Who was he?

06/11/2004

Ronald Wilson Reagan was laid to rest today on June 11, 2004. I have been watching all the ceremonies surrounding the death of our 40th President. I have been listening to the interviews with Nancy and his children, with his friends and his co-workers. I have observed many clips of speeches he made, meetings he attended and pictures of this great man heartily laughing with many world leaders and White House personnel. I have enjoyed the home movies taken at his ranch, riding his horse and swimming in the pool with his children. It seems that in just these last few days, if we have been tuned in, we could get an overview of this manís life and a sense of his character in so many ways, and yet it seems too good to be true, doesnít it? Could any one man embody all the wonderful character traits that Ronald Reagan seems to have had, and if it is possible, where would that "character" come from?

It seems as I listened to everyone from his wife to his co-workers to his Vice-President, they were all saying the same thing, he never hurt anyone. He was never unkind, he was always gentle, he was always joyful and even his enemies learned to love him--even when they disagreed with him!! Where does a man like that get his strength and his good humor? I just cannot believe it is possible without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Now, Iím not saying there arenít some very nice atheists out there and I know that some agnostics have done some wonderful things too. I know that those who donít believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God are not terrible people who are incapable of kindness and good cheer, thatís not what Iím saying at all--but what Iím talking about is Ronald Reagan, who from all reports, was a man of great faith.

No one can know the mind of another. I cannot know the mind of my husband, although I do try to read it from time to time... I cannot know the mind of Ronald Reagan, especially since I never had the privilege of meeting him, but I sure would have liked to. It seems he embodied Galatians 5:22-23: (NLT)

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce
this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Which one of those attributes did Ronald Reagan not possess? From the sounds of it, from everyone that was interviewed, he was not lacking any of them.

Now, was this just "talk?" I mean, the man has died, he was our 40th President, and of course, we need to say nice things about him...or was it the truth? Did he exemplify the fruit of the Spirit talked about in the verses above? I believe he did!

Democrat, or Republican, it seemed to matter not. Everyone liked Ronald Reagan! Even the political battle going on right now for the next presidency was put on hold this week, to remember this great man. Democrat and Republican alike kept quiet, while we mourned this loss in our Nation.

Something big was going on in this manís life...something big was being honored at his passing, and I would like to think that although the light seemed to shine on Ronald Reagan during these proceedings, a much Greater Light was what filled his soul while he lived, and that same Light was being given the Glory on this day.

Ronald Wilson Reagan was the epitome of what God calls us to be when we are filled with the Holy Spirit to guide us through our days. No, he was not perfect. Iím sure he would be the first one to admit that, but he gave us a glimpse of who we can all be if we have the mind of Christ.

We who have the Spirit understand these things,
But others canít understand us at all.
How could they? For, "Who can know what the Lord is thinking?
Who can give him counsel?"
But we can understand these things, for we
have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NLT)

One thing that became painfully obvious after numerous interviews with not only his closest friends and colleagues, but also his family, was that no one but perhaps Nancy even understood this man. Even the gentleman who was handpicked by the Reagansí to write his Biography didnít really "get him." He spent weeks, months, even years standing off to the side listening as Reagan conducted business and went about his day. He cataloged thousands upon thousands of cards of information on his life and his personality and yet, he still felt Reagan was just out of reach. What he was left with was a fondness for the man, but not complete understanding. Though upon reading the last letter Reagan wrote when he had been diagnosed with Alzheimerís, he got so choked up he could not continue. I think it was then that he might have realized that he not only liked the man, he loved him very much.

Why was it a man of such great character, a man who no one had an unkind word to say about the life he lived both publicly and privately, was "unknown" by all those around him? What was that strange aura, if you want to call it that, that surrounded Reagan and baffled even his critics? Was it the love of God exuding itself so completely out of this humble man that the world didnít understand it? I believe it was.

Jesus was misunderstood. He was kind to those who hurt Him, He was gentle with those who turned their backs on Him, and He was the most powerful Person to ever walk the face of this earth and yet He died on a cross like a lowly thief, never putting His Heavenly power above His earthly duty. He had a job to do, and He did it, and He went "Home" after having been a good and faithful servant and completing the task set before Him. Did you hear the story about Reagan getting down on his hands and knees to wipe up some spilled water so his nurse wouldnít get into trouble? It was just days after he was shot!!

Now you may argue that Iím getting Reagan a little too close to the deity of Jesus Christ, and that is not my intention at all. Reagan was a man, plain and simple. He was not a god, he was not perfect and he is not to be worshipped.

