What Others Say

Thank you for using your gifts to help others see faith in their creator and their savior in God's son Jesus Christ.
Brian M.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Does God Exist? Does Life Matter? What Happens When We Die?


I always liked Stephen Hawking.  I admired his brilliance and the courage he demonstrated in his fight with ALS.  In March Dr. Hawking died at 76.  A couple weeks ago, June 15, his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey between the graves of Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton.

Hawking was diagnosed with ALS in 1963 when he was 21. The doctors gave him two years to live. For 55 years he defied the odds.  His best known work, “A Brief History of Time,” sold more than three million copies.

I was saddened a few years ago when he said, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

It is difficult for me to comprehend how such a brilliant mind can reach the conclusion that all we observe in the universe is an accident, that there is no intelligent force or design behind our existence.  It seems as illogical to me as finding a state-of-the-art functioning PC in the desert and concluding it just accidentally evolved from nowhere. 

The question Hawking dealt with is bigger than any religion or denominational expression. It is also bigger than science.  It is a question we all must face and answer.  How we answer it makes a great deal of difference in how we live and how meaningful our lives are. 

Hawking concluded that since there is no God, humans should seek to live the most valuable lives they can while on Earth.  This too, makes no sense to me. If there is no God  we are sucked into a black hole of non-existence and non-meaning.  What does it matter?

If we argue that love matters then we are thrown back into the very lap of God.  Love is the greatest and most mysterious reality in our existence, eclipsing all other discoveries.  Who wants to live in a world of technological perfection and scientific achievement without love?  A loveless world would leave us shallow, fragmented, lonely, isolated, fearful, and miserable.
Here lies the greatest truth:  “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”  (1 John 4:16).  “We love because He first loved us.” “God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Faith or non-faith is a choice.  We can choose to believe that our world is the result of a creative God who desired and designed our existence from the tiniest molecule to the most distant star or we can choose not to believe. The historical resurrection of Jesus makes this more than wishful thinking.
The idea that human beings are no more than computers that will one day crash and be discarded as junk leads nowhere.  For my part, I will choose to believe.  It is the only conclusion that seems to make any sense.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lessons from the Border


The America I grew up in was seen as the shining light on a hill.  We took pride in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Instead of decimating our enemies after World War II, we helped them rebuild.  Germany and Japan embraced freedom and prosperity and became two of our strongest allies.  

We fought and died in the jungles of Vietnam, not for ourselves, but for others.  In its aftermath we welcomed Vietnamese and Hmong refugees who integrated into our cities.  Christian churches sprang up among various groups: Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, Thai, Korean, Liberian, Nigerian and many others.  Spanish speaking churches exploded and continue to thrive.  The Christian faith swept across South Korea until it became the second largest mission sending nation in the world.

When I visited Brazil I was welcomed as a celebrity because I was an American.  Children ran through the streets and people crowded in the windows to see someone from the United States. When I served briefly as pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremburg Germany older Germans often expressed their gratitude for GIs who helped them rebuild their nation.  We thought of ourselves as a generous and welcoming nation, blessed by God to bless the nations of the world.

But all of that seems to be changing.  We are well down the road of putting “America first.”  The question is no longer, what is best for mankind, for the world and for posterity, but what is best for us.  The MAGA has transitioned into a “me first” mentality.

Instead of asking, how can we help out neighbor nations fight the gang violence and corruption that causes families to flee to our borders, we ask only, “how can we keep these people out?” Children are torn from the arms of their desperate parents as punishment for seeking a safe asylum in the United States.  In our efforts to “make American great again” we seem to be losing the values that made America great in the first place.

Our movies, our media and our politics portray us as a covetous people.  We seem to have adopted Gordon Gekko’s maxim that “greed is good.”  We have turned a deaf ear to the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet.” (Exodus 20:17).

The Apostle Paul confessed that this commandment was his undoing. “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.’” Romans 7:7-8).

When we start down this self-centered path we sow the seeds of future calamity in our communities, our nation and the world. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (James 4:1-2).

Paul’s conclusion is applicable for all of us: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” You shall not steal, “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9).

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Crisis of Deception - Who Can We Trust?


There was a day when we felt we could trust those who spoke to us, the Presidents who led us and the journalists who interpreted the news.  We believed Washington “could not tell a lie.”  Lincoln was known for his honesty.  We always knew we could trust Walter Cronkite, whether he was reporting the assassination of JFK or describing the first lunar landing. But those days seem naive and far away. 

The world has become much more complex.  The truth is far more difficult to discern.  Nixon’s claim that he was no crook and Clinton’s assertion that he “never had sex with that woman,” eroded our trust in the Presidency.  Today we feel caught between “fake news” and “alternate realities.”  Brian Williams and Matt Lauer left us disillusioned with journalists.  We hardly know who to believe.

Former NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, speaking at Rice University’s commencement, stated that we are facing “an epidemic of dishonesty … an endless barrage of lies and alternate realities.”  …“ The greatest threat to American democracy isn’t communism, jihadism or any other external force or foreign power,” he said. “It’s our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party, and in pursuit of power.” 

