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, 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.”