Forgiving his father after many years of bitterness led Bart Millard to freedom and a #1 hit!
With Christmas coming soon I’m reminded of one of a songs lyrics we will hear often. Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
When Jesus first made his appearance in human form there was not a lot of fanfare. Jesus came in a very humble way. In fact as the song states it was a silent night. In our hectic world today the last thing we usually get is silence. Cell phones ringing or buzzing, the TV blaring, traffic making noise all around, these are the sounds of “busy” people. We’ve grown so accustomed to the noise that when we don’t have it we turn the radio on in the car or the TV at home. It seems to be the first thing we think about doing when we enter the house. Have you ever had the experience of you or someone else being so involved on what is being said on their TV that they or you don’t hear anything someone else is saying? It is very hard in our world today to put our minds on two or more things at once. We sometimes make our attention choices on what is the loudest tone in our ears. Have you ever been on a car trip with a few people? Sometimes on those trips I have been on there is dead silence. People can get lost in their thoughts and that’s OK. However it seems that one person usually tries to break the silence by saying something to fill the air. There is an old saying that goes “silence is golden” and very often it is so true!
You have probably heard of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. They were the astronauts who first walked on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Did you know the mission had another astronaut? His mission might have been even more important than the other two. His name was Michael Collins and his job was to navigate the command module around the surface of the moon three times during the 22 hours Armstrong and Aldrin were jumping around on the moon. Three times for 47 minutes each Collins found himself on the dark side of the moon with no contact between earth or his fellow astronauts. The news outlet described his dilemma. “Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during this 47 minutes of each lunar revolution when he’s behind the Moon with no one to talk to except his tape recorder aboard Columbia.” Upon returning to the earth Collins described the feeling that he had as he was literally all alone. I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon, I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”
With most cars today they have a GPS tracker. It tells when to make a turn and when to get off of an exit etc. For most of the time especially on longer trips the GPS is silent. How many times do we think “am I still going the right way?” Wouldn’t it be nice if the GPS voice would encourage us. You are on the right road, don’t worry just keep driving. Wouldn’t that be comforting when we have that fear that somehow we have gotten off of the path?
God works in the same way as that GPS tracker. Many times we panic when we don’t hear from him. When he tells us what to do we need to have faith to carry out that mission unless he tells us differently. We as humans would like to have the Moses experience where God is speaking audibly in a loud voice. That is not how God usually works in our world today. It is with a still small voice in the quiet times that he can talk to us. Those are the times that he can tell us exactly what we should be doing! It is like getting instructions from our boss. If you or I were getting special instructions on doing a job would we have our headphones on? Would we be playing with our phone or have our TV on so loud that we couldn’t possibly hear? Or would we cut all of the competing noise off so that we could hear exactly what to do? The answer is obvious but the next question is Why don’t we give God the same kind of attention so he can instruct us?
Collins had already received his instructions before his mission. He knew precisely what he was supposed to do. If he wasn’t prepared the silence would have brought fear and doubt. Many of us are not like Michael Collins the astronaut. We have not been in front of God with closed mouth and open ears. It is in these times that God can and will talk to us. It is in these times that the silent night will have a still small voice breaking the silence. When we decide to silence the world’s activities and seek him God will talk to us and give us his instructions. Then with his help we can execute our mission while we are here. Christians everywhere question what their purpose in life is. “What is God’s plan for me?”, they will ask. The answer can be found but it won’t be with countless voices talking to us. In the silence we find our mission and in the silence many times we carry it out. That is what faith is. Like the GPS we are to assume that if we are given a mission and we are carrying it out God will break in if we have gotten off track.
Somehow Collins was able to stay focused and keep his module on course through the enormous silence. Three times he had to endure the blackout and each time he put his faith over his fear. After the third trip around the other astronauts docked with his module and they were shortly on their way home. Some day our missions will be over too and the silence of faith will be replaced by joy, love, peace, and jubilation!
There used to be a radio sports talk show I listened to in the 1970’s from Cleveland., Ohio. Cleveland had a huge radio signal from 1100 on the dial they called 3WE which was WWWE. It would normally come in fine to my home in Michigan at the time of his show which was 7 pm til 11 pm on week nights. The host named Pete Franklin would spend a lot of the show badgering his callers if they disagreed with him. The calls of people in agreement were somewhat boring, but the disagreeing calls were why I tuned in. Pete had an advantage in his arguments because he could get loud and dominate the conversation. If the argument got too fierce he would many times just hang up on the caller. I listened not only for the sports but for the entertainment of the whole thing. At that time Cleveland sports teams were at a low point as far as wins go. Pete would criticize the management, explain how things could get better, but his heart was always with Cleveland sports. He would say that his biggest thrill would be if the Indians won the World Series. Unfortunately they never did. It was always an entertaining show because it was hard to believe what Pete could get away with. At the end of the show he signed off with words very humbling and thought provoking. He actually appreciated all of the calls both good and bad and his listeners. “I see my time is up”, he would state, “Thank you very much for your time.”
