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, August 21, 2017

Lessons from Buddy: God is no respecter of persons

At least once a year I write a column about my dog, Buddy, a tri-color Corgi.  Buddy found me eight years ago.  He had to spend some time wandering the streets as a stray and endure the indignities of animal control and Corgi rescue to do it. But he succeeded.  They called him “Tex.”  But he soon made it clear that his name was “Buddy.” 

When I go for a walk without Buddy, I am invisible. Few people notice me or speak.  But when Buddy takes me for a walk, we are celebrities.  Children stop what they are doing and run to us, asking if they can pet him.  Some adults do the same.

Buddy never seems to meet a stranger.  He doesn’t care what people look like, what color their skin, what kind of tattoos they might have. They can be gay, straight, male, female, old or young, rich or poor, educated or disabled.  He loves them all and they all seem to love him. And they all seem to feel better after they pet him.

It’s a lesson I am still working on, a lesson Buddy is still trying to teach me.  It is a lesson Jesus taught and one that Peter struggled to learn.  Jesus intentionally led his followers through Samaria, a region Jews refused to visit, and introduced them to a woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. He incensed his hometown authorities when he pointed out that God used Elisha to heal a Syrian rather than a Jew.  He embraced lepers who were outcast from their families. He healed the sick, the blind and the lame.  He dined with despised tax collectors. This was not the journey Peter and his companions expected. 

It was only later when the Holy Spirit led him to enter the home of a Roman Centurion that Peter seemed to understand.  Upon entering the home, Peter said, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10).

Last week I stopped to get a haircut. A young woman in her 30s cut my hair. She had piercings in her nose, tongue and chin and tattoos covering her arms. We struck up a conversation. She has three little girls, 11, 7 and 5 who live with her ex-mother-in-law. She miscarried a baby boy. A few years ago, she “came out of the closet.”  I asked her what this meant and she told me she is gay. She said people thought she wanted to abandon her children, but this was not the case. She was simply tired of being depressed and suicidal. She is committed to caring for her children as much as the courts will allow her.  I told her I hoped she found a church that loved her. She said she always loved going to church but she was afraid of being judged.


I think Buddy would love this young mother and she would love him.  I am sure God loves her.  I wonder, after Charlottesville, when we will ever learn the lesson God built into Buddy, the lessons Jesus taught when He was here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Water of Life

Perhaps somewhere out there some extraterrestrials are listening to Jimmy Carter’s greetings and Chuck Berry singing, Johnny Be Good on the recordings launched into space aboard Voyager in 1977. Voyager has left the solar system and is in interstellar space.  Or, maybe someday we will pick up alien radio messages like Jodie Foster in Contact. But, so far, the evidence indicates that life in the universe is precious.  Quite possibly, we are it. Although I have to agree that it makes sense there should be life somewhere out there.  Surely in God’s economy He would not create this vast expanse of universe and only create life on our small pebble.

Scientists are searching for water again.  Not on earth, but in far-flung places in our solar system and the universe.  In their search for life on other planets they know that water is the key.  Where there is water, there could be life. They have ruled out Mars. No water there.  Perhaps once upon a time, but the water is gone, and with it, the prospects of life.  But they have found water on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.  Even though the average temperature, on a good day is 270 degrees below zero. They think there is an entire ocean of water beneath the surface.  How the space probe Cassini can determine this, I have no idea. 

Whenever scientists search for life in the universe they search first for water.  Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA said, “NASA science activities have provided a wave of amazing findings related to water in recent years that inspire us to continue investigating our origins and the fascinating possibilities of other worlds, and life, in the universe.” Water is the essence of life as we know it. Without it, life cannot exist.

Most of us think little about water. We are more focused on beverages that tease our taste and promise a lift.  We take water for granted.  But water is the essential element for life. Most scientists agree that humans can live up to eight weeks without food as long as they have water.  But living without water is another story. Some people could live for a week without water.  In some cases only two or three days.

Jesus knew this when He spoke about water.  He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

As important as water is to the existence of life and to our own physical well-being, there is another element even more important to the life of our soul.  Millions who have access to food, shelter, water and wealth are dying every day for lack of the spiritual water of faith that can nourish their soul. 


“Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you,
…  ‘For I will pour out water on]the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring  and My blessing on your descendants;
  and they will spring up ]among the grass like poplars by streams of water.’

