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, 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). 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Providence and Luck

I love church “pot-luck dinners.”  All sorts of dishes show up from the kitchens in the community: fried chicken, ham, lasagna, chicken and rice casserole, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, macaroni and cheese, pinto beans, asparagus, cakes and puddings and much more, too much to list. Those who make their way down both sides of the table emerge with plates running over.  The biggest problem is finding enough space on the plate to sample everything. 

One church called a new pastor who was nor familiar with the culinary traditions of the community.  He was staunchly set against all forms of gambling and soon railed against the very idea of a pot “luck” anything.  The deacons and the women of the church got together and changed the name of their frequent fellowship to a “pot providence” dinner. This seemed to calm the theological storm so that everyone could once again enjoy the cooking.

I know it sounds a little odd. But strange things happen in churches and it does raise a question.  How much of life is providence and how much is just plain good and back luck?  For some, of course, there is no such thing as chance.  Everything, down to the smallest detail of every day is providential.  And for others, there is no such thing as providence.  Life is just the luck of the draw. But is it?
Forest Gump, in the classic movie, contemplated the question that faces us all. Is life the result of random chance, like a feather balanced on the breeze, or does destiny direct our path?

Mathematics contains an entire field of probability and chance. Any single flip of a coin cannot be predicted. But if that coin is flipped enough times, it will eventually sustain the laws of probability. It will turn up tails just as often as it lands on heads.  This is called the “law of large numbers.”
At the same time, some of the greatest men in American history have recognized the power of a providential presence. Benjamin Franklin opened his famous autobiography by saying, “I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence.”  George Washington repeatedly referred to “providence” as a guiding force throughout his life.
In 1862, during the Civil War, Lincoln stated, “If after endeavoring to do my best in the light which He affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. … and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”

Reflecting on his life, King David wrote, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me when as yet there was not one of them.” Psalm 139:16).
Isaiah declares, “And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”  (Isaiah 58:11)

While God has established laws of probability in the universe as real as the physical law of gravity, He has also established His providence.  He has a plan and purpose for our life. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Last week the Doomsday Clock moved to 2 minutes before midnight.  Rachel Bronson, President of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said, “As of today, we are two minutes to midnight. To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger and its immediacy.”   The world has never been closer to its final apocalypse.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was formed in 1945 by the Manhattan Project Scientists after the creation of nuclear weapons and the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Its concerns have expanded to include environmental change and emerging technologies. The decision to move the Doomsday Clock forward 30 seconds included the increased dangers of global warming and development of artificial intelligence.

In light of increasing threats from North Korea, Japan recently adopted nuclear drills for survival of an attack.  For the first time in 70 years sirens wail, children run for shelter, adults hunker down behind walls hoping to find shelter while wondering if it would do any good.

On December 1, 2017, Hawaii initiated monthly nuclear warning drills.   At 8:07 AM on January 13 sirens sounded as smart phones lit up with the warning, “This is not a drill!”  People panicked. It was a false alarm.

Stephen Hawking has concluded human survival on earth has less than 100 years.

While the scientific predictions are new, the destiny of life on earth is not. The Bible has predicted our fate for millennia.  Jesus said, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. … For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” (Matthew 24:7-8, 21). “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” 2 Peter 3:10).

But there is a difference.  While many see little hope for human survival, the Bible sees the end time as an open door to the future.  Jesus said, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30).  “The heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:12-13)

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.” (Isaiah 65:17)

Those who have faith in Jesus Christ need not fear.  Whether we live to see the end of days on this earth, we know that for each of us, our days will end.  We are all mortal.  God has created another dimension, another time and place, a new heaven and a new earth where life, joy and righteousness reign. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jumping Fleas - Learning to Fly

A scientist placed a number of fleas in a jar and they immediately jumped out. He then placed a clear glass plate over the top of the jar.  The fleas continued to jump, smashing their heads into the invisible barrier.  They kept this up for some time, jumping with all their might, crashing into the glass and falling back.  They slowly adjusted the height of their jump to avoid crashing into the invisible lid.  The scientist then removed the glass lid, and the fleas remained in the jar, jumping just short of where the lid had been, unable to clear the lip of the jar and escape.

