This week we celebrate the world’s most important birthday–the birth of Jesus Christ. Three-quarters of our global population took time to honor this event in some way with music, church services, giving of presents, or family gatherings (the only major exception being the Muslim nations).
The world would be vastly different if Jesus never came.
How different? Let’s do some deeper thinking about the impact of the life of Jesus Christ. You’ve heard of the twelve days of Christmas? Let’s look at twelve ways Jesus Christ changed the world over the past two thousand years.
I’m not limiting Jesus’ impact to only a dozen areas. I welcome your thoughts as to other areas his life has wonderfully touched.
I possess a doctoral degree in Strategic Leadership, but sometimes I feel like I’m still in Kindergarten when it comes to some areas of life.
One such course of needed study and growth is the biblical quality of love.
Next week my wife, Shirley, and I celebrate forty years of marriage. I would have liked to have taken her on a cruise, a romantic getaway, or even to a nearby Bed ‘n Breakfast.
But yesterday, Shirley had major female surgery (a seven hour procedure), and for the next 6-8 weeks she will be convalescing and I will be her main caregiver at home.
But that’s okay. I know I have a lot to learn about the greatest subject in the world–love.
It’s only real love when it’s hard.
I know I could be writing about a lot of world events today. As I punch the keyboard, Hurricane Matthew is bearing down with ferocity on the US east coast. Two nights ago, Mike Pence proved his worthiness of Donald Trump’s VP pick by easily upping Tim Kaine in the vice presidential debate.
In about thirty days one of the most important presidential elections of our lifetime will take place between Donald Trump–weak on character and good on policies–and Hillary Clinton–who is corrupt in character and disastrous on policies. She would lead the American nation off of a progressive cliff.
But today, I’m thinking about none of those issues because love calls. My wife is resting comfortably at home while still hooked up to some technology. Her seven hour surgery two days ago was longer than the four surgeries that I have experienced before combined.
While I waited anxiously for her in the waiting room, two hours beyond the scheduled time, I thought about our lifetime of love and countless expressions of it. I pondered the privilege of having six great children–ironically the cause of her female surgery. I also had some tearful moments wondering why it was taking so long while pushing the thought from my mind that maybe something was wrong.
I knew she wasn’t having life threatening surgery, but this was the first time in six decades she’d been under anesthetic–and at our age, anything can happen. I was actually a little surprised at how emotional I was throughout the day. Tears came to my eyes when I saw her smiling face a few hours later.
Our love goes deep, and it’s only real love when it’s hard.
What do I mean by that?
Jesus told us that it’s easy to love people when things are familiar and good: “ If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:46,47).
What’s hard about love is when you are not friends and things are not going well. That applies to two primary situations–loving your enemies and loving sacrificially when times are difficult. Let me focus on the second scenario.
For many years, I’ve defined love this way: Love is doing what’s best for another person from God’s point of view. In difficult circumstances or situations love oftentimes demands great sacrifice and continual death to self to really benefit another. The other person needs you, sometimes desperately. You need to change your schedule, your commitments, your likes and dislikes, and many other self-oriented things.
Right now, that’s what love demands of me in caring for Shirley. For the next week or so I need to carry her through a difficult time–loss of sleep, caring for wounds, dealing with the unpleasantness of restoring bowel movements and cleaning up messes.
For weeks after, I will cook some of the meals, do the grocery shopping, handle the laundry, and care for Shirley’s shut-in parents. For quite a while I need to do all the lifting–even a gallon of milk. Classes must be canceled, appointments postponed.
In the past when I’ve had surgeries or accidents, Shirley was my gracious caregiver and performed it beautifully.
Now it’s my turn to learn true servant-oriented love.
When she came home from the hospital yesterday I needed to make her some dinner. Since moving to a new home three years ago, I’ve never cooked a meal and don’t even known where many of the kitchen utensils reside. I even had trouble turning on the gas stove! Then, I made the only thing that I’m really able to cook–scrambled eggs.
It’ll be a miracle if Shirley nutritionally survives the next month. But I’ve got to rise to it.
It’s only real love when it’s hard.
While I was waiting for Shirley’s surgery to be completed, I read the current number one bestseller in America–Bill O’Reilly’s Killing the Rising Sun. I strongly recommend it. It shares the horrific story of World War II in the Pacific Theater where the United States defeated the militant Japanese Empire. Twenty-four million people died because of Japanese aggression and savagery.
The book is dedicated to all those who served in the military to defeat Japan. It tells numerous stories of heroism and bravery of those who laid their lives down to free the world from tyranny. They did it because they loved liberty and their own nation more than themselves.
It’s only real love when it’s hard.
