What Others Say

Mr. Tinsley, thank you for your well-written and insightful article about Luther.
I shared it with my children during family worship. It lifted us up.
Warmly, Kari.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A People Who Sit In Darkness

This week the control of North Korea is expected to pass into the hands of Kim Jong-un, the young son of Kim Jong Il who died last week. He will be the third generation dictator to rule North Korea since it was established in 1948. He inherits a country still officially at war with South Korea.

Since a cease-fire truce was signed in 1953, the two nations have gone in radically different directions. South Korea, pursued democracy and religious freedom. As a result, South Korea has prospered becoming the fourth largest economy and the second largest missions sending country in the world. By contrast, North Korea is the last Communist dynasty. It remains mired in poverty, boasting the largest standing army in the world armed with nuclear weapons. According to Open Doors, Christians in North Korea suffer the most severe persecution of any nation in the world.

The stories behind the history and headlines are personal. I first met Robert about five years ago. He survived the Korean conflict on the streets of Seoul as a child. After the war, he was one of the orphans rescued by Pearl S. Buck and given an education in the United States. He achieved a prosperous and promising career in finance living in Canada, but was battling despondency and contemplating suicide until he met Christ. He is now pastor of a Korean church in the United States. Several years ago he began planting churches in Cuba. He said that he hoped working in Cuba would help him prepare for the day when he would be able to carry the gospel into North Korea.

My good friend Benjamin, also Korean, watched his father killed by North Korean soldiers. For years he harbored hatred toward the North Koreans for what they did to his father, but he found forgiveness through faith in Christ. In recent years he has been helping plant churches in China. Like Robert, he hopes to carry the gospel to North Korea. When asked why he wants to do this, he says, “Jesus told me to love my enemies.”

Last year a young North Korean student told her story to the Lousanne Congress on World Evangelism. Her father was an assistant to Kim Jong Il before coming to faith in Christ. As a result of his faith, he was later imprisoned. She has not heard from him since he was imprisoned in 2006 and suspects he was executed. You can hear and view her testimony by clicking on the image to the right. I have watched the video many times and still find it difficult to watch without weeping.

In these days following our Christmas celebrations, we need to join our Korean brothers and sisters in prayer. Let us pray that God will “shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79; Matthew 4:18).

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Birth

Life itself is a miracle. Hours before my mother died at the age of eighty-nine, she was able to hear the heartbeat of her great granddaughter in my daughter’s womb. Two months later, I sat outside the delivery room at the hospital and heard my grand daughter’s first cry. Sunrise and sunset cannot compare with the mystery and the beauty of birth.

Our greatest efforts at language, music, art and theology fall short of describing the miracle that lies beyond our comprehension. John described it this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,2 14).

The Apostle Paul expressed it with these words: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His son, born of a virgin, born under the law.” (Gal. 4:4). “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:15-16).

Birth and life is not about logic and reason. It is about passion and love, about hopes, dreams, aspirations, struggle, pain, healing and forgiveness. All of these are bound up in the birth of Christ. It is here that we see God’s passion and God’s love. In the life of Jesus God lifted our aspirations and our dreams to their highest potential. When Jesus was born, God embraced our struggles, our weaknesses our sufferings and our sins. In Jesus God made known His character and His nature in terms we can understand. “He that has seen me,” Jesus said, “has seen the Father.”

As miraculous as every birth is to every parent, the birth of Jesus was far more so. The Scriptures are clear that He was born of God, not merely man. He was fully human and fully divine. The Bible says that all the fullness of God was embodied in Him. “For God so loved he world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Music for the Season and the Soul

Everywhere we turn we hear the sounds of Christmas. The little drummer boy drums; the nutcrackers crack; the babe sleeps in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem while the angels herald his coming. How could we celebrate Christmas without music?

The angels could not contain themselves. On a dark meadow outside Bethlehem the heavens were opened and the hills echoed with music human ear had never heard. The angels of heaven joined in a thunderous chorus praising God for His goodness and grace and announced His mysterious gift: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” God is not against us. God is for us. He has extended his hand to us and touched us in the flesh with the flesh of His son. He has healed us and saved us from our sins.

The best acoustic theaters of Greece dim in comparison to the music that echoed on the hills outside Bethlehem. The most extravagant speaker systems of today cannot reproduce it. The greatest composers of history have stretched their talents to capture the emotions and the significance of that moment. They have found their highest inspiration when reflecting upon the birth of Christ.

On August 22, 1741 George Frideric Handel secluded himself in a room in London and started writing an oratorio to celebrate the birth of Christ. Twenty-four days later he emerged with the Messiah. At the end of his original manuscript he wrote the letters “SDG” – Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone the glory.”

Music is an integral expression of faith. Most of the Psalms written by David were written as songs to be sung in worship. The Song of Solomon is a love song between the believer and God likened to a lover. Music is a gift God has given us as human beings to express our longings, our emotions and our faith. No other creature is endowed with this unique gift. It has always surrounded the Christ event.

I expect that Mary and Joseph sang. Early in her pregnancy, Mary burst into song when she met her cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55). I wonder what lullaby she must have sung to the infant in her arms? Music was part of Jesus’ life. The Bible says that after the last supper, Jesus sang with his disciples before going out. Imagine those twelve male voices singing in the upper room. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16).

During this Christmas season, may your spirit be renewed and lifted by music celebrating God’s unspeakable gift.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Decorations

Last weekend the first strings of light were stretched across rooftops, lawns and windows. They punctuated the otherwise dark neighborhood with brilliant flashes of light. And, with each passing day, other houses added their glow.

This weekend we pulled the Christmas boxes from the attic where they have been patiently waiting since they were packed away last January. Candles, candy canes and crocheted snowmen took their places, surrendering center stage to the nativity. The branches of the tree that stands proudly in the window bowed with the weight of memories: cardboard stars that were cut out by chubby little hands long ago, names printed on them with backward letters; ornaments that remind us of vacations where we laughed and played. We hung stockings on the fireplace mantle, annual symbols of expectation. They once held the names of our children. This year, they bear the names of our four grandchildren, reminding us of their sparkling eyes and heart-melting smiles.

A large part of Christmas is preparation, expectation and anticipation. It feels right to me. That is the way God sent his Son, after centuries of preparation, expectation and anticipation.

The prophets foretold His coming centuries before. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scripture points to Him. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

The Bible says that when Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary took the child to Jerusalem where they met some remarkable people who had been waiting a long time for this moment. They met an old man named Simeon who had been waiting for many years for God’s promised Messiah. The Spirit of God had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. When he saw the child, Jesus, he took the baby in his arms and blessed God saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-35).

Mary and Joseph had hardly recovered from Simeon’s amazing declaration before they met Anna, an eighty-four year old widow who had been fasting and praying in the Temple for years waiting for the Messiah. “At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)

I guess that is why I like this time of year with all the decorations. It reminds me of God’s preparation and God’s promise. It reminds me of the One who is worth waiting for! He has come, and He is coming!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent

The turkey has been carved and every morsel of meat stripped from its carcass. We have dined on left over dressing, turkey sandwiches, and I guess we are destined for turkey soup. The Black Friday lines are gone leaving behind horror stories of pepper spray, shootings and muggings along with the happy shoppers who braved the wee-hour crowds and got the good deals. Bleary-eyed workers at Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are beginning to catch up on their sleep. Across America, shoppers are turning to the blue glow of computer screens searching for the best deals on Cyber-Monday.

