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

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Looking Back So We Can Look Ahead

A year ago we welcomed 2016 as a bouncing baby boy, wearing nothing but a diaper, a top hat and a sash.  In these final days, we are watching 2016 shuffle off the stage beaten, bruised and battered, with shaggy hair and slumped shoulders, his sash tattered and torn.  It has been a rough year.

Along the way we said goodbye to celebrities who shaped our landscape: Florence Henderson, mother of the Brady Bunch; Leonard Cohen who taught us to sing “Hallelujah;” Merle Haggard, the “Okie from Muskogee” who died on his 79th birthday; Arnold Palmer, “The King” of golf; Gene Wilder, who took us on wild journeys through a Chocolate Factory, aboard the Silver Streak and Blazing Saddles. We said goodbye to Muhammad Ali who “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. ” We wished a final “God speed” to John Glenn, who inspired us with the “Right Stuff.” There are many others.

More importantly, we remember those whose names few others know. We remember those who, in quiet ways with little fanfare, inspired us with their courage, faith and love.  The Washington Post ran a collection of stories about such people this week, written by some of their best writers titled, “Grace Unwrapped, stories that prove kindness blossoms during the holidays.” 

Each of us have family and friends who left legacies of faith and courage.  I think of my father.  When he was diagnosed with multiple-myeloma in 1974 and volunteered for experimental drugs, knowing the risk. He died 2 years later at age 53 leaving a legacy of courage, faith and friendship.  He was a blue collar worker who was employed by Bell Telephone for 25 years. The day before he died he sent a get-well card to a friend on another floor of the hospital where he was fighting for his life. Hundreds attended his funeral. My mother lived as a widow for 35 years and, like my father, left a legacy of faith, courage and love.  The day before she died she visited with her grandchildren, prayed with them and blessed them.  She was 89.

 The Bible teaches us to look back and remember people who can inspire us.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who left a legacy of faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. 


As we turn our eyes toward 2017, we can draw from those who have blessed our lives. We can face our challenges with courage and hope. As the Hebrews writer concludes, “Seeing we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Music For the Season and the Soul

Everywhere we turn we hear the sounds of Christmas. The little drummer boy drums; the nutcrackers crack; the babe sleeps in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem while the angels herald his coming. How could we celebrate Christmas without music?

The angels could not contain themselves. On a dark meadow outside Bethlehem the heavens were opened and the hills echoed with music human ear had never heard. The angels of heaven joined in a thunderous chorus praising God for His goodness and grace. They announced His mysterious gift in song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” God is for us. He has extended his hand to us and touched us in the flesh with the flesh of His son. He has healed us and saved us from our sins.

The best acoustic theaters of Greece dim in comparison to the music that echoed on the hills outside Bethlehem. The most extravagant speaker systems of today cannot reproduce it. The greatest composers of history have stretched their talents to capture the emotions and the significance of that moment. They have found their highest inspiration when reflecting upon the birth of Christ.

On August 22, 1741 George Frideric Handel secluded himself in a room in London and started writing an oratorio to celebrate the birth of Christ. Twenty-four days later he emerged with the Messiah. At the end of his original manuscript he wrote the letters “SDG” – Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone the glory.”

Music is an integral expression of faith. Most of the Psalms written by David were written as songs to be sung in worship. The Song of Solomon is a love song between the believer and God likened to a lover. Music is a gift God has given us to express our longings, our emotions and our faith. No other creature is endowed with this unique gift that surrounds the Christ event.

I expect that Mary and Joseph sang. Early in her pregnancy, Mary burst into song when she met her cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55). I wonder what lullaby she must have sung to the infant in her arms? Music was part of Jesus’ life. The Bible says that after the last supper, Jesus sang with his disciples before going out. Imagine those twelve male voices singing in the upper room. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16).