The jumping fleas are a parable of how we adjust our expectations.  Like the fleas, we become conditioned to limitations imposed by others and, sometimes, imposed by ourselves.  We no longer try to extend beyond the comfort of what we have done before and we remain trapped by traditions and learned behavior.

Wilbur and Orville Wright were sons of an itinerant preacher, a Bishop in the United Brethren Church. Like their father, they were gentlemen who neither smoked, drank nor gambled.  But they learned to dream.

When the Wright brothers arrived at Kitty Hawk, NC, they found an almost deserted island with constant winds, lots of sand and about fifty homes, mostly occupied by descendants of shipwrecked sailors.  The residents wore hand sewn clothes and lived in homes with scarce furniture and bare floors scrubbed white with sand.

Wilbur boarded with the William Tate family and set to work assembling his “darn fool contraption,” as the locals called it.  Tate later said, “We believed in God, a bad Devil and a hot Hell, and more than anything else we believed that same God did not intend man should ever fly.” 

The Wright brothers became fast friends with the Tate family and the outer banks people, who helped them immensely. Within 3 years, on December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers lifted into the air. Six years later,   Orville Wright circled the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor and the Wright plane flew over the Eifel Tower in Paris. Aviation was born.  The world has never been the same.

Jesus was constantly urging his disciples to think beyond their limited expectations.  Often He referred to the twelve disciples as “you of little faith.”  He challenged them, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.”  (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus chose twelve of the most unlikely men to follow Him.  They were common fishermen, common laborers and a tax collector. Without Jesus they would have lived out their lives in their small villages unnoticed.  History would have taken no note.  But Jesus taught them to believe beyond the limitations of their day.   Armed with faith, confident in the power that raised Jesus from the dead, they turned the world upside down and changed the course of human history.

“Nothing,” Jesus said, “is impossible with God.”  

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dealing with Guilt

The Minnesota humorist, Garrison Keillor, once observed that people do bad, horrible, dirty, rotten and despicable things, then, instead of repenting, they just go into treatment.  “Whatever happened to guilt?” he lamented. “Guilt, is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Keillor’s tongue in cheek appraisal of guilt belies the truth.  While there may be a few socio-paths who feel no remorse for their actions and show no capacity for guilt, most of us know the feelings of guilt only too well.

Religious leaders sometimes revert to guilt as the trump card to keep church members and parishioners in line.  Parents use it with children.  Siblings, co-workers and even friends occasionally rely on it to get their way. When husbands and wives are unable to settle a heated argument, one or the other often reverts to guilt’s lethal weapon by recalling past offenses that were supposedly forgiven and forgotten.

In its best moments, guilt can protect and guide us, much like the pain that teaches us to avoid a hot stove or sharp objects. When we respond to guilt with confession and repentance, we can move forward to live a better life on a higher plane.

But guilt can be destructive and debilitating.

Sometimes we feel guilt over clearly remembered wrongs we have done. At other times we may feel guilty and not know why.  We wake up with a feeling of unworthiness and shame with no specific deed to identify as the source. Our feelings of guilt are irrational, leaving us at a loss to identify the source or the solution.  Guilt can lock us in its prison and shackle us so that we feel helpless.  It robs us of energy and steals our joy.  Guilt can leave us smoldering in anger or suffocating in depression. 

The good news is that Jesus came to set us free from guilt. 

When confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery, he dismissed those who condemned her and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11).

To the paralytic whose friends tore off the roof to get their friend to Jesus, he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” When he sensed the rising resentments among the Jewish leaders, He said, “’So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God.”  (Mark 2:1-12).

Paul wrote, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2). And John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

We can live our lives free of guilt and self-recrimination. As John says, “ We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19-20).

An interesting thing happens when God removes our guilt, and we know it. Not only can we live with greater joy and freedom, we no longer feel compelled to heap guilt upon others. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

There's Something About That Name

When my daughter was little, I rocked her to sleep every night and sang the same song:  Jesus, There Is Something About That Name.  One line in song says, “Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away, but there is something about that name.  My daughter is now grown and the mother of three. Sometimes she sings that same song to my grandchildren. 

