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, June 24, 2013

Our Nation and Prayer

In 1787 the future of the fledgling United States hung in the balance. The Articles of Confederation that had been adopted at the end of the American Revolution had proven inadequate.  It appeared that the union between the individual states would soon disintegrate and the American experiment would be short-lived. 

Representatives assembled in Philadelphia in a last ditch effort to draft a constitution that could create a lasting government. After more than a month of frustratingly little progress, Benjamin Franklin spoke. “How has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding?” Franklin had begun his career as a borderline atheist, but in his old age, he had changed his mind. “The longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”
Referring to the Scripture, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it,” Franklin stated, “I firmly believe this.” Without God’s help the delegates would build no better than the builders of Babel.

Years later, Thomas Jefferson expressed a similar concern when he said, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Addressing the generation that bore the agony of the Civil War,  Abraham Lincoln expressed similar sentiments in his second inaugural, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

As we approach the Fourth of July, it is no less important than it was in the days of Franklin, Jefferson and Lincoln that we pray for our country.  Faced with cultural shifts and global threats that were inconceivable to our nation’s founders, it is all the more important that we seek God’s grace, wisdom and protection for our generation.
In 2 Chronicles God has promised, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

It is always God’s desire to bless any nation that places its hope in Him, just as Jeremiah says, “And you will swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ In truth, in justice and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.”

Monday, June 17, 2013

O My Soul

Whatever happened to the concept of the soul? All our conversation, it seems, revolves around our bodies and money: how we look, how to stay healthy, how to remain young, how to become wealthy.

Concern for our bodies drives a large segment of our economy.  United States health care expense alone passed the $2.4 trillion mark in 2008.  Most of this, of course, is corrective surgery and treatment, but elective cosmetic surgery totals more than thirteen billion dollars.  This includes liposuction, breast augmentation and hair removal. The fitness industry with its books, talk-shows and exercise facilities is enormous.

I can understand this.  Since my body is the only one I have, I want to take care of it.  Of course, I guess there are limits to which I want to do this. Blue Bell ice cream is hard to resist and I like to sit in the stands snacking on a hot dog and coke while I watch healthier people compete on the field. 

I can also understand our interest in money.  We all have to pay our bills, and most of us have ambitions to own our home, drive a nicer car, send our kids to college and enjoy vacations. 
                             
But what happened to the concept of the soul?  We seldom hear the word mentioned.  Jesus taught that, as important as our bodies may be, nothing is as important as our soul. 

Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  

Horatio G. Spafford,  a wealthy lawyer in the 1860s seemed to live a charmed life enjoying both health and wealth. But, in 1870, he lost his son to Scarlet Fever.  The next year he lost most of his holdings in the Great Chicago Fire. Suffering financial loss, he used most of his resources to feed the hungry, house the homeless and comfort the grief stricken. When his wife’s health began to fail, he decided to move his family to Europe. Delayed by his commitments at work, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. On November 22, 1873, their ship sank at sea. Only his wife survived.  Returning to the spot where the ship sank, Horatio Spafford stood looking over the swelling seas where his daughters drowned and wrote these words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”


Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


Horatio and Anna Spafford spent the rest of their lives caring for homeless children.

We are more than our bodies and more than our money.  Our “soul” is who we really are whether rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Our soul is shaped by acts of kindness, honesty, virtue, generosity and faith. The destiny of every nation and every generation is ultimately determined by the soul of its people. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Father's Gift

Sunday, June 16, is Father’s Day in the U.S.   As the week progresses, sons and daughters of all ages will browse stores searching for just the right gift and just the right card to honor their fathers. Decades ago a tie would usually do.  I don’t think I ever saw my grandfather without a tie. He even wore a bow tie at family picnics.  But few men wear ties anymore, most often at funerals and weddings. When I was a child I could get by with a bottle of Old Spice.  I think my Dad had a shelf full. Today it is more complicated.

Actually, I haven’t shopped for a Father’s Day gift in more than three decades.  My father passed away 37 years ago when he was only 53.  But, every Father’s Day I think about him. And I am filled with fond memories and deep gratitude. 