But, I think he is to be studied, and admired and even used as a shining example of what faith in our Mighty God can do in a human being when it is given full reign in our lives. Even Nancy had a difficult time with the thought of President Reagan praying for John Hinckley, the man who shot and almost killed her husband. Before Reagan prayed for his own healing touch from God, he prayed for another human being. Come on now, this is in the heat of the "battle," lying on a stretcher, probably in pain and with a certain amount of fear for his own life, he prayed for his attacker. Thatís just not what weíre used to...and isnít it sad? Isnít that what Jesus calls us all to in this life? Why is it so astounding when it is put into practice by an ordinary man? Yes, ordinary, even if he was our President at the time. He was flesh and blood, just like you and I are.

And Iím wondering why those closest to him didnít understand him? Reagan had a way of being that is beyond our understanding. A way of being that only comes from God. There is no question about it. If we donít understand Ronald Reagan, then perhaps we donít understand what God is calling all of us to.

Touching some nerves here? Probably so, but I donít think itís for not, I think itís necessary if we desire the fruit of the Spirit talked about in Godís Word. This kind of fruit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Perhaps our prayer should be that no one really "understands" us either! Perhaps we should be working towards a eulogy said on our behalf after weíre gone that starts with,

"I never really got (your name here).
Where was he/she coming from?
It was like he/she was from another world.

I think this can only happen when we live out our lives as in 2 Corinthians 1:12-14. (NLT)

"We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that
we have been honest and sincere in all our dealings. We
have depended on Godís grace, not on our own earthly wisdom.
That is how we have acted toward everyone, and especially toward
you. My letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written
between the lines and nothing you canít understand. I hope someday
you will fully understand us, even if you donít fully understand us now.
Then on the day when our Lord Jesus comes back again, you will be
proud of us in the same way we are proud of you."

Ronald Reagan served in the highest office of our government with a smile every day. He faced his adversaries with confidence, and won them over with friendship. Gorbachev was Reaganís friend, and he attended his funeral after Reagan said he was the leader over an "evil empire." They started out as two world leaders totally opposed to each other and in the end the "Wall" that separated them and the world, came down. Could anyone but a Mighty God in Heaven accomplish this without bloodshed? I think not! Reagan was given the credit these long years past, but the Glory goes to God alone to those who understand His ways.

Reagan practically shouted, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Sound familiar?

When the people heard the sound of the horns,
they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly,
the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites
charged straight into the city from every side and
captured it.
Joshua 6:20 (NLT)

It wasnít the power of Ronald Reagan that accomplished great things while he was President, it was the power of God within him that did. That has to be clear to any believer as we watch what his 93 years on this earth, including his eight years as President, brought about.

It was asked, what would have happened if Ronald Reagan had died from that gunshot wound--if these funeral proceedings had taken place back in 1981 instead of 2004? Only God can answer that question, only God knew the plans He had for President Reagan and our Nation. Only God could save him then, and did.

And what was the outcome of him surviving the shooting incident in the mind of our then President? He said something to the effect that the rest of his years would be devoted to serving the Big Fella up there...Ronald Reagan knew God was in control.

A lot is made about the quietness of his faith, how it was rarely spoken about by him and how he didnít even really attend church regularly, as some presidents are known to do. George W. Bush is a man of great faith and in our modern day-and-age he speaks out boldly about what that means to him. He is from a generation willing to accept the "born again" terminology of Christians today. Ronald Reagan was born in 1911. When he was eleven years old he expressed to his mother that he wanted to become a "Practical Believer" I think it was. Iím not sure of the exact terminology as I write this, but I do remember the word "Practical" being used. When young Ronnie made that decision, he was then baptized in his church. It was a decision he made and one then moved forward with and lived out the rest of his life. The key words being, "lived out the rest of his life." He lived his faith in God, it was who he was, it was what motivated him and caused him to pray for his attackers, love his enemies and lead our country in a time that was very difficult. He may have been quiet about his faith, but it shouted out in the way he lived his life.

If we are not able to "figure out" Ronald Reagan, perhaps we should turn to the Scriptures and look at the character of God. It should baffle our minds how our God could love us so much that He would send His only Son to die for us while we were still sinners...not after we cleaned up our act, not with a promise from us that we would, but while we were still sinners.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my
thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

Perhaps Ronald Reagan was a man after Godís own heart. Perhaps he was a modern-day man like David of the Old Testament? Perhaps he was a man who was put here in this time and in this place so that this generation could see first hand what a life looks like when Godís love shines through it? Is that so far-fetched? Is that putting Reagan above a position of humanness? Or is it seeing God more clearly, and all that is possible in our lives, even in all the yuck of this world, when God is kept in focus each day? Even when that person has the most pressure-filled, controversial and highly exposed position in all of the land! There was rarely a time when he lapsed in his "good" behavior. Instead, he seemed to have a constant, gentle, loving, and ever-joyful demeanor in all situations. In all the footage I have watched, only once did I see him angry and raising his voice. That is not to say there were not other times, the man WAS human, but his ways were so far above the "norm" that we are accustomed to, we can hardly comprehend them.

