The Grandeur of Greatness

This comes from the “did you know?” category.  Did you know that on the same day this coming Monday (January 30) in different years, three world leaders had significant things happen in their lives?  Franklin D. Roosevelt was born (1882), Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated (1948), and Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany (1933).        

Born in Hyde Park, New York, President Roosevelt’s greatest triumph may have been his ability to overcome a great physical handicap after he was stricken with infantile paralysis.  Gandhi, of India, was the father of modern nonviolent civil disobedience and was assassinated in 1948 in New Delhi.  Hitler, after becoming Chancellor, launched Germany into a suicidal path of hate and war.  All were men of potential significance, yet the choices they made and the paths they took determined the grandeur of their greatness.        

One man overcame unbelievable physical obstacles to serve as the longest-standing President of the United States.  He will be remembered best for his Great Depression dictum to the American people, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”   Another man used methods of passive resistance and nonviolent disobedience to assist India in her drive for independence from Britain.  Ironically, he was assassinated on the way to his prayer garden.  The other man dreamed of creating a “master race” of pure Aryans.  As a part of this plan, he supervised the murder of six million Jews and other supposed enemies of the Third German Empire.

Oh, how we marvel at the capacity of men and women to do good and bad.  The impact and potential of our lives has been, and will always be, a matter of timing and choices.  So, as we move into the wonder and hope of this New Year, may we reflect on the lives and choices of these three men and remember—all were men of potential significance, yet the choices they made and the paths they took determined the grandeur of their greatness.       

One thing I know for sure about God and His future for us—He wants us to be a “great” church in His eyes.  Never have I felt more convicted about the use of my time and resources, the value of telling the story of Jesus and the incredible opportunity we have to be the “church” in this piece of the world that God has gifted us.  Yes, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Retribution, Redemption and the Latonia Looters

I always look for coincidence, a moment in time, an experience or maybe, a learning curve.  Being a historian, I have noticed how often I can have one of these “moments” without ever having the actual “pain” of the experience.  Well, actually, I know better and learned that again this week.

I came to the office and discovered the destruction of the Latonia looters.  Now four churches in our neighborhood, we were the latest in a spree of trashing and stealing overnight on Monday night.  When I walked through the office and building, looking at the invasion into our privacy, my mind raced back to a place on Frankfort Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky. 

I was a seminary student and new father.  Nicholas, our first-born, was less than a year old and we pulled up in front of our apartment and I immediately noticed the curtain in my office was pushed back as though someone had pushed it aside.  I told Neva to stay in the car until I checked the apartment.  Our worst fears were realized as we counted the items missing … video camera (you know the big ones you had to sit on your shoulder), IBM typewriter, and then the worst of the worst … they had taken our videotapes of bringing Nicholas home from the hospital. 

Funny how one moment in time can transport a person to another and with it the same pain of violation.  Now, let me be clear, the looters took nothing of value at the church that was even close to those VHS-sized videotapes, but the same sense of violation and the same sense of retribution hung in the air. 

Retribution you say, but you are a pastor.  Yes, retribution my friends, because long before I was a pastor, I was a kid on the playground at 10th district elementary school and I learned from the hard-knocks of childhood politics that eventually Joe Palma, the schoolyard bully, would get around to me.  Finally, he did. 

I had been taking karate lessons all of 3 months and fortunately for me, my brother was with me and the two of us together were able to deflect the playground pushing.  I left that day claiming retribution from the top of my head to tips of my toes!

Retribution is defined as punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved, usually in response to a felt wrong.  Little did I know I would spend the next several decades of my life in the art and practice of karate and along the way realized my goal for retribution had melted into a discipline for redemption.  Instead of learning to defend myself, I learned to let God shape and mold me through my physical training, which quickly paralleled my spiritual training.  Instead of looking for ways to get even, I found ways to get well … and whole, and forgiving and finally able to take “most” moments of retribution and turn them into moments of redemption.

As I walked around the church I reflected on “from whence I had come.”  While I admit, I lingered in the Old Testament for a while (“an eye for an eye”), I quickly made my way into the grace and goodness and “turn the other cheek” redemption of the New Testament.   Just as the stealers of our newborn’s videos could not lock me into the room of retribution, neither can the looters of our church’s sanctity, keep me from the room of God’s full and freeing redemption.  Thanks be to God!