What Others Say

I have read your columns many times, have saved the ones that "speak" to me and reread them....... I just want to thank you for your inspired writing, illuminating faith and the day to day that focuses on God and His Son....
- Carol C.

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.”