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, November 24, 2014

Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever


I took the title of this column from a Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Before you get the wrong idea, I have to explain that I don’t read or watch Martha Stewart, but my wife does. We have these magazines lying around the house and it is difficult to ignore what is on the cover.

So there she was, Martha Stewart, offering a perfect piece of pie while smiling a perfect smile with perfect teeth, wearing a perfect dress with perfect hair, surrounded by a perfect kitchen with an open window that looked out on a perfect garden. Like Oprah and Paula, every wrinkle and excess pound had been photo-shopped away so that she looked decades younger than her actual age. And, over her head hung the words, “Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever.”

Unlike Martha, when we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner we will show up with wrinkles, warts and all. We look our age. The kitchen is a mess with spilled flour on the cabinet and sinks full of dirty dishes. The food, of course, is great because my wife is a great cook: baked turkey, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, her famous dressing passed down from her mother, green beans, fruit salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and pecan pie.

But, it occurred to me, when I saw that magazine cover of Martha Stewart, that Thanksgiving isn’t about the food or the perfect picture. Real Thanksgiving is about the heart. It is difficult for a heart that is not thankful every day to be truly thankful on Thanksgiving Day.

Which brings up a concern about this Thanksgiving. A few years ago the retail stores invented black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when one-day discounts lure mobs of hysterical shoppers into their stores before dawn. At first, I didn’t understand black Friday and, except for one occasion for which I repented, I avoided it. But black Friday began to creep. Last year many of the major stores opened on Thanksgiving Day.  This year, it seems that Black Friday has already started and will continue with no letup.

I am nostalgic for the traditional American Thanksgiving we knew a few years ago. There was nothing commercial about it. All the stores were closed. Workers could spend the day with their families. No one had to shop for presents or send cards. All we had to do was enjoy getting together with those we love and be thankful. This year our tradition of gathering around bountiful tables with family and friends seems more like a brief interruption to the more important business of shopping.

Our pilgrim fathers knew nothing of this.  They hunted and harvested and cleaned and cooked, but they never stood in lines in front of glass doors waiting for the opening bell. They never rushed through aisles searching for treasures that were sure to disappear or stood in check-out lines that stretched to the back of the store. Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line. 

I hope this week we will cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit and take time to truly “be” with family and friends so that this is “the best Thanksgiving ever.” Let us "praise God's name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving." (Psalm 69:30).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Go To Church

Given the secular focus of our culture with football dominating Sundays and Black Friday overshadowing Thanksgiving, it is easy to conclude that very few people still attend church. But, according to the best research, that is just not the case.  More people attend church than we might think. 

Estimates of church attendance on a given Sunday vary.  If you ask Americans, as Gallup has done for the past 70 years, 4 out of 10 will tell you they attend church each week, roughly the same percentage that said they did so in 1939.  Attendance rose to 49% in the 1950s, but otherwise has remained fairly constant through the decades.   If you ask The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, it will tell you less than 20% actually attend church on a given Sunday.  The Pew research estimates attendance at 37% of the U.S. population with only one-third who seldom or never attend.

This, it seems to me, is remarkable.  What other voluntary activity could attract this many people on a regular basis?  According to the most extreme estimates, between 50 million and 125 million people attend church every week.  By comparison, the average attendance per week to all NFL football games combined totals a little over two million. Although the percentage of those attending church has declined over the years, church attendance is still a huge part of our lives. 

As I have thought about it, I have asked myself the question, “Why do I go to church?”

I go to church because, down deep, I believe in Jesus Christ.  I think it is what He would want me to do.  Even though the Jewish authorities turned against Him, it was always Jesus’ custom, or “habit” to attend the synagogue each Sabbath.  (Luke 4:16).  And even though churches are seldom what they ought to be, I need to follow Jesus’ example.

I go because I need to be encouraged in my faith and I want to encourage others.  While I have been disappointed by some pastors and church leaders over the years, I find that going to church lifts my spirits.  Other believers take an interest in me and pray for me.  And I seek to do the same for them. (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:25).

I go to church because churches make the world a better place. All churches, as we know are flawed. Someone once asked me if I knew of any churches that did not have any problems.  I asked if he knew of churches that didn’t have any people.  Where there are people, there will be problems. But most churches seek ways to feed the hungry, help the poor, comfort the grieving and care for the aging.  Churches pull us outside ourselves and call us to a higher and better world.