NBC News reporter Andrew Rafferty said, “We live in a world where lying has become an art.  Politicians, celebrities, characters on the screen, all lie.  They do so convincingly and without remorse.  And technology has moved prevarication into a whole new realm.  The world where ‘seeing is believing’ has vanished.”

The ninth commandment is essential to personal, relational and societal health. “You must not lie.” (Exodus 20:16 Living Bible).

When we ignore God’s instructions on truthfulness and honesty, we sow the seeds of our own misery and destruction. Whether marriage, family, business or politics; in the home, the school, the work place and the world.  

So, what should we do?  First, we must practice telling the truth to our children, to one another, in business and personal relationships.  Above all, we must be known to be honest. We must not lie.

Second, we must practice discernment. We cannot believe everything we hear and see at face value, especially social media that has little or no accountability.   “Do not be deceived,” the Bible says, “God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7).  And again, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  Every good thing given and every perfect gift from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:16-17).


Third, we must place our trust in the One who alone is truthful, honest and above reproach.  We must trust God, confident that He knows our hearts, our secret thoughts and every word we speak.  “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” (Romans 3:4).  Jesus said, “If you continue in my word then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32).

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Eighth Commandment Property Priorities


An Atlanta businessman boarded MARTA to make his daily commute to work.  He stood in the crowded car scanning the newspaper accounts of crime when he felt a stranger bump him.  He instinctively felt for the wallet in his back pocket and found it missing.  He folded the paper and kept his eye on the stranger who had moved to the opposite side of the car.  When the train stopped and the stranger exited, he followed.  His rage continuing to grow, he grabbed the stranger and threw him up against the wall.  His face crimson with wrath he demanded, “Okay Bub, hand over that wallet.”  The stranger, trembling, placed the wallet in his hand. Without looking the businessman shoved the wallet into his pocket and stomped off to work.  When he arrived at his office his secretary stopped him.  “You  have a message from your wife,” She said.  “You left your wallet on the night stand at home!”

I suppose all of us have been victims of theft.  Shortly after we married we drove to Houston to visit my wife’s mother in the hospital.  I left our car parked on the street filled with our clothes on hanging rods. When we returned, we were clothes-less.  Most of us have lost bicycles at college. Some have had home break-ins with far more serious losses. My wallet fell out of my pocket at a theater once.  I found it a few days later, sans cash and credit cards. 

Theft is widespread.   Every day the eighth commandment is broken: “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15).

The first step in respecting other people is respecting property.  It is one of the first lessons we teach to toddlers.  Some toys belong to them. Some toys belong to their friends. It is not an easy lesson for a toddler, and some never learn it.

The Atlantic cited a study that concluded that out of 1 million self-check transactions totaling $21 million, merchandise totaling $850,000 left the store without being scanned. 

The rich and the well-off are just as guilty as the poor, maybe moreso. We only need launch a Google search for a list of celebrities who have been convicted of shoplifting. White collar crime is rampant. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimated businesses lost $895 billion to fraud in 2016.

As always, Jesus raised the commandment to another level.  We have not fulfilled the heart of the commandment when we refuse to take something that does not belong to us.  We fulfill the commandment when we move beyond seeing property and possession as primary.   People are primary. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well … give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:40-42). 

We can keep the eighth commandment and still live a selfish and self-centered life.

The Bible says, “Give generously and do so without a grudging heart; then, because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be openhanded.” (Deuteronomy 15:10-11).

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Seventh Commandment: Exalting Marriage


Young families embody the hope and dreams of our future.  Few scenes move me as much as a young couple strolling along the seawall pushing a stroller; fathers splashing in the surf with their children while young mothers lounge on the beach; children laughing in the park flying kites with their fathers, giggling on playgrounds with their mothers.

It is this special bond that God’s seventh commandment seeks to nourish and protect: “You shall not commit adultery.”   Sex, in all of its beauty and pleasure, was given to men and women to celebrate the mystery by which human life is conceived, cradled and nurtured.

The world seemed to stand still a few weeks ago when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchanged vows in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.  The pomp and pageantry, as only the British can do, touched something in all of us regarding the majesty of marriage.

This year my wife and I celebrate our 50th anniversary along with many of our friends who “pledged their troth” about the same time as we in 1968.  Marriage is worth holding on to, worth working through the difficulties, worth the investment.  The seventh commandment provides the foundation for trust and a love that lasts. It is the foundation of the family where children are born, nurtured and loved.

Many have rejected the Biblical view of marriage.  Somewhere along the way sex became recreational.  I guess this happened around the time birth control was introduced.  It revolutionized sex in the 1960s: free sex with whomever without the consequences of conception. 

Melissa Batchelor Warnke, writing in the L.A. Times expressed current sexual values, I believe that everyone should have exactly as much sex as they do or don't want to have, with whomever they do or don't want to have it, in whatever fashion they do or don't want to have it. So long as consent is present in any resultant exchange, one need not justify their choices.”  

We are witnessing the consequences of the cavalier attitudes spawned over the last half-century. Women are speaking up.  Sexual misconduct and harassment is widespread. Last week Harvey Weinstein returned to court.  Matt Lauer, Bill Cosby and other household names that once commanded respect and adulation are gone leaving behind a trail of disgrace and embarrassment.

