distinguish his followers, but alas frequently doesn’t, is that, knowing this love, they should find themselves able to obey this rule, and the other rules that follow from it, gladly and freely. They should then discover that they are able to reflect God’s love and light into the world” (The New Testament for Everyone).

Furthermore, his love and generosity is the dynamic by which we do everything: God does not promise to give us everything we ask for (an S-Class Mercedes-Benz comes to mind), but he does promise that he will answer every plea for goodness. It will take time to bring our requests to fruition, but he has promised and he cannot lie.

So what do I need today to love my neighbor as myself? Patience? Mercy? Forgiveness? Acceptance? Lenience? I must call up my father and ask him for it. 


Lambs May Wade

C. S. Lewis, in an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics,” divides religions as we do soups, into those that are thick and those that are clear: “Now if there is a true religion it must be both thick and clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man…”
There are thick concepts in the Bible: mysteries, paradoxes, complexities that boggle the most capacious minds, where more is meant than meets the eye.
And yet, in the same book, there are crystal clear conceptS: simple, attainable, and easily grasped by the least sophisticated mind. What surpasses the simplicity of St. John’s clear affirmation: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son...”? Can you miss the message that you are loved beyond measure?
Gregory the Great, a 7th century Christian wrote, “In there (the Bible), the lamb may wade and the elephant must swim...”
That said, Jump in!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Most Interesting Man in the World

“After three days they found (Jesus) in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46)

On occasion, a commercial pops up on our television screen featuring a bearded, debonair gentleman sitting in an elegant bar, hoisting a bottle of his favorite beverage (the point of the commercial) and regaling a bevy of beautiful women with tales of derring-do, while Barcelona Nights plays softly in the background. He is The Worlds Most Interesting Man.

Not at my table. Hed be a crashing bore.

The most interesting people in the world are not raconteurs who can gain and hold the floor, but rather those who ask questions of others, listen intently and make other people the center of attention. To put the thought another way: The most interesting people in the world are interested in other people. Thats the mark of divine love: being more interested in others than we are in ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4).

So, next time you find yourself in a social situation, looking for something worthwhile to do, find a wallflower and ask a question or two, listen well, ask thoughtful follow-up questions and try not to launch into your own stories ("Yeah, that happened to me once..."). You will leave behind a blessing and the memory of your presence may linger on—we remember best the people that loved us welland, who knows? You might become the most interesting person in the world.


Monday, January 14, 2013


The bruiséd reed He will not break,
         But strengthen and sustain.

—John Greenleaf Whittier

A friend sent us a set of Amaryllis bulbs for Christmas with the promise that they would blossom, in due time, if we would put them in a sunny spot and water them.

We’ve grown Amaryllis before and know that the flower is not like the bulb. The bulbs are unsightly things: Dirty and stained. The flowers are stunningly beautiful: brilliant red blossoms that seem to shimmer in the light. (The name
 Amaryllis comes from a Greek verb, amarysso, that means, "to sparkle.”)

The odd thing about our Amaryllis, however, is the differential: One stalk grew rapidly, almost ½ an inch a day; the second grew more slowly. The third stalk grew hardly at all.

Christians are like that, you know. Some grow rapidly in faith, hope and love; some grow more slowly; others grow hardly at all.

I was disappointed in the little bulb; I thought it would do better. God, on the other hand, understands poor stunted things.

He knows those that have been trampled underfoot as children, bent and broken by abuse. He understands those who are bending under a load of rejection and shame. He knows the betrayals that make it hard to trust him and respond to his love. He understands the bewilderment of those whose hopes and dreams have been shattered.

C. S. Lewis writes, “If you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair.”[1] 

Do not despair? Indeed, for God has infinite pity for the tragedy and pathos of your life. “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench.”[2] He knows your desire for goodness and despite false starts and frequent failure he is at work every day conforming some small part of you to his likeness, with the guarantee that one day you will be an object of staggering beauty.[3]

So... Never give up. Never give up. Never, never give up! Keep struggling upward toward the light: sit at Jesus’ feet and take in his words, pour out your heart in surrender and supplication, keep yourself in the warmth of his love, “being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion on the Day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

God is never in a hurry, but he does mean business, and (as a friend of mine once said) “He will finish the work as soon as he can.”


P.S. The littlest Amaryllis grew a tiny bit today...

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1952), pp. 182.
[2] Isaiah 42:3
[3] Cf., 1 John 3:1,2

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