Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Thought for the Day

This devotional reading today from Charles H. Spurgeon reminded me of something I remember the late Bishop Clinton R. Coleman saying: "We can handle failure all right. But sometimes the worst thing that can happen to us is success."
"I know how to abound."— Philippians 4:12
There are many who know "how to be abased" who have not learned "how to abound." When they are set upon the top of a pinnacle their heads grow dizzy, and they are ready to fall. The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than in adversity. It is a dangerous thing to be prosperous. The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the fining-pot of prosperity. Oh, what leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God! Yet this is not a matter of necessity, for the apostle tells us that he knew how to abound. When he had much he knew how to use it. Abundant grace enabled him to bear abundant prosperity. When he had a full sail he was loaded with much ballast, and so floated safely. It needs more than human skill to carry the brimming cup of mortal joy with a steady hand, yet Paul had learned that skill, for he declares, "In all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry." It is a divine lesson to know how to be full, for the Israelites were full once, but while the flesh was yet in their mouth, the wrath of God came upon them. Many have asked for mercies that they might satisfy their own hearts' lust. Fullness of bread has often made fullness of blood, and that has brought on wantonness of spirit. When we have much of God's providential mercies, it often happens that we have but little of God's grace, and little gratitude for the bounties we have received. We are full and we forget God: satisfied with earth, we are content to do without heaven. Rest assured it is harder to know how to be full than it is to know how to be hungry—so desperate is the tendency of human nature to pride and forgetfulness of God. Take care that you ask in your prayers that God would teach you "how to be full."
"Let not the gifts Thy love bestows
Estrange our hearts from Thee."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don Cornelius

"We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself." 2 Corinthians 1:8
As all of us are probably aware by now, today Don Cornelius died, apparently of a self-inflicted gun shot wound. A suicide.
If you are my age, there is probably little chance that this news has not affected you in a significant way. We grew up with Don Cornelius, watching "Soul Train" every Saturday morning. It was the way my mother insured our Saturday chores would get done; the TV did not go on before the house was cleaned. So we got up early to make sure we did everything we had to do so that at 11:00 we could watch the "Soul Train dancers," figure out the puzzle on the "Soul Train Scrabble board" and enjoy the artists that came to perform. I wonder now if the Youth Choir rehearsal was not scheduled at 1 to give us all time to get there so we wouldn't miss "Soul Train"? Just thinking...
Well, as I pondered this sad news, I had to deal with it the way I deal with many things in life; I write my thoughts down. Some of you will take time to read this, some of you won't. All the same, I thought I'd share what I was thinking in case maybe there was someone who felt the same way I did.
Suicide is a difficult thing to deal with. The questions and answers that led to such a point of despair the person who commits suicide takes with them to the grave, and as a result, they will never be addressed sufficiently for those left behind. We ask, was there anything I could have done? Was there something I could/should have said? Did I miss a sign that something was wrong with my friend or loved one? How did I not know?
And then, in the dreadful silence that follows such an event, the fact is that we may never know.
I have spoken to quite a few people for whom 2011 was a horrible year. Yeah, it was for me, too. Maybe the worst year on record from my perspective. Hurt. Betrayal. Disappointment. Failure. Sadness. Loneliness. Sin. Pain. Trust issues. Stress. Some of the wounds, to be honest, were self-inflicted. I'm just being honest; but that doesn't make the pain any less.
The way we have been taught to deal with our problems and pain is to manage it and hold it inside. We don't want to be judged, criticized, scorned, belittled, or condemned for what we've done, or worse, for who we are. Our greatest fear is that no one will understand, and that worse, no one will care. So we decide that we don't want to burden anyone with our "stuff."
Perhaps this is how the Apostle Paul felt. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote these words: "We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself." I just can't help but wonder - what could possibly have happened to Paul that he expressed the feeling that he was so "utterly, unbearably crushed that (he) despaired of life itself"? Could it have been that bad?
The answer - sometimes - sadly, is YES. It can get that bad. Today's news reminded me of that fact. Again.
I was fortunate and I'm grateful that I have a few friends that kept me from going under when it got especially tough for me in 2011. Maybe they still don't know exactly how tough (I still didn't want to tell it all, even to those trusted friends), but I was glad I had them to turn to. By the way, in the midst of all the hurt I was feeling, I had to continue to pastor a church. How in the world do you hold up everybody else's world when yours feels as if it is falling apart? I found out that public success does not mask nor can it erase our private pain. Everybody is telling you to "be strong" - and you want to be. But then it gets to the point where Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthians, and which presumably Don Cornelius reached, you don't know what to do about the pain - except that you just want it to stop.
Obviously, you can't share your pain with everyone; not everyone can handle it. So thanks, but don't all write me asking what you can do, because for many who read this, the answer frankly is - nothing. If you don't have the kind of relationship that warrants putting that kind of trust in another individual, I'd advise not just opening your life up to every passerby. But I do wonder that maybe what we need to do is not ASSUME that our friends/family members or those closest to us are fine. Yeah, they look fine; sure, they seem ok. And of course, they act like they have all their ducks in a row. But maybe, just in case things are not as they seem, we should ask. Care. Show concern. Tell them, show them, prove to them that they will not be judged or discarded because of what they're dealing with. The truth is we don't know what another person is feeling or going through. Because of what we don't know about another person's crisis, it is likely that someone you know started out this day feeling terribly alone. Don't let them end this day or their life - perhaps like Don Cornelius - feeling that way.
Thanks for listening.
Pastor Kenneth Q. James
Psalm 119:33-34
"Let truth, the light of my heart, speak to me, and not my own darkness!"
Augustine, Confessions, Book XII, Chapter 10