This weekend, a blast of fall blew copper colored leaves across the yard. Families scrambled outside their houses with giggling children. Mothers gave advice and helped as fathers struggled to untangle strings of lights that would adorn the roof and, in some cases, stretch across the yard. Up and down the street on which we live, rooftops came aglow with red, green, yellow and blue lights. Sunday evening we erected the Christmas tree in our front window. I will have to tinker with the lights to get them all lit, but it is a start. In a matter of hours, the season shifted from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

In some ways, Christmas is a unique American cultural holiday. Over the last two centuries our forefathers developed traditions that define the season: the Christmas tree, Christmas cards decorated with snowmen and snow flocked trees, eggnog, fruitcake, and, again, turkey and dressing. We have added electric lights that twinkle in the night; fairy tales with fanciful themes, Santa and Rudolph; The Grinch who stole Christmas; Miracle on Thirty-fourth Street and It’s A Wonderful Life. We have adopted A Christmas Carol from England and The Nutcracker from Russia. And, on top of all this, we have ratcheted up the commercial impact.

The church I attended yesterday lit their first candle for Advent. It reminded me that this season is not just American. The Advent, of course refers to the “coming” of Christ, the gift of God’s Son to the world. He came in much different circumstances, with none of the traditions we have added. And He came for all nations. As Zechariah predicted, ““Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.” (Zech. 2:11).

Today, there are more Christians in South America, Africa and Asia than there are in the United States and Europe. Many of the trappings and traditions we enjoy at this season are unknown to them. But we share one thing in common, the “Advent” of God’s only begotten Son who has saved us from our sins.

I think I enjoy the American Christmas traditions as much as anyone. But, as the seasons turn, I hope I will not be distracted from concentrating on the single most important event in human history, God’s unspeakable gift in Jesus of Nazareth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever

I took the title of this column from a Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Before you get the wrong idea, I have to explain that I don’t read or watch Martha Stewart, Oprah or Paula Deen, but my wife does. We have these magazines lying around the house and it is difficult to ignore what is on the cover.

So there she was, Martha Stewart, offering a perfect piece of pie while smiling a perfect smile with perfect teeth, wearing a perfect dress with perfect hair, surrounded by a perfect kitchen with an open window that looked out on a perfect garden. Like Oprah and Paula, every wrinkle and excess pound had been photo-shopped away so that she looked decades younger than her actual age. And, over her head hung the words, “Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever.”

Unlike Martha, when we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner we must show up with wrinkles, warts and all. We look our age. The kitchen is a mess with spilled flour on the cabinet and sinks full of dirty dishes to be cleaned up afterward. The food, of course, is great because my wife is a great cook: baked turkey, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, her famous dressing passed down from her mother, green beans, fruit salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, apple and pecan pie, for starters.

But, it occurred to me, when I saw that magazine cover of Martha Stewart, that Thanksgiving isn’t about the food or the perfect picture. Real Thanksgiving is about the heart. It is difficult for a heart that is not thankful every day to be truly thankful on Thanksgiving Day.

Which brings up another concern about this Thanksgiving. A few years ago the retail stores invented black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when one-day discounts lure mobs of hysterical shoppers into their stores before dawn. At first, I didn’t understand black Friday and, except for one occasion for which I repented, I have avoided it. But black Friday has begun to creep. This year, some stores are opening as early as 9 PM on Thanksgiving Day so that shoppers can shop all night. Really. Is this necessary?

The traditional American Thanksgiving was special because there was nothing commercial about it. All the stores were closed. Workers could spend the day with their families. No one had to shop for presents or send cards. All we had to do was enjoy getting together with those we love and be thankful. Even the homeless, the poor and prisoners could sit down to a good dinner. But, if black Friday continues to creep into Thanksgiving Thursday, our thankful memories of gathering around bountiful tables with family and friends might be replaced with frazzled memories of jostling strangers in the check-out line for the best deal.

I am ready to draw the line. I will concede black Friday in hopes it will pump life into our economy. But I hope we will make this Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving, the best ever by being truly thankful with those we love.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11

11-11-11, a unique date that occurs only once every century. Today, approximately fifty-seven thousand couples will tie the knot according to David’s Bridal, the nation’s largest bridal retailer. It is Veterans Day, a day to honor those who have served our country. At precisely 11 AM a wreath will be 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.

It is a unique date to me for another reason. One hundred years ago today, 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. Tomorrow more than fifty of their descendants will gather near Hillsboro to celebrate their one-hundredth anniversary.

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. Fleta wrote a weekly column for the Itasca newspaper and served as mid-wife to the migrant workers who worked in their fields.

When we gather we will celebrate family, five generations of family in one room. Some of us will reflect on the first memories we shared as children. Some of us will introduce ourselves to one another for the first time. But we will all share the bond of family. No other social unit transcends the centuries and culture 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).

We will celebrate faith. 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 descendants 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).

11-11-11 will serve to remind 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 7, 2011

Life with Buddy

A couple years ago we adopted a dog. Well, I guess “I” adopted a dog. Across the years we had pets, mostly mutts and strays that wandered into our lives. They helped us raise our kids. After our kids left home, along with their pets, the house was quiet. I guess it was a little too quiet. I missed having a dog. Like the kids, I had to convince my wife that I would feed him and take care of him. She finally gave in.

We found Buddy, a Corgi rescue who was lost and starving on the streets of Fort Worth. When we first saw him he was skinny and sick, but we instantly liked him. He soon won my wife over and now he is “our” dog, healthy and happy. That was two years ago. Buddy and I have bonded. He goes with me just about everywhere I go. And, along the way, he is teaching me some things.

Buddy is teaching me to trust. Whenever I get in my truck he jumps in and takes his place, ready to go. He doesn’t know where we are going or what we are going to do. But he believes that if I am driving it is okay. I need to be more like that with God. I always want to know where we are going, when we are going to get there and what we are going to do once we arrive. I need to jump in the truck with God and give him control of my life.

Buddy wants to be with me. He doesn’t care if he is at the lake running, splashing and rolling in the mud, sitting in a chair next to me on the patio or in my study lying at my feet. He just wants to be where I am. He even follows me from room to room in the house. I need to spend time with God like that. What made the early disciples different was the fact that they lived with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Buddy follows me. Whenever we go for a walk in an open field I let him run free. But he keeps an eye on me. He has developed a radius of his own, about thirty yards from wherever I am. Within that radius he feels comfortable exploring smells and marking trees. Occasionally he gets out of eyesight. But, when I call his name he comes running. Not real fast, but as fast as he can. After all he is a Corgi. It reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples, “Come, follow me!” “My sheep know my voice.”

And, he is teaching me patience. He will wait on me forever. If I am writing, he lies down, rests his head on his paws, keeps one eye on me and waits. If we are walking and I stop, he sits down with his tongue hanging out and waits. If I go to the store in cool weather, he waits in my truck until I return. Buddy never complains about waiting on me. He never gets in a hurry. Maybe I should be more like that with respect to God and those I love.

Monday, October 31, 2011

When Things Go Clump

My cousin calls it “clumping:” those times when demands upon our life converge in a perfect storm. We face demands from employees, employers, clients and supervisors. We face demands from our family: marriages that need nurture; children who struggle with growth issues from the cradle to college; aging parents with failing health. Unexpected illness strikes us when we least expect it. “Clumping” times steal away our breath and rob us of our energy. Sleep is illusive, and, when it comes is often filled with restless nightmares of unfulfilled obligations.

Even Jesus experienced “clumping." As his fame spread, the demands made upon him multiplied. The Gospels say that he did not even have time to eat. At one point he was so exhausted that a life-threatening storm could not wake him. Thousands pressed in upon him from dawn to dusk seeking help. His own family rejected him. His closest followers disagreed with him. His enemies hounded him.

But in the midst of these demands Jesus always demonstrated a calm confidence and a quiet center. He refused to be hurried or harried. He never snapped back, never became irritable. And, in the end, he changed the world. No life has impacted the world more profoundly than Jesus.

