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

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Conscious Universe?

Recently NBC News published an article asking the question, “Is the Universe Conscious?” The article referred to a paper by Gregory Matloff, a physicist at the New York City College of Technology. Matloff is not alone.  Others who support the idea that the universe is conscious of itself include David Chalmers, a New York University philosopher and cognitive scientist, neuroscientist Chistof Koch of the Allen Institute for Brain Science and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose.

According to the article,  three decades ago Penrose theorized that “consciousness is rooted in the statistical rules of quantum physics as they apply in the microscopic spaces between neurons in the brain.”  Bernard Haisch, a German physicist, took this further in 2006, proposing that “quantum fields that permeate all of empty space produce and transmit consciousness.”  According to Koch, “ubiquitous consciousness is strongly tied to scientists’ current understanding of the neurological origins of the mind.”

If all of this confuses you, we are in the same boat.  I am not a scientist and doubt that I comprehend the ideas behind scientific debate regarding “consciousness of the universe.”

But I know that I am conscious. I know that family and friends are conscious of me and that we shape each other’s thoughts and actions.  I know that animals are conscious.  This must be the reason so many people love their dogs, cats and horses.  My dog knows me, recognizes me, and interacts with me. He expresses happiness, sadness, loneliness and love.  All of which, I assume, scientists could reduce to a Pavlovian theory.  But it seems real to me.

The Bible is clear that there is a greater consciousness in the universe that gives rise to our own.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord, ‘as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 58:8-9).

God is conscious of our every thought.  He knows every word before it is formed by our tongue. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

God’s greater consciousness is expressed not in logic but in love. “But God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8). “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10). It is this love that binds the entire universe together:  (Colossians 1:15-20).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Disciples in Disguise

A number of years ago I attended a conference at the Harley Davidson factory in Kansas City.  A number of pastors and church leaders assembled at the factory to spend a few days touring the facilities and visiting with the administrators.  Some of us were there because we had a lifelong love of motorcycles.  Most of us were there because we wanted to learn how the Harley Davidson leaders had transformed a nearly extinct motorcycle company into a model of success at the turn of the century.

The thing I remember most about the conference was a statement made by a young executive who spoke to the group.  He had just returned from Europe where he helped introduce the Buell sport bike.  He stepped to the microphone and introduced himself.  He said, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley Davidson Executive.” 

Since that time I have discovered disciples disguised in many walks of life:  teachers, doctors, mechanics, students, professors, engineers, nurses, administrators, athletes, grocery clerks, farmers, businessmen, soldiers, homemakers, … the list is almost endless. 

Many people consider themselves to be Christians.  Far fewer think of themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian usually means we give assent to the Christian religion, that we are comfortable with occasionally attending church, and we know we are not Muslim, Buddhist or some other religion.  To be a disciple, however, raises the expectations to a whole new level.

Interestingly, Jesus never used the term Christian.  In fact the term is only found three times in the Bible, and twice it is used by non-believers.  Jesus chose to speak about disciples. He said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). “If you continue in my word then you are truly disciples of mine. (John 8:31). “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).


So, what does a twenty-first century disciple look like?  They look a lot like those we find in the first century.  Those who followed Jesus then were fishermen, tax collectors, business men and business women, mothers and fathers. Today, they look like you and me.  They come from every nation and every race.  They can be found among the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the famous and obscure. Wherever you find fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who have received God’s grace and love others as God has love them, you will find disciples in disguise. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

There's Nothing Like Being A Father

On Father’s Day 1999, Phil Mickelson and Payne Stewart stood on the final hole of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.   Mickelson had a 25 foot birdie putt to tie for the lead. Stewart’s ball was 15 feet from the cup for par.

Mickelson’s birdie putt came to rest 6 inches from the hole.  Payne Stewart stood over his 15 foot putt with a w.w.j.d. (“What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet on his wrist, a gift from his son a few months earlier.  The putt broke to the right and dropped into the center of the cup making Stewart the 1999 US Open champion.

Mickelson had left his wife, Amy, at home expecting the birth of their daughter at any moment in order to compete.  He carried a pager in case she went into labor. Winner of 13 PGA tour events, he had never won a major. 

Payne Stewart joined the PGA tour a decade before, a charismatic playboy wearing knickers and a tam-o-shanter  hat. He burst on the scene with a swagger, chewing bubble gum, caustic and arrogant.  In 1989 he refused to shake hands with Tom Kite when he lost in a playoff for the Tour Championship.  But something happened to Payne Stewart in the mid-90s.  His golf game suffered. His best friend, Paul Azinger, struggled with cancer. When Stewart  came to faith in Jesus Christ through the influence of his children, his conduct and values changed.

One of the most memorable photos in sports history is the image of Payne Stewart taking Phil Mickelson’s face in his hands and looking intently into his eyes trying to encourage his competitor in defeat.  Knowing what Mickelson was going through at home, Stewart said. “Phil, there’s nothing like being a father!”  Amanda Mickelson was born the following day.

Four months later Payne Stewart was killed when his private jet crashed in a field near Mina, SD.  More than 3,000 people attended his funeral at First Baptist Church, Orlando, FL.  His wife, Tracey, spoke. ''When I met Payne, I thought he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life,'' she said. ''After 18 years of marriage, he was still the most beautiful man I had ever seen, not because of the way he looked on the outside anymore, but because of what he was on the inside.'' Everyone at the funeral received a w.w.j.d. bracelet.

Phil Mickelson went on to win 42 events on the PGA tour including 5 majors: 3 Masters, the PGA and the British Open.  He has never won the US Open.  This week, with age cutting short his chances of winning the one event that has eluded him, Mickelson chose to miss the US Open in order to attend his daughter’s graduation at Pacific Ridge High School in Carlsbad, CA.  Amanda, now 18 and the school president, will deliver the valedictorian address.  Mickelson said it was not a hard decision. 

