Robert R. Kopp tells the story of Walter, a young man who went to work for the largest corporation in the world. The personnel director told Walter he must start at the bottom and work his way up, so he began work in the mailroom. Walter liked his job, but often daydreamed about what it would be like to be an executive, the president, maybe even chairman of the board!
One day as Walter was dividing the mail, he saw a cockroach in the corner of the room. As he walked over to step on it, Walter heard a tiny voice crying out, "Don't kill me! I'm Milton the cockroach, and if you spare me I'll grant all your wishes." Walter agreed that was a good arrangement, and he spared Milton's life.
Walter's first wish was to leave the mailroom and become a vice president, so Milton granted the wish. In fact, Milton granted wish after wish until finally Walter was chairman of the board of the largest corporation in the world, with an office on the top floor of the tallest building in the world. Everyone looked up to Walter and he was very happy. Walter often said to himself, "I am Walter, and I'm at the top. No one is bigger or more important than me."
Then one day Walter heard footsteps on the roof, and went out to find a small boy on his knees, praying. "Are you praying to Walter?" he asked -- after all, he was the chairman of the board of the largest corporation in the world -- but the boy replied, "Oh, no. I'm praying to God."
Walter was quite disturbed by this turn of events, so he returned to his office and sent for Milton the cockroach. "I have another wish," he told Milton. "I want to be like God."
And so Milton granted Walter's wish. The next day Walter was back in the mailroom. (Kopp is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Winston-Salem, NC)
CHRIST -- Eternal
"High up on the cliffs overlooking a noble river, like the Orontes or the Rhine or the Hudson, you will see some great outjutting rock. From century to century the rock has remained the same, while the river beneath it has changed with every moment of its flow. So the stream of history, ever changing, flows past the changeless Christ, the Rock of Ages." (Clarence Macartney)
CHRIST -- Second Advent
Larry Michael tells of visiting an elderly woman who had lived through much adversity, but had also outlived the doctor who had described her condition as terminal many years earlier. She had a contagious confidence in the Lord.
One day the pastor began speaking with Mrs. Blackburn about death, and she responded that -- although she was not afraid of death -- she preferred to concentrate on the Bible's promises of Christ's return.
"I'm not looking for the undertaker," she exclaimed confidently. "I'm looking for the Uppertaker!" (Michael is Pastor of Switzerland Baptist Church, Vevay, IN)
CHRISTMAS -- Message often lost
Steve Brown reminds us of the Brueghel painting, The Census, which portrays the census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria and recorded in the gospel of Luke. The painting shows a great crowd of people, with a long line waiting to be registered. We observe busy shops and active commerce. At first glance, you think that it is a painting of a crowd -- until you look in the lower right part of the canvas and notice a man pulling a donkey which is carrying a pregnant woman.
"If you have ever seen that painting, you know that it is easy to miss Mary and Joseph," Brown explains. "You have to look hard, because their part seems so insignificant and unimportant in relationship to what is going on in the painting.
"Christmas is a sad time for me because so many people miss the real point ... and at Christmas they are so close." (Brown is Pastor of Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church, Key Biscayne, FL)
CHRISTMAS -- Quotations
"It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air." (W. T. Ellis)
"A Christmas candle is a lovely thing;
It makes no sense at all,
But softly gives itself away;
While quite unselfish, it grows small." (Eva K. Logue)
Christmas is not just a day, an event to be observed and speedily forgotten. It is a spirit which should permeate every part of our lives. To believe that the spirit of Christmas does change lives and to labor for the realization of its coming to all men is the essence of our faith in Christ." (William Parks)
CHRISTMAS -- Serious
The legend is told of the time Satan and his demons were having a Christmas party. As the demonic guests were preparing to depart, one grinned and said, "Merry Christmas, your majesty!" At that, Satan replied with a growl, "Keep it merry, my friend. If they ever get serious about it, we'll all be in trouble."
Richard Roney is Chief of Chaplain Services at the VA Medical Center in Marion, Illinois. He reminds pastors they aren't the only ones who hear excuses about not attending church; as a hospital chaplain, he's heard more than his share:
"It's snowing outside. I never attend church in bad weather." (The chapel was another floor in the same building!)
One lady commented, quite seriously, "I'm usually always sick on Sunday morning."
"The nurse doesn't want me out of bed," one patient told a volunteer. But as the volunteer began to leave, the same patient asked, "If you're going near the smoking room, could you give me a push?"
A favorite was the patient who said, "When I sing, I get nauseated."
PEACE -- Not simply quiet
Gary Redding points out that the biblical understanding of peace is a condition of wholeness and well-being that exists among persons and groups. "The peaceful silence which exists when persons are together is not a camouflage for the tension but is indicative of the real nature of the relationship. In other words, quiet is never a synonym for peace.
