What Others Say

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blessed

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 discovered 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 questions. But, whether in Minnesota or Texas, I discovered that African Americans had developed an entirely different response. When I asked my African American friends, “How are you?” they often responded, “I’m blessed.”

In my youth, I stopped using the word “blessed” or “blessing.” 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. I think my African American friends got it right. I am blessed.

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).

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. Many churches end with a rush toward the doors to get a jump on parking lot traffic and early seating at nearby restaurants. It seems to me that we lose something when we don’t take the time to experience God’s blessing and to bless one another.

When God called Abraham to follow Him, he promised him He would bless him and make him a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2). God’s blessing of Abraham and his descendents sometimes resulted in great difficulty. Perhaps the secret to following Jesus is discovering how to live life very day with awareness that we are, indeed, blessed, and seeking ways to bless others.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Right Stuff

Fifty years ago today John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. I was in high school. Our science teacher slipped us out a side door and led us to his house a few blocks away where we crowded around his black and white television to watch the launch. The tiny speakers strained to recreate the thunder of the Mercury Atlas 6 rocket when it ignited on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. A shaky camera traced the flame that streaked through the sky hurtling John Glenn toward space. The rocket was little more than a beefed up Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, its warhead replaced by a space capsule. Within four hours, Glenn made three orbits of the earth, and then prepared for re-entry. An entire nation held its breath as Walter Cronkite described the potentially loose heat shield and the likelihood that Friendship 7 would burn up like a meteor.

Years later I visited the Smithsonian and viewed the space capsule in which Glenn made his historic flight. The capsule is about the size of a 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle. It was far less sophisticated than a Prius or a Ford Focus. Personal computers would not become available for another twenty years. Because of their discipline and courage, John Glenn and the other astronauts who blazed the first trails into space came to be known as men with “the right stuff.”

Few of us will ever experience a heroic moment like John Glenn experienced February 20, 1962. But each of us has the opportunity to be men and women with “the right stuff.” Every day we are called upon to live with courage, discipline and faith. Some face huge challenges.

When I think of people with the “right stuff,” I think of my friend Heather. Heather was born with cerebral palsy. She is confined to a wheel chair with limited use of one arm. She is unable to feed, bathe or clothe herself. But she is able to manipulate the joystick on her powered wheel. Although she struggles with a speech impediment, she is articulate and intelligent. As a freshman at Baylor University, Heather gave her life to Christ. Four years later she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in counseling. Three years after that, she completed a Master’s degree at Truett Seminary. Since I met her, she has made three trips to India to minister to those who have handicaps similar to her own. Last year she published her first children’s book, My Friends and I.

James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3). Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Perhaps the fiftieth anniversary of John Glenn’s courageous ride into space can remind us that we must face life with courage and faith. That each of us can live with the “right stuff.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Addictions

As I follow the news reports of Whitney Houston’s death I feel a sense of sadness and grief. Although the toxicologist reports will not be available for weeks, recent interviews with Houston and descriptions from those closest to her leave little doubt that her untimely death came as a result of drugs and addictions that were beyond her control.

Addictions are the demons of our day. Over the last three years we have watched Josh Hamilton battle his own addiction to drugs and alcohol. His most recent relapse reminds us how powerful and ever present these demons can be. In spite of the encouragement and help from his Ranger teammates who shunned alcohol in their victory celebrations out of deference to him, and in spite of Ian Kinsler’s efforts to get him home sober and safe, he still succumbed to the temptations that never leave him alone.

The sex addictions that took Tiger Woods down from the pinnacle of the sports world and destroyed his marriage have left him a shadow of his former self. He hasn’t won on the PGA in over two years. His meltdown on the final round of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday illustrated the long and difficult battle he is still fighting to return to his former form.

Mexico illustrates the widespread problem of drug abuse and addiction. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the drug war in Mexico has claimed more than 47,000 lives since 2006. Last weekend mourners gathered in Lewisville, Texas to grieve the deaths of a missionary couple killed in their home, victims of the rising crime in that country.

The answers to addiction are not easy. In every case the personalities and issues creating and supporting the addictions are complex. But, perhaps the starting place for help is confession of our own human weakness and our need for deliverance. The Apostle Paul did this when he examined himself and cried out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Peter did the same when he fell in the bottom of his fishing boat and declared, “Depart from me O Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

One of the most dramatic stories in the Bible deals with a man addicted to destructive impulses. He was so mentally, psychologically and spiritually ill that he refused to wear clothes and lived among the tombs, attacking those who came near and inflicting himself with wounds. When Jesus encountered him He ordered the destructive legion of demons to depart from the man. They did so, entering a herd of swine that immediately rushed over a cliff and drowned themselves in the sea. When nearby residents arrived, they found the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, sober, clothed and in his right mind. (Mark 5:1-20).

I have always found this a mysterious and puzzling story. I don’t know how to explain demons and spiritual forces that defy scientific examination. But, like everyone else, I have observed the demonic forces that destroy individuals, families and nations. I am also convinced of the difference Jesus Christ has made in my own life and I have seen Him change the lives of others.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kingdom Preview

My wife and I like going to the movies. We don’t like all movies. We prefer comedies; light-hearted dramas and uplifting stories. Some that stand out over the years are Sea Biscuit and Secretariat (we like horse stories), The Blind Side, The Greatest Game Ever Played and Chariots of Fire (we like sports), Mr. Holland’s Opus, Freedom Writers, The Great Debaters and Akeelah and the Bee (we like movies about teachers making a difference). The best are usually based on true stories.

We try to get there early, grab a seat in the first row of the second section, you know, the one where you can prop your feet up on the rail in front of you. We settle in with our diet coke and popcorn, sit back and watch the previews of shows soon to be released. Like everyone else, we lean over and whisper to each other as we watch each trailer. “That one’s not for us,” or, “we’ll have to see that one.”

The Australian writer, Michael Frost, argues that the Christians and churches are to be 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).