That little statement brought back to mind as a listener the importance of time. I had spent a few hours listening to his show and he was actually bringing it to my mind. We all spend time which can be compared to spending money only more important. By observing what someone spends their time on we can discover what is important in their lives. Most people will tell you that they spend a lot of time at work. Well that must be important to them then. Sometimes the important conflicts with the have to. We see bumper stickers on cars that say stuff like “I’d rather be golfing” or “I’d rather be in Hawaii” or things like that. Still they are driving their car in Michigan spending their time not really doing what they are dreaming.
This spending time thing gets me thinking about a very low time in my life. It was a time right after the tragedy of losing our daughter. Naturally we were hurting and my mother in law suggested we see a counselor. At first my wife went alone as I tried to deal with the pain on my own. Finally I decided to go with her. I don’t remember if I went to one session or two but I do remember one very well. We were talking about things that were very hurtful but I felt like that maybe some good was coming out of it. At the very peak of our feelings when things were getting out that were held in he looked at his watch. “Well I see our time is up”, he announced. At that moment I looked at him completely differently. He had given the image that he really cared about us and our hurt. Sadly I realized that he was there just for the money and it was because it was his job. I realize that there is a time frame for anyone in that profession, but the way that he left us in that moment told me that his time frame was more important than us. We never went back and that image of him looking at his watch is what I think of when I think of him.
Why do we have to go to specialists to help us with our problems anyway? Could it be because the people around us don’t care to get involved? The counselor guy didn’t give any advice out of the ordinary. Basically we just talked and he listened. Why can’t the Christian people in our lives take the time to listen to their neighbors in need? Recently I noticed that a friend wasn’t himself. I couldn’t place my finger on what was wrong but when I saw him one day I could just tell. He was quiet when he usually is very out going and he was sad when he is always happy. I found out that his wife had left him and he was totally devastated. He loved his wife very much and it took him completely by surprise. I made it a point to take the time to try to comfort him one day. I put my hand on his shoulder and said “I heard what you are going through and I want you to know that I am praying for you.” That took a few seconds of my time and obviously I was glad to spend it. I didn’t realize what an impact those caring words meant to him until I talked to other friends later. Apparently he has been going around telling people what my little talk did. He had been holding everything inside and now whenever he talked about how much better he has been he always mentions me and the words I said.
These experiences have helped me in my Christian walk to answer the question of why. Is the person being nice or trying to give advice because they want to or because it is their job? Are we free with our time or are we stingy when it comes to helping others? God wants us to love our neighbor but what does that mean? Does it mean to love them at our convenience and if it doesn’t fit our schedule to brush them off? Some day we will all have to account for the limited time we were given. Did we spend it wisely helping others or did we spend it on our selfish desires?. Without Jesus in our hearts it will always be the latter. With his love there and our constantly seeking his will we will find our time being spent more wisely. We will look for people we can help not because we have to but because we want to. Hopefully in the end we can say “I see my time is up, thank you Lord for helping me to spend it wisely!
by Lewis Hamilton
from the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997
Where should my thoughts
and actions be,
on worldly things
One is passing
the other one lasts
One never ends,
one goes by fast
I often wonder
when my life is done,
will I be rewarded
for souls I had won?
Or will I just carry
what satisfied me,
with no lasting value
But store up for yourself
treasure in heaven, where
moth and rust do not destroy,
and where thieves do not
break in and steal.
I have a friend who had car trouble one day. He was in the middle of a parking lot and his car battery was dead. Luckily for him he noticed a Christian guy he knew of who was getting into his car. My friend told him about his dilemma and asked if he would be able to jump his battery for him. He had a set of battery cables and it would really help him out. The Christian man had a sour look on his face. It was like it was such an imposition to him to help my friend. He did however agree to the process but not without more complaining. It didn’t take long before my friends car was started and running fine. Seeing how much his problem had affected the man who helped him out he offered to pay him. The man looked at him with that sour expression still on his face and said with a voice that seemed to pain him “no, I don’t need your money, I did it for the Lord.”
What powers the Christian walk is not a sense of obligation or need to follow rules. It is the love that is in our hearts. Jesus recognized the lack of love in a young rich ruler who came to get his favor. In Matthew 19 verses 16-26 the encounter unfolds.
16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be [a]complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” It wasn’t that the rich young ruler had not kept the commandments. His problem was that love was not in his heart. In his case he loved his riches more than he loved God. He obeyed the commandments from knowledge rather than what was really in his heart. Jesus talks about this when he was asked what the greatest commandment is. 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Some of us fail to realize that it isn’t obeying rules that pleases God. It is the love of his son Jesus in our hearts that pleases him! When we love him with all of our hearts we will automatically have the right attitude with our neighbors. We will help them with a song in our heart not because we have to but because we want to. We will fellowship with our church and be a light to others not because we have to but because we want to. What we see in Christians too often is that they try to please God in actions rather than with their heart. The rich young ruler thought that Jesus would give him his total approval and tell him what a good guy he was and that he was doing everything right. Jesus saw the same thing in him that he saw in the Pharisees of his day. They worshiped God with their mouth and their actions but their hearts were far from him. The Bible talks about cleaning the inside of the glass first. Too many times we are trying to look the part of Christians instead of having the love of Jesus in us.
