"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." ~Ambrose Redmoon

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for Thanksgiving

The news this morning of people already camping out in front of stores today annoys me. This holiday may be my most favorite, and it bothers me to see people skipping it by focusing on materialistic pursuits. 

A recent blog post by my friend, Mick Ukleja, shows why developing an attitude of gratitude is good for the soul, especially when it comes to dealing with fear. He asks: 

"Do you find yourself fearing the future? You’re not quite sure what it holds and it scares you just a bit? Are you overwhelmed wondering how it will all turn out? Will you have enough to live on as you plod toward the sunset? These kinds of thoughts become emotional distractions that can immobilize at best, and derail at worst. Is there a remedy for this counter-productive thinking? The answer is YES. There is a solution. It’s called artwork—emotional artwork. And gratitude is at the top of the list" (for more see http://leadershiptraq.com/blog/).

His post made me think about who we are grateful to. For me, it's the Fountainhead of peace--our Creator--the Lord. 

As I reflected on Him this morning, the old song The Love of God came to mind. 

"The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star And reaches to the lowest hell; The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win: His erring child He reconciled, and pardoned from his sin."

I do lots of things wrong. This week alone I struggled with speaking harsh words, being critical and judgmental,  wanting my way regardless of what was right or wrong--and that's just to mention a few. But because of God's love, I don't have to struggle with shame or guilt. Jesus Christ died to pay for every sin I ever committed or will commit. He gave me open access to God--the Fountainhead of peace. Day by day Jesus sets me free from shame and guilt, so I can rest in the peace of God. I'm a sinner in love with my Savior.

Because I love Him, I want to be more like him. A young friend told me this morning that she was thankful for me because I'm consistent. What she sees is a characteristic that's been developing over the years, because Christ first loved me. He's the One who gives me that consistency as I make choices consistent with a biblical worldview. The idea that she appreciated that and admires it, makes me want to know Jesus even more. 

This morning I'm grateful for a God that loves us so much He gave us His Son to do what we cannot do. He takes away our sin. As we follow Him, He helps us make choices that set us free from self-destructive lies. And, I'm grateful that He gave our forefathers the wisdom to create a Thanksgiving holiday. It's too bad that those people who focus on shopping today, instead of reflecting on what they're thankful for, are missing out.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Oh, What A Night!

Last night I witnessed a miracle made possible only by the power of forgiveness.
This story starts more than 5 decades ago. That's when my sister, Diane, ran away from home. I was only 8 at the time, but still remember my mother's fear and concern for the teen-aged daughter she'd raised. 

Yet, my mom wasn't blameless. She was barely out of her teens when she became a step-parent to my dad's two young daughters from his first marriage, and that definitely contributed to the problems. Many factors on both sides ended their relationship. Oh, sometimes they'd see each other at a funeral or a wedding, and they'd make polite conversation like people do in big gatherings. But that was the extent of it. There was no healing--Diane had lost her mom, my mom had lost a daughter. And, loving them both, I sometimes felt that tug-of-war of the conflicting feelings between them.

At times bitterness festered beneath the surface cultivated by one difficult circumstance after another--it was no one's fault, but just the way it was. Until Diane came into a relationship with Jesus Christ, her Creator. He asked her to forgive her enemies, even more to love them. His Word challenged her to let "no one come short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled." (Hebrews 12:15).

The peace that forgiveness brings was far more important than holding on to the past. A precious relationship was also at stake. So, Diane forgave from deep within her heart. She confessed that she missed my mom--her mom in so many respects. In a process that brought a smile to my 85-year old mother's face, Diane suggested a visit. Though my mom doesn't get together with many people, her smile got brighter as she agreed.

Soon she started fussing over which restaurant would be best and what she should wear. We set a date--November 18th--last night.

Diane and I drove to Dana Point together. As soon as we walked in the door, mother and daughter greeted each other with a great hug, and what was lost was found. Later, as we sat in the living room, my mom presented Diane with a gorgeous package--a purple and turquoise gift bag with an Orrefors bowl nestled inside. Mom bought it in Sweden a number of years ago. At the time she didn't know why. She'd bought 5 of them, one for each of her three daughters, one for herself and an extra. The extra one sat in a closet all this time. But last night that crystal piece was finally placed in the hands of the right person, her daughter Diane.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where Was God?

Last night my friend caught me up on the latest news about Joe Paterno and Penn State. I'd seen enough glimpses on Facebook posts to have a rough idea of the gravity of the issue, but Wendy filled me in on more of the details.

It brought back memories. As a child of 10 or 11, I exposed a sexual predator when a close relative told me what that man had done. If I'd been older, perhaps I'd have given more thought to the firestorm that created, but even as an adult, no matter the cost, I don't think I could have done anything less than report it to people who would stop the abuse.

In light of this current scandal, I can't help but wonder if people will ask; "where was God?" and perhaps use the existence of evil as an excuse to ignore our Creator. Over the years I've given much thought to the problem of evil and why bad things happen to good people.Why did Bernie Madoff bilk people out of their life's savings and humiliate, even implicate his sons to the point where Mark committed suicide? Why would a mother drown her five children or a distraught father/husband kill nine people?

What is evil? Is it a "stuff?"

That question was answered in Without A Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions, a book I had the privilege of editing by philosopher/theologian Kenneth Richard Samples. In the chapter about "How Can a Good and All-Powerful God Allow Evil?," he cites one of historic Christianity's greatest thinkers, Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430).

Samples said this problem kept Augustine from embracing Christianity earlier in life. But as he contemplated this troubling issue, Augustine came to the conclusion that "evil is specifically the lack of something that should be present in a person or thing. Evil is therefore defined in the negative. . . Analogously, a person acknowledges blindness not as a physical thing, but rather as the absence of sight. Similarly, a cavity is not so much of a thing, as it is a lack (a hole), namely a lack of enamel in a tooth. Yet like evil, blindness and cavities are not things, but realities of life." I'd add that darkness is not a "thing," it's the absence of "light."

Samples goes on to talk about how Augustine became convinced that evil is "specifically a privation of being and goodness. To be precise, evil is the absence of goodness that should be there in the will of the creature."

Sometimes that "goodness" is there but can be squelched for the sake of other priorities. Perhaps that's what Paterno did for the sake of the football team and now he's reaping the consequences. People who support him may see goodness in other areas of his life, but for the sake of the game it appears he squelched the goodness of God with reckless regard for the welfare of children.

That's why it's so critical when tough things happen, when we're afraid of losing that which we value, be it football, prestige, income, or even life itself--people need the judgment of an all-good, all-loving Creator who can help us make the right decisions. Instead of turning away from him in a crisis, He's exactly the One we need--whether it's for coming to grips with the loss of something dear to us or the need for courage to do the right thing despite the potential for loss.

Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things, could have given Paterno the courage he needed. In my view, to cut Christ out--to deny the Way, the Truth and the Light that is the Life of men--doesn't just hurt children, it can lead to evildoing even in otherwise decent people.