What Others Say

Thank you!!! Your article in today’s paper was the perfect description of how we should perceive our Lord.
C. Davidson

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dealing with Guilt

The Minnesota humorist, Garrison Keillor, once observed that people do bad, horrible, dirty, rotten and despicable things, then, instead of repenting, they just go into treatment.  “Whatever happened to guilt?” he lamented. “Guilt, is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Keillor’s tongue in cheek appraisal of guilt belies the truth.  While there may be a few socio-paths who feel no remorse for their actions and show no capacity for guilt, most of us know the feelings of guilt only too well.

Religious leaders sometimes revert to guilt as the trump card to keep church members and parishioners in line.  Parents use it with children.  Siblings, co-workers and even friends occasionally rely on it to get their way. When husbands and wives are unable to settle a heated argument, one or the other often reverts to guilt’s lethal weapon by recalling past offenses that were supposedly forgiven and forgotten.

In its best moments, guilt can protect and guide us, much like the pain that teaches us to avoid a hot stove or sharp objects. When we respond to guilt with confession and repentance, we can move forward to live a better life on a higher plane.

But guilt can be destructive and debilitating.

Sometimes we feel guilt over clearly remembered wrongs we have done. At other times we may feel guilty and not know why.  We wake up with a feeling of unworthiness and shame with no specific deed to identify as the source. Our feelings of guilt are irrational, leaving us at a loss to identify the source or the solution.  Guilt can lock us in its prison and shackle us so that we feel helpless.  It robs us of energy and steals our joy.  Guilt can leave us smoldering in anger or suffocating in depression. 

The good news is that Jesus came to set us free from guilt. 

When confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery, he dismissed those who condemned her and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11).

To the paralytic whose friends tore off the roof to get their friend to Jesus, he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” When he sensed the rising resentments among the Jewish leaders, He said, “’So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God.”  (Mark 2:1-12).

Paul wrote, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2). And John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

We can live our lives free of guilt and self-recrimination. As John says, “ We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19-20).

An interesting thing happens when God removes our guilt, and we know it. Not only can we live with greater joy and freedom, we no longer feel compelled to heap guilt upon others. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

There's Something About That Name

When my daughter was little, I rocked her to sleep every night and sang the same song:  Jesus, There Is Something About That Name.  One line in song says, “Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away, but there is something about that name.  My daughter is now grown and the mother of three. Sometimes she sings that same song to my grandchildren. 

My wife and I just returned from Israel, a trip we chose to launch our 50th year of marriage. We spent several days in Jerusalem, walking through the Garden of Gethsemane, looking on the Holy City from the Mount of Olives, visiting the Pool of Siloam and the Western Wall.  We sat on the Southern steps to the temple and walked the Via Dolorosa. 

Everywhere we went we were shoulder to shoulder with tourists from all over the world, tourists who had come to walk where Jesus walked.  We met a young man from New Zealand, another from Colombia, entire groups from Indonesia, China and Korea. They came from Africa, South America and Europe.  They were Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Non-denominational.  They came from everywhere.  Tour buses lined up on the streets of the city, in spite of the political tensions reported in the news. They came because “there is something about that Name.”

We visited the Trans-Jordan site, just above the Dead Sea, the most likely place where Jesus was baptized by John.  A barbed wire fence runs down the middle of the Jordan River separating Israel from Jordan.  Armed guards are visible.  On the other side of the river, beyond the barbed-wire fence, a group of Orthodox believers were baptizing, joyfully and with passion. Separated by politics and boundaries, we could not speak to them or touch them, but, like us, they were drawn to that site because Jesus was there.

In Jerusalem most of the actual places where Jesus walked are buried, beneath many layers.  The temple of His day, built by Herod, was destroyed in 70 AD.  Only the supporting walls remained, including the western wall where hundreds gather to pray every day.

In the 2nd century the Roman Emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city with a temple to Jupiter. After 325, Emperor Constantine rebuilt the city as a Christian center. Islamic rulers conquered the city in 638, the Crusaders in 1099. It was conquered by Saladin in 1187. Its walls were destroyed in 1219 then repaired in 1243. It was taken over by the Ottoman Empire in 1517.  Jerusalem has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.

When Neil Armstrong visited Israel following his landing on the Moon, he walked up the steps to the Temple entrance.  He asked his guide, archeologist Meir Ben Dov, if these were the same steps Jesus walked on.  Ben Dov confirmed that they were. “I have to tell you,” Armstrong said, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.”  

The very stones of the city, with the numerous archeological digs, bear witness to history.  Kings and kingdoms have come and gone. But the name of Jesus remains.  2000 years after Jesus first walked the streets of Jerusalem, His name continues to transform people of every language, culture and nation who trust in Him.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year 2018 - When God Comes Near

Celtic Christianity has a term to refer to those moments when the separation between this world and heaven becomes so minimal that we sense the presence of God. They call these “thin places.” They are the places where love and compassion reign. Where forgiveness overcomes resentment. Where selfishness is swallowed up in sacrifice. Where prejudice surrenders to acceptance. Where the violent flame is quenched and people live in peace. They are the times when our soul is overwhelmed with awe and we worship God.