Unlike the parking lot experience that my friend had, Christianity isn’t about suffering to do the right thing. It is doing the right thing out of love. With love in our hearts it is natural to do good. We should always listen to the spirit within us and help our neighbors out of love and not duty. Instead of saying “I did it for the Lord”, we should say “I did it because of the Lord!” There is a saying that goes “follow your heart.” In our Christian walk it is so important! When we allow Jesus to not only come into our heart but be our Lord and Savior, he will always give us a desire to love.
Bart Millard used to listen to cassette tapes of Amy Grant and other Christian musicians on his head phones. It was a way that he could get his mind at peace after dealing with an abusive father. There was no peace in the Millard household. His father was quick to squash any dreams that Bart had. Something must have drastically altered his fathers dreams years ago and now he was all about making sure that his son didn’t fantasize with his own dreams. Mr. Millard was a heavy drinker and wife beater. It got so bad that Bart was sent to a camp just to get him out of harms way. His mother loved him very much and thought that the camp experience would be a good retreat for him. Bart was a stranger in the camp which happened to be a church camp. One person that befriended him right away was a girl named Shannon. Even though Bart was slow to open up to her she liked him as he was. Camp offered Bart a disciplined different view of life than he had at home. All of the campers were given journal books and they were required to take notes of what they learned and what was important in their view. Studiously Bart took notes and it became a big part of his camp experience.
After the two weeks Bart came home. Surprisingly he found that his mom was missing. He was angry as he confronted his father as to what happened to her. His father told Bart she wasn’t hurt and that she had left him. Bart was devastated as his mother was the only one that he felt loved him. Through the strained relationship with his father Bart tried to find himself. He liked football and became good at it playing on his high school team. However even in his glowing moments he didn’t get help from his dad. His dad was a star player in high school and after Bart had a big game his dad was quick to squash his victory. “How many of them did it take?”, his father asked. Not knowing what he was asking Bart asked the question back to him. His father was a running back when he played, just like Bart. He explained what he meant. “How many did it take to bring you down?” Bart said “Two or three, I don’t know”. “Two or three couldn’t bring me down, It took the whole team to bring me down.” Through all of the negative Bart still kept his football dreams alive. That was until one play that happened near the end of the season. Bart was running for the goal line when he was hit simultaneously by two different defenders. The result was a broken leg and Bart was left without his football dream.
Bart needed to be in another class because he was not able to play football. He hobbled into the Dramatics class that first day and fielded the teachers questions. “Can you act?” “Can you sing?” Bart told her that he could neither act or sing but that he had to pick up a class to make up for not playing football. His teacher said that he could be in charge of the sound then. Bart began to love the sound position confident that he knew something about sound from his early days of loving the sound of Amy Grant and other top Christian artists. One day he happened to have his head phones on as he was listening to a tape. His teacher happened to walk by. Unaware of her presence Bart was singing along to the music. His teacher couldn’t help notice the beautiful vocals that were coming out of Bart. When the cast for the upcoming musical Oklahoma was announced Bart was horrified to learn that he was cast for the lead. “Oh no, there has been some kind of mistake here” Bart commented as he confronted the teacher. She listened to all of Bart’s reason why he couldn’t do it. The last one was that he had the broken leg. “The play isn’t for six weeks she said. You will be well by then.” She informed him that he would perform in the play if he wanted to pass is class. Through all of the disguise his teacher saw something in him that he didn’t know was there. For that time she took the place of an encouraging parent that see’s things in their children and helps prepare them to use their gifts. Bart didn’t have that at home and for the first time he was given hope.
The play was a great success and Bart was the star of the show! He found his niche in his acting and singing role and everyone who watched was amazed. One of the amazed people was Shannon (his camp friend) who was a high school classmate and Bart’s girl friend. One person who thought he was wasting his time was his father. One day his father was at a bar and he saw a brochure of the play and Bart’s name in the lead role. Then he was overcome with pain and tumbled to the floor. He found himself in the hospital and the reports were not good. Bart’s father was suffering from cancer and he didn’t have that long to live. Bart never knew about this diagnosis. His father kept him in the dark and said that he was fine. After high school Bart could not live with his father anymore. He didn’t know where he was going but he needed to be somewhere else. He hooked up with a band and became their sound man. The band was missing one thing a lead singer. Bart offered that he could help. He mentioned that he could sing and become their voice on stage. That is how he became the lead singer of the group. He also formed the name of the band. His grandmother always said to him “Mercy me Bart” when she was amazed at something he said or did. The band became known as MercyMe.
MercyMe was having moderate success playing to limited crowds. With every little success Bart was living the dream. Unfortunately his excitement with the band consumed him. Shannon felt like she wasn’t important to Bart anymore. She broke up with him and told him they were through. Because of his father Bart didn’t want to let anyone know the real him. He was afraid to dream even as he was having success. Shannon sensed that and was very hurt that Bart’s world really didn’t include her. He felt bad after they broke up and would call her from the road telling her how the band was doing. Unfortunately he was always talking to her answering machine as Shannon had given up on him. The group was fortunate enough to have an agent in the crowd one night. He heard the sound and was somewhat impressed. He liked what he heard but knew there was something missing. The agent agreed to go to the next concert on the groups bus. Once again he noticed the same thing..the music was good, the talent was there, but something was missing. What was missing was discovered when he heard their last long. It was a passionate song that moved the crowd to tears. He told the group he was leaving them, but that he was leaving to find them a bigger venue and to bring some music industry heads to see them. He also told Bart that the concert was just OK but that last song was fantastic. “Try to sing all of your songs like that” was his advice.