During this Christmas season, may your spirit be renewed and lifted by music celebrating God’s unspeakable gift.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Connecticut Christmas

There was a time when “a Connecticut Christmas” would have conjured up Christmas card images: flocked evergreens, multicolored lights glistening on snow-covered streets, children sledding in the park, smoke curling from chimneys where families gather around the warm glow of the fireplace. But, four years ago this week, that image was shattered. On Dec. 14, 2012, a deranged 20 year-old walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old along with 6 faculty who tried to protect them.

When the news broke on that awful day, I found myself not wanting to be disturbed by the painful images and stories. Four years later, I still find myself watching little children singing Christmas carols at church on Sunday and thinking about those who died in Newtown. I think about the families with empty space under Christmas trees where presents no longer wait for their children. 

While the rest of the world has moved on from that tragic day, I suspect there are mothers and fathers whose pain is still too deep for words. I find myself wishing that this kind of evil were not present in the world, wishing that the innocent did not suffer, that injustice and violence did not exist. I found myself asking how God could let something like this happen, especially on the cusp of the Christmas season.

As I think about these things I am reminded that we have made Christmas into an escape filled with fantastic fairy tales with elves and flying reindeer. We have created a nativity filled with serenity and peace.  But the actual birth of Jesus was anything but serene and peaceful. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem to pay taxes, thrown into unfamiliar surroundings with no place to stay. The stable was a last resort. And evil was already stalking the baby that Mary bore. What we are feeling in the wake of Connecticut and similar tragedies is not far removed from Bethlehem.

The Magi who came seeking the newborn King unwittingly tipped Herod off to his birth.  After they refused to report his birth, Herod sent his death squad to kill him. Matthew wrote,When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’” (Matthew 2:16-18). 

Being warned in a dream that the child Jesus was in danger, Joseph fled with his Mary and the baby and went into hiding as refugees in Egypt.  


The power of that first Christmas is found in the fact that God embraced the confusing cruelty of our world. It was in the midst of evil, pain and suffering that Jesus was born. It was precisely because of the senseless evil in this world that God sent His Son.  He came to give His own innocent life as a ransom for our sins.  He conquered death by His resurrection and one day He will remove the evil from this world by His return.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

That Special Time of Year!

The first strings of light have been stretched across rooftops, lawns and windows. They punctuate the otherwise dark neighborhoods with brilliant flashes of red, blue and green.

Boxes packed away a year ago reappear from the attic where they have waited patiently for this magical time of year.  Candles, candy canes and crocheted snowmen take their places, surrendering center stage to the nativity. Limbs on the tree that stands proudly in the window bow with the weight of memories: cardboard stars created by chubby little hands, the artists’ names printed with an occasional backward letter; souvenir ornaments reminding us of vacations where we laughed and played; ceramic candy canes, wreathes, rocking horses and angels.  Stockings hang on the fireplace mantle, annual symbols of expectation.

Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and Scrooge take the stage to remind us once again that life is more than money. Christmas carols play in the shopping malls. Choirs and orchestras surrounded by poinsettias and greenery assemble to perform the Nutcracker, the Little Drummer Boy and Handel’s Messiah. The world is alive with the music of hope and celebration.

A large part of Christmas is preparation, expectation and anticipation. It feels right to me. The decorations and songs remind us that this is a special time of year, a time when something extraordinary happened.  Something that changed everything about the way we see ourselves and our world.


God sent his Son after centuries of preparation, expectation and anticipation. It was a special time of year, the most extraordinary moment in human history.

The prophets foretold His coming centuries before. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scripture points to Him. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

When Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary took the child to Jerusalem where they met some remarkable people who had been waiting a long time for this moment. They met an old man named Simeon who had been looking for God’s promised Messiah. The Spirit of God had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. When he saw the child, Jesus, he took the baby in his arms and blessed God saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-35).

Mary and Joseph had hardly recovered from Simeon’s amazing declaration before they met Anna. She had been a widow for 84 years and spent her time fasting and praying in the Temple, waiting for the Messiah. “At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)

I guess that is why I like this time of year with all the decorations, music and drama. It reminds me of God’s preparation and God’s promise. It reminds me of the One who is worth waiting for!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Lincoln's Lessons - Dealing with Depression

This election year has left us longing for leaders of the past who led with character and integrity.  None looms larger than Lincoln. His Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural raised the bar for wisdom, justice, faith and forgiveness.

