What Others Say

We use your column in our Saturday Spiritual Life section, so I always read it. The new one about Rafael is just totally cool. Again, great column. It touched me enough to email you.
- Greg Jaklewicz - Editorial Page Editor, Abilene News Reporter

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Beginnings

As with every other New Year, this is a week of celebration, in spite of a dysfunctional congress and the "fiscal cliff."  Many will make the trek to New York to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Most of us will gather with family and friends to welcome 2013 and the beginning of a new year.

New beginnings are exciting: weddings with candles and flowers, beautiful bridesmaids, handsome groomsmen, laughter, toasts and dancing with the bride; the birth of a baby wrapped in blankets, showered with gifts; graduations with speeches about dreams and possibilities followed by posed photos that will hang on living room walls; a new job; a new home. Starting anew stirs our juices.

New beginnings are filled with excitement, optimism, and hope as well as fear, doubt and worry. Weddings are fun, but making a marriage can be hard work. Babies are cute, but raising a child can be difficult. Graduation marks a significant achievement, but, finding a job and advancing in a chosen career can be daunting.

We cannot predict our future. Not all newlyweds who leave the marriage altar showered with rice, petals and birdseed will experience a life-long relationship of love and fulfillment. Not all babies will grow to maturity surviving the pitfalls of drugs and violence. Not all graduates find career positions that fulfill their dreams. But, we are all called to something new, something significant.

God always calls us forward into new beginnings. He is always starting something new. He beckons us to leave the old and familiar to follow Him on a journey of discovery into places we have never been. He encourages us to calm our fears and exchange our doubts for faith. He challenges us to trust in Him for a better future and a better day.

When God called Abraham, He called him from his familiar home to follow Him into a strange land. God promised, “I will bless you … and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2). Abraham’s step of faith to follow God into a new beginning changed history.

To Isaiah, God said, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:18-19). Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone. The new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17).

If our minds are open to new things, and our hearts are open to faith, 2013 can be the start of something special.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunrise Seasonthe

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

We sometimes feel that way, when the darkness closes in on us, as it has this Christmas season with the slaughter of innocent children in Connecticut. We sometimes wonder, as the birds seem to do, if the dawn of light and goodness will ever again dispel the darkness of violence and pain.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Connecticut Christmas

Before last week a “Connecticut Christmas” would have conjured up Christmas card images: flocked evergreens, multicolored lights glistening on snow-covered streets, children sledding in the park, smoke curling from chimneys where families gather around the warm glow of the fireplace. But today, after the tragic slaughter of innocent children, a “Connecticut Christmas” leaves us chilled and confused.

As the news broke, I found myself not wanting to listen, not wanting to be disturbed by the painful images and stories. But the awful events seep their way into our consciousness. I found myself watching little children singing Christmas carols at church on Sunday and thinking about those who died in Newtown. I cannot stop thinking about the families with presents already wrapped underneath the tree and no little hands to unwrap them. I can’t help putting myself in the place of mothers and fathers whose pain is too deep for words. I find myself wanting to weep, wishing that this kind of evil were not present in the world, wishing that the innocent did not suffer, that injustice and violence did not exist. I found myself asking how God could let something like this happen.

As I thought about these things I was reminded that we have made Christmas into an escape filled with fantastic fairy tales complete with elves and flying reindeer. We have created a nativity filled with serenity and peace. But the actual birth of Jesus was anything but serene and peaceful. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem to pay taxes, thrown into unfamiliar surroundings with no place to stay. The stable was a last resort. And evil was already stalking the baby that Mary bore. What we are feeling in the wake of Connecticut is not far removed from what was felt in Bethlehem.

The Magi who came seeking the newborn King unwittingly tipped Herod off to his birth. After they refused to report his birth, Herod sent his death squad to kill him. Matthew wrote, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18).

Being warned in a dream that the child Jesus was in danger, Joseph fled with Mary and the baby and went into hiding. But before he left the region, they visited Jerusalem where the prophet Simeon predicted what was to come. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).

The power of that first Christmas is found in the fact that God embraced the confusing cruelty of our world. It was in the midst of evil, pain and suffering that Jesus was born. It was precisely because of the senseless evil in this world that God sent His Son. He came to give His own innocent life as a ransom for our sins. He conquered death by His resurrection and one day He will remove the evil from this world by His return.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Question in the Manger

Last week my aunt, a devout believer in her 80s, asked me if there will be animals in Heaven. Perhaps it is a good question to ask during this season when live nativity scenes spring up in every town complete with donkeys, goats, sheep, cows and camels. If live animals were important to the birth of Christ, maybe they will be important in Heaven.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, the twentieth century theologian and martyr, once counseled a ten-year-old boy whose German Shepherd died. The boy was distraught. He asked Bonhoffer if his dog would be in Heaven. Bonhoffer said, “I quickly made up my mind and said to him: ‘Look, God created human beings and also animals, and I’m sure he also loves animals. And I believe that with God it is such that all who loved each other on earth – genuinely loved each other – will remain together with God …”

Man, of course, was made in God’s image. God breathed into us the breath of life and we became a living soul. But God’s love for all creatures in his creation is abundantly clear. When God made the world and all that is in it, he included the animal kingdom. After He had divided the light from darkness, brought form out of chaos and fashioned the continents and oceans, He filled the earth with living things: fish, birds and beasts (in that order). Before man ever walked the earth, when the world was as He planned it to be, “God saw that it was good.”

After sin entered the world, mankind sank deeper into selfishness, deceit, violence, murder and rebellion against the Creator. When God’s judgment could be postponed no longer, He sent a catastrophic flood. But God showed his love for man and beast by providing a means of escape through Noah’s ark. God instructed Noah, “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:19-21). God’s love for all living things was further reflected in Jesus’ statement that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside the Father’s care.

Looking forward to the day when the Messiah’s Kingdom would replace our world, Isaiah wrote: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. … They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9).

If God so loved us that he blessed us with the companionship and service of animals on earth and chose them to surround the birth of His Son, would He withhold His love from us in Heaven by depriving us of these creatures who shared our mortal joys and sorrows? Is it possible that having demonstrated his glory in the beauty and balance of nature in this world that the new heaven and the new earth would be limited to men and angels?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kingdom Trailers

Last week we finally made it to see Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln.” After reading a number of Lincoln biographies, including Sandburg’s “Lincoln,” William Hernden’s original “Life of Lincoln” and the book upon which this movie is based, Doris Kearns Goodwins’ “Team of Rivals,” I have to say that this movie gives the best representation of our sixteenth president. It is a must see.

As usual, Jackie and I arrived early for the show and settled into our seats to watch the trailers of other movies soon to be released. The theater was fairly full, enough that we could hear the whispers and comments of those around us. As each trailer played across the screen we could hear people muttering to one another, “We have to see that one,” or “That’s not for us.” In two minutes we were all making up our minds about other movies we might or might not like to view.

The Australian writer, Michael Frost, argues that Christians and churches are like movie trailers for the Kingdom. We are to live in such a way that when others see us they say, “I want to be a part of that,” or ”I wish the world was like that.” This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Whether we like it or not, our churches and our lives are being viewed like movie trailers by others. When non-believers look at our churches and our lives, they are whispering to themselves and to one another saying, “I’ll have to check that out,” or, “I wouldn’t want to be part of that.”

Jesus presented the clearest preview of the Kingdom. He invited others to look at his life to see what the Kingdom looks like. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-21).

The early followers of Jesus practiced Kingdom living in such a way that others were drawn to them and to their churches. This is why the Christian faith exploded in the first three centuries. People saw previews of the Kingdom practiced in the churches and the lives of believers, and they wanted to be part of it.

This is also the reason Christianity is stumbling in our day. Too often churches and Christians are selfish and self-centered, fighting among themselves and with others for dominance and control. When others see this, like patrons at a theater, they whisper to themselves, “That’s not for me.”