The news usually focuses on “thick places” where our world is farthest from God. For some strange reason people gravitate to the sick stories of murder, corruption, abuse, crime and war. But God gives us moments when He comes near, moments when we sense the fragrance of His presence and we hear the whisper of His voice.

Sometimes we sense a “thin place” when we stand before God’s creation and marvel at its majesty, beauty, complexity and balance. Sometimes we feel it in cathedrals and churches or informal and intimate gatherings with other believers. Sometimes the thin places appear in everyday life. Often, when they do, they are unexpected.

I am writing this column in Jerusalem on New Year’s Day, 2018.  I have visited Nazareth, stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, visited Capernaum, Magdala and Beth Saida where He healed the sick and raised the dead. This morning I stood on the Mount of Olives and looked across the Kidron Valley to the city of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead.

When Jesus came, the reign of God broke through upon the earth so that we were able to see, in a brilliant flash, what God’s Kingdom really looks like. This is what John meant when he said, “That was the true light, which, coming into the world enlightens every man … we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Wherever Jesus went he created a thin place.

When He sent his followers out, Jesus taught them to live and speak in such a way that people would know that they had come into a “thin place.” “Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:8).

As followers of Jesus our task this new year is to help create the thin places. We do so by living in such a way that the reign of God rules in our hearts, controlling our speech, our actions and our decisions. We are to create “thin places” wherever we work or study, among our co-workers, fellow students, family, friends and even our enemies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” He was teaching us to pray that we might become instruments for the “thin places” where God’s presence can be seen on the earth.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas Message: God Knows You and Loves You!

With all the gift giving of the past week, we have welcomed some new names into our homes: Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and Google. The computers want to talk to me.  They want to recognize my voice. They want to know where I am at all times, to track my browsing and shopping history on the web, maybe elsewhere. The computers even want my finger print and they are asking for my mug shot.

It reminds me of Hal in 2001. What are they up to? I remember when George Orwell’s 1984 was science fiction.  Now it is ancient history.  Big brother is here, and has been here for a while.
I am not sure I want to be known that well. Where does all this information go? 

But then, Jesus says the very hairs of my head are numbered.  This once seemed hard to believe. How could God possibly know such intimate information about every individual on the face of the earth? How many people are there?  8 billion?

Eight billion seemed like an astronomical number.  But then, our understanding of numbers changed.  The first time I heard of a “giga” anything was in Back To The Future, the 1985 movie in which Doc and Marty leaped through time with a few gigawatts supplied to their DeLorean. But, we blew right by gigabytes into terabytes and petabytes.  We aren’t familiar with exa, zetta and yotta yet.  But they are out there.

A few billion is nothing in our information age. If such information capacity is possible for men with the aid of PCs and laptops, how much more is it possible with God?

The Bible says I have always been known.  God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  God knew me before I was conceived. God knew you before you came into existence.

God always knows where I am, what I am doing, what I am thinking.  “You know [when I sit down and [when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:2-3).  

Here is a great mystery.  God doesn’t just know about me, like some cosmic computer, He knows me. The Apostle wrote, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

And here is a greater mystery:  not only does God know me better than I know myself.  He loves me.  This is a cosmic leap.  “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3).   “God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

Technology, economics and politics cannot deliver us.  God alone is our deliverance and our hope.

On this Christmas and New Year, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Christmas Tribute

A bright light went out in Waco, Texas this past Saturday, December 16, when Ann Roznovsky drew her last breath.  Waco set aside “Ann Roznovsky Day” in 1996 when she carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Waco.  A career journalist, she was the face of the Waco Tribune for over 50 years. Her achievements and accolades are too numerous to list in this brief column.

Three years ago Ann adopted my column. I guess she adopted me. When she learned I write my column for free, she signed on as my “proof reader” at the same pay grade.  I don’t think she missed a week sending me corrections, comments, affirmation and encouragement.  You will probably find a misplaced comma or two in this week’s column because the “Comma Queen” wasn’t there to catch them.

Over the years our correspondence became a conversation. During the last year she talked about her battle with cancer. In spite of her pain, she always encouraged my writing. As so many other friends, I grew to love her.

A constant encourager, she included this in her response when I wrote a column on “Encouragement.”

“I find in this finish-up stage of cancer that we DO indeed need encouragement DAILY!  And giving it to others is fun for us, too.  There is a checkout woman at Target that I make a point to use whenever she is at work.  She seems lonely and sad. I purposely start up a friendly conversation about good things, even if it is just sunshine or “an August day that is cooler than 100” or something.  It seems to brighten her day.  I began bringing her our coupons as often as I could find her working. It is such fun to see how such a small thing has her beaming by the time I check out.  It makes me happy, too!  I find myself smiling broadly as I walk to my car.”