As with other commandments, Jesus raised the bar.  “You have heard that it has been said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you, he who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27).

I like what Jeff Christopherson wrote in his book, Kingdom First, “The husband who faithfully and sacrificially loves his wife over a lifetime not only receives the personal blessing of a joyous marriage, but further, the Kingdom ripples of that union emanate through generations.   Children, grandchildren, colleagues, friends, and neighbors are all secondary recipients of the grace experienced in a godly marriage.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sixth Commandment: You Shall Not Murder


It didn’t take long to record the first murder in human history. The Bible’s first death was a homicide.  Cain, enraged with resentment, jealousy and anger attacked his brother and killed him.  Since that moment much of human history has been written in blood. 

We are all too familiar with headline news for mass shootings, terrorist attacks and violent conflict around the world. Just last week another school shooting took place in Santa Fe, Texas. Even small towns are not immune.  Murders occur in every city in every region.  Globally more than one person dies every minute of every day as the result of violence. 

Most of us abhor murder. But we cannot ignore its presence.  On the other hand, most of us accept the necessity of killing in warfare.  We spend billions of dollars every year to make sure our young men and women are equipped and trained to kill on the battlefield.

But, there are exceptions.

Desmond Doss, who served in World War II,   was committed to honor the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” He refused to carry a firearm or weapon of any kind into combat.  Instead, he served as an unarmed Medic.  Doss was twice awarded the Bronze Star for exceptional valor under fire in Guam and the Philippines.  At Okinawa he served on Hacksaw Ridge, a particularly vicious battle in which he personally saved the lives of 75 wounded GIs. He was wounded four times and survived with seventeen pieces of shrapnel embedded in his body. He became the first pacifist to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  His story has been captured in several books and a documentary, The Conscientious Objector, along with the movie, Hacksaw Ridge.

Hacksaw Ridge was released on November 4, 2016.  It went on to receive six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor.  It also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor and was chosen as one of the ten best movies of the year by the American Film Institute.

Jesus took the sixth commandment to a new level.  He said, ““You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder,’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Jesus dug beneath the surface and unearthed the significance of the sixth commandment.  It is all about how we see another human being.  Every person is valuable. Every person deserves respect. Regardless of culture, gender, age or race, every human life is to be treasured.

Jesus was consistent in living out what he taught.  He embraced the outcast and the poor. Every person he met was precious in his sight.  When He was crucified he prayed that God would forgive those who nailed him to the cross and promised paradise to the dying thief.  To obey the sixth commandment, we must do more than refrain from inflicting harm on our enemy, we must embrace every person as a precious creation of God.  

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The First Step for a Whole and Healthy Life

Restaurants were packed, flower shops put on extra staff, greeting card racks were picked over as we honored our mothers.  Next month we will fire up the back yard grills and head to the lakes to honor our fathers.  We know intuitively that this is right. Regardless of our nationality or ethnicity; regardless of whether we are rich or poor, we have this urge inside of us to keep the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” It is, as the Apostle Paul reminded us, the first commandment with a promise: “that your days may be long upon the earth.”

My father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and died when he was 53.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him and asking him what he expected.  He said he expected a year of health and a year of decline.   His faith in Christ and the resurrection was strong. As it turned out he had less than four months before he lay dying in a hospital bed while I held his hand.

I never heard one word of profanity from his lips. He loved our mother and he loved us.  He was always full of laughter. I saw him repeatedly choose to be wronged rather than to risk wronging someone else.  The night before he died, he sent a get well card to a friend who was on another floor of the hospital. 

My mother likewise loved God and sought to serve others. She lived as a widow after my father’s death for 35 years.  She chaperoned special-needs kids on the bus and sat with them at church. The day before she died my children gathered around her bed and she blessed them. Most people, like me, have fond memories and great admiration for their mother and father. 

Of course not all fathers and mothers are good.  The relationship between parent and child can be the source of life’s greatest joy as well as its greatest pain. Some live their lives, even into old age, haunted by resentment and anger toward their parents. 

We somehow sense, as witnessed by our obsession with the parent-child relationship in books and movies, that this relationships is essential to health and wholeness. We hear it in King Lear’s complaint, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a thankless child!”  We find it in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Luke Skywalker’s discovery that Darth Vador is his father, or Ray Kinsella building a baseball diamond in his Iowa corn field to “ease his pain.”    All of all these stories, and thousands more, reflect our urge to be reconciled to those who gave us birth. 


Health and wholeness for each of us starts with obedience to the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.”  There are no exceptions.  We are not exhorted to “honor those who deserve to be honored.”  Regardless of past hurts, oversights or failures, regardless of our parents’ response, we are to honor mother and father because we are honorable.  In this relationship above all we must apply the admonition of Scripture: “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32).

Monday, May 7, 2018

Rest for the Weary - 4th Commandment


We live in a time-crunched world. Parents whip up a quick breakfast for bleary-eyed children before bundling them into cars to be dropped off at day-care and school.  Some grab a drive-through burrito before negotiating traffic on the freeways while juggling cell phones. Weary from long hours at work, the same commuters make their way home past memorized billboards. Weekends are filled with a hundred errands, second jobs, T-ball, soccer, football. Church is squeezed into an already full schedule that has no margins. 