"It's a tournament that I want to win the most," Mickelson said. "The only way to win is if you play and have a chance. But this is one of those moments where you look back on life and you just don't want to miss it. I'll be really glad that I was there and present."

In the words of Payne Stewart, “There is nothing like being a father!”  w.w.j.d.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Replenish the Earth

Twenty-five years ago we took our children on one of those vacations-of-a-lifetime to Disneyland in Los Angeles.  We bought a used van for the summer and coaxed it across the desert to the west coast.  When we took the kids to the beach we were unable to see the surf on the horizon because of the greenish-yellow haze trapped against the shore.

For years I commuted to work in Dallas listening to reporters declaring orange and red alerts for air quality. At some point TV weather forecasters added reports on the day’s pollution index to the routine reports on temperature, rain and humidity. In the last two decades we have seen improvements.

The first photos of earth sent back by the Apollo crews in the 1970s dramatically impressed us that our tiny blue planet rotating in space is precious and fragile. The thin layer of air that surrounds us not only contains the oxygen essential to life, but protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, regulates earth’s temperature and distributes moisture on dry land. Three-fourths of the atmosphere lies within 6.5 miles of the earth’s surface.  Sixty-two miles up we leave earth’s atmosphere and enter outer space. We are dependent on an amazingly thin film of atmospheric gases to sustain life on our planet.

The Bible clearly predicts that the earth will “wax old like a garment.”  Our finite earth will wear out.  Of course, I also know that one day I will wear out. We are all mortal. None of us lives forever. But my own mortality doesn’t mean I should start smoking, drinking, indulging in high fat foods and refusing to exercise.  Instead, I am motivated to discipline my body so that I can experience greater health and longevity.  In the same way, we must learn to discipline ourselves regarding the creation that God has entrusted to our care.  In the very first chapter of the Bible, with His very first words to mankind, God instructs us to “be fruitful and multiple and replenish the earth.” (Genesis 1:22).

The reaction to President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement has been swift. While some celebrated and others demonstrated, many responded with their own resolves to protect our environment. Thirty states resolved to stay the course to pursue lower greenhouse gases. Individuals, businesses and local governments are making commitments to make a difference. Renewable energy has taken root and is growing

In their groundbreaking book, Abundance, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler dare us “to imagine a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top tier medical care, and non-polluting, ubiquitous energy.”


I doubt that pollution will become intolerable in my life time, though it seems to already be so in Beijing, at least until the wind kicks up and blows it our way.  But I wonder about the world we are bequeathing to our children and grandchildren.  Will they continue to enjoy a pristine world with all its life-giving beauty and majesty? When God commanded us to “replenish the earth,” he placed the responsibility in our hands.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Teach Us to Pray

In the movie, Gravity, astronaut Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, has found her way aboard the Soyuz space craft.  The sole survivor of her mission, she is marooned in space without hope of survival.  Having lost radio contact with her command center, she scans the frequencies seeking someone with whom she might make contact.

The only person she is able to reach is an Eskimo in the remote tundra who speaks no English.  But the sound of his dogs and the crying of his baby touch her emotions.  She cries. And she cries out in desperation to him, “Say a prayer for me. Maybe I should say a prayer for myself.  But I have never prayed.  No one ever taught me.” 

How much does the character Ryan Stone represent the present generation?  The world seems to be spinning out of control. Evil is rampant.  Death is certain.  Will no one pray for us?  Will no one teach us to pray?

Centuries ago another generation felt the same way.  Jesus’ disciples approached him with the same desperation in their voice and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And He did.  Here is one thing Jesus taught us.

Prayer does not need to be a memorized formula.  There are no words that are better than any others to address God.  Prayer is a matter of the heart. Jesus told of two men who once prayed. One was very religious and knew all the right words. The other had made a wreck of his life. He was irreligious and broken hearted about his sin. The first prayed long and eloquent prayers that everyone could hear.  The second, feeling unworthy to lift his eyes to Heaven prayed, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  The prayer of the second man was the prayer God heard, Jesus said.

When we pray with a broken and contrite heart, God hears.

Chuck Colson, special counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969-1973, earned the reputation as Nixon’s “hatchet man.”  If there was anything cruel and dirty that needed doing, Colson could do it.  At the pinnacle of power, Colson was convicted for his Watergate crimes and sent to prison. His world crumbling around him, he sat alone in his parked car and cried out to God.  He didn’t know how to pray. He just knew he needed God to save him. 

God answered Colson’s prayers.  When he emerged from prison, he was a changed man.  God used him to launch Prison Fellowship and later, Prison Fellowship International.  He spent the rest of his life proclaiming the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ.


It is never too late to pray.  It is never too late to believe.  Our problems are never too many or too big for God. When we pray our Father who is in Heaven will hear our prayer and will reward us openly. (Matthew 6:5-8).

Monday, May 22, 2017

Buddy's Lesson - Living for Today

A few years ago we adopted a dog.  Well, I guess “I” adopted a dog. My wife finally gave in.  But he won her over and now he is “our” dog.   He has traveled thousands of miles with us and introduced us to people of all ages, races and places who love dogs. This week he moved with us to Colorado. 

Across the years we had pets, mostly mutts and strays that wandered into our lives.  They helped us raise our kids.  Each was different.  “Punkin” was our first. I brought her home for Christmas.  I was too busy to give her much attention, but the boys loved her.  She grew old, blind and died before our daughter was born the year I turned 40.

Rascal was a stray gray-and-white kitten our boys picked up off the street.  He was part of our family for fifteen years and made the move with us from Texas to Minnesota.  

We picked up a puppy we named Max from a Minnesota farm.  We thought he would be a small dog, but in six months, he was bigger than our daughter, had eaten all the furniture and dug up the back yard.  We offered him to a good home.   One interested lady tried to take his picture and he ate her camera.  Finally a young couple with a farm adopted him.  We threw in his crate, dog food and anything else we could think of.  We last saw them chasing him down the street. 

