What Others Say

Just a note to thank you for your wonderful weekly columns in the Galveston Paper.
To open a newspaper and see references to God, Scriptures, Kindness, Peace, Loving one another is what our whole world needs now more than ever. -John D. Galveston, Texas

Sunday, September 17, 2017

What Is Prayer?

Prayer is often our last resort, the final step in a hopeless situation.  We refer to it with such phrases as “he doesn’t have a prayer,” or “there is nothing left to do but pray.”  But it is perhaps the most important aspect of our human condition.

We share many attributes with the animal kingdom including instincts for hunger, reproduction and survival. Other animals provide care and nurture for their young. Some construct elaborate shelters whether nests, caves, holes or houses. Many have complex social systems.  But no other creature has the capacity to communicate with the Creator and to pray. Only man is endowed with that gift.

I have never met anyone who complained that they prayed too much. But I have known many who wish they had prayed more.  In our most desperate circumstances and in our finest moments, we cry out to God in prayer.  The greatest gift we can bestow upon another human being is to pray earnestly for them.

Some understand prayer as a psychological exercise merely benefiting the one who prays. But Scripture affirms that there is more at work when we pray than we imagine.

Jesus prayed.  In fact, He rose early in the morning before sunrise and sought solitary places where He could spend time alone in prayer. Occasionally he prayed all night.  He taught us to pray, not as a public display to impress others, but in secret where “your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6).  He taught us to pray constantly with discipline and determination. His prayer life was so powerful that his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. 

Prayer is not a matter of reciting particular words or repeating religious rituals. God looks on the heart.  He hears the person who is convicted of guilt and feels unworthy to lift his eyes to heaven. And God hears those who humbly seek to do His will, “The effective prayer of a righteous man,” the Bible says, “can accomplish much.”  (James 5:16)

The mystery and the miracle of prayer resides not in us, but in the One who created us and founded the vast universe that we have only begun to explore.  We are not cogs in an accidental machine that grinds its way toward extinction. We are created in the image of God and our very nature hungers for His presence.  He has endowed us with personality, intelligence and freedom.  He desires our company. He listens and He invites us to pray.


“Ask,” Jesus said, “and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you [who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”  (Matthew 7:7-11). 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Power of Encouragement

The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard.  Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net. But when the game is played, all things are not equal.  One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t.  The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement.  It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” 

We also know the ravages of discouragement.  Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a deadly downward spiral.  We see it in athletes on the golf course, tennis court. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game. Great athletes have the ability to resist discouragement and retain their focus.  But all of us are vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without. 

The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt.  But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager.  He believes in us.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5).  When a broken hearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life.  (Mark 5:36).  

Heather Herschap was born with cerebral palsy.  She is confined to a wheel chair with limited use of one arm.  I first met her in 2004 after she had completed a college degree in psychology and was working on a Masters in Divinity. 

She says the turning point in her life came when she arrived on campus as a freshman and was alone in the dorm for the first time. Her body became hopelessly stuck between the bed and the wall, and, with her paralysis, she could not work herself free. After hours of crying out for help to no avail she heard a voice, clear and audible, “Don’t give up.”  That experience led her to faith in Christ.

A few year later, aware that her prayers were focused on her own problems, she began to pray for others and God whispered in her ear, “India.”  India became her passion.  Her eyes sparkle, her face lights up and her body stiffens in excitement when she speaks of India. She has been to India three times counseling outcasts like herself who are handicapped, encouraging them and giving them hope.


Every day we need encouragement.  And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school.  Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone.  It might be the most important thing you ever do.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Generations

History is like an expedition, like Lewis and Clark searching for the Northwest Passage.  Each generation helps chart the journey with its twists and turns, and each picks up where the other left off.

Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he drafted the Declaration of Independence with the help of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. 50 years later he and John Adams died on the anniversary of the Fourth.  Their death marked the end of the generation we know as the “founding fathers.” 

I remember as a child when the last veteran of the Civil War died. Albert Woolson was a drummer boy in Company C of the First Minnesota.  He died in 1956.  At present we are witnessing the departure of what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation,” those who lived through World War II.  Five years before I was born my mother was on a picnic with my father when President Roosevelt interrupted their 1940s music to report the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  She died six years ago.  My uncle commanded a tank in the battle of Nuremberg in April 1945.  He died four years ago.

Some of us can recall where we were when John F. Kennedy was shot on the streets of Dallas, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles.  Vietnam and Watergate evoke vivid memories. But the young only know these events as history. Those who are seniors in high school were infants on 9/11/2001.  They have grown up in a post 9-11 world learning about the Twin Towers attack through stories, video and books. One generation passes while another joins the journey.

Every generation is connected to the generations that went before. But, like an expedition, every generation must find its own way, and each generation must find its own faith. A few years ago I reflected on what I wanted to accomplish with my remaining years.  One of those things was to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever imagined.  I am pleased to see that happening in many places.  More people are coming to Christ every day than at any time in history, especially in South America, Africa and Asia.  I am finding many in their twenties and thirties who are passionate about going to the ends of the earth and living transformed lives for Christ.

