What Others Say

I look forward to your Reflections to make me smile, laugh, remember and reflect on God’s grace and mercy as I move throughout my day. - Aliya G.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What Does God Want?

When I listen to myself pray, and when I listen to others pray, it seems that most of what we say to God revolves around what we want.  Sometimes our lists are heart-rending: healing from a deadly disease, comfort from the death of someone we love, rescue for a marriage on the rocks.  More often,   they are day-to-day: a passing grade on the exam, strength to get through another day at work, safe travel.  Sometimes they are trivial:  a victory on the football field, the Texas Rangers in the playoffs.  Sometimes the list is long.  Sometimes it is repetitive. But most of our prayers are filled with the things that we want God to do for us.

I wonder, what does God want?

Maybe he wants a great cathedral constructed in His honor, a building that rises out of the concrete and towers over the city with majestic spires and stained glass windows. Perhaps he wants a more modern structure that resembles the headquarters of a major corporation or a shopping mall. Something designed to make a statement to the world that God is important and you better not forget it.

Maybe He wants music. Perhaps God wants classical music like Ode to Joy, or Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, or Handel’s Messiah with its Hallelujah Chorus.  Or, maybe he prefers contemporary music: amplifiers, electric guitars, drums, drums and more drums. Perhaps He wants dancing including African and Native American chants.  Maybe God prefers Blue Grass or Country.  Who knows?  I sometimes wonder what we will sing in heaven?

Maybe God likes His own sounds: thunder in the heavens, the whisper of wind in the wings of a bird, echoes in a canyon, a babbling brook or the powerful rush of Niagara Falls.

Of course the Bible gives some pretty good clues about what God wants. 

In Isaiah’s day, God made it clear that He was fed up with efforts to impress Him with religious behavior. He said, “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer. … Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:12-18).

When I think about how I feel as a parent, this makes perfect sense.  I am happiest as a parent when my children are together, when I hear them laughing, when they enjoy one another and go out of their way to help each other.  Of course I want them to love me.  But somehow I feel like they love me best when they are loving each other.

Many people assume that God measures our love for Him by how religious we become.  But John set us straight when he wrote, “One who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  (1 John 4:20).

The bottom line is this:  God wants us to get along with each other.  He wants people to be kind to each other, to do good things and help each other. Jesus said,  “If you love me you will keep my commandments.  … This is my commandment.  That you love one another, just as I have loved you.”  (John 14:15;15:12)

Monday, September 23, 2013

When We All Run

When I was a kid, Little League Baseball wasn’t much more than a sandlot game. Most of us played football as a pickup game on any vacant lot, tackle without pads.  I am sure the controlled collisions on Friday nights were safer. We referred to golf as “pasture pool” since the fairways were mowed clumps of grass between the bald spots.  The greens were so hard that the ball bounced as high in the air as it descended.  

But, somehow, I got hooked on sports.

A few weeks ago, I watched Serena Williams claim her third US Open and her seventeenth major championship, placing her one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time list.  Rafael Nadal triumphed with the same grit, determination and shear strength that has brought him 13 Grand Slam titles.

I enjoyed watching the 20-year-old rookie from Dallas, Jordan Spieth, who won the John Deere Classic and shot 64 in the final round  of the Tour Championship last week to finish second.  But my favorite golf event of the year was played in Scotland where Phil Mickelson come from nowhere to claim "The Open" title.  I understood his caddy’s emotions when he wept as the final putt rattled into the cup. 

What is it that attracts us to sports?  Why are we willing to pay so much to watch the talented and gifted athletes compete? 

For me, it is the drama, the human stories, the display of excellence, talent, discipline, perseverance and character. I am inspired by athletes who overcome setbacks, slumps and discouragements.  We all face these challenges.

The Bible uses athletic metaphors to speak about the life of faith.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “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. 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.  Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;  but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

In the Academy Award winning movie, Chariots of Fire, the gifted Olympic runner Harold Abrams is sitting in an empty stadium with his fiancĂ© after losing for the first time to Eric Liddell.  His fiancĂ© is attempting to comfort him when he suddenly snaps at her, “You don’t understand.  If I can’t win, I won’t run!”  Momentarily taken aback, she responds with that unique wisdom women seem to have, “Well,” she says, “if you don’t run, you can’t win.” 

This is what the apostle Paul is getting at when he says, “Do you not know that they who run in a race all run?”  We all have a race to run. We all have challenges to face.  We all need discipline, perseverance, character and faith so that we might “run to win.” 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Raising Children

No occupation is as challenging as parenting.  Children have no on-off button.  They cannot be put in the closet like clothes, turned off and parked like cars or placed in a kennel for the night like pets.  They are on a constant quest, poking, prodding, pushing, pulling and climbing. 

When our children were little, as soon as they got in the car they looked for buttons to push and knobs to twist.  When I turned on the key the blinkers blinked, windshield wipers wiped and the radio blared. The same was true for our bedroom and kitchen.

They grew up to be responsible adults.  But the path wasn’t easy.  Every passage brought new challenges: the first day of school, a move from familiar neighborhoods to a new city, puberty, a driver’s license, dating, computer games and technology.  Parents are on  a constant learning curve, even after children are grown and on their own.  Relationships constantly change and adjust. Every year offers new and unfamiliar territory.

