What Others Say

We use your column in our Saturday Spiritual Life section, so I always read it. The new one about Rafael is just totally cool. Again, great column. It touched me enough to email you.
- Greg Jaklewicz - Editorial Page Editor, Abilene News Reporter

Monday, July 24, 2017

Senior Citizen

Someone, somewhere said, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!”

At age 79, Thomas Jefferson lamented to his friend John Adams, “It is at most but the life of a cabbage, surely not worth a wish. when all our faculties have left, or are leaving us, one by one, sight, hearing, memory, every avenue of pleasing sensation is closed, and debility and mal-aise left in their places, when the friends of our youth are all gone, and a generation is risen around us whom we know not,” (Monticello, June 1, 1822). 

I am now a “senior citizen.” How did this happen?  I never intended to become one. I spent my life busy about making a living, raising kids, pursuing career goals, trying to serve God and others and, suddenly, I wake up and I am a “senior citizen.”

This was never my goal.  I never looked down the corridors of time and wished that someday I could become a senior citizen. It happened without my knowing.  I was assigned the title without my consent.

Part of it is my own fault.  I have sold out my pride for a few cents and asked for a “senior coffee,” a “senior menu,” or a “senior discount.”  Do I have no shame?

The first indicator was a card in the mail from AARP.  I did not ask for this.  It just came, about the time I turned 50.  And now I receive advertisements from the Neptune Society encouraging me to think about cremation. I don’t want to think about having my body burned, stuffed in a jar or  thrown to the wind.  I want to think about living.

 Little things remind me I am aging.  When I enter my birth year for a plane ticket on the computer, I have to page down four times to find the year.  When I check out at Walmart, the cashier calls me “Sweetie.”  When I go to the barber the floor is littered with white hair clippings.

We discipline ourselves in our youth in order to live a longer life. But, when we live long, we discover that it leads to “old age.”  What is this?  I want my youth back.  I want to run and feel the exhilaration of running; to get out of bed without aching, to fly up the stairs two at a time, and to run down them without a thought and without a limp.  I want to eat whatever I want without gaining weight.

But, if we are successful and live long lives, old age will come.

The Bible affirms God’s love for us as we age.

“You who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb;
even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

In every stage of life we pass through troubled times, challenges, setbacks, fears and anxieties. Pursuing an education, finding a job, getting married, having children, making ends meet, disappointments, layoffs, injury and disease. Memory tends to erase the difficulties of the past, but the journey has never been easy. 


In every stage of life, including the last one, God is sufficient and His love never ends.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Reunion

 It is that time of year when families gather for the annual reunion: aunts, uncles and cousins, some twice removed.  They find familiar faces that frame the memories of their youth and tell stories passed down through the years, embellished with each cycle of telling.  “Do you remember when …?”  Laughter fills the air before the story can be told. Everyone in the circle has either heard it or told it countless times. 

Others hang back along the fringe, looking puzzled, trying to figure out who these people are and how they might be related to them. These are the young with their boyfriends and girlfriends and the new “in-laws.”  Sometimes they seek each other out to share a common amnesia regarding the inside jokes and familiar references to names not present.

The reunion has a strange mix of sorrow and laughter. Significant people are missing.  Voices that once echoed at the tables of past reunions are silent.  The same people who gather for the reunion gathered and wept at the funerals for those who no longer come.  Their memories are like the deep colors that form the background for vivid paintings or the rich bass tones of the cello and the French horn that enrich the orchestra.  These sorrows are offset by giggling children who appear like bright colors that dance on the canvass, whose laughter picks up future melodies like the flute.

We somehow have confidence that Heaven is about reunions. We all look forward to seeing those we loved and those who loved us when we get to Heaven. Somehow, this earthly reunion helps us look forward to that day.  We don’t know exactly how it will happen or how God could manage all the intertwined family relationships when we get to Heaven, but, somehow, family reunions portend the Heavenly event.  When I was a child we sang, “Will the circle be unbroken?”  It was a way to ask the question together and look forward to something more perfect that God has planned for us.


Jesus did not shy away from using this image to help us look forward to a more perfect day.  He said, “In my Father’s House are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I go and prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also.”  The book of Hebrews uses this metaphor to spur us on to better living: “Seeing that we are surrounded by so great a host of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the originator and the finisher of the race.”  It seems to me that God takes pleasure in our reunions, just as He takes pleasure in reuniting Himself with us through His Son.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

When Suicide Strikes

Four years ago Rick Warren’s son, Matthew ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot.  Rick Warren is author of one of the bestselling books of all time, The Purpose Driven Life, with more than twenty-million copies sold world-wide.  Rick and his wife, Kay, have been open about their grief and the long struggle with their son’s mental illness that led up to his suicide. Warren’s church described Matthew as “an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many. Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Virtually every family has been touched, directly or indirectly, by suicide and its painful aftermath. According to the World Health Organization, almost one million people die of suicide world-wide each year, a rate of 16 per 100,000, up 60% over the last 45 years. It is among the top three causes of death for those ages 15-44 and the leading cause of death for those ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die by suicide each year than by AIDS, birth defects, heart disease, cancer and influenza combined. Placed in historic context, we may well be experiencing a global suicide epidemic.