What are the clues from Jesus that can help us when “clumping” strikes?

“Clumping” is temporary. The time when demands and crises seem overwhelming will ultimately pass. Jesus could face the overwhelming demands that fell upon him because he knew it was temporary. Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” Having learned this truth from Jesus, Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”(1 Peter 1:6-7)

Prepare for the “clumping” stages of life before they come. Life will “clump.” Jesus told the story of two men who built their houses, one upon sand and the other upon rock. When the storm came, which is inevitable, the house built on sand collapsed. If we continually practice honesty, goodness, generosity, forgiveness and faith when times are easy, we will be able to overcome when times get tough.

Build quiet space for prayer in the midst of life’s demands. Even though the demands upon Jesus were intense and unrelenting, he always found time to get alone with God. Mark writes, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” (Mark 1:35-36).

Constantly look to God. Perhaps this more than anything else was the secret of Jesus’ success. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Baseball

Okay, I am a baseball fan. I guess it started in Little League when I was ten years old. During the summer, I spent long hot afternoons shagging worn out baseballs wrapped with black electric tape and slugging with cracked bats that were held together by wood screws. On Saturdays, I tuned in to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese for the game of the week.

A few weeks ago I returned to my hometown to play in a softball game with my classmates from ’65. We are all in our mid-sixties, some are already on Medicare. I played first base and the old adrenaline showed up. We even turned a double play, which is not as difficult as it used to be since it takes so long for the runner to reach first. You can drop the ball, kick it and even roll it to first base and have a chance of getting the batter out.

When Josh Hamilton hit thirty-five home-runs in the home-run derby a couple years ago, my mother claimed him as family: “Maybe a long lost cousin,” she said, since her mother’s maiden name was Hamilton. My mother was a baseball fan. She almost never missed a televised Rangers game, even when they were on the west coast and played until 2 AM. When her vision started to fail, she chose to have cataract surgery so she could watch the game. Last year, before she died at 89, she cheered them through their first World Series.

So, I’ve been glued to the World Series this week pulling for the Rangers. I like watching them, not just for the baseball, but for the personal stories. Everyone, I guess, knows Josh Hamilton’s story, a top drafted player who hit the skids due to drugs and alcohol, then, through a faith experience with Christ and his grandmother’s love, made a comeback to major league stardom. In a way, Hamilton represents everyone who struggles with addictions and weaknesses. He says his last relapse started with the thought, “Maybe I can just drink one.” Of course, that is the way our sins always start. He learned something along the way as a follower of Jesus that has made the difference. He immediately confessed it where it needed to be confessed, to his family and to his employers

I like the way Hamilton’s teammates responded. Ian Kinsler said, “We don’t need an apology. That’s his battle. We’re here to be his friend and love him as a teammate.” It sounds a lot like the way Jesus wants His churches to work. I suppose it was the way Peter’ s friends responded when he told them about denying Jesus at the trial.

Not long ago, I picked up Mickey Mantle’s autobiography at a used books store in Terrell. According to Mantle, he always struggled with excessive drinking. Mantle did not grow up in church. He attended prayer meetings convened by his teammate Bobby Richardson for a while, but never learned “church speak.” He concludes his story by saying, “I guess we are all on the same team now … it’s even like Casey [Stengel] is running it. I might not know what he is saying all the time, but if he tells me to bunt, I’m going to bunt. If he tells me to swing away, I’m going for the fences.” The Christian life is a lot like that. We just need to listen to God like The Mick listened to Casey.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Poverty and Wealth

Last weekend, demonstrators gathered in the public squares of New York, Chicago, London, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, among others. The demonstrations spread across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their protests were varied, sometimes promoting views in opposition to one another. But, according to the New York Times, “the protests were united in frustration around one issue: the widening gap between the rich and the poor.” The phenomenon is global.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. poverty rate grew to 15.1% in 2010, the third year in a row the poverty population has risen while median household income has declined. At the same time, the wealthy are becoming wealthier. According to Terry Clower, Economist at the University of North Texas, “Over the past 30 years, the share of household income going to the well-to-do has risen dramatically.” Edward Wolff, economist at NYU, stated, “The Great Recession has exacerbated wealth divisions in this country, with the wealthy share of the top 1 percent rising from an already huge 34.6 percent in 2007 to 37.1 percent in 2009.” When the rich get richer while more people drop beneath the poverty line and the middle class continues to shrink, something is askew.

Compounding the unrest are the frustrations created by the Great Recession. Thousands of young people signed up for student loans to pursue educations that would open doors for well-paying careers. When they graduated from colleges and universities in 2008, the jobs weren’t there. They still aren’t. For more than two years many have worked in menial and minimum wage jobs that they could have had in high school. Older adults who intended to work into their sixties and seventies have been forced into early retirement with limited income.

The Bible is clear that God is concerned about the issue of poverty and wealth. David wrote, “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor.” (Ps. 140:12). Solomon said, “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself … will only come to poverty.” (Prov.22:16). “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern.” (Prov. 29:7). Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18).

There is wide disagreement regarding the complexities of economics and economies, the balance between equity and efficiency. But the bedrock principles that will ultimately see us through never change: integrity, honesty, generosity and justice. Even Gordon Gekko had to learn that greed is not God.

Monday, October 10, 2011

When We Die

When Steve Jobs died October 5 at the age of 56, we all paused to reflect. He had resigned just six weeks earlier as CEO of Apple. Few people changed the landscape of our lives as much as Steve Jobs. His user-friendly computing innovations including the iPod, iPhone and iPad transformed the way we live. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer eight years ago, he addressed his own mortality in a commencement speech at Stanford:

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

Death is inevitable. But what happens after we die? The book of Job asked the question we all ask sooner or later: “If a man die, shall he live again?” After years of suffering and serious arguments with his friends and with God, Job emerged with a powerful conclusion. “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 issue of life after death is central to the Christian faith. While most people believe that some kind of life exists after we die, Jesus provides the only verifiable evidence of life beyond the grave. Each of the Gospels gives an eyewitness account of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Luke says, “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).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 The Message).

Jesus promised something far better for us when we are “cleared away” by death’s inevitability. He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Monday, October 3, 2011

When I'm Sixty-Four

Paul McCartney wrote the song, “When I’m 64” at the age of 16 and later recorded it in 1966. I have grown up with the song. I was twelve when he wrote it, twenty when he recorded it. I have listened to it most of my life. I remember reciting the lyrics in my youth, thinking of the inconceivably ancient age of sixty-four. I assumed by then I would be in a nursing home or dead. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”

Well, I am now sixty-four, and, strangely, I don’t feel old or anywhere near incapacitated. Last week I spent several days with some of my childhood friends. We are all sixty-four. Several of us were in Mrs. Pritchet’s first grade class at Robert E. Lee Elementary in Corsicana, Texas in 1953. We have the photo to prove it. Some of us now have little or no hair. Others of us have hair, but it is gray, unless we have found a good bottle of dye.

While we don’t feel old, and somehow envision ourselves as we once were in our youth, others apparently think we are old. When we went out to a restaurant together for dinner, the owner took pity on us and gave us a free dessert.

But, I realized something when I was with my sixty-four year old childhood friends. I realized we are all still on the journey. We started this journey together as children in post-World War II. We were the first baby boomers. We didn’t know what that meant. We just knew there were lots of us. We have journeyed through the Sixties, Viet Nam, Flower Power, the Moon landing, Watergate, Floppy Disks, the World Wide Web, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Desert Storm, the Dot Com Bust, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Great Recession (which is still with us). Our individual journeys have taken different turns and twists. Some have been military; some have been medical, some in business, some in education, and some in the Christian ministry. We have different political, economic and religious opinions. But we are all on the journey we first started, and we are all on the journey together.