After the concert in the new venue Bart and the group sat in the dressing room awaiting the results. Their agent was talking to the elite’s of the industry when Bart could not stand it anymore. Against the wishes of the band Bart got up and disrupted the meeting. He wanted to know what they thought. The hard truth hit him like a brick in the back of the head. They see hundreds of groups and to them MercyMe was nothing special. They rated them as a local group that would never be anything more than that. The combination of their words and the words that his father put in his head years ago was too much for Bart. He returned to the rest of the band and told them he was through. Maybe he was wasting his time after all.
Bart returned home to find that his father was treating him wonderfully. Not knowing how to respond Bart let his father have it. His father told him he had been thinking a lot about how he had lived and had been listening to a lot of christian music. He had asked God for forgiveness. Bart was not in the forgiving mood. In his mind his father had destroyed his dreams and he was bitter. Later he happened to be looking through some papers and there was the medical report on his father. Now he knew his father was dying but the bitterness remained. Bart was having a battle within himself that came to a climax when he found his father collapsed in the barn. Instead of mercy he found himself with a baseball bat in his hands. “Go ahead”, his father urged. But slowly Bart put the bat down and helped his father up. The act of helping his father as he put all of his weight on Bart seemed to open the door of forgiveness and mercy to Bart. From that time until his father died Bart was his best friend.
After his father died Bart was in a state of self reflection. He was amazed at the change that his father had demonstrated. At the same time he realized he needed spiritual depth in his own life. He reflected back to the time when he was at camp and took those notes in his journal. He actually dug out his old journal and started re-living his thoughts at that time. Page after page he noticed one line that was getting embedded in his head. The line written numerous times in his journal was “I can only imagine.” He got back with the band and that phrase was in the front of his mind. He started writing a song from just that title and the words just seemed to flow. They made a tape of the song and sent it to their agent. Right away his agent knew they were onto something. Bart sang the song with compassion that he had never heard before! The agent sent it to people in high places in the industry. Amy Grant heard the song and fell in love with it. She wanted to do the song on her comeback tour with the groups permission. Bart was in the audience as Amy was about to sing the song. When the magic moment came Amy couldn’t do it. Instead she called Bart from the stands to sing his song. The crowd was in awe as Bart passionately sang his song that he dedicated to his father. Deeply moved they gave him a standing ovation. Amy gave the song back to Bart and the band and it became a number one hit on the Christian music charts along with a hit on the main stream charts too! It was the song that launched the group MercyMe to heights nobody had imagined for them. I Can Only Imagine was voted the number one song of the year! They would go on to record other powerful hits because instead of just lyrics Bart was singing with a passion he had never had before.
In our christian walk like Bart we can lose the passion that we had when we first believed. Slowly we may start questioning as the world puts their views into our minds. The result is a dead listless doubting believer who has lost their uniqueness in the world. Jesus addressed this problem in Matthew 5:13.
In Bart’s case as in many of us our salt loses it’s flavor by our lack of forgiveness. In life there are people or circumstances that if we let them can cause a deep dark unforgiving spirit to come over us. This is not the will of God. He wants us to have our hearts pure so that his love can flow through us. Everyone who listened to Bart noticed how talented he was. However his words alone weren’t able to move people. It was only when he let God change his heart and take away the hurt that Bart was free to express his love and compassion. The same thing affects many of us today. We may say all of the right words but we are not convincing. The flow of love has been blocked by hurt, anger, and an unwillingness to forgive. Our passion has been replaced by the religious ritual of trying to do the right thing without true love in our hearts. By forgiving everyone we open the door to God’s love and blessing. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins he demonstrated his mercy for all of us. By having mercy on those who have wronged us we exhibit his living love within us. What miracles could God do through us when we all have a forgiving spirit? Using Bart’s words “I can only imagine.”
footnote: Shannon saw the change in Bart’s life and today they are married with 5 children. MercyMe has released some of the most powerful Christian music in the last few years that were able to crossover to the adult contemporary stations! A movie was made called I Can Only Imagine and it hit the big screen in 2018. The description of the movie was stated as follows… Based on the incredible true-life story that inspired the beloved, chart-topping song, I Can Only Imagine is a song that brings ultimate hope to so many – often in the midst of life’s most challenging moments. Amazingly, the song was written in mere minutes by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard. In reality, those lyrics took a lifetime to craft.
Well it is Christmas time again and a similar question is heard in almost every family. “What do they need?” We may be talking about mom or dad, sister or brother but the question remains the same. We all want to get our loved ones things that they can use rather than a gift that ends up in a garage sale. The hardest ones to buy for are naturally the ones that buy what they need before you get the chance to get it for them for Christmas. Now that we are coming down to the last three weeks the calls will come more frequently. What are you getting so and so? Do you think they will like this? What size does so and so wear? Multiply this by the number of people most have to buy for and you get a yearly dilemma. Just as sure as Christmas day is coming it is also sure that you and I will be in on that conversation. It’s true that we want to buy that perfect present that will make our loved one happy and that they will use throughout the year.