"Robert Schuller tells the story of Henry and Helga, a couple who had been married for sixty years. They fought like cats and dogs every day of their married lives. Finally, their sixtieth anniversary arrived. Henry and Helga started out the day with a terrible argument that lasted until nightfall. Finally, Helga said to Henry, 'Tonight I think that when we pray, we better pray for peace. May God give us peace. So tonight, I think I'll pray that the Lord will take you home and I'll go live with my sister, Olga"!" (Redding is Pastor of North Augusta Baptist Church, North Augusta, SC)
During the Christmas season, lots of folks seem to make shopping a number one priority. We seem to take to heart the declaration, "Money is the root of all evil, and everyone needs roots." The Wall Street Journal (May 13, 1988) shared some "Great Moments in Shopping":
"For $42,500 Hammacher Schlemmer will sell you the personal ski slope, a 12-foot-by-24 foot simulation designed for indoor use. The price tag includes five days of lessons.
"If the circus is your thing, Neiman Marcus will sell you a $7,500 day in which you can try out the high-wire, trapeze or clown suit with a friend before the show begins and then take your seats with twenty-five friends to watch the pros do it right.
"Sotheby's New York auctioned a pear-shaped 95.91 carat (about the size of a robin's egg) diamond for $9.1 million. It would go nicely with the $6.6 million diamond earrings auctioned earlier in Geneva.
"A New York City company called Animal Mansion helps ease living in the dog house. If you don't mind spending up to $10,000, your pet can dwell well in a dog-sized miniature of your house. Carpets, wallpaper and other options are available. The company has even been approached about a dog mansion that would run close to $200,000, complete with marble fireplace."
THANKSGIVING -- Impact on America
James Reston, a New York Times columnist, wrote several years ago that "it may be useful in this age of drift and hallucination to recall the foundations of the first Thanksgiving Day celebration.
"The Puritans were undoubtedly motivated primarily by gratitude for survival, but also by something more. They were rooted in the conviction that their prosperity had come from their industry, discipline and virtue and not their virtue from their prosperity.
"More than that, they believed that they were their brothers' keepers and had survived by helping one another; that they were trustees for future generations and were to set an example for a civilized world....
"The Puritans ... said man belonged to his creator and since man was, therefore, an immortal soul, he possessed inalienable rights as a person and was honor bound under constitutional representative government to respect the rights of others and practice the courtesy of the spirit.
"Walter Lippmann called this 'the forgotten foundation of democracy,' and wondered if democracy could endure at home or withstand its enemies abroad unless it remembered where it came from. 'The decay of decency in the modern age,' he wrote, 'the rebellion against law and good faith, the treatment of human beings as things, as mere instruments of power and ambition, is without a doubt the consequence of the decay of the belief in man as something more than an animal animated by highly conditioned reflexes and chemical reactions....'
"A secular society that forgets its roots is in danger of losing the spirit that holds a nation together." (The New York Times, November 28, 1985)
THANKSGIVING -- Quotations
"Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. -- A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves." (Henry Ward Beecher)
"Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies." (Charles E. Jefferson)
TIME -- Should use wisely
Billy Graham has observed that "Every morning we have 86,400 seconds before us to spend and to invest. Each day the bank named 'Time' opens a new account. It allows no balances, no overdrafts. If we fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is ours." ("Time," Decision, January 1985)
UNITY -- Provides strength
Those who have visited the national forest in California have marveled at the huge redwood trees -- the tallest trees in the world. Some have grown to as much as 300 feet in height -- the length of a football field!
To anchor such a tree, one would expect the redwoods to have an elaborate root structure running deep into the ground. Yet just the opposite is true; the redwoods have fairly shallow root systems, but they grow together with the roots of other trees. As a result, the roots strengthen one another and protect the trees in times of wind and storm.
That is the kind of unity Christ calls us to share as His church. We are to link our lives together in love and support so that times of storm do not destroy us.
VISION -- Some lack
There are some folks who just don't seem to have a lot of vision. For example, listen to these quotations:
"Everything that can be invented has been invented." That was Charles H. Duell, director of the U.S. Patent Office -- speaking in 1899!
Of course, Duell was not alone. President Grover Cleveland once commented (in 1905) that "Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote." Then there was Robert Miliken, Nobel Prize winner in physics, who said in 1923, "There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom." Or Lord Kelvin, president of England's Royal Society (a scientific organization), who noted in 1895, "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
My favorite was a statement of baseball great Tris Speaker, who was quoted in 1921 as saying, "(Babe) Ruth made a big mistake when he gave up pitching."
"They say it's better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable. But couldn't something be worked out, such as being moderately wealthy and just a little moody?" (John M. Henry)
WORRY -- Not necessary
"The most pleasant and useful persons are those who leave some of the problems of the universe for God to worry about." (Don Marquis, The Almost Perfect State)