So we went back to cats.  My wife and daughter found a cute black and white kitten that our son named “Fido.”  Our daughter loved Fido.  But, Fido was apparently insulted by our move back to Texas and ran away.  When our daughter left for college we found ourselves in an empty nest, the kids grown and the dogs and cats gone. It was peaceful.  I guess a little too peaceful.   After awhile I realized I missed having a dog. 

We found Buddy, a tri-color Pembroke Corgi. He was picked up starving off the streets of Fort Worth by Corgi Rescue.  When we first met him he was skinny and sick.  But we knew he was right for us.   Buddy and I have bonded.  He goes with me just about everywhere I go.  He is helping me put my life in perspective and teaching me some things about God.



Buddy is teaching me to live in the moment; to celebrate each day as a gift.  So often I spend time reminiscing or regretting the past and dreaming or worrying about the future.  But Buddy takes each day as it comes.  Of course it is good to cherish memories and learn from the past.  And it is good to dream and plan.  That is part of what defines us in God’s image.  But I am prone to miss the moment.  Jesus said, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself …” ( Mt 6:34).   “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24). 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Encountering Angels Unaware

Last week we drove my old pickup from Colorado to Texas.  My daughter learned to drive on the truck when she was 16.  She is now grown, married, and the mother of 3 children.  It has hauled and towed “stuff” to and from Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota and Georgia.  We are still using it, 155,000 miles and going strong, or so we thought.

We stopped in Amarillo at a truck stop for the usual: gas, snacks and a bathroom.  When we hopped back in the truck, it wouldn’t start. The battery was strong and the starter spun the engine, but it would not fire.

So, there we were. Stranded at a fuel pump 450 miles from home on a Saturday morning. I tried to call an auto shop.  Most are closed on Saturday, and those that are open are already busy. Our insurance agreed to send a tow truck.  But where should we have them tow us? How long before we could get it fixed?  Where would we stay?

My wife did what men won’t do. She went to other travelers, especially those who looked like they had seen the underside of a hood, and asked for help.  I sat in the driver seat, helpless and confused.  Then Rafael showed up, young, bright-eyed and smiling.

Rafael did not speak English. I don’t speak Spanish, except for a few words and phrases that I usually mispronounce. But sign language works where words fall short.  He motioned.  I opened the hood and cranked on the engine. Nothing.  He took an empty water bottle and went around the gas pumps siphoning off the left over gas in each one and tried to prime the engine through the air intake.  He then climbed under the truck and banged on the gas tank, trying to shake the fuel pump into action. Still nothing.

He then opened the fuse box under the hood, pushed and prodded on the relays and fuses.  I turned the key and the engine sprang into life.  Apparently the fuel pump relay had vibrated loose. After a helpless hour and a half, we were back on the road again. I tried to pay Rafael, but he would accept nothing. I tried to thank him with my best Spanish.  He was just happy to help. I mentioned “Jesus Cristo” and he beamed.

I don’t know where Rafael came from. I don’t know where he went.  He drove away in a big truck towing a fifth wheel RV.  Rafael might not qualify as an angel according to the Bible. But he was an angel to us.  It seemed, somehow, God sent him at just the right time. 

Angels show up throughout the Bible. Our technological and scientific Western world dismisses them.  The book of Hebrews says, “ Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2).  

I wish we could have shown hospitality to Rafael.  Instead, we were the strangers in need, and he helped us. It seemed as if he were God’s messenger, or “mechanic,” at just the right time in just the right place. Just when we might think that our world is sliding into selfishness, violence and corruption, an angel shows up. 

I hope somewhere, someplace, sometime we might qualify as God’s “angel” to somebody else, especially someone who doesn’t look like us, dress like us or speak our language.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Honoring Our Mothers

This week husbands, sons and daughters will elbow their way to the greeting card displays in search of the perfect card to celebrate Mothers Day.  Florists will put on extra staff to handle the demand. Restaurants brace for business.

Countries around the world set aside a special day for mothers. It is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in the U.S. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India, Brazil, Germany, Ethiopia and the Philippines. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mothers Day an official holiday starting on May 8, 1914. Still other nations honor mothers on different dates.

Regardless of our nationality, ethnicity or gender, we were each carried in our mother’s womb, given birth through her labor and, in almost all cases, nursed and nourished to life by her care.  

No office and no position wields greater power and influence over the future of humanity than the influence of a mother.  The memories and lessons given in infancy at a mother’s hand surpass every other classroom and instruction.  The faith of a mother inspires and instructs more effectively than any pulpit or pen.

We see it in history, and we see it in the Bible.

In a log cabin in Kentucky, Nancy Hanks Lincoln recognized the early gifts in her child.  She not only taught him to read, but instructed him in the principles that would shape his life.  Without Nancy, and Sarah, who became Lincoln’s step mother after Nancy died, it is unlikely that Abraham Lincoln would have ever surfaced to lead our nation in its greatest hour of crisis.

If it were not for Moses’ mother, the world would have never known the great law-giver who led Israel from captivity and gave us the Ten Commandments.  It was she who hid him in the reeds at the river to save his infant life and it was she who cared for him in Pharaoh’s court. 

How many mothers have petitioned God for the birth of a child, as Hannah prayed in the presence of Eli, the prophet?  Without her prayer, Samuel would not have been born, and would not have been present to anoint David, the king of Israel.

In the fullness of time, in an obscure  Galilean village, another young woman  lifted up her eyes to heaven and sang, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His handmaiden; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For He that is mighty has done to me great things, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:46-49).  Without Mary we would never have known Jesus, and the world would remain lost in its sins without a Savior.

Paul referred to the importance of a mother’s faith when he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy: “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”  (2 Timothy 1:5). 


This Mother’s Day we honor all our mothers who have shaped us and made a better world.  It also stands as a challenge to all those young women who give birth to the next generation and shape the future of the world to come. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Did Jesus Do Dishes?

