What Others Say

I so enjoy reading your articles each Saturday in our local newspaper, the Abilene Reporter News. Always so uplifting and encouraging filled with truths we all need to hear and respond to. - L Brokaw

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Empty Churches and An Empty Tomb


The U.S. Surgeon General predicted that this would be the hardest and saddest week we have faced since COVID-19 reached our shores.  At the beginning of this week the death toll surpassed 10,000 and continued to climb.  Every death has a story, a life with family and friends suddenly snuffed out in a matter of days.  In Florida a couple who had been married 51 years and were in good health contracted COVID-19. Within 3 weeks the husband and wife died within 6 minutes of each other.  In Colorado a 41 year old Sheriff’s deputy picked up the virus.  He died of COVID-19 on April 1.

In New York funeral homes were struggling to process the bodies.  Morgues, cemeteries and chapels are closed.  Loved ones were being cremated and buried without funerals.  Families are left to mourn alone without the comforting presence of clergy and friends. 

In 1997 I attended a conference in Boston and stayed at the historic Omni Parker House Hotel.  With a bit of free time on my hands, I ventured outside, crossed Tremont Street and wandered into the Granary Burial Grounds, the third oldest cemetery in Boston established in 1660.  Some of America’s founding fathers are buried here: Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and five victims of the Boston massacre along with Benjamin Franklin’s parents.

As I wandered among the grave markers I was struck by the contrast.  Those gravestones that were erected in the late 1600s bore images of skulls and cross bones. They appeared stark and painful.  But in the early 1700s something changed. The images were replaced with angels and cherubim along with Scripture quotations. They radiated hope and expectations for heaven.

I wondered what happened to cause the change.  Why were those buried in the late 1600s interred beneath morbid markers while those who died in the 1730s and later had gravestones symbolizing hope of heaven?  The only explanation seemed to be the Great Awakening.

The earliest beginnings of the Great Awakening can be traced to Gilbert Tennent who founded a “Log College” In Pennsylvania in 1727 to train Presbyterian preachers.  The “Log College” was later named “Princeton.”  But it took wings in the 1730s on the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism, and George Whitefield, whose sermons were widely published by his friend, Benjamin Franklin. The Great Awakening changed the spiritual fabric of the Colonies and transformed the way people viewed death.  Death released its grim grip of despair and was replace by the hope of heaven through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is more than interesting, perhaps providential, that our generation is engaged in its greatest struggle with death at the precise moment when the world remembers the resurrection!  But this Easter will be different.  Churches will be empty. Perhaps our vacant churches will serve as a powerful reminder of another empty room where the body of Jesus was entombed 2,000 years ago.  “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. … O death where is our victory?  O death where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 55-57).  The churches may be empty but the message prevails and Jesus’ resurrection will be proclaimed this Easter more widely than ever.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Essential Connections for the C Crisis


A week ago, my wife and I went for a walk keeping our 6 foot distance from others.  Two children rode up on their bikes, a brother and sister ages 8 and 6.  They asked us to come to their house so we could play with them.  When we stopped at our daughter’s house, our granddaughter drew blue circles in the street with sidewalk chalk 6 feet apart so we could visit.   Their neighbor asked me if I had ever seen anything like the Covid-19 crisis that we are experiencing.  I said, “No, I am only 73.”

This is unique in our lifetime.  We have never seen Americans encouraged, if not ordered, to stay in their houses and isolate from their neighbors. 

Silence has settled over the earth.  Gone are the roars of the crowd from baseball stadiums in America and soccer stadiums in Europe.  Arenas stand starkly empty and quiet where amplifiers vibrated the air and tens of thousands danced and sang.  Churches are vacant, amplifiers and organs silent. Children’s laughter has vanished from playgrounds and parks, replaced by a whispering wind and an occasional bird.  Waves wash up on empty beaches closed to tourists and residents alike.

We believe a better day will come. But now we need the love of another human being, a smile, an embrace, a kiss on the cheek.   Now, more than ever, we need to know God’s love.  We have been shocked to discover how fragile our lives are, not just for the aged and infirm, but for all of us, for the entire human race.  For China, Iran, India, South Korea, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and us. This is global.  We are faced with a stark reminder that we are all human and we are all mortal.