It reminds me of the words Jesus first spoke to his followers. “Come and follow me.” God always invites us to a journey. His invitation is to all of us and His invitation is life-long. The journey never stops. It has valleys and mountaintops. It leads through sorrow and celebration. It encompasses wonder, worship and war. It includes pain, poverty and prosperity.

Now that I am 64, the age our generation has sung about since childhood, I am grateful for the journey. I am grateful for the companions God has given me to travel with. And I am grateful for the One who invited me to follow Him when I was young and still leads me when I am old.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Are We Missing?

In a similar day to our own, Habakkuk posed the following questions to God, “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.” It seemed to Habakkuk that God had abandoned the world to its own destructive devices.

God’s answer to him was quick and clear: “Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe,even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5).

Like Habakkuk, maybe we are missing something.

When we listen to the news regarding the economy, international politics and religious trends in America, we could easily conclude that the world is spiraling out of control. Last week the economists, including the Federal government, took one look at the future and ran for the exits. So did investors. Congress is again paralyzed. After ten years, we are still engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, desperately trying to find some way to end them. Revolutions are sweeping the Middle East in Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Syria, Tunisia and Libya. Christendom seems to be on the skids. Church buildings that once housed vibrant congregations stand empty. Some have been turned into offices, lofts or restaurants. Many of the great cathedrals of Europe now operate as museums.

The Bible teaches that God is active in human history. The Old Testament carefully charts God’s hand at work among the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. The New Testament concludes Scripture by introducing Jesus in the “fullness of time.” It would be illogical to conclude that God turned his back on human events and walked away two thousand years ago.

While Christianity has waned in the West, it has exploded in South America, Africa and Asia. Only 35% of the world’s Christians live in the United States and Europe. In some regions of South America the number of Christians has grown at more than twice the rate of the population. Latin American nations are now sending thousands of missionaries to Arab countries. South Korea has become the second largest mission-sending nation in the world. In China, more than 4,500 new believers come to Christ every day. By 2033 China could have the largest Christian population on earth. The number of Christians in Africa has skyrocketed from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million in 2000. African Christians are now sending missionaries to Europe where Christianity has been in decline.

Christianity is actually growing faster than at any time in history. It simply is not happening in America or Europe. And, Christianity outside the West does not look like the Christendom structures of the Reformation. They are not building cathedrals. They are becoming passionate followers of Christ. When people become passionate followers of Jesus they become more honest, generous and industrious, the very elements that create an economic, political and spiritual future.

If we look at the nations and watch, we will stand in utter amazement at what God is doing in our day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rain

I usually start my morning on the patio behind our house before sunrise. Last week Orion greeted me, shining brightly in the southern sky, still on the hunt. A full moon hung low on the western horizon flooding the land with soft shadows. But the stars and the moon soon faded as the sky grew gray and the sun approached from the east. One morning neither stars nor moon appeared. The black sky was draped with clouds. I thought I caught a glimpse of lightning out of the corner of my eye, but dismissed it as a flash from the TV screen through a window. And then, I thought I felt a drop of moisture on my forehead. But, again, I dismissed it as my imagination. We had not seen rain in over two months. As the day dawned, I heard the rumble of thunder and felt the sprinkle of rain. I did not run for cover. I sat there, letting the rain fall and smelling, for the first time in months, the fragrance of wet earth. It soon stopped. Last night we had our first heavy rainstorm of the season.

We have been locked in a devastating drought in Texas. We set an all-time record for heat, most days over 100 degrees in our history. Texas was declared the hottest and driest state in the United States. Wildfires have blackened hundreds of square miles and thousands of homes have burned to the ground. It has been a devastating summer. The drought is still not over, and will not be until a foot or more of rain falls on the land.

In August we drove across the Texas panhandle. The landscape looked like scorched earth. We passed through one small west Texas town where a liquor store posted a message on its marquee: “Pray for rain.” A few miles down the road we ran into rain, torrential showers that were moving around the west Texas prairies like a gigantic irrigation system in the sky. When we entered the downpour we could barely see to drive. When we exited, we could see other dark streaks of rain slanted across the open horizon. Of course, they didn’t last and they did not end the drought, and they were local to the region around Dumas. But at least the liquor store had its prayers temporarily answered.

Sometimes we are able to live in our insulated world of air-conditioned houses, buildings, automobiles and planes so that we forget that we are part of creation. Nature has a way of putting our human egos into their rightful place. In spite of our technological advancements, we cannot control the weather. The drought has reminded us of our dependence upon the earth. If the rain stopped we would dry up and die. We have been reminded that life on this planet is a gift and that we live by the grace and goodness of God.

The Bible says, “it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms. He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.” (Zechariah 10:1). “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows.” (Isaiah 30:23). “You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the Lord, have created it.” (Isaiah 45:8).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Going the Extra Mile

I went to Walmart the other day. Something I do as a part of the middle class ritual. Sometimes I visit other stores with fewer choices and higher prices just to avoid crowds. But Walmart sells fishing licenses. I don’t know why Texas Parks and Wildlife decided to set their annual renewal on September 1. And I don’t know when I will go fishing. But at least I will be ready. After all, waiting till later in the year doesn’t save anything. The license costs the same now as it will cost next June.

While at Walmart, I thought I would pick up a few items for my new diet. I am trying to lose weight again. Three peaches, two bags of frozen vegetables and a box of rice. I didn’t think these staples would get me through a Cowboy game, but maybe, if I eat enough vegetables and rice, it will keep me out of trouble.

I was clearly under the express limit of twenty items so I went to the express check out and got in line. . I stood behind a young Hispanic woman who was obviously pregnant and had a small child on her hip. She started emptying her cart onto the counter. In all she had well over forty items, including, cases of coke and a large sack of potatoes. She piled up the counter not once, but twice. I smiled and was patient. The cashier was apologetic that she did not see the woman’s cart before she unloaded it. Several customers behind me rolled their eyes, groaned and asked if the girl couldn’t read. I waited, smiled, bought my items and did not complain. “Maybe she made a mistake and got in the wrong line,” I thought. Anyway, we ought to give a break to a young woman with a child on her hip and a baby in her womb. She is trying to feed and take care of her family. I am just buying a fishing license and trying to stay on a diet. I was feeling rather good about myself for not complaining or rolling my eyes.

After I got home I started thinking. Why didn’t I offer to help the young woman? I could have lifted the potatoes and cases of coke. I could have helped her with her basket. Was it enough to simply smile and not complain? I could imagine Jesus saying, “Don’t be so smug. If I had been there I would have helped the girl.”

“Okay, Lord,” I said. I am listening. “But sometimes ‘going the second mile’ is hard to do. Not so much because I don’t want to do it, but because I simply miss the opportunities.”

Every day we have opportunities to “go the extra mile.” To do something unexpectedly nice for someone. We just need to open our eyes and see others the way Jesus sees them. Sometimes it is the little thing that can change the world.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Remembering

On September 11, 2001 the Atlantic and Pacific oceans vanished. Not literally, of course. But prior to that date we felt isolated from a distant and violent world in which terrorists attacked innocent crowds. We felt protected by the vast bodies of water that separated us from Europe, Africa and Asia. After 9/11 those barriers no longer existed. We were connected and vulnerable.

Those who are now in high school have only vague memories of 9/11 since they were all less than seven years old when it happened. They have no memory of the pre-9/11 world. They have grown up in a world of security lines and bag checks at airports and public gatherings. Since entering elementary school, they have witnessed a steady stream of funeral processions and flag draped coffins returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them have grown up without mothers and fathers who died there.