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Intersections

We have all seen the evidence: shattered glass on the pavement, cars with smashed fenders and bent bumpers pulled over to the side of the road, passengers standing around wringing their hands, sometimes in tears, red and blue lights flashing in the night.

State Farm recently released its list of the top 10 most dangerous intersections in the United States.  The most dangerous is in Florida, just north of Miami. Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa, OK each had two intersections on the list.  Frisco, TX, Metairie, LA and Sacramento, CA each had one.  Each year the Federal Highway Administration reports approximately 2.5 million accidents at intersections. 40% of all traffic accidents occur at intersections and almost 1,000 people a year die in these accidents. Intersections are dangerous.

As in driving so in life.  We all must go through intersections that raise the level of risk. They are moments built into life that challenge our best judgement and call on our best resources.  Many families will encounter one of those intersections in the next few weeks:  College.  For the freshman leaving home it can be a dramatic confluence of emotion: excitement, freedom and fear.  You can find them walking among the imposing buildings on campus, sometimes accompanied with anxious parents, sometimes alone, gazing at the pillared buildings wondering how they will find their way.

Parents will return home to suddenly silent houses. Stereos no longer echo from the upstairs bedroom. Meals are no longer gulped down in a rush to get the kids off to school and make the next practice session or performance. Schedules are disturbingly simple.

We encounter other intersections when we choose a career, find a partner for life and give birth to our children.  We encounter them when our preschoolers start first grade, when they reach puberty and struggle to grow up.  Promotions, layoffs, career changes, moves to a new house in a new city, aging and old age.  Life is filled with intersections.

We do best at these moments when we trust in God.  He knows the “traffic patterns.”  He has been there.  He knows the outcome.  He is willing to take us by the hand or “take the wheel” and guide us through to the other side.

He led Abraham to a foreign land he had never seen and multiplied his descendants like the sands of the sea.  He guided Isaac in search of a wife and blessed Jacob in a similar quest. He led Moses through the wilderness. He guided Mary and Joseph to Egypt and back after the birth of Jesus.  In every generation, God has been a comfort and a guide to those who trust Him.


“In your loving kindness you have led the people whom you have redeemed; in your strength you have guided them to your Holy habitation.” (Exodus 15:13).  “For you are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead me and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3).  “And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11). 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Kingdom Citizens - The Child Within

When we think of people who are religious, many conjure up images of old men with long gray beards, black capes and stooped shoulders. Some think of ascetic monks living in the desert.  Others picture nuns robed in their habits whispering prayers as they finger their rosaries. 

Jesus changed all our presumptions about what it means to be “religious” when he took a little child, stood him in front of his disciples and said, “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-2). When he wanted to forge an image in the mind of his followers Jesus chose a child. Why would he do this?

Jesus left the answer to that question up to us.  We can all speculate about the lesson he wanted to teach by choosing a child.  Here are a few characteristics that stand out to me when I think about children and the reason he chose a child to illustrate the nature God looks for in Kingdom people. 

Children live in the moment.  They are not worried about the future.  They are not burdened with guilt about the past. Watch children playing on a playground.  They have little awareness of time. They wear no watches.

Children become friends fast. Most children have not learned to be hesitant and shy.    They greet one another as if they have already met.  “Want to play?”  And the game is on.

Children laugh. I love listening to children on the school playground and in the park. Anywhere children gather, the air is filled with laughter.  It is their nature to laugh.

Children do not know prejudice.  I’m not sure when we learn racial and cultural prejudice, but young children have not learned this lesson.  They readily accept each other as equals regardless of skin color or clothing.  If they notice a difference between them, they ask about it.  And, once the difference is recognized they shrug their shoulders and move on.

Children trust.  When their father extends his arms and encourages them to jump they fling their bodies into open space fully confident they will be caught. 

Children are awed by God’s creation.   They are mesmerized by grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and flowers. They stop and take time to watch an ant wrestle a crumb of bread across the ground.  They notice the spots on a lady bug.

Children have great imaginations. Give a child a sandbox, a stick, or a can and they can construct unbelievable creations. I watched children recently playing in the sand.  They were digging a hole.  When I asked what it was, they looked at me with a puzzled look, as if I was the only one who did not recognize the obvious.  They patiently explained that it was a grasshopper sanctuary.


