Monthly Archives: August 2017

Peace — God’s Elusive Gift

In Jesus’ last dialogue with his disciples, he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  (John 14:27)

Yet, ongoing peace is difficult for us to attain on both an individual and collective basis.  On a collective basis, if you add the Cold War to the shooting wars beginning with World War II, there have been less than ten years in which the U. S. has been at peace over the last seventy-five years.

On an individual basis, the kind of peace that St. Paul describes as passing all understanding is similarly difficult to attain.

Thomas A Kempis in his book, Imitation of Christ, says, “Our peace consists in humble bearing of suffering and contradictions, not in being free of them, for we cannot live in this world without adversity.  He who can best suffer will enjoy the most peace, for such a person is master of himself, a lord of the world, has Christ for his friend, and heaven is his reward.” 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 and executed just days before the war’s end in April, 1945.  His Gestapo prison cell was eight by five feet and underground.  Eric Mataxas, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, says that he brought peace and calm to his fellow prisoners.  “His strength was borrowed from God and lent to others,” said Mataxas.

On the day of his execution, the prison doctor observed, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God.  I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain God heard his prayer.  At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed.  I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Most of us are not likely to experience the challenges that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did, but as Thomas A Kempis says, we cannot live in this world without adversity – sickness, unemployment, estrangement from loved ones, a difficult boss, caring for a disabled relative – the list is endless.  Are we able to handle these challenges with the kind of peace that Jesus is talking about?

In the prime of my career as an attorney for a large international oil company I declined a promotion to avoid a relocation that my wife and I believed would have adversely affected our family which included three teenage daughters at the time.   For a couple of years I was not very peaceful, as I was asked to take an assignment I held once before and saw people who used to work for me be promoted over me.  Through prayer and God’s grace, I eventually regained my peace.

Then our company had an incident at one of its facilities for which I was responsible for overseeing legal services.  We had several lawsuits, regulatory actions, a legislative effort to outlaw our operations and even a criminal action against our management.  We overcame all of these actions and it turned out to be the most challenging and rewarding legal work of my career.

In Jesus’ closing moments with the disciples before his arrest, he is explaining  all that will happen to him, and what they can expect, and he says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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Pride Resisting God’s Desire for Us

How often do we let our pride get in the way of something God wants to do for us or with us?

This almost happened to Naaman, commander of the army of Aram in the Old Testament.  He had leprosy.  He heard from a young girl from Israel, about the prophet, Elisha, and how he could cure Naaman’s leprosy.   After receiving a letter of introduction from his king and taking ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold, he set off to see Elisha.

Instead of coming out to greet him and praying over him, Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman telling him to “go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan.”  “But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.’” (2 Kings 5:11)

Naaman’s pride was wounded.  He was commander of the army of Aram and had a letter of introduction from his king.  He had gold and silver for an offering and a retinue with chariots.  He expected Elisha to personally pray over him.  He certainly wasn’t expecting to hear from a mere messenger and be asked to do something as silly as washing himself seven times in the Jordan River.

Fortunately for Naaman, his servants prevailed upon him to do as Elisha’s messenger instructed, “And his flesh was restored and became clean like that of young boy.”

Too often we let our pride resist the help God sends our way through others: in assisting us in some task or in praying with us for some need or healing; in helping us to forgive someone who has offended us instead of holding onto resentment.  Here is a story of the latter example.

Jim headed up a software development team for IBM comprised of approximately 75 employees and a few subcontractors on a Homeland Security contract.  The job and working environment involved many challenges and Jim was working to transform the work of the team to meet the goals of the contract.

At one point Jim called a subcontractor of long experience to follow up on a critical task he had been asked to perform.  When the subcontractor answered his cell phone, he mistook Jim for another member of the team and he began to describe how much he disliked Jim, insulting both him and his work.  Because of a bad cell connection, Jim was unable to get the person’s attention and finally decided to just hang up.

Later the subcontractor realized he had been talking to Jim and became quite concerned, asking Jim’s colleagues what he should do.  When he met with Jim the following day and before he had a chance to say anything, Jim put out his hand and said, “I forgive you.  The contractor apologized profusely and was glad Jim did not take action against his behavior.  Jim told him that he had no hard feelings and hoped that he would see Jim’s reaction as a catalyst for improving their working relationship and getting the job done.  

In contrast to Naaman, Jim did not let his pride give way to anger and resentment, but instead offered his forgiveness, and his team went on to successfully complete the work of the contract.  Jim was following the example of Jesus.  “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”  (Mt. 11:29)  

 

True Grit

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Andrew, 3rd row, 5th from left

Persevering and not giving up is a character trait honored in and out of the Bible. 

Three times, God encouraged Joshua to “to be strong and courageous” when commanding him to lead the people of Israel across the Jordon River and into the land he was about to give them. (Joshua 1:6-9)  God blessed Job in the latter part of his life more than the first after Job persevered through the loss of his family, his possessions and a painful illness at the hands of Satan. (Job 1:12-20; 2:7; 42:12)

Jesus told his disciples the parable of the persistent widow to show how “they should always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:1-8)  He praised the Church of Ephesus for their perseverance and enduring hardships for his name. (Rev. 2:3)

Life is full of challenges and hardships that try our perseverance – a lingering illness, prolonged unemployment, an unbelieving spouse, an alienated adult child, a difficult boss or colleague, training for various athletic undertakings, practicing for excellence with a musical instrument, pursuing the mysteries of science and other fields of learning, fighting in battle and war to victory, enduring persecution for justice and righteousness, and so many other examples.

This past Saturday, our grandson, Andrew, 20, completed a 3720 mile bicycle tour from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Capitol in Washington, D. C. with other Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers from across the country to raise awareness and money for people with disabilities.  Their tour is called Journey of Hope. 

