Baby Jesus, Freely Given to Us

Baby Jesus is more than baby Jesus.

Before our creation, the God of all things planned His steps carefully to be a blessing to every person. His desire was to make a race (humanity) who would dwell forever in peace and happiness with Him. Such a race must be driven by a genuine concern for others. It had to be driven by love. This love would be expressed to Him and to every other member of humanity.

But love is not love if it is forced upon us or required from us. Love cannot be demanded. It cannot be legislated. It cannot even be expected. The choice must be made from a truly free will. God built that freedom within each of our hearts.

Because He is God, He knows everything. He knew in advance that each of us would struggle with our freedom. Some of us would become overbearing with a desire to claim the will of others. They would force the will of one or many to be directed to themselves for their own pleasure or power.

Some of us would be tempted to direct our will and our commitment to a power other than God. This group wants instant gratification. To accomplish it, they may submit to the overbearing strength of another.

God knew we need an example to show us what love really is. We need to know how to really direct our will to what is right. So God exhibited His free will for our eternal good. He sent Baby Jesus.

Every year we are reminded of the innocence and the fragility of our will freely directed to others in love. We see the Baby in a manger. We, too, will share our love humbly and allow those around us to receive the gift in their own way.

Jesus didn’t force the shepherds to trudge through the darkness to the isolated stable. They were drawn to Him by the promise of the angel choir. In the Baby, they would find peace and goodwill for themselves and for all mankind.

He didn’t force the wise men from the East to travel long distances by night along treacherous trade routes to bring Him expensive gifts. They came to His side to find enlightenment and to worship the Holy King.

You and I are also drawn to the Baby. We are surrounded by the expectations of others, forcing their will on us and trying to force our wills into submission to them. But they have no power over the will totally surrendered to the Baby.

We seek peace. We are drawn to humility. We long to find holiness. We are drawn to God. This year, like every other year, we are drawn to Baby Jesus. We are drawn to Love freely given to us. As we look into the manger, we will respond in our own way.

I pray your way will be to receive the love so freely given to you. Then freely and humbly share it with others.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Merry Christmas to all.

United States of America: Worth Celebrating

In the lifetime of every person and every nation, some days rise to the point of needing to be remembered and celebrated. These are days that can be pointed to as crucial to the existence, quality, and continuity of that lifetime.

I have some extraordinary dates. I look to the day Deena and I were married in 1976. It was a watershed day, worthy of being remembered. I can only thank God for leading in the lives of both of us for this special occasion. I also remember the birthdates of our children. Those are days that changed the world for me.

While it is not always the case, none of these special days came without warning or preparation for me. Each one of them was anticipated with eagerness. It is also true that each one was followed by tremendous joy, but also some degree of uncertainty and sadness. No life is exempt from trials and difficulties.

Birthed through sacrifice and trials, the certainty of freedom for our great nation wasn’t guaranteed. The day of July 4, 1776 was a seminal moment. It was personal for those who took a stand.  I believe in the United States of America. Each July 4th, we celebrate the official decision to become a new nation. That date in history changed the world from then until now, and into our foreseeable future.

I don’t want to think about what the world would be like now if the United States had not been established. If we not grown into the nation we became. Of course, we have made mistakes. From our leaders down to each citizen and guest, we have all made mistakes in our interpersonal relationships. As a country, mistakes have been made in our associations with other nations and peoples.

I have lived and worked in eight countries outside of the United States. There are many others I have visited for shorter periods. I talked with the peoples of these nations and learned that many individuals worldwide look up to our country and its citizens. They love and aspire to the freedom we have built not only for ourselves but for many of them. From the individual citizen to the admired and feared military, to the business people and political leaders, there is no other country that has blessed the freedom of as many other peoples than has the United States.

Happy Birthday, America! May God continue to bless you and to use you for good throughout the world.