This list isn’t complete.  You can add others, I am sure.  Somewhere within us all is buried the child we once were.  Perhaps if we could re-connect with the child-like simplicity within us, we might take our first steps toward becoming Kingdom citizens as Jesus described it.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Senior Citizen

Someone, somewhere said, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!”

At age 79, Thomas Jefferson lamented to his friend John Adams, “It is at most but the life of a cabbage, surely not worth a wish. when all our faculties have left, or are leaving us, one by one, sight, hearing, memory, every avenue of pleasing sensation is closed, and debility and mal-aise left in their places, when the friends of our youth are all gone, and a generation is risen around us whom we know not,” (Monticello, June 1, 1822). 

I am now a “senior citizen.” How did this happen?  I never intended to become one. I spent my life busy about making a living, raising kids, pursuing career goals, trying to serve God and others and, suddenly, I wake up and I am a “senior citizen.”

This was never my goal.  I never looked down the corridors of time and wished that someday I could become a senior citizen. It happened without my knowing.  I was assigned the title without my consent.

Part of it is my own fault.  I have sold out my pride for a few cents and asked for a “senior coffee,” a “senior menu,” or a “senior discount.”  Do I have no shame?

The first indicator was a card in the mail from AARP.  I did not ask for this.  It just came, about the time I turned 50.  And now I receive advertisements from the Neptune Society encouraging me to think about cremation. I don’t want to think about having my body burned, stuffed in a jar or  thrown to the wind.  I want to think about living.

 Little things remind me I am aging.  When I enter my birth year for a plane ticket on the computer, I have to page down four times to find the year.  When I check out at Walmart, the cashier calls me “Sweetie.”  When I go to the barber the floor is littered with white hair clippings.

We discipline ourselves in our youth in order to live a longer life. But, when we live long, we discover that it leads to “old age.”  What is this?  I want my youth back.  I want to run and feel the exhilaration of running; to get out of bed without aching, to fly up the stairs two at a time, and to run down them without a thought and without a limp.  I want to eat whatever I want without gaining weight.

But, if we are successful and live long lives, old age will come.

The Bible affirms God’s love for us as we age.

“You who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb;
even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

In every stage of life we pass through troubled times, challenges, setbacks, fears and anxieties. Pursuing an education, finding a job, getting married, having children, making ends meet, disappointments, layoffs, injury and disease. Memory tends to erase the difficulties of the past, but the journey has never been easy. 


In every stage of life, including the last one, God is sufficient and His love never ends.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Reunion

 It is that time of year when families gather for the annual reunion: aunts, uncles and cousins, some twice removed.  They find familiar faces that frame the memories of their youth and tell stories passed down through the years, embellished with each cycle of telling.  “Do you remember when …?”  Laughter fills the air before the story can be told. Everyone in the circle has either heard it or told it countless times. 

Others hang back along the fringe, looking puzzled, trying to figure out who these people are and how they might be related to them. These are the young with their boyfriends and girlfriends and the new “in-laws.”  Sometimes they seek each other out to share a common amnesia regarding the inside jokes and familiar references to names not present.

The reunion has a strange mix of sorrow and laughter. Significant people are missing.  Voices that once echoed at the tables of past reunions are silent.  The same people who gather for the reunion gathered and wept at the funerals for those who no longer come.  Their memories are like the deep colors that form the background for vivid paintings or the rich bass tones of the cello and the French horn that enrich the orchestra.  These sorrows are offset by giggling children who appear like bright colors that dance on the canvass, whose laughter picks up future melodies like the flute.

We somehow have confidence that Heaven is about reunions. We all look forward to seeing those we loved and those who loved us when we get to Heaven. Somehow, this earthly reunion helps us look forward to that day.  We don’t know exactly how it will happen or how God could manage all the intertwined family relationships when we get to Heaven, but, somehow, family reunions portend the Heavenly event.  When I was a child we sang, “Will the circle be unbroken?”  It was a way to ask the question together and look forward to something more perfect that God has planned for us.