Many of us will miss Ann’s encouragement. I am grieved to lose her.

News of Ann’s death reminds me that Jesus’ birth is more than a holiday.  His birth includes our grief.  Many families will gather this Christmas Day with an empty place at the table and an empty space in their hearts.   Such pain and loss can overwhelm us, especially when everyone else seems to be singing and laughing. While many celebrate Christmas lights some will struggle through days of darkness. To these God gave His promise: “The Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” (Luke 1:78-79).

The full story of Jesus’ birth embraces both the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow.  Whether we are filled with celebration and happiness or thrown into heartache and despair, God is sufficient.  He has been there. He knows our joy and our sorrow, and He has given His Son that we might know Him.  Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the prophet Simeon told Mary, “A sword shall pierce your own soul.” (Luke 2:35).  Thirty-three years later Mary watched Him die for our sins on the cross. Luke says she “pondered all these things in her heart.”

May we ponder these things, too, on this Christmas Day, on “the day after” and throughout the year, that we might know Him and embrace His love in every circumstance. That we might be a source of encouragement and hope to those around us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jesus Birth: The Mystery and the Majesty

Last week astronomers discovered a massive black hole with a total mass greater than 800 million suns.  Scientists estimate the black hole is over 13 billion light years away and formed just 690 million years after the origin of the universe.  Such dimensions of time, space and mass boggle the mind.

These dimensions give us a clue to the majesty of Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul tried to capture that majesty with these words: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

Our understanding of God and Jesus are too small, too limited. We think in simple terms of time and space, beginning and end.  But, like the universe, He is more.

That is why, when Moses met God in the desert and asked His name, God answered, “I Am That I Am.”
And that is the reason Jesus spoke of Himself in the same terms.  Jesus said,  “Before Abraham was, I Am.” These are perhaps the most profound words ever uttered.  They change everything.  All our concepts about existence and time. About who we are and who God is. About the meaning of life.

The religious leaders of the first century failed to recognize Jesus because they were conditioned to think in linear terms, past and present, a coming King. Like them we miss Him as well when we think in such terms.  He is more than we imagine. He is past, present and future.

John attempted to capture His mystery in more symbolic language: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. … The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.” (John 1:1-5,14).

We have limited our understanding of Jesus Christ to a mere mortal man who was born, who lived and died at a particular time in history. While He was born in Bethlehem, lived in Galilee and was crucified under Pontus Pilate outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, He was far more than anyone understood.  We have to chip away all the religious brick and mortar of 2,000 years, all the plaster and paint.  We must look beyond the musty pages of theology and church history to discover the miracle and the mystery of that moment in time when all that is eternal entered into our narrow frame of understanding, calling to us from beyond, calling us to be more than we ever imagined, to be better than we believed we could be, to link our lives with the eternal, to enter, literally, eis aionos, “into the age.”

When Jesus was born, God touched the earth. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Our Continuing Sexual Crisis

Today Show co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kolb fought back tears last week when they announced their colleague, Matt Lauer had been fired by NBC following sexual harassment charges.   Lauer, one of the most beloved and trusted journalists on television for the past 20 years, joined a long list of celebrities, politicians and CEOs brought down by sexual misconduct charges.  Garrison Keillor joined him on that list later the same day when Minnesota Public Radio terminated his contract.

We are left reeling.  Who can we trust?

The seemingly endless stream of trusted celebrities who have confessed sorrow and shame over their sexual misconduct reminds us that sin is pervasive throughout the human race. When we add to these charges daily news reports of corruption, lying, deceit, greed, hatred, prejudice, bigotry, sex trafficking, terrorism, violence, theft, and an out-of-control opioid epidemic, we are confronted with the undeniable fact that we live in an “evil and adulterous generation,” the words Jesus used to describe the world in which He was born.

I suppose that some past generations were better than our own, and others worse.  I hope and pray that the generations to come will be better.  But we cannot fool ourselves any longer.  We are a sinful people.

We have tried to ignore the fact.  We have tried to convince ourselves that we are good.  That crime, corruption and sexual misconduct is an aberration, something that can be cured with medication and counseling.  But the Bible has always recognized the truth of our human condition.

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

All of this can lead us to a better understanding of the season we celebrate.  It was because of our sinful condition that God sent His Son into the world.  Only when we know our exceeding sinfulness can we comprehend the mystery of Christmas.  

When the Angels announced His birth they said, “Today in the City of David there has been born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  When John introduced Him to his followers, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The Apostle Paul confessed, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15).

For this reason God sent His Son into the world, so that “He who knew no sin might become sin for us.” This Christmas, confronted with our sins, perhaps we can hear the angel’s announcement in a more profound way, “She shall bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)