In spite of the achievements that made him the most intriguing President in U.S. history, all of his biographers agree that Lincoln suffered from periodic bouts with depression.  His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

Depression is widespread. It can be debilitating and, in its most severe form, can even lead to suicide. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion.

According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.

Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself.

Make conscious decisions that refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” Later, in his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.” 

Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play.  Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us. Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner.

Do something good. Guilt and depression are common companions.  The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression.  Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light.  Look for someone you can help.  Accept God’s forgiveness for your sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others, especially for those of another race, culture or religion. Do it privately without seeking any credit. Jesus said, “Your Father who sees in secret, will reward you.”

If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance.  We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods.  Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”


Trust in God who cares for you. When his father was dying, Lincoln sent him this message, “Tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great and good and  merciful Maker, who will not turn away from him in any extremity.  He notes the fall of a sparrow and numbers the hairs of our heads …” 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving

The trees are turning.  Invigorating cool air has spilled across the land.  Families are getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Some prepare for children to come home.  Others make plans to travel.  Thoughts turn to turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pumpkin and pecan pie. Football is in the air and the Cowboys are finally winning again.  I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it. This year we are sharing Thanksgiving with our International students from South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and China.

Thanksgiving is special to the American experience.  From the time we are children, we are taught to remember the Pilgrims who feasted with their Indian friends in 1621, giving thanks for their survival in the new world. Children in elementary schools still walk out on stages wearing flat brimmed pilgrim hats and painted faces to re-enact the first Thanksgiving in front of adoring parents.

George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789.  But the official annual holiday began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks.  When he issued his proclamation our nation was embroiled in Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battlefields.  Families were gripped with grief.  But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.

In times of prosperity and want, in times of war and peace, throughout the Great Depression and our most recent Great Recession, we have paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to remember and to be thankful.  For this one day, at least, we make sure that the homeless and the hungry are fed. On this day, we lay down our tools and gather around tables with those whom we love the most.  We are not burdened with the buying and giving of gifts.  We simply pause to enjoy one another and the goodness with which God has blessed us.

Nothing is more important than cultivating a grateful and thankful heart.  We all experience blessing and loss.  God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.  The faithful and the unfaithful must weather the same storms. We all experience life and love that we do not deserve.  We will all suffer disappointment, injustice and pain.  Illness will come. The loss of loved ones will come.  The same circumstances sow the seeds of bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The former leads to death.  The latter leads to life. 


The Bible is clear about the importance of thanksgiving.  The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving and praise.  Jeremiah envisioned desolate Jerusalem restored with gratitude saying: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’" (Jer. 33:11).  Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  (Colossians 2:6).  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Overcoming Adversity

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 with 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 40 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 17 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 20 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 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. 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, November 7, 2016

The Path Forward - Post Election

After this election I find myself hungry for humility, gentleness, kindness and goodness.  We have been inundated through the news and social media with arrogance, accusations, insults and anger, not just between the candidates, but often between family, friends and neighbors.

Some are characterizing November 8 as a day of election depression.  We are just tired of it, and wanting to leave it behind us for four more years.  Our way forward is not more of the same.  It is a different course. 

Jesus identified the path that leads a people and a nation to health and wholeness.  He did so with his story of a man who finds a helpless stranger.  Even though he is of a different ethnicity, culture and religion than his own, he washes the stranger’s wounds and pays for his care.  He did so when he described a father who refused to give up on his wayward boy, even though his son had wasted a good part of the family fortune. He did so by the way he treated a woman caught in adultery, challenging anyone without sin to cast the first stone.  He did so in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, offering to give her living water.

In these and in many other ways, Jesus demonstrated the way forward.

We must be kind to one another, in our families, in our schools and in the work place. The way forward is found in thoughtful words and actions. We must respect those of every color and culture. We must speak words of encouragement to those who wait on our tables, to cashiers in the check-out line, to beggars on the street and to the officers who pulls us over. We must be kind to one another, forgiving every slight and confessing every wrong.


Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too.  If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much.  If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that.  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48. Living Bible).

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Proven "Elixir" for Life

Tyler J. VanderWeele, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, recently identified perhaps the single best treatment to improve quality of life.  After more than 20 years of study, he concludes that this one activity can improve the physical and mental health of millions of Americans.

The “single elixir,” as he calls it, is regular weekly church attendance.

According to the report in USA Today, “Professor VanderWeele’s new research with colleagues at Harvard University — building on more than 20 years of prior work in this area — suggests that attending religious services brings about better physical and mental health. Adults who do so at least once a week versus not at all have been shown to have a significantly lower risk of dying over the next decade and a half. The results have been replicated in enough studies and populations to be considered quite reliable.”

Writing about VanderWeel’s research, John Siniff, a former editor for USA Today, concludes, “ The news media, the academy and the broader public could use this new understanding to weigh religion’s greater societal value. And for individuals, this research provides a not-so-subtle invitation to reconsider what religion can do for them.”

I stumbled onto this truth more than 50 years ago when I was 18.  Someone placed in my hands a simple book titled, Return to Religion, by Henry C. Link, a psychologist.  It was an impressionable time of my life.  I had read Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.  Dr. Link’s book may have proved the most beneficial of them all.  He simply made an argument for the mental and emotional benefits of going to church. 

I had attended church as a child with my parents, but I started going to church on my own.  I joined the youth choir and became involved in the youth group.  It was the first step on a life-long journey.  I began to study the Bible and became a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.  More mature believers instructed and encouraged me. My faith continued to grow. My faith is still growing and I am still attending church.

When I look back, that simple decision was perhaps the best decision of my life.  I just started going to church, which led to faith, my career, my marriage, my children and journeys to five continents. Today, half-a-century later, God has blessed me with treasures that cannot be corrupted by rust or moth, a treasure that cannot be lost to thieves or the stock market.

The Bible identified this “elixir” long ago “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

A Proven "Elixir" for Life

Tyler J. VanderWeele, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health recently identified perhaps the single best treatment to improve quality of life.  After more than 20 years of study, he concludes that this one activity can improve the physical and mental health of millions of Americans.

The “single elixir,” as he calls it, is regular weekly church attendance.

According to the report in USA Today, “Professor VanderWeele’s new research with colleagues at Harvard University — building on more than 20 years of prior work in this area — suggests that attending religious services brings about better physical and mental health. Adults who do so at least once a week versus not at all have been shown to have a significantly lower risk of dying over the next decade and a half. The results have been replicated in enough studies and populations to be considered quite reliable.”

Writing about VanderWeel’s research, John Siniff, a former editor for USA Today, concludes, “ The news media, the academy and the broader public could use this new understanding to weigh religion’s greater societal value. And for individuals, this research provides a not-so-subtle invitation to reconsider what religion can do for them.”

I stumbled onto this truth more than 50 years ago when I was 18.  Someone placed in my hands a simple book titled, Return to Religion, by Henry C. Link, a psychologist.  It was an impressionable time of my life.  I had read Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.  Dr. Link’s book may have proved the most beneficial of them all.  He simply made an argument for the mental and emotional benefits of going to church. 

I had attended church as a child with my parents, but I started going to church on my own.  I joined the youth choir and became involved in the youth group.  It was the first steps on a life-long journey.  I began to study the Bible and became a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.  More mature believers instructed and encouraged me. My faith continued to grow. My faith is still growing and I am still attending church.

When I look back, that simple decision was perhaps the best decision of my life.  I just started going to church, which led to faith, my career, my marriage, my children and journeys to five continents. Today, half-a-century later, God has blessed me with treasures that cannot be corrupted by rust or moth, a treasure that cannot be lost to thieves or the stock market.

