“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

James 4:7 communicates this powerful promise from God!  But, have you ever wondered exactly what resisting the devil looks like and sounds like in practical terms?  Is it merely a thought process or reliance on our own will power?  “Resistance” should conjure up images of active, aggressive combat, not passivity or simple wishful thinking that, if we just close our eyes and cower in a corner, perhaps he will go away.  Could the frequency of our failure when assaulted by Satan’s flaming arrows of temptation have something to do with the rarity or non-existence of a proactive plan of resistance against him?

In urging intimacy with God over friendship with the world, James provides us with several rapid-fire imperatives, i.e., some practical actions that we can take to deepen our relationship with our Father and further distance ourselves from our Adversary (James 4:7-10).  In addition to humbly submitting to God and intentionally drawing near to Him, James instructs, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  Similar pushback against Satan is urged in I Peter 5:9.  After the sobering reminder that our Adversary stalks us like a roaring, ravaging, prowling lion, Peter challenges us to “resist him, firm in your faith.”

God gives us this incredible assurance that resistance against Satan will put him in retreat mode.  This truth should embolden our spirits and transform our mindset from helpless “victims” to that of “victors” in our battle against Satan’s enticement and entrapment.  This is not due to any fear that the Evil One has of us, but rather his dread of the One whose Spirit indwells and empowers us.  “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world,” (I John 4:4).

Resistance is active.  It is more than just passively praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” then hoping for the best and expecting the worst  It requires engagement of our mind, heart, words, and actions.  So, what does “resisting the devil” look like?  What practical means of resistance can we use against him?

In recent years, especially since enduring what I consider to have been an all-out, no holds barred, full frontal assault from the Evil One in the summer of 2008,  my efforts to resist the devil have come to include verbally rebuking him.  Jesus spoke directly and defiantly to Satan when being tempted (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), confidently quoting the truth of Scripture against Satan’s lies.  When He felt that Peter wasn’t seeking the Divine will regarding His impending death, Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan,” (Matthew 16:23).  In the enigmatic verse that describes a mysterious, other-worldly dispute over the body of Moses (Jude 9), Michael the archangel invoked the name and power of God by saying, “The Lord rebuke you!”

It angers me when I sense that Satan is seeking (yet again) to draw my heart, mind, and life away from God, to buy into worldly ways of thinking, and to act in pride and self-interest rather than in service and agape love to others.  So, I’ve gotten much more confident and comfortable in telling him (audibly) to get lost.  My language toward him is extremely pointed and somewhat coarse.  Love for my enemies does not extend to “the” Enemy.  In the name of Jesus Christ who defeated and disarmed him, I tell him to go “home.”  Since I know his permanent mailing address, I’m not bashful about telling him to go to hell and leave me alone.

I understand that many interpret Jude 9 to mean that we should never be so bold as to directly rebuke Satan in such a way.  However, in light of  translational variations, the sheer uniqueness of the verse, and its relation to material in an apocryphal, non-canonical book called The Assumption of Moses, until further notice I intend to keep right on actively resisting, pushing back, and getting in the devil’s face in the name of Jesus Christ.  I don’t think I can make him any angrier at me than he already is.

Hell is the custom-built home for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  I don’t feel the least bit timid about wanting him to move in as soon as possible.  When Christ’s victory is fully claimed, the great dragon, the serpent of old, will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10).  The return of Jesus Christ will not only result in the vindication and eternal salvation of His people, it will also execute the sentence and seal the doom of Satan.  Just one more reason to pray daily, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Is hell for real?  I hope so.  For Satan’s sake, I truly hope so.

In our spiritual warfare against the devil, resistance is far from futile.  It is incredibly fruitful and effective, backed by the power, promises, and provisions of our God.  Just like the completely out-gunned David who took a stand against Goliath, we run to the battle line to meet the Enemy in the name of the Lord of Hosts.  Without God, David would have been the next notch on Goliath’s sizable belt, a forgotten footnote in the Philistine’s domination of Israel.  It is the Lord of Hosts who is the game changer, the outcome adjuster, and the re-writer of history.

