What Others Say

I am 96, live alone and appreciate every day.
Enjoy your column. God is good
Joe S.
League City, TX

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Veterans Day

Today we celebrate Veterans Day, a day to honor those who serve our country.  At precisely 11 AM a wreath was laid at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. To previous generations, it was Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the peace treaty between the Allies and Germany at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.  In 1954, following World War II, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day.

In 1918 it signified the end of the Great War, the “War To End All Wars.” My grandfather, L.E. Tinsley was deployed to France to fight during that war.  When I was a child he often referred to it as “the forgotten war.”  After WW II, no one seemed to remember the sacrifices of WW I.  More than 8.5 million were killed, including over 100,000 Americans.

It is a unique date to me for another reason. One hundred years ago, November 11, 1911, William James Waters Harper and Fleta Hamilton stood before a Baptist minister near Hillsboro, Texas and repeated their vows.  They had six children.  One of those children, their fourth child, was my mother.

Will Harper and his bride were “share croppers.”  They never owned any land and had few possessions. They rented the black land that they farmed and prayed that it would rain.  When it did, they harvested bumper crops of corn, maize and cotton and bought the things they needed and a few things they wanted.  When it didn’t, they went in debt and stretched what little they had as far as it would go.  They survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, raised a family and lived to see a man standing on the moon, (though they always doubted whether it was true).  They started their marriage farming with mules and depending on a rickety windmill to water their stock. My grandmother wrote a weekly column for the Itasca newspaper and served as mid-wife to the migrant workers who worked in their fields.

No other social unit transcends the centuries more than the family. No families are perfect, starting with Adam and Eve who suffered the tragic conflict between their sons. But the family has remained the essential unit for nurture, instruction, admonition and comfort. The Psalmist writes, “But He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction, and makes his families like a flock.” (Ps 107:41).

Those who knew and remember Will and Fleta Harper remember them for their faith. Christ was at the center of their home and local preachers were often at their table. Most of their children and many of their descendents have lived faithful lives in service to Christ.  They bequeathed to their family the great legacy the Apostle Paul cited when addressing his young student, Timothy: “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:5).

11-11 reminds us of those who have gone before: the veterans who gave their lives for our freedoms and the little known men and women like my grandparents who bequeathed to us the treasures of family and faith.

Monday, November 5, 2018

What Are You Waiting For?

When I married my wife we repeated the customary wedding vows promising to cherish one another “in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth.” Perhaps we should have added an additional line. Something like. “I promise to wait for you.” Since we married we have waited for each other. We have waited at airports, train stations and bus stops. I have waited on her to put on last minute make-up and she has waited on me to put down my book or close my computer. When she gave birth to our children, I waited. When I had a motorcycle accident, she waited. In too many ways to enumerate or remember, we have waited on each other. If we added it all up it would be a huge chunk of our lives. And now, it makes me happy. She is worth waiting for.

When we had children, we waited. We waited for their birth. We waited for them when they got out of school. We waited late at night in dark parking lots for their buses to return. We waited for them in the car, the motor running, the clock ticking, knowing we were late to church. We stayed up waiting for them to come home from their first dates. And we waited for them to come home from college.

Waiting is a part of life. We choose to wait for those we love.

That is why God waits for us, because He loves us. Isaiah says, “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you for the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.” (Isa 34:18). In Jeremiah, God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5). God has waited an eternity for you.

We often miss God because we haven’t learned to wait on Him. We blast through busy schedules making quick decisions without taking time to connect with God’s better plan for us. The Psalmist said, “My soul waits in silence for God only. From Him is my salvation.” (Ps. 62:1) “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Ps. 40:1) The prophet Micah said, “But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord. I will wait for the God of my salvation.” (Micah 7:7)

Waiting on God involves prayer and finding time to be quiet before Him. Sometimes it includes fasting. But waiting isn’t always about sitting still with our arms folded.

Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened.” The secret is to remain open to God’s direction and to listen to His voice while we constantly seek and knock. David wrote, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” (Ps. 27:13-14 NASB).

Monday, October 29, 2018

Time and Eternity

Time.  It is the great mystery.  Past, present and future.  The past is beyond our grasp, as is the future.  We sense that somewhere out there the past exists as we lived it.  We are the same people that we were when we engaged in past circumstances, solved past problems, pursued past goals.  We can remember it, but we cannot relive it. Likewise, we believe that somewhere out there lies our future.  We can envision it, but we cannot yet experience it, and, we have learned that our envisioned future might turn out far different than we imagine. Only the present moment belongs to us.