The Bible identified this “elixir” long ago “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Better Way - Rising Above Politics

In 1992, President George Herbert Walker Bush lost a tough election to Bill Clinton.  Two years earlier, President Bush led the nation through Operation Desert Storm after building a coalition of global powers to stop Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Poised on Iraq’s border he wisely refused to push further, knowing invasion of Iraq would destabilize the balance of Arab powers in the Middle East. 

The 1992 campaign was hard-fought.  His opportunity to serve a second term was lost to the young Arkansas Governor.  When he walked out of the Oval Office on January 20, 1993, he left a hand-written letter on the President’s desk addressed to his successor.  This is what he wrote:

Dear Bill,         
    When I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago.  I know you will feel that, too.
   I wish you great happiness here.  I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
  There will be very tough times,  made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
   You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well.  I wish your family well.
   Your success now is our country’s success.  I am rooting hard for you.
Good luck,
George/”
 
It is refreshing to remember that we have had statesmen serve in our nation’s highest office.  Bush’s letter to Clinton embodies the American values I learned as a boy, beginning with the legends of George Washington who refused to be called “Your Highness,” “Your Excellency” or “Your Majesty” and chose the simple title, “Mr. President.”

Bush’s letter echoes the words of another letter penned two thousand years ago by the Apostle Paul:

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

 This year’s election has been filled with venom and vitriol, not just between the candidates, but between private citizens with opposing views.  Friends and family members have wounded each other with harsh words and accusations. Strangers stare at one another with suspicion across great chasms of distrust.


We will make America great again when we demonstrate in our homes, our streets and our highest offices the greatness of character that overcomes anger, resentment, retaliation, prejudice and fear. Like George H. W. Bush in 1993, we need to rise to a higher plane of character and conduct. In all places and in all things we need to apply the exhortations of 1 Corinthians 13. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

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 in 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.

Something about the human spirit is 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 his father’s country and go to places he had never seen.  Moses’ journey out of Egypt produced the Ten Commandments which provide the basis for all moral understanding.  No journey was ever more life changing than the journey Jesus started when he left Nazareth and gathered 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 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. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Electing a President - Choosing a Future

When I listen to the insults and accusations on both sides of the Presidential election, I want to throw my hands up in despair.  I find myself wishing for an earlier era when politicians were more civil and sane, when the world was stable and people were in agreement.   

I thought, “If we could only return to the days of our founding fathers!”  I did a little research about those days and was surprised.  Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams and Aaron Burr to become our third President in 1800. But, he was not popular. And the campaign looked a lot like today.

If Jefferson were elected, one newspaper warned, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes."  Aaron Burr leaked a private letter from Alexander Hamilton that accused Adams of having “great and intrinsic defects in his character.”  Jefferson referred to Adams as a “blind, bald, crippled toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

When the votes were counted, Jefferson and Burr were tied in the Electoral College with 73 votes each.  Adams received 65. The tie between Jefferson and Burr threw the election to the U.S. House of Representatives.  After 35 ballots, Alexander Hamilton persuaded some of Burr’s backers to shift their votes and Jefferson was elected.  Aaron Burr later killed Hamilton in a duel.

Jefferson went on to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase that extended the U.S. territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Congress tried to block the purchase, but the vote failed 57-59. 

In 1860 Lincoln was elected President with 40% of the popular vote. He was referred to as an “idiot, yahoo, the original gorilla.” Abolitionists abhorred him, calling him “timid, vacillating, and inefficient.”  One Ohio Republican claimed Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity.”  Southern states were so incensed by his election that they seceded from the Union. The nation was thrown into Civil War.

Today millions visit the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials to pay their respects and remember two of our greatest Presidents.   

The past often appears more peaceful and purposeful than the present. We know the outcome. It is “today” that confuses us.  We must exercise faith and freedom of choice in the present without knowing what will happen.  On November 8 we must choose the next President. But every day we must make choices that shape our lives and the lives of those around us.

We are like those who stood before Joshua at Shechem.  After reminding them of God’s repeated providence for their fathers, Joshua challenged them: ‘Choose you this day whom you shall serve. ... As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).