We have to be careful at this time of the year that the present doesn’t get too big. I’m not referring to the physical present but to the mental present. We tend to emphasize the physical present and ignore the gift of our presence. We can be so spread out on Christmas day with different households to visit that our presence is lacking. Recently I heard a story of a member of a family mentioning that their dad should just have an open house where everyone could drop by when they wanted. Forget the timing when everyone gets together like the old days. We have other obligations and we can’t give you a time that we will be there. Unfortunately this attitude is not isolated. Many families struggle with the balance of Christmas with their own families and Christmas with their parents on both sides. The time constraints can become an obligation rather than a joy on Christmas day.
I remember so well as I’m sure you do too the joy of Christmas when we were young. The night before when we were so excited that we couldn’t get to sleep. Waking up early in the morning and waking your sibling up or vice versa. Walking into the living room while it was still dark and noticing that Santa Claus had been there. Waking up mom and dad even though I’m sure that they would really rather sleep. Then the thrill of opening presents and getting things you never dreamed you would get! Along with that was the thrill that mom and dad would have when they saw how the present made you happy. It was all there but the real thing that was there was love. It was there in the presents but it shined in their presence. I remember so many times dad would have to spend half of his Christmas assembling a gift that I received to make it usable. He delighted in doing it so that I could enjoy it.
Christmas it is said is for the young. While it is true that children get much more excited about presents than adults Christmas is for all of us but in different ways. I’m reminded of a kids TV show called Rugrats. Yes, when watching a show with your kids you can pick up valuable lessons. In this case Angelica who was an only child gets the news that her mommy is going to have another baby. Suddenly all of the talk is about the new baby and Angelica feels left out. She calls a therapist on the phone who got her attention from a call in show she had tuned in on TV. She tells him about the situation and without hesitation the therapist tells her she is being selfish. He let’s her know that she has to realize that the world does not revolve around her and she needs to think of others. Not hearing what she wants to hear Angelica quickly hangs up the phone.
Unfortunately in our own lives we may have the Angelica Syndrome. Is it really about mom or dad getting the perfect present or is it about the perfect son or daughter getting it for them. Is it about them or is it about us? If it is about them why do we so often have a timeline where we do the Christmas drop off and move on? Don’t we realize that the true thing that makes people happy is not what they get but what is given? The best thing that we can give every day and especially at Christmas is ourselves. This Christmas I urge you to take the stress off of yourself. Give the gift that you think they will like but most of all be involved in the whole process. Be caring and loving and understanding this Christmas. Give without any consideration of what you will get back. Give out of love and show your love by giving yourself. Remember what the Bible says. “The greatest gift is love.” Show your love this Christmas not with your presents but with your presence!
I had a very short dream last night. I was sitting in this glass building and people on the outside were going to work. It reminded me of some of those TV sets that you can see the people on the outside trying to get the attention of the camera. This was just the opposite though. From my seat on the inside I was paying attention to the people on the outside. I saw several people and they were getting attention like famous people do. Each one seemed delighted and happy that they were known and were greeted in such a loving way. Several people passed and I was watching every one. Suddenly a familiar face walked by. It was the bearded face of Leo Buscaglia who was affectionately known as the love doctor because he had the ability to verbalize love as he saw it. “Hey Buscaglia”, I shouted. He had a smile on his face and he kind of looked around. He heard me but didn’t see me. I could tell though that he was pleased to be recognized and it made him happy. Suddenly I woke up and I felt the spirit of God so powerfully in my spirit.
Normally in my stories I might give the background of Buscaglia. I might tell his story and how he became “the love doctor.” The message that I got though wasn’t really about Buscaglia. Buscaglia had ideas about love but they were always self driven. His message was about making the effort to love and everything we needed to do to embrace love. My dream with him in it was simply a way that God used to get me on the subject of love. “Lord, what was that all about?”, I wondered. Without hesitation the Holy Spirit within me gave the answer. “I want you to know how how much I love you.”
Usually the passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is applied to how we should love. I was told that the description of how we should love comes from how he loves us. Starting with verse 4 we read “love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude , it is not self seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.
God gave me a revelation of the peaceful feeling we get when we give our lives to him. Jesus told his disciples that it is necessary for him to go. He promised that he would send the comforter to them. This comforter is of course the Holy Spirit. That comfort and peace that he gives us is him showing his love in us. When we embrace it and open ourselves up to following his spirit it becomes something we want to share! It is not us generating the love like Buscaglia taught, but it is just accepting God’s love within us and letting that spirit of love he gives spread to those we come in contact with.