Once again, let me take him back down off that pedestal that seems to be building here, and keep focused on his humanness. This is not to glorify Ronald Reagan, this is to Glorify our Father Who can work through such an individual to such an extent that our minds can barely grab hold of the extreme amount of love and kindness he had for others.

Ronald has been described as a man who needed no one but Nancy. Even their children felt that to a certain extent, but they knew they were loved. That was never in question. Nancy said he was a man without an ego...I chuckled inside when I heard that. I wondered, would he have stopped to ask for directions if he got lost?

Nancy admits that she protected Ronnie sometimes when it seemed to her that someone was taking advantage of his goodness. She seemed to indicate that he was not always aware when someone was not being all that they should be. It was certainly not because he was unintelligent, but maybe he was just way too good-natured. Once again, it brings to mind 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: (NIV)

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 perseveres.
Love never fails.

It seems President Reagan was not a man who saw the bad in people. He was not a man who expected them to treat him in a bad way. What he gave to others, he probably expected in return and was not quick to see that that might not be so. He trusted, he hoped, and he persevered in hard times. Nancy, she was his look-out. Perhaps she was the person God put in this good manís life to be his earthly companion because he needed her love and her whole-hearted devotion without question when the rest of the world most times needed to be questioned. It seemed to everyone who knew them, that it was a match made in heaven...God only knows.

They say time will tell once a President leaves office of all that his presidency meant to this country. There have been some years now to reflect on the presidency of Ronald Reagan and it goes without saying that some great things were accomplished during his time in office, but after watching not only about his presidency, but about his life, I think there is much more that this manís story will tell us.

It reminds me of the line in the movie, "As Good As It Gets" where Jack Nicholsonís character says, "You make me want to be a better man." Tell me if Iím wrong here, but when I watched President George W. Bush give his talk at the funeral of Ronald Reagan, I got the sense that he wanted to be a better man because of the time he has had to reflect and be interviewed and answer questions about a President he greatly admired. I think it made him think more deeply about his own walk with God and his own legacy as President of the United States.

I hope it has made us all think about who we are and about what kind of legacy we will leave. Just how brightly will Godís light shine from the lives we lived and reflect in the way we treated those around us? Maybe we donít want everyone to be able to say they knew us to the core, they knew exactly what made us tick...maybe we want to leave them wondering where we found our strength and our joy and our peace because it wasnít our character they saw, but Godís character in us.

As this day finishes and I again tune in to watch Ronald Reaganís sunset service in California, I canít imagine what more we could learn of this manís life, what more we could see of his wife Nancy and of his children that would enlighten us to just who he was as a man. As I look one last time at his flag-draped coffin, I know that Ronald Wilson Reagan is not contained inside that box, just as our son, Philip, was not contained inside the light-blue coffin we saw lowered into the ground over two years ago now. What those boxes contain are only the remains of a life lived well. They only hold the remains of one we love. What was most special about them was their spirit, and the spirit of Ronald Reagan has departed this earth for a place where I truly believe he will be understood better than ever before...Heaven. I believe he was welcomed Home as "Practical Believer" who lived out his faith before not only the Nation, but the World and his Father in Heaven.

Was Ronald Reagan put on this earth, at this particular time for a reason? I believe he was, as we all are. We will not all be President, many of us will never be known outside of the towns we live in and we will not hold any kind of office, but that does not diminish our reason for being here. Our reason for being here is to love God and to love one another...thatís it! Thatís what Ronald Reagan did so well and thatís why we canít put our finger on just who he was as a man. He was not just any man, he was a man filled with Godís love. God directed his steps, God gave him wisdom and guidance and a gentle nature. God gave him his quick wit and God even gave him his wife Nancy. God gives us everything we will ever need when we give our whole hearts to God. I believe Ronald Reagan did that to the best of his ability.

Good-bye Mr. President, your life has inspired many and you make us all want to be better people. May our desire be to leave them all shaking their heads, wondering just who we were. If they canít figure us out, maybe theyíll be drawn to the Word of God for answers because "...the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness." (James 3:17-18 NLT)

Friday night...

As the sun set in the west, Ronald Wilson Reagan was remembered by his children. Not as a President, but as a father. His oldest son Michael said his father had given him the greatest gift a dad could give a son...he had taught him about his faith. Who could have known that such an important meeting had taken place on Air Force One? It was never on the news, it didnít make the headlines, but it reassured a young man that when this day came, when the sun set over the west and a flag-draped coffin stood behind him on the platform at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, he would see his dad again. He left his son with that hope, the hope that all believers have on a difficult day such as this.

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they
put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the
same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your
good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16

We did learn one more thing about you this evening Mr. President, the most important thing...you passed your great faith on to your children.
Well done...well done!