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- Diana M., Ranger, Texas

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Memorial Day

Next Monday is Memorial Day , the official start of summer!  Families will load up and head parks, lakes and camp grounds.  Spring is here summer is near.  Kids will soon be out for summer and new graduates will launch out on new adventures in search of their destiny.   But the celebration, fresh air and freedom has a deeper meaning.   It is a time for remembering those who laid down their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. 

My grandfather fought in France during WWI.  My uncle entered Nuremberg in a tank at the end of WWII and remained there 2 months to recover from wounds.  Both of my brothers served in the Air Force during Viet Nam and my son served in the U.S. Marine Corps.  All of us have relatives who have served in the armed services.  Some have loved ones who left to defend our country and never returned.  On this Memorial Day, we pause to remember and honor those who gave the “ultimate sacrifice.”

What we know as Memorial Day originated at the end of the Civil War that claimed more lives than any other war in our history.  Officially, Memorial Day began May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, New York. In 1968 Congress designated the last Monday of May as a national Memorial Day to remember those who died in active service.  As time passed, the memorial aspects of the weekend have faded and for many it has become the first weekend for summer vacation.

The Bible recognizes the importance of memorials.  We need tangible dates and places to remember significant events and the values that give meaning to life.  The first memorial mentioned in the Bible is in reference to the living God.  When Moses met God in the wilderness and was commissioned to deliver Israel, he asked God to reveal His name.  God responded, “You shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me … the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial-name to all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15).

Our forefathers were not perfect.  They had many flaws and made many mistakes, but history is clear that most were people of faith in the living God.  A young publisher named Benjamin Franklin printed the sermons of George Whitfield that moved the colonies to Christ prior to the American Revolution. Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a Christian novel to which Lincoln attributed the Civil War.  And Julia Ward Howe gave us the Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1862, based on Isaiah 63 and Revelation 19.  Later, it was faith in God and His son Jesus Christ that sustained us through two world wars.

On this Memorial weekend, while we enjoy the laughter of our children and the love of our friends, let us remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, those who prayed and sacrificed and believed that we could “overcome.”  Let us trust the One who laid His life down that we might know God’s forgiveness and love for one another.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Graduation: Visions and Dreams


Young men and women will line up this month robed in caps and gowns grinning at their friends. Their eyes scan the audience, peering past dangling tassels in search of family members who search for them.   Cameras and cell phones light up stadiums and auditoriums with bursts of light as proud parents try to capture the magic of the moment. Our grandson graduates from high school May 19 in Sundance, Wyoming.  

Presidents, principals, guest speakers and valedictorians will speak of new horizons, a future yet to be written, a world to be changed. They will urge those who have reached this achievement to believe in themselves and to never stop learning. 

Every graduate that walks across the stage to shake hands with administrators and receive their diploma has a unique story.  Few are as unique as Helen Small. Helen dropped out of college as a freshman in 1938 to marry her sweetheart, help fight a war and raise a family.  Seventy years later, at eighty-eight she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2007. In 2010 when she was ninety years old, she graduated with a Masters of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 2011 she published a book, Why not? My Seventy Year Plan for a College Degree.  One of her teachers, Dr. John Santrock, a professor of psychology said, “What especially stands out about Helen as a student is how appreciative she is of the opportunity to learn.”  Commenting on her college experience as a ninety-year-old, Helen said, “It’s helped me start a whole new phase of life.”  Helen remained active, teaching, organizing and encouraging until her death two years ago at 97.

Graduation commencements inspire us because they not only recognize significant achievement, they celebrate new beginnings, new possibilities and opportunities, or, as Helen said, the start of a new phase of life.   Education offers to the young the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that equip them for the future.  For those who are older, it offers the opportunity to re-tool, to start over, to pursue new dreams. 

Nothing is as important for a new start on life as a spiritual transformation that connects us with God and places in our hearts the values that make life meaningful.  Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7).  In Ezekiel God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

God is always about new beginnings.  He offers to the young the opportunity to launch their lives on the path that leads to life and, to those who are older, the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over. Whether or not you hold a formal degree from an institution, whether you are nineteen or ninety, you can make a new start on life.  Paul wrote in Corinthians “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Monday, May 6, 2019

Rewriting the Rules


It is always important to know the rules.  We have rules at school, rules at work and rules at home. We establish laws to govern traffic: speed limits, stop signs, turn lanes and signals.  We pass laws for family, marriage, commerce and civil conduct.  We spend billions of dollars to employ law enforcement officials, judges and lawyers to make sure the rules are obeyed.

We even have rules for play. Every sport has its rules with umpires and referees to insure that the rules are enforced.  We have added instant replay to make sure their rulings are fair and objective.  Still, arguments erupt and tempers flare when either side believes it has been unfairly judged.  People are still arguing the stewards’ ruling that disqualified Maximum Security at the Kentucky Derby.