While I was waiting in surgery, I needed someone to deliver something to me at the hospital. I called a nearby family friend who had just gotten up. He didn’t seem too interested in helping me and kept trying to find a way out of the errand. Eventually, I did it myself.
His response instructed me. You don’t love if your heart isn’t willing to sacrifice. It’s easy to “love” when it costs you nothing. But that’s not true love–just doing what’s convenient.
It’s only real love when it’s hard.
I’ve seen real love demonstrated by my parents. For a number of years, my mother took care of my aging father as he faced various medical problems. Occasionally the roles were reversed. There were numerous ambulance trips to the hospital and the anxious prayers that accompanied them. There were weeks and months of exhausting care.
They both needed to look past the beauty of youth and deal with sagging skin, no privacy, clipping aged toenails, and cleaning up errant bed-pans. This sacrifice usually fell to my mom and she did a superb job of serving my dad until he drew his last breath. I learned much by watching them.
It’s only real love when it’s hard.
I also know that I haven’t come near to experiencing what some people have faced in the “exam” of real love, such as:
- Caring for a dying child who passed away at a young age.
- Dealing with a handicapped relative over a lifetime–putting another’s greater needs ahead of your own.
- Serving in a war zone or caring for the destitute after some terrible natural disaster.
- Enduring sex slavery, being abducted to fight as a child soldier, being raped and abused by evil aggressors–and having the opportunity to help.
Many people in our world daily face terror and difficulty that can only be eased or erased by those who reach out with true love.
Jesus is, of course, our greatest example of true self-sacrificing love. He left the comforts of heaven to walk the dusty streets of earth. He healed the sick and raised the dead, and most didn’t respond favorably to his compassion and concern.
He ultimately laid his life down on a barbaric cross to make atonement for the entire world–and this after they’d spit on him, whipped him and yelled “Crucify him!”
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
It’s only real love when it’s hard.
Our 40th anniversary arrives on Monday. Between now and then I will be at home, caring for Shirley and trying to nurse her back to health. When our special day arrives, the only thing on the calendar is a trip to the doctor to have some technology removed. Then we will return home to keep healing, loving, remembering that we made a pledge four decades ago to stand by one another “in sickness and in health.”
It might be easy to feel sorry for ourselves. Wouldn’t our love be greater if accompanied by the blessings of health and excitement or luxury and travel?
No. Absolutely not.
This year we get the privilege of experiencing the true heart of love which is intimate sacrificial caring for another. The fluff will be gone, the dross burned away, and the real deal left to sparkle and shine. This is going to be the most loving anniversary we’ve ever known or experienced.
It’s only true love when it’s hard.
And… very precious to God.
One of the advantages of older age is being a ring-side spectator to change–over a lifetime.
You saw things when you were young. You encountered change in your middle years. And in the latter portion of your life, you have a much bigger perspective on how cultures and nations go through powerful changes over time.
During my lifespan, both the United States and, indeed, our entire Western culture, has morphed from one worldview and its norms to another that is threatening its very existence.
To put it simply, we’ve retreated from being God-centered (or respecting) societies to self-centered ones.
Will this cult of self eventually take down Western Civilization?
There are voluminous examples I could use to demonstrate the movement from God-centeredness to self-centeredness in the West:
- The removal of prayer and biblical truth in education, replaced with secularism and self-help.
- The focus on feelings and emotions over critical thinking and wisdom.
- The attack on Christian holidays (like Christmas) and the growth of pagan ones (like Halloween).
- The pursuit of pleasure through materialism as opposed to godliness via service.
- The growth of laziness and apathy in contrast to past generations’ focus on hard work and study.
Recently I’ve been thinking about two other “institutions” of Western culture that are being swamped by our narcissistic, self-seeking cultural tide.
Marriage Ceremonies and Funeral Services.
First of all, many Westerners are taking marriage outside of churches into parks, beaches, and other private settings. I understand the beauty of nature and the desire to consummate the wedding ceremony in a lovely place. But many that are doing it are leaving God back at the church.
And many marriage ceremonies today are conducted by “friends” not ministers–cheapening the meaning of marriage as a God-made institution that should be formalized in God’s name. Instead, marriage is just a man-made contract where anything goes–and vows (which should be made before a Holy God), mean little or nothing.
I’ve talked to many young people–including those with a Christian heritage–who now share a pagan concept of weddings. They say, “It’s all about us. We will go where we want, say what we want, and make the focus on us and our love.”
That’s not how my wife and I thought in 1976. We were committed to Christ and wanted to honor and glorify Him in all situations (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we planned our wedding, every decision was made based not on self-desire but how we could be pleasing to the Lord and give Him praise.
We held the ceremony in a church. We asked a minister to perform it. We asked him to preach the Good News to those in attendance. We used the reception to talk about our calling in ministry, had people pray over us, sang worship songs, and deflected all the wonder of our new union back to the One who had chosen us for each other and should receive all the credit.