Every church and every believer must live in such a way that others see God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is what Paul meant when he said, “But thanks be to God, who … manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Waking Up Well

Last week I was sick. Nothing serious. One of those things we all have to deal with from time to time, a sore throat and headache with a sinus infection that in a few days had moved into my chest. After hacking and coughing my way through a few fitful nights, I found myself wishing I could just lie down, get a good night’s sleep and wake up well. My temporary illness soon passed, but it made me reflect on those who face far more serious conditions, whose illnesses are terminal.

It made me think of my friend, Mike Toby who has served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Woodway for thirty-five years. Last month, Mike woke up on a Sunday morning to discover his left hand numb. He preached anyway. The next week the doctors determined that he was suffering from a cancer in the brain and gave him three to six months to live. Mike made a video for his congregation in which he candidly spoke about his illness and his faith. Here’s what he said:

“I didn’t want to spend one day trying to fight off the inevitable. When I was seven years old I gave my heart to Jesus and became a citizen of the Kingdom of God. That’s where I know that I will spend eternity. My faith is rock solid in Jesus Christ. I know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I have been the recipient of unbelievable grace and blessing. Every day has been full. I don’t feel the need to negotiate with God for fifteen extra seconds, He has so richly blessed me. The only prayer I would ask anyone to pray is that the Lord will take me home quickly. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want my family to suffer. I feel like that God has allowed me to realize the vast majority of anything I could have hoped for in life. …

It was in the spring that the Lord took me to the Psalms and the verse jumped out to me, “Lord teach me to number my days that I may present to you a heart of wisdom.” I don’t think I had a clue how much that would come to mean to me. Clearly to number your days has taken on a real depth of meaning to me. The other verse that has meant a lot to me is “We must work while it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.” For my entire life, as my family will attest, I have woken up about 3:30 in the morning and I have woken up with joy. I have woken up ready to go to work. And I have enjoyed working all day long. And when the sun came down I was ready to put my head on the pillow and said, ‘Lord, thank you for a great day!’ So, I feel like I am able to say ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course and I am absolutely confident that you have a crown awaiting for me, and not for me only, but everyone else who has shared that journey in life.’ I look forward to seeing my Savior and to share that homecoming. The healing comes when I am released into the arms of my Savior.”

During this holiday season there are many households who are facing difficult illnesses like Mike Toby and his family. It is important for all of us that we number our days, that we live with confidence in the eternal life that God has offered in His Son, Jesus Christ knowing that one day we will wake up well and whole with all those who love His appearing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lincoln's Thanksgiving

Perhaps more than any other historical figure, Abraham Lincoln continues to shape the American psyche a century and a half after he lived. The success of Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, gives some indication of our continued fascination with the sixteenth President.

When we think of Thanksgiving, we usually think of Pilgrims and Indians gathered for a harvest feast at Plymouth, but it was Abraham Lincoln who gave us Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Prior to Lincoln, each state celebrated Thanksgiving on different dates according to the discretion of each state’s governor. In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln issued a Presidential proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving.

After noting the many blessings of God in spite of the Civil War with all its suffering and severity, Lincoln wrote in his proclamation, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

Ever since that proclamation in 1863 and the close of the Civil War in 1865, Americans have paused on a Thursday in November to reflect on God’s blessings with humility and thanksgiving.

Most are aware that Lincoln never joined a church. But it is abundantly clear that the one book that most shaped his thought was the Bible. References to Scripture can be found throughout his speeches and conversations. And his Presidential proclamation creating a national day of Thanksgiving challenges us all to a faith that includes confession of our sins, compassion for our fellow man and gratitude to our Heavenly Father. As we gather for our Thanksgiving observances this week, may we hear again Lincoln’s exhortation. May we seek God’s face and trust in His Son that our sins might be forgiven, and that we might be a nation of righteousness that blesses the earth.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What's In It For Me?

The 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, is rated number five among the favorite baseball movies of all time. You remember the story. Ray Kinsella responds to a “voice” that urges him to build a baseball diamond, complete with lights, in the middle of his Iowa corn field. After doing everything the “voice” commands him to do, Ray is stunned to see Shoeless Joe Jackson and some of the greats of the game emerge from his mysterious cornfield to play the game as they did in their youth.


The story climaxes with an invitation from Shoeless Joe to join them in the dimension beyond the edges of this world, an invitation issued not to Ray, who has risked everything to build the field, but to the cynical 1960s writer, Terrence Mann. Ray explodes in a fit of frustration demanding, “What’s in it for me?” To which Shoeless Joe asks, “Is that why you did this Ray, for what’s in it for you?”

It is a good question. According to experts in marketing, it is the question we all ask when we consider purchasing any product or joining any organization. In our age of seeker-sensitive churches, it seems to be the dominant question asked by anyone considering a church. “What’s in it for me?” But, is it the right question?

When Jesus invited Peter, James and John to leave their home, their families and their boats, I wonder how He would have responded if they had asked, “What’s in it for me?” Perhaps He would have responded as He did when the young man with great possessions refused to give up his wealth. How much do we miss of what God has for us because we are so focused on “What’s in it for me?”

Jesus’ invitation to join Him on life’s eternal journey sounds strangely different than our twenty-first century marketing plans. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25). “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (Luke 6:34-35).

Perhaps what is “in it” for us is the same thing that was “in it” for Jesus: the pleasure that comes from obedience to the Father. Simply doing what He says and knowing we have been obedient to His voice may be the ultimate reward. When the Apostle Paul reached the end of his journey, he measured it in this way, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” (2 Timothy 4:7), and again, “I did not prove disobedient to the Heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gridlock

Gridlock may be the greatest challenge facing our nation in the immediate future. Merriam-Webster defines gridlock as “a traffic jam in which a grid of intersecting streets is so completely congested that no vehicular movement is possible; - a situation resembling gridlock.” We all know what gridlock looks like in our congested cities. Many of us have been trapped in our cars on gridlocked highways unable to move. Traffic gridlock is frustrating, but when gridlock grips our government it can be far more serious.

Gridlock occurs when people cease to seek understanding, demonizing those who disagree with them and abandoning meaningful communication. It can occur in marriages, families, schools, businesses, corporations and governments.

Congressional gridlock may be defined as the inability of our elected leaders to find common ground, to craft compromise positions, to engage in thoughtful and meaningful dialogue that can lead to solutions for the significant problems that we face. Regardless of which candidate wins the presidential election, we will not be able to move forward in any direction without overcoming political gridlock in congress.

As soon as the election dust settles, we will be staring at the “fiscal cliff” that looms in front of us. At midnight on December 31 the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect resulting in significant tax increases coupled with austere budget spending cuts. Most economists believe that unless new tax and spending laws are passed before the end of the year, the U.S. will be thrown into another recession dragging the global economy with it. To pass those laws, our congressional leaders will have to work together to find reasonable solutions.

There are instructions in Scripture that can help.

Jesus said, “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” (Matthew 5:25).

The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).

So, what can we do? First, we can practice Jesus’ instructions in our own relationships in our homes, our schools, our businesses and communities. We can demonstrate to our children and our youth the ability to listen, to engage in thoughtful conversation that seeks to understand. We can refrain from name-calling and demonizing those who disagree with us. Second, we can expect the same from our elected officials and hold them accountable. Third, we can pray for one another, for our enemies, for whoever is elected President, for all of our government officials and for our nation.

When Lincoln was President during the Civil War, a group of clergy visited him and offered to pray that God would be on his side. He stunned them by saying, “No, gentlemen, pray that I may be on God’s side.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Election

Next week Americans will go to the polls and elect the President of the United States, a time-honored tradition since the founding of our nation. The people will determine the person to occupy what can be arguably described as the most powerful position in the world. And, four years later, that person will submit once again to the judgment of the people. The election of our president and other government officials is essential to the political experiment our forefathers launched two hundred and twenty-four years ago to establish a nation governed “of the people, by the people and for the people.” .

