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.

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.