In this season of graduations it is important to give due congratulations for the perseverance and dedication it takes to just complete a goal, not to mention exceed and excel at it. Education has always held a high value for me and the gaining of knowledge has always motivated me. I used to spend my summers memorizing the names of the presidents in order, or all the states and their capitols or all 230 some countries of the world. And yes, I read the encyclopedia for fun. I took a lot of pride in being smart. In fact, I built my self-worth on it. But as important as gaining knowledge is, I have learned a few things about being 'smart' that I have tried to pass on to my own kids.
1. There are many ways to define 'smart' and they are all valuable. You can be quick to learn, you can retain knowledge for a long time. You may be able to see how something works just by looking at it. You may have an ear for music and be quick to memorize a tune. You may have an incredible 'body memory' that can retain hundreds of complex dance moves that make up multiple routines. You may be able to translate what you see visually onto a page or mold clay or carve wood. You may be able to instinctively know where a ball will be in mid-air and meet it with your glove, hands, racket, etc. Getting good grades in school is certainly not the only indication of 'smartness' and more kids need to know that.
2. 'Smartness' is great, but like any raw talent, it will only take you so far. Talent alone is no indicator of future success. Life is a challenge and so other qualities like perseverance, organization, teamwork, compassion and humility are indispensable to success. In fact, being 'smart' can be a real impediment to success if it keeps someone from learning how to study and practice, how to work with others or how to understand and be understood by others and most especially how to deal with and overcome failure.
3. And this is the most important: gaining the world's knowledge is not nearly as important as gaining God's wisdom. We have to send our kids to school. And we all hope our kids will do well and go to college and/or get a good job and have happy lives and grandchildren. But I can honestly say that if my children won the Nobel Prize in Physics or Literature and did not know God and understand Jesus' sacrifice for them, I would feel that I had failed them. My kids still have trouble believing this sometimes, but over the years they have come to see this is my authentic viewpoint. And while the world's knowledge can still leave you empty and jobless, God's wisdom will enrich every day and moment of your life. All things are possible God, and God works all things for good to those who love Him. So knowing God and following His word is the only way to 'graduate life'.
I wish for my kids, and for all graduates a future bright with success, but the success I wish for them is to be rich in mercy, overflowing in compassion, strong in faith, competent in their knowledge of God's Word and successful in sharing Christ with the people in their lives through their words and deeds. That is success with an eternal reward!
For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? ~Matthew 16:26
if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
I've lived in Baltimore for my entire life. I lived within the city's borders for more than a decade. I worked in the city for most of my professional life and worked for the city for over a year. I've spent a lot of time involved in city law and politics and I've spent countless hours talking to residents and assisting them with legal and housing issues. Thinking about the best ways to assist and uplift the underprivileged has been a major theme of my life.
So, as you can imagine, the events in Baltimore these past weeks have broken my heart. I've watched dozens of 'experts' and 'civic leaders' talking about issues and problems and inequities, but frankly, none of it resonates with me. Justice, social and legal, is of paramount importance to me, but I have come to realize that there will be no true justice in this world without God.
The sin in our hearts will always cause us to want to mistrust 'the other", to want to hold on to what we have with both hands instead of sharing, to feel and be defensive instead of open and accepting when met with differing opinions, to want to label and pigeon-hold ideas and people into sound-bites and stereotypes instead of taking the time to listen and understand, and most of all. to defer any blame or responsibility for our situation (personally, locally, nationally, globally) to others instead of 'owning' our part in problems and humbling ourselves enough to ask for help and make changes in our behavior. Because sin is at the root of all these issues, the only solution is the removal of sin. Jesus came to earth for just this purpose. The willing sacrifice of His life as a punishment for our sin means that by accepting Him as our personal savior, we can be cleansed of our sin and made holy and acceptable to God. It also allows the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and lives and give us the power to make the changes through His power that we are unable to make in our own power.
The verse above is our prescription for lasting change in our lives, our cities, our nation and our world. First, we must be His people - devoting our lives to God through the acceptance of His Son, Jesus as our Savior. Next we must humble ourselves by allowing the Holy Spirit to show us the sin in our heart that we need to work on: the prejudices, the attitudes, the resentments, the bitterness, etc. that poison our relationships and interactions. Instead, in every action, reaction and interaction we must ask ourselves, 'What would Jesus do?' He struggled with the same issues of oppression, immigration, cultural immorality, injustice and poverty that we struggle with today, and He showed us the perfect way to effect change. Next, we need to pray. Jesus prayed for hours everyday to stay in God's will. Similarly, the response to every disaster and outbreak of civil unrest or epidemic must be to pray. Prayer changes things because it is our way to access God's power in our lives and unleash it in our world. Lastly, we must repent. Repentance means turning away from our old lives, our old sin, and our old path to start on God's path.
Nevertheless, we will never be perfect followers of Jesus in this life. And many will not humble themselves and repent. Many will deny the sovereignty of God. And so true justice will never be possible in this world. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't work for a more just world. If we committed to living like Jesus and doing what He would do, our world would be transformed -- we would be bold in sharing our faith, bold in promoting God's moral laws, bold in loving and accepting others, bold in sharing our wealth and time and talents to serve others.