Along the way, I became a father myself.  My first child was born two years before my father died. Five years later, another son, and eight years after that our daughter was born the year I turned forty.  They are all grown now, and have given us five grandchildren, ranging in age from two months to thirteen years.

Instead of thinking about what I might buy for my father at Father’s Day, I now think about what I want to give to my children.  I hope I give them some of the meaningful gifts that my father gave me.

I hope I will give them a good example of honesty, generosity and friendship.  I have always cherished the example my Dad set.  He never went to college, never held an office or position, but he was a true friend to others.  I often saw him choose to be cheated rather than to risk cheating someone else.

He took us to church, ran the sound system and helped the elderly up and down the elevator. When he died more than 800 people crowded the First Baptist Church of Corsicana to express their grief.  For years after his death, our family received letters and cards from those who had been touched by his life.

I hope I will give them encouragement. My father was a constant encourager. He believed in me, even when I did not believe in myself.  I still remember his hand upon my shoulder. His affectionate grin and his words of affirmation letting me know he believed I could do anything I set my mind to.

I hope I will give them a legacy of prayer.  My Dad was not eloquent and was not a public speaker.  I only heard him lead in a public prayer once. But he always prayed at the family table, usually a memorized prayer that included confession, forgiveness and a petition for protection in Jesus’ name. I don’t think we ever ate a family meal without my father praying that prayer.

I hope I will give my children and grandchildren a legacy of character.  I never heard my father speak disparagingly of another person.  He never complained.  I never heard him speak a single profane word. 

I hope I leave my children a memory of joy.  When I think of my Dad I think of him grinning, with deep dimples in his cheeks.  I remember him laughing, out of control until he couldn’t breathe. I remember him making other people laugh simply by his cheerful outlook on life.

When I think of fathers, and being a father, I think of Jesus.  He gave us the greatest honor when He taught us to think of God as “our Father who art in Heaven.”  He raised the bar when He challenged us saying, “Be perfect as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

Teachable Moments

A few summers ago, my wife and I had the privilege of keeping our grandchildren for a few weeks in Montana.  They were 8, 10 and 11.  We normally saw them for a few days two or three times a year.  I felt like Santa Claus, showering them with presents at Christmas, but not part of their daily lives. So we were excited to have a few weeks with them and looking forward to meaningful conversations.

We enrolled them in Vacation Bible School.  On the second day, my wife was doling out one dollar bills to each of them and instructing them to place the dollar in the offering.  Our eleven-year-old granddaughter refused to accept the dollar.  “I am going to give my own,” she said, a dollar she had earned the week before.  “Your offering will have a special blessing,” I told her, “because it is your own gift and it costs you something.”  I then told her about the poor widow who gave two small coins. “She has given more than all the rest of them,” Jesus said, “because she gave all that she had.”  When I let them out, she bounced into church clutching her dollar a little more tightly and beaming a little more brightly. 

The third day I picked them up from VBS and my ten-year-old grandson asked, “Granddaddy, what is a prostitute?”  I hesitated a moment, a little stunned by the question.  Then I told him, “A prostitute is a woman who has sex with men for money. Why do you ask?”

He replied, “I saw a billboard that said, ‘Before meth I had a daughter.  Now I have a prostitute.’  What does that mean?”  I told him, “That means that someone had a daughter they loved very much who became addicted to drugs and started having sex with men for money so she could buy more drugs.  It is a very bad thing.” 

My eight-year old, wanting to be part of the conversation said, “What does all THAT mean, granddaddy?”  I was saved by his older brother who turned to him and said, “Don’t ask.  It’s inappropriate information for us children.”

Teachable moments come when they will.  We cannot predict them. It is kind of like playing baseball.  You never know when the ball might be hit your way.  You just have to always be ready to respond in the best way you know how.

Jesus was the master of using the teachable moment with His followers.  Once a group of men brought a woman to Him who had been caught in the act of adultery.  They stood ready to stone her according to the Law of Moses, but Jesus wrote something in the dirt beside her and challenged them.  “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  One by one they dropped their stones and left.  When all were gone Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

Life is filled with teachable moments when God wants to teach each of us a better way and help us teach our children and grandchildren.