Previous generations walked where we walk and discovered what we need to discover: that even death cannot separate us from God’s love. David wrote, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.  As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.  But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13-18).

While most of us expect to survive this crisis and look forward to resuming life as we knew it, there are thousands who will lose loved ones. Their stories are heart-rending.  Thousands are dying in isolation, their families unable to comfort them or gather for their funeral.  It took one month for the first 1,000 to die. Two days for that number to double.  I have no idea what the numbers will be when you read this. At the same time stories of kindness, thoughtfulness and sacrifice abound.

We have an opportunity to listen, to embrace God’s lovingkindness demonstrated in Scripture through the life of His Son.  We have the opportunity to emerge on the other side with appreciation for the true treasures we have taken for granted: the laughter of children playing on the playgrounds, dinner at the table with neighbors and friends, assembly in churches for worship, congregational singing, hugs and kisses.  

The whole world has been connected through common suffering and loss. We have been reminded that every single human life is important.  Every human being needs God. He will never leave us nor forsake us.  His love is everlasting.

Bill's ebooks, Authentic Disciple: Sermon on the Mount and Bold Springs, a Civil War novel are available FREE on Amazon as eBooks April 1-5, 2020.  Click images to the right.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Weathering the C Crisis Together


Last Saturday afternoon, March21, my wife and I invited a group of our neighbors to bring their lawn chairs and meet in our driveway.  Ten of us showed up and positioned our chairs 6 feet apart. (If more had come, we were prepared with a second driveway across the street). A few had met, but most did not know each other.  Our neighborhood has been typical of most suburbs. We pass each other coming and going to work, then disappear into our garages.  We occasionally see each other walking our dogs, but we rarely speak. Faces may become familiar, but we don’t know each other’s names. But this Saturday was different.  Under the ominous cloud of the coronavirus, our neighbors were hungry to meet each other, to talk and to share.

The group included a widow in her 70s, two young couples in their 20s, a couple in their 30s recently moved from Philadelphia and a couple in their late 40s, recently married and adjusting to a blended family.  My wife and I married over 50 years ago. The gathering was not somber. There was much laughter. One couple brought gifts of toilet paper with a card: “Just a little something to show that we got your back.”  But there was a serious undercurrent, not knowing what comes next. We each introduced ourselves and shared how the COVID crisis is affecting us and our families. At the end, I led the group in prayer.

We are praying for the people of the world.  We are all in this together.  The pain and suffering includes Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America.  All the nations of the earth are being affected. We are praying for the sick and the dying, and for those who have lost loved ones. We are concerned for first responders, for our medical professionals, for the elderly and the weak. We pray for students whose studies have been disrupted, whose classes have been cancelled.  We are burdened for those who are suffering economic disaster, for hourly workers, minimum wage employees, those who live week to week, who cannot pay their rent next month or afford food for their children. 

We are discovering in this crisis that the place to which we can turn is to God and to one another. We are discovering that more than big government, more than money, we need people. We need our families and we need our neighbors and we need God.  Instead of seeing a society implode in anger and frustration and chaos, we are watching people step up to stand in the gap.  We are looking for ways to encourage one another, to support each other. We want to help. 

Jesus taught us this amazing truth about human nature centuries ago when an arrogant young lawyer asked him, “Who is my neighbor?”  He replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Across the ages in every culture where the message of Christ has been told, that story has enabled people to overcome and withstand the most severe catastrophes.  Instead of “passing by on the other side,” instead of just thinking about ourselves and our own concerns, we must stop and help just one, somebody for whom we can make a difference.

One of my neighbors reminded me that often Jesus stopped to help just one. That’s what we need to do. That is what we each can do, like the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Looking for a Better Day - Lessons from Fred and Ethel

Last year two robins built their nest in the Aspen tree in front of our house.  I named them Fred and Ethel. Ethel, it appeared, was in charge.  Fred helped.  But, as with most females, the nest was hers.  Fred brought twigs and did his best, but Ethel corrected his mistakes, laid her eggs and faithfully incubated their young while Fred foraged and occasionally got distracted.

They made their appearance March 9, perched side-by-side on the fence near our deck. I don’t know where they have been.  Maybe they spent the winter in Mexico, flitting around some sunny beach, maybe Acapulco!  After all, a wall is nothing to a bird. They can literally fly right through customs, or over any man-made barrier whenever they choose. But then, again, maybe they settled for southern California, munching on grapes and black berries.