Our modern measurement of time with nano-second precision has given us the illusion that we can control time and make it our servant, that we can stretch it and compress it. We pant through frenzied days of frantic activity trying to conquer the clock.  In almost every sport, whether football, basketball, soccer or track, we are competing against time, trying to manage the clock.  The team that can best utilize fractions of a second to put points on the board, emerges the winner.   Golf and tennis, competitions passed down to us from an era before the clock ruled, have been adjusted to fit our time-conscious culture by putting players “on the clock” to speed up play while adding sudden death play offs and tie breakers. Baseball remains “timeless” as reflected by the 18 inning World Series game four.
Centuries ago, without mechanical and electronic precision, men measured their lives by more natural cycles: seasons for planting, growing and harvesting; the moon, waxing and waning; days measured by the shifting shadows of the rising and setting sun.  Trans-ocean travel was dependent upon the wind and the currents in the sea. Time was less precise.  Time moved more slowly.  In some ways, life was lived closer to eternity.

When we touch God we reach beyond the boundaries of time into a realm that transcends our own. .  We are drawn into the “eternal.”  Even the word “eternal” is inadequate to convey the reality and ultimate dimensions of God.  The New Testament writers opted for the term eis aionion, literally “into the age” or “beyond the age.”  It could also be translated “beyond time.”  Everywhere we read the word “eternal” in the New Testament, it is the translation for this mysterious phrase, eis aionion.   God draws us beyond time into a dimension that cannot be measured by our mortal comprehension.

When God revealed Himself to Moses, he gave his name as “I AM,” a clear reference to His timeless being. When Jesus explained his identity, He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus said that those who believe in Him “will never die.”  Faith changes the game.  It suspends the clock, stretches the moment into eternity and compresses eternity into the moment.  When we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ, he lifts us out of our myopic mortal existence and pours eternity into our soul. He invites us to live eis aionion, into the age.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

When He Comes

Beyond confessions of faith, hymns and sermons, the Second Coming of Christ seems to make little difference.  We pursue our educations, work at our careers, raise our families, worry about retirement and prepare for the inevitable: death and taxes. In the meantime, the lives of believers and non-believers often show little marked difference other than church attendance.

But what if He comes today? What if He comes tomorrow? What if He came yesterday? No, I am not suggesting you missed the “rapture.” But, He did, in fact, come yesterday and He will, in fact, come today. Jesus comes to us everyday if we are looking for Him. He comes in small, imperceptible and unexpected ways. He comes in the interruptions that beg for our attention and threaten to derail our pre-planned agendas.

This is exactly what Jesus taught His disciples before His ascension into Heaven. Jesus said when He returns, “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-46)

Once He came to me in the person of a young Hispanic employee at Wal-Mart who needed words of encouragement. He came in the form of a Chinese woman named Chiu who was fishing on a pier with her mentally handicapped daughter. Another time He came in the form of a teenage unwed mother who had given birth to a son who died a few days later. He came in the form of Sultan, Abdelmassa, Saud and Moath, Muslim students recently arrived from Kuwait. How many times have I missed Him and failed to recognize Him? I don't know. He comes every day in many ways and forms that we are likely to miss if we are too focused on our own agendas.

If we live our lives alert and ready to receive Him each and every day in the small encounters with the “least of these” we will become salt and light, as Jesus described it. In the process, we will be ready to receive Him in that day, when He appears like lightning from the east to west. We might even hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 

Monday, October 15, 2018

First Man

Last weekend we slipped into one of the premier showings of First Man, the movie portraying Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.  The movie takes us on board the X-15, Gemini and Apollo.  We feel that we are there, experiencing the sheer terror of it all, pushing the limits of technology to land a man on the moon. The movie is gripping, as is the history.

My wife and I married on December 21, 1968, the day Apollo 8 launched to carry the first men to orbit the moon.  They reached the moon 3 days later. On Christmas Eve, just before they disappeared to the other side of the moon and lost radio contact with the earth, Frank Borman and his crew read the Genesis account of creation.  (Genesis 1:1-10).  In the distance the earth appeared as a fragile planet on the moon’s horizon.

Six and ½ months later we sat in front of our black and white TV and watched Neil Armstrong leap from the last rung of the lunar lander’s ladder to take “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

James Irwin served as the commander and pilot for the lunar lander on Apollo 15.  He became the 8th astronaut to step foot on the moon.  After his return Irwin founded the High Flight Foundation as a non-denominational evangelical organization based in Colorado Springs.  He said, “Some people make light of it and ask how can a technical person, an astronaut, believe in the Bible.  I guess I also was a skeptic in my early days, but I have come to believe what the Bible says as being true.” 

The last man to walk on the moon was Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972.  Cernan described his experience. “I felt the world was just too beautiful to have happened by accident.  There has to be something bigger than you and bigger than me. … There has to be a Creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern ourselves.”