They rode over mountains, climbing as much as 10,000 feet in a day, through valleys, across the Great Plains, around the Great Lakes, over the Appalachians and finally reaching Washington sixty-three days later.

They rode through pouring rain, snow in the mountains, sweltering days in the 90’s, lightening and even an episode of swarming bees.  Each morning they would rise at 5:30 am, have breakfast and take off for the day, riding on average 70 miles, and as much as 125 miles and eight and half hours on their longest day.

Many of their afternoons and evenings were taken up with approximately forty “friendship visits” with various groups of people with physical and intellectual disabilities.  They played wheelchair baseball, danced at Special Olympics dances, and engaged in a variety of activities with children and young adults with disabilities.

The challenges were many – sore, cramping and strained muscles, varied sleeping conditions, physical and mental fatigue, even boredom on long  days through the desert, potholes and equipment failure.  Andrew went through eight tire tubes.  But he and his team persevered. No one gave up.  They showed true grit. 

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those that love him.”  (James 1:12)

 

Revealing Our Father

In Jesus’ last prayer before he was arrested, he is praying to the Father about his disciples.  He is asking for the Father to protect them and observes, “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me out of the world.” (John 17:6)  Jesus revealed the Father to the disciples through his teaching, his miracles and the example of his life.  He tells Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Just as Jesus saw his responsibility to reveal the Father to his disciples, so too should we take the responsibility to reveal the Father to the people God puts in our lives. 

This certainly includes our spouse and children for whom we have a special responsibility, but it also includes friends and colleagues.  With respect to our children, we have a teaching responsibility similar to Jesus.  The Church assists us in this effort through religious education, Sunday school and sermons from the pulpit.

With respect to our spouse, friends and colleagues, our primary way of revealing the Father is through the example of our lives and in our actions of love and service.  

This past week, a former supervisor, colleague and friend passed from this life to the next.  Tom was General Counsel of Mobil’s worldwide marketing and refining operations.  I reported to him in various assignments over eleven years.

Without ever mentioning the words God or Jesus, Tom revealed the presence of the Father in his life by his example.  While a practicing Christian, he didn’t talk much about his faith, but he lived it in the daily actions of his life.  While demanding the highest quality of legal services from the lawyers and staff he oversaw, he was always fair and truthful in dealing with people and in responding to various personnel issues.  He always sought what was best for his people in their career development and training.

He never winced from speaking the truth to management on controversial legal issues. Once he was convinced that the legal work or counsel of his staff was correct, he fully supported that work with senior management.  Tom’s leadership of our legal group reflected integrity, excellence and a special respect for all people.   

When we think of Jesus’ words about revealing the Father to his disciples, and the example of Tom’s life, we might be prompted to reflect on whether our actions and words have been revealing the Father to the people God has put in our lives.  We might even look on it as a matter of stewardship.

In the parable of the talents, we see that God expects us to be good stewards of the talents, time, money and possessions he entrusts to us. (Matthew 25:14-30) Similarly, he expects us to be good stewards of the people he entrusts to us as well. 

Richard Blackaby in his book, Spiritual Leadership, says the primary goal of spiritual leadership is “taking people from where they are to where God wants them to be.”

Are we helping the people in our lives come to know the Father and be where he wants them to be?

 

Waiting on the Lord

IMG_0886Have you ever grown impatient with a prayer request to the Lord? 

In the course of our daily lives we place numerous requests before the Lord, seeking his blessing and response.  We pray for a new job if we have been laid off; the conversion of a loved one or friend; the reconciliation of an alienated relative; the admission to the right college for ourselves or family member; or the healing of an illness or physical injury for ourselves or others.  The examples are endless.

Psalm 33 says, “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” Jesus, of course, encouraged us to pray constantly for our needs and gave us a model in the Lord’s Prayer which contains several requests.  He also encouraged us to be patient and persevere in prayer and never give up as illustrated in the parable of the persistent widow.  (Luke 18:1-8)  

Our experience suggests that there is often a time of waiting between when we offer up our prayer and when it appears to get answered.  I had this experience last week when my sixteen year old grandson, Mark, and I went on a two day boating and fishing trip down the Potomac River south of Washington, DC.

Our plan was to travel down the Potomac about thirty-five miles, stop at various locations to fish on the way down, eat the fish we caught for dinner, stay overnight on the boat, and head back the next day, doing the same thing.

At the beginning of the first day I prayed fervently that the Lord would bless Mark with being able to catch many fish.  So we proceeded to our first spot on Mattawoman Creek that is usually a sure bet for at least a catfish.  We fished for over an hour, but were not even getting a bite.  We then proceeded to a nice area just north of the Quantico Marine Base.  Again, nothing!

I prayed, “Lord, what’s going on?  We should have been able to catch something by now.”  So we made a couple of sandwiches, had lunch, and then proceeded further south.  I could tell Mark was getting discouraged because he decided to take a nap.  We headed down to Fairview Beach where the Potomac turns east for a few miles before it turns south again just north of the 301 Bridge. 

It was now later in the afternoon, so we only had about an hour before we had to arrive at a marina where we had a slip reserved for the evening.  We stopped at an area where there is an underwater ledge which drops from fifteen to sixty feet.  We started fishing.  I’m praying, “Lord, we’re running out of time.   We made no other provision for dinner.”  Then Mark yelled, “I got one!”  And indeed he did, a nice size catfish that ended up being more than two hungry fishermen could eat for dinner.  

The Lord’s timing was perfect.  It made Mark’s catch all the more memorable.  Later that night and the next day we caught several more fish.   

Isaiah says, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.  Blessed are all wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)