Every generation has its 9/11 to remember, a staggering event that freezes the moment in memory. For those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, it was November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy fell to an assassin’s bullet at Dealy Plaza in Dallas. For our parents it was December 7, 1941, a quiet Sunday morning when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Every generation experiences events that threaten to steal their freedom, destroy their dreams and leave them frozen with fear. But one event stands alone that places all others in perspective. One event above all others enables us to rise above our fears to embrace the future. September 11, 2001, November 22, 1963 and December 7, 1941, are all dated in reference to the birth, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The prophet Isaiah predicted Jesus’ life when He wrote, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” Paul summed up His significance when he said, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His son.” It was the perfect moment. Everything in history is dated in reference to His birth as B.C or A.D. From Him flow the faith and courage to face any disaster, to overcome any foe and to live with confidence knowing that goodness and righteousness will prevail upon the earth.

An old song captures the experience of millions who have persevered and prevailed through devastating tragedies for more than two thousand years. Bill Gaither wrote it and first sang it forty years ago. “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future my life is worth the living, just because He lives … this child can face uncertain days, because He lives.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Authenticity

I stepped up to the counter and handed the cashier my twenty-dollar bill. She glanced at me, lifted the bill up to the light, squinted and examined it, then laid it on the counter. She whipped out what looked like a felt tip marker and marked it. After a long second, she placed it in the cash register and gave me my change. It seemed simple enough. But it made me wonder.

What made her think my twenty might be fake? Did I look dishonest? I reminded myself that it was standard procedure. She had been taught to check every twenty because you never know who might pass a counterfeit. You can’t recognize honesty or dishonesty by a person’s looks.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as easy to discern fake people as it is to recognize a fake twenty? What if we could hold people up to a light, squint and examine them for watermarks, or just swipe them with a pen and watch for discoloration?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Sometimes the people we trust the most disappoint us. That was the case with Richard Nixon. After winning the presidency by a landslide vote, the Watergate investigations revealed a man far different than the public image. One of our great difficulties today is the widespread doubt that no politician can be trusted. They seem more intent on vilifying their opponents and promoting their own agenda than engaging in sincere dialogue.

We all know that no one is perfect. We are all human. We are all sinners and we all make mistakes. We are not looking for perfection. But we are desperate for authenticity. We are desperate for authenticity in parents, teachers, employers, employees, preachers and politicians.

Jesus ranked authenticity among the highest of virtues. His harshest words were leveled at those who pretended to be what they were not. Speaking to people of his day, Jesus said, “You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.” (Mt. 23:27-28, The Message). He warned his disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1 NASV).

What really gets scary and complicated is to examine ourselves. Am I authentic? Is there any hypocrisy in me? Are we being open, honest and authentic with one another? Someday, of course, there will be a test. God will hold each of us up to the light. He will not be concerned about the flaws and imperfections. He will examine us for authenticity. Are we people of authentic faith living authentic lives?

Monday, August 22, 2011

When He Comes

Beyond confessions of faith, hymns and sermons, the Second Coming of Christ remains virtually irrelevant to daily life. We pursue our educations, work at our careers, raise our families, worry about retirement and prepare for the inevitable: death and taxes. The lives of believers and non-believers show little marked difference beyond 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. Before you dismiss this as crazy, let me explain.

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)

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.

Yesterday He came to me in the person of a young Hispanic employee at Wal-Mart who needed words of encouragement. A couple of weeks ago He came in the form of two brothers in their sixties who stopped to help me work on my 1977 VW bug when it quit running. A month ago He came in the form of a Chinese woman named Chiu who was fishing on a pier with her mentally handicapped daughter. Last year He came in the form of a teenage unwed mother who had given birth to a son who died a few days later. How many times I have missed Him and did not 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. We might even miss Him by being too focused on our opinions about eschatology.

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 be ready to receive Him in that day, when He appears like lightning from east to west. We might even hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fear

We all know that sex sells. Companies have used sex to sell everything from cars to cabbage. But sex seems to be yielding its throne in the marketplace. Fear may be surpassing sex as the emotion of choice for marketers who want to control commerce and politics.

Life insurance, annuities, real estate, technology and political candidates are all marketed through the advertising of fear. Fear sells. Marketers call it “shockvertising.” It is sometimes referred to as “fear mongering.” Nedra Weinreich, who teaches social marketing at UCLA says, “What all of these campaigns have in common is that they try to instill the fear of what might happen if you do not support their causes.” As we enter a presidential election year, I expect the fear campaigns will intensify. Politicians know that people vote their fears.

We have always lived with fear. Those who grew up in the 1950s learned as children to “duck and cover” beneath their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. (How much protection that would have provided, I don’t know.) Many of us lived through the cold war, the star wars arms race and 9-11. Those who are entering their teens have never known a world in which people greeted one another at the airport gate and walked freely through the terminal without security lines.

The wild swings in the stock market are evidence of the fear and panic gripping our world. Fear may be one of the primary reasons corporate executives are sitting on record cash profits rather than creating jobs and investing in the future. We are in danger of becoming a fearful people.

God does not desire that we live fearful lives. Jesus spoke a great deal about fear and how to overcome it. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. … Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? … Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12).

When a distressed father received the news his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing. Only believe.” When the disciples were on the sea, struggling against the wind in the dark, Jesus came to them and said. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7).

It is important that we not fall victim to the fear tactics of market manipulators. It is important that we find a faith that frees us from the paralyzing fears that can rob us of power and love and a sound mind.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Anger

Anger. There is a lot of it out there. Last week Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating largely due to the boiling anger within congress and the inability of elected representatives to work together. In the final analysis, congressmen were angry, the president was angry and now the American people are angry.

Anger doesn’t require such significant issues to raise its ugly head. Last weekend several Tampa Bay baseball fans got into an angry fight over a foul ball that landed in a garbage can. After tempers flared, the security guard stepped in and ruled that the ball would remain where it landed, beneath a pile of peanut shells, beer, hot dog wrappers and whatever else had been deposited in the can. If we can’t get along with one another, nobody wins.

We are all acquainted with anger. We have felt the rising resentment and boiling emotions that overwhelm rational thought and take control of our words and our actions leading us to say things and do things that we later regret. We call it losing our temper. It is built into us. We are born with it. Anyone who cares for a newborn soon discovers that babies have a temper. For most of us, age helps. We call it “mellowing.” Things that once pushed our button and shoved us over the edge are not as frustrating as before. We become more patient, we gain greater perspective.

It is okay to become angry. When anger causes us to take action that will result in improved environment and behavior, it is good. Jesus became angry. He did not casually cleanse the temple. He drove out all those who were using religion for profit, overturning their tables, scattering their money on the stones and driving the bleating sheep, braying oxen and fluttering pigeons before him with a whip. Later, when the religious authorities wanted to prevent him from healing the sick on the Sabbath, the Bible says he looked at them “with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.”

But, it is not okay to lose our temper. Uncontrolled anger can be disastrously destructive. It is not okay to live an angry life as an angry person. Angry people alienate others, and, when their anger spins out of control, they inflict damage and injury to themselves and others. When anger cuts off conversation and communication that can lead to understanding and solutions to shared problems, it is a bad thing. When anger spills over into rage that lashes out at others to hurt and to harm, it is a bad thing.