The opioid crisis in America may be a symptom of our over-extended and anxious culture. Overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999.  Over 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdose in 2016.  The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction stated, “Readily available opioids have become “drugs of solace” that mask physical and emotional pain in a world offering little hope that conditions will improve.”
A recent report from the American Psychological Association stated, “Chronic stress is increasingly eating away at our overall well-being.” … “The psychological and physical toll of stress in America will undoubtedly continue to snowball if something doesn't change.”

Somewhere along the way we eliminated the fourth commandment as irrelevant and archaic: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” A half-century ago, most businesses were closed on Sunday and youth sporting events recognized Sunday as a day for worship. All that has changed. Today our calendars are filled up to a 24/7 frenzy.

When Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man, he affirmed the need for the Sabbath in our lives. He underscored the importance of the Sabbath to all of us for mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

In 1924 Scotland’s Eric Liddell, the fastest runner in the world, refused to compete at the Olympics on the Sabbath.  When the King of England commanded him to run for his country on Sunday, Liddell respectfully replied he had a higher king.  The Academy Award winning movie, Chariots of Fire portrays Liddell reading Isaiah 40:31 to a congregation on Sunday while young men stumble and fall on the mud-splattered track. “Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not faint.”  The next week, Liddell ran the 400 meter and won the gold. In 1925 he gave up his athletic career to serve as a missionary in China where he died 20 years later in a Japanese prison camp.

Sabbath requires time for rest, silence, solitude and worship, but it is more than a day of rest. It is a way of life that is filled with wonder, worship, awe and delight. When Jesus declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath, he offered to us a better way. He said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest to your souls.”

Monday, April 30, 2018

What's In A Name?


The world waited most of a week to learn the name of England’s new prince, born to William and Kate on Monday, April 23. Finally, on Friday, we were introduced to His Royal Highness Prince Louis of Cambridge.  For much of the next century we will likely follow Prince Louis alongside his brother and sister, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Names are important to us.  My youngest grandson was born a year ago.  He knows his name.  When we call his name he turns and looks. He knows we are speaking to him.  Even my dog knows his name.  When I speak his name his corgi ears pop up, his eyes are alert.  Nothing compels us like the sound of our name.

Names give us entrance. When someone knows our name, we listen.

When God commissioned Moses to deliver his people from Egypt, Moses asked, “Whom shall I say has sent me?”  God responded, “Tell them, I AM THAT I AM has sent you.”  The Israelites captured this name with the Hebrew letters YHWH.  The name was too holy to be spoken.  When they came to God’s name in Scripture, they inserted the word, “Adonai” meaning “Lord.”

The third of the Ten Commandments recognizes that God has entrusted to us something special, something precious. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) He has invited us into relationship with Him.  He has given us His name.  We must not take this for granted. David sang, “Therefore I will give thanks to you among the nations, O Lord, and I will sing praises to your name.”  (Psalm 18:49).

Isaiah looked forward to a new name God would give us.  He wrote, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will [a]rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when the angel announced the Messiah’s birth to Mary and Joseph and instructed them, “You shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.”    God has chosen to redeem and transform us through that “name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).

This is an awesome thing.  The God of the universe, who created the expanse of the galaxies, who designed the sub-atomic particles, who gave breath and life to every creature, God, who made us in His own image, has given us His name that we might be exalted to know Him, honor Him and adore Him.

How then could we possibly use His name as an expression of amazement, consternation or anger?  How can we possibly live without thought of His greatness, goodness and grace?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Escaping the Image Makers


Christine Rosen, writing in The New Atlantis, stated, “Americans love images. We love the democratizing power of technologies — such as digital cameras, video cameras, Photoshop, and PowerPoint — that give us the capability to make and manipulate images. What we are less eager to consider are the broader cultural effects of a society devoted to the image.”

Images for idol worship have always been about manipulation, attempts to manipulate gods to control our circumstances and to control others around us.  Our current image culture is no different.  We create images to control our destinies and to control others.  Idolatry is about manipulation.  But, God will not be manipulated.  He will not be used for our personal advancement or the control of other people. 

We have become a people controlled by images.

The recent controversies over Facebook and Russian interference through the manipulation of social media is a case in point.  Images make a difference.  They influence our thinking and our action.  We are bombarded constantly on smart phones, tablets, TVs and laptops.  Some have linked the recent rise in teen suicides with the surge in social media.

This is why God gave us the second of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Exodus 20:4-5). 

God wants to free us from the image-makers who seek to control our minds and distort our values.

The image culture invades our churches when we assume that worship requires the assistance of sound systems, amplifiers, video screens, special lighting and special effects, when we create our own Christian pop-culture complete with celebrities. We ought to be reminded that in Jesus’ day authentic worship took place on hillsides, seashores, and in houses where two or three were gathered together in His Name.

The author of creation made us in His own image. When we know Him we are truly free to know ourselves and others as we truly are, created in His image with unlimited potential for love and good works. For this reason God sent His Son, so that we might know the only image that can set us free. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15). 