I go because I want my children to go.  Even though my children are grown and gone, I still want to be an example to them, as I sought to be when I was raising them.  Going to church is a discipline. Sometimes I don’t feel like it. But I have learned over the years that the best things in life require effort.  Worship, Christian fellowship and service are disciplines that I believe are worth passing on to the next generation.  

I am sure there are many other reasons why people attend church.  There are other reasons why I do as well, but these are the three that stand out the most in my mind.

If you haven’t been attending church.  I hope you will do so this week. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Heaven

I recently assisted in the funeral for a close friend.  He was older by almost twenty years, and became my mentor more than thirty years ago.  He was a take-charge kind of guy and I always imagined him going out like John Wayne in The Shootist.  Consistent with his personality, he left specific instructions for his funeral, including the passage he wanted the pastor to preach and the three points he wanted him to make.  To his friends he wrote, “I want there to be more laughter than tears.  After all, I will be in Heaven.”

I watched him age like I have watched others, the same process I am beginning to see in myself.  As he entered his eighties his strength and vigor began to slip.  The last time we went out to eat he needed a walker to make his way to the table.  Aging is an inescapable experience for all of us who live long enough.  But in the end, in the “twinkling of an eye … we shall all be changed.”  (1 Corinthians 15:52).

When my mother was young she was a beauty and a fast runner who won several ribbons in track meets.  But in her last years she was feeble and almost blind.  When she was 89 years old and dying, we talked about what it would be like when she woke up in Heaven, able once again to run through the meadow as she did in her youth.  Her body once again characterized by energy, strength, beauty and grace. 

I have often thought about Heaven and what it might be like.  Someone once said that we might think of everything that is beautiful and good on this earth and multiply it by two.  That of course is a small number, but anything more defies imagination.  I like to think about the sun rising in the east, its light filtering through the leaves warming my shoulders on a cool morning; the birds calling to one another as the day dawns; the scent of freshly cut grass and new turned earth; the fragrance of lilacs in spring and roses in summer; the laughter of children on the playground; the crack of a baseball bat and the smack of a ball in the glove; the weight of a sleeping baby in my arms.  On this earth and in this world, they are enough.  But multiplied by two, or a thousand?  Incomprehensible!

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  (John 14:3). “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).

The Bible says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2). “If we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.”  (Romans 6:5).

Monday, November 3, 2014

What You Won't Do For Yourself

 Left to myself, I will sit around and vegetate. I know that other people don’t do this, but I do. When I look across the room at my dog who follows me from room to room and is happy to be wherever I am, I know that he needs to walk. So, I get up, put on my shoes, find his leash and off we go. It is good for him and it is good for me. What I won’t do for myself I will do for my dog.

This little act highlights an important point I have discovered. We all need to be motivated for someone or something outside ourselves. I have heard it said, “If you won’t do it for someone else, do it for yourself!” But I have discovered that doing it for myself is the lowest and weakest motivator in my life.

Some have assumed that our democratic system works because it is based on self-interest. If everyone looks out for himself, seeks to make the biggest profit and accumulate the most wealth, it all just seems to work out for everybody. But that isn’t true. Our democratic system works because people are willing to sacrifice their own self-interest in the interest of others. The key to American democracy is selfless altruism. Not greed.

Life is not like Monopoly. We don’t win by owning the largest number of properties, raising the rent and amassing stacks of money on our side of the board until we drive everyone else into bankruptcy. That might work for a board game, but even then the players seldom feel good about it. In life we win by giving ourselves away.

We are made in such a way that we must be called to something higher. We will endure great pain, hardship, discipline and even death for people we love and causes that challenge us.

When we live our lives and make our decisions based upon self-interest and self-gratification we are led into dead end tributaries, into a shallow existence that results in isolation and loneliness. When we choose to orient our lives around serving and helping others, we launch out into the deep where we discover meaning and fulfillment.

Howard Hughes, one of the wealthiest men of the twentieth century who spent lavishly to indulge his whims and idiosyncrasies, died a recluse, lonely, isolated and mentally deranged. The FBI had to resort to fingerprints in order to identify his body.


Mother Teresa, who was penniless, spent her life caring for the poor, sick, orphaned and dying. When she died in 1997 the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded, had over one million co-workers serving the “poorest of the poor” in 123 countries. In 2010, the 100th anniversary of her birth, she was honored around the world.

This is why the Scripture urges us to put others first. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).  Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall men give into your bosom.”  (Luke 6:38).