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Archive for July, 2012

Right now, the summer Olympics are taking place in London. Everyone is watching to see who will get the gold — who is the best. As entertainment, that’s not a bad thing to do, but as a way of life, it can be crippling.

During the month of July the adult class in our church studied a series of lessons entitled “Heroes of Faith.” We looked at some Biblical characters, as well as a couple of more modern ones — Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Teresa. While all of the stories were inspiring, part of me had difficulty identifying with them. I could not help but feel that I had about as much chance of being that kind of hero of faith as I have winning a gold medal in the Olympics. It’s not going to happen.

During the class yesterday, however, the teacher asked us to think about someone whom we considered a “hero of faith.” For some reason I immediately thought about Mrs. Clark, my first grade Sunday School teacher in Danville, Kentucky, sixty years ago. I remember once when she took all of us out to a cafeteria for lunch and then to a movie theatre to see Bambi.

So, you may ask, how does that qualify her to be a hero of faith? The answer lies in what that simple act said to me as a six-year-old child. For the first time in my life I was shown that being a Christian means much more than a ritual in church on Sunday. Without saying a word, Mrs. Clark demonstrated to that little group of children that teaching our Sunday School class was much more than an assignment to her. She showed us that she really cared about each one of us, and it planted a seed that helped me understand that being a Christian isn’t about attending a church service; it’s a lifestyle. Even more than that, being a Christian is a matter of the heart that affects every aspect of my life — how I see my place in this world, how I handle tragedy in my life, how I respond to conflict, how I relate to those who disagree with me or hurt me. On and on that list could go.

For me, Mrs. Clark remains a hero of faith, and I regret I never told her how much her simple action meant to me. What I can do today is to encourage each of us to make a difference in our own world. I may not be required to demonstrate the same degree of courage as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I can have the courage to confront hatred and injustice when a friend or a neighbor becomes the victim of gossip or intimidation. I may not be asked to dedicate my life in service to others to the degree that Mother Teresa did, but I can look for the needs around me (maybe even in my own church) and do what I can to alleviate those needs.

Small actions matter; they can make a difference in peoples’ lives. And a multitude of small acts together can make a difference in our world. All that is normally required is that we stop looking at ourselves and see others instead. We must stop thinking “it’s about me,” and change our attitude to “it’s what I can do for you.”

The time will eventually come (and far sooner than most of us like to contemplate) when our life here on earth will end. What will my legacy be — or yours? Will it involve the prestige I attained in my work? Will it be measured by the wealth I accumulated? Or will it be the sum of small acts of kindness and self-sacrifice that made a difference in other peoples’ lives?

A story is told about the multi-billionaire Howard Hughes, who died a very wealthy, but reclusive, lonely man. It was said that at his funeral one person in attendance whispered to his friend, “I wonder how much he left?” To which his friend replied, “All of it.”

How much will I leave? How much will you leave? And what form will that take?

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As you may already have noticed, occasionally I will depart from the overall theme of this blog. Perhaps you will think that is what I am doing today. Actually, I posted some of these same ideas on my other blog, but something I read yesterday on Twitter motivated me to revisit the subject. First of all, while I like to think of myself as a moderate, let me admit that I am in most areas a political conservative (the dreaded “C” word). Before you turn me off (which is actually the topic I want to explore), please hear me out for a moment.

Yesterday I read a post with a title that sounded encouraging. It suggested that whatever we believe are the best solutions to our problems, we should be united in understanding and caring about those problems. I can’t say what the writer intended to portray, but after reading the post, I came away with the impression that he was saying that unless you adopt his particular agenda, you are selfish, unfeeling, and uncaring. It appeared to me that the writer invented a straw man to represent the conservative viewpoint and then proceeded to demonize that straw man. It was obvious to me that he had no understanding of my views, my reasons for holding them, or my attitudes toward those in our country who are in need of help. I would also like to emphasize that I have read articles by conservatives who demonize liberals in similar ways.

A few years ago I worked with a man whose views were as liberal as mine are conservative. We became friends and took our breaks together. Invariably we talked about the two taboos—religion and politics. How could we do that and remain friends? The answer was simple.

We respected each other’s integrity.

We never ridiculed the other person’s views.

We always tried to understand what each of us was really trying to say.

I always looked forward to our discussions, and I came away from them feeling good—about myself and the other person. The discussions helped me face the reality of my views. In a few instances, the other man’s insight caused me to moderate my understanding. Honestly, in most areas, my views remained essentially unchanged—as did his.