This is the definition of sin: attempting to live life on our own terms in our own image and becoming addicted to our man-made idols.  N.T, Wright put it this way, “Since sin, the consequence of idolatry, is what keeps humans in thrall to the non-gods of the world, dealing with sin has a more profound effect than simply releasing humans to go to heaven. It releases humans from the grip of the idols, so they can worship the living God and be renewed according to his image.”

When we believe in Jesus and place our trust in Him, we are empowered to become like Him.  We are set free from the image makers that lead down paths of addiction and depression.  “Those whom He foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29).  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Putting God First

I grew up in the Tom Landry era of the Dallas Cowboys.  When he was hired for the expansion team in 1960 they had little prospect for success. After going winless in their first season, Landry told the team his priorities were God, family and football, in that order.  Bob Lilly, who had just joined the team as the All American recruit from TCU said to himself, “We will never win.”  Under Landry they went on to appear in 5 Super Bowl games, winning two. His 20 playoff wins is second most in NFL history.

I heard Tom Landry speak at the Billy Graham Crusade when Texas Stadium was built. He described his emptiness when he achieved each of his career goals as a star running back for the University of Texas and all-pro defensive back for the NY Giants.  He quoted Augustine, “Our hearts are restless indeed, O God, until they find their rest in Thee.”  A year before he became the first coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he came to faith in Christ and gave God first place in his life.

Similarly, Jordan Spieth at 24 has already won three major golf championships.  When asked about his priorities he said, “My faith, then my family and then, after that, you know, this is what I love to do.  Golf is not number 1 in my life.”

Our oldest son had difficulty “launching” when he grew up.  His first semester in college he passed racquet ball.  It was the only course he attended.  His second semester he was on probation.  It was a struggle, for him and for us.

During this time I told him he needed to put God first in his life.  “If you put God first,” I said, “everything else will come into focus.”  His response wasn’t immediate. It took several years, including boot camp in the Marine Corps. But he followed through and put God first.  Everything else came into focus. Today he is a wonderful husband and father of three teen-agers, leads a Bible study for high school youth and has a successful career in Information Technology.

The first of the Ten Commandments is God’s invitation for us to know Him.  “You shall have no other gods before me.”  This is amazing. The creator of the universe wants to have a personal relationship with us in which He alone takes first place.  If He is not first in our life, He is not God. Everything starts here.  Life comes into focus when God becomes the priority of our life.

Sometimes we are drawn away from God by personal pleasures and the pursuit of sin. Sometimes we are drawn away by things that simply make us too busy for God.  We think we know what is best and we pursue our goals and dreams without taking time to submit those goals and dreams to God.  


In His sermon on the mount Jesus addressed the fragmented life that is filled with worry and anxiety.  He said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33).

Monday, April 9, 2018

Finding our Moral Footing


For centuries Western Civilization has embraced the Ten Commandments as the bedrock for law and conduct. But, in the twenty-first century, such an assumption no longer holds true. Bit by bit the Ten Commandments are being chiseled from their central position in our culture.

In 2001, after a two-year legal battle, a 5,280 lb. granite Ten Commandments monument was removed from the rotunda of the Alabama State Capital.

In 2004 the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Kentucky ruled that the Ten Commandments could no longer be displayed in public schools and courthouses. To do so, the court ruled, would be an endorsement of religion.

In 2014, followers of the pagan faith, Wicca, sued the city of Bloomfield, N.M. over a 3,000 pound Ten Commandments monument that stood in front of the City Hall. The court ruled the monument had to be removed as a violation of First Amendment rights.

In June 2015 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the presence of the Ten Commandments on the capitol grounds was unconstitutional. On October 5, under cover of darkness, the 4,800 lb. slab of stone was moved from the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds to a private location. 

These reflect sensitive legal issues in our nation that values freedom of religion and separation of church and state. But what is more disturbing than the removal of monuments is the removal of the Ten Commandments from our consciousness.  Few can name them. Stop for a minute and see if you can recall all ten of the commandments?  Can our children or grandchildren quote them?   If we don’t know the Ten Commandments, how can they guide us in our values and action?

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 5:17-19).

The first four of the Ten Commandments tell us how to have a healthy relationship with God.  The next six tell us how to have healthy relationships with each other.  

Zhao Xiao, a leading economist in China, researched America’s secret to prosperity. He concluded, “... the key to America’s commercial success is not its natural resources, its financial system or its technology but its churches.  ... The market economy is efficient because it discourages idleness, but it can also encourage people to lie and injure others.  It thus needs a moral underpinning.”  Xiao’s conclusions are remarkably similar to Alexis de Tocqueville’s in 1840.

Starting next week, this column will reflect on each of the Ten Commandments and their implications for today.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Light Within


Five years ago the earth shook and a mushroom cloud rose above the small town of West, Texas on April 17, 2013.  A devastating chemical explosion leveled a large section of the town killing fifteen and injuring more than 200.  Last year a memorial was constructed near the site so that those who were there might never forget.

Two days before the West explosion terrorist bombs ripped through crowds gathered near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three were killed and 264 were injured.  The bombings have not stopped the race.  This year, on April 16 more than 30,000 will participate in the 122nd running.  