When God looks on humanity, he sees generations.  Following Noah’s flood, God had us in mind when he said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations.”  Moses’ success depended on how well he encouraged Joshua, the leader of the next generation that would enter the Promised Land. David sang, “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.”  


The world has never been a safe place. Expeditions are dangerous. We face huge obstacles and challenges, but the potential is limitless. As our generations overlap, we have opportunity to build upon the foundations of faith that others have laid and to create a better world for our children, our grandchildren and those who will follow. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Reveals Our Better Angels

The entire nation has been galvanized by the reports of Hurricane Harvey, an unexpected disaster of unprecedented proportions.  The fourth largest city in the United States drowning under an endless deluge of rain that buried neighborhoods, streets and thoroughfares under water. 

But greater than the torrential downpour that drove families to their attics and rooftops was the outpouring of sacrifice by thousands seeking to help.  An entire “navy” of volunteer boats immediately came to the aid of those in greatest danger.  The Galveston Daily News posted phone numbers for owners of flat-bottomed boats to call in order to volunteer.  Boats normally outfitted for fishing in the marshes that surround the island wandered the flooded streets of the greater Houston area searching for stranded neighbors.

Police, Firefighters and others worked around the clock, many of them hampered by the flood waters that threatened their headquarters.  They were not enough.  The greatest aid in the immediate threat were volunteers, often uncoordinated and spontaneous.  Neighbors helping neighbors without regard to race, ethnicity or faith.

On Sunday, the Houston news station KHOU was evacuated due to flooding, but their reporter, Brandi Smith, continued her reporting on site at Beltway 8 and the Hardy toll road.  She saw an 18 wheeler trapped in flood waters on the service road, flagged down a sheriff’s truck and helped rescue the driver.

Raul Njobi, begging for help, shouted to a group of volunteers launching their flat-bottom boat into the flood waters.  His sister was trapped in a Ford Fiesta not far away.  Just before her cell phone died she reported water was seeping into the car. Without hesitation they headed in the direction Mr. Njobi indicated searching for his sister.

 Across the nation Disaster Relief units scrambled to send volunteers to the coastal regions of Texas knowing the recovery will be long term.

In spite of the devastation to the Texas coast, especially the Coastal Bend where Harvey made landfall, there was something hopeful.  In the end it is not the depth of the floodwaters that will define us, but the depth of human kindness.

For months we have been bombarded by reports of terrorism, racism, hatred, anger and violence, (usually perpetrated by a few individuals).  The hurricane that hovered over Houston and sent the swollen creeks, rivers and bayous into record flood levels, brought to the surface the sacrifice that best characterizes our human spirit.

Down deep we remember the lessons Jesus taught about the Good Samaritan: to put ourselves at risk to care for strangers in need, to carry them to safety, to provide food and shelter, to bind up their wounds and to care for their recovery. (Luke 10:30-37).  Perhaps it has taken Hurricane Harvey to remind us what truly makes a nation great:  “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbors as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Monday, August 21, 2017

Lessons from Buddy: God is no respecter of persons

At least once a year I write a column about my dog, Buddy, a tri-color Corgi.  Buddy found me eight years ago.  He had to spend some time wandering the streets as a stray and endure the indignities of animal control and Corgi rescue to do it. But he succeeded.  They called him “Tex.”  But he soon made it clear that his name was “Buddy.” 

When I go for a walk without Buddy, I am invisible. Few people notice me or speak.  But when Buddy takes me for a walk, we are celebrities.  Children stop what they are doing and run to us, asking if they can pet him.  Some adults do the same.

Buddy never seems to meet a stranger.  He doesn’t care what people look like, what color their skin, what kind of tattoos they might have. They can be gay, straight, male, female, old or young, rich or poor, educated or disabled.  He loves them all and they all seem to love him. And they all seem to feel better after they pet him.

It’s a lesson I am still working on, a lesson Buddy is still trying to teach me.  It is a lesson Jesus taught and one that Peter struggled to learn.  Jesus intentionally led his followers through Samaria, a region Jews refused to visit, and introduced them to a woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. He incensed his hometown authorities when he pointed out that God used Elisha to heal a Syrian rather than a Jew.  He embraced lepers who were outcast from their families. He healed the sick, the blind and the lame.  He dined with despised tax collectors. This was not the journey Peter and his companions expected. 

It was only later when the Holy Spirit led him to enter the home of a Roman Centurion that Peter seemed to understand.  Upon entering the home, Peter said, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10).