Some rules are unwritten. We assume we know them from birth. They are common to every culture on earth.  They are simple rules:  love your family and your friends.  Do good things for them.  Love your country.  If someone hits you, hit them back.  First come, first serve. Lend to those who can repay with interest. Look out for “number one.”  Protect your property. Defend yourself. Get even. They are the stuff of most movies and novels.  They are the rules by which we live our lives.
Jesus’ words sound strange when compared to our natural assumptions about how life is supposed to work. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36).
Jesus rewrote the rules.

Monday, April 29, 2019

God Is For You


Two years ago my son-in-law participated in his first Iron Man race in Boulder, Colorado. It is a grueling event: a 3 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike route and finished off with a 13 mile half-marathon, 72 miles start to finish.  In his first Iron Man we were there, cheering him on.  It was important that he knew we were “for him!”  We were proud of him.

A few years ago he had let his weight get out of control and drifted well above 200 lbs.  But he was determined to get into shape.  Setting a goal was important and the Iron Man gave him incentive.  He lost 50 lb.  It wasn’t easy.  It might have been impossible if he had tried to do it alone, without the support of family and friends.

We see it everywhere, especially in sports, but it is also true in the classroom and on the job and in every family.  It matters when people are cheering us on, lifting us up, letting us know that they are for us!  My father did that for me when I was young.  I have sought to do the same for my children.  They have pursued different paths, chosen different careers, but always I have wanted them to know that I was in their corner, I was “for them.”

How much more is that true for our spiritual quest and journey.  We each need to know that God is on our side.  He is cheering for us.  A few days ago I came across a very simple statement in the Psalms, one I have somehow overlooked over the many years I have read the Bible.  Psalm 56:9b simply says, “This I know, that God is for me.” 

This was the secret of David’s success throughout his life, whether facing wild beasts as a young shepherd, Goliath on the battlefield, the death of his best friend, his own moral failure or the betrayal of his son, Absolam.  Down deep, beneath all the terror and anguish of the moment, he was confident of one thing: “This I know, that God is for me.” 

Wherever you are, God is for you.  He wants to redeem you, to save you from the abyss, to turn you from your own destructive impulses and set your feet on fruitful paths. He wants to rescue you from the depths of despair.  He will never leave you nor forsake you. “What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).   

You may sometimes feel that you are all alone when facing difficulties and trials. The mountains may seem insurmountable. But this is not so.  God knows everything about you. He knows your fears as well as your dreams.  He knows your doubts as well as your hopes.  And, He has declared Himself for you! 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Monday, April 22, 2019

How Is Your Soul?


References to the soul seem strangely absent in our churches. But if the churches have stopped talking about the soul, the technological gurus who design apps for our iPhones have not. 

A few years ago the Huffington Post launched an app called “GPS for the soul.”  The app is based on two truths that say, “that we all have within us a centered place of harmony and balance, and that we all veer from that place again and again. “ Arianna Huffington stated, “There’s a snake lurking in this cyber-Garden of Eden. Our 24/7 connection to the digital world often disconnects us from the real world around us -- from our physical surroundings, from our loved ones, and especially from ourselves. We see the effects of this in every aspect of our lives.”

The Bible speaks a great deal about the soul.  The soul can be deeply troubled.  David cried out, “My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3) and again, “I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (Ps. 31:7). 

Our soul can rejoice. “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.” (Ps. 35:9).  Our soul can be refreshed, “He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23:3) and our soul can be at peace. “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” (Ps. 62:1).

Jesus taught that there is nothing in this world more important than the condition of your soul.  “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mt. 16:26). And again, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29).

John Ortberg, in his book, Soul Keeping, writes, “We live in a world that teaches us to be more concerned with the condition of our cars, or our careers, or our portfolios than the condition of our souls. … What if I don’t get a promotion, or my boss doesn’t like me, or I have financial problems, or I have a bad hair day? Yes, these may cause disappointment, but do they have any power over my soul?  Can they nudge my soul from its center, which is the very heart of God?  When you think about it that way, you realize that external circumstances cannot keep you from being with God.”

What is truly important is not our possessions. Neither is it our physical strength or beauty. Nor is it positions of influence, power or fame.  What is truly important is our soul, the essence of who we are. Although our bodies may wither with old age and disease, our souls can continue to grow in grace as we experience God’s love while loving others.

This is why Jesus said that the first commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the second is like it, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” If we receive His gift of grace and do this, we will find food and rest for our souls.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Resurrection Faith


Several years ago I preached the funeral of a woman I had known for forty-five years. By the time she ended her long battle with breast cancer she was in her mid-fifties.

When I first met her, she was a little girl.  I still remember her innocent blue eyes as a child.  I watched her grow through childhood and into her teen years.  When she was a young adult, she was lured down painful and destructive paths refusing to heed the warnings of those who loved her. I prayed for her, along with others and she fell deeper into addiction to drugs and alcohol. She gave her first born up for adoption and eventually served a sentence in prison.

But somewhere along the way, whether in prison or afterward, she came to faith in Jesus Christ. Like the woman who pressed through the crowd, she touched the hem of His garment. As Jesus said to another woman so many years ago, He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.” 