Did Jesus do dishes?  The very question sounds sacrilegious.  That might be the point.  Sometimes our “religion” prism causes us to miss the real miracle about Jesus.  The whole idea of “religion” tends to confine our thinking to “church” related activities and theological conversations.  To most people, Jesus never enters day-to-day conversation because to do so is to introduce “religion,” and daily life is uncomfortable with religion.

Those who knew Jesus, who met him, heard him, saw him, ate with him and walked with him were struck by his humanity.  He was real, but, as some say, “not real religious.”  He went to the synagogues and spoke there, but it was the religious people who had difficulty with him.  He ate with tax collectors, visited with prostitutes and befriended lepers, violated religious laws by healing the sick and allowing his disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ divinity was there for all to see:  he made the blind see, caused the deaf to hear, lifted the lame to walk and raised the dead.  Even the wind and the sea obeyed him.  But, as important as all those things were, especially to the individuals who experienced it, he elevated the mundane to the miraculous.

John described him like this:  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) The Word became flesh and lived among us and we saw his glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). The writer of Hebrews wrote:  “For we have not a high priest who is not touched with our infirmities but was tempted in all ways like as we are, yet without sin.” 

The Bible never says that Jesus did the dishes.  It does say that he washed feet. Which, it seems to me, required a great deal more humility than washing dishes.  I expect dishes were prized possessions in most homes of Galilee. They weren’t cheap.  You could not pick up dishes at the local Walmart or the Dollar store.  They were all hand crafted and often passed down from generation to generation.  Most homes likely had little more than the bare essentials when it came to dishes. They did not pile up in the sink waiting for someone to unload the dishwasher.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus helped his mother out, or even lent a hand to Martha in the kitchen at Bethany, and washed dishes.

I always think my wife will be most impressed when I buy her flowers.  She does appreciate them and she likes them. But what she really seems to like is the times that I do the dishes.  It may be that the most spiritual thing you may do today is to do the dishes.  It could be a God thing.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Thy Kingdom Come

Last week Dyen returned from her home in Indonesia where she spent four months as an intern with the United Nations working with refugees.  Next month she will graduate with a Master’s degree in Social Work from Baylor University.   She is a remarkable Christian, always bubbling with life, energy and happiness.  She spent the night with us upon her arrival.  The next morning we visited over breakfast on our patio.

I usually spend the early mornings in devotion and prayer in my back yard.  The sun slowly rises, flickering through the sycamore leaves until it clears the trees and floods the yard with light.  Most of my prayers are for personal things, the day-to-day things most of us are concerned about.  I pray for friends who are battling cancer, a friend recovering from an accident and for my four-year-old granddaughter who fell and broke her pinky finger.  I give thanks to God for his answers, continually amazed at how often He seems to listen and how often He seems to answer.

But this morning we visited with Dyen.

I asked her about her work with the refugees.  Her face grew clouded with sadness.  She told us of a child who watched her mother die, a boy who returned home to find his house destroyed and his family dead, a little girl who lifted her skirt to show the bullet wounds she had suffered.  None of the children in the refugee camp have parents. Most of the girls have been raped.

She told how she had struggled as a Christian to counsel these, trying to give hope and encouragement to innocent children victimized by war, oppression, vengeance and violence. I suddenly felt my prayer life to be rather small.  Dyen’s burdened voice brought us close to the cruel stories easily dismissed as so much “news.” 

I was reminded of what Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  What would that look like?  I suppose it would look like Jesus’ response to John when John asked if He was the Messiah.  Jesus said, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7:22).

 I am beginning to pray more for these distant places and these victims.  I am praying more for our own nation.  I am praying that God will turn the tide of violence, anger, hatred, resentment, prejudice and vengeance.  The world seems increasingly dangerous.  If His Kingdom were to come on earth, all of this would be swept away, replaced with kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness and love.

We cannot control national events. But we can make a difference in the place where we are. Like Dyen seeking to comfort refugees in Indonesia. We can bring the Kingdom near where we live and wherever we go, like Jesus did when He walked through the hills of Galilee.


It is okay to pray for our immediate personal concerns.  After all, Jesus taught us to ask for “daily bread.”  But too often my prayers stop there.  They need to go beyond to the Kingdom issues that reside in the heart of God. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Love and Marriage

I like to watch young people falling in love and getting married.  I like to watch them strolling arm and arm, pushing a stroller, spreading a blanket on the beach and listening to the waves.  Love is always new.  For generations it has remained the fresh and vibrant theme of novels, movies, music and paintings.

We started hosting a Bible study in our home for International students almost four years ago.  Mulenga showed up alone.  His wife was unable to join him from Zambia because she did not have a visa. We prayed. The visa was granted. She came, and a year later their son was born on my birthday.

Xiuli arrived from China, a beautiful young woman in her thirties.  A year later she met Willis who joined us.  They were married in the Chinese Church on January 2, 2016.  In September she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

Balkeum came from South Korea.  She met James a devout believer from my home town in Corsicana, TX who earned a Masters degree in South Korea. A few months later she showed up at the Bible study with an engagement ring on her finger. They were married in April 2016.  Last week I held their daughter, Charlotte, for the first time.

My son had to brand cattle on a Wyoming round-up to ask permission to marry his rodeo-father-in-law’s daughter.  His palms were sweating when he popped the question, not from the round up, but from nerves. 

My son-in-law went fishing with me to ask permission to marry my daughter.  His mind wasn’t on fishing. He then coaxed a friend into flying them in a private plane to a romantic spot where he gave her the ring.

It was almost fifty years ago that I met the girl who would become my wife. The days of our courtship and engagement are as vivid in my memory as they were when we lived them. The mystery and the miracle have not faded.  A few years ago, I wrote a poem, trying to capture the feeling:

He holds the eternal quarter-carat stone in his hand
Buried in his trembling palm,
Pausing to expose its fire sided sight to the light
Where it will be seen,
set in the golden circle of the ring
To be worn on her hand,
 half a century and a day
From this day when he first feels her finger
Slender and smooth, adorned with a diamond
Timidly given in hope of heaven.

