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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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