In the name of Jesus Christ, resist the devil!

Are you quite ready for spring to get here?  Not that I’m complaining about winter!  One of the things that I have really enjoyed since moving to Tulsa five years ago is that there is a much more well-defined season of cold weather than we experienced during our previous twelve years of living in the Dallas area.  250 miles further north does make a noticeable difference in average low temperatures, the duration of cold snaps, and the amount of snowfall each winter.  As some of you know, I much prefer to grill out in cold weather as opposed to standing over burning charcoal when the outside air temperature is already 105° F.  Whose idea was that?

But, enough is enough, right?  While spring does not officially begin until March 20, the transition back to Daylight Saving Time this Sunday and the local forecast for daytime temps in the low 70s on Monday and Tuesday have me itching for consistently warmer weather.  There are signs that it is on its way.  Daffodils have had their heads poked up out of the ground for a while now.  They looked as if they were having serious second thoughts last week when they were up to their necks in sleet and snow, but I have a feeling that the next couple of weeks are going to see them rocketing up out of the ground.  Ditto for the hyacinth in the landscaping behind our house.  I noticed some greening of the grass (slight, but still significant) when I took a bag of trash out to the wheelie bin this morning.  The same was true for the patch of grass outside my office window, and close inspection of the rose bushes in front of the main church office evidenced similar signs of new life.  Bring it on!

For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a temperate zone and to experience the blessing of seasonal variety, spring always follows winter.  Winter’s long nights are succeeded by extended hours of daylight in the summer.  Warmth follows cold.  God gave His word that it would always be this way until the end of time (Genesis 9:22).

This promise of God not only relates to the changing of the earth’s seasons, but also serves as a powerful metaphor for the sustaining hope that can help us endure our spiritual “winters,” the seasons of emotional darkness that periodically shroud our hearts and minds, and the “long nights” of physical pain inflicted by chronic illness and disease.  It’s real, and it hurts and disappoints, but it’s not forever!

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us,”  (Romans 8:18).

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (II Corinthians 4:17).

“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning,” (Psalms 30:5).

Whatever kind of “long winter’s night” you are experiencing right now, keep trusting and holding on to your faith in Jesus Christ “until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts,” (II Peter 1:19)!

I have a collarbone problem; an asymmetrical irregularity.  I honestly don’t know if it is a congenital condition or the result of a childhood accident or injury that never healed properly.  If symmetrically arranged, my collarbones would more or less mirror each other, roughly pointing to 9:15 if they were hands on the face of clock.  However, my clavicle clock is stuck somewhere between 9:10 and 9:12.  This odd skeletal arrangement results in a left shoulder that appears shorter and higher than my right shoulder, with a similar distortion in the appearance of my trapezoids.  A shirt suffices to disguise this oddity from most people, but I see it in the mirror every single morning when I shave.

My left thumb doesn’t match my right one.  The end of “lefty” got mangled and nearly severed in a nasty car door accident when I was in kindergarten.  My left calf is noticeably smaller than my right one.  It has been that way ever since my junior year in high school when I spent an extended period of time in a leg cast following a football injury.  I have a “missing” knuckle where my ring finger joins my left hand, the result of a fracture while playing flag football in college; the knuckle still exists, but is hidden because of misalignment.

Just call me Nemo!  (For those of you who have never seen Finding Nemo, you really should take in this extremely entertaining and endearing animated film!)

Asymmetry is a tough pill to swallow for recovering perfectionists like me.  I once paused during a sermon several years ago and moved an artificial plant on the podium so that it would precisely mirror the position of the one on the other side of the pulpit.  Once order had been restored to the universe, I was able to proceed with the message.

I’ve come to learn that owning and embracing my physical asymmetry is a part of humbly acknowledging and accepting my humanness and my imperfection.

The same thing goes for my spiritual asymmetry.