There are many love stories in the Bible:  Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz, Joseph and Mary.  The story never grows old.  Few things are as beautiful as a young man and a young woman in love, giving birth to their children.  


“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:27-28.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Life's Most Important Question

I was twenty-nine years old when my father died of multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow.  He was fifty-three.  Only hours before his death, I spoke with him.  Our eyes met during that final visit, the same eye contact we had shared from my birth, though his eyes were growing gray.  I held his hand as he drew his last breath, and then, he was gone.  His body lay lifeless and unresponsive.

The morticians took his body from the hospital room where our family had waited through the night.  We visited the funeral home and chose a casket.  Shortly afterward other family and friends joined us to view his body lying still and quiet, dressed in his familiar suit, his hair combed.  I stood by the casket and stared at his face.  It was obvious another hand had combed his hair and another hand had tied his tie.  He seemed to be sleeping.

I imagined him drawing breath. Imagined him opening his eyes so that they sparkled once again, his lips parting in the familiar grin, the dimples reappearing in his cheeks.  But he didn’t move. We buried his body in the cemetery 41 years ago surrounded by friends who came to comfort us, many of whom are now buried nearby. 

I asked myself the question Job asked centuries ago, the question every man and woman must ultimately ask when they stand where I stood on that day, “If a man die, shall he live again?”(Job 14:14).

Job’s struggle with the question was not about theology or philosophy.  His struggle was like mine.  It was personal.  It is the struggle we all must face sooner or later when those whom we love die. 

After having pondered the question, Job foresaw the Easter event we celebrate this weekend.  He wrote, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

The world will ponder Job’s question this weekend when we gather in Christian churches around the world. When Jesus was raised from the dead, the answer to life’s most important question became clear.  Luke wrote, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3).  Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

Monday, April 3, 2017

Consider the Birds

The birds are the first to wake each morning. I have listened in the predawn dark for the first twitter from the trees.  Like sentinels they watch for the first faint glow in the east, and, long before the sun rises, they start their sunrise celebration.  Sometimes I think they are surprised each morning when a new day dawns.  Their excitement seems to echo Zecharias’ emotions when he announced the birth of Jesus saying, “The sunrise from on high will visit us!” (Luke 1:78).

I especially like the cardinal.  I have watched these brilliant red birds perched high on bare limbs in the Minnesota winter, their ricochet notes shattering the snow-covered stillness on a subzero morning.  I have listened to the same unmistakable notes and spotted their bright red coat amid thick green oaks in the sweltering heat of a Texas summer.

The mockingbird is always dressed in his gray tuxedo for some special occasion, white tipped wings flashing when he flies like formal cuffs in full dress.  Unlike the cardinal, the mockingbird never ventures into northern winters.  He much prefers Texas summers where he can perch on his stage in the live oaks and sing his stolen songs.

I remember waking, when I was a boy, to the rasp of blue jays at play in the pecan trees outside my window.  They rasp now as they did then, and every time I hear them I am carried back across the decades to my youth.

When we lived in Minnesota, I watched chickadees on winter afternoons fluttering in the snow on our windowsill searching for seed.   And I often sat on our deck in Rochester, MN and listening to squadrons of Canadian geese flying low overhead, so low that I could hear the wind in their wings.

Jesus apparently watched the birds and took pleasure in them.  He referred to them to help us understand God’s love and care for us.  He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Again, He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”


Sometimes we find ourselves thrown into difficult circumstances.  Like the scorching Texas heat or the frigid Minnesota winter, every element seems to be set against us and we have difficulty seeing our way forward.  At such times we are prone to wonder if God has forgotten us.  We are prone to discouragement, doubt and worry about our future.  Failing health, unemployment, broken promises and broken relationships conspire to steal away our confidence, our hope and our faith.  At such times we need to consider the birds. We are not forgotten.  He who cares for the birds of the air will doubtless care for us.  We are of great worth to God.   Listen to the birds and take heed to their song. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bread of Heaven

Bread has become a delicacy.  When my wife sends me to the store for a loaf of bread I stand dumbfounded in front of the shelves.  Which bread to buy?  There’s white bread, whole wheat bread, gluten free 7 grain bread, garlic bread, rye bread, and a dozen others.  Then there are bagels: plain bagels, blueberry bagels and everything bagels.  And what about donuts?  I think donuts are included in the bread family.  Okay, I choose donuts.

From ancient times “bread” has represented the staple of life.  Even today, in all its various forms, bread is still the most widely consumed food in the world.

Scholars have found evidence that people started baking bread 30,000 years ago. But the first breads were “flat.”  They lacked leaven. It is the leaven that makes it rise, light and fluffy and sweet. Historians believe that the Egyptians were the first to develop leavened bread, somewhere around 1000 years before the great pyramids were built.  The most famous “unleavened” bread was the Passover bread, cooked up in a hurry by the Israelites to escape Egypt. 

In 1917 Otto Rohwedder invented the first bread-slicing machine. He set the standard for all other inventors who searched for an idea that would be“better than sliced bread.”  In spite of Rohwedder's invention, there is nothing quite like pulling apart a fresh steaming loaf of bread and adding butter.  

Jesus referred to bread to help us understand who He was.  “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35).  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word ...”  Through Jesus Christ God nourishes our soul and satisfies our innermost emotional, personal and spiritual needs, a nourishment more important than the nourishment of our bodies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He reminded us that we need nourishment each and every day.  Just as God provides for us daily the nourishment that is necessary for our bodies He will provide for us each and every day the nourishment that is necessary to replenish our soul. 

When Moses led Israel in the wilderness, God provided bread every morning so that “he who gathered much had no excess and he who gathered little had no lack.”(Exodus 16:18).  They could not store and keep the bread. It had to be eaten when God gave it.


Like the Israelites in the wilderness, our relationship with God is daily and constant.  We cannot put our faith in a religious box to be taken out occasionally.  Just as our bodies need bread in order to live, our souls need a daily and constant conversation with God, the bread and substance of life. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Heaven and hell

I read “The Shack” several years ago, shortly after it was published.  It was an instant best seller, and I was anxious to read it. 