But that wasn’t the point. I believe we both came away understanding something of how much we agreed on, as well as the reality that neither of us was the devil the media so often portrays us to be. Yes, we disagreed on the best way to deal with our multitude of problems; especially the role government should play. But we both recognized that each side has concerns which deserve to be acknowledged and respected.

Liberal or conservative, do not allow politicians or the media to paint your fellow Americans as enemies. Be very careful about imputing motives, especially on those with whom we disagree. Unless you know someone really well, it is virtually impossible to look into their heart with any degree of accuracy. Disagreeing with someone’s ideas does not make that person less than honorable.

I would encourage each of us to seek out the equivalent of the relationship I had with the individual at work.

Get together.

Talk things through.

Seek out areas in which you agree. You will find that there are likely a multitude of them.

Freely acknowledge differences, without questioning one another’s character.

Most of all, really listen to the other person.

America includes liberals, conservatives, and every element in between. At various times, one or the other view may appear to have the upper hand. But, as we seek to change what we feel needs to be changed, let us do so with mutual respect and understanding.

That is my view today. I would like to hear yours.

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I think every writer feels at times as if this is the most common response to his or her writing. Oh, well, it goes with the territory I suppose.

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In 1990 I taught a Sunday school class which I entitled “Encounters With Christ.” Each week we studied an incident recorded in the gospels in which Jesus interacted with one person. Some of the people we studied included, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Thomas, the sinful woman, the rich young man, Peter, as well as number of others. For the final class, I wrote the following, hoping to capture the spirit of the class and especially to show that, through it all, we were really studying about ourselves. I give it to you now for whatever benefit it may have. Feel free to share it, but notice the copyright at the end. I would appreciate it if you would include that copyright notice if you copy and paste this. Here is that summary.

Where can I find Jesus?

Where can I find Jesus?
The question is not new. It was asked two thousand years ago:

by a man possessed by a legion of demons.

by a rich young man, seeking a finishing touch to a successful life.

by a woman in a backwater town who knew all too well the heavy weight racial prejudice and moral self-righteousness could place on a heart already weighed down by guilt.

by a religious scholar who still possessed enough of his ideals to dream, but not enough faith to believe his dreams could be transformed into reality.

by a prostitute, needing desperately to be told that even she was worth saving.

by a friend who had trusted Jesus, and could not understand why He had allowed her brother to die.

by a trusted disciple who had made glowing promises, then failed Him miserably.

by a doubting disciple who so wanted to believe, but for whom the forces of this world seemed too real.

Where can I find Jesus?
The question is not new. It has been asked throughout the
centuries by:

scholars and sinners.
mystics and merchants.
preachers and popes.
princes and paupers.
teachers and tradesmen.
legalists and liberals.

Where can I find Jesus?
The question is not new. It is still being asked by millions of people every day who have discovered (often too late) that the foundation on which they have chosen to build their life will not support them.

Where can I find Jesus?
He walks among us every day, but we are often too busy to see Him.

He is in our churches, but often best observed, not in the pulpit, but rather in the faces of our children, who in their innocence can still sing without fear and without doubt, “Yes, Jesus loves me.”

He is at the bedside of a child, seeing not the child, but watching in sorrow as the parents grasp desperately for hope when the doctors have none to offer.

He can be found standing beside the soldier, peering out into the darkness, who with trembling hand and unblinking eyes, fervently prays that he may see nothing throughout a long, fearful night.

He is a silent participant in board meetings, watching in sorrow the accounts of profit and loss, the futile search of one more generation of “rich young men” seeking security and fulfillment from the whispered promises of the elusive siren of success.

He is the constant companion of the elderly, those who have been mothers, fathers, teachers, doctors, preachers, and workers, and who now wonder if their lives had meaning.

He is an unregistered guest in our nursing homes, providing comfort to the lonely and encouragement to the sick and neglected.

Where can I find Jesus?
We search for Him in churches, in books, in friends, in laughter, in sorrow and in pain.
And if we look with the eye of faith, we shall assuredly see Him, for truly He has promised to be with us always–in every time, at every place, and under all circumstances.

But if we would see Him most clearly and observe His love most fully, we must search where He Himself said we should find Him–among “the least of these.”
Then, as we reach out in love and compassion to those in need, we shall see Him clearly, and doubt will be transformed into faith.
And we shall find ourselves, like Thomas of old, exclaiming in adoration, “My Lord and my God.”

Where can I find Jesus?
There is one final place. He will be the last guest to leave the cemetery.
And He will not depart alone, for He will most surely take me with Him.

© Gary Cottrell
August 26, 1990
Pinellas Park, Florida

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