What Others Say

I look forward to your Reflections to make me smile, laugh, remember and reflect on God’s grace and mercy as I move throughout my day. - Aliya G.

Monday, September 26, 2016

If

It is one of the tiniest words:  two letters, one syllable.  But it is filled with enormous consequence and limitless potential. “If.” 

Rudyard Kipling caught the limitless potential of “if” in his poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you
 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
  Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
  And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: ...

You probably know the rest of the poem.  Most of us memorized it in school. 

We are at one of those “if” moments in our nation as we consider the election of a President for the next four years.  The racial prejudice and unrest spilling into our streets challenge us with “if.”

James A. Michener commented on the power of this little word in his classic novel, Centennial.  He wrote, “If is a word of infinite intellectual significance, for it indicates actions not yet completed but with the possibility of alternate outcomes.”

We face “if” moments every day of our life.  Last week I met a stranger at a Brat Fest in Estes Park, Colorado.  We struck up a conversation about faith.  He told me his father died when he was 15 and he spent many years mad at God.  He wasted his life with drugs, alcohol and sex until 2003 when he gave his life to Christ.  Faith set him free from his addictions.

The word “if” implies we are no longer prisoners to previous patterns.  We have options. Jesus said, “If the son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

Every day we measure the consequences of “if.”   If a certain thing happens, then “this” will occur.  But, if something else takes place, then “that” will occur.  If I choose this path or this action, then “this” will be my destination and the result.  A thousand times in the smallest moments, we measure the consequence of “if.”  And, occasionally, we are faced with choices that will determine our destiny.  

The Bible challenges us with this tiny but powerful word: 

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  (2 Chronicles, 7:14)


“But if you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.  For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Eli

Today I held Eli for the first time.  Eli is my grandson, born September 16 to our daughter Allison and son-in-law Noah.  A Harvest Moon baby!

I have experienced the birth of my three children.  It took five years for our second son to be born, and eight more years before our daughter.

I have witnessed the birth of five grandchildren before Eli.  With each one the miracle and mystery becomes more astounding. How does this happen? From a few microscopic cells, from the union of a man and a woman who find each other, in nine short months, a human being is born.   

As I watched my daughter cradling her newborn son, I thought about her birth. She was born the year I turned 40. My wife was 37.  We had two sons, ages thirteen and eight.  We had not expected any more children.  On our first visit to the doctor, he asked if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy. 

We sat dumbfounded by his question.  We looked at each other for a moment and said, “No.”  This was not a pregnancy. This was our child.  We wanted this child.  We would do nothing to risk her full and complete health. We changed doctors.  

Eight months later, Allison was born, as perfect a daughter a father could ever wish to hold.  I rocked her to sleep every night and sang songs to her about Jesus until she finally told me she thought she was too old to be rocked any more. Those were treasured moments when I celebrated God’s gift of our daughter. Moments when I often reflected on the doctor’s question.

Years later I started writing poetry and wrote a poem about the daughter God gave us:

You came into my life unexpected,
unrequested, unplanned and unknown,
bursting the bands of my being,
redefining and rewriting
the schemata of my soul.

You appeared to me:
a formless faded phantom on a screen,
echoes of flesh, a beating heart,
tiny fetal foot reflected in the womb
of your mother.

We wanted you, longed for you,
waited for you, prayed for you,
prepared for you:
a room, built with my own hands,
a yellow crib and mobile,
fluffy toys and dolls,
to greet you when you came ...
home.

And you came,
revealing my arrogant ignorance,
that I could think my world complete;
that I could live if you were not;
that life could be without you;
that life could be again in your going.

You pose the question in my mind,
with your smile, your girlish giggle,
the stroking of your cat,
the tears upon your cheek,
the weight of your slumbering body
at rest in mine, curled up in the arms
of a big blue chair:
“What is there I know not that I have not
and could not live without?”

So, today I held Eli, my daughter’s son, and reflected on God’s miracle, His goodness and His grace. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

What Does God Want?

When I listen to myself pray, and when I listen to others pray, it seems that most of what we say to God revolves around what we want.  Sometimes our lists are heart-rending: healing from a deadly disease, comfort from the loss of someone we love, rescue for a marriage on the rocks.  More often,   they are day-to-day: a passing grade on the exam, strength to get through another day at work, safe travel.  Sometimes they are trivial:  a victory on the football field, our favorite team in the playoffs.  Sometimes the list is long.  Sometimes it is repetitive. But most of our prayers are filled with the things that we want God to do for us.

I wonder, what does God want?

Maybe he wants a great cathedral constructed in His honor, a building that rises out of the concrete and towers over the city with majestic spires and stained glass windows. Perhaps he wants a more modern structure that resembles the headquarters of a major corporation or a shopping mall. Something designed to make a statement to the world that God is important and you better not forget it.