In the last decade I saw her reunited with her first-born whom she gave up in her youth. She was reconciled with her family who surrounded her in love.  God brought a good man into her life who, like her, was a recovering alcoholic.

She often shared with me her testimony of faith and what God had done in her life.  She still wasn’t perfect. She still had issues. But she was different. God was healing her on the inside.

The week before she died, we visited.  Family and friends gathered around her, comforting her, praying for her and loving her.  On Wednesday of that week, she drew her last breath.

Once again, I thought of her as that innocent blue-eyed girl I first knew. It reminded me of Jesus’ visit to the home of a mother and father whose twelve-year-old daughter had died.  The house was surrounded by people who were weeping. But Jesus entered the child’s bedroom with her parents and spoke these gentle words to her.  “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”   She immediately breathed, opened her eyes and got up.   

This is the faith we believe as followers of Christ. Because He was raised from the dead, we can be raised also.  We make mistakes.  We may wander far from God.  We may cause pain to ourselves and others.  But He seeks us out.  He never lets us go.  He reconciles, redeems and, in the day of our death, He raises us up!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

When Life Overwhelms


My cousin calls it “clumping:” those times when demands upon our life converge in a perfect storm. We face demands from employees, employers, clients and supervisors. We face demands from our family: marriages that need nurture; children who struggle with growth issues from the cradle to college; aging parents with failing health. Unexpected illness strikes us when we least expect it. “Clumping” times steal away our breath and rob us of our energy. Sleep is elusive, and, when it comes is often filled with restless nightmares of unfulfilled obligations.

Even Jesus experienced “clumping." As his fame spread, the demands made upon him multiplied. The Gospels say that he did not even have time to eat. At one point he was so exhausted that a life-threatening storm could not wake him. Thousands pressed in upon him from dawn to dusk seeking help. His own family rejected him. His closest followers disagreed with him. His enemies hounded him.

But in the midst of these demands Jesus always demonstrated a calm confidence and a quiet center. He refused to be hurried or harried. He never snapped back, never became irritable. And, in the end, he changed the world. No life has impacted the world more profoundly than Jesus.

What are the clues from Jesus that can help us when “clumping” strikes?

“Clumping” is temporary. The time when demands and crises seem overwhelming will ultimately pass. Jesus could face the overwhelming demands that fell upon him because he knew it was temporary. Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” Having learned this truth from Jesus, Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”(1 Peter 1:6-7)

Sooner or later life will “clump.” Prepare for the “clumping” stages of life before they come. Jesus told the story of two men who built their houses, one upon sand and the other upon rock. When the storm came, which is inevitable, the house built on sand collapsed. If we continually practice honesty, goodness, generosity, forgiveness and faith when times are easy, we will be able to overcome when times get tough.

Build quiet space for prayer in the midst of life’s demands. Even though the demands upon Jesus were intense and unrelenting, he always found time to get alone with God. Mark writes, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” (Mark 1:35-36).

Constantly look to God. Perhaps this more than anything else was the secret of Jesus’ success. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).

Monday, April 1, 2019

Heaven - What Is It Like?


I  assisted in the funeral for a close friend.  He was older by almost twenty years, and became my mentor more than thirty years ago.  He was a take-charge kind of guy and I always imagined him going out like John Wayne in The Shootist.  Consistent with his personality, he left specific instructions for his funeral, including the passage he wanted the pastor to preach and the three points he wanted him to make.  To his friends he wrote, “I want there to be more laughter than tears.  After all, I will be in Heaven.”

I watched him age like I have watched others, the same process I am beginning to see in myself.  As he entered his eighties his strength and vigor began to slip.  The last time we went out to eat he needed a walker to make his way to the table.  Aging is an inescapable experience for all of us who live long enough.  But in the end, in the “twinkling of an eye … we shall all be changed.”  (1 Corinthians 15:52).

When my mother was young she was a beauty and a fast runner who won several ribbons in track meets.  But in her last years she was feeble and almost blind.  When she was 89 years old and dying, we talked about what it would be like when she woke up in Heaven, able once again to run through the meadow as she did in her youth.  Her body once again characterized by energy, strength, beauty and grace. 

I have often thought about Heaven and what it might be like.  Someone once said that we might think of everything that is beautiful and good on this earth and multiply it by two.  That of course is a small number, but anything more defies imagination.  I like to think about the sun rising in the east, its light filtering through the leaves warming my shoulders on a cool morning; the birds calling to one another as the day dawns; the scent of freshly cut grass and new turned earth; the fragrance of lilacs in spring and roses in summer; the laughter of children on the playground; the crack of a baseball bat and the smack of a ball in the glove; the weight of a sleeping baby in my arms.  On this earth and in this world, they are enough.  But multiplied by two, or a thousand?  Incomprehensible!

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  (John 14:3). “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).

The Bible says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2). “If we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.”  (Romans 6:5).

Monday, March 25, 2019

How Happy Are You?


It is perhaps the best known quote in American history, Jefferson's three inalienable rights:  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness. After 243 years, the American “pursuit” of happiness seems to be in question.  Are we happy?  Are we pursuing the right things that can make us happy?