People typically vote for the candidate they believe will provide peace, security and economic prosperity. We typically ask ourselves, “Am I better off than I was four years ago? Is the world a safer place?”

It would be helpful to consider the standards by which God judges our nation and its leaders. What are the questions that God asks of us? Every nation, every political leader and every person is ultimately held accountable to God. The Bible makes God’s expectations clear.

Proverbs puts it simply: “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.” In Jeremiah’s day God issued strong warnings, saying, ““Why should I pardon you? Your sons have forsaken Me and sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the harlot’s house. “They were well-fed lusty horses, Each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife. Shall I not punish these people,” declares the LORD, “And on a nation such as this Shall I not avenge Myself?.” (Jeremiah 5:7-9). “For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is greedy for gain, And from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely.” (Jer. 6:13).“

And again, "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” (Jer. 7:5-7).

As we approach this election we are reminded that we have choices, but the most important choices that will determine our future are not as simple as marking a ballot and casting a vote. The more important choices we face deal with issues of honesty, generosity, compassion, truthfulness, acceptance, forgiveness, faith and faithfulness. We are all faced with these choices every day, and these are the choices that make or break a nation. Any nation that chooses these things sets its path toward greatness. Any nation that chooses promiscuity, greed, prejudice, and deceit chooses a path that leads to decline and ultimate ruin.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

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


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

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

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

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

Waiting on God involves prayer and finding time to be quiet before Him. Sometimes it includes fasting. But waiting isn’t always about sitting still with our arms folded. The Apostle Paul waited on God by remaining in motion. Acts describes his efforts to discover God’s plan for the next chapter of his life. While he was moving through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, the Holy Spirit forbade him from entering Asia. He then sought to go into Bythinia, but the Spirit of Jesus said no. Only after his visit to Troas did God make it clear to him he was to head west toward Macedonia. (Acts 16:6-10).

Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened.” The secret is to remain open to God’s direction and to listen to His voice while we remain in motion constantly seeking and knocking. When we “wait upon the Lord” in this way, He will direct our paths.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Same Kind of Different

I like to read. Always have. As a kid I rode my bike to our local library with my friends to browse and check out books. When I met my wife, we spent our evenings together in the library at Baylor University and, across the years, libraries have remained one of our favorite places to visit on our “dates.” When we moved to Waco, Texas two weeks ago, one of the first things we did was sign up for our library card. Most of the books I read soon evaporate from my memory. But, once in awhile, a book sticks with me. Same Kind of Different as Me is one of those books that stuck. Apparently the book has been out since 2005. But sometimes it takes a book a long time to find me.

Same Kind of Different As Me is actually two stories. One, the story of an illiterate black man named Denver who was raised in the cotton fields of Louisiana and ended up homeless on the streets of Fort Worth. The other, an upwardly mobile white man named Ron Hall who graduated from TCU and made a fortune in the art world. They each tell their story, and the remarkable intersection of their journeys.

Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron Hall spent his childhood summers on a farm near my boyhood home of Corsicana. His descriptions of Corsicana resonated with my memories growing up on Collin Street, one of the signature brick streets that reflect the glory days when the city boasted more millionaires per capita than any other town in Texas. Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron and Denver intersect in the slums of Fort Worth east of downtown where my wife started her teaching career forty years ago.

But the true stories of Ron Hall and Denver Moore are not the main stories in the book. They represent other stories: the story of our country and its culture. Ron represents those who rise from middle class with professional opportunities that can lead to great wealth. He also represents the dangers of that path that include temptations for greed, materialism, shallow and broken relationships. Denver represents the alarmingly huge segment of our population that falls between the cracks, victims of prejudice, oppression, injustice and neglect. He also represents the dangers of that downward spiral that includes temptations of bitterness, anger, isolation and despair.

But the greatest story underlying and connecting all of these is God’s story. Ron’s wife, Deborah is the entry point for His work, one person who was open, willing and obedient who became the catalyst for connecting these two broken men from different ends of the social spectrum.

In a day when many look to government to heal our wounds and solve our social problems, Same Kind of Different As Me serves as a reminder that the real solution to our personal and social problems lies within us. It is often buried beneath our own prejudices and fears, but it can be unlocked and released with the keys of acceptance, trust, faith and love, all the things Jesus demonstrated and talked about.

God wants to use each of us, whatever our race, whatever our circumstance, whatever our background to make a difference in the world. You can learn more about Ron and Denver’s stories by visiting their website, http://www.samekindofdifferentasme.com/.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Freedom from Frenzy

We live in a time-crunched world where life is lived on the run. Millions pull out of their driveways in the pre-dawn dark, grab a last-minute breakfast burrito and navigate their way onto freeways while listening to the morning news and traffic reports between cell phone calls. It is a frenzied start to a frenzied day. Weary from long hours at work, the same drivers re-enter the stream of traffic making their way home past memorized billboards that serve as markers for their movement. Weekends are filled with a hundred errands, second jobs, T-ball, soccer, football, and the race to cram in as much recreation as possible. Church is squeezed into an already full schedule that has no margins.

Richard Foster analyzed it like this: "We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators." We are increasingly depressed and suicidal. We have turned to alcohol and drugs in a desperate effort to cope. We know deep down that something isn’t working. There must be a better way.

Most people recognize the Ten Commandments as foundational to human conduct and life. But somewhere along the way we reduced the Ten Commandments to nine. We eliminated the fourth commandment as irrelevant and archaic: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” A half-century ago, businesses were closed on Sunday and sporting events recognized Sunday as a day for worship. All that has changed. Today our calendars are filled up to a 24/7 frenzy.

When Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man, he affirmed the need for the Sabbath in our lives. He underscored the importance of the Sabbath to all of us for mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

In his book, Living the Sabbath, Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Norman Wirzba writes, “Put simply, Sabbath discipline introduces us to God’s own ways of joy and delight. … When our work and our play, our exertion and our rest flow seamlessly from this deep desire to give thanks to God, the totality of our living --- cooking, eating, cleaning, preaching, parenting, building, repairing, healing, creating --- becomes one sustained and ever expanding act of worship.”

Sabbath requires time for rest, silence, solitude and worship, but it is more than a day of rest. It is a way of life that is filled with wonder, worship, awe and delight. When Jesus declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath, he offered to us a better way. He said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest to your souls.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making the Right Call

Last week NFL football fans were incensed when replacement referees made a call as time ran out that changed the outcome of the game. Instant replay clearly showed a Green Bay Packer interception that was ruled, instead, as a game-winning touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks. After three weeks of miscalls on the field, the fans couldn’t take it any more. Some demonstrated in the streets protesting with placards. Others lit up Twitter, Facebook and You Tube. The story dominated newscasts and talk shows. Las Vegas gamblers and Fantasy Footballers complained about their losses. Within three days the NFL owners restored the professional officials and promised justice would once again prevail on the gridiron.

It was interesting to watch the widespread outpouring of opinion over this issue across our country in the media, coffee shops, pubs and break-rooms, when other issues of injustice go unnoticed. While the officials were missing their call on the field in Seattle, judges in Massachusetts considered awarding a rapist rights to visit the child that was fathered by his crime. International Justice Mission reminds us that “More children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

International Justice Mission (ijm.org) was established in 1997 in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. The organization seeks to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent crime. Over 400 lawyers, social workers and other staff work in 15 field offices in Asia, Africa and Latin America to protect the oppressed and prosecute the oppressors. 95% of those working for IJM are nationals of the countries in which they serve.