Fred greets the morning, before sunrise, with song.   Maybe Fred has been hanging out with Willie.  He seems happy to be “on the road again.”  The red-wing black birds join him, their red epaulets flashing in the sun as they fly to the grassy marsh behind our house to build their nests.  After a joyful winter foraging with friends and family in distant places, they are coming for a summer of hard work.  A nest to build, maybe two or three broods of young to repopulate the planet.

The trees are still bare-limbed and the grass is not yet green. We will likely have another snowfall or two in Colorado, but the temps are spiking into the 50s and the Aspen are starting to bud.  Fred and Ethel seem oblivious to the coronavirus, the devastated stock market, school closings, suspended athletic contests, closed concerts and shuttered cafes.  They know the sun will rise and that spring will come, so they are getting ready.  Fred and Ethel are confident a better day is yet to come. 

In the midst of our disrupted lives I find it comforting to watch the birds.  They have survived hurricanes, winter storms, attacks from predators and their own diseases.  They don’t give up. They just keep singing, and building their nests and raising their young.    Maybe we can sing while it is still dark, before the sunrise.  I like the song, 10,000 reasons … “The sun comes up, there’s a new day dawning.  It’s time to sing my song again.  Whatever may come and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.”

We are enduring one of the greatest tests of my life-time, which includes 3 quarters of a century. Fortunately the fiction writers who penned and produced the doomsday stories were wrong. When the world population is tested, as we are today, most people refuse to dissolve into chaos and selfish survival. We help one another. We care for one another.  We cheer each other on.  We pull through together, like the birds.

Though these days are difficult and confusing, spring will come. Summer will follow.  A brighter day is yet to dawn with much laughter and joy and celebration.  Like the captives who returned to Jerusalem, we will be able to say, “When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them!’” (Psalm 126:1-2).

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Finding Faith in Difficult Days


We are drowning in bad news.  The coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to spread. Many corporations are instructing employees to work remotely from home.  Colleges are shifting to online classes.  The The NBA has suspended its season.  March Madness will be played without fans in the seats.  From one case in Wuhan, China, in less than three months, it has spread throughout the globe.  All of Italy has been placed under a lock down that closes all schools and prohibits all public gatherings and suspension of religious gatherings including weddings and funerals.  Israel has imposed a 14 day quarantine on anyone entering the country.  The list is long and growing.

The Stock Market hit the skids on Monday, March 9 with a drop of more than 2,000 points.  Retirement accounts that include stock portfolios were hard hit.  People are worried. It seems like a perfect storm.

Suicides are up. The South Bend Tribune ran an article last week about the alarming rise of suicides among Midwest farmers.  More than 450 Midwestern farmers took their own lives between 2014 and 2018.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that farming is the most vulnerable occupation to suicide in the nation.  At the same time, suicide among the young has escalated. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among young Americans age 15-24.  The suicide rate for those age 10-24 rose 56% from 2010 to 2017.  In 2018 the U.S. recorded 1,400,000 suicide attempts.

Clearly something is wrong.  Many are being overwhelmed by fear.  While we must use caution and avoid unnecessary risk, we must not become paralyzed by fear. 

Our forefathers have something to teach us here.  Previous generations have survived plagues, economic crises, wars and persecution by putting their faith in God.  God alone can sustain us in the most difficult times.

The Bible is rich in reassurance regarding the ultimate source of life and hope.  “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?  My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. … The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul” (Psalm 121:1-7).

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;  we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, not depth, nor any other thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-38).

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Image and First Impressions

As the Presidential race heats up, candidates are vying for the best image and a positive first impression. But, historically, image and impressions are often deceiving.
Abraham Lincoln was called an “ape.” His voice had a Midwestern twang. He only had one year of formal education. Edwin Stanton first met him in Cincinnati in 1855.  Lincoln had been invited to assist Stanton in an important civil case. Stanton described him as a “tall, rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end.”
After Lincoln introduced himself and suggested, “Let’s go up in a gang,” Stanton decided to have nothing to do with him. He even refused to invite Lincoln to dine at his table.

Lincoln was elected president in 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote. When he delivered the Gettysburg Address, few listened. The Chicago Times panned the speech stating, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances."