Something else was revealed to me this morning. That peaceful loving feeling that the Holy Spirit gives us as he enters our lives will be with us throughout eternity. That spirit will be only of love. We will be surrounded by loved ones in a lovely place beyond description with a love in our hearts that will never die! I Corinthians 2:9 states that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”
Buscaglia taught us to embrace love, but God is letting us know that he wants us to embrace him. Since God is love it is like directly plugging into the power source! His message this morning is that we cannot comprehend how much he loves us! It is a love so deep, so strong, and so heart felt that he was willing to sacrifice his only son for us. Emerge yourself in his endless love! John 15:13 states that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
By Lewis Hamilton
From the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997
That rock song speaks of love
playing on the radio
Words are ringing from their lips
but the meaning they don’t know
We know the meaning of the word
if we’ve been truly saved
No greater love was ever shown
when Jesus’ life he gave
To rescue us from all hell’s flames
he brought us back to God again
With a loving heart from heaven above
God sent his son to show us love
This love so great can’t be explained
by earthly men with earthly brains
It goes beyond our normal mind,
a love so real, a love so kind
To sacrifice his only son
for our salvation to be won
The blood he spilled upon the tree,
he died for you, he died for me
The song plays on, the words are sung
The truth is never heard
The greatest love song there ever was
is written in God’s word.
This is how God showed his
love among us. He sent his one
and only Son into the world that
we might live through him.
I John 4:9
To me it seems that the trouble with salespeople is that they are never around or they are always around. If you have shopped for things at all you know exactly what I mean. Either you are searching the whole store for someone who you can ask a question or you are attacked the moment you walk in the door. The results to us the customers are two words that start alike, either frustrating or frightening.
When I attended high school I had a job in the local Sears store selling men’s clothing. It was through a co-op program where I went to school in the mornings and worked in the afternoons or evenings. My class teacher and my supervisor at work both trained us not to approach the customer the same way almost every salesperson we knew approached. The standard line “Can I help you?” was not the line we were to use. If someone for instance was looking at some shirts or one in particular we were to say something like “that’s a nice looking shirt!.” A statement like that let’s the customer know that you are there and available to help them without the threat that you have to show them something they don’t want to see. Approaching with a friendly statement usually doesn’t solicit a “no I’m just looking” response. You see the problem with the “no I’m just looking response” is that it cuts off the conversation. On the other hand this approach encourages conversation in a non threatening way. The customer might say “yes it is a nice looking shirt but I was looking for blue.” Or “Yes, I like this shirt…I wish it were my size!” Usually in the standard approach the salesperson after asking if they can help them and getting the no answer will say “Well let me know if you see something.” In other words if you find it on your own I’ll ring it up. Is that really the job of the salesperson? If so why do we need them? We can walk into a place, look around, pick something out, and scan it through the self scanning line.
The salesperson should be friendly and helpful, available, yet not pushy. They should be able to relate to the customer as they are a customer too. Relating experiences of their purchase of the same product is likely very helpful. Trying to match the product to the customers needs without feeling like it is pushy or self motivated keeps the customer relaxed. The salesperson should always keep the customers needs in mind.
Mark has a business in our town repairing cars. Mark runs his business with fairness and integrity always putting the customer first. I have gained trust in Mark over the years because he has given me advice that did not make his business a dime but was right for me. I had an old car and Mark would tell me to keep an eye on some part that could cause problems later. Instead of having me repair perfectly serviceable parts because they might be wearing a little his advice made sense. I have heard Mark give advice on the phone that far exceeded his business interests. Mark works a lot with college students and he frequently directs them where to go in the stores and what to look for.
We had an experience with my sons car where we took it for an oil change. We had a coupon for another place which also included a complete inspection. To be honest we were just interested in the oil change. We realized that the car being old had minor problems. The inspection was done before the oil change and 45 minutes later the verdict was in. The list was long as there were seven or eight things wrong with the car and the cost was over $1,700.00. I again repeated that we were only interested in the oil change. The counter person was not happy with me and had me sign a waiver paper on the car denying repair which I did. I can report that the car is still running strong two years later. If it were Mark he would have possibly said “keep an eye on this or that and if it starts making a noise or any other symptoms bring it in immediately.” The difference is that Mark really cares about us and does the best thing for us, not necessarily his business in the short haul. The other business was out to make the quick buck in a non caring impersonal way.
I have been to a few sales presentations in the past. They usually are ran about the same. The one in particular that I remember was a time sharing presentation. A representative was assigned to us and this representative tried to find out everything he could about our situation. The information he gathered was used to try uniting our needs to the service he was selling. The representative was friendly and seemed to care about us as people. After a little while there was a formal presentation showing the benefits of their program. They didn’t get around to the price until much later. Only after they had enticed us with all of the benefits did they let the price enter the picture. It was the question on every ones mind as the presenter kept sweetening the benefits. All of the time he was building up our desire for their services as he led us through their wonderful presentation. This involved being asked for our dream vacation spot and telling how their plan could get us there economically! At that point they specifically mentioned the price, but it was only the price of our dream trip, not the price to get into the program. After the presentation the representative started asking questions about what we thought. He reminded us that this was a one day offer. If we rejected this offer it was done and over for us. He then walked us through their basic rates which included a large lump sum payment that could be financed along with a yearly maintenance fee. It is confusing to me how I would have to pay close to $300 a year for a maintenance fee along with say a $15,000 payment to join the organization. Sure they could save me money on things, but it would take years of savings just to get back my original investment. I still can’t figure out how my one week stay should involve paying the large maintenance fee to keep the place in order. When you consider that they can sell that same room 52 times and collect close to $300 in maintenance fees each time you can see that a ton of money is going into their hands!