Maybe He wants music. Perhaps God wants classical music like Ode to Joy, or Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, or Handel’s Messiah with its Hallelujah Chorus.  Or, maybe he prefers contemporary music: amplifiers, electric guitars, drums, drums and more drums. Perhaps He wants dancing including African and Native American chants.  Maybe God prefers Blue Grass or Country.  Who knows?  I sometimes wonder what we will sing in Heaven,

Maybe God likes His own sounds: thunder in the heavens, the whisper of wind in the wings of a bird, echoes in a canyon, a babbling brook or the powerful rush of Niagara Falls.

The Bible gives some pretty good clues about what God wants. 

In Isaiah’s day, God made it clear that He was fed up with efforts to impress Him with religious behavior. He said, “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer. … Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:12-18).

When I think about how I feel as a parent, this makes perfect sense.  I am happiest as a parent when my children are together, when I hear them laughing, when they enjoy one another and go out of their way to help each other.  Of course, I want them to love me.  But somehow I feel like they love me best when they are loving each other.

Many people assume that God measures our love for Him by how religious we become.  But John set us straight when he wrote, “One who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  (1 John 4:20).


The bottom line is this:  God wants us to get along with each other.  He wants people to be kind to each other, to do good things and help each other. Jesus said,  “If you love me you will keep my commandments.  … This is my commandment.  That you love one another, just as I have loved you.”  (John 14:15;15:12).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Growing Old

I will soon be 70.  It comes as a bit of a shock.  I never thought about getting old, and I always assumed that people in their 70s were “really old.”  But I might have to reconsider.

I still have three months, so I am trying to resist all those who are pushing me toward my septuagenarian birthday.  Friends and family, it seems, want to remind me that I will soon be 70. But I think I would like to enjoy three more months of being in my 60s.

The candidates for President are my age.  Donald Trump was born the same year I was.  Hillary is only 68.  So, my generation is still making headlines, even if they are the “most unpopular” headlines in presidential history.

But the vultures are starting to circle.  I regularly receive mail from the Neptune Society. They are trying to convince me of a better way to depart this earth. They offer cremation services: “whether you need help for today or want to plan for tomorrow.”  I don’t think I want help dying today, and how do you plan for tomorrow when your ashes are sitting in a jar?   This week I received a letter from the Senior Information Department marked “Important Document Enclosed.” The envelope was stamped with red capital letters: “SECOND NOTICE TIME SENSITIVE.”  So, I opened it. The letter inside offered an insurance policy that would pay for 100% of my funeral expenses. I guess they think this is a very time sensitive subject.

Sometimes the younger generation remind me of my aging condition. They don’t seem to think I can operate a computer, an iPhone or an electronic keypad at the checkout counter.  They start offering instructions without my asking.  They seem to forget that my generation developed the PC, launched the internet and invented the iPhone.  

I tried looking for a Scripture that would encourage me and make me feel better.  I found Psalms 90:10, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years. Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.” There we are again.  The time I am allotted on earth is 70 years and, if I am lucky, I could make 80.  But my mother lived to be 89. So there.  I have lots of time left, even though 20% of my high school graduating class are already deceased.

I like Psalm 37:25, “I once was young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or His seed begging bread.”  I can identify with this statement.  God has been abundantly faithful throughout my life.  He has blessed us with wonderful children and grandchildren who love God and trust Christ. He has filled our lives with young adults from many nations who have adopted us and invited us into their journey.


I remember with gratitude those who were older when I was young. They believed in me and encouraged me. They led me to faith in Christ. I remember their wisdom and their counsel. I miss them.  Hopefully, in my remaining years, God will allow me to do the same for the young who follow. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Labor Day

Next weekend is Labor Day.  The scorching heat of summer has broken. The air is alive with the first hint of fall.  Kids are back in school.  Friday night football is here. NCAA stadiums vibrate with the first games of fall. The Cowboys have renewed hope and the Rangers are leading the league. Frisbees fly in parks while hamburgers sizzle on the grill.  The lakes are still warm enough for skiing.  Fishing is good. It is a great weekend to gather with friends and family and relax.

Underneath all this lies the significance of the day, a time to step back and celebrate the importance of labor.  It is the core of our culture: the value of hard work, perseverance and discipline.  Most of the time we fawn over celebrities.  But on this day, the common laborer takes the stage.

I think of my father, a blue collar worker who started out trimming grass around telephone poles and worked thirty-five years for Bell Telephone before his death at age fifty three.  I always admired his example of honesty, generosity and hard work.  He taught me something about Jesus, who chose to spend most of his adult life working in a simple carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.  Jesus’ life elevated the role of laborers and craftsmen for eternity.