Abraham Lincoln is now regarded as perhaps our greatest president. Every year millions visit his Memorial that overlooks the mall in Washington, D.C. And the speech that the Chicago Times called "silly and flat” is memorized by most students of American history. Edwin Stanton, who later served as his Secretary of War, choked through tears when Lincoln drew his final breath and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

By contrast, in an open and free election on March 29, 1936, Adolf Hitler received 98.8% of the German popular vote. His spellbinding oratory and promises mesmerized an entire generation. He was proclaimed the savior of Germany. At his peak, more than a million gathered in Nuremberg each year to praise and adore him.

 But beneath those appearances lurked a sinister ego-maniac who would exterminate approximately 20 million people including Jews, the mentally ill, the infirm and the elderly. Today, Hitler’s name is synonymous with evil. References to him have been virtually erased in Germany, except for the Document Center in Nuremberg, preserved as a reminder of the nation’s darkest days.

Describing Christ 800 years before He was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:2-4).

Public images and first impressions are often deceiving. What truly matters, for each of us as well as our leaders, is that which is within. The Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lessons From Buddy: Why God Loves Me


I started writing these faith columns in the fall of 2009.  A friend had purchased a few local newspapers and wanted a free faith column he could provide to his readers.  The distribution has grown to include newspapers in more than a dozen states.  It has received over 140,000 views online including more than 7,500 in Russia.  Its reach has exceeded anything I ever imagined.

About the time I started writing the column, my wife and I adopted a tri-color Pembroke Corgi that we named Buddy.  We found him at Corgi rescue.  He was picked up by animal control on the streets of Fort Worth, skinny and sick.  How a dog like Buddy could be lost for that long was a mystery to me until he told me his story.  I wrote it down just the way he told it to me and published it as a children’s book, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi.  

I wrote my first column about Buddy on October 29, 2009.  Each year I have sought to write at least one column about Buddy and what he is teaching me.  We have traveled many places together: Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Colorado and places in between.  We have walked hundreds of miles together.  But Buddy is growing old.  His muzzle is gray.  He can’t make long walks any more. He limps on his right front leg after a half-mile or so.  I think it is arthritis. 

Once we left him with our daughter who lived 2 miles from our house.  He escaped their backyard and tied up traffic on a busy intersection trying to make his way home.  I was on the road in Nebraska when I got the call from a stranger who rescued him from the frantic drivers who were trying to avoid hitting him.

When we went fishing Buddy sat in the front of my flat bottom boat, sniffing the wind, trying to locate the fish by smell.  He only fell in once.  We discovered Corgi’s can’t swim.  Fortunately I was able to fish him out.

Several times he went with me to sit by the graveside of my college roommate who was buried in Farmersville, Texas in 1999.  Afterward we would go for long walks in the open fields where he could run free, leaping through the long grass (as much as Corgi’s can leap).

Buddy doesn’t do any work.  He never has.  He cannot open doors, cannot carry anything or hold anything with his paws (beyond a bone or a chew toy).  He isn’t Buck like Call of the Wild. He can’t pull a sled.  But he has worked his way into our hearts just by being there, jumping in my lap when I was sad, jumping between us on the couch to make us glad,  following me from room to room, introducing me to strangers who want to pet him, playing with my grandchildren.

We love Buddy, not for what he can do for us, but just because he “is.” 

Maybe that is the way God looks at me.  I can’t do anything for God.  He doesn’t really need me, but He loves me just the same, just because He made me; just because He is and I am.  “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 1:10).  God has declared His love for me, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Beyond Religion


A young friend wrote on his facebook page, “Religion is still the opiate of the masses.”  He got some interesting responses.  One person agreed with him.  Another wrote, “It can’t be.  If it was, I would take it for recreational purposes.” Of course the statement originated with Karl Marx when he was developing the Communist Manifesto, the philosophical foundation that would eradicate religion in Russia for 75 years. When I visited Moscow and Lenin’s tomb 21 years ago, the hopeless despair left in atheism’s wake was palpable.

My first inclination, like many, is to jump to the defense of religion. But that might not be the most thoughtful response.  After all, religion killed Jesus.  The Roman government reluctantly carried out the crucifixion only after Pilate had repeatedly tried to release Jesus concluding, “I find no fault in him.”  It was