My wife and I just returned from Israel, a trip we chose to launch our 50th year of marriage. We spent several days in Jerusalem, walking through the Garden of Gethsemane, looking on the Holy City from the Mount of Olives, visiting the Pool of Siloam and the Western Wall.  We sat on the Southern steps to the temple and walked the Via Dolorosa. 

Everywhere we went we were shoulder to shoulder with tourists from all over the world, tourists who had come to walk where Jesus walked.  We met a young man from New Zealand, another from Colombia, entire groups from Indonesia, China and Korea. They came from Africa, South America and Europe.  They were Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Non-denominational.  They came from everywhere.  Tour buses lined up on the streets of the city, in spite of the political tensions reported in the news. They came because “there is something about that Name.”

We visited the Trans-Jordan site, just above the Dead Sea, the most likely place where Jesus was baptized by John.  A barbed wire fence runs down the middle of the Jordan River separating Israel from Jordan.  Armed guards are visible.  On the other side of the river, beyond the barbed-wire fence, a group of Orthodox believers were baptizing, joyfully and with passion. Separated by politics and boundaries, we could not speak to them or touch them, but, like us, they were drawn to that site because Jesus was there.

In Jerusalem most of the actual places where Jesus walked are buried, beneath many layers.  The temple of His day, built by Herod, was destroyed in 70 AD.  Only the supporting walls remained, including the western wall where hundreds gather to pray every day.

In the 2nd century the Roman Emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city with a temple to Jupiter. After 325, Emperor Constantine rebuilt the city as a Christian center. Islamic rulers conquered the city in 638, the Crusaders in 1099. It was conquered by Saladin in 1187. Its walls were destroyed in 1219 then repaired in 1243. It was taken over by the Ottoman Empire in 1517.  Jerusalem has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.

When Neil Armstrong visited Israel following his landing on the Moon, he walked up the steps to the Temple entrance.  He asked his guide, archeologist Meir Ben Dov, if these were the same steps Jesus walked on.  Ben Dov confirmed that they were. “I have to tell you,” Armstrong said, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.”  

The very stones of the city, with the numerous archeological digs, bear witness to history.  Kings and kingdoms have come and gone. But the name of Jesus remains.  2000 years after Jesus first walked the streets of Jerusalem, His name continues to transform people of every language, culture and nation who trust in Him.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year 2018 - When God Comes Near

Celtic Christianity has a term to refer to those moments when the separation between this world and heaven becomes so minimal that we sense the presence of God. They call these “thin places.” They are the places where love and compassion reign. Where forgiveness overcomes resentment. Where selfishness is swallowed up in sacrifice. Where prejudice surrenders to acceptance. Where the violent flame is quenched and people live in peace. They are the times when our soul is overwhelmed with awe and we worship God.

The news usually focuses on “thick places” where our world is farthest from God. For some strange reason people gravitate to the sick stories of murder, corruption, abuse, crime and war. But God gives us moments when He comes near, moments when we sense the fragrance of His presence and we hear the whisper of His voice.

Sometimes we sense a “thin place” when we stand before God’s creation and marvel at its majesty, beauty, complexity and balance. Sometimes we feel it in cathedrals and churches or informal and intimate gatherings with other believers. Sometimes the thin places appear in everyday life. Often, when they do, they are unexpected.

I am writing this column in Jerusalem on New Year’s Day, 2018.  I have visited Nazareth, stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, visited Capernaum, Magdala and Beth Saida where He healed the sick and raised the dead. This morning I stood on the Mount of Olives and looked across the Kidron Valley to the city of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead.

When Jesus came, the reign of God broke through upon the earth so that we were able to see, in a brilliant flash, what God’s Kingdom really looks like. This is what John meant when he said, “That was the true light, which, coming into the world enlightens every man … we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Wherever Jesus went he created a thin place.

When He sent his followers out, Jesus taught them to live and speak in such a way that people would know that they had come into a “thin place.” “Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:8).

As followers of Jesus our task this new year is to help create the thin places. We do so by living in such a way that the reign of God rules in our hearts, controlling our speech, our actions and our decisions. We are to create “thin places” wherever we work or study, among our co-workers, fellow students, family, friends and even our enemies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” He was teaching us to pray that we might become instruments for the “thin places” where God’s presence can be seen on the earth.