The 2018 World Happiness Report, released last week by the United Nations, ranked the United States at number 18 concluding that Americans have become less happy even while American wealth has expanded.  According to U.S. News and World Report, the study stated, “The U.S.  is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global standards.” 

Commercials, sit-coms and stand-up comedy routines give us clues to what has gone wrong in our “pursuit.”   According to many of these sources, happiness seems to be bound up with possessions: to have and to own something better than somebody else; our bodies: to be more beautiful, stronger, more attractive; sex: whether casual and illicit or friends with benefits; drugs (including alcohol):  whatever promises release from our inhibitions and escape from our problems; social media and technology: virtual reality, virtual friends and a virtual life.  With all their promises for happiness, they lead to disappointment and, too often, disaster.

There is another way.  The Bible says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.  How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. … Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that He may see good?  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.  Depart from evil and do good; desire peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:8-14)  “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3).

No one is happy all the time. Jesus was characterized as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  But there is a joy that goes deeper than happiness; a joy that sustains us even in our difficulties.  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3).

Churches are the happiest places on earth.  I have visited hundreds of them in most states and many countries.  Wherever I go, the gatherings of believers is characterized by joy, acceptance, encouragement, heartfelt hugs, laughter, smiles and love.  The people of God have within them this unquenchable joy that sustains them, even when times are tough.

This joy is the result of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.  Our sins have been forgiven. Jesus has been raised from the dead.  As Isaiah predicted, “And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads.  They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  (Isaiah 35:10).

Monday, March 18, 2019

Digital Faith


I am a digital immigrant. I was born into a world of rotary dial telephones and slide rules, cash registers that resembled slot machines, schools without air conditioning, encyclopedias that occupied an entire shelf in the book case and paper maps that unfolded to fill the front seat of the car.  

I started my immigration to the digital world about 37 years ago when I walked into Toys R Us with sweaty palms and bought my first computer, a Commodore 64.  It had 64k of memory and a floppy disk.  You can still find Commodore 64s in a few attics, basements and museums.

My oldest son is also a digital immigrant, though he was only eight years old when he started his digital journey.  After he grew up he started his own computer company and now works in Information Technology for an energy company. 

My grandchildren are digital natives.  They were born into the digital world and have never known anything else.  My five year old granddaughter was scanning photos on an iPhone when she was one and has already mastered video games. She reads and watches children stories on her iPad.  

I like the digital world.  I would not want to go back.  I live with my iPhone and PC. I can browse the web and check email anywhere in the world.  I have conducted business and managed my bank accounts from Nuremburg and Tel Aviv. I stay in touch with friends in South Africa, Indonesia and South Korea. I can go anywhere with my GPS.  I felt a little sacrilegious when I started reading my Bible on my iPhone and my Kindle.  It seemed like it wasn’t really a Bible if I couldn’t flip the pages and smell the ink. I had to remind myself that the first Scriptures were hand written on scrolls and that books came centuries later. 

But there are dangers in the digital world that did not exist before.
 
The world of virtual reality can undermine relationships in the real world robbing us of time, energy and emotional maturity. The new world of social networking can foster affairs with remote “lovers” who carry none of the day-to-day difficulties that come with marriage. More than one career has been destroyed by inappropriate posts on Facebook and Twitter. Pornography is at your fingertips.

The book, Digital Invasion quotes one youth pastor: “I see young people losing the interpersonal skills it takes to function in relationships, in a family and in the church.”  It is not unusual to see several people sitting at a table, each focused on their smart phone, none of them speaking to one another.

Craig Detweiler writes in his book, iGods, “The iMac begat the IPhone and the iPad, and each one starts with me – or rather “i.” They enhance our ability to connect and to serve, but they can also create an inflated sense of self, believing the entire world revolves around “me.” … In an age of status updates, personalized shopping, and lists of followers, we are experiencing the rush of becoming iGods of our own making.”  All this sounds strangely like the first temptation, “When you eat of it you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5).

The digital world brings digital pitfalls and temptations as well as opportunities.  Our challenge is to incorporate the timeless and eternal truths that never change into our digital world, a digital faith that connects us with God and with one another.  The greatest commandment remains:  “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

Male and Female: Does Gender Matter?


An interesting thing happened at the state competition recently in the Colorado state wrestling tournament.   Brendon Johnson, an 18 year old senior at the Classical Academy in Colorado forfeited in the first round rather than wrestle a girl.  He later forfeited again in the third round of the consolation bracket rather than wrestle another girl.

Johnson, who started wrestling in the 7th grade and identifies himself as a Christian said, “There is something that I really do find problematic about the idea of wrestling with a girl, and a part of that does come from my faith and my belief. … I really don’t want to disrespect the hard work these ladies have put in. They’ve done a lot of that too. Some people think by forfeiting I’m disrespecting them. That’s not my intention at all.”  He went on to say that he didn’t feel comfortable with the physical aggression required in wrestling with a girl, something he considers inappropriate on or off the mat.

