What Others Say

I have read your columns many times, have saved the ones that "speak" to me and reread them....... I just want to thank you for your inspired writing, illuminating faith and the day to day that focuses on God and His Son....
- Carol C.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Thy Kingdom Come

Last week Dyen returned from her home in Indonesia where she spent four months as an intern with the United Nations working with refugees.  Next month she will graduate with a Master’s degree in Social Work from Baylor University.   She is a remarkable Christian, always bubbling with life, energy and happiness.  She spent the night with us upon her arrival.  The next morning we visited over breakfast on our patio.

I usually spend the early mornings in devotion and prayer in my back yard.  The sun slowly rises, flickering through the sycamore leaves until it clears the trees and floods the yard with light.  Most of my prayers are for personal things, the day-to-day things most of us are concerned about.  I pray for friends who are battling cancer, a friend recovering from an accident and for my four-year-old granddaughter who fell and broke her pinky finger.  I give thanks to God for his answers, continually amazed at how often He seems to listen and how often He seems to answer.

But this morning we visited with Dyen.

I asked her about her work with the refugees.  Her face grew clouded with sadness.  She told us of a child who watched her mother die, a boy who returned home to find his house destroyed and his family dead, a little girl who lifted her skirt to show the bullet wounds she had suffered.  None of the children in the refugee camp have parents. Most of the girls have been raped.

She told how she had struggled as a Christian to counsel these, trying to give hope and encouragement to innocent children victimized by war, oppression, vengeance and violence. I suddenly felt my prayer life to be rather small.  Dyen’s burdened voice brought us close to the cruel stories easily dismissed as so much “news.” 

I was reminded of what Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  What would that look like?  I suppose it would look like Jesus’ response to John when John asked if He was the Messiah.  Jesus said, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7:22).

 I am beginning to pray more for these distant places and these victims.  I am praying more for our own nation.  I am praying that God will turn the tide of violence, anger, hatred, resentment, prejudice and vengeance.  The world seems increasingly dangerous.  If His Kingdom were to come on earth, all of this would be swept away, replaced with kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness and love.

We cannot control national events. But we can make a difference in the place where we are. Like Dyen seeking to comfort refugees in Indonesia. We can bring the Kingdom near where we live and wherever we go, like Jesus did when He walked through the hills of Galilee.


It is okay to pray for our immediate personal concerns.  After all, Jesus taught us to ask for “daily bread.”  But too often my prayers stop there.  They need to go beyond to the Kingdom issues that reside in the heart of God. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Love and Marriage

I like to watch young people falling in love and getting married.  I like to watch them strolling arm and arm, pushing a stroller, spreading a blanket on the beach and listening to the waves.  Love is always new.  For generations it has remained the fresh and vibrant theme of novels, movies, music and paintings.

We started hosting a Bible study in our home for International students almost four years ago.  Mulenga showed up alone.  His wife was unable to join him from Zambia because she did not have a visa. We prayed. The visa was granted. She came, and a year later their son was born on my birthday.

Xiuli arrived from China, a beautiful young woman in her thirties.  A year later she met Willis who joined us.  They were married in the Chinese Church on January 2, 2016.  In September she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

Balkeum came from South Korea.  She met James a devout believer from my home town in Corsicana, TX who earned a Masters degree in South Korea. A few months later she showed up at the Bible study with an engagement ring on her finger. They were married in April 2016.  Last week I held their daughter, Charlotte, for the first time.

My son had to brand cattle on a Wyoming round-up to ask permission to marry his rodeo-father-in-law’s daughter.  His palms were sweating when he popped the question, not from the round up, but from nerves. 

My son-in-law went fishing with me to ask permission to marry my daughter.  His mind wasn’t on fishing. He then coaxed a friend into flying them in a private plane to a romantic spot where he gave her the ring.

It was almost fifty years ago that I met the girl who would become my wife. The days of our courtship and engagement are as vivid in my memory as they were when we lived them. The mystery and the miracle have not faded.  A few years ago, I wrote a poem, trying to capture the feeling:

He holds the eternal quarter-carat stone in his hand
Buried in his trembling palm,
Pausing to expose its fire sided sight to the light
Where it will be seen,
set in the golden circle of the ring
To be worn on her hand,
 half a century and a day
From this day when he first feels her finger
Slender and smooth, adorned with a diamond
Timidly given in hope of heaven.

There are many love stories in the Bible:  Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz, Joseph and Mary.  The story never grows old.  Few things are as beautiful as a young man and a young woman in love, giving birth to their children.  


“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:27-28.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Life's Most Important Question

I was twenty-nine years old when my father died of multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow.  He was fifty-three.  Only hours before his death, I spoke with him.  Our eyes met during that final visit, the same eye contact we had shared from my birth, though his eyes were growing gray.  I held his hand as he drew his last breath, and then, he was gone.  His body lay lifeless and unresponsive.