Making the right call and seeking justice is at the center of God’s heart. David writes, “The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” (Ps 33:5). Isaiah says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isa. 1:17). Predicting the Messiah, he writes, ““Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.”

Maybe this NFL fiasco will serve to remind us that every generation is challenged to throw off its social blinders to see injustices and inequalities that need to be corrected. We all have opportunity to see that justice and fairness prevail. Each of us must make “the right call” for justice and fairness as parents and children, co-workers and employers, students, teachers and administrators, citizens and government officials. For the seemingly distant and complex issues that are beyond us, we can encourage and support organizations like IJM.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Good Morning!

Guten morgen. Buenos Dias, Bon dia. Guete Morga. Buongiorno. Selamat pagi. Dobroe utro. In various languages and cultures all over the world, we greet each other every morning with a simple but profound greeting. It is best spoken with eye contact and a smile and is equally meaningful among family, friends and strangers, a way of acknowledging our common existence and bestowing upon others our best wishes for their welfare. We share the greeting on the beach, in the park, on busy city streets, in the workplace and the home. I have exchanged this familiar greeting with others in Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil.

Last week, I strolled along the seawall in Galveston at sunrise and was greeted by others who were walking, jogging or simply watching the sun rise. They were old and young, men and women, white, brown and black. Their simple “good morning” seemed to say, “I recognize your humanity, that you exist and you are here, that though I do not know you and will likely never see you again, though I know not from whence you came nor whither you may go, we occupy together this passing moment in time when the sun is rising over the sea.” We shared the sun’s red glow among the gray clouds and the rippled red reflection on the waves that lap against the sand where sea gulls waddle on spindly stick legs, perpetual beachcombers, searching for treasure. We filled our lungs with the cool morning air, awake and alive to a new day and answered one another, “Good morning.”

All creation celebrates the dawning of a new day. The birds, it seems, do it best. I have often watched their mystic ritual at the dawn of day. They seem to be surprised each and every morning, as if they wonder through the night if the sun will yet rise. When it does, they are delirious with joy. In the forests, a single bird chirps the first signal of the graying dawn, awakening another, and another, until by the time the flaming ball of fire rises in the east they have joined their songs in a chorus of celebration.

It is much the same way with God who greets us at sunrise, a moment when God seems to make eye contact with us and smile, affirming His pleasure in having created us and having given us life. That is why David says, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Ps 5:3). “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.(Ps. 90:14). And again, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Ps 143:8).

Good morning!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Heart Healthy

We are increasingly conscious of becoming heart-healthy.  According to the American Heart Association, “The epidemic increase in heart disease mortality ended in the 1960s or 1970s.” Deaths from heart disease have fallen dramatically over the last fifty years. Heart-healthy alternatives are produced in almost every food category. Restaurants include heart-healthy menus. Smoking has been banned in most public places. Physicians and non-profits promote diet-and-exercise. At the same time America is on an obesity binge.  The improvement, it appears, is the result of long-term care and emergency intervention more than healthy habits.

I first read Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book, Aerobics in 1982. It was a groundbreaking book that opened the eyes of millions to the benefits of aerobic exercise and healthy diet for a healthy heart. When I visited Brazil I was fascinated to find hundreds of Brazilians walking and jogging every morning to get in their “Cooper.” The doctor’s name had found its way into Portuguese as a synonym for heart-healthy aerobic exercise.

When I followed Cooper’s regimen, I experienced the benefits: lost weight, increased strength and stamina. Unfortunately, I have not always followed those disciplines, and it shows. Developing a healthy heart requires more than knowledge.

As important as it is to maintain a healthy heart physically, it is even more important for us to develop a healthy heart spiritually. The Bible clearly sets forth the disciplines and characteristics of a healthy spiritual heart. They include gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. If we discipline ourselves to be grateful every day for what God has done, if we hope when things look hopeless, if we forgive those who injure us, if we love our enemies instead of just loving those who love us, we will have a healthy heart.

But, like our physical heart, having a spiritually healthy heart requires more than knowledge. We may know that we need to be grateful, hopeful, forgiving and loving. But how do you create heartfelt gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love?

In the spiritual realm, this requires a spiritual heart transplant. God has to create a new heart within us, something that He is more than willing to do. We are all born with spiritual heart disease. Jeremiah says, ““The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). But later he writes, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God.” (Jer. 24:7). And in Ezekiel He says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh.” (Ez. 36:26).

God sent His son, Jesus so that He might create in us a healthy heart that is full of gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. He changes the heart that has grown callous, bitter and resentful into one that overflows in gratitude. Someday our physical heart will beat its last beat and our bodies will die. But the spiritually healthy heart that God creates will live forever.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Are You Listening?

I am not a great listener. I lose focus. One word can trigger any number of divergent thoughts causing my mind to race off in pursuit like a dog chasing cats. At other times I leap ahead, thinking about what I want to say rather than listening to what is being said. I have to discipline myself to re-focus on the conversation, sometimes scrambling to piece together the gaps that I missed during my mental lapses. My wife knows this. She can see it in my eyes. Sometimes she will stop talking and the silence will awaken me from my temporary daydream. “You’re not listening,” she says. Of course she is right. But occasionally I am lucky enough to be able to repeat the last sentence that she spoke, retrieving it from some kind of digital recording in my head, even though it’s meaning was not being registered in my brain.

My wife, on the other hand, is a great listener. That is one of the reasons I married her. She listens intently, not just to me, but also to anyone speaking to her. I once watched a total stranger stop her on the street in New York and spill out their life story. I have witnessed the same thing on subways, in train stations, and shopping centers in the U.S. and Europe. You can see it in her eyes. She focuses. She doesn’t glance around the room wondering if there is someone else she should speak to. She doesn’t look beyond you. Her eyes don’t glaze over in a fixed stare that pretends to listen while she thinks about something else.

Listening is a powerful gift. It is transformational. When someone listens to us without judgment or accusation we hear and see ourselves differently. Somehow the act of having someone truly listen enables us to sort through our emotions and confusions to reach better conclusions. Feelings of isolation and loneliness dissolve and melt away when someone listens to us. The listener, by listening, has the ability to heal.

Most of us are far more intent on being heard than hearing. When we pretend to listen, we are, more often simply waiting for a gap, a chance in the conversation to insert our already preconceived conclusions. We interrupt one another with conversations that often are running on different tracks.

How many times have we injured someone, or simply failed to help someone, because we were too quick to speak? How different our world would be if parents listened to their children; if bosses listened to their employees; if businesses listened to their customers; if politicians listened to the people; if persons in power listened to each other? Maybe if we were better at listening to one another, we might be better at listening to God.

The Bible says, “Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak.” (James 1:19). In Isaiah, God says “Listen carefully to Me. ... Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:2-3).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day 2012

Today is Labor Day in the United States. First proposed in 1882, it became a Federal Holiday in 1894 and has been celebrated on the first Monday of September ever since. Other countries have their own observance of Labor Day, most choosing the first of May. It is a day when we pause to honor labor and celebrate the significance honest work adds to our lives.


Labor has always been an important aspect of the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul worked as a laborer mending tents in Corinth in order to earn his own living. He wrote to the Colossians saying, ” Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:23-24). Much of the impact of early Christianity can be traced to the quality and dedication of work exhibited by the followers of Christ

After a century of professional missionary movements, we are discovering again that the way we work is the most effective means for improving the world and sharing the message of the risen Christ. A few years ago I met Debra. She went to Uzbekistan on a short-term mission assignment and decided to stay. She started a tailoring business, enlisted two women to work for her, mentored them as followers of Christ and helped start a new church. After two years, she gave the business to her co-workers and returned to the United States. I asked her what her church thought about what she did. She said no one asked.