I wasn’t prepared for the way it affected me.  Toward the end of the book, I was overwhelmed by the powerful message of God’s love and forgiveness.  I was at home alone, reading in my recliner, my dog sitting at my feet.  Without warning, the power of God’s love and forgiveness overwhelmed me.  I started weeping, then sobbing.  I am not sure what it touched within me, but it was a powerful emotional moment.  My dog jumped into my lap to comfort me.

So, I was anxious to see the movie. 

The movie followed the book even though cinema always falls short of imagination.  Nevertheless I enjoyed revisiting the portrayal of God as infinitely loving and forgiving. Although the real message of The Shack, it seems to me, is not about God, but about us.  We need to forgive one another.  We need to stop judging one another. Jesus clearly taught these truths in Luke 6.  

But, as we left the theater, I felt disturbed.  Something seemed to be missing.

Like most people, I like to think that everyone goes to Heaven, that there is no judgement and there is no hell.  This seems to be the message of The Shack: “It doesn’t matter how you live, what you believe, or what you do, God forgives all his children and we all go to heaven.”

But this isn’t the message of the Bible. No one warned us more clearly about judgement and hell than Jesus.

Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived selfishly and lavishly and a poor man named Lazarus who suffered abject poverty.  When they died the rich and selfish man suffered hell while the poor man went to heaven. Suffering in torment the rich man begged that Lazarus might be permitted to bring him a sip of water to cool his tongue in his agony.  “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:25-26).

We cannot excuse our actions based on how we may have been mistreated by others. We are all ultimately accountable for what we do and what we say.  “It is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgement.” (Hebrews 9:27).

We have all sinned. We have all done things we should not have done. We have judged others and we have been angry without cause. We have spoken words that will condemn us when we stand before God.  This is why God stepped into the gap and sent His Son, not only to teach us a better way, but to pay the penalty for our sins. “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).


God has made provision for everyone to go to Heaven.  But we must accept His offer of forgiveness.  “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”  (Hebrews 2:3).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

O My Soul

Most of our conversation, it seems, revolves around our bodies and money: how we look, how to stay healthy, how to remain young, how to become wealthy.

Concern for our bodies drives a large segment of our economy.  United States health care expense alone passed the $3.2 trillion mark in 2015.  Most of this, of course, is corrective surgery and treatment, but elective cosmetic surgery totals more than thirteen billion dollars.  This includes liposuction, breast augmentation and hair removal. The fitness industry with its books, talk-shows and exercise facilities is enormous. In 2014 fitness center revenues in the U.S. exceeded $24 billion.

I can understand this.  Since my body is the only one I have, I want to take care of it.  Of course, I guess there are limits to which I want to do this. I love Blue Bell ice cream and I like to sit in the stands snacking on a hot dog while I watch healthier people compete on the field. 

I can also understand our interest in money.  We all have to pay our bills, and most of us have ambitions to own our home, drive a nicer car, send our kids to college and enjoy vacations. 
                                    
But what happened to the concept of the soul?  We seldom hear the word mentioned, including our churches.  Jesus taught that, as important as our bodies may be, nothing is as important as our soul. 
Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  

Horatio G. Spafford,  a wealthy lawyer in the 1860s seemed to live a charmed life enjoying both health and wealth. But, in 1870, he lost his son to Scarlet Fever.  The next year he lost most of his holdings in the Great Chicago Fire. Suffering financial loss, he used most of his resources to feed the hungry, house the homeless and comfort the grief stricken. When his wife’s health began to fail, he decided to move his family to Europe. Delayed by his commitments at work, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. On November 22, 1873, their ship sank at sea. Only his wife survived.  Returning to the spot where the ship sank, Horatio Spafford stood looking over the swelling seas where his daughters drowned and wrote these words:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


Horatio and Anna Spafford spent the rest of their lives caring for homeless children, the poor and oppressed.


We are more than our bodies and more than our money.  Our “soul” is who we really are whether rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Our soul is shaped by acts of kindness, honesty, virtue, generosity and faith. The destiny of every nation and every generation is ultimately determined by the soul of its people.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Overcoming Shame

Last week Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor in “Manchester-By-The-Sea.” When the movie received numerous Oscar nominations, we decided to watch it. The movie looked romantic.  What could be more romantic than sunrise over the bay, New England houses lining the shore and boats gently resting in the harbor?

But, “Manchester By the Sea” is no romance.  It is a tragedy that slowly unfolds through flashbacks in the mind of  Lee Chandler, the main character played by Affleck, as he wrestles with his brother’s death and guardianship of his brother’s son.  To fulfill his brother’s dying wish, he must move back to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the site of his shame.

As the movie unfolds we eventually learn the depth of Lee Chandler’s shame, a shame so deep that he despises himself.  His personal sense of shame prevents him from receiving love, acceptance and forgiveness from others.  Lee Chandler is incapable of loving or being loved.  He is a tortured soul.

The Bible has 198 references to “shame” and to being “ashamed.”  We first see evidences of shame after Adam and Eve willfully disobey God’s command.  When God created man and woman, the Bible says, “Adam and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:24).  But, after their sin, they are ashamed and hide themselves from one another and from God.

This is what sin does.  We not only feel guilt for our sins, we also experience shame, guilt’s more devastating accomplice.  This is what happened to Lee Chandler.  His shame causes him to hide in Boston, bitter, alone, cynical and angry.  Sadly, in Lee’s case, he is not able to overcome his shame to receive the love of others or of God.

God comes looking for us.  Just as He searched for Adam and Eve who trembled with shame in their hiding place.  He comes to remove our shame and restore our relationship to God and to one another. God gently and tenderly clothed them as we clothe our children.

For this reason, God sent His son to search for us and to die for us.  Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”   And Hebrews exhorts us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).