The morticians took his body from the hospital room where our family had waited through the night.  We visited the funeral home and chose a casket.  Shortly afterward other family and friends joined us to view his body lying still and quiet, dressed in his familiar suit, his hair combed.  I stood by the casket and stared at his face.  It was obvious another hand had combed his hair and another hand had tied his tie.  He seemed to be sleeping.

I imagined him drawing breath. Imagined him opening his eyes so that they sparkled once again, his lips parting in the familiar grin, the dimples reappearing in his cheeks.  But he didn’t move. We buried his body in the cemetery 41 years ago surrounded by friends who came to comfort us, many of whom are now buried nearby. 

I asked myself the question Job asked centuries ago, the question every man and woman must ultimately ask when they stand where I stood on that day, “If a man die, shall he live again?”(Job 14:14).

Job’s struggle with the question was not about theology or philosophy.  His struggle was like mine.  It was personal.  It is the struggle we all must face sooner or later when those whom we love die. 

After having pondered the question, Job foresaw the Easter event we celebrate this weekend.  He wrote, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

The world will ponder Job’s question this weekend when we gather in Christian churches around the world. When Jesus was raised from the dead, the answer to life’s most important question became clear.  Luke wrote, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3).  Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

Monday, April 3, 2017

Consider the Birds

The birds are the first to wake each morning. I have listened in the predawn dark for the first twitter from the trees.  Like sentinels they watch for the first faint glow in the east, and, long before the sun rises, they start their sunrise celebration.  Sometimes I think they are surprised each morning when a new day dawns.  Their excitement seems to echo Zecharias’ emotions when he announced the birth of Jesus saying, “The sunrise from on high will visit us!” (Luke 1:78).

I especially like the cardinal.  I have watched these brilliant red birds perched high on bare limbs in the Minnesota winter, their ricochet notes shattering the snow-covered stillness on a subzero morning.  I have listened to the same unmistakable notes and spotted their bright red coat amid thick green oaks in the sweltering heat of a Texas summer.

The mockingbird is always dressed in his gray tuxedo for some special occasion, white tipped wings flashing when he flies like formal cuffs in full dress.  Unlike the cardinal, the mockingbird never ventures into northern winters.  He much prefers Texas summers where he can perch on his stage in the live oaks and sing his stolen songs.

I remember waking, when I was a boy, to the rasp of blue jays at play in the pecan trees outside my window.  They rasp now as they did then, and every time I hear them I am carried back across the decades to my youth.

When we lived in Minnesota, I watched chickadees on winter afternoons fluttering in the snow on our windowsill searching for seed.   And I often sat on our deck in Rochester, MN and listening to squadrons of Canadian geese flying low overhead, so low that I could hear the wind in their wings.

Jesus apparently watched the birds and took pleasure in them.  He referred to them to help us understand God’s love and care for us.  He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Again, He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”


Sometimes we find ourselves thrown into difficult circumstances.  Like the scorching Texas heat or the frigid Minnesota winter, every element seems to be set against us and we have difficulty seeing our way forward.  At such times we are prone to wonder if God has forgotten us.  We are prone to discouragement, doubt and worry about our future.  Failing health, unemployment, broken promises and broken relationships conspire to steal away our confidence, our hope and our faith.  At such times we need to consider the birds. We are not forgotten.  He who cares for the birds of the air will doubtless care for us.  We are of great worth to God.   Listen to the birds and take heed to their song. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bread of Heaven

Bread has become a delicacy.  When my wife sends me to the store for a loaf of bread I stand dumbfounded in front of the shelves.  Which bread to buy?  There’s white bread, whole wheat bread, gluten free 7 grain bread, garlic bread, rye bread, and a dozen others.  Then there are bagels: plain bagels, blueberry bagels and everything bagels.  And what about donuts?  I think donuts are included in the bread family.  Okay, I choose donuts.

From ancient times “bread” has represented the staple of life.  Even today, in all its various forms, bread is still the most widely consumed food in the world.

Scholars have found evidence that people started baking bread 30,000 years ago. But the first breads were “flat.”  They lacked leaven. It is the leaven that makes it rise, light and fluffy and sweet. Historians believe that the Egyptians were the first to develop leavened bread, somewhere around 1000 years before the great pyramids were built.  The most famous “unleavened” bread was the Passover bread, cooked up in a hurry by the Israelites to escape Egypt. 

In 1917 Otto Rohwedder invented the first bread-slicing machine. He set the standard for all other inventors who searched for an idea that would be“better than sliced bread.”  In spite of Rohwedder's invention, there is nothing quite like pulling apart a fresh steaming loaf of bread and adding butter.  