What happens in these situations is if the original representative cannot sell the program they call in their manager. We found out that the manager has power to change prices around to close the sale. For instance he or she might drop the original price from $15,000 down to $10,000. That kind of thing is troublesome. It reminds me of a local garbage service that raised their rates. When a friend of mine complained saying they wanted to switch services because their price was higher than the others, this company matched the lower offer. They figured the ones that didn’t complain could just pay the higher rate. When the closer couldn’t pressure us into buying the program (and believe me he tried extensively) by lowering the price three times, his attitude changed. Now he wanted us to feel bad and stupid that we didn’t buy as he hurriedly filled out the rejection paperwork in a quick and abrasive way. No longer were we the nice people that he cared so much about. It became clear that he never really cared about us at all. He faked it all until things didn’t go his way. Then he turned on us like a poisonous snake as his true feelings were revealed.
When we are representing God it is an awesome responsibility. I’ve heard that everyone is a salesperson in some way whether they want to be or not. In Christianity it is the same way. We are supposed to be demonstrating love, compassion, and caring. Sometimes people believe that is what we are all about until they discover that they were sadly mistaken. The damage that this causes is worse than if we never engaged them in the first place because their trust gets broken. Once trust is broken it is very difficult to repair. So the question I challenge you with today is “What kind of representative of the Gospel are you?” Are you the one that can’t be found? Do you pounce on people at the door? Are you selfless in your mission or do you have a hidden agenda? I’ve heard that people don’t care what you know, they want to know that you care. Jesus said, “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Now that is the ultimate attitude necessary to really care about people!
Fallen Man Saved!
December 25, 2012
It is officially Christmas day 2014! I’d like to take a break from the countdown today and re-visit the 2012 and 2013 Christmas day story! Unlike the stories I have been mentioning for 2014 in the countdown this story was one of the least read stories of 2012. However, it’s message is just as powerful if not more so than any of my stories! On this Christmas day we will be exchanging gifts with our loved ones! It is a time for showing love, much like God did with his “Greatest Gift of All!” In this story I tried to answer the question of…Why? Why would God give us a gift so great?
The year was 1949 and Louis Zamperini was in a broken marriage that was apparently about to crash into a thousand pieces. His wife, who he had married shortly after he returned from the war had recently become a Christian. In an effort to save his marriage he agreed to attend a Billy Graham service that night. Billy Graham preached about how we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Graham talked about being forgiven and Louis thought about the dark dreams of being tortured that he was having. Louis knew that forgiveness wouldn’t be easy but it needed to come from his heart too. Then Louis remembered his many vows to God that he had made while clinging to life on a life raft in the ocean for 47 days.
Obstacles came early to Louis Zamperini and his family. When they first moved to Torrence, California none of them spoke English. Louis was the victim of bully attacks at every turn. Often Louis came home beaten and because of this his father taught him the art of self defense to defend himself. As Louis learned how to fight he looked for revenge against kids that bullied him in the past. He became a bully as he viciously got even with his one time tormenters. His brother, who was a star runner, decided to take Louis with him. He thought that Louis could channel that bully energy into something good. Louis ran with his brother and when he wasn’t keeping up his brother used a whip on his legs to push him much like a jockey whips a horse. As Louis started placing in races he discovered that he was gaining more attention with his classmates. Before he felt ignored or almost like he wasn’t there, but now he was feeling like he belonged. This feeling of importance pushed him in his running. He dedicated his life totally to running and he improved in leaps and bounds. Years later he would admit that he was all in and that he wouldn’t even touch a milkshake for fear of it’s harmful effects to his running.
Starting with his first cross country race and continuing his final three years in high school Louis went undefeated! In 1934 he set a high school record for the mile with a time of 4:21.2! A week later he won the CIF California State Meet Championship with a time of 4:27.8! That accomplishment helped him win a scholarship at the University of Southern California! In 1936 Louis decided that he wanted to run in the Olympics. That year the qualifying took place in Randalls Island, New York. In those days runners had to pay their own transportation fees to get to the event. Luckily for Louis his father worked for the railroad and was able to get him free transportation. A bigger problem was expense money once he got there. That problem was solved by the generosity of local Torrence merchants who raised expense money for their local hero!
Louis decided to enter the 5000 meter race when he arrived. The 1500 meter had a strong field and Louis felt his chances were better to qualify in the longer race. His chief competition would be the American record holder in the event Don Lash. The event would test Zamperini’s ability to survive as it was ran on one of the hottest days of the year. The race saw co-favorite Norm Bright and many others collapse during the race. Determined with everything he had within him despite the obstacles Zamperini finished in a dead heat with Lash! They would both represent the United States in the Berlin, Germany Olympics as Louis became the youngest American qualifier ever in the 5000 meter at only 19 years old!