In our current economy many are taking jobs that are not their first choice.  Some who have trained and studied for years to launch a professional career are finding themselves in the position of accepting jobs that differ from their dreams.  It is important that whatever job we find, that we give our best.  The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Alexis de Toqueville visited America in the 1830’s in search of the secret that enabled the young democracy to succeed.  At its root, he discovered what would come to be known as the American work ethic founded upon Christian faith. It was not, he observed, merely hard work that made American Democracy successful.  It was the other values along with it that made work meaningful: honesty, integrity and generosity. 


Many Americans are discovering, after decades dominated by greed and materialism, that the value of labor is never truly measured in monetary return.  The way we choose to invest the labor of our minds, our hands, our hearts and our energy will produce fulfillment when the object is not our own self gratification but the service of others. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).  Paul exhorted us, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Telling the Truth

Now that we are into the Presidential election, several news sources are “fact checking” the candidates.  They use different indicators.  The Washington Post awards “Pinocchios” to rate the truthfulness of candidates’ statements: one, two, three and four Pinnochios with one being mostly true and four being “whoppers.” 

Politifact, a web site that won a Pulitzer Award  for fact checking, rates candidates’ statements as “true,” “mostly true,” “half true,” “mostly false,” and “pants on fire!”  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both earned “pants on fire!” awards from Politifact.   

Most of us don’t need the Washington Post or Politifact to tell us that our politicians are less than truthful.  Perhaps our confidence in politicians’ truthfulness began to erode 42 years ago when Richard Nixon looked into the camera and told us that he was no crook.  Some politicians are more truthful than others, but they all make misleading, half-truth and, sometimes, completely false statements.

This problem with truthfulness is not confined to our politicians.  Our politicians may reflect a problem that permeates our generation.

People lie to one another. Husbands lie to their wives and wives to their husbands. Employers lie to their employees and vice-versa.  Novels, sit-coms and movies often portray the humor, drama, pain and tragedy created by the lies people tell.  “Why tell the truth when a lie will do?”

When truth no longer prevails and we no longer trust one another, the social fabric is shredded. Relationships are destroyed. Telling the lie destroys families, businesses, careers and nations. Honesty is the root of economic, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.  

It is addressed in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16).   Proverbs says, “A false witness will not go unpunished and he who tells lies will not escape. ... What is desirable in a man is his kindness.  It is better to be a poor man than a liar.” (Proverbs 19:5, 22). 

Every individual and every generation must resist the temptation to lie.  King David cried out, “I said in my alarm, all men are liars!” (Psalm 116:11).  Isaiah confessed, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5).

The Bible teaches that there is a better way. “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?  He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend. (Psalm 15:1-3)

Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of  lies.” (John 8:44)  “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31-32).


There can be little wonder that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, men known for their honesty, remain the heroes of American history. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Games

All eyes are focused on Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics where the best athletes of the world compete at the limit of their talent and determination.  Michael Phelps boosted his all time gold medal count to 23, far and away the most by any athlete since the modern Olympic Games commenced in 1896.   Simone Biles was gold in women’s gymnastics and Usain Bolt proved himself the fastest man on earth for the third Olympics in a row.

The Olympic Games date back to 770 BC and were expanded in the first century by Augustus Caesar, the Emperor of record at Jesus’ birth.  Writing to Greeks in the first century, the Apostle Paul drew on Olympic metaphors to help them understand how to live the Christian life: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Christianity is not a spectator religion. We all must run!  In spite of the fact that our churches are arranged so that most of us appear to be sitting in the stands watching a few performers on the stage, the truth is that we must compete in the race. Sunday services are more like team meetings in the locker room to get us ready for the main event that starts on Monday. 

The Academy Award winning movie "Chariots of Fire" depicted the 1924 Olympic competition between Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, the two fastest men of their day.  Abrahams had never lost a race until Eric Liddell beat him in the 100 meter dash by a single step.  Mortified by the loss, he later sat in the empty stands with his fiancĂ©.  She kept trying to encourage him, but he finally snapped at her, “You don’t understand.  If I can’t win, I won’t run.”  Stunned, she paused for a moment then responded with typical feminine insight. “If you don’t run,” she said, “you can’t win!” That is the Apostle’s point.  If we don’t run, we can’t win.  We must all live out our faith in Christ in such a way that we “run to win!”

This requires discipline. Paul continues, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.(1 Cor. 9:25). The athletes we are watching in Rio must exercise great discipline in diet and training. Only by imposing discipline upon their bodies can they compete for the gold. 

Too many Christians think that once they accept Christ by faith and receive the assurance of heaven that they can live however they wish. They are like someone who has been accepted to the Olympics and chooses to train for their event by eating Blue Bell ice cream and watching others compete on TV. They might be at the Olympics, but they won’t win the prize. The Apostle concludes, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:27).