Society’s Life Trophies

I doubt you have ever seen car quite like this one. I don’t believe there is another one in the world quite like it. It rides the streets and back highways of the island of Cuba. You may recognize obvious elements of a late 50’s Cadillac. If you do, you are also thinking that you didn’t know they made those in a station wagon. They did. That is, they made them in a hearse.

Still, this one has some of the recognizable elements of the hearse while also exhibiting numerous design points of other cars. There are also some things that are obviously not from any car make. They are redesigned by necessity to function for the needs of the road this rare gem haunts. I am amazed at what the mechanics and autobody men of Cuba have done. These drivers are very proud of their cars, and they have every reason to be.

Let me bring this down to you and me. As I mentioned in my last post, we were made in the image of God.1 Every man, woman, and child is given the potential to live to be examples of God’s character and handiwork. Every one of us is intended by Him to be perfect in all our ways as He is perfect.2 As we look at ourselves, we know that while we may have some of the outward trimmings of goodness, we all fall far short.3 This is a fact of life.

Add to this, the examples we see in our society are like the Caddy in the picture. How are we supposed to know how to be like God wants us to be if we don’t know what that looks like? Today, we get unclear messages from the worlds of media and entertainment, from education and government, and even from the church! All of society seems to be trying to not only lead us away from God’s design, but forcing us away from the life He intends us to live.

It is no wonder if you feel a bit confused. Does God still want us to live that old-fashioned way? We live in the 21st Century. Things are different now.

Well, I have heard that, too. It is easy to see that things are different. Much different. In some ways that is good. But when it comes to morality and honest, faithful living, any decline from the standard God set is frankly a move toward immorality and evil.

So, who are you and what are you here for? Are you simply supposed to follow every fad and show you can be whatever the situation calls for? Should you be a friend to everyone by participating in whatever they want to do? Do you let others mold you according to their idea of fun or morality or political correctness? 

Are you trying to be a trophy of our messed-up society? And if you are, how do you keep up with that when their ideas change with the next new “in thing” to come along? What is the standard? What is right? Yes, what is truth?

Real values don’t change with every political campaign. The values of this country are the same as they have been since God led valiant men and women to establish a nation and a constitution based on biblical principles written by Moses thousands of years ago.

Our purpose here is to learn to be the kind of man or woman who God is building to lead your family in a way that prepares you for whatever is coming. Don’t be surprised if He doesn’t stop with your family. Our churches, communities and country need valiant men and women as leaders now, just as we did in 1776.

God has a plan for you. It starts with you surrendering to Him. I’ll address that in my next post.

Follow and like Valor Life on Facebook @ValorLifePublic so others will join us in the discussion. Share with your friends who are moving in this direction or need to. Let them know we are learning to grow one step at a time to be men and women of valor.

#Live Valor.

Open Up. What have you noticed about the changes in our cultures expectation of men and women? What do you think about it? 

  • 1 Genesis 1:27
  • 2 Matthew 5:48 (see NLT)
  • 3 Romans 3:23

CUBAN ROAD TROPHIES

One of the serendipitous experiences of an American male traveling to Cuba is seeing the parade of 40’s and 50’s American cars cruising the streets of Havana. Of course, we know we are going to see that, but the sheer frequency of the sightings is surprising. You just want to stop and admire them. It’s like living in a perpetual car show. Until you get up close.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the cars are perfect, or nearly so. After all, how many of us actually remember what a real 1958 Chevy fender and tail light originally looked like. We just admire the artistry and engineering. We conjure up the sights and sounds (often from movies we have seen) of such vehicles racing down a quarter-mile dragstrip. Oh, the power! Oh, the masculinity!

Here’s where the needle scratches across the record with a terrible screeching sound. Am I showing myself to be old by using these illustrations?

Nonetheless, we all know the adage, “beauty is only skin deep.” Of course, this statement means different things to different people. Beautiful people often deplore the saying, and not-so-attractive people revel in it. Have you noticed that we judge what is supposed to be the truth by the way we feel about it rather than by unchanging standards? We have come to the time when truth no longer exists unless I agree with it and it benefits me.