According to USA Wrestling the number of high school participants grew to 245,564 in 2017-2018, making it the 7th overall participant sport at the high school level.  While it is growing in popularity among boys, it is growing even faster among girls.  16,562 girls competed in wrestling last year, an increase of 1,975.

Most sports recognize the physical differences between men and women in strength and stamina. That is true in non-contact sports like tennis and golf and in more physical sports like basketball and football.  But, apparently in wrestling in Colorado, gender makes no difference. 

I have to confess that this leaves me confused.  In a world in which the news is dominated with #metoo reports, where journalists, politicians, athletes, actors and other celebrities have ended their careers with shame and regret over sexual abuse allegations, why would we try to teach our young people that gender makes no difference?  Why don’t we recognize the unique differences between male and female while encouraging respect and consideration?

We can celebrate the revolution in gender roll diversity over the last decades. The talents, interests, and abilities of both men and women span a wide spectrum in the home, technology, politics, science and the arts.  We can be glad that we live in a day when men and women can explore wide ranging experiences with respect for one another.

At the same time we can celebrate the beauty of God’s design in creating us male and female.  There are intrinsic physical, biological and spiritual differences between the sexes that allow us to experience the depths of mystery, courage, devotion, sacrifice and love. History, art, literature and the Bible are filled with the relationships of men and women, some who rose to great heights of love and devotion and others who fell into depths of disappointment with its subsequent pain and sorrow.   The earliest chapters of Genesis start with the declaration, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He crated them.  And God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth …” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Monday, March 4, 2019

Less Judgment More Jesus


I came to know Sharon a long time ago.  She worked for a printing company in Illinois that helped publish some of my books.  She was great to work with, helping finalize the lay out and look for my books.  She did such a good job that she was promoted to a higher position in the company. We have never met in person.

After several years she contacted me, knowing that I wrote Christian books.  She was going through a difficult divorce, a painful end to a difficult marriage.  She was filled with shame and guilt, and moving to the small town in Illinois where she worked.  She wanted to find a church that might help her, but she was terrified of the condemnation and rejection she might find. I tried to encourage her and prayed for her.

She wandered by a local church, liked the looks of it from the outside, and sought a personal visit with the pastor to explain what she was going through.  It took courage for her to do that.  She was afraid, but she found acceptance and support, and started to attend.  

With much weeping, she shared what she was going through with her new found friends in a Bible study class, then, during worship, presented herself for membership in the church.  She was surrounded by believers who hugged her and welcomed her.  The pastor asked her to say a few words.  She told the congregation she was going through a difficult trial.  She said, “Worldwide the church is so good about making sure everyone knows John 3:16, That is a good thing, but we need to keep going because John 3:17 says "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. The world has enough condemnation -- it needs more Jesus.”

Jesus maintained a high bar for marriage.  “What God has joined together,” He said, “ let not man put asunder.”  But whenever he encountered people who were broken and wounded he always responded with compassion and redemption.  When a woman was caught in adultery and thrown at his feet, he challenged her accusers.  “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Convicted by their guilt, the crowd melted away.  Turning to the woman, Jesus asked, “ Does no one condemn you?”  She replied, “No one, Lord.”  “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:3-11).

We need to do all we can to help every marriage survive and thrive.  But divorce is a reality in our world.  Most, if not all, of our families have been affected by it.  We need to embrace and help those whose dreams have been shattered.  Like Sharon said, the world needs less judgment and more Jesus.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Waking Up Well


Last week I was sick.  Nothing serious. One of those things we all have to deal with from time to time, a sore throat and headache with a sinus infection that in a few days threatened to move into my chest.  After hacking and coughing my way through a few fitful nights, I found myself wishing I could just lie down, get a good night’s sleep and wake up well. My temporary illness soon passed, but it made me reflect on those who face far more serious conditions, whose illnesses are terminal.

It made me think of my friend, Mike Toby who served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Woodway for thirty-five years.  In 2012 Mike woke up on a Sunday morning to discover his left hand numb.  He preached anyway.  The next week the doctors determined that he was suffering from a cancer in the brain and gave him three to six months to live.  Mike made a video for his congregation in which he candidly spoke about his illness and his faith. Here’s what he said:

“I didn’t want to spend one day trying to fight off the inevitable. When I was seven years old I gave my heart to Jesus and became a citizen of the Kingdom of God. That’s where I know that I will spend eternity. My faith is rock solid in Jesus Christ.  I know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I have been the recipient of unbelievable grace and blessing. Every day has been full. …
      It was in the spring that the Lord took me to the Psalms and the verse jumped out to me, “Lord teach me to number my days that I may present to you a heart of wisdom.”  I don’t think I had a clue how much that would come to mean to me. Clearly to number your days has taken on a real depth of meaning to me. The other verse that has meant a lot to me is “We must work while it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.”  For my entire life, as my family will attest, I have woken up about 3:30 in the morning and I have woken up with joy.  I have woken up ready to go to work. And I have enjoyed working all day long.  And when the sun came down I was ready to put my head on the pillow and said, ‘Lord, thank you for a great day!’ So, I feel like I am able to say ‘I have fought the good fight.  I have finished the course and I am absolutely confident that you have a crown awaiting for me, and not for me only, but everyone else who has shared that journey in life.’ I look forward to seeing my Savior and to share that homecoming. The healing comes when I am released into the arms of my Savior.”

That day for Mike came on December 29, 2012.

Many are facing difficult illnesses like Mike Toby faced.  It is important for all of us that we number our days, that we live with confidence in the eternal life that God has offered in His Son, Jesus Christ knowing that one day we will wake up well and whole with all those who love His appearing.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Spice of Life

My wife loves cooking.  When we take road trips she passes the time by reading cookbooks. When browsing the TV, she usually settles on a cooking show.  Any cooking show, it seems to me.  When we watch jeopardy and they introduce a food category, she usually knows the answer.  When I get stumped on a crossword clue that includes spices or food, she helps me fill it in.  I am pretty well limited to breakfast:  bacon, eggs and biscuits, or grilling steak, hamburger or salmon on the gill out back.

It all seems to come down to the spices.  How you use them: which spices you put in, at what time, in what amount.  She has a pantry full of spices.  When it gets beyond salt, pepper, and a little garlic, I am pretty well lost. 

Last year we visited the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, Texas.  In 1885, at a corner drug store in Waco, Texas, a young pharmacist named Charles Alderton was experimenting with various flavors for a new soda he could serve.  He came up with a blend of 23 flavors people loved.  Customers called it the “Waco” until the owner of the drug store came up with the name Dr Pepper, after his good friend. They had trouble making enough to meet demand. Today Dr Pepper is distributed in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Europe, Mexico, South America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They still use the same 23 flavors that remain a secret.
 
 Harland Sanders learned to cook from his mother when he was 7.  In 1934 he started selling fried chicken from his roadside filling station in Corbin, Kentucky.  It took a few years to perfect his secret 11 herbs and spices. But when he did, people liked it. They liked it so much that the governor made him an honorary colonel. Today KFC is served in 119 countries and territories worldwide.  When we were in Prague and I got hungry for a taste of home I walked to a nearby KFC.  They seem to be everywhere. 

It is amazing what the right blend of flavors and spices can accomplish. What is true for food is also true for the way we live and the way we speak.  Life is more fun, satisfying and meaningful when we find the right “spices.” 

Jesus recognized this when he told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt has lost its taste, it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”   (Matthew 5:13). 
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6).


Unlike Dr Pepper and KFC, the ingredients are no secret.  The spices and flavors that make every Christian life desirable are listed in Galatians. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23).  When these “spices” are cooked into our souls, it changes our families, friendships, communities and the world.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

God's Metrics


We live in a world of metrics that is obsessed with measuring progress in almost every area of life. The business world has created an entire glossary of terms for measuring CPM (Corporate Performance Management). Every business needs to know its ROI (Return on Investment), Churn Rate (the measure of customer or employee attrition over a specified time) EBITDA. (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), to name a few.

Education has long used measurements to determine a student’s future.  Any student with ambitions beyond secondary education is familiar with the stress and importance of the SAT, ACT or, in to enter graduate school, the GMAT, GRE, LSAT and MCAT.

Sports is filled with metrics. Hundredths of a second separate sprinters, downhill skiers, bobsledders and speed skaters from the podium and also rans.  PGA golfers are rated by average score, percentage of fairways hit, greens in regulation, putts per round and many others. When Phil Mickelson won Pebble Beach last week he was compared to all those who won on that course in the last 100 years.  Baseball is synonymous with statistics: RBI, OPS, BA, BB/K, ERA, etc. The list is long.

If measurements are so important in other areas of life, it might be good to know God’s metrics. How does God measure success or failure?

Most of us assume that God’s measurements are limited to religion: church attendance, offerings, budgets, building, religious ceremonies and service. Surprisingly, according to the Bible these things are not God’s primary concern.

The prophets taught that God could care less about religious ceremonies. In Amos, God says, “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; …Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In Isaiah, God says, “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; … So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; … Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

When Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day, he reproved them for focusing on religious disciplines.  “You have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.  These are the things you should have done.” (Matthew 23:23). 

So, how well are we measuring up by God’s standard of measurement? Not well, I am afraid.
Everywhere and on ever side we are surrounded by infidelity, deceit, prejudice, resentment and anger.  Just read the news. We need to stop fooling ourselves. His measurements are true.

Every generation must come to grips with its sin. If we acknowledge our sins and turn to Him in faith He has promised, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them. Then they will be my people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20), (Romans 6:4), (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Least of These - When Love Costs


Twenty years ago, January 23, 1999, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary to India, was burned to death along with his two sons, Philip, age 10, and Timothy, age 6.  Staines was 57.  For 35 years Graham had ministered to lepers in a remote tribal village in India where he established the Mayurbanj Leprosy Home in 1982.  In 1983 he married his wife, Gladys, who joined him in the work.

The mob that killed Graham Staines and his sons was apparently a  hard-line Hindu organization intent on retribution for the missionary’s effectiveness in converting members of the lower cast to faith in Jesus Christ.  After the attack, Gladys Staines forgave those who murdered her husband and sons.  She remained in India with their daughter, Esther, and continued their ministry among the lepers.  She stated, “I cannot just leave those people who love and trust us. I have high regard for the people of India and their tolerance.”

The government of India awarded Gladys Staines the fourth highest civilian award in 2005,  Padma Sri in recognition for her outstanding contribution to India.  She has been called the best known Christian in India after Mother Theresa.  In 2015 she was awarded the Mother Theresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.

Their story was recently made into a movie entitle The Least of These and released into theaters on February 1.  It appears the movie will be shown in a limited number of theaters for a limited time. The Executive Producer for the film, Victor Abraham, said the movie “beautifully illustrates the power of love, hope and forgiveness to overcome hate.” It is a gripping reminder of the cost paid by followers of Christ in every generation and the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ.   According to Christianity Today “215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme levels of persecution.”

Most of us suffer little for our faith. Few of us will ever be required to shed our blood or give our lives.  But such global persecution of Christians is widespread.  Everyone who follows Christ in every time and in every place is called to follow the instructions of Scripture: “ Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him to drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Suicide Epidemic


According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention suicide rates increased in all but one state between 1999 and 2016.  In 2016 there were twice as many suicides and homicides in the United States. Last week a group of high school students took to the streets of Denver to launch a campaign to cut suicide rates in half. They gave away “Its ok to be not ok” bracelets and sought to engage anyone and everyone in conversation.

In 2010 Anna, Texas, with a population just over 8,000, was rocked by a series of suicides and suicide attempts.  Three times in a sixteen-day stretch the police responded to calls involving apparent suicides or suicide attempts. Churches in the city urged residents to gather at Slayter Creek Park in Anna to pray for the city, its residents and for its leaders.
 
Sooner or later suicide becomes personal for each of us.  Someone we know, or someone close to us takes their life.  A number of years ago, my cousin’s husband, a psychologist with a doctorate from SMU, wandered out into the woods behind their home, sat down at the base of a tree and shot himself.
 
Suicide, whenever and wherever it occurs always leaves a wide swath of emotional destruction among family members and friends leaving in its wake feelings of confusion, anger, guilt and grief.  Like all wounds, time helps, but the shadows of suicide never completely disappear in the lives of those closest to the victim.
 
The primary symptoms leading to suicide appear to be depression and hopelessness.  Almost everyone gets depressed at one time or another.  Some of the greatest personalities in history have battled depression, including Abraham Lincoln.  But when depression slips into despondency and hopelessness, an irrational moment can result in the shocking headlines we read in the newspapers. 
 
As human beings, each of us faces a difficult moment at some point over the span of our lifetime. In today’s connected world we can scan the globe on our keyboard and, at the same time, not know the name of our neighbor next door or across the street. Individuals come and go in such a hurry that the support network of family and friends has shrunk in today's society and some feel they have no place to turn.   
 
None of us can read the minds of those around us, but each of us can resolve to be a better friend, a better listener and simply be there for others. Suicide is never God’s plan for anyone’s life.  God always offers a future and a hope. He can remove the guilt that often leads to despair.  “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:18) Even when circumstances are darkest and the future seems impossible, God has a way forward that we cannot see. “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11). 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Intelligent Design


In 2014  Eric Hedin, an Assistant Professor of Physics at Ball State, promoted the idea to his students that the complex and intricate balance in nature reflects an intelligent design as opposed to a random series of accidental events.  The president of the University ruled that such teaching was not a scientific discipline and had no place in academia, an opinion widely shared in the academic community. Dr. Hedin once taught a course entitled The Boundaries of Science that was later cancelled.

Baylor University was embroiled in the controversy when Robert Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering set up a website and lab on the Baylor server to investigate intelligent design in 2007. Marks used the term “Evolutionary Informatics Lab.” Both the website and the lab were shut down within months and removed from the Baylor server. The lab continues on a third party server at evoinfo.org.

Regardless of academic positions on the subject, reflections on creation, purpose and intelligence beyond our own are important to all of us. We must ask the questions, “Are we alone?”  “Is there anyone else out there?” “Is the human race simply the result of eons of random chance on this third planet from the sun?”  “Have millions of years of random chance and survival of the fittest resulted in, well, ‘us?’” Or are we created in the divine image of the Creator? 

We consider ourselves intelligent.  We can solve problems. We can manipulate the natural laws of physics to make them work for us resulting in mechanical and electronic machines that magnify our strength and accelerate our speed.  We can ponder ourselves and our own existence. We can imagine things as they could be.

We are quickly making strides in our own creation of artificial intelligence, the design of robotic machinery that perform complex tasks. We already have cars that can drive themselves.  Information technology is taking us into realms reserved for the writers of science fiction. “Data,” the popular android on Star Trek, may not be so far-fetched after all.

So, whenever we finally create “Data” and others like him, what will the androids think?  Will they sit around and discuss whether they were the result of random coincidence, concluding that they have no accountability or connection to the humans that created them?  (Seeds for another science fiction epic?).

The Bible is quite clear regarding our own origin.  The Psalmist says, “For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret.” (Psalm 139:13-15).


Something beyond science resonates within us when we stand in awe on the rim of the Grand Canyon; when we behold the beauty of a sunset splashing the sky with crimson, purple and gold; when we walk by the sea listening to the waves crashing on the shore. Only worship will satisfy the emptiness within. The realization that we are part of a grand design in the mind of God calls us to accountability and fills us with meaning, purpose and peace.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

When My Body Wears Out


I took off my gloves the other day and laid them on the kitchen cabinet.  I had been outside watching the sun rise, as is my habit, even though the temperature was in the teens.  I have had these gloves a long time, several years.

When I went back to put them on again, I saw them lying there, limp and useless.  They still held the form of my hands, the fingers slightly curved. The thumb in place to grasp something, but they were empty, wrinkled and worn with use.

 My gloves reminded me of my body.  The day will come when I will put off this body that has served me for seven decades.  Like my gloves, my body was once young and new, without wrinkle, elastic, unscarred.  But over the years it has grown old.  My body groans when it moves, becomes stiff when I sit in one position too long.  It aches. Putting on my socks has become an exercise in calisthenics.

When I die I will put off this body like I pull off my gloves when I come in from the cold.  It will still hold something of my shape.  But it will no longer be me, any more than my gloves are me.  When my hand occupies my glove it can move and grasp things. The glove is filled with my life.  Likewise my body is filled with me while I still live.  But, someday, I will lay it down. 

According to Scripture, I will eventually put on a new body, just as I can place my hands in a new pair of gloves.  The Bible has a lot to say about this, especially in 1 Corinthians 15. “It is sown [a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” 

When my mother was dying we talked about heaven.  She was 89 years old.  Her body had withered away.  Her back was bowed with osteoporosis.  Her vision was failing.  She had suffered a series of mini-strokes.  She had difficulty walking.  When she was a young girl she was athletic, a beautiful fast runner. She won ribbons in track.  We talked about how she would run again, the wind in her hair, flying through the meadow as she did when she was growing up on the farm.

There’s a lot I don’t know about Heaven.  What kind of bodies will we have when we get there?  Will our heavenly bodies resemble our earthly bodies?  Will we have different ethnicities, different skin color and racial features?  Will we all look the same?   Maybe we will know other in a different way, more spiritual and intuitive than visual.  From what I know of God in this world, I would have to assume there will be variety … lots of variety … even more than we see on earth. But all prejudice and pride will vanish. 

1 John 1:3-2 states, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Investments


Everyone, it seems, is thinking about investments, especially since the stock market started December with its worst performance since the Great Depression.  When I was young, I didn’t think much about the stock market.  It seemed far removed from my day-to-day concerns.  After all, I had nothing to invest. 

When I asked my wife to marry me I was making $40 per month.  Surprisingly, she said yes.  Of course a gallon of gas cost 32 cents, 28 if you found it on sale.  Our biggest financial concern when we married was how many ways we could eat a chicken.  First she fried it, then we ate chicken salad, and finally she cooked chicken and dumplings.  It is surprising how many ways and how many times you can eat a chicken when you are broke.

But across the years we invested in annuities for our retirement.  I am glad we did.  And now a portion of those savings are invested in stocks.  So, I pay attention when the stock market goes into a swoon like it has the last three months. I try to remind myself I need to think in the long term, which is harder to do the older I get. The years are running out.

Benjamin Franklin understood the power of investments.  When he died in 1790 he left $5,000 to each of his favorite cities, Boston and Philadelphia with the stipulation that the money be invested and the interest compounded for 200 years. By 1990 the initial investment had grown to $20 million. As Franklin said, “Money makes money, and the money that money makes, makes money.”

Jesus used this metaphor to remind us of the importance of investing our lives in the right things. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the story of a wealthy man who asks three servants to manage portions of his money. To one he gives $5,000, to another $2,000 and to the third $1,000.  After a time he asks each to account for their management.  The first doubled the $5,000 and returned $10,000.  The second doubled the $2,000 and returned $4,000.  But the third buried his $1,000 because he was afraid he might lose it.  He returned the $1,000 he had been given.  The master was furious because the third servant did not invest anything. 

Of course Jesus was never concerned about money.  But he was deeply concerned about the way we invest our lives. 

Clint Eastwood’s new movie, The Mule, was released into theaters December 14.  Eastwood plays the part of Earl Stone who, late in life, is estranged from his family because he chose to invest his time in his career and hobbies rather than his relationships.  The movie is based on the life of Leo Sharp, a WW II veteran who became a renowned horticulturalist in day lilies before becoming a drug courier in his 80s.

We all have choices. Whether we have financial investments or not, we are responsible for our time and resources.  As we look forward to 2019 we need to ask ourselves the question, “What investments will I make in the lives of those I love and the world around me?”