Authorities eventually determined the West tragedy was the result of arson. The Boston bombing was an act of terror.  But both cases are remembered by remarkable stories of courage, faith and determination.

On the first anniversary in West, a choir sang Amazing Grace while surrounded with flickering candles on which students wrote, “Rise Up West!”  CNN reported, “Residents say their faith has been instrumental in understanding and dealing with last April's tragedy. Montgomery Irwin says the anniversary falling so close to Easter -- with its message of resurrection and renewal -- is especially appropriate for the people of West.”

When the bombs exploded in Boston, many ran for their lives.  Carlos Arrendo did the opposite.  Not knowing if another bomb might be set to detonate, he tore through the fences to get to the victims and render aid.  He rescued 27 year old John Bauman whose lower leg had been blown away. Carolos, 52, was attending the marathon to honor his son who was killed in Iraq.

Perhaps the Apostle John had this kind of human resilience in mind when he wrote, “That was the light which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” (John1:9).  Every human being is born with a reflection of that light that is at the source of creation.  In some way we are like the clouds that reflect the rising sun, streaked with crimson, purple and gold prior to the sun’s entrance. Often in our moments of greatest heartache and difficulty we reflect the greater glory.  But when the sun rises, its brilliance supersedes everything that has gone before.

This may be what Zecharias meant when he said, “The sunrise from on high has visited us!” (Luke 1:78).  Or John, when he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as the only begotten Son of God.”  (John 1:14).  All of our expressions of courage, faith and determination, mixed as they are with our shortcomings and our sins, are but dim reflections of the perfect light that is found in God.

It seems fitting that before the anniversaries of these two tragic events, the world paused to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Seeking comfort, consolation and inspiration, we turned our eyes toward that event in human history when God entered into our suffering through His Son and overcame death and the grave.

Our human resilience reflects not on our own glory, but on the glory of Him who made us in His image, Who sent His Son to forgive us our sins and transform us into children of light. He is the source of all comfort and all strength.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Centerpiece of History

Every time I write a check, I document the date with reference to the most important event in human history.  This year is 2018 A.D., Anno Domini, Latin for “Year of our Lord.”  Approximately 2018 years ago Jesus was born.    Any date before that is B.C., “Before Christ.”

This makes our secular world uncomfortable.  But, we have to reference history by some date, and it needs to be universal enough that we all know what date we are talking about.  In 1615 Johannes Kepler adopted the “Vulgar Era” designation, a reference that was later changed to C.E. “Common Era.”  Today, in most academic documents, the terms B.C.E. “Before the Common Era” and C.E. “Common Era” are used.  But the years remain the same, 2018 AD is 2018 CE.

The date for both designations A.D and C.E remains the time when the Emperor Augustine ordered that all the Roman world should be taxed and a little known carpenter in Nazareth started out for Bethlehem leading a donkey on which sat his pregnant wife. The life of that child defines every other event in history.  

Why is Jesus the centerpiece of all human history?

Part of the answer is the teaching of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is the most radical teaching in the history of the world. If everyone practiced Jesus’ teaching the world would be totally transformed. God’s Kingdom would have come on earth.

Part of the answer is the death of Jesus. We cannot practice the Sermon on the Mount without a transformation of heart.  The Cross of Jesus Christ makes this possible. Our sins are forgiven and God is able to create in us a new heart.

Most important of all is the resurrection.   If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, his followers would have quickly dispersed and he would have been forgotten. The disciples had all forsaken him at his trial. Peter had publicly denied him.  But, when Jesus appeared for forty days with many undeniable proofs, everything changed.

This was the message that changed the world. “This Man,delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.  But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:23-24).

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-18).


Jesus destroyed the rule of power and prejudice, retaliation and revenge.  On the Cross he overcame violence and injustice. By the resurrection He conquered death and the grave.  For this reason every document we date this year bears the number 2018. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Looking For Spring


In Minnesota, winter releases its grip by degrees, reluctantly withdrawing with snow skirmishes that can last through April into the first of May.  The northeast was  hit by a  fourth winter storm this week.But in Texas, it is winter one day spring the next, with summer soon to follow.

There is nothing gradual about spring in Texas.  One week forecasters issue winter weather advisories for snow, freezing rain and ice. The next week, redbuds and dogwoods explode in the woods; daffodils bloom; bare limbs put forth buds and the air is filled with the fragrance of cut grass.  

By this time, we are all ready for spring.  All that appears dead “springs” to life.  It is the harbinger of things to come: the growing season when empty fields sprout with corn and cotton.  Gardens yield their miracles: seed and soil and water and sun produce ripe red tomatoes, yellow squash and fat round watermelons. 

When Jesus chose a metaphor to help us anticipate His return, He chose spring.  He said, “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.”   As exciting as spring is with its promise of summer, it cannot compare with what God has in store for us in the age that is to come, when He will establish a new heaven and a new earth. 

For many years, I have thought it significant that Jesus chose a “spring” image to signify the end of the age.  Most futurists paint a dismal picture. Bookshelves and movie lists are full of doom and gloom prognostications.  Their predictions include alien invasions that wipe out the planet, a catastrophic meteor collision that makes earth unlivable, nuclear holocaust that destroys civilization as we know it, or a gradual erosion of earth’s resources. 

