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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

What Is Prayer?

Prayer is often our last resort, the final step in a hopeless situation.  We refer to it with such phrases as “he doesn’t have a prayer,” or “there is nothing left to do but pray.”  But it is perhaps the most important aspect of our human condition.

We share many attributes with the animal kingdom including instincts for hunger, reproduction and survival. Other animals provide care and nurture for their young. Some construct elaborate shelters whether nests, caves, holes or houses. Many have complex social systems.  But no other creature has the capacity to communicate with the Creator and to pray. Only man is endowed with that gift.

I have never met anyone who complained that they prayed too much. But I have known many who wish they had prayed more.  In our most desperate circumstances and in our finest moments, we cry out to God in prayer.  The greatest gift we can bestow upon another human being is to pray earnestly for them.

Some understand prayer as a psychological exercise merely benefiting the one who prays. But Scripture affirms that there is more at work when we pray than we imagine.

Jesus prayed.  In fact, He rose early in the morning before sunrise and sought solitary places where He could spend time alone in prayer. Occasionally he prayed all night.  He taught us to pray, not as a public display to impress others, but in secret where “your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6).  He taught us to pray constantly with discipline and determination. His prayer life was so powerful that his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. 

Prayer is not a matter of reciting particular words or repeating religious rituals. God looks on the heart.  He hears the person who is convicted of guilt and feels unworthy to lift his eyes to heaven. And God hears those who humbly seek to do His will, “The effective prayer of a righteous man,” the Bible says, “can accomplish much.”  (James 5:16)

The mystery and the miracle of prayer resides not in us, but in the One who created us and founded the vast universe that we have only begun to explore.  We are not cogs in an accidental machine that grinds its way toward extinction. We are created in the image of God and our very nature hungers for His presence.  He has endowed us with personality, intelligence and freedom.  He desires our company. He listens and He invites us to pray.


“Ask,” Jesus said, “and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you [who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”  (Matthew 7:7-11). 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Power of Encouragement

The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard.  Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net. But when the game is played, all things are not equal.  One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t.  The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement.  It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” 

We also know the ravages of discouragement.  Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a deadly downward spiral.  We see it in athletes on the golf course, tennis court. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game. Great athletes have the ability to resist discouragement and retain their focus.  But all of us are vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without. 

The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt.  But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager.  He believes in us.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5).  When a broken hearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life.  (Mark 5:36).  

Heather Herschap was born with cerebral palsy.  She is confined to a wheel chair with limited use of one arm.  I first met her in 2004 after she had completed a college degree in psychology and was working on a Masters in Divinity. 

She says the turning point in her life came when she arrived on campus as a freshman and was alone in the dorm for the first time. Her body became hopelessly stuck between the bed and the wall, and, with her paralysis, she could not work herself free. After hours of crying out for help to no avail she heard a voice, clear and audible, “Don’t give up.”  That experience led her to faith in Christ.

A few year later, aware that her prayers were focused on her own problems, she began to pray for others and God whispered in her ear, “India.”  India became her passion.  Her eyes sparkle, her face lights up and her body stiffens in excitement when she speaks of India. She has been to India three times counseling outcasts like herself who are handicapped, encouraging them and giving them hope.


Every day we need encouragement.  And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school.  Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone.  It might be the most important thing you ever do.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Generations

History is like an expedition, like Lewis and Clark searching for the Northwest Passage.  Each generation helps chart the journey with its twists and turns, and each picks up where the other left off.

Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he drafted the Declaration of Independence with the help of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. 50 years later he and John Adams died on the anniversary of the Fourth.  Their death marked the end of the generation we know as the “founding fathers.” 

I remember as a child when the last veteran of the Civil War died. Albert Woolson was a drummer boy in Company C of the First Minnesota.  He died in 1956.  At present we are witnessing the departure of what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation,” those who lived through World War II.  Five years before I was born my mother was on a picnic with my father when President Roosevelt interrupted their 1940s music to report the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  She died six years ago.  My uncle commanded a tank in the battle of Nuremberg in April 1945.  He died four years ago.

Some of us can recall where we were when John F. Kennedy was shot on the streets of Dallas, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles.  Vietnam and Watergate evoke vivid memories. But the young only know these events as history. Those who are seniors in high school were infants on 9/11/2001.  They have grown up in a post 9-11 world learning about the Twin Towers attack through stories, video and books. One generation passes while another joins the journey.

Every generation is connected to the generations that went before. But, like an expedition, every generation must find its own way, and each generation must find its own faith. A few years ago I reflected on what I wanted to accomplish with my remaining years.  One of those things was to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever imagined.  I am pleased to see that happening in many places.  More people are coming to Christ every day than at any time in history, especially in South America, Africa and Asia.  I am finding many in their twenties and thirties who are passionate about going to the ends of the earth and living transformed lives for Christ.

When God looks on humanity, he sees generations.  Following Noah’s flood, God had us in mind when he said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations.”  Moses’ success depended on how well he encouraged Joshua, the leader of the next generation that would enter the Promised Land. David sang, “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.”  


The world has never been a safe place. Expeditions are dangerous. We face huge obstacles and challenges, but the potential is limitless. As our generations overlap, we have opportunity to build upon the foundations of faith that others have laid and to create a better world for our children, our grandchildren and those who will follow.