On our recent assignment to Nuremberg, Germany, we met Kim. She and her husband moved to Nuremberg a year and a half ago, she says, “firmly convinced that God was using my husband’s company to bring us over to be “believers on the ground” in this country. We are very involved in our German church, seeking to help them develop a strong gospel and cross-centered emphasis, to support and help in any way we can.”

A few weeks ago, I was reviewing my sermon notes prior to the church service in Nuremberg when Eddie Wong walked in. I introduced myself and asked if this was his first time to the church. He said he had attended the Nuremberg church a couple years ago before going to China. He came to Germany and worked in a bakery to learn the trade, then moved to China where he worked in a bakery as a means to share the gospel with others.

Debra, Kim, Eddie are examples of a multitude of believers from all over the world who are discovering that work is far more than a way to make a living. It is the place where we demonstrate daily the character and presence of Christ and it can be the vehicle that enables us to share our faith anywhere in the world. Perhaps this Labor Day can serve as a reminder that our professions are far more effective in communicating the essence of the gospel than any church programs. How we use our professions to honor God and to serve others can change the world.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Are All Religions the Same?

I had just settled into my aisle seat on the first leg of our flight home from Nuremberg, Germany last week when a young woman indicated she had the window seat. When I stood to allow her access, her younger brother joined her sitting in the center. They immediately initiated a delightful conversation. I found Alex. 22, and Jake, 20, to be remarkably friendly and intelligent young adults. They had been touring Europe with their family and were returning home to Detroit where their father practiced medicine.

Halfway to Amsterdam I asked both of them if church and faith was important to their family. They told me they were Jewish, had attended religion classes, but did not enjoy it much, and, while they liked the sound of the Hebrew language, did not understand what was being said. I told them that I have a deep appreciation for the Jewish people without whom we would have little knowledge of the nature and character of God. I went on to explain that I am a Christian and that I have become convinced that everything that is best and beautiful in Judaism is fulfilled in Jesus.

They then talked about some of their Christian friends they have known who go to church every week and Jake concluded by saying, basically all religions are the same. They all basically teach kindness and goodness. It doesn’t really matter what you believe.

I did not try to correct Jake or enter into an argument about his point, but the comment continued to bother me. I have heard this statement many times before, usually from people who have little religious knowledge or experience. It is a way of sidestepping any serious discussion about religion. But the fact of the matter is that religions of the world are not the same. In fact, they are vastly different.

Most who assume that all religions are basically the same, also assume that all religions teach the Ten Commandments. But the first commandment clearly states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The second states, “You shall not make for yourself any idol.” Right up front, the Commandments let us know that religions are not all alike and that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is unique.

No other faith claims what the Christian faith boldly asserts, that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob visited us in the person of His Son, Jesus who lived a perfect, sinless life, and, after willingly laying down His life as a sacrifice for sins was raised from the dead. Jesus’ claims are astounding, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” “I and the Father are one.” “He that lives and believes in me shall never die.”

The Scripture plainly teaches that God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossian 1:13-15).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nuremberg

For the past three months Jackie and I have been serving an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany. Tomorrow we will return to the United States. We have found a beautiful city, a beautiful people and a welcoming country. We have made life-long friends in the church from around the world, most of them young adults just starting their careers. They come from such places as Cameroon, India, China, England, Ireland, Austria, Brazil, Poland, Ukraine, U.S. and, of course, Germany. Nuremberg has become a cosmopolitan crossroads.


Of course, Nuremberg hasn’t always been that way. While here, I have often reflected on that dark period when Hitler led this nation and the world to the brink of the abyss. During those days, Nuremberg played a pivotal role, the site where the Nuremberg laws were passed in 1935 that launched the deadly persecution of the Jews. Nuremberg was the site of the annual Nazi rallies where up to a million people assembled to worship Hitler and cheer his programs of prejudice. And, of course, it was here that the Nuremberg trials were conducted in 1945 to hold the Nazi leaders accountable to International law.

My father’s brother was among the occupying forces that entered Nuremberg on April 15, 1945. His memories of this place and the atrocities of that time are far removed from the Nuremberg that has grown up in its place. But his sacrifices, and those of millions others, are largely responsible for creating the freedom, justice and peace that have taken root and flourished more than half a century later.

The Nazi rally grounds have been turned into parks where couples stroll beneath shade trees and families play with their children beside a tranquil lake. Near by, the Document Center (Doku Zentrum) “documents” what happened in the Second World War, an attempt to understand how a nation could be led to commit the atrocities unleashed by Hitler’s regime. It is a sobering place that looms over the peaceful park that surrounds it. Last week we attended an open-air concert by the Nuremberg Symphonic Orchestra in the same place where thousands once hailed Hitler and cheered his speeches. Sixty-five thousand people gathered in clusters with family and friends to picnic on blankets while they listened to classical music.

Nuremberg, the largest city in Franconia and gateway to Bavaria, is impressive as an idyllic and tranquil place. But always, underneath the surface, there lurks the memory of the Second World War and the questions it raises.

Nuremberg is a constant reminder of our potential for good and evil, our infinite capacity for the divine and the demonic. The evil that lurks within the human heart, that raised its head in Nuremberg more than half a century ago, continues to raise its head among us today. We witnessed that evil recently in a movie theater in Colorado, a year ago in Arizona outside a local Safeway where Gabriella Giffords was attacked, in Syria where hundreds are daily gunned down in the streets, in Iraq and Afghanistan where terrorist bombings continue, and countless other places too numerous to list. Nuremberg is a reminder that each of us, every people and nation of every generation, need Jesus our Savior to deliver us from our own worst passions.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Acts of Kindness

Most of us are inspired by great acts of heroism. Sully Sullenberger, the captain who skillfully landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, has become a household name. After striking a flock of geese that disabled the engines, Sullenberger flew the plane like a giant glider and landed safely on the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 people on board. For thirty years Sullenberger flew airplanes in an uneventful career. This one act made him a national hero.

A couple of years ago New York City was captivated by the heroic act of a French tourist who plunged into the river to save a two-year-old child. When Julien Duret saw Bridget Sheridan slip through the guard rail and fall into the East River, he did not hesitate. He immediately jumped into the river to save her. Later, amid all the commotion, he took a taxi and disappeared without waiting to be thanked.

Few of us will be given such significant opportunities to perform heroic feats that make the news. And even if the heroic opportunity were given to us, we might miss it.

Celebrated heroic actions make a difference. They burst upon us like a torrential downpour that sweeps us off our feet. But it is the little known act of kindness that often make the greatest difference. These acts are like the raindrops that pool into fresh water lakes and rivers to nourish the earth.

Jesus recognized the importance of heroic and sacrificial actions. He said, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend.” Of course, this is what he did when He went to the cross and laid his life down for us. But he also taught the importance of little acts of kindness. In fact, it might very well be that the little acts of kindness we choose to do every day have a far greater impact in transforming the world than a few famous acts of heroism.

All of us have opportunity every day to perform little acts of kindness. We all have opportunity to let someone else in line before us, to hold a door open for a stranger, to speak a kind and encouraging word to the cashier who wearily scans countless items at the checkout counter. We can all be kind to a waitress who works for a minimum wage to support her child, or a student working nights to pay for college. The little acts of kindness change a culture.

A friend recently recounted his visit to Arby’s. Completing a cell phone call, he watched from his car as a woman frantically searched the back seat of her car. He asked if there was a problem. She told him she had a roll of quarters she was going to use to buy lunch, but she could not find them. He pulled out a $10 bill and asked, “Will this help?” She refused. He insisted. Inside he stood behind the rattled woman as she thanked him profusely. She said, “God sent you, you know.” When the cashier delivered his order she said, “The manager was watching and he went ahead and gave you a free sandwich.”

