What Others Say

Just a note to thank you for your wonderful weekly columns in the Galveston Paper.
To open a newspaper and see references to God, Scriptures, Kindness, Peace, Loving one another is what our whole world needs now more than ever. -John D. Galveston, Texas

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Journey

I grew up in a small town in north-central Texas.  Our family never traveled far.  I sometimes tell people that my first visit to a foreign country was across the Red River into Oklahoma. But when I was eighteen, I started a journey that has taken me to places I never imagined: the Opera House at Sydney Harbor, the coast of New Zealand, fishing for piranha on the Amazon, volcanoes in Guatemala, the lighthouse at Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the pyramids of Egypt, Mozart’s home in Salzburg, the Docu Zentrum in Nuremberg, the Pantheon in Rome, Lennin’s Tomb and the Kremlin in Moscow, to name a few.

Something about the human spirit is always drawn to the journey.  Maybe that is why On the Road Again remains one of Willie Nelson’s most popular songs. We are mesmerized by the expeditions of Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. We are drawn to the imaginary journeys of Hobbits seeking Mount Doom and Star Trek’s quest to go where no man has gone before.  Journeys, both real and imagined, change the world and they change us.

God chooses to reveal himself through our journeys.  Redemption starts with God’s call to Abraham to leave the country of his fathers and launch out on a journey to places he had never seen.  Moses’ famous journey out of Egypt resulted in the Ten Commandments which provide the basis for all moral understanding.  No journey was ever more life changing for human history than the journey Jesus set out upon when he left Nazareth and gathered his band of twelve men to follow him.  Their travels on foot through the regions of Galilee, Judea and Samaria changed the world.  The stories of their encounters with the lame, the blind, the rich, the poor, prostitutes and priests provide us the framework for understanding God and ourselves.

We are all on a journey.  The journeys we choose, where we go, how we get there and who goes with us will shape us and change us for the better or the worse.  Sometimes our journeys lead us to distant places, sometimes close to home. The most important decisions about any journey is how we trust in God and how we treat others along the way.

We like to think we are all going to the same place, that we will all arrive at the same destination no matter what we believe, what we do or how we live.  But the fact of the matter is that different roads lead to different places.  Jesus said “broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)   He alone knows the way that leads to life and He continually invites us to join the journey that leads us there saying, “Come, follow me.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

When Bad Things Happen

We all experience moments when it seems like nothing good can come of the misfortune that has befallen us. Bad things happen to all of us: the death of someone close to us, whether family or friend. We get sick, sometimes fighting life-threatening diseases. We are mortal and life sometimes seems fragile.  But God has a way of taking the worst that can befall us and giving us opportunity to use it for good.

On July 30, 1967 Joni Eareckson dove into the waters of Chesapeake Bay.  She was eighteen years old.  It was the last time she would be able to use her arms or legs. Striking her head in the shallow waters, she suffered a broken neck that left her a permanent quadriplegic. According to her story in Joni, she sank deeper into anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and spiritual doubt.  But, over time, she emerged with a faith that inspired others and created change for the handicapped world-wide. 

Controlling a brush with her teeth, she became an accomplished artist, wrote forty books, and recorded several music albums.  In 1979 she founded Joni and Friends, a Christian ministry to the disabled throughout the world. Her organization, Wheels for the World, collects wheel chairs that are refurbished by prison inmates and distributed to disabled children and adults in developing countries.

Rachel Scott was seventeen when she was gunned down as the first murder victim at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.  Rachel’s Christian witness and her vision for acts of kindness that can make a difference inspired Rachel’s Challenge, a movement in her memory.  Rachel’s Challenge has reportedly touched more than twenty million students worldwide in an effort to reduce violence and teen suicide.

According to the Bible, Joseph was thrown into the well by his brothers and sold by them as a slave into Egypt.  Years later he become Prime Minister in Egypt and was able to rescue his family during a widespread famine.  Confronted by his brothers who sold him into slavery, Joseph said, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Genesis 50:20)

Peter recognized that all of us experience difficulty and pain.  In his letter he wrote, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)

The Apostle Paul wrote, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5).

