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

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)