Little acts of kindness add up. All put together, they can change the world.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Spiritual Myopia

Myopia. I learned the word when I was ten years old from the optometrist who checked my eyes and told my parents that I was nearsighted. I didn’t know I was nearsighted. I thought everyone saw everything the way I saw it. Trees were green blobs, the landscape blurred into blotches of pink, green, brown and blue, like an Impressionist painting. (Maybe Monet was near sighted and created Impressionism by painting what he saw.) I have to admit I wondered how other kids could catch and hit a baseball. I never saw the ball until it was on top of me. I could see some vague arm motion in the distance and then, wham! The ball was in my face.

My first pair of glasses changed my world. I discovered leaves on trees. I could see people’s faces inside their cars. I could read the blackboard from the back of the room. As a teenager I became the cleanup hitter on the all stars, and could catch a fly ball over my shoulder while galloping toward the centerfield fence like Joe DiMaggio. When I returned to the dugout, I heard the coach say, “I always knew if he could see it he could catch it.”

Myopia is not only physical. It is spiritual. We are all born spiritually nearsighted. Like my childhood years, we think we see things clearly, but we don’t. We are unaware of what we don’t see. The only person who ever had perfect vision was Jesus. That is why He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness … if anyone walks in the night he stumbles because the light is not in him.” (John 8:12; 11:10)

When the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by an enemy army at Dothan, the servant was gripped with fear. But Elisha told him, “Do not fear. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” When God opened the servant’s eyes, he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6) When we are gripped with fear and despair we need God to open our eyes so we can see clearly. “If God be for us,” Paul said, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Jesus once met a blind man in the village of Bethsaida. Jesus laid His hands upon him and asked him, “Do you see anything?” The man responded, “I see people; they look like trees walking around. Once more,” the Bible says, “Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened … and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-25) Many of us are like that blind man. We may be religious. We may attend church. But we need a “second touch” from God so that we can see clearly.

We are born with spiritual nearsightedness so that we only see things close up, our own self interests. As a result we are often filled with fear, doubt, anger, resentment and despair. When we turn from our sins and place our faith in Christ, He is able to touch us so that we see clearly and walk in the light. Only Christ can cure the spiritual myopia that afflicts us from birth and enable us to see the world as God sees it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Run to Win

All eyes are focused on London for the Olympics where we are mesmerized by the best athletes of the world competing at the limit of their talent and determination. A high bar was set for the entertainment factor when the Queen appeared to skydive into the opening ceremonies alongside her 007 agent, James Bond.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dealing with the Devil

When my mother was eighty-seven, she called me asking my opinion about some counsel she had received from some well meaning Christian friends. They told her that the Devil was always present, always beside her, always trying to make her fall. Near the point of tears, she asked if that was true. A widow for thirty-three years, the thought of the Devil constantly beside her, testing her, only served to deepen her sense of loneliness and fear.

I was glad to reassure her that her friends, as well meaning as they were, got it wrong. The Bible does not teach that the Devil is present everywhere. Nor does it teach that the Devil is always standing beside us tempting us. In the last days before her death at eighty-nine she demonstrated complete confidence in  God's presence and His promises.

When Jesus was tempted for forty days in the wilderness the Bible clearly states that after the temptation the Devil left him. If the Devil left Jesus, he also leaves us. He cannot remain constantly by our side tempting us. The Bible also says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” If he has fled, he cannot remain by your side.

Unlike our Adversary, Jesus is always with us. He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Giving comfort to followers of Christ, Paul stated, “Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world.”

Of course, not everyone believes the Devil is real. But, there is a lot out there about the Devil. He shows up in books, movies and videos. To show just how confused people are about the Devil, a nation-wide survey conducted by the Barna Group indicated that a minority of Christians believe Satan is a personal being, but a majority of Christians believe a person can be under the influence of spiritual forces such as demons.

No one would argue with the fact that there is enormous evil in the world.  Our news reports are filled daily with murders, thefts and atrocities both local and global. The recent horrific killings in Aurora at the Dark Knight premier is a case in point.

The Bible teaches that the Devil is a real, personal being, our Adversary that seeks our destruction. (1 Peter 5:8). But the Bible also teaches that the Devil is a defeated being. (Revelation 20:10).

We need not fear the Devil or all his demons. We need not live our lives in fear of the evil and violence that is so evident in our world. We can live with confidence. If God be for us, who can be against us?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Flying Upside Down

Thirteen years ago today John F. Kennedy, Jr. took off on his fateful flight from Essex County Airport, New Jersey.  Heir to the legendary Kennedy good looks, charm and fortune, the young Kennedy possessed unlimited potential for political and commercial fame. But, in less than two hours, his young life would be cut short along with his wife and sister-in-law who were passengers.

Flying at night without instrument ratings, the young Kennedy was dependent upon visual contact with the ground in order to land the Piper Saratoga safely at Martha’s Vineyard Airport two hundred miles away. Unknown to Kennedy, he was flying into a night fog. Choosing to fly over open water, he became disoriented with no visual horizon, and apparently pulled the plane into a deadly spiral. Their bodies were discovered in the wreckage eight miles off the coast of Massachusetts.

Kennedy’s tragic death underlines the dangers of spatial disorientation in flight, something commonly referred to as “flying upside down.” The pilot thinks he is flying right-side up, but is, in fact, “flying upside down,” so that when he thinks he is pulling up, he is instead flying into the ground. Dallas Willard used this metaphor to introduce his book, The Divine Conspiracy drawing the conclusion that Jesus was the only person who ever lived who knew how to fly right-side up. The rest of us, left to our own devices, inevitably fly upside down.

This is the reason Jesus’ instructions sound so counter intuitive. “Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down and running over.” “Whoever would save his shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. … If you love those who love you what reward do you have?” “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” “Do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”

Jesus’ instructions sound incredulous in a world that operates on systems of revenge and retaliation, of greed and self-interest. Perhaps that is the reason our world seems to be out of control, gripped in a death spiral destined for destruction. Only when we learn to trust the One who alone can see the horizon are we able to “right our plane” and fly right-side up.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What Do You Know?

No one knows what you know. And everyone else you meet knows things you don’t. Even though my wife and I have been married more than forty years, we each know things the other doesn’t.

At birth, we immediately begin to build our knowledge base from family and friends.  Perhaps due to the fact that we shared a significant common base of knowledge in our formative years, most of us tend to remain close to those siblings and friends for a lifetime. But as we grow, our knowledge differs. We follow different paths, study different subjects, pursue different careers, live in different places and meet different people. Our individual knowledge becomes unique, like our fingerprints.

The pursuit of knowledge is a good thing. And we should celebrate each achievement that increases our knowledge. But how much does any one of us really know? And how much do we all know if the knowledge of every human being could be combined?

Scientists are continually trying to piece together the puzzle of the past, to reconstruct our origins and the path we have taken to get to where we are. Physicists recently discovered what appears to be the Higgs boson, what some refer to as the “God particle,” which could answer the origin of all mass. But, even with this discovery, the sum total of our scientific, philosophical and historic knowledge represents only a small fragment of the total knowledge in the universe. The more we discover, the more we realize what we don’t know. The puzzle pieces of the past are often misleading, having to be rearranged and reconfigured to correct our preconceived ideas.

Solomon, considered by many to be the wisest man to ever live, wrote, “I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,’ he cannot discover.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17).

Perhaps the most important discovery is not what we know, but the fact that we are known. David wrote, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all.” (Psalm 139:2-4). To Jeremiah, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Jesus said, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

As we expand our personal knowledge and strive to understand the universe, we can live with confidence that the One Who made it all knows us and loves us as He demonstrated in His Son, Jesus.