Monday, October 3, 2016

Overcoming evil with good

We finally saw the movie, “Sully.”  We intended to see it when it first came out, but the birth of our grandson was more important and we put it off a couple weeks. 

Like everyone else, we remembered the event.  On takeoff from La Guardia airport on January 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549 lost both engines after hitting a flock of birds.  The pilot, Chelsey Sullenberger, executed an astonishing water landing on the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers. 

We were anxious to see the story on the big screen.  It was as moving as we thought it might be, perhaps more so. We both wept.

I think we wept because it portrayed the true story of people who care about each other.  Not only the heroism of Sullenberger, but the crew who put the passengers’ safety before their own, the passengers themselves who helped one another, the air traffic controllers and the New York emergency responders who rescued all 155 people from the sinking air craft in 24 minutes.

God is constantly preparing each of us for His purposes.  Sullenberger was prepared for this moment by all the events that went before, including his most devastating tragedy.  In 1995 his father committed suicide.  Sullenberger said of this event, ““I was angry, hurt and devastated,” he said about his father’s death in 1995. “It was very difficult. But, it gave me a better sense of the fleeting nature of life and led me to want to preserve life at all costs. That was with me that day.”

It reminded me that for every terrorist, for every psychopath that opens fire or plants a bomb, there are thousands of good people who put their life on the line to save the lives of others.  We have seen this repeatedly.  We watched hundreds of emergency personnel and every-day citizens leap to the rescue of others on September 11, 2001.  We witnessed it in the theater in Colorado when young men shielded young women with their own bodies and a girl refused to run in order to save her friend’s life.  The reports of heroism in the midst of disaster are endless.  

The story reminded me that this is what made our nation great.  Our heritage is not based on survival of the fittest, putting others down for our own success or survival.  Our heritage is based on the teachings of Jesus:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “In that you do it for the least of these you have done it to me.”  “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” 


The story reminded me that this is why God has not given up on the human race.  Humans can be incredibly selfish, self-serving, violent and mean. But they can also be incredibly good. We have infinite potential for good, to love our fellow man, to sacrifice for the lives of others.  God gives us the opportunity to “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) 

Monday, September 26, 2016

If

It is one of the tiniest words:  two letters, one syllable.  But it is filled with enormous consequence and limitless potential. “If.” 

Rudyard Kipling caught the limitless potential of “if” in his poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you
 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
  Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
  And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: ...

You probably know the rest of the poem.  Most of us memorized it in school. 

We are at one of those “if” moments in our nation as we consider the election of a President for the next four years.  The racial prejudice and unrest spilling into our streets challenge us with “if.”

James A. Michener commented on the power of this little word in his classic novel, Centennial.  He wrote, “If is a word of infinite intellectual significance, for it indicates actions not yet completed but with the possibility of alternate outcomes.”

We face “if” moments every day of our life.  Last week I met a stranger at a Brat Fest in Estes Park, Colorado.  We struck up a conversation about faith.  He told me his father died when he was 15 and he spent many years mad at God.  He wasted his life with drugs, alcohol and sex until 2003 when he gave his life to Christ.  Faith set him free from his addictions.

The word “if” implies we are no longer prisoners to previous patterns.  We have options. Jesus said, “If the son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

Every day we measure the consequences of “if.”   If a certain thing happens, then “this” will occur.  But, if something else takes place, then “that” will occur.  If I choose this path or this action, then “this” will be my destination and the result.  A thousand times in the smallest moments, we measure the consequence of “if.”  And, occasionally, we are faced with choices that will determine our destiny.  

The Bible challenges us with this tiny but powerful word: 

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  (2 Chronicles, 7:14)


“But if you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.  For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Eli

Today I held Eli for the first time.  Eli is my grandson, born September 16 to our daughter Allison and son-in-law Noah.  A Harvest Moon baby!

I have experienced the birth of my three children.  It took five years for our second son to be born, and eight more years before our daughter.