Anger is one of those human emotions we all possess that must be channeled and controlled to produce constructive results. Left unchecked and allowed to run wild, it can destroy us. The Bible instructs us to “Be angry and yet do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”(Eph. 4:26). The Bible also says, “The anger of man does not fulfill the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Debt

The nation and the world watched with shock, horror and disgust as the United States congress argued and bantered till the last minute to raise the debt ceiling, adopt a budget and avert the United States’ first ever default. As best I can understand it, the irreconcilable conflict had at least three positions: the Democrats who wanted to raise the debt ceiling so that the U.S. can continue borrowing and pay its debts until after the 2012 presidential elections, the Republicans who wanted a short term increase in the debt ceiling that will require another round of negotiations within the year and the Tea Party Republicans who wanted no increase in the debt ceiling forcing the government to immediately reign in its spending to current levels of income. (I am sure this is an overly simplistic appraisal of the situation.)

Regardless of political positions or opinions, the underlying issue to our current crisis is debt. We simply owe more than we can pay. Everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike seem to recognize that this cannot continue. We cannot continue as a nation sinking further and further into debt.

Perhaps debt and credit will be the defining issues of the twenty-first century. We have watched Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland wrestle with debt issues that totter the European markets. We are still struggling to recover from the debt and credit crisis of 2008 that sent our economy spiraling into the "Great Recession."

The generation that grew up in the Great Depression and fought the second World War learned early in life the value of saving and of avoiding unnecessary debt. But they are quickly passing from the scene. Those of us who grew up in the second half of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first are having to relearn those lessons the hard way.

For decades we have lived under the illusion that budgets could be based on credit. We ran up credit card debt adopting life styles and standards of living beyond our income. We even coined a phrase to describe it: the “standard of living bubble,” defined by Investopedia as “The concept of consumers living beyond their means for an extended period of time. … the use of consumer credit and spending increases in order to provide the illusion of increases in standard of living.”

Prior to the “Great Recession” of 2008 the average savings rate for Americans was negative. We were, on average, spending more than we earned. Fortunately, we are making progress. Americans are reducing personal debt and increasing personal savings. Now we are painfully watching our government wrestle with the same debt issues we each must address. The way forward will not be easy and will not be rectified overnight. But, if we as a people and a nation learn to live within our means we will establish a firm footing for prosperity and health.

Writing in 1757 as Poor Richard, Benjamin Franklin warned, “when you run in debt, you give another power over your liberty,” and “the borrower is a slave to the lender and the debtor to the creditor.”

The Scripture says “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” (Romans 13:8).

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Prayer Perspective

Perhaps you have heard the story of the church that was incensed because a local bar opened across the street. Knowing nothing else to do, the church members mounted a prayer campaign to rid themselves of this blight on the neighborhood. They prayed that God would intervene to remove the bar.

A thunderous storm soon swept across the town and a streak of lighting lit up the sky, striking the bar. The building burst into flame and burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church for the destruction of his property as a result of their prayers. The church defended itself claiming that the lightning strike was an accidental act of nature. The judge sat perplexed in front of the plaintiff and defendant. “It appears,” he said, “that I have a bar owner who believes in prayer and a church that doesn’t.”

During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln pondered the issue of prayer. Both the north and the south were religious. Both believed they were right and both prayed for victory. After his death, the following note was found in his papers: “The will of God prevails — In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party.”

It is widely reported that during the civil war Lincoln met with a group of ministers at a prayer breakfast who tried to encourage him. They told the president that they had prayed that “God would be on our side.” Linclon corrected them saying, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”

How do we pray and what do we pray for? The Bible is clear that we should let our needs be known to God, that nothing is too great or too small for prayer. We must be careful, however that our prayers are not merely extensions of our own self interest and desires. And we must not allow prayer to degenerate into a tug of war to get God to line up on our side against the interests and desires of others.

When Jesus gave us the model prayer he taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Everything else in the prayer flows from this and is secondary to this. But Jesus went a step further. He not only gave us a model prayer to guide our words, he demonstrated how to pray when he faced death on the cross and prayed, “Father, not my will but thine be done.”

Prayer works best when it brings us into alignment with God and his purposes on the earth, purposes that often are at odds with our own. When we pray this way we will love our enemies, do good for those who abuse us and give ouselves generously for others.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nightfall

Under the glaring light of day we may fool ourselves into thinking that we are center stage, that everything revolves around us, but the night gently tells us that we are, in fact, a small spec in the galaxies of creation. The wind, whipped into a hot fury during the day, loses its strength, grows silent and lies down for the night. Darkness dissipates the day’s heat. Tires that whine on pavement grow silent along with the roar of the engines that drive them. Crickets tune their instruments and fireflies flit about in the dark. The world sleeps. As the sun fades in the west, the lesser lights gradually take their place in the night sky.

Perhaps previous generations were more in tune with the realities of their existence because they spent more time under the night sky. Too often, we crawl into our houses and fill the evening hours with noise from our televisions without witnessing the nighttime reminders that were designed to renew the spirit and place each day’s work in perspective.

Genesis describes night in God’s creation: “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning.”

A shepherd who grew up under the stars guarding his father’s flocks, David wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than God and you crown him with glory and majesty. … How majestic is your name in all the earth.” … “Give thanks to Him … who made the moon and stars to rule by night, for his loving kindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 36:9)

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created.” (Psalm 148).

When the night falls, know that He is near.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Verdict

After three years of courtroom drama the Casey Anthony trial is over. The verdict sent shock waves across a nation that had been glued to the proceedings. Not guilty on all accounts for murder. I assume no one reading this column is uninformed regarding the essential elements of the case and its outcome. People are still talking about it. Television viewership spiked when the jury gave its verdict. HLN drew its largest audience in its 29-year history. Audiences for other news channels doubled. This morning NBC devoted live coverage to the sentencing. The emotions of this trial touched a nerve.

I suppose part of it was due to the innocent images of two-year-old Caylee Anthony that flashed across our screens and the horrendous death she somehow suffered. Parents remained mystified by her mother’s failure to report her missing child for thirty-one days and the fabricated stories she told to police.

Few questions, it seems, were answered by the agonizing trial. The largest question of all remains unanswered in the minds of many: was justice done? According to our American judicial system we would have to say “yes.” Casey Anthony was tried by a jury of her peers who failed to find evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt” to convict her of murder. Regarding what really happened, we don’t know. No one knows.

Our judicial system is not perfect. At times it fails to convict the guilty. At others it wrongly convicts and punishes the innocent. Nonetheless, it is the best judicial system we have been able to devise for a just society.

Ultimately, of course, we will all appear before the court that never makes a mistake. Jesus spoke of this court when he said, “I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
We will all face a verdict on that day. And, for each of us, the verdict will be “guilty.” What we already know to be true will be made abundantly clear. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. When Peter met Jesus he cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” The Apostle Paul confessed, “I am chief of sinners.” Our own sin is just as heart-rending in the eyes of God as the tragic death of this two-year old child may be to ours.

Our personal sin and guilt created a great dilemma for God. He loves us and doesn’t want to punish us. But He is just and must punish the guilty. That of course, is the reason Jesus had to suffer the cross. A penalty must be paid for our guilt and God chose to let His Son pay that penalty for those who receive him as Savior and Lord. This is the mystery of John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His sonly begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

God's Metrics

We live in a world of metrics that is obsessed with measuring progress in almost every area of life. The business world has created an entire glossary of terms for measuring CPM (Corporate Performance Management). Every business needs to know its ROI (Return on Investment), Churn Rate (the measure of customer or employee attrition over a specified time) EBITDA. (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), to name a few.

Students and educators are all too familiar with TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). Past curriculum has focused on TAKS that determined the future for both students and schools. The Texas Education Agency is now phasing in End of Course (EOC) assessments and STAAR (Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) to measure achievement.

Sports is enamored with metrics. Athletes compete not only against each other, but against all the records of the past. When Rory Mcllroy set a new 72 hole record for the U.S. Open he was competing against Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and all those who played before him. PGA players are rated by average score, percentage of fairways hit, greens in regulation, average putts per round. Baseball is synonymous with statistics: batting average, runs batted in, on base percentages, earned run averages.