Last week I stopped to get a haircut. A young woman in her 30s cut my hair. She had piercings in her nose, tongue and chin and tattoos covering her arms. We struck up a conversation. She has three little girls, 11, 7 and 5 who live with her ex-mother-in-law. She miscarried a baby boy. A few years ago, she “came out of the closet.”  I asked her what this meant and she told me she is gay. She said people thought she wanted to abandon her children, but this was not the case. She was simply tired of being depressed and suicidal. She is committed to caring for her children as much as the courts will allow her.  I told her I hoped she found a church that loved her. She said she always loved going to church but she was afraid of being judged.


I think Buddy would love this young mother and she would love him.  I am sure God loves her.  I wonder, after Charlottesville, when we will ever learn the lesson God built into Buddy, the lessons Jesus taught when He was here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Water of Life

Perhaps somewhere out there some extraterrestrials are listening to Jimmy Carter’s greetings and Chuck Berry singing, Johnny Be Good on the recordings launched into space aboard Voyager in 1977. Voyager has left the solar system and is in interstellar space.  Or, maybe someday we will pick up alien radio messages like Jodie Foster in Contact. But, so far, the evidence indicates that life in the universe is precious.  Quite possibly, we are it. Although I have to agree that it makes sense there should be life somewhere out there.  Surely in God’s economy He would not create this vast expanse of universe and only create life on our small pebble.

Scientists are searching for water again.  Not on earth, but in far-flung places in our solar system and the universe.  In their search for life on other planets they know that water is the key.  Where there is water, there could be life. They have ruled out Mars. No water there.  Perhaps once upon a time, but the water is gone, and with it, the prospects of life.  But they have found water on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.  Even though the average temperature, on a good day is 270 degrees below zero. They think there is an entire ocean of water beneath the surface.  How the space probe Cassini can determine this, I have no idea. 

Whenever scientists search for life in the universe they search first for water.  Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA said, “NASA science activities have provided a wave of amazing findings related to water in recent years that inspire us to continue investigating our origins and the fascinating possibilities of other worlds, and life, in the universe.” Water is the essence of life as we know it. Without it, life cannot exist.

Most of us think little about water. We are more focused on beverages that tease our taste and promise a lift.  We take water for granted.  But water is the essential element for life. Most scientists agree that humans can live up to eight weeks without food as long as they have water.  But living without water is another story. Some people could live for a week without water.  In some cases only two or three days.

Jesus knew this when He spoke about water.  He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

As important as water is to the existence of life and to our own physical well-being, there is another element even more important to the life of our soul.  Millions who have access to food, shelter, water and wealth are dying every day for lack of the spiritual water of faith that can nourish their soul. 


“Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you,
…  ‘For I will pour out water on]the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring  and My blessing on your descendants;
  and they will spring up ]among the grass like poplars by streams of water.’

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Intersections

We have all seen the evidence: shattered glass on the pavement, cars with smashed fenders and bent bumpers pulled over to the side of the road, passengers standing around wringing their hands, sometimes in tears, red and blue lights flashing in the night.

State Farm recently released its list of the top 10 most dangerous intersections in the United States.  The most dangerous is in Florida, just north of Miami. Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa, OK each had two intersections on the list.  Frisco, TX, Metairie, LA and Sacramento, CA each had one.  Each year the Federal Highway Administration reports approximately 2.5 million accidents at intersections. 40% of all traffic accidents occur at intersections and almost 1,000 people a year die in these accidents. Intersections are dangerous.

As in driving so in life.  We all must go through intersections that raise the level of risk. They are moments built into life that challenge our best judgement and call on our best resources.  Many families will encounter one of those intersections in the next few weeks:  College.  For the freshman leaving home it can be a dramatic confluence of emotion: excitement, freedom and fear.  You can find them walking among the imposing buildings on campus, sometimes accompanied with anxious parents, sometimes alone, gazing at the pillared buildings wondering how they will find their way.

Parents will return home to suddenly silent houses. Stereos no longer echo from the upstairs bedroom. Meals are no longer gulped down in a rush to get the kids off to school and make the next practice session or performance. Schedules are disturbingly simple.

We encounter other intersections when we choose a career, find a partner for life and give birth to our children.  We encounter them when our preschoolers start first grade, when they reach puberty and struggle to grow up.  Promotions, layoffs, career changes, moves to a new house in a new city, aging and old age.  Life is filled with intersections.

We do best at these moments when we trust in God.  He knows the “traffic patterns.”  He has been there.  He knows the outcome.  He is willing to take us by the hand or “take the wheel” and guide us through to the other side.

He led Abraham to a foreign land he had never seen and multiplied his descendants like the sands of the sea.  He guided Isaac in search of a wife and blessed Jacob in a similar quest. He led Moses through the wilderness. He guided Mary and Joseph to Egypt and back after the birth of Jesus.  In every generation, God has been a comfort and a guide to those who trust Him.


“In your loving kindness you have led the people whom you have redeemed; in your strength you have guided them to your Holy habitation.” (Exodus 15:13).  “For you are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead me and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3).  “And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11).