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, 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.