We have created metrics for area of life. If measurements are so important, it might be good to know God’s metrics. How does God measure success or failure?

Most of us assume that God’s measurements are limited to religion: church attendance, offerings, budgets, building, religious ceremonies and service. Surprisingly, according to the Bible these things are not God’s primary measurement.

The prophets taught that God could care less about religious ceremonies. In Amos, God says, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In Isaiah, God says, “Incense is an abomination to Me. … I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

When Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day, he reproved them for focusing on religious disciplines while omitting the “weightier matters of the law.” He challenged his followers saying, “I was hungry and you fed me, in prison and you visited me, thirsty and you gave me to drink … in that you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

So, how well are we measuring up by God’s standard of measurement?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Fourth

Next Monday we celebrate the Fourth, a uniquely American holiday. No other nation has a holiday quite like it. No other nation on earth has aspired to a higher and simpler ideal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Two of the most prominent men who created the Declaration of Independence died fifty years to the day after the signing. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration died in his home at Monticello on July 4, 1826. A few hours later, on the same day, John Adams, who edited the early drafts and won approval for the Declaration before the Continental Congress died in his home. Thirty-seven years afterward, on July 4, 1863, Lee’s Confederate army withdrew in defeat from Gettysburg. On that same day, Vicksburg fell to Grant, two pivotal battles that decided the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. On July 4, 1884, France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

In many ways the history of our nation has been written by our efforts to live up to the Declaration of freedom and equality for all. We have struggled among ourselves, often falling short. We have sought to defend and extend freedom among foreign nations by sending our young men and women to lay down their lives.

We have learned that ultimate freedom can never be achieved though legislation and government alone, as important as those are. Ultimate freedom must be achieved in each human heart. Every one of us must fight a personal war with our own sin nature that seeks to make us captive and steal our freedom. We see everyday in the lives of our politicians, sports heroes and celebrities the consequences of losing that battle in the secret places of the heart. Greed and corruption remain the greatest obstacles to freedom and equality among the nations of the earth.

The pervasiveness of sin is perhaps the best documented reality in our world. The media is filled with daily accounts of its presence and the horrendous consequences it can create.

Two thousand years ago another document was drafted. It was not voted upon by representatives and did not found any government. But those words spoken long ago hold the secret to the ideals that we have embraced. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin … If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

God sent His Son into the world not merely to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might enter Heaven, He sent Him in order that He might overcome sin’s grip on our lives and set us free. The Apostle Paul had once been enslaved to ambition, anger and resentment. He started his early career persecuting the Christian faith. But he found a better way. He confessed, “The good that I would do, I don’t. And that that I don’t want to do is exactly what I end up doing … Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24).

This Fourth, as we celebrate the freedom envisioned by our nation’s founders, may we experience true freedom that is found through faith in Christ.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Imagine

Imagination. It is the magic carpet of the mind. With it we can journey centuries backward in time or fly forward to the future where we have never been. We can imagine things as we wish they were, and, when it is most productive, we can actually change the world around us. Imagination sets us apart as human beings from all the rest of creation.

Imagination is, perhaps, our most powerful tool for good or evil. Adolf Hitler imagined a world without Jews and launched the Holocaust. Martin Luther King, Jr., imagined a world where men would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.” His imagination fueled the Civil Rights movement.

Forty years ago this week John Lennon recorded his trademark song, “Imagine” in the Ascot Sound Studios at Tittenhurst Park. It became Lennon’s signature song and has remained one of the most popular songs ever recorded. In 2002 the song came in number 2 in Britain as the most popular song of all time. In 2009, Rolling Stone ranked the song number 3 among the five hundred greatest songs of all time. It owes most of its appeal to the musical talent of John Lennon, but some of its appeal is found in its lyrics: to imagine a world of peace where “all the world will be as one.”

What if we used another script for imagining a different world? What if, instead of Lennon’s lyrics, we used Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount? What would that world look like?

If we followed Jesus’ instructions we would treat everyone with respect. No one would be considered a fool and no one would be expendable. Adultery and lust would vanish. Marriage would prosper. Each of us would speak truthfully and no one would lie. We would refuse to retaliate and no one would seek to get even with those who have wronged them. We would go the extra mile and, if anyone asks for our shirt, we would give him our coat. We would not only love our friends and family, we would love our enemies and seek to do good for them. Our faith would be authentic and real without any hypocrisy. We would give to the poor in secret without even taking a tax deduction or hoping someone recognized our charity. Instead of praying long repetitious public prayers, we would pray privately from our hearts. If anyone has wronged us in any way, we would forgive them without requiring them to ask for it. We would no longer be driven to accumulate possessions and money. Instead, we would invest our resources in doing good for others who are in need. We would no longer worry. Everyone would treat everyone else the same way they desire to be treated.

Each of us, every day is creating a world of our own imagination. In the end, we each must choose what we imagine and what the world around us will become.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What Is God Like?

What is God like? It is an important question. Our answer determines our worldview, how we see ourselves, how we see others and how we measure what is important.

If God doesn’t exist, as some assert, we can only view the world as a collision of random accidents. We live accidental lives on an accidental planet in an accidental solar system moving through accidental galaxies. Ultimately our lives have no reason or purpose. We simply are, for a few short years, and when we die, we are no more.

Others see God as the “prime mover.” He designed the physical laws of the universe and set it in motion like a wind up clock or toy. But, He is not involved in His creation. It is simply unwinding itself, spinning along according to its primal design. We each live our lives as infinitely insignificant cogs in the master machine.

Some view God as an “all seeing eye” watching us. He is personally cognizant of our lives and our actions and He is watching everything we say and do. We each live our lives like Truman Burbank, Jim Carrey’s character in “The Truman Show.”

Still others envision God as a god of vengeance. He delights in taking note of our sins and punishing us. Our journey on this earth is little more than a process of being beaten into submission by a god who punishes us for every sin we commit. Entire religions have been built around methods of sacrifice and penance to appease this angry god.

Jesus had a different answer. If you want to know what God is like, Jesus said, think of your father. Of course not all fathers are good. There are some deadbeat dads out there who spoil the image. But the vast majority of fathers love their children and would do anything for them. That is why we honor them on Father’s Day. I was one of the fortunate ones to have a good father. He was, and is, my hero. He was neither famous nor rich. He had no lasting achievements. He died when he was 53. But he was a good man, the best man I ever knew. He corrected me when I was little and did wrong things. He taught me a better way and set a better example that has served me for a lifetime. If I needed anything, he was there to help. That is why Jesus said, “Don’t worry. Your Father who is in heaven knows what you need.”

Now that I am a father with children and grandchildren of my own I better understand what Jesus meant when he said, “If you being evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to you!” This helps me enormously. If God is like that it changes how I see myself, how I see others and how I see the world. Happy Father’s Day!

Monday, June 6, 2011

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.

Two 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 from a tiny silver sliver to a full faced orb and back again; 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 exists beyond us. 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, writing in Greek, 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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Post Apocalypse

We are now living in a post apocalyptic world. That is, if you gave any credence to Harold Camping’s predictions last week. I expect that even Camping was surprised with the media attention his doomsday forecast generated. Main line news programs reported it. It was on the front pages of the newspapers. According to his meticulous interpretations of Biblical prophecy, the world was scheduled to end at 6 PM on Saturday, May 21. It didn’t. And now Camping has come out with another prediction. Apparently the apocalypse has been postponed to October 21. Kind of like a make-up date for a rain out.