Jesus held no illusions about the reality of our human condition.  He plainly taught us that we would have wars and rumors of wars, that we would experience famines and earthquakes. (Mat. 24:6-7).   The prophet Isaiah said, “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not wane.” (Isa. 51:6).

Erosion and pollution will likely continue.  Nations will wage war. Our strong and youthful bodies will yield to disease, crippling injuries and old age.  But in the midst of the woods the dogwood blooms. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God is preparing a new heaven and a new earth. Spring and summer are coming!  (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

When God Calls Your Name


Some readers have asked when I am going to write another Buddy column.  Buddy is our tri-color Pembroke Corgi that we adopted nine years ago.  His story is available on Amazon in a book I wrote, “just the way he told it to me.” He is still happy and healthy, but his energy level, like mine, has diminished.  Instead of retrieving a ball all morning he chases it 2 or 3 times and lays down. He thinks that is enough. After 9 years, Buddy knows my voice and he knows his name.  When I call, he comes! 

Sometimes he comes when I first call him, running at top speed, which is not all that fast.  Sometimes he loiters around, distracted by new smells and sounds  So, I call him again.  Occasionally I have to clap my hands.  And sometimes he comes at a very slow walk, grudgingly. But he eventually comes when I call.

It seems to me that I am a lot like that with God.  There are times when I sense God’s call, and I come running. But there are other times, much more often I think, when I am distracted by other interests, worries and concerns.  I don’t listen for his voice as I should, and I don’t come as quickly as I should.  Sometimes I come grudgingly.

When I was a child my parents always took me to church.  At the end of every service the church offered an “invitation.”   We all stood and sang a song while the preacher waited at the front to talk with anyone who wanted to make a decision for Christ.  Sometimes we sang an old hymn.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching
Watching for you and for me.

Come home.  Come home.
You who are weary come home.
Earnestly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

One day, I let go of the pew in front of me and went forward.  Those first few steps made all the difference. When He called, I came.  Ever since that day, I have been listening for His voice. I have never heard God speak audibly, though I do not doubt God can speak audibly to whomever He chooses. For me, it is an inner voice.  Sometimes His voice acts like a compass, pointing the way forward.

 Even when we wander away, drawn away by smells and sounds of the world, He is always calling, waiting and watching for us to come home to God.

Jesus said, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.     (John 10:2-3, 14-15).

In Psalms the Bible says, “He heals the broker hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”  (Psalm 147:3-4).  God knows your name. He knows mine.  If we listen, we can hear him calling.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Culture at the Crossroads


We just laid to rest Billy Graham, only the fourth private citizen to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, his casket supported by the same bier that held Lincoln’s casket in 1865.  Mr. Graham was given this honor because he profoundly shaped the spiritual life of our nation in the last half of the 20th century.  Preaching a simple message of saving faith in Jesus Christ, his messages inspired millions to repentance and faith.

Our nation’s history has been largely written by repeated spiritual awakenings.  In the 1730s George Whitefield preached in the colonies along with John and Charles Wesley.  Benjamin Franklin made reference in his autobiography to the profound spiritual change that took place.  He noted that “one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without psalms sung in different families of every street.” Orphanages were established.  Princeton was founded to educate preachers, the same purpose for which Harvard and Yale had been formed earlier.

A Second Great Awakening swept America from 1790 into the 19th century.  Millions came to Christ through camp meetings and revivals. Thousands of churches were started including Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and others.  Much of the movement was led by young people under 25.

In the 1870s Dwight L. Moody teamed up with Ira Sankey to launch evangelistic meetings that swept the U.S. and England.  The movement extended all the way to China through Moody’s connections with Adoniram Judson.  

Without these movements of faith in Christ our nation’s history would have been written far differently.  The moral and spiritual fiber of the United States has been paramount to its successes and achievements.

Someone once said, God has no grandchildren.  Every generation is accountable before God.  The faith past generations experienced will not sustain us. We must experience our own life-changing faith in Jesus Christ. While there is evidence of such movements in other parts of the world, especially in South America, Africa and Asia, the evidence of our own spiritual dearth is profound.

We are awash in an opioid epidemic never before known.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 90 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. Suicide rates have surged to their highest level in 30 years. Suicide tripled among girls age 10-14 since 2000.  The Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2015 reported that 8.6% of youth in grades 9-12 said they made at least 1 suicide attempt in the past year. 

Innocent men, women and children have been gunned down in our churches, schools, theaters and the open streets. Teenagers are demonstrating for change. They have never known a world without metal detectors and x-ray machines.  Sexual misconduct and harassment is rampant with a list of politicians and celebrities too long to name.  Abuse is widespread. Prejudice is rampant.

Who can doubt that this generation needs a Savior?  Our nation and this generation are at a crossroads. 

The challenge Moses issued in his day is relevant to every generation: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendents, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.”  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)  Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Billy Graham


Billy Graham burst upon the scene in his California crusade in 1947 when I as one year old. I didn’t pay attention to him until God laid His hand upon me for Christian ministry when I was 18.

