What Others Say

I always enjoy your Saturday columns in the "Trib". The one today was particularly good, thank you for writing it.

Gary J. - MacGregor, TX

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Doomsday

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.