Jesus referred to bread to help us understand who He was.  “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35).  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word ...”  Through Jesus Christ God nourishes our soul and satisfies our innermost emotional, personal and spiritual needs, a nourishment more important than the nourishment of our bodies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He reminded us that we need nourishment each and every day.  Just as God provides for us daily the nourishment that is necessary for our bodies He will provide for us each and every day the nourishment that is necessary to replenish our soul. 

When Moses led Israel in the wilderness, God provided bread every morning so that “he who gathered much had no excess and he who gathered little had no lack.”(Exodus 16:18).  They could not store and keep the bread. It had to be eaten when God gave it.


Like the Israelites in the wilderness, our relationship with God is daily and constant.  We cannot put our faith in a religious box to be taken out occasionally.  Just as our bodies need bread in order to live, our souls need a daily and constant conversation with God, the bread and substance of life. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Heaven and hell

I read “The Shack” several years ago, shortly after it was published.  It was an instant best seller, and I was anxious to read it. 

I wasn’t prepared for the way it affected me.  Toward the end of the book, I was overwhelmed by the powerful message of God’s love and forgiveness.  I was at home alone, reading in my recliner, my dog sitting at my feet.  Without warning, the power of God’s love and forgiveness overwhelmed me.  I started weeping, then sobbing.  I am not sure what it touched within me, but it was a powerful emotional moment.  My dog jumped into my lap to comfort me.

So, I was anxious to see the movie. 

The movie followed the book even though cinema always falls short of imagination.  Nevertheless I enjoyed revisiting the portrayal of God as infinitely loving and forgiving. Although the real message of The Shack, it seems to me, is not about God, but about us.  We need to forgive one another.  We need to stop judging one another. Jesus clearly taught these truths in Luke 6.  

But, as we left the theater, I felt disturbed.  Something seemed to be missing.

Like most people, I like to think that everyone goes to Heaven, that there is no judgement and there is no hell.  This seems to be the message of The Shack: “It doesn’t matter how you live, what you believe, or what you do, God forgives all his children and we all go to heaven.”

But this isn’t the message of the Bible. No one warned us more clearly about judgement and hell than Jesus.

Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived selfishly and lavishly and a poor man named Lazarus who suffered abject poverty.  When they died the rich and selfish man suffered hell while the poor man went to heaven. Suffering in torment the rich man begged that Lazarus might be permitted to bring him a sip of water to cool his tongue in his agony.  “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:25-26).

We cannot excuse our actions based on how we may have been mistreated by others. We are all ultimately accountable for what we do and what we say.  “It is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgement.” (Hebrews 9:27).

We have all sinned. We have all done things we should not have done. We have judged others and we have been angry without cause. We have spoken words that will condemn us when we stand before God.  This is why God stepped into the gap and sent His Son, not only to teach us a better way, but to pay the penalty for our sins. “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).


God has made provision for everyone to go to Heaven.  But we must accept His offer of forgiveness.  “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”  (Hebrews 2:3).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

O My Soul

Most of our conversation, it seems, revolves around our bodies and money: how we look, how to stay healthy, how to remain young, how to become wealthy.

Concern for our bodies drives a large segment of our economy.  United States health care expense alone passed the $3.2 trillion mark in 2015.  Most of this, of course, is corrective surgery and treatment, but elective cosmetic surgery totals more than thirteen billion dollars.  This includes liposuction, breast augmentation and hair removal. The fitness industry with its books, talk-shows and exercise facilities is enormous. In 2014 fitness center revenues in the U.S. exceeded $24 billion.

I can understand this.  Since my body is the only one I have, I want to take care of it.  Of course, I guess there are limits to which I want to do this. I love Blue Bell ice cream and I like to sit in the stands snacking on a hot dog while I watch healthier people compete on the field. 

I can also understand our interest in money.  We all have to pay our bills, and most of us have ambitions to own our home, drive a nicer car, send our kids to college and enjoy vacations. 
                                    
But what happened to the concept of the soul?  We seldom hear the word mentioned, including our churches.  Jesus taught that, as important as our bodies may be, nothing is as important as our soul. 
Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  

Horatio G. Spafford,  a wealthy lawyer in the 1860s seemed to live a charmed life enjoying both health and wealth. But, in 1870, he lost his son to Scarlet Fever.  The next year he lost most of his holdings in the Great Chicago Fire. Suffering financial loss, he used most of his resources to feed the hungry, house the homeless and comfort the grief stricken. When his wife’s health began to fail, he decided to move his family to Europe. Delayed by his commitments at work, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. On November 22, 1873, their ship sank at sea. Only his wife survived.  Returning to the spot where the ship sank, Horatio Spafford stood looking over the swelling seas where his daughters drowned and wrote these words:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


Horatio and Anna Spafford spent the rest of their lives caring for homeless children, the poor and oppressed.


We are more than our bodies and more than our money.  Our “soul” is who we really are whether rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Our soul is shaped by acts of kindness, honesty, virtue, generosity and faith. The destiny of every nation and every generation is ultimately determined by the soul of its people.