Many of us who were aspiring preachers mimicked him.  We could not preach as he preached, but we cold insert “and-uh” between our statements as he did, and we could copy his mannerisms. The world was full of little “would be” Billy Grahams.  I listened to his Hour of Decision on the radio, and launched m own 15 minute radio program called “Moment of Truth” on the local station.  At least my father listened to it.

Across the years I found more important aspects of Billy Graham I wanted to imitate. 

I wanted to imitate his integrity. When his organization attracted donations in the millions, he placed himself on a salary commensurate with the pastor of a large church.  He insisted that his Crusades be audited and made public.  He regularly turned down million dollar offers from Hollywood and television. He made much on royalties for his books, and gave much away.

In a world awash with sexual scandal, Billy Graham sought to avoid the potential for impropriety. He chose not to travel or dine alone with any woman other than his wife.  He loved his wife, Ruth Bell Graham.  They married in 1943 and remained devoted to each other until her death in 2007. He said of her, “Whenever I was asked to name the finest Christian I ever met, I always replied, ‘My wife, Ruth.’ … She was a gentle, smiling and kind person whose primary goal was to live for Christ and reflect His love.”

He stepped promoted integration before Civil Rights and included all people of every race and nationality. In 1953 he refused to preach in Chattanooga, Tennessee unless they removed the barriers that separated whites from blacks.  In 1957, he asked Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him in the pulpit in New York City.

Their family isn’t perfect. Some of their kids have had alcohol and drug problems.  Their daughter’s marriage failed and their granddaughter gave birth out of wedlock. But they continued to love their children with grace and acceptance. All of their children are in Christian ministry.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Christians in Thessalonica, “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” 

Billy Graham never wanted to hold himself up. He always wanted to exalt Christ.  I am sure that remains true as the world prepares for his funeral.  But we would do well to imitate many of the qualities reflected in his life and to live so that we might model for others the honesty, integrity and love that flow from faith in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Battling Cancer

Cancer is not new to our family.  My wife is a breast cancer survivor, as is her sister, who has been battling stage four cancer for the past four years.  My father died of multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow, when he was 53.  He bestowed on me a life-long memory of courage, faith and grace.  I took him to visit his friends the week before he died.  He was too week to stand.  He greeted each with a cheerful smile and his natural good humor.  But I could see the sadness written in their faces when they witnessed the seriousness of his condition.

My daughter-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before Christmas.  She and my son still have three children at home, our grandchildren, ages 17, 16 and 15.  Life becomes precious when we are faced with our mortality and the mortality of those we love. My son and daughter-in-law are giving it their best, and hoping for the best with chemotherapy and radiation. But they know they are not in control.  They are trusting God and celebrating each day.

Knowing that thousands are traveling a similar journey, I wanted to share a couple of her posts on Facebook that have inspired me.

She recently wrote, “Today was a great day.  I woke up with no pain and I was able to spend the day with my kids.  My husband was able to go to work.  I ate more food with no sickness than I’ve had in over a week.  I had enough energy to attend a hilarious community play with the beautiful high school drama/English students and laughed until my chest hurt.  I stayed up late talking with my best friend about how blessed we are and how God answers prayers in ways we don’t even realize.  My children laughed and teased each other in ways that made us feel normal.  And I still have my hair.  Today was a great day!” 

A few days later she wrote, “As I mourn the loss of my hair, an outward symbol of my health and femininity, I am reminded of my true identity in Christ.”  Psalm 139:125 “You are more than beautiful. You are more than enough. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I am proud of my daughter-in-law.  And I am grateful to be surrounded by men and women who inspire me.  Every day in thousands of homes mothers and fathers, sons and daughters fight quiet and little-known battles of life and love. 

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 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?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[?  …  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.“ (Matthew 6:25-34)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Winter Games

Skiers fly through the wind like birds landing lightly on the snow, lugers plunge down the chute at 90 mph in a death defying dive, skaters slice through the ice and downhill skiers carve moguls on the mountain. The PyeongChang Olympics stir memories: the magnificence of the mountains, the silence of the snow, the rush of the wind.

In the classic words from Wide World of Sports, it is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”  In the Vancouver Olympics eight years ago it was the tragic story of Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal crash on the luge the day before opening ceremonies or Lindsey Vonn’s struggle to overcome a bruised leg and win gold in the downhill.

The Winter games remind us of Dan Jansen skating for gold moments after his sister died only to crash into the wall on the final turn.  Who can forget the image of Jansen sitting forlorn on the ice? Four years later he returned to capture the top medal and carried his two-year-old son on a victory lap in memory of his sister.

Two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul used Olympic metaphors to help us understand  faith.   He wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The race is different for each of us.  Our challenges are unique.  But we all have a race to run, a challenge to face.  No one has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines as a spectator. Faith requires discipline, determination, perseverance and sacrifice.  The good news is that we don’t have to face our challenges alone.  We are surrounded by those who have gone before who cheer us on through our discouragements and defeats. We have One who has run the race and shown us the way.  We have One who enters the race alongside us, pacing us and spurring us on to the finish. 


The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:1-3).