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By TERRY WINES
For many of us, the beginning of a new year always brings resolve to do something new or different. Whether it is eating healthier, getting more exercise, quitting the use of tobacco, the new year brings opportunities to start anew.
2014 can also bring opportunities for reflection: what did we learn from past experiences? What experiences do I not want to repeat? How can I be a better spouse, parent, sibling, neighbor, disciple of Christ? The key to self-improvement (Christians may also know this as sanctification) has a lot to do with our willingness to change, the courage to make those significant changes and how much we allow our lives to be directed by love.
While we use Jesus as the perfect example of how to love, it can be helpful to examine the lives of people who, when given the opportunity to use retribution, chose love.
Many laud Abraham Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents, who led our nation through the most divisive time of our nation’s history. When faced with the opportunity to bring final justice on the fallen Confederacy, in the face of criticism he said, “Don’t I destroy my enemies if I make them my friends?” Who knows how different Reconstruction would have been if Lincoln had not fallen victim to an act of hate.
This past month the world lost another giant, Nelson Mandela. His moral leadership portrayed in the recent film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom helps us to understand the tactical significance of not alienating our enemies. While in prison, he learned Afrikaans, the language of the government that had unjustly imprisoned him. Mandela loved his enemies by evoking the language of “better angels” from Lincoln’s First Inaugural; he zeroed in on the essence of love that brings out the better angels that hid under hurt and resentment, which draws out the goodness that is inside all us all.
This month we celebrate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In never compromising the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Dr. King continued to preach the need for sanctification. While facing the brutality of the fire hoses, beatings and jail he said, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
By recalling the stories of Lincoln, Mandela and King we are called to set our resolutions and aspirations to recognize not just the “better angels” within, but also of those we may oppose. And to stand firm in love so that as Dr. King reminds us, “Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.”
Our nation, culture and Church face some very important issues, issues that will not be easy to address or to find resolution, but before we use our favorite scripture to support our position remember, “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” (1 John 3:11, NIV)
If we do not love ourselves, we can never live out the resolutions we set for ourselves in the New Year. If we do not love others, especially those with whom we disagree, how can we see their better angels? If we do not love God, all is for naught.
Peace & Grace, pt
Terry Wines is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Chiefland.