Researches have dubbed Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Colorado the suicide belt because of their high rates of suicide. Suicide’s social stigma coupled with fear, embarrassment, grief and spiritual misunderstanding may contribute to our inability to address helpful solutions. But, increasingly, churches are seeking ways to help people who wrestle with this deadly emotional illness.

 Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, lost his 32-year-old daughter to suicide in 2009. His book, Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide, was published in 2013.  He writes, “Did you ever wonder where God was when you sat up at night asking questions that had no solvable answers? Did you ever doubt His love and goodness? Did you feel abandoned by Him? Deserted? Alone?

“I understand if you did. I understand if you still do. Suicide is not a situation that lends itself to casual conversations with God. It hurts. And more than that, it seems as though He could have prevented it all if He'd wanted to. At those times when the loss seems the most impossible to bear, at times when you can't believe what your child is doing or has done to themselves, it can feel like God is nowhere this side of heaven to offer all that comfort His Word so confidently promises.

“But I can tell you by the testimony of Scripture, He is strong enough to weather our hot accusations against Him, patient enough to withstand our desire to seek distance from Him (though such a thing is, of course, theologically impossible), and compassionate enough to feel emotion at the deep, hollow anguish that can often stand between us and our tottering faith.”


Whenever we feel despair, we can trust that there is yet hope and a future. The Psalmist writes, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. ... Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me. The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night.” (Psalm 42).  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Spiritual Myopia

Myopia. I learned the word when I was 10 years old. The optometrist checked my eyes and told my parents that I was nearsighted. I didn’t know I was nearsighted. I thought everyone saw everything the way I saw it. Trees were green blobs, the landscape blurred into blotches of pink, green, brown and blue, much like a Monet painting.  My first pair of glasses changed my world. I discovered leaves on trees. I could see people’s faces inside their cars. I could read the blackboard from the back of the room.

I had wondered how other kids could catch and hit a baseball. I never saw the ball until it was on top of me. I could see some vague arm motion in the distance and then, wham! The ball was in my face.  As a teenager I became the cleanup hitter on the All Stars, and could catch a fly ball over my shoulder.  I heard the coach say, “I always knew if he could see it he could catch it.”

Myopia is not only physical. It is spiritual. We are all born spiritually nearsighted. Like my childhood years, we think we see things clearly, but we don’t. We are unaware of what we don’t see. The only person who ever had perfect vision was Jesus. That is why He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but shall  have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

When the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the enemy at Dothan, the servant was gripped with fear. But Elisha told him, “Do not fear. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” When God opened the servant’s eyes, he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6) When we are gripped with fear and despair we need God to open our eyes so we can see clearly. “If God be for us,” Paul said, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Jesus once met a blind man in the village of Bethsaida. Jesus laid His hands upon him and asked him, “Do you see anything?” The man responded, “I see people; they look like trees walking around. Once more,” the Bible says, “Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened … and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-25) Many of us are like that blind man. We may be religious. We may attend church. But we need a “second touch” from God so that we can see clearly.

We are born with spiritual nearsightedness so that we only see things close up, our own self interests. As a result we are often filled with fear, doubt, anger, resentment and despair. When we turn from our sins and place our faith in Christ, He is able to touch us so that we see clearly and walk in the light. Only Christ can cure the spiritual myopia that afflicts us from birth and enable us to see the world as God sees it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Conscious Universe?

Recently NBC News published an article asking the question, “Is the Universe Conscious?” The article referred to a paper by Gregory Matloff, a physicist at the New York City College of Technology. Matloff is not alone.  Others who support the idea that the universe is conscious of itself include David Chalmers, a New York University philosopher and cognitive scientist, neuroscientist Chistof Koch of the Allen Institute for Brain Science and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose.

According to the article,  three decades ago Penrose theorized that “consciousness is rooted in the statistical rules of quantum physics as they apply in the microscopic spaces between neurons in the brain.”  Bernard Haisch, a German physicist, took this further in 2006, proposing that “quantum fields that permeate all of empty space produce and transmit consciousness.”  According to Koch, “ubiquitous consciousness is strongly tied to scientists’ current understanding of the neurological origins of the mind.”

If all of this confuses you, we are in the same boat.  I am not a scientist and doubt that I comprehend the ideas behind scientific debate regarding “consciousness of the universe.”

But I know that I am conscious. I know that family and friends are conscious of me and that we shape each other’s thoughts and actions.  I know that animals are conscious.  This must be the reason so many people love their dogs, cats and horses.  My dog knows me, recognizes me, and interacts with me. He expresses happiness, sadness, loneliness and love.  All of which, I assume, scientists could reduce to a Pavlovian theory.  But it seems real to me.