I have witnessed the birth of five grandchildren before Eli.  With each one the miracle and mystery becomes more astounding. How does this happen? From a few microscopic cells, from the union of a man and a woman who find each other, in nine short months, a human being is born.   

As I watched my daughter cradling her newborn son, I thought about her birth. She was born the year I turned 40. My wife was 37.  We had two sons, ages thirteen and eight.  We had not expected any more children.  On our first visit to the doctor, he asked if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy. 

We sat dumbfounded by his question.  We looked at each other for a moment and said, “No.”  This was not a pregnancy. This was our child.  We wanted this child.  We would do nothing to risk her full and complete health. We changed doctors.  

Eight months later, Allison was born, as perfect a daughter a father could ever wish to hold.  I rocked her to sleep every night and sang songs to her about Jesus until she finally told me she thought she was too old to be rocked any more. Those were treasured moments when I celebrated God’s gift of our daughter. Moments when I often reflected on the doctor’s question.

Years later I started writing poetry and wrote a poem about the daughter God gave us:

You came into my life unexpected,
unrequested, unplanned and unknown,
bursting the bands of my being,
redefining and rewriting
the schemata of my soul.

You appeared to me:
a formless faded phantom on a screen,
echoes of flesh, a beating heart,
tiny fetal foot reflected in the womb
of your mother.

We wanted you, longed for you,
waited for you, prayed for you,
prepared for you:
a room, built with my own hands,
a yellow crib and mobile,
fluffy toys and dolls,
to greet you when you came ...
home.

And you came,
revealing my arrogant ignorance,
that I could think my world complete;
that I could live if you were not;
that life could be without you;
that life could be again in your going.

You pose the question in my mind,
with your smile, your girlish giggle,
the stroking of your cat,
the tears upon your cheek,
the weight of your slumbering body
at rest in mine, curled up in the arms
of a big blue chair:
“What is there I know not that I have not
and could not live without?”

So, today I held Eli, my daughter’s son, and reflected on God’s miracle, His goodness and His grace. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

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 loss 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, our favorite team 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.

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).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Growing Old

I will soon be 70.  It comes as a bit of a shock.  I never thought about getting old, and I always assumed that people in their 70s were “really old.”  But I might have to reconsider.

I still have three months, so I am trying to resist all those who are pushing me toward my septuagenarian birthday.  Friends and family, it seems, want to remind me that I will soon be 70. But I think I would like to enjoy three more months of being in my 60s.

The candidates for President are my age.  Donald Trump was born the same year I was.  Hillary is only 68.  So, my generation is still making headlines, even if they are the “most unpopular” headlines in presidential history.

But the vultures are starting to circle.  I regularly receive mail from the Neptune Society. They are trying to convince me of a better way to depart this earth. They offer cremation services: “whether you need help for today or want to plan for tomorrow.”  I don’t think I want help dying today, and how do you plan for tomorrow when your ashes are sitting in a jar?   This week I received a letter from the Senior Information Department marked “Important Document Enclosed.” The envelope was stamped with red capital letters: “SECOND NOTICE TIME SENSITIVE.”  So, I opened it. The letter inside offered an insurance policy that would pay for 100% of my funeral expenses. I guess they think this is a very time sensitive subject.

Sometimes the younger generation remind me of my aging condition. They don’t seem to think I can operate a computer, an iPhone or an electronic keypad at the checkout counter.  They start offering instructions without my asking.  They seem to forget that my generation developed the PC, launched the internet and invented the iPhone.  

I tried looking for a Scripture that would encourage me and make me feel better.  I found Psalms 90:10, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years. Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.” There we are again.  The time I am allotted on earth is 70 years and, if I am lucky, I could make 80.  But my mother lived to be 89. So there.  I have lots of time left, even though 20% of my high school graduating class are already deceased.

I like Psalm 37:25, “I once was young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or His seed begging bread.”  I can identify with this statement.  God has been abundantly faithful throughout my life.  He has blessed us with wonderful children and grandchildren who love God and trust Christ. He has filled our lives with young adults from many nations who have adopted us and invited us into their journey.