Zamperini qualified for the finals in one of the three preliminary runs where only the top five advanced. In the final he finished eighth in the world ahead of his fellow American teammate Don Lash! He had a finishing lap of 56 seconds which was so fast that it got Adolph Hitler’s attention. Hitler made a request to meet Zamperini and Zamperini remembered his words of “Ah, your the boy with the fast finish!” After the Olympics Zamperini went on with his running. In 1938 he set a national collegiate mile record of 4:08 that stood for fifteen years!
Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force in September of 1941 and earned a commission as a second lieutenant. He was deployed to the Pacific island of Funafuti as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man. In April, 1943, during a bombing mission against the Japanese held island of Nauru, the plane was badly damaged in combat. With Super Man no longer flight-worthy, and a number of the crew injured, the healthy crew-members were transferred to Hawaii to await reassignment. Zamperini, along with some other former Super Man crew were assigned to conduct a search for a lost aircraft and crew. They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, notorious among the pilots as a defective “lemon plane”. While on the search, mechanical difficulties caused the plane to crash into the ocean 850 miles west of Oahu, killing eight of the eleven men aboard.
The three survivors (Zamperini and his crewmates, pilot Russel Allen “Phil” Phillips and Francis “Mac” McNamara), with little food and no water, subsisted on captured rainwater and small fish eaten raw. They caught two albatrosses, which they ate and used to catch fish, all while fending off constant shark attacks and nearly being capsized by a storm. They were strafed multiple times by a Japanese bomber, which punctured their life raft, but no one was hit. McNamara died after 33 days at sea.
How could anyone keep going in such circumstances? Day after day wondering if it would be your last. Riding up and down pushed by the ocean waves on a little raft. Having to bury their fellow initial survivor after he couldn’t make it on the 33rd day. Yet Zamperini and Phillips kept hope alive. They kept thinking that by some miracle they would survive even when the odds seemed so small. That was when Zamperini first got serious with God. It had to be like one of those promises that we all might say during stressful times. “God, if you get me out of this I will do whatever you want me to do!”
On their 47th day adrift, Zamperini and Phillips reached land in the Marshall Islands and were immediately captured by the Japanese Navy. They were held in captivity, severely beaten, and mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945. Initially held at Kwajalein Atoll, after 42 days they were transferred to the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Ōfuna, for captives who were not registered as prisoners of war (POW). Zamperini was later transferred to Tokyo’s Ōmori POW camp, and was eventually transferred to the Naoetsu POW camp in northern Japan, where he stayed until the war ended. He was tormented by prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed “The Bird”), who was later included in General Douglas MacArthur‘s list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Held at the same camp was then-Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, and in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep, he discusses Zamperini and the Italian recipes Zamperini would write to keep the prisoners’ minds off the food and conditions. Zamperini had at first been declared missing at sea, and then, a year and a day after his disappearance, KIA. When he eventually returned home he received a hero’s welcome.
Can you imagine after surviving on a raft for 47 days and finally seeing land how excited Zamperini and Phillips must have been. Normally it would have been a thrilling time for them along with their rescuers. They would have been taken to a hospital and nourished back to full strength. Can you imagine being so weak after such an experience only to face the reality of being captured by the enemy? Day after day for the next two years Zamperini was mistreated and beaten but never broken.
As Zamperini was sitting in the Billy Graham meeting he thought about all of the people that had wronged him. He thought about the beatings he had taken and all of the reasons he should never forgive any of them. Then he thought about the commitment he was about to make. It couldn’t have been easy but he decided to forgive his enemies much like Jesus did when he died upon the cross. After that night Zamperini was a changed man. No longer did he have the dark dreams that were torturing him as much as his prisoner experiences had. Now he had a peace about him and a love that he couldn’t understand.
Billy Graham helped Zamperini in his next mission of becoming an inspirational speaker. Through the years when people heard his story they listened. It was such an amazing story that people were drawn to God by it! How could a man who suffered so much and was treated so badly be willing to forgive and forget? It could only be through God that it was possible.
Through the years Zamperini visited many of the guards who mistreated him in prison. He always let them know that he had forgiven them. The ones who experienced his forgiveness were shocked that he would feel that way. As hard as most of their hearts were they had to be softened by this man who only had love in his heart. They had to feel enormous guilt for what they had done to him. They had to see a man who in spite of everything that happened was living such a victorious live!
Until the day he died Zamperini went around the world preaching forgiveness. He was on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno telling his life story only a couple of years ago. He talked about his Olympic days which people in our sports crazy society wanted to hear. He talked about the torture that he lived through while in the P.O.W. camp. He was an old man now at 95. His loving wife was with him for 55 years until she passed away in 2001. Yes God put that broken relationship together in a beautiful way! Long ago Zamperini was pronounced dead as the American Government notified his parents that he was lost at sea. Later he was returned home to a heroes welcome! It was like he came back to life again! Four years later he died again. This death was a death to his old life. After that time he started living a new life in Christ! Earlier this year Zamperini left us at 97. Most of us will never see that age but God must have given him extra years as his reward. The title of his movie coming out in December is called “Unbroken”. It is a story of inspiration and hope no matter what you are going through. On one night however Zamberini became a broken man. That was when he stopped living and let God take over. After that God rewarded him with many peaceful years of sharing his story of love, hope, and forgiveness!
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
II Timothy 4:7