Monday, July 2, 2012

To the Ends of the Earth

I grew up in a small town in Texas and did not travel more than a hundred miles from home before high school. My first trip to a “foreign country” was across the Red River into Oklahoma. But, when I was eighteen, God called me into the ministry and that changed everything. I knew when I accepted that call that Christians were to bear witness of Christ to the uttermost parts of the earth. I had no idea that God meant for me to go there.


He first took me to regions of the United States that I had only read about: to the boundless beauty of the Northwest, the plains of Indiana, the urban centers and rocky coasts of the Northeast. I even lived in Minnesota for eight years where I learned how to survive brutal winters and celebrate summers. I discovered the immense pleasure of sweet corn, though I never learned to eat lutefisk.

I was introduced to poverty in Matamoras, Mexico that seemed to pale beside the favelas of Brazil. I visited orphanages in Guatemala and saw volcanoes with lush forests. While conducting church planting conferences in Australia, I toured Sydney’s Botanay Bay, woke to the sound of a laughing kookaburra outside Melbourne and napped on the grass at King’s Park in Perth, then witnessed the crashing surf at Auckland, New Zealand. In Moscow, I stood outside the Kremlin and toured Lenin’s tomb after working on a partnership with Siberian Christians. We met with Christians from around the world in Prague and visited Bethlehem Chapel where John Hus preached in 1402. In Egypt, I stood in awe at the foot of the same pyramids that were once seen by Abraham and explored the catacombs of Alexandria where Christians took refuge in the first centuries. I met with NGOs in Aceh, Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami and woke each morning to the Islamic call to prayer. This summer I am in Nuremberg, Germany serving as pastor of a new English speaking church with more than a dozen nationalities represented.

Along the way I learned that God loves different cultures and different people. He loves the red, brown, yellow, black and white. He loves long hair and short. He loves the sound of different music and different languages. Like His creation with all of its multifaceted mysteries, he loves the diversity within the human race.

I learned that when I am in a different culture I see myself differently, and I see God in ways I would have never seen Him. I learned that there is no greater adventure than to follow Him to the ends of the earth to share the message that He has revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. I am filled with awe, wonder and amazement at the journey that started, for me, with a very small step in a small town in Texas.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Viral Gospel

“Going viral” has entered the English language. The term used to refer to communicable diseases, the kinds that are so easily transmitted that they can rapidly escalate into an epidemic. But, in our day, it means something quite different. With the aid of the Internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and You Tube, what was anonymous or obscure can "go viral" and become suddenly famous.

Most of us are familiar with the movie, The Social Network, that chronicles, in Hollywood fashion, how Facebook went viral from Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room at Harvard. A website designed to use the internet as social media, Facebook itself “went viral.” When Facebook went public in May, it was valued at $14 billion and sold 82 million shares in the first thirty seconds. At that time, there were 900 million Facebook subscribers. It has become one of the most powerful tools on the internet to catapult others into the “viral” stratosphere.

When Susan Boyle stepped onto the stage at Britain’s Got Talent April 11, 2009, she was unknown and unemployed, living alone with her cat in the flat where her mother raised her. Her frumpy attire drew snickers and laughter from the judges and the audience until she began to sing I Have A Dream from Les Miserables. When she sang, everything changed. The video of her performance “went viral” on the internet and, within nine days was viewed 100 million times. She is now an established star.

“Going viral” appears to be a twenty-first century phenomenon. But is it?

History documents that the Gospel went viral following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. There was no media campaign. There were no reporters, no cameras, no photo ops, no internet, no Facebook. But somehow, Jesus impacted and changed the world. Growing up in the obscure and infamous village of Nazareth, Jesus’ public ministry lasted only three years. He walked wherever he went and never traveled more than one hundred miles from his birth place. When He was crucified, there were no papers to report it, no news teams to film it. But the news spread around the world and is continuing to spread today. It did so by “going viral.”

Paul spoke of.”the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (Colossians1:6). And again, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” 2 Cor 4:15, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ … because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.: (Romans 1:8).

When the Gospel goes viral, it requires more than posting a few sentences or a video clip on the intenet, more than “clicking” and forwarding information. The Kingdom of God goes viral when lives are transformed by faith in Jesus Christ so that society is saturated with honesty, integrity, justice and generosity. Changed lives change the lives of those around them.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Celebrating Diversity

We are all different. In the way we look, the way we talk, the way we think. This is especially clear in Nuremberg where we are spending the summer. Last week we attended an African Festival that packed the park. African music echoed through the trees; strange fragrances drifted on the breeze; multiple ethnicities melted into the crowd. The major cities of the world are cosmopolitan. More than 90 languages are spoken in Houston. In Dallas, every ethnicity is a minority, including Anglo.

Last week, I left my wife in the lobby of the theater while I went off to secure a video rental. When I returned she had struck up a conversation with a young man with several days growth of beard. He was from Algiers, working as a chef at a Cuban restaurant in Nuremberg. Later, when traveling on the bus trying to find the Ikea store, we encountered a helpful woman who led us to our destination. She spoke fluent English, lives one month of the year in Nuremberg and the rest in India, though she recently spent three months in China.

God must like difference and diversity. There is so much of it. If we all looked alike, spoke alike and thought alike, it would be a boring and shallow world. God has splashed His creation with rich and wondrous diversity, from the fish of the sea and the stars in the heavens to the people of the earth.

Why is it, then, that we are so prone to make other people conform to our own way of life? Why do we feel it necessary to argue until others adopt our point of view? Why do we want them to dress like us, look like us and talk like us? What should a Christian look like?

It seems to me that most Christians think other Christians should look like they look. But they don’t. I am reminded of a visit I made several years ago to the Harley Davidson Factory in Kansas City. A young man stood up to address the group and introduced himself as a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as an executive at Harley Davidson. Disciples of Jesus Christ come disguised in the clothing and customs of every culture on the globe.

Like our 21st century world, first century Rome was an empire of wide cultural diversity. Writing to Christians who lived in this diverse cultural context, the Apostle Paul gave these instructions: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” And “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.”

Paul’s instructions for living in a diverse world have two primary threads. First, be willing to accept different customs and cultures without judging them. Second, live out your faith in Christ so that you are consistent with your conscience and seek the best interest of others.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Finding God as Father

This week, Americans will pause to honor their fathers. Germany, where we are spending the summer, did so a few weeks ago. Every nation and every culture recognizes the important role of fathers in the life of children.

As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus rewrote everything we ever thought about fathers and everything we think about God. He had returned to Jerusalem with his parents to observe the Passover as was their custom. The Passover was a family event. Relatives and friends traveled in caravans from Nazareth to Jerusalem once a year to visit with distant relatives and observe this significant historic Jewish custom. When the group started their journey home, they were struck with the horror of a missing child. Jesus had been left behind on the streets of the capital city.

Mary and Joseph left the returning caravan and traveled a full day’s journey back to Jerusalem to find him. After three days of anguish, they found him in the Temple engaged in discussion with the religious leaders. Hardly able to control her emotions, Mary asked him, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Don’t you know your father and I have been anxiously looking for you?” His response shocked her. He said. “Did you not know I must be about the things of my Father?” Mary and Joseph did not understand what he was talking about. (Luke 2: 41-52) The reason for Mary and Joseph’s confusion is rather simple. They had never thought of God as Father. Like all faithful Jews, they considered God too holy for his name to be pronounced. Only the priest could approach God in the holy of holies and that only once a year.

This became a dominant theme in Jesus’ ministry. He revolutionized prayer by teaching us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven” and encouraged us to bring all our requests to God saying, “Which one of you if your son asks for an egg will give him a stone, or for a fish will give him a snake? If you being evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father which is in Heaven give what is good to you.” "Take no thought saying what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things ..." "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." With his final breath upon the cross, Jesus said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” From his first recorded words to his last, Jesus redefined God as our Father.