I remember with gratitude those who were older when I was young. They believed in me and encouraged me. They led me to faith in Christ. I remember their wisdom and their counsel. I miss them.  Hopefully, in my remaining years, God will allow me to do the same for the young who follow. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Labor Day

Next weekend is Labor Day.  The scorching heat of summer has broken. The air is alive with the first hint of fall.  Kids are back in school.  Friday night football is here. NCAA stadiums vibrate with the first games of fall. The Cowboys have renewed hope and the Rangers are leading the league. Frisbees fly in parks while hamburgers sizzle on the grill.  The lakes are still warm enough for skiing.  Fishing is good. It is a great weekend to gather with friends and family and relax.

Underneath all this lies the significance of the day, a time to step back and celebrate the importance of labor.  It is the core of our culture: the value of hard work, perseverance and discipline.  Most of the time we fawn over celebrities.  But on this day, the common laborer takes the stage.

I think of my father, a blue collar worker who started out trimming grass around telephone poles and worked thirty-five years for Bell Telephone before his death at age fifty three.  I always admired his example of honesty, generosity and hard work.  He taught me something about Jesus, who chose to spend most of his adult life working in a simple carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.  Jesus’ life elevated the role of laborers and craftsmen for eternity.

In our current economy many are taking jobs that are not their first choice.  Some who have trained and studied for years to launch a professional career are finding themselves in the position of accepting jobs that differ from their dreams.  It is important that whatever job we find, that we give our best.  The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Alexis de Toqueville visited America in the 1830’s in search of the secret that enabled the young democracy to succeed.  At its root, he discovered what would come to be known as the American work ethic founded upon Christian faith. It was not, he observed, merely hard work that made American Democracy successful.  It was the other values along with it that made work meaningful: honesty, integrity and generosity. 


Many Americans are discovering, after decades dominated by greed and materialism, that the value of labor is never truly measured in monetary return.  The way we choose to invest the labor of our minds, our hands, our hearts and our energy will produce fulfillment when the object is not our own self gratification but the service of others. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).  Paul exhorted us, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Telling the Truth

Now that we are into the Presidential election, several news sources are “fact checking” the candidates.  They use different indicators.  The Washington Post awards “Pinocchios” to rate the truthfulness of candidates’ statements: one, two, three and four Pinnochios with one being mostly true and four being “whoppers.” 

Politifact, a web site that won a Pulitzer Award  for fact checking, rates candidates’ statements as “true,” “mostly true,” “half true,” “mostly false,” and “pants on fire!”  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both earned “pants on fire!” awards from Politifact.   

Most of us don’t need the Washington Post or Politifact to tell us that our politicians are less than truthful.  Perhaps our confidence in politicians’ truthfulness began to erode 42 years ago when Richard Nixon looked into the camera and told us that he was no crook.  Some politicians are more truthful than others, but they all make misleading, half-truth and, sometimes, completely false statements.

This problem with truthfulness is not confined to our politicians.  Our politicians may reflect a problem that permeates our generation.

People lie to one another. Husbands lie to their wives and wives to their husbands. Employers lie to their employees and vice-versa.  Novels, sit-coms and movies often portray the humor, drama, pain and tragedy created by the lies people tell.  “Why tell the truth when a lie will do?”

When truth no longer prevails and we no longer trust one another, the social fabric is shredded. Relationships are destroyed. Telling the lie destroys families, businesses, careers and nations. Honesty is the root of economic, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.  

It is addressed in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16).   Proverbs says, “A false witness will not go unpunished and he who tells lies will not escape. ... What is desirable in a man is his kindness.  It is better to be a poor man than a liar.” (Proverbs 19:5, 22). 

Every individual and every generation must resist the temptation to lie.  King David cried out, “I said in my alarm, all men are liars!” (Psalm 116:11).  Isaiah confessed, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5).

The Bible teaches that there is a better way. “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?  He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend. (Psalm 15:1-3)

Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of  lies.” (John 8:44)  “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31-32).


There can be little wonder that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, men known for their honesty, remain the heroes of American history.