I found across the years that there is no “fix it” book for parenting, no “cure-all,” “read this,” or “do this” simple solution.  Every child is different and every parenting situation has its unique challenges.  But there are some essential tools that make the difference: patience, consistency, authenticity, trust, love, faith and a listening ear.  Most of us don’t come naturally equipped with these essential tools to be successful parents.  Most of us have to learn them and acquire them while we are on the job. And all of us have room for improvement.

Years ago I visited a young mother in her home who was caring for several pre-school children. I was amazed at her patience and attention with the children and commented on it.  She responded by telling me that this had not always been the case.  Before she trusted Christ, she said, she had no patience with children, but after she gave her heart to Christ, He gave her a gift of patience, not only for her own children, but for others.

The Bible says that John came to introduce Jesus to the world by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to righteousness.  Every generation has to struggle against the natural desires of the flesh that result in envy, jealousy, resentment, anger and self indulgence. These attitudes destroy the family. When we put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ He gives us a new heart.  He produces in us the fruits of the Spirit that equip us to be the person that we long to be:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.”  All of these, the Bible says, are the fruit of the Spirit. 

When our hearts are right with God so that we are producing these fruits, we will be good parents.  Then we will be able to fulfill the Scripture’s instruction, “Do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the teaching and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Every Nation, Tribe and Tongue

Last week we hosted an International Student Bible study in our home in Waco, Texas.  It wasn’t a large group. It was small enough that everyone could quickly learn and remember everyone else’s name.  They came from Zambia, South Africa, Viet Nam, Brazil, China and the U.S. All of them are students at Baylor University. It reminded me of the song we used to sing when I was a child, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

We had a similar experience last summer when we served a church in Nuremberg, Germany.  Each week we gathered in our little apartment in the altstadt, the old city within the ancient walls that once protected the Nuremberg castle.  They came from the Ukraine, Ireland, U.K, China, India, Cameroon, Sweden, Austria, Germany and, oh yes, the United States.  Most of them were recent graduates from universities starting their careers in this ancient city where their lives were intersecting. 

In neither case did there appear to be any awareness of color or race. In both instances, the evening was filled with laughter, kindness and joy.  When they opened their Bibles, they shared honest questions and probing insights about God’s love and His presence. Sometimes, at the most tender moments, they confessed, prayed and wept with one another.

I wonder why the world at large can’t be more like that. Why is it that on a global scale we stare at each other across distant borders fearful and skeptical of one another?

In 1987 I stood at the harbor in Sydney, Australia watching as a cruise liner from the Soviet Union prepared to launch for its return trip home.  I listened to the passengers singing lusty Russian choruses that echoed in the air.  A Soviet cruise liner was something I had never seen in an American port, and the sounds of the singing made me wish we could know one another.  I felt, if we did, we would probably like one another.

Years later, after the Soviet Union dissolved, I visited Moscow and sat at a table with Russian believers.  We visited through an interpreter and we prayed together, especially for the people of Siberia where we hoped to serve.  I discovered my premonition was right. I did like these people. In fact, I loved them.

I have discovered the same experience in Indonesia, Korea, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Egypt. Wherever and whenever I have met believers in Christ from foreign countries with foreign cultures and languages, I have found an instant bond.  The faith that is in Christ immediately bridges differences in ethnicity, culture and language.

Our international Student Bible Study seems to me a preview of what the Bible describes in Heaven. John wrote, “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. … And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Surely God takes special pleasure when his children from different nations worship Him in unity and love.  It is the way it will be one day when all sin is removed and we gather in His presence.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Fort Hood Verdict

Last week the jury made its decision and sentenced the Fort Hood killer to death. It has been four long years since the United States Medical Corps officer opened fire on those he had sworn to protect, killing fourteen, including Francheska Valez and her unborn baby.  He claims to see himself as a mujahedeen, an Islamic holy warrior, and claims to have killed the innocent soldiers at Fort Hood to protect the Taliban. 

Apparently he wants to die, thinking, in his warped way, that this will make him a martyr. Since the military has not executed anyone since 1961, it is more likely that he will spend the next decades wasting away as a paralytic in a forgotten prison cell on death row.

When I wrote about the incident in 2009, I chose to focus on those who are the true heroes in this tragic atrocity. I will continue to remember Kimberly Munley, the Fort Hood police officer who sought out the killer and stood her ground exchanging gunfire with him to end the slaughter.

I will remember nineteen-year-old Amber Bahr from Wisconsin who, after being shot herself helped drag her buddies to safety and tore up her jacket as a makeshift tourniquet to save a fellow soldier. These women are truly heroic because their first thoughts were for the safety and welfare of others.

I will focus upon those who gave their lives, the others who were wounded and the thousands, both military and civilian, whose bravery and unselfish sacrifices go unknown and unreported every day, those who choose goodness and grace in obscure places without thought of reward.

There will always be these appalling events, when a soldier loses touch with reason and murders innocent victims, whether My Lai, the Afghan massacre or Fort Hood.   But for every attacker whose name is recorded as a footnote in history, there are a hundred unreported and unremembered heroes who do what is right and good for their fellow man.

I will choose to believe the Bible’s promise that goodness and grace ultimately overcome hatred and violence. I will believe this because God has not only declared it to be true; He has demonstrated it by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

As the Scripture says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know … what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:18-21).

Because of this, I will seek to follow His instruction, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20).