Back to Cuban road trophies. I am not bad-mouthing these stunning cars on the Pearl of the Antilles. It is amazing what their owners have done without being able to pick up the phone and order replacement parts for the last sixty years.  

I rode in the 1955 Ford Fairlane in the photo. The smooth, nearly perfect looking skin and shiny paint job impressed me. Anyone who merely watches this beauty drive by would be duly impressed. Back in high school, I rode around with my buddy, Mike in his ’54 Ford. This car was much better looking than Mike’s.

A Cuban Road Trophy

That’s where the grandeur often (but not always) stops. The proud owner let me know that the upholstery was being replaced to match the outside. That’s good because the seats did look like Mike’s, right down to the bare metal floors. He didn’t say when that improvement would be finished. And when he started the car, the engine wasn’t the original 223 CID straight six, much less the 272 CID Windsor V8. There was no smooth purr, but rather the choppy rattle of an east European diesel. It felt like riding in a truck.

Many of these cars are rebuilt from scratch after accidents. They look reasonably close to original, but there may be very little of the Detroit workmanship still in them. Frankly, though, they are real testaments to the ingenuity of the Cuban craftsmen.

All this brings us to my point. We were made by God in His image to be perfect and to live forever. Through all these generations of genetic mutation, it is actually surprising that many of our species still look quite good. Humanity has been through some pretty rough times. Some genetic researchers actually wonder why we haven’t become extinct many times over.1

We may even look good physically and/or morally/spiritually, but be terrible people inside. “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,”2 and a whole list of other things also mentioned. You may find some of these things in your own heart. There’s more to muse about in these words. I’ll be doing so here in the coming weeks and months.

I may look great, but if any of the things in this list are in my heart, everything else is just a shiny paint job covering the real me. Each of us needs to take a close look at the person we really are. Looking good is a poor alternative for being good. Are you a Cuban road trophy, or the real deal? What are you here for? I’ll explore this in my next post. Do you know someone else who is struggling with purpose and reality in their lives? Share this post and invite them to find their answers.

Open Up. Tell us if you ever wish you could be a shinier example of the person you are? What keeps you from it?

Follow Valor Life on Facebook @ValorLifePublic. Do you have a friend who needs to read this message? Share it with them today.

1 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/evo.12195/full

2 Mark 7:20-23, New Living Translation

Valor Life Profile – Desmond T. Doss, Sr.

Welcome to Valor Life. Thank you for joining me as we introduce what will be a regular feature. It is a profile of a person who exhibits traits of character that can be found in the concept of valor.

I’m standing in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, TN. Around us are the final resting places of many men and women who have fought for our country. We are grateful for every one of them and for their sacrifice for us and for our freedom.

It would be easy on these hallowed grounds to think of death. But the souls represented here deserve more from us than that. Besides, dying for a cause does not necessarily display valor. Rather, it is the things you do and the motivation for doing it that determines valor. It is not what happens to us when we do right. We will get into definitions later on ValorLife.org.

Today, I want to introduce you to a man who has been a hero to me for more than fifty years. His name was Desmond T. Doss. Private First Class Doss was a very unlikely hero.

(more…)

Don’t Wait for Someone Else

I just returned from an inspiring trip to Cuba. What I saw has a bearing on your life, whether you are a Christian or not.

This was my first visit to Cuba, but I believe it won’t be my last. My motivation was to watch how a small group of Christians works within the requirements of the law to help their neighbors overcome daily struggles. In the process, they spread the Gospel of Jesus to people by living up to the purpose God prepares them for.

Since you haven’t lived your life in a vacuum, you know that there was a Cuban Revolution in 1953-1959. In general, the people of this beautiful island seem honestly happy in their situation. I never saw any outward dissatisfaction, nor did I speak with anyone about their opinions on life there. Neither does that mean I wore rose-colored glasses that prevented me from seeing the truth.