We don’t know much about Neil Armstrong’s faith.  Like every other aspect of his life, as portrayed in the movie, he was closely guarded.  But Thomas Friedman includes an account about Neil Armstrong’s visit to Jerusalem that is telling, if true.  According to Friedman, when Armstrong visited the Temple in Jerusalem he asked his guide if these were the very steps where Jesus stepped.  When his guide confirmed they were, Armstrong reportedly said, “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these steps than I was stepping on the moon.” 

If Friedman’s account in his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem,  is true, Armstrong’s words reflect the greater miracle: not that man stepped foot on the moon, but that God stepped foot on earth in the person of His Son.   As John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14).

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sunrise Season

I sat in the pre-dawn dark watching the gathering glow in the east.  A bird broke the stillness with a solitary song. Soon others joined him in the gathering light until they filled the air with a chorus of calls. It was as if the birds had waited through the long hours of darkness wondering if the sun would return, and, once it did, they were delirious with joy.

We sometimes feel that way, when the darkness closes in on us.  We sometimes wonder, as the birds seem to do, if the dawn of light and goodness will ever again dispel the darkness of violence and pain.

I have watched the sun rise over the snow-covered hills of Minnesota, painting the landscape with crimson and gold until ice-covered limbs sparkle like diamonds.  I have watched the sun stain the eastern horizon with purple and gray before penetrating the breaking clouds with shafts of gold. I have watched the day dawn over the mountains of Montana and Switzerland. I have seen it transform the sea into pink and purple waves in Hawaii.  I watched the sunrise on the first day of the new millennium, bursting above the horizon as a brilliant ball of light in a clear blue sky.

The sunrise is the perfect symbol for God’s intervention into our world.

When John the Baptist was born his father understood the importance of his son’s birth. For nine months Zechariah had reflected on the angel’s announcement to him that he would have a son in his old age. He had been mute throughout his wife’s pregnancy. But when John was born, his tongue was loosed and he burst into praise. He said, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79).

In every generation, those who have faith have seen the sunrise of God. Darkness cannot conquer it. Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoffer saw it during the dark days of Hitler’s holocaust. Louis Zamparini discovered it after surviving the Japanese POW camps. Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall bore witness to it during the massacre at Columbine. The Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania gave testimony to it after their daughters were gunned down in a one-room school. Countless thousands have borne witness that light that refuses to be extinguished.

This is what John meant when he wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:4-14).

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Respecting Women

Our nation was deeply moved last week as Christine Blasey Ford told her story before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Her sense of terror and vulnerability were palpable.  Milliions, both men and women, were moved to tears. She represented a symbol for women everywhere who feel powerless, helpless and, often, afraid. In every culture, in every time and place, this seems to be true. Perhaps there are exceptions, but they are rare.

Jesus rose above customs and traditions to demonstrate the worth and value of women.

When Jesus came to the well in Samaria, he remained alone while his disciples went into the nearby village searching for provisions.  A single woman approached.  She came at an odd hour, when other women would not be present. She was taken aback to find a man at the well.  Refusing to make eye contact, she hoped to avoid any interaction with this Jewish stranger.  She intended to fill her bucket quickly and be on her way. 

But Jesus would not let the moment pass.  He asked her for water.  She was shocked. “You, a Jew, would ask water from me, a Samaritan woman?”  Jesus engaged her more deeply.  This thoroughly confused the woman who challenged him with the Samaritan’s tradition of worshipping at Gerazim rather than Jerusalem.  Again His response stunned her.  He did not argue the point.  He did not put her down.  He said, “I tell you a time is coming when true worshippers will worship God neither in Jerusalem nor Gerazim but they will worship in spirit and in truth.”  He offered her living water from which she would never thirst.

When the disciples appeared they were shocked.  None of them dared say anything but their body language and the look in their eye betrayed their thoughts.  It was unheard of that a Jewish man would be found conversing with a Samaritan woman, especially alone.  (John 4).

Later, another woman was dragged to Jesus because she had been caught in the act of adultery.  Her accusers stood glaring, stones gripped in their hands, waiting for Jesus to condemn the woman. Instead, he bent over and wrote in the sand.   Whatever he wrote convicted all of her accusers.  The men who were ready to stone the woman were overcome with guilt.  One-by-one they dropped their stones and slowly drift away.  Then, taking her face in his hands and looking intently into her eyes he forgave her.  “Where are your accusers?”  He asked. She responded, “There are none.”  Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way and sin no more.”  (John 8).

Following His crucifixion Jesus chose to show Himself alive first to the women and only later to the men. They carried the news to the eleven who were huddled in a secret room.  The men dismissed the women’s report as idle gossip.  Only later, when Jesus appeared among them did they realize the truth of the women’s report the He was, indeed, risen.

The Apostle summed up the Scriptural position on gender when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:28).