All our guilt and all our shame can be removed when we accept God’s redemptive love through His Son, Jesus Christ.  His sacrifice is greater than our sin. We can again love God, ourselves and others. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Good News

There was a day when we assumed that our elected officials told the truth.  All that changed when Richard Nixon lied about the Watergate break in and proclaimed, “I’m no crook.”  Our confidence took another major hit when Bill Clinton told us, with passion, that he never had sex with that woman.  The truth, he argued, depended on your definition of “is.”  Today the truth is highly elusive.   
We once depended upon journalists to tell the truth.  If Walter Cronkite said it, it had to be so.  He guided us through John F. Kennedy’s assassination like a wise father encouraging his children.  He reported Vietnam with candor.  The news media have always served as a check on those in power, ferreting out the truth when government and corporations tried to sweep ugly and unseemly actions under the rug. Today their reporting is dismissed as “fake news.”

It makes us wonder: where is the truth and what is the truth.  We have awakened to the fact that each of us must discern the source of the story and its truthfulness for ourselves

There is one source, tested and tried, that provides a framework for discerning the truth and living our lives above reproach.  It is sometimes referred to as the “Good News.” 

This “Good News” is documented from the first century and proven in the global context of 2000 years.  In every generation it has caused men and women to turn from greed, lust and destructive addictions to embrace sacrifice and love for their fellow man. 

Peter testified, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (1 Peter 1:16).   John wrote, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also.”  (1 John 1:1-3)

Jesus grew up in the obscure village of Nazareth, never held an office, never wrote a book, but His life changed the world. We date our calendars by His birth. If we consider those who verified the truth of His transforming power over the last 2,000 years, our considerations would fill a library.

St. Augustine was born in North Africa in 354.  He fathered a child out of wedlock when he was 18 and began a quest for the truth  that led him to Christ when he was 42. He became the leading theologian of the early church and later wrote, “The precious things that came from the mouth of the Lord were written down for us and kept for us and read aloud for us, and will be read by our children too, until the end of the world. The Lord is above, but the Lord of truth is here!

Francis of Assissi was born 800 years later to a wealthy merchant family in Italy. He lived a life of luxury and had a reputation for drinking and partying in his youth.  A desperate illness following his experience as a mercenary soldier led to his conversion to Christ when he was 20.  He refused his father’s wealth and devoted himself to serving the poor and preaching love for God, nature and others. The current Pope, Francis, chose his name in honor of Francis of Assissi.


This is the “Good News,” that God has loved us in His Son, Jesus, and continues to transform men and women in every generation on every continent. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Finishing Well

One of the great lessons taught in every sport is the importance of finishing well.  An athlete or a team can stumble at the start, but it is how they finish that makes the difference. 

On November 26, 1994, 30,000 fans filled Texas Stadium to watch John Tyler play Plano East in a high school football play off game.  With three minutes and three seconds left, John Tyler led the game 41 to 17.  On the next play, Plano East scored a touch down, then proceeded to recover three on-side kicks to score three more.  With 24 seconds remaining, Plano East took the lead 44-41.  They kicked off to John Tyler whose returner took the ball on his three yard line and returned it 97 yards.  Final score: John Tyler 48, Plano East 44.

Everyone who follows golf immediately recognizes the name, Jean Van de Velde.  Leading the British Open at Caroustie in 1999 by three shots, the Frenchman only needed a double bogey 6 on the final hole to claim the coveted Claret Jug.  After a series of reckless shots that ended up in the creek protecting the 18th green, he removed his socks and shoes and waded in debating whether to hit from the water   He triple bogeyed the hole and lost in a play off.

Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya won the Boston Marathon four times.  He was striding triumphantly across the finish line in the Chicago Marathon in 2006 when he tripped.  Although he won the race by falling across the finish line, he had to be carried away in a wheel chair. 

Most of us can make a good start at whatever we choose.  Everyone can sprint at the beginning of a race, but, what matters most is how we finish. 

Paul didn’t make a very good start.  Known in his youth as Saul, he pursued blind ambition for advancement proudly searching out Christians and throwing them in jail, both men and women.  He assisted in the cruel execution of Stephen, an innocent man, stoned to death as the first martyr following Jesus’ resurrection.

But, following his conversion to Christ, he lived a consistent life of faith and finished well.  Looking back over his life the Apostle Paul stated, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

When Jesus prepared for the cross, he said to the Father, “I have finished the work you gave me to do.”  The last word he spoke before he died was, tetelestai, “it is finished.”  He had demonstrated God’s glory on earth in a perfect, sinless life and “paid in full” the penalty for our sins so that we might have eternal life with Him in Heaven.


You might stumble today.  You might regret some things in your past. But a race is still to be run and God gives to everyone the opportunity to finish well. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Reboot

I bought my first computer in 1982, a Commodore 64.  It used a 340k floppy disc and operated with machine language.  After typing in the machine code, the little floppy started to whirr ... and whirr ... and whirr a little more.  It whirred so long that I could get a cup of coffee or make a sandwich.  When it finally loaded the program it worked great: word processing, spreadsheets, database and games, with surprisingly good graphics.  With each program change, I started the process all over again, something they called “booting up.”

I think the term came from the farm.  You didn’t want to track that barnyard stuff into the house, so when you went inside, you took your boots off.  And, when you wanted to go to work. You put your boots back on.  So, for the little PC, we put our boots on, or “booted up” the program if we wanted to go to work or play.

I graduated from the Commodore to an IBM compatible Compaq that ran MS-DOS.  The screen lit up with an eerie green glow and pulled its data from two floppy discs, one of which I replaced with a hard drive.  In those days PC users were kind of like shade tree mechanics.  You just plugged and unplugged exchangeable parts and turned it on. It seemed to work.

It took a long time for me to convert to Microsoft Windows, but I finally made the leap.  So, today, I use a DELL laptop and sometimes throw up my hands in exasperation when the Windows 10 operating system demands an “update.” 