Jesus did not shy away from using this image to help us look forward to a more perfect day.  He said, “In my Father’s House are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I go and prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also.”  The book of Hebrews uses this metaphor to spur us on to better living: “Seeing that we are surrounded by so great a host of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the originator and the finisher of the race.”  It seems to me that God takes pleasure in our reunions, just as He takes pleasure in reuniting Himself with us through His Son.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

When Suicide Strikes

Four years ago Rick Warren’s son, Matthew ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot.  Rick Warren is author of one of the bestselling books of all time, The Purpose Driven Life, with more than twenty-million copies sold world-wide.  Rick and his wife, Kay, have been open about their grief and the long struggle with their son’s mental illness that led up to his suicide. Warren’s church described Matthew as “an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many. Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Virtually every family has been touched, directly or indirectly, by suicide and its painful aftermath. According to the World Health Organization, almost one million people die of suicide world-wide each year, a rate of 16 per 100,000, up 60% over the last 45 years. It is among the top three causes of death for those ages 15-44 and the leading cause of death for those ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die by suicide each year than by AIDS, birth defects, heart disease, cancer and influenza combined. Placed in historic context, we may well be experiencing a global suicide epidemic.

Researches have dubbed Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Colorado the suicide belt because of their high rates of suicide. Suicide’s social stigma coupled with fear, embarrassment, grief and spiritual misunderstanding may contribute to our inability to address helpful solutions. But, increasingly, churches are seeking ways to help people who wrestle with this deadly emotional illness.

 Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, lost his 32-year-old daughter to suicide in 2009. His book, Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide, was published in 2013.  He writes, “Did you ever wonder where God was when you sat up at night asking questions that had no solvable answers? Did you ever doubt His love and goodness? Did you feel abandoned by Him? Deserted? Alone?

“I understand if you did. I understand if you still do. Suicide is not a situation that lends itself to casual conversations with God. It hurts. And more than that, it seems as though He could have prevented it all if He'd wanted to. At those times when the loss seems the most impossible to bear, at times when you can't believe what your child is doing or has done to themselves, it can feel like God is nowhere this side of heaven to offer all that comfort His Word so confidently promises.

“But I can tell you by the testimony of Scripture, He is strong enough to weather our hot accusations against Him, patient enough to withstand our desire to seek distance from Him (though such a thing is, of course, theologically impossible), and compassionate enough to feel emotion at the deep, hollow anguish that can often stand between us and our tottering faith.”


Whenever we feel despair, we can trust that there is yet hope and a future. The Psalmist writes, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. ... Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me. The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night.” (Psalm 42).  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Spiritual Myopia

Myopia. I learned the word when I was 10 years old. The optometrist checked my eyes and told my parents that I was nearsighted. I didn’t know I was nearsighted. I thought everyone saw everything the way I saw it. Trees were green blobs, the landscape blurred into blotches of pink, green, brown and blue, much like a Monet painting.  My first pair of glasses changed my world. I discovered leaves on trees. I could see people’s faces inside their cars. I could read the blackboard from the back of the room.

I had wondered how other kids could catch and hit a baseball. I never saw the ball until it was on top of me. I could see some vague arm motion in the distance and then, wham! The ball was in my face.  As a teenager I became the cleanup hitter on the All Stars, and could catch a fly ball over my shoulder.  I heard the coach say, “I always knew if he could see it he could catch it.”

Myopia is not only physical. It is spiritual. We are all born spiritually nearsighted. Like my childhood years, we think we see things clearly, but we don’t. We are unaware of what we don’t see. The only person who ever had perfect vision was Jesus. That is why He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but shall  have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

When the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the enemy at Dothan, the servant was gripped with fear. But Elisha told him, “Do not fear. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” When God opened the servant’s eyes, he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6) When we are gripped with fear and despair we need God to open our eyes so we can see clearly. “If God be for us,” Paul said, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Jesus once met a blind man in the village of Bethsaida. Jesus laid His hands upon him and asked him, “Do you see anything?” The man responded, “I see people; they look like trees walking around. Once more,” the Bible says, “Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened … and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-25) Many of us are like that blind man. We may be religious. We may attend church. But we need a “second touch” from God so that we can see clearly.

We are born with spiritual nearsightedness so that we only see things close up, our own self interests. As a result we are often filled with fear, doubt, anger, resentment and despair. When we turn from our sins and place our faith in Christ, He is able to touch us so that we see clearly and walk in the light. Only Christ can cure the spiritual myopia that afflicts us from birth and enable us to see the world as God sees it.

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).