What Others Say

Mr. Tinsley, thank you for your well-written and insightful article about Luther.
I shared it with my children during family worship. It lifted us up.
Warmly, Kari.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Halloween That Changed the World

It was Halloween, October 31, 500 years ago.  A little known monk left the monastery where he lived and walked, almost unnoticed, the few blocks to a church at the other end of the street.  There he nailed a hand-written document to the wooden door for all to see.  Like a single flaming match dropped into the dry straw of a forest, Martin Luther’s 95 theses ignited a conflagration that engulfed all of Europe and continues to this day.

This week over 2 million people will descend on Wittenburg, Germany, current population 2,135. Many believe that this was the door by which Europe exited the Dark Ages and entered the Age of Enlightenment. Historians point to tiny Wittenberg as the cradle where the modern Western world was born.

I visited Wittenberg  a few years ago.  The ancient village is surrounded by modern development.  But the old streets have been preserved, much as they were 500 years ago.   I sat in the courtyard outside the monastery where Martin Luther worked through the book of Romans and wrestled with the words, “The just shall live by faith.”  (Romans 1:17).  I walked from the monastery to the church, the same path Luther took 500 years ago.

Luther was a young priest, only 34 years old, assigned to an obscure village.  He was devoted to the Roman Catholic Church.  But when Johann Tetzel came to his town promising his parishioners that their deceased family members could be released from Purgatory and enter Heaven if they would only make a contribution to the church, he could not contain himself. Tetzel’s efforts had been wildly successful in raising money. But, to Luther, it was wildly heretical.

It was a paradigm shift, 14 centuries after Jesus was born. Somehow the manuscripts recorded in the first century by those who saw Jesus, who listened to his words, who watched Him crucified and witnesses His resurrection had been buried beneath religious tradition and ritual.

His discovery changed everything.  Heaven, the one thing he desired most, could not be earned by good works and penance, nor by contributions to the church.  It could not be bestowed by the words of any man, priest or pope.  Heaven was a free gift to anyone willing to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ.

Heaven could not be earned by our efforts or bought with our money.  The Bible was clear. Peter had stated it to Simon, a Samaritan magician who wanted to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit, “May your silver perish with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money.” (Acts 8:20).


From the first century until now it has always been the same, for rich or poor, for people of every nationality, language or ethnicity, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;  for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13).

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Halloween

Next week miniature ghosts, goblins and super heroes will emerge at dusk to comb the streets in search of candy.  It is a long tradition in America, one I grew up with as a child and one I enjoyed as a parent. It is, perhaps, one of the few traditions we still celebrate outside with our neighbors. Manicured lawns are transformed into a mystical world of floating cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and tombstones.

Watchful parents huddle at the curb and visit while their little ghouls cheerfully threaten their neighbors with tricks for treats. Expectant children hold open hopeful bags and peer into their dark recesses trying to determine what luck they might have had at the door. 

I always enjoyed taking our kids trick-or-treating. We had fun dressing them up and entering, at least for a night, into their fantasy world.  I liked watching them celebrate their growing assortment of candy gathered from well-wishing neighbors, until a costumed spook jumped from the bushes and convinced our five year old he had enough candy for one night. 

I still look forward to answering our door bell on Halloween.  I enjoy trying to guess who is hiding behind the princess mask, what little boy is growling in the Ninja Turtle costume.  I like it when ET and Yoda drop by for a visit with their pet ghost-dog. They are polite ghosts and witches and extra-terrestrials. They almost always say, “Thank you.” 

Halloween, of course, has its dark side. Our nightly news reports of abducted children and maps dotted with sexual predators have erased the na├»ve world of Halloween past.  We are more aware that we live in a dangerous world where evil is real and present.   

Many churches are more than a little uncomfortable with Halloween.  On the one hand, it is enjoyable to celebrate community with imagination, fantasy and neighborly generosity.   On the other hand, there are demonic and destructive forces at work in the world that kill and destroy.  It is one thing to celebrate fall and indulge in imagination.  It is another to celebrate the occult, witchcraft, the devil and demons.

Many struggle with addictions and impulses they seem unable to control.  They find themselves on a collision course with destruction.  Our world needs the deliverance from evil.

Jesus once met a man filled with destructive demons.  He lived among the tombs of the dead, often cutting himself with sharp stones.  Local citizens tried to control him by putting him in chains, but he broke the chains and escaped back to his home among the graves.  When Jesus ordered the demons that were destroying the man to leave him the demons entered a nearby herd of swine that immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned.  The man was healed.  When his neighbors found him, he was in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, no longer a threat to himself or to them. But it scared them. They asked Jesus to leave their country and not to come back.  (Mark 5:1-20). Forces that we cannot understand or control always scare us.

This Halloween we will celebrate an occasion to enjoy our children and their imagination. We will celebrate the turning leaves, dry corn, pumpkins and harvest.  Halloween can also serve as a reminder that in our struggles with the unseen forces of  good and evil, both in our hearts and in the world, we have a Deliverer

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Same Kind of Different As Me

Same Kind of Different As Me opens in movie theaters this week on October 20.  I first stumbled across the story in 2010 when my son-in-law suggested it to me.  The book had been out since 2005, a true story that bridges the social and racial divisions of our day.

Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron Hall spent his childhood summers on a farm near my boyhood home of Corsicana Texas. His descriptions of Corsicana resonated with my memories growing up on Collin Street, one of the signature brick streets that reflect the glory days when the city boasted more millionaires per capita than any other town in Texas. Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron and Denver intersect in the slums of Fort Worth east of downtown where my wife started her teaching career forty years ago.

Same Kind of Different As Me is actually two stories. One, the story of an illiterate black man named Denver who was raised in the cotton fields of Louisiana and ended up homeless on the streets of Fort Worth. The other, an upwardly mobile white man named Ron Hall who graduated from TCU and made a fortune in the art world. They each tell their story, and the remarkable intersection of their journeys.

But the true stories of Ron Hall and Denver Moore are not the main stories in the book. They represent other stories: the story of our country and its culture. Ron represents those who rise from middle class with professional opportunities that can lead to great wealth. He also represents the dangers of that path that include temptations for greed, materialism, shallow and broken relationships. Denver represents the alarmingly huge segment of our population that falls between the cracks, victims of prejudice, oppression, injustice and neglect. He also represents the dangers of that downward spiral that includes temptations of bitterness, anger, isolation and despair.

The greatest story underlying and connecting all of these is God’s story. Ron’s wife, Deborah is the entry point for His work, one person who was open, willing and obedient. She became the catalyst for connecting these two broken men from different ends of the social spectrum.

In a day when many look to government to heal our wounds and solve our social problems, Same Kind of Different As Me serves as a reminder that the real solution to our personal and social problems lies within us. It is often buried beneath our own prejudices and fears, but it can be unlocked and released with the keys of acceptance, trust, faith and love, all the things Jesus demonstrated and talked about.

God wants to use each of us, whatever our race, whatever our circumstance, whatever our background to make a difference in the world. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Life's Seasons

Two weeks ago we visited Rocky Mountain National Park.  The elk were everywhere. Their bugle echoed through the hills.  Peaceful cows grazed in the meadows under the watchful eye of the antlered-bull that gathered them for mating season.  Through winter and summer they disappear into the vast forests, but, in the fall, when the Aspen tinge the mountain slopes with yellow, they appear, bold and fearless. They have been doing this for thousands of years, long before humans wandered these valleys.

All of nature is synchronized with the seasons.  The geese fill the skies with wind singing in their wings.  Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexico. The maple, oak and sumac fire the hills with crimson and gold preparing the way for vast white blankets of snow.  

Our concrete, plastic and glass world attempts to insulate us from nature’s rhythms.  So do our drugs. They deaden our souls and our senses.  We are more alive when we connect with the rhythms God has built into his creation. The changing seasons seek to awaken us, to remind us that the same creative power that painted the mountains and designed the migrations of the birds also created us.   

All of life is lived in seasons, from birth to death. Each is made for celebration, for life and learning and loving: playful childhood, visionary youth, responsible adulthood, reflective old age.  The seasons of life fill our souls with songs of faith, love, hope, joy and sorrow. We all experience seasons of health and seasons of illness, seasons of plenty and seasons of lack, seasons of pain and seasons of joy. 

Ecclesiasts puts it best:  “There is a time for everything,  and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes  3:1-8).


In all of our seasons we can celebrate God’s presence as our Creator and sustainer, the savior of our soul. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Forever Friends

We spent last week near Vail, Colorado with another couple. The mountains were ablaze with golden Aspen, a great place for reflection in our “golden” years.  We were young when we first met.  My wife and the other two were fresh from high school graduations in Texas and Kentucky.  I was older and wiser by two years. 

After we married, we gathered in each other’s apartments as penniless newly-weds and played games, affordable and unforgettable entertainment. Our paths parted when we started our families. Identical twin girls for them, three children stretched over 13 years for us.  We stayed in touch at a distance.

Fifty years later, our children are grown.  They are advancing in their careers and raising our grandchildren.  We have completed most of our journey, in good health and full of memories, hoping to remain useful and finish well.

We are thrilled to make new friends for whom we are grateful, but we shared our youth with these friends when we were trying to figure out our own identity and had little idea of the direction our paths would take. We have other friends from our childhoods and our careers whom we love.  Some drifted away.  Some died. But this couple stuck.  Nothing can reproduce the treasure we have found. 
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And now that we have re-converged in the late years of our journey we are overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s goodness and grace.  We are more content than we were in our youth. We are still ambitious to do good and to bless others, but we know we are blessed beyond measure in ways we could have never imagined. Only God could do such a thing.

Friendship gives us a glimpse of the relationship God desires for each of us.  As Proverbs says, “There is a friend that stays closer than a brother.”  (Proverbs 18:24).

After three years walking the hills of Galilee and Judea, Jesus explained his relationship with the twelve in these terms:   “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15).


No matter who we are or where we came from; no matter our race, gender or age, God desires to be our friend. He desires to lead us on our journey, from beginning to end.  An old hymn perhaps expresses it best, “I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!   He loved me ere I knew Him; He drew me with the cords of love,   and thus He bound me to Him. And round my heart still closely twine, those ties which naught can sever. For I am His, and He is mine, forever and forever.”