I can now comfortably accept that God expects my faithfulness, not my flawlessness.  The latter is simply not within the realm of possibility for me.  I can rest in the confidence that He desires persistence and perseverance in my faith, not perfection.  I no longer have to live with the false guilt that I don’t measure up or unnecessarily inflict spiritual and emotional damage upon myself by trying to project and protect an image that neither I nor anyone else can live up to.

The apostle Paul describes his own spiritual asymmetry as follows:

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate…  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway…   Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:15, 19, 24 – NLT).

Like Paul, I wrestle with spiritual incongruencies and inconsistencies.  There are days when most things seem to make reasonable sense, the dots connect, and my language and behavior generally conform to the image of Christ into which I am seeking to be transformed.  There are other days when I question just about everything, things don’t seem to align properly, and I am embarrassed by my spiritual immaturity and pettiness.

And so it will be for the rest of the journey: victories and defeats, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, progress and lost ground.  My sanctification will not be made complete until Jesus returns and I see Him just as He is and am made like Him (I John 3:2).

Until then, I will do my best to walk in the Light so that I may have continual cleansing in His blood.  I will humbly and readily confess my transgressions, trusting in His faithfulness and righteousness to forgive my iniquities.  I will continue to entrust the salvation of my soul to my Advocate and His atoning sacrifice for my sins  (I John 1:7-2:2).

His strength for my weakness.  His righteousness for my sinfulness.  His perfection for my asymmetry.

Occasionally, phrases just leap out of songs, resonate with my heart, and find a permanent place in my consciousness.

One that has been rattling around in my brain for a few years now is the line, “I’m way too old to hate you,” from Brandi Carlile’s tune, “My Song,” which appeared on her 2007 album, The Story.  As I have commented on this blog before, I have a great affinity for Carlile’s music.  Her lyrics are honest and poetically powerful, and she delivers them with amazing energy and palpable emotion.  She doesn’t shy away from lyrically expressing feelings of failure, regret, and loneliness.

“I’m way too old to hate you.”

Shouldn’t there be an age cap or some sort of statute of limitations on hatred?  Shouldn’t our journey of spiritual growth, maturity, and conformity to the image of Christ eventually lead us to a threshold where we are required to leave our excess emotional baggage behind?

I can think of few things sadder than someone approaching death, yet still harboring bitterness and animosity in their hearts over some incident that took place years or decades earlier.

It is so emotionally and spiritually self-destructive to live under the tyranny of a painful event from the past.  In shutting the gates of compassion and mercy toward others and refusing to release them from their offenses, we may fool ourselves into thinking that we are holding them as emotional hostages, when in reality it is ourselves who have been consigned to captivity.  Very often, the other person has moved on, having found forgiveness and redemption from an infinitely higher Source.  They live in grace and freedom, blissfully unaware of our self-imposed confinement in the mire of our own misery.

How old do I have to be before I can learn to let things go?  I think 51 is old enough!

While the following passages may be somewhat familiar, perhaps fresh phrasing from The Living Bible will provide some additional insight.

“If you are angry, don’t sin by nursing your grudge. Don’t let the sun go down with you still angry— get over it quickly; for when you are angry, you give a mighty foothold to the devil,” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

“Stop being mean, bad-tempered, and angry.  Quarreling, harsh words, and dislike of others should have no place in your lives,” (Ephesians 4:31).

“So get rid of your feelings of hatred. Don’t just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs,” (I Peter 2:1).

“Try to stay out of all quarrels, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for one who is not holy will not see the Lord.  Look after each other so that not one of you will fail to find God’s best blessings. Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives,” (Hebrews 12:14-15).

Whatever the offense, let it go.

Whatever the disappointment, the pain, or the sense of betrayal, release it.

And pray that others will be just as gracious and merciful to you.

How far would you go to rescue and recover something of great value to you?  Would you be willing to get your hands dirty?  Would it be worth coming into contact with things that are generally considered to be unpleasant, if not downright nasty, in order to reclaim a prized possession?

Yesterday, I sat for an unexpected exam in which those were the three short-answer questions, and I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder my responses.