The whole thing might say a lot more about how we read and understand the Bible than anything about the end of the world. Most Christians immediately recognized Jesus’ very clear statement about predicting the date for the end of the age. While the Bible is clear that the earth will wear out, that Jesus will return, that God will judge the “quick and the dead” and that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, it is also clear that no one knows when this will happen. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” No one can predict the date.

The fact that so many recognized the contradiction between Campy’s fancy mathematical footwork to pinpoint the date for the end times and Jesus’ simple statement illustrates one of the essential principles in understanding the Bible. Always interpret obscure passages in light of clear ones.

It also says something about who we choose to follow. There are a lot of religious voices out there. We recently dropped our cable subscription and went back to TV programs on the local airwaves. I was surprised to discover we could receive more than 30 stations with an antenna. Then I realized that many of them were “religious” stations, with some of the wildest preacher-performers I have ever seen. Flipping the channels was, to be quite honest, scary.

I thought Jim and Tammy Bakker had faded. Tammy, of course, has passed on. I felt sympathy for her in her last days. After serving his prison sentence, Jim has gone back on the air and online with his own apocalyptic predictions. His web site offers all you need for survival when the tribulation hits. Jim used to believe he would be raptured prior to the tribulation, but he changed his mind and decided he could sell survival items including everything from four-man tents, a solution to protect yourself from epidemics and “Time of Trouble” food buckets that will get you through seven years of famine (for the bargain price of $3,000.) Of course you can also buy jewelry and a set of his DVDs to watch in your idle time.

We have so many religious caricatures on the airwaves and in print that we have difficulty sorting through them to discover the authentic voices. Jesus knew this would be the case. That is why he gave us a simple rule to follow. Check out their fruit. Jesus said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:15-16).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Does God Exist?

In an interview last week, Stephen Hawking, the world’s foremost physicist, stated his belief that there is no God. He said, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

I was one of the nine million who read Hawking’s popular book, “A Brief History of Time.” I took heart when he referred to God as the force that could fully explain the creation of the universe. Either I misunderstood what he meant, which is highly possible, or Hawking changed his mind.

Either way, Hawking’s latest confession of non-faith saddens me. It is difficult for me to comprehend how such a brilliant mind can reach the conclusion that all we observe in the universe is an accident, that there is no intelligent force or design behind our existence. It seems as illogical to me as finding a Swiss watch in the desert and concluding its intricate pieces just accidentally fell together from nowhere.

I went back and watched the movie, “Contact,” a science fiction story that wrestles with science, empirical evidence and faith. As the story points out, a lot of religion is messed up. At the same time, science and empirical evidence can only take us so far. The question Hawking is dealing with is bigger than any religion or denominational expression. It is also bigger than science. It is a question we all must face and answer. How we answer it makes a great deal of difference in how we live and how meaningful our lives are.

Hawking concluded that since there is no God, humans should seek to live the most valuable lives they can while on Earth. This too, makes no sense to me. If there is no God, where is the motive to live responsible and valuable lives? We are sucked into a black hole of non-existence and non-meaning. What does it matter?

If we argue that love matters then, it seems to me, we are thrown back into the very lap of God. Love is the greatest and most mysterious reality in our existence, eclipsing all other discoveries. Who wants to live in a world of technological perfection and scientific achievement without love? A loveless world would leave us shallow, fragmented, lonely, isolated, fearful, and miserable.
Here lies the greatest truth: “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16).

Ultimately, I suppose, faith or non-faith is a choice. We can choose to believe that our world is the result of a creative God who desired and designed our existence from the tiniest molecule to the most distant star or we can choose not to believe.

I am not as brilliant as Stephen Hawking. He is a genius by anyone’s standard. But the idea that human beings are no more than computers that will one day crash and be discarded as junk leads nowhere. For my part, I will choose to believe. It is the only conclusion that seems to make any sense.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What We Don't Know

The total of human knowledge is increasing at an astonishing rate. It is estimated that it took 300 years for knowledge to double after 1450, but only 150 years for it to double again. From 1900 to 1950 it doubled once more. It is now believed to double every 900 days and, after 2020 is expected to double every 72.

Only 200 years ago physicians thought that illness was caused by bad blood. George Washington was virtually bled to death in 1799 as the favored treatment for an obvious infection. One hundred years ago Henry Ford introduced the assembly line and the Model T. Fifty years ago computers were unknown. Twenty years ago the Internet was unknown to the public. Our access to knowledge and the world has dramatically changed. What is there that we do not know today that will be common knowledge tomorrow? What is it that we think we know that will be proved wrong?

Each of us is able to comprehend only a small segment of the vast ocean of human knowledge. And, when all our knowledge is compiled and computed it only scratches the surface of the limitless universe. We are still confined to this tiny spec of a planet. We have not been able to travel any further than the moon. The vastness of the universe remains far beyond our reach. The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.33 light years away. Traveling at the fastest speed imaginable with current technology, scientists estimate it would take 19,000 years to reach it. At our very best we can only observe the vast reaches of the universe through our telescopes as though looking through a glass darkly.

Regarding God, we debate our axioms and truths as if we have complete and comprehensive knowledge about God. We must always be reminded by the words of the prophet when God says, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts. As the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts.”

This is one of the reasons God sent his Son, simply because God is incomprehensible. Knowledge of his universe is too vast. Knowledge of his nature and character is too far beyond our mortal minds. As with his creation, we can only observe and stand in awe.

We are like newborn babes first opening their eyes to a new world they have never seen. We are like children giggling over new found discoveries on the play ground: a stick, a flower, a worm, a caterpillar. I think God takes joy in this. He takes pleasure in our discoveries of his intricate, complex and mysterious creation. At the same time, he is grieved by our blindness. The violence, cruelty, abuse and conflict that exists in the earth bears witness that for all our advance in scientific and technological knowledge, we are still unable to focus on the truths that matter most. Jesus, as God in human flesh, was the only one who has ever known and seen all things clearly. For all of our advances we have yet to learn the Sermon on the Mount and put it into practice.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Justice and Grace

It has been more than a week since Osama bin Laden’s death. When I first heard the news I felt no joy. I was not sad that he was dead. I am glad he is no longer a threat to innocent people. I believe the world is a better place without him. But I wondered why I did not feel like dancing in the streets and waving flags. Why did I feel no jubilation at this news?

Perhaps my sadness stemmed from the conflicting worldviews represented in bin Laden’s death. One worldview operates on the basis of terror, violence, bloodshed, retaliation and revenge. The other world view operates on the basis of love, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, goodness and grace. The killing of bin Laden seemed to demonstrate the triumph of the first worldview, leaving the questions: Can the second worldview exist with out the first, or does it exist at all? How do those of us who opt for compassion, forgiveness and grace live in a world that seems dominated by violence, retaliation and revenge?

When I was a youth I shocked my mother by saying, “God is not just.” I think she wanted to wash my mouth out with soap. I simply could not reconcile God’s justice with God’s grace. If God is just, it seemed to me, he could not be loving and forgiving. On the other hand, if he were loving and forgiving, he could not be just. So, I opted for a loving and forgiving God. Of course I was wrong. God is both loving and just. He revealed himself to Moses as “the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

God’s justice and grace intersected on Golgotha. Jesus endured the cross because he knew a penalty must be paid for our sin and that violence, hatred and cruelty must be overcome by God’s grace and goodness. Isaiah had predicted this moment: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:5-6).

Our fallen world is filled with violence and hatred, goodness and grace, all at the same time. Somehow we must seek both justice and grace. I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden deserved death. But his death in no way compensates for the thousands of innocent lives lost on 9/11 or the multiplied thousands more brave and innocent men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the thousands of young Muslims led astray by his radical views. Personally, I am ready to celebrate goodness and grace everywhere it is found. And I am prepared to affirm justice wherever it is necessary and can be achieved.