I usually leave it in sleep mode so it wakes right up and we get going whenever I want. I get my cup of coffee before I turn it on.  I like leaving my “boots” on with my laptop. But sooner or later, it slows down. It begins to creep along. The mouse drags or freezes in place and I am stuck.  It has too much going on in its PC memory, too many programs trying to run at once. Too much “barnyard stuff” tracked in and making it stink. There is nothing to do but “reboot” it.  So, I turn it off and let it reload the operating system.  After the “reboot,” we are good to go and back up to speed.

We are a lot like my computer.  We fly from one task to another, filling our lives with frenzied activity, trying to constantly multi-task between family, business, community and personal obligations. We freeze up.  We are no longer efficient. We do nothing well.  Sometimes we need to “reboot.” 

This is why God gave us the Sabbath.  It is the fourth of the ten “Big Ones.”  And, as Jesus pointed out, it was given to us by God because we need it.  “Man was not made for the Sabbath,” Jesus said. “The Sabbath was made for man.” 

If we want to live full, meaningful, productive and effective lives, we need time for worship and rest.  We need to “reboot” physically, emotionally and spiritually.  We are made in such a way that we have to power down if we want to power up.  This means turning off the TV, disconnecting from social media and taking a deep breath. We need to listen the laughter of children, to birds singing, the wind in the trees, waves lapping on the shore and listening to God.  Meditations in the Psalms and the Sermon on the Mount help me most.


We need to take the Apostle Paul’s advice: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

Monday, February 6, 2017

Doomsday Clock

Last week the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight.  Humanity is now only two and one-half minutes away from total annihilation.  It is the closest the Doomsday Clock has been to the moment of ultimate catastrophe since 1953.

The Doomsday Clock was created by scientists in 1947, after World War II, to warn the world of the nuclear dangers that lay before us.  Those of us who were children in the 1950s can remember bomb drills, hiding beneath our desks (as if that would have saved us).  My uncle built a bomb shelter in his back yard, stocked it with food, batteries and a radio to hide from the ultimate disaster.

We haven’t thought about the Doomsday Clock in a while.  When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the clock was set back to 17 minutes to midnight.  But, with the recent rhetoric and saber rattling by powers that possess the ultimate weapon, scientists have moved it to within 150 seconds of our doom.  Last week, Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who oversaw the dissolution of the Soviet Union, was quoted in Time Magazine, “Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous ... It looks as if the world is preparing for war."

While some fear the threat of nuclear war, others fear global warming, pollution of the environment or genetically engineered viruses.  In 2014 Stephen Hawking stated that he believed development of full Artificial Intelligence could result in the annihilation of the human race. “Once humans develop Artificial Intelligence, it will take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans,” he warned, “... would be quickly superceded.”

Predictions for the end of the world are not new.  Jesus spoke of it when He said, “For then there will be a great tribulation, such has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:21-22)  Peter predicted, “The present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgement.” (2 Peter 3:7)  John wrote the book of Revelation predicting the end of time and the ultimate battle between good and evil.

The Bible is not just a “feel good book.”  The Bible deals with real dangers, real life and death issues.  It warns us of the dangers of pursuing prejudice, violence, hatred, greed, anger and lust.  Those paths always end in death and destruction.


But the Bible offers hope. Any individual and any generation can turn from their sins, place their trust in God and receive His loving forgiveness through Jesus Christ and be saved. Left to our own devices, we are doomed.  But God has prepared something better. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:19).  “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger

Last Friday, with one stroke of his pen President Trump swept away more than two centuries of American history in which we prided ourselves on our generosity, our goodness and our commitment to embrace the oppressed.  He replaced it with fear and self-interest. With that same stroke of his pen, he struck through the famous words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
                                                                                                                     
Trump’s order prohibited travel from seven mostly-Muslim nations.  None of the terrorists who successfully carried out attacks on U.S. soil came from any of these countries.

But, we all came from somewhere.

Native Americans came first, beating all of us to this continent by a few thousand years.  My “multi-great” grandfather, Thomas Tinsley, landed in Jamestown in 1638 after a risky voyage across the Atlantic. My mother’s family, the Harpers, came later from Ireland. Along with them came others from Norway, Poland, Germany, Italy, and a host of captives from Africa. They were followed by still more from Asia, including refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. We have come from every corner of the earth. We are a nation of immigrants. 

We are one nation with many ethnicities embracing every skin color and many languages. More than 90 languages are spoken in Houston.  Polish is the third largest language group in Chicago with a Polish population equal to Warsaw. 

We like to keep the teachings of Jesus in the tepid category. We don’t like for Him to mess with our assumptions.  But this is what got Him into trouble.  His teachings are radical when it comes to loving people who are different than we are.

The Jews of Jesus’ day despised Samaritans.  But Jesus specifically went out of his way to enter Samaria and to visit with a Samaritan woman.  When she pointed out that the Samaritans worshipped at Mt. Gerazim while Jews worshipped in Jerusalem, Jesus replied, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.”

When Jesus wanted to illustrate what it means to love our neighbor, He told of a amaritan who risked his own safety to help a stranger who had been beaten and left for dead. 

When Jesus introduced himself to the synagogue in his hometown at Nazareth, he infuriated the crowd by stating that God loved the Syrians. He reminded them that Elisha healed a Syrian leper when there were many lepers in Israel. They were so enraged they tried to throw Jesus off a high cliff.  (Luke 4:16-30).

Today the oppression in Syria represents the world’s greatest refugee crisis.  Eleven million Syrians, more than half of them children, have fled the brutal attacks by ISIS. Most of them are Muslim. But many Christian organizations are reaching out to these refugees providing shelter, blankets, water, food and comfort. Virtually every denomination is represented as well as para-church groups like Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision.


We are always afraid and suspicious of people who are different than we are. But “perfect love casts out fear.”  Isaiah says, “Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.  Let the fugitives stay with you; be their shelter from the destroyer. The oppressor will come to an end, and destruction will cease; the aggressor will vanish from the land.”  (Isaiah 16:3-4).