We each must work through our own suffering and pain, trusting God to give us strength to discover the good that He wants to bring into our lives. Sometimes it takes many years for this to come into focus.  Sometimes, we never see it.  At those times we can only live by faith.  When something terrible and confusing happens to us we always have a choice, to turn inward in disappointment and disillusionment, or to turn outward and look upward in faith and hope.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Center of the Universe

For thousands of years we assumed the earth was the center of the universe. When Galileo advanced the proposition that the earth revolved around the sun and was, in fact, only one of many planets that did so, he was tried by the Inquisition and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.  More recent investigations, along with Voyager’s  first foray beyond our solar system, have verified that the earth is a very small speck of dust in the galaxies -- nowhere near the center of the cosmic creation.

This physical truth gives rise to a more personal question for each of us.  “What is the center of my universe?”  For most of us, the answer to that question is a very small two-letter word,  “me.”  Everything revolves around us and our interests. This is the reason we are prone to become angry with God.  Sooner or later the evidence begins to pile up that, like planet earth in the cosmos, we are not the center.  Everything is not ordered for our personal gratification, pleasure and benefit. 

Paul started his life like most of us, focused on his own ambitions.  He went so far as to arrest Christians, both men and women, and throw them into prison to advance his own agenda.  But, after he met Christ everything changed. He discovered that the Christ whom he persecuted was, in fact, the center of all creation.  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

In the last few years, billboards have sprung up proclaiming, “I am second.”  They are part of a movement to proclaim what Paul discovered.  We are not number one.  God is.  And when we make Christ the center of our universe, everything else comes into focus.  According to the web site, “I Am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others.”  I Am Second testimonies include people like Jason Witten, Colt McCoy, Josh Hamilton, Eric Metaxus, Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Anne Rice and many others.  They include the rich and famous as well as those who have been addicted, abused, molested and imprisoned.  The number ultimately includes all of us. You can check it out at www.iamsecond.com.  

When Jesus Christ becomes the center of our universe everything changes.  All the petty resentments and disappointments disappear.  Scripture begins to make sense. For instance, in an effort to comfort others, many people quote the Bible when tragedy strikes saying “All things work together for good.”  What the Bible actually says is, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  This is entirely different. All things don’t work together for my good when I am the center of my own universe.  They only work together for good when I recognize that God is the center of the universe and I am created for his glory.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Power of Encouragement

The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard.  But when the game is played, one thing is different.  One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t.  The cheers of encouragement that fill the stadiums for the home team make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement.  It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” 

We also know the ravages of discouragement.  Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a deadly downward spiral.  We see it in athletes on the golf course, tennis court and in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game. Some remarkable people have the ability to resist discouragement and retain their focus.  The great athletes learn to fight through discouragement. But all of us are vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without. 

The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt.  But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager.  He believes in us.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5).  When a broken hearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life.  (Mark 5:36).  

Heather Herschap was born with cerebral palsy.  She is confined to a wheel chair with limited use of one arm.  I first met her nine years ago after she had completed a college degree in psychology and was working on a Masters in Divinity. 

She says the turning point in her life came when she arrived on campus as a freshman and was alone in the dorm for the first time. Her body became hopelessly stuck between the bed and the wall, and, with her paralysis, she could not work herself free. After hours of crying out for help to no avail she heard a voice, clear and audible, “Don’t give up.”  That experience led her to faith in Christ.

A few year later, aware that her prayers were focused on her own problems, she began to pray for others and God whispered in her ear, “India.”  If you meet Heather you will know that India is her passion.  Her eyes sparkle, her face lights up and her body stiffens in excitement when she speaks of India. She has been to India three times counseling outcasts like herself who are handicapped, encouraging them and giving them hope.

Every day we need encouragement.  And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home.  Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone.  It might be the most important thing you ever do.