The Bible is clear that there is a greater consciousness in the universe that gives rise to our own.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your 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 58:8-9).

God is conscious of our every thought.  He knows every word before it is formed by our tongue. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

God’s greater consciousness is expressed not in logic but in love. “But God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8). “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10). It is this love that binds the entire universe together:  (Colossians 1:15-20).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Disciples in Disguise

A number of years ago I attended a conference at the Harley Davidson factory in Kansas City.  A number of pastors and church leaders assembled at the factory to spend a few days touring the facilities and visiting with the administrators.  Some of us were there because we had a lifelong love of motorcycles.  Most of us were there because we wanted to learn how the Harley Davidson leaders had transformed a nearly extinct motorcycle company into a model of success at the turn of the century.

The thing I remember most about the conference was a statement made by a young executive who spoke to the group.  He had just returned from Europe where he helped introduce the Buell sport bike.  He stepped to the microphone and introduced himself.  He said, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley Davidson Executive.” 

Since that time I have discovered disciples disguised in many walks of life:  teachers, doctors, mechanics, students, professors, engineers, nurses, administrators, athletes, grocery clerks, farmers, businessmen, soldiers, homemakers, … the list is almost endless. 

Many people consider themselves to be Christians.  Far fewer think of themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian usually means we give assent to the Christian religion, that we are comfortable with occasionally attending church, and we know we are not Muslim, Buddhist or some other religion.  To be a disciple, however, raises the expectations to a whole new level.

Interestingly, Jesus never used the term Christian.  In fact the term is only found three times in the Bible, and twice it is used by non-believers.  Jesus chose to speak about disciples. He said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). “If you continue in my word then you are truly disciples of mine. (John 8:31). “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).


So, what does a twenty-first century disciple look like?  They look a lot like those we find in the first century.  Those who followed Jesus then were fishermen, tax collectors, business men and business women, mothers and fathers. Today, they look like you and me.  They come from every nation and every race.  They can be found among the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the famous and obscure. Wherever you find fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who have received God’s grace and love others as God has love them, you will find disciples in disguise. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

There's Nothing Like Being A Father

On Father’s Day 1999, Phil Mickelson and Payne Stewart stood on the final hole of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.   Mickelson had a 25 foot birdie putt to tie for the lead. Stewart’s ball was 15 feet from the cup for par.

Mickelson’s birdie putt came to rest 6 inches from the hole.  Payne Stewart stood over his 15 foot putt with a w.w.j.d. (“What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet on his wrist, a gift from his son a few months earlier.  The putt broke to the right and dropped into the center of the cup making Stewart the 1999 US Open champion.

Mickelson had left his wife, Amy, at home expecting the birth of their daughter at any moment in order to compete.  He carried a pager in case she went into labor. Winner of 13 PGA tour events, he had never won a major. 

Payne Stewart joined the PGA tour a decade before, a charismatic playboy wearing knickers and a tam-o-shanter  hat. He burst on the scene with a swagger, chewing bubble gum, caustic and arrogant.  In 1989 he refused to shake hands with Tom Kite when he lost in a playoff for the Tour Championship.  But something happened to Payne Stewart in the mid-90s.  His golf game suffered. His best friend, Paul Azinger, struggled with cancer. When Stewart  came to faith in Jesus Christ through the influence of his children, his conduct and values changed.

One of the most memorable photos in sports history is the image of Payne Stewart taking Phil Mickelson’s face in his hands and looking intently into his eyes trying to encourage his competitor in defeat.  Knowing what Mickelson was going through at home, Stewart said. “Phil, there’s nothing like being a father!”  Amanda Mickelson was born the following day.

Four months later Payne Stewart was killed when his private jet crashed in a field near Mina, SD.  More than 3,000 people attended his funeral at First Baptist Church, Orlando, FL.  His wife, Tracey, spoke. ''When I met Payne, I thought he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life,'' she said. ''After 18 years of marriage, he was still the most beautiful man I had ever seen, not because of the way he looked on the outside anymore, but because of what he was on the inside.'' Everyone at the funeral received a w.w.j.d. bracelet.

Phil Mickelson went on to win 42 events on the PGA tour including 5 majors: 3 Masters, the PGA and the British Open.  He has never won the US Open.  This week, with age cutting short his chances of winning the one event that has eluded him, Mickelson chose to miss the US Open in order to attend his daughter’s graduation at Pacific Ridge High School in Carlsbad, CA.  Amanda, now 18 and the school president, will deliver the valedictorian address.  Mickelson said it was not a hard decision. 

"It's a tournament that I want to win the most," Mickelson said. "The only way to win is if you play and have a chance. But this is one of those moments where you look back on life and you just don't want to miss it. I'll be really glad that I was there and present."

In the words of Payne Stewart, “There is nothing like being a father!”  w.w.j.d.