It wasn’t any different from Russell Wilson pointing to heaven after a touchdown pass. “Do all to the glory of God.” We didn’t even think about what would puff up ourselves or “make us happy” as Cam Newton does in his Superman dance after he scores a touchdown.
That’s the cult of self. Wilson’s deference to God is the humble, God-glorifying display.
Many weddings today reflect the cult of self. No wonder the institution of marriage is dying.
I’ve officiated at numerous funerals or memorial services during the past four decades. In my early years, they were all held in churches or funeral halls. At the service, there was often a solemnity and dignity over the reality of death. Ministers not only eulogized the deceased, but also spoke to the living about making sure they were right with God and ready to face their own mortality.
I was once invited to officiate the wedding of a non-believing family at our local cemetery. The one-follower- of-Christ in the family asked me purposefully to preach the Good News to his relatives and glorify God in the service. I was glad to do so, and many were touched by my words.
After I finished the address and they were lowering the body into the ground, I wandered over to the grave sites of some family members. A young woman who’d attended the grave side service approached me there and said: “I really appreciated your words. How can I give my life to Christ to have hope of eternal life?”
Over the graves of my ancestors I led this young woman to Jesus.
God had been glorified through the event.
Recently I’ve attended some memorials that seem to have a different motive. They’re themed with what the deceased “liked”–sports teams, hobbies, interests etc. with little or no mention of God and eternity. At these events, friends and families so praise the dead person that they are hardly recognizable.
It’s all about them. The cult of self strikes again.
I don’t think it’s wrong for funeral services (mostly solemn) to move toward memorials (predominantly celebratory.) There’s a good and healthy balance. But when God, heaven and hell, and our mortality and accountability are left out, then the event simply becomes a self-centered party that loses the whole meaning of being ready to face your Maker.
Let’s now take this to a higher level.
Europe’s Christian civilization is dying even faster than America’s and is also being replaced by the squishy cult of self. Listen to Joe Cunningham’s prophetic perspective:
“Way back in the day, and we’re talking centuries, Europe was a hotbed for the expansion of Christian ideas and philosophies. They were the foundations of European culture, government, and way of life. It influenced kings and empires, dictated the ways of life of millions for centuries.”
“The greatest empire the world had ever known, the British Empire, was built upon that foundation which stemmed back to the earliest days of Christendom. France, Spain, even Germany built legacies on top of the essential pillars of the faith.”
“Did they lose their way at times? Absolutely. But those foundations were there. They were fighting for something greater than people – they were fighting for identity, for country, for God, and for king. But, beginning late in the 20th century, those ideas were being tossed aside in favor of humanism [self]. The result of this transition has led to social program after social program that has left a lot of Europe broke and on the verge of collapse. “
“Via the Wall Street Journal: ‘Europe is dying because it has become morally incompetent. It isn’t that Europe stands for nothing. It’s that it stands for shallow things, shallowly. Europeans believe in human rights, tolerance, openness, peace, progress, the environment, pleasure. These beliefs are all very nice, but they are also secondary.'”
“What Europeans no longer believe in are the things from which their beliefs spring: Judaism and Christianity; liberalism and the Enlightenment; martial pride and capability; capitalism and wealth. Still less do they believe in fighting or sacrificing or paying or even arguing for these things. Having ignored and undermined their own foundations, they wonder why their house is coming apart.”
“Ultimately, what makes Europe’s downfall so imminent is that it does not seem to recognize, as the Left here in America doesn’t, that it’s their own policies within this modern era that are killing them.”
“The focus has been placed on the individual in such a shallow way while ignoring the individual in a deeper, meaningful way. They focus on how we feel, what we do, and how we can be fair to one another. Meanwhile, they ignore the very basis of humanity. The need for something greater than ourselves to believe in. The need to be part of something greater.”
“Big government types love to tell us that we can belong to the government, but the government is shallow. It, too, focuses on the shallow person, not the greater person underneath. It cares little for religious liberty because religion can offend you. It says ‘belong to us, but don’t claim a national identity. You’re not American, you see. You’re not British. You’re not French. You’re not Spanish or German. Your identity comes from your race, sexual orientation, gender, or whatever else we can think of. But we never belong to a nation.'”
“That has to change. In Europe and in the U.S. It has to change because society cannot build deep and lasting foundations on things that are so shallow.”
There’s nothing more shallow than self. It’s limited to you–sinful you. On the other hand, there’s nothing bigger than God–the glorious and holy Creator and Savior of all that there is.
The Western world needs a Christ-centered revival that will once again re-shape all that we do.
If we don’t experience it, the cult of self will kill us.