I had driven to a local hospital to check in on a couple of friends and fellow church members who were dealing with serious illnesses.  Before I left the house, I had generously lathered my hands with some of Kim’s medicated hand lotion.  Don’t judge me!  For some reason, this winter’s arctic air and nearly constant wind have been particularly rough on my hands, causing some serious dryness and chapping.  The hand lotion sadly plays into the rest of the story.

When I arrived at the hospital, I decided to make a stop in the restroom by the elevators.  Having washed my hands with soap and hot water, I held on to the paper towels so that I could open the restroom door without physically touching it.  I’m generally not overly conscientious about this, and am not what I would consider a germaphobe, but this was a hospital during cold and flu season and it just seemed like the prudent thing to do.

I opened the door, propped it open with my foot, and flung the paper towels downward into the tall, lid-less, nearly full trash can by the door.  Instantly, I realized that the ring on my right hand had accompanied the paper towels into the dismal abyss of waste.  It was a cruel conspiracy between the hand lotion and some remaining soapy moisture on my hand.

The ring which had plummeted into the trash can was a gift from Kim, a silver James Avery “Song of Solomon” ring, inscribed with “My beloved is mine, and I am hers” in Hebrew script.

There was no debate or hesitancy.  I didn’t stop to consider the range of germs or level of nastiness that might inhabit the contents of the garbage can.  I just instinctively went after the ring because of its value to me.  Obviously, I hoped that it might have come to rest on something near the top.  Such was not the case.

I will spare you the gory details of everything that I encountered while emptying the trash can, but my search took me all the way to the bottom.  The weight of the ring, combined with the movement of the contents as I emptied them, had caused it to keep descending until it could go no further.  Great!

However, the joy of recovering the ring was worth all of the effort, unpleasantness, and discomfort!  And yes, I was a good boy and completely reloaded the trash can.  Then I spent several minutes washing and rewashing my hands and just about emptied a dispenser of hand sanitizer out in the hall.

Jesus loved us so much that He came after us.  He pursued us all the way to the bottom of the barrel and found us right at the gates of hell.  He left heavenly glory to dumpster dive through the spiritual cesspool of this world in order to rescue and ransom our souls.  That’s how much He loved and valued us.

Are we willing to do the same for others whom Jesus loves just as much?

In my last post, I wrote about my recent sabbatical/silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky.  It was my second retreat there in as many years.  Among other blessings, the week provided me with an opportunity to work through some inner conflict, turmoil, and anxiety that I didn’t even realize were affecting me so significantly until I was in a context where I could be still and focused long enough to reflect on it and face it.  I spent a lot of time in reading, prayer, reflection, and introspection.

Among the issues that I wrestled with that week was the concern that I feel for Kim and Coleman while I am away from home.  While Kim has been nothing but encouraging and accommodating over the last nearly 21 years of Coleman’s life in regard to my traveling great distances for mission trips, revivals, seminars, and now sabbaticals, I always experience a sense that I have left her with a significant weight of responsibility to bear alone.  We are so blessed with dear friends and church family members who would be there (and have been) at the drop of a hat to assist in whatever ways may be needed, but that does not alleviate the sense of responsibility and angst that I feel.

My resolution of the conflict was to determine that, for the foreseeable and indefinite future, I will not make foreign mission trips.  Foreign trips, of necessity, require a greater amount of time away from home  than do domestic destinations.  Also, the time and logistics of returning home in the event of an emergency are just too great.

I have been greatly blessed over the last 30 years to share in the work of Christ and His church in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, England, Scotland, Mexico, Honduras, Nigeria, South Africa, Estonia, and Ukraine.  Seven years ago, I had the joyful and enriching experience of traveling to Israel with my daughter Hannah.  Even if I never travel abroad again, I will be extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had up to this point in my life.  Our son’s special needs and unique circumstances just necessitate a change of itinerary.