Faith takes on an entirely different dimension when we discover God as Father. He is more than a theological or philosophical concept to be debated. He wants to know us, love us and transform our lives forever.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Every Nation

I am writing this week from Nuremberg, Germany where my wife and I are serving an English speaking church for the summer. We are surrounded with history, culture and beauty. The church is composed of remarkable people from Germany, Ireland, England, Romania, Ukraine, China, Cameroon, India, Sweden, Austria and others. Most are in their twenties and thirties.

This church reminds me that Jesus Christ was sent for all people of every nation in every age. When God called Abraham, He promised to make him a blessing to all the nations. Isaiah said, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isa. 42:1) And again, “The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 52:10) Those promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost reflects the fact that Jesus came for everyone. Shortly after His resurrection, many people gathered in Jerusalem from many nations, and they all heard the message of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection in their own language. “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2)

When John saw the vision that he recorded in Revelation, he declared, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Clearly, God wants people from every nation to experience His salvation in Jesus Christ. To accomplish this purpose, God is moving people all around the world and exposing them to opportunities to hear the gospel. According to a recent study by Lousanne World Pulse, Christianity as a whole is growing faster than the global population with the fastest growth in Asia and Eastern Europe. We are living in one of the most exciting eras of human history, when more people are discovering faith in Christ from all over the world than ever before.

A few years ago our daughter went on a mission trip to Andhra Pradesh in India. At the same time I visited Lubbock, Texas. When I checked into the hotel, the clerk who greeted me was from Andhra Pradesh.

Whether we are in Dallas, Houston, Lubbock or Nuremberg, Germany, every believer needs to reach out to international visitors around them, to welcome them, to love them, and to share with them the life-changing difference Jesus Christ makes in our lives.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Recognizing The Moment

 Last week my neighbor was walking down the alley behind our house and greeted me with a wide grin. He had just bought a new bicycle for his eleven-year-old daughter. “Is it her birthday?” I asked. “No,” he replied, almost giggling. “I realized she had outgrown her bike and decided to buy her a new one. She hasn’t stopped smiling all day. I just recognized the moment.” He grinned again.


Every day we are presented with moments that make a difference with our families, our friends and with strangers. Recognizing these moments ultimately determines how we impact our world.

Jesus was the master of recognizing the moment. When He entered the city of Jericho, no one noticed a tax collector who had climbed a nearby tree to get a glimpse of him. But Jesus stopped, called him by name and spent the afternoon in Zacchaeus’ home. That moment changed Zacchaeus’ life. Later, when He was leaving the city, a blind man named Bartimaeus cried for His attention. Many rebuked the blind beggar and told him to be quiet. But Jesus stopped, called for him and restored his sight.

Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable is a lesson about recognizing the moment. Twice passersby missed the moment of opportunity. Both the priest and the Levite continued on their journey without stopping. Perhaps, like so many of us, they were too busy to take the time. For whatever reason, only the Samaritan saw the moment of opportunity and stopped to help. I sometimes wonder how many such moments I have missed.

God presents all of us with moments that can make a difference. Last March I met Giuseppe who was working in his family’s pizza restaurant. We struck up a conversation and he spoke of his spiritual hunger. We prayed together and I returned to give him a copy of my Sermon On the Mount book as an encouragement. Last week he wrote, “Now I read the bible before I go to bed. God’s been working in my life so much. I (have) been preaching the word of God to people that don't know him. … My heart hungers for the Lord.” He went on to tell me how God used him to help a friend find a job.

A couple of years ago I met a young mother who was struggling with her decision about baptism and her husband’s alcoholism. A few days ago she wrote, “God is Healer and Awesome in power! My husband will celebrate one year of sobriety next month and his health hasn't been better in years. He is completely off his meds and living a Christ-filled life. He was baptized and is growing spiritually every day.” Her entire family is now active in a local church.

To each of us God presents life-changing “moments” of opportunity. How we recognize those moments and what we do with them may be the true measure of our faith.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Moving On

We are moving. After forty-three years of marriage and eleven years in the same house, we are selling, moving everything into storage and going to Germany for the summer to work with an English speaking church. It is an exciting journey, and we are energized by it. But going through our “stuff” and trying to sort out the junk has been a challenge. 

We have found unopened boxes that followed us from Texas to Minnesota and back, still sealed after twenty years. We have thrown away dozens of trash cans full of junk, we have given car loads to Goodwill and hauled boxes to our kids for a garage sale. Still, we have stuff.

Some things have attached themselves and will not let go. We still have boxes labeled “keepsakes and junk” that hold tangible memories: the roller skates I had when I was a kid (the four-wheel kind with a skate key to clamp them to the soles of my shoes); a baseball I wrapped with electric tape when I couldn’t afford a new ball, my daughter’s hand-scribbled cards signed with x’s and o’s, the shoeshine kit my son made for me; my wife’s wedding dress in a box that has remained sealed for 43 years. Multiply these a hundred-fold and you get the idea. What do you do? You rent a storage room, I guess.

The Bible recognizes the importance of tangible memory markers for God’s faithfulness. After the flood, God gave Noah the rainbow as a reminder of His promise. “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.” When Jacob was on his journey to find his wife he erected a stone at Bethel to remind him of the dream God gave him. “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.” After the Exodus, God instructed Moses to observe the Passover so that each generation would remember God’s deliverance. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus established the Lord’s Supper so that we would not forget his broken body and shed blood.

Memories are good. They give us identity, and I feel pleasure when I handle these tokens of by-gone days. The reminders of my childhood and youth make me thankful. They give me courage and hope for more to come. Some day, I will take them out again and add to them memories from the future that is yet to be.

But, it is important to “move on.” We must always be ready to read the next chapter yet to be written. I expect this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blessed

When I was young, I didn’t use the word, “blessed.” I thought it seemed shallow and artificially religious, something you say to sound religious when you don’t know what else to say. I wasn’t even sure what it meant. But, as I have grown older, I have changed my mind.

Growing up in Texas, I learned that when someone asked, “How are you?” they rarely wanted an honest answer. Anything other than “Fine,” or “Great,” tended to throw the conversation off course. When I lived in Minnesota, an understated culture, I learned that the appropriate response to “How are you?” was “Not too bad.” When I tried to use that response in Texas, it raised all kinds of complications. But, whether in Minnesota or Texas, I discovered that African Americans had developed an entirely different response. When I asked my African American friends who are Christians, “How are you?” they almost always responded, “I’m blessed.” I like the African American response.

Jesus used this term when he introduced the Sermon On the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who mourn … blessed are the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness … blessed are the merciful … blessed are the pure in heart … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” (Matthew 5:3-10). He used the work makarios which some have translated “happy.” But, I think blessed is the right word.

Being blessed has nothing to do with prosperity, health, comfort or security. It is all about a relationship with God that blesses us whatever our circumstances happen to be. In fact, those who suffer poverty, illness and difficulty are more likely to experience God’s blessing than those who are wealthy and well off.

I grew up listening to Billy Graham each week and looked forward to listening to the Hour of Decision. Dr. Graham’s messages, books and, most of all, his conduct always inspired me. He ended every broadcast by saying, “God bless you real good.” It wasn’t proper grammar, but we all understood what he meant and, when we listened to him we always felt blessed.

Liturgical churches still conclude their worship services with the “benediction,” a blessing of the worshippers as they leave the worship experience. In African American churches the benediction is the high point of the service. Some churches end with a rush toward the doors to get a jump on parking lot traffic and early seating at nearby restaurants. It feels good to take time to be blessed.

When God called Abraham to follow Him, he promised that He would bless him and make him a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2). Perhaps the secret to following Jesus is living every day knowing that we are blessed and seeking ways to bless others. When we are blessed, we can sing with the Psalmist, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to thy name, O Most High; to declare thy loving kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.” (Ps 92:1-2)