There will always be trouble in this world -- natural disasters, wars, unrest, oppression. But it is in these times of trouble that we are turned to God to remember that He is in control, to seek Him and to pray. It is the deep peace of knowing that God loves us and is in control that is the only real peace on earth. And living out our lives in service, confidently at peace with God is what makes us the 'light of the world' -- beacons for others to follow, casting out evil and darkness and replacing them with love and light.
I couldn't be more confident that this is the future for Baltimore, and can be the future for our whole nation and whole world. Until Jesus returns to make all things new, it is up to us to be the light and salt of the world, spreading justice and hope and love to every corner of it. This is my prayer.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
~Song of Songs 2:11-12
Here in the northeast, Spring is finally arriving. The winter was not so long, but it was especially harsh, which made it feel interminable. Nothing is so unwelcome as snow when the crocuses should be blooming...or when Easter is around the corner.
But as I considered this, I found it to be all the more appropriate. The night is darkest before the dawn, and perhaps winter is bitterest right before the spring. Certainly, God was thinking along these lines when He sent His Son into our world. He waited for just the right time, when sin and injustice was rampant, and when a conquering regime (Rome) was threatening to eliminate Judaism outright, either through cultural assimilation or imperial law. Things looked bleak. Faithful Jews were convinced God had forgotten them, and then - boom - here comes Jesus. And he when he had built a successful ministry that looked to rival Rome for the hearts of Jews - boom - arrest, conviction and crucifixion. Talk about bleak. Things seemed absolutely dismal. But wait - there's more! On the third day, there was Jesus, appearing to the women, and the disciples in the upper room and those guys on the Emmaus Road, and later to hundreds.
Just like a long, bitter winter concludes with an effusion of blooms on trees, bushes and bulbs, so Jesus' crucifixion concluded with a work so magnificent we struggle to comprehend it today. Through Jesus' death, all peoples everywhere have received the ability to have the debt of their sin cancelled, and be reconciled to God and receive eternal life! The ultimate chance to be born again with a clean slate is ours. What a miracle!
But what if the disciples, feeling defeated and fearing reprisals from Rome, gave up and ran away, or hung themselves like Judas? Grief and disappointment have a way of clouding your rational thought. Pain and sorrow can create a tunnel which seems to have no light at the end. This is where the real lesson comes:
Hold on for your miracle!
Jesus promised He would rise, and He did. No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. Though everything seems cold and dead and hopeless, new life and new meaning is just ahead. Hold on for your miracle. Jesus promised He would never leave us nor forsake us. No matter how desperate your situation seems, no matter how hopeless, no matter if you can't see a way through - ESPECIALLY IF YOU CAN'T SEE A WAY THROUGH - know that God has a springtime of renewal waiting for you. Don't give up. Just hold on a little while longer and watch for your miracle of rebirth. Use this time of tribulation to grow closer to God through prayer and Bible reading. And rest confidently knowing that your spring will follow.
Dear Heavenly Father, be with those who struggle through a time of spiritual winter. Surround them in Your love. Lead them to those who can light their path to springtime. Grant them strength and peace in their struggle, and give them the reassurance of you love until their springtime comes. Amen.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."
On that Friday nothing seemed good. Peter was disgraced and defeated after denying Jesus and fleeing. Most of the other Apostles were in hiding. The crowd that had hailed Him with "Hosannas" a mere few days ago had turned on Jesus and had demanded His blood. Tensions in the city of Jerusalem were so high, Pontius Pilate braced for an uprising, while the Jewish priests and rulers did everything they could to keep their people in line so as not to anger the occupying Roman forces. Even the faithful - Mary, John and the other women - were so stricken with grief they could not grasp what the future might hold.
All seemed lost. After miraculous healings, supernatural suppers, confounding resurrections, and a ministry that grew daily beyond their wildest imaginings, the man who was to become king of Israel and lead them to freedom and salvation was arrested, found guilty in a sham of a trial, and swiftly put to death in the course of a day. Hadn't He been the Messiah? Was everything they had seen and come to believe a hoax? Surely the authorities could not have defeated God's Anointed One.
I have found that many times, after what seemed to be a true personal, spiritual defeat, I have found great victory. Perhaps it is the difficulty of seeing clearly in the midst of a storm that makes the rainbow afterward so amazing. John Wesley had a similar experience after his mission trip to the new colony of Savannah, Georgia. Even as he headed home feeling defeated and far from God, his victory was just around the corner. Shortly after his return, he reluctantly went to a Bible meeting at Aldersgate where he felt for the first time the true, heart warming peace of God's grace and acceptance. It ignited a flame within him that launched the Methodist movement and a great revival.
So remember, when you are plodding down your "Emmaus Road", feeling defeated, perhaps feeling that God is far from you, ready to chuck it all in, give up hope, fly the white flag or worse, finding Satan's twisted taunts and temptations hard to resist -- WAIT. Just wait a little longer because your greatest victory, your most profound experience of God may be right around the corner.
The Apostles did not dare to imagine that 3 days later the tomb would be empty and Jesus would be with them, eating breakfast, breaking bread and ascending into Heaven with angels. They could not fathom the new ministry of Good News they were being called to, nor the impact it would have on not just Jerusalem, but on the entire world. They could not conceive that God was defeating Satan and sin and Death once and for all and reconciling Himself to all mankind in their very presence! But on that blessed Sunday, He was not there - He had risen, just as He said. And by His sacrifice we are saved.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”