There are so many other people who can go (and will gladly go) to minister to others in the name of Jesus and share His love and message of salvation.  Not only can they accomplish exactly what I would hope to accomplish, they can likely do so far more effectively, creatively, and fruitfully than I would be able to do.  I will focus more in the months and years ahead on supporting others to go and encouraging those who have been sent.

Kim has already tried to get me to reconsider this decision.  That is noble of her, but her efforts will be unfruitful.  There is so much that I can do here and from here.  I currently teach via Skype each week with a small group of Christians in Guyana, with plans to add a second congregation later this week; no airfare, no ground expenses, and no travel time required!  Domestic mission destinations, seminars, sabbaticals, etc., will remain on the books, but only to places from which I could be home in a matter of hours versus days.

Is there any disappointment in this decision?  Only that I may not have another opportunity in this life to personally see the smiling faces and enjoy the sweet fellowship of people that I have come to know and love in other places, most recently in Estonia and Ukraine.  I had also hoped to return to Nigeria this year or next and to include a stop in Liberia where I lived for a while when I was a boy.

So, yes, a bit of disappointment, but no sense of defeat.  This is just another lesson in learning to live joyfully and gratefully within my limitations.  It’s simply a situational adjustment, just like the multitude of adjustments and accommodations that all of us have to make in response to circumstances in our lives.

Just keeping it real (for me) and close to home (for now)!

I met her last year.  Well, I didn’t actually meet her.  We just saw one another briefly two or three times a day over the course of a week.  We made eye contact a few times, but never actually spoke to one another.  The primary reason that we never spoke was that our paths crossed in the Retreat House at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky, where silence is strictly observed.  I was there for a week-long sabbatical and spiritual retreat.  She worked in the kitchen where the meals for retreatants were prepared and served three times a day.

Just as silence is observed throughout the monastery’s retreat house, grounds, gardens, and walking trails, so it is also in the small commercial kitchen where retreatants fill their plates and soup bowls from a serving line before walking into the adjacent dining room to eat their meals.  On each of the tables is a small placard that offers the gentle reminder, “Silence Is Spoken Here.”

Between meals, she could often be found in the dining room, seated near the kitchen door, facing the large window that overlooked a peaceful garden, sipping coffee, and working diligently through the pages of a paperback crossword puzzle book.  I’m not sure why I even noticed her fondness for crossword puzzles, but she seemed devotedly passionate about them.

As I stood in the serving line each day or returned to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, I would smile at her, hoping to communicate gratitude for the delicious food she had prepared.  However, I felt like I spoiled any positive impressions by arriving late for a couple of meals after the serving line had already closed and she was mopping the floor.  Though no words were ever exchanged, I found myself on the receiving end of “the look.”  While I’m totally incapable of knowing her heart or her intent, I interpreted “the look” as meaning, “Are you serious?  Can’t you read?  Can’t you tell time?  You’ve got gray hair, for crying out loud!  Get here at meal time if you want to eat!”  I just sheepishly grabbed a banana from the ever-present fruit bowl, and toughed it out until the next meal.

I returned to the Abbey of Gethsemani two weeks ago for another much-needed week of spiritual renewal, refreshment, and undistracted focus on matters of the Spirit.  Not until I arrived there did I realize just how badly I needed a week away from my normal routine.  Disconnected from the noise and endless beckoning of my office phone, cell phone, computer, email, Facebook, television news, and the daily demands of ministry, I soon became acutely aware of how conflicted my heart had become.  I was immensely blessed through the course of the week to be able to wrestle through some inner turmoil, anxieties, and fears and be graciously restored once again to a sense of peace, emotional calm, and renewed spiritual strength.  I was reminded of my daily dependence upon the Word of God and disciplined times of extended prayer.

Among the things that were familiar to me on my second visit to the Abbey was the lady in the kitchen.  With as many people as she encounters throughout the year, I felt like there was little chance of her recognizing me or having any lingering negative impressions from last year’s episodes of tardiness.  Perhaps we could enjoy a fresh start!