I was pleased not to have to spend my time in tourist resorts. I would not have gotten a bona fide picture of the daily experience of real people. I want to focus on those who make a difference for others, and I saw some in the villages I visited.

(more…)

AVAILABLE NOW

  As with all raging beasts, this one had to be contained. He had proven impossible to restrain in his natural habitat. Already he had provoked the heavenly beings. No one was safe in his presence. All efforts to deal with him had failed. There had to be a way to prevent him from roaming to other places where he would continue to wreak havoc.

A rescue plan had to be developed that would save not only his primary target–the inhabitants of Earth–but also the rest of the universe. These restrictions had to be firm. But the plan also had to be loose enough to allow the beast to show his true colors so that no one would ever be besieged by him again.

And so, a cage had to be constructed. (more…)

The Screaming Spark–Part 1

Frantically, I searched the open streets of Phnom Penh for a place to hide from the artillery shells whizzing overhead.  The only place that presented itself was a shallow street gutter, that would offer little protection from flying shrapnel. With the ordnance crashing very near, I lifted my silent shout, “God, if you have something for me to do, save me from this present danger.”

When Pol Pot’s shelling finally subsided, I surveyed the damage done to homes and bodies and lives around me. I stood in amazement. Why wasn’t I lying among those mangled bodies? God saved my life that day. Why me? What could this mean for my future? Unaware in that moment, a spark deep within my being screamed to be fanned into a stronger flame.

You Have the Spark, Too

At Creation, God placed a spark in every person. He intends for this spark to become a flame to light the way in a man’s life. The spark is the image of God Himself. Just imagine, God freely placed this in every human being. Some have permitted God to ignite it, filling their lives with meaning and purpose, and even changing the world.

A Reformer Develops

Over 500 years ago, Martin Luther allowed God to kindle the flame in his life. Luther’s actions changed the world and they impact your life today. Martin’s father, Hans, wanted his son to become a lawyer. Martin possessed intelligence and high moral standards. Hans was only interested in the legal influence of a smart lawyer-son working for him.

As he prepared to follow his father’s dream, Martin sensed there was more he needed to do with his life. Being an obedient son, he entered university to study law. Misery filled Martin as he attempted to study and comply with his father’s wishes. He inherently knew his purpose in life was not the practice of law.

One day, after a visit at home Martin and his friend returned to the university. Before arriving at their destination, a powerful thunderstorm descended upon them. Lightning and thunder crashed around them. When a lightning bolt struck near where Martin stood, he cried out for deliverance as I did years later. HIs friend died during the storm on that dark, sodden road.

In those moments, God used a thunderstorm to remind Luther of the spark within.

Often this change in heart is called a battlefield conversion. It is often at the times we fear for our lives that we are reminded of the dormant image of God within. It is waiting for us to give it permission to grow. Luther knew the sense of morality was within him, but he had allowed someone else’s dreams to suppress it.

Remember Martin Luther was a moral man–honest with himself and others. He determined to be faithful to his promise. From the muddy puddle where his deceased friend lay, he walked to the university monastery and banged on the door until they let him in to begin his new life.

Amidst the detritus of war, when the shelling ended, I knew God waited for my response to the promise I made. In those moments of great testing, the spark within me screamed out from its deep emplacement. God heard and responded. His message was clear. He had work for me to do. The question was, would I keep my own freely-made commitment?

Chances are you have experienced your own screaming spark. It may not have been on an actual battlefield. That isn’t the point. Are there experiences that have driven you to wonder about the reasons for your existence – your purpose for being? That doesn’t happen unless you also have a sense that something more is expected of you.

The responsibility doesn’t end there, however.  As Christian men, we must help others learn about the spark within themselves. That decision is also up to us to make.

Are you ready to help fan the flames in the lives of your friends and co-workers? Don’t miss “The Screaming Flame–Part 2.”