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Exceptional column. I think...inspired. Thank you for writing it.
- Diana M., Ranger, Texas

Monday, September 16, 2019

Escape From the Frenzy


We live in a time-crunched world where life is lived on the run. Millions pull out of their driveways in the pre-dawn dark, grab a last-minute breakfast burrito and merge onto freeways while listening to the morning news and traffic reports between cell phone calls. It is a frenzied start to a frenzied day.

Weary from long hours at work, the same drivers re-enter the stream of traffic making their way home past memorized billboards. Weekends are filled with errands, second jobs, T-ball, soccer, football. Church is squeezed into an already full schedule that has no margins.

Richard Foster analyzed it like this: "We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators." We are increasingly depressed and suicidal. We have turned to alcohol and drugs in a desperate effort to cope. We know deep down that something isn’t working. There must be a better way.

Most people recognize the Ten Commandments as foundational to human conduct and life. But somewhere along the way we reduced the Ten Commandments to nine. We eliminated the fourth commandment as irrelevant and archaic: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” A half-century ago, businesses were closed on Sunday and sporting events recognized Sunday as a day for worship. All that has changed. Today our calendars are filled up to a 24/7 frenzy.

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

In his book, Living the Sabbath, Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Norman Wirzba writes, “Put simply, Sabbath discipline introduces us to God’s own ways of joy and delight. … When our work and our play, our exertion and our rest flow seamlessly from this deep desire to give thanks to God, the totality of our living --- cooking, eating, cleaning, preaching, parenting, building, repairing, healing, creating --- becomes one sustained and ever expanding act of worship.”

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Changing the Rules


It is always important to know the rules in anything we do.  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.

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.  Don’t break in line. Lend only to those who will pay you back with interest. Look out for “number one.”  Protect your property. Defend yourself. If someone wrongs you, get even.  Sometimes we follow these rules even when they conflict with the law.  They are the stuff of most movies and novels.  They are the rules by which we live our lives.

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. New Orleans fans are still miffed about the pass interference no-call last January.  And, the NFL has changed the rules.  For the first time, following the Saints play-off fiasco, coaches can challenge a pass interference play.  

When Jesus came, he changed all the rules.  His 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).

He even changed the rules about heaven.  Most assume they will earn their way to heaven by their good efforts , hoping in the end that their good will outweigh the bad.  But Jesus canned all that. Instead “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “Whoever lives and believes in me,” Jesus said, “will never die.” (John 11:26). 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Power of an Optimistic Outlook


Since this column reflects on current events and life experience, I am constantly searching the news for information.  It is a daunting task.  The headlines alone are depressing, let alone the blow-by-blow accounts of murder, theft, graft, rape, sexual abuse, prejudice, hatred, scams, suicide, mass shootings, political corruption and a looming recession.  Sometimes the news seems like a black hole that drags every ray of light into its dark abyss.  I spent some time this morning reading about the victims in last weekend’s senseless shooting in Midland-Odessa, Texas.

It is difficult not to become a pessimist from this constant onslaught. But we must not give in.  We must resist the darkness and cling to the light.  We must not surrender to the pessimism that surrounds us.

A new study released August 26 by the Boston University School of Medicine concludes that people who are more optimistic live 11 to 15 percent longer and are 50 to 70 percent more likely to reach age 85. But how do we remain optimistic in a world filled with pessimism? 

It seems to me that we do so by looking for the moments that renew our faith in each other.  Like the tender moment when Naomi Osaka embraced 15-year-old Coco Gauf after soundly defeating her in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open and persuading her to share the post-game interview with her.

We can remain optimistic by focusing on obscure moments like the first day of second grade reported by WIVB News in Wichita, Kansas. Eight year old Christian, who is African American, saw eight year old Conner, who is white, standing alone crying while they waited for the school to open.  Quietly, Christian reached out and took Conner’s hand. Conner stopped crying and the two of them walked into their classroom together, hand-in-hand.  Conner is autistic.  

We are surrounded by little acts of kindness, some demonstrated on the grand stage like Osaka and Gauf, others in obscure corners like Christian and Conner.   And we are sustained by a faith that overcomes darkness and despair.  Love overcomes hate. Forgiveness wipes away resentment and guilt. Resurrection conquers death.  Our God who is the Father of Lights is the source of all good things.

The Bible is the most realistic and most optimistic book ever written. It clearly exposes man’s sin and consistently demonstrates God’s righteous redemption. It embraces the Cross with all of its pain and despair and proclaims the resurrection in all of its glory.

The Bible always offsets our struggle with discouragement and despair with the hope of faith and the unchangeable goodness of God.  Three times the Scripture asks, “Why are you in despair O my soul? And why have you become disturbed in me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).