About midway through the week, I realized that I had failed to pack a couple of needful things and decided to briefly leave the Retreat House and drive into Bardstown to purchase the items at (where else?) Walmart.  I don’t know why it hit me as I neared the store, but I decided that I would buy a crossword puzzle book to give the lady in the kitchen.  I didn’t know her name or anything about her or her family.  I just thought she might enjoy it.

That night, I scribbled a brief note, slid it between the pages of the crossword book, walked downstairs to the darkened dining room, and placed it at her “spot” on the table near the kitchen door.  I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it was something to the effect of, “Merry Christmas!  Thanks so much for what you do for God, and for the delicious meals that you prepare and serve every day.”  I signed it, A Grateful Retreatant.

The next morning, I noticed that the new book had been neatly placed beside the other puzzle books she had been working through.  I saw her as I walked out of the kitchen with my bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee.  Maybe it was just me, but her face seemed a little brighter and her smile a bit kinder and sweeter.  Not knowing which of the 30 or so retreatants had left the book for her, she could afford to look at each of us as if we might have been the responsible party.  A multiplied dividend!

Later that day (or the next, I can’t remember for sure), as I carried my meal tray past her “spot,” I noticed the new puzzle book on the table by itself, with my little note visibly sticking out of the pages.  Beside the book was a napkin upon which she had written, “Thank You!”  She didn’t know exactly to whom she was directing her appreciation, but the message was received.

A small, simple gift of affirmation and gratitude!  The book cost practically nothing, but it assured someone created in the image of God that her efforts were noticed and appreciated.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to return to the Abbey of Gethsemani again for another retreat.  If I do, I know of one item that I will be certain to pack.

Gratitude

I am thankful for an awesome, powerful, loving, and just Creator who made me in His own image with the intention of sharing a relationship with me as His child for all eternity.

I am thankful that when I squandered and severed that relationship by my own foolishness, willfulness, selfishness, and sinfulness, He acted yet again to seek me and save me through His gift of grace and mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.

I am thankful for the eternal Son of God, the Logos, the Word who became flesh, who laid down His life as an unblemished and spotless sacrifice for my own mountain of sins and for those of the world.  I am thankful that through His precious blood I have been forgiven, redeemed, restored, renewed, and revived.

I am thankful for the divine, indwelling Holy Spirit whose unfailing presence within me serves as a mark of identification that I belong to God, as a down payment and pledge of my eternal inheritance, and as an empowering incentive to live in holiness.

I am thankful for a wife of 25 years who has loved, supported, and encouraged me through times of both smooth sailing and troubled seas, not because of my goodness, but in spite of my weaknesses, and who has been an incomparable nurturer, guide, and mother to our children.

I am thankful for the joy and blessing of two precious children, each of whom, in their uniqueness, giftedness, and expressiveness, have enriched my life beyond measure.

I am thankful for friends who have embraced me and accepted me, warts and all, and who have extended their faithful friendship to me, not on the basis of my role of ministry in the body of Christ, but based on who I am as a person and as a Christian brother.

I am thankful for the local body of believers of which I am a part and among whom I serve, for our shepherds, for my co-workers in ministry, and for every servant-hearted member of this family.  I am thankful for every precious, beloved brother and sister with whom I have been blessed to serve in years past in other states and other countries.  I am thankful for the innumerable lights in this world and salt upon this earth that I will not be blessed to meet until this passing world is done.

I am thankful for daily bread, the warmth and protection of my home, clothing, transportation, the tranquility of life and the freedoms afforded by living in this country and for the untold sacrifices of those who have served and are serving to ensure them.

Thank you, Father! And please forgive me in those moments when I forget just how immeasurably blessed I am.

This week, the Oxford English Dictionary announced its Word of the Year for 2013.  The honor goes to selfie, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”  According to the language experts at Oxford Dictionaries, usage of the word increased by 17,000% over the last year.  The origin of the term selfie was traced to a chat room comment from someone in Australia “way back” in 2002.  However, the proliferation of smartphones with built-in digital cameras, along with the advent of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, have combined to trigger an explosion in the practice of snapping self-portraits and sharing the do-it-yourself mug shots with a potentially global audience.

For those who may be tempted to think that obsession with the image of one’s own face is a somewhat recent, postmodern, narcissistic phenomenon, it is good to be reminded that “selfies” go back at least 600 years.  Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck in 1433 is widely thought to have been the artist’s own likeness.  Rembrandt seriously ramped up the painting of self-portraits in the 17th century.  Van Gogh produced numerous self-portraits in the late 1800s, including the one featuring his bandaged ear.  Perhaps you are familiar with Norman Rockwell’s clever and intriguing Triple Self-Portrait.  It is not without significance that you can observe images of Rembrandt and van Gogh among the self-portraits that are pinned at the upper right corner of the canvas in Rockwell’s painting.

Mankind has been intensely focused on self and fulfilling one’s own desires ever since Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise (Gen. 3:6).  “It’s all about me” has a long, sad history on our planet.

While natural self-love is to provide a template and standard for our love for others (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39) and while our own personal salvation, spiritual growth, and relationship with Jesus are of primary concern, the demanding and convicting call of Christ is for us to move beyond ourselves in love, service, sacrifice, and ministry to others.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others,” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Love your neighbor as your selfie!

The words that form the title of this blog post came from the lips of Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States.  You are forgiven for thinking that I was headed toward a discussion of Isaiah 1:17, Micah 6:8, or Matthew 23:23.  However, I would like to think that these and other texts of Scripture informed and inspired Ford’s speech following his inauguration as President on August 9, 1974.

Gerald R. Ford came to the Presidency of the United States following a series of events that were as unlikely as they were unfortunate.  Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, in response to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, charges to which Agnew pleaded no contest.  Agnew’s resignation led to the invoking of the vice-presidential vacancy provision of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  To fill the vacancy, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Ford, a 25-year Congressman from Michigan, who for the last 8 years had also served as House Minority Leader.  The U.S. Senate confirmed Ford with a 92 to 3 vote.  The U.S. House of Representatives followed with a confirmation vote of 387 to 35.

Gerald Ford was sworn in as Vice President on December 6, 1973.  When President Nixon resigned eight months later over his involvement in the Watergate scandal, Ford was sworn in as President of the United States on August 9, 1974, making him the first and only person in U.S. history to have served as both Vice President and President without having been elected by the Electoral College.

What do you say as the new political leader of the world’s most powerful country, knowing that no one had elected you to that office nor to the one you had just vacated to assume the Presidency?  Immediately after being sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, President Ford addressed the nation in a live, televised speech.  His words were infused with humility and hope.  Several poignant excerpts appear below.

The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution.  But I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans.  This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.

I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers.  And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many.

If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises.  I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency.  I have not subscribed to any partisan platform.  I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman—my dear wife—as I begin this very difficult job.

I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it.  Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends.  They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name.  It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people.

Even though this is late in an election year, there is no way we can go forward except together and no way anybody can win except by serving the people’s urgent needs.  We cannot stand still or slip backwards.  We must go forward now together.

In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end.

Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men.  Here the people rule.  But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

With all the strength and all the good sense I have gained from life, with all the confidence my family, my friends, and my dedicated staff impart to me, and with the good will of countless Americans I have encountered in recent visits to 40 States, I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you last December 6: to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can for America.

God helping me, I will not let you down.

(Ford’s speech in its entirety, in both text and video, can be accessed here.)

It’s a shame that President Ford’s speech is frequently remembered only for his statement, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”  The speech was so much more substantive than that; and its themes remain relevant and extremely needful for our nation nearly 40 years later.

A call for prayer; an appeal to a Power higher than either the people or the government (don’t quibble over his terminology; he wasn’t being sworn in as a preacher, pastor, or pope); the divine ordinance of not only righteousness and justice, but also mercy and love; an appeal for the restoration of the golden rule and brotherly love in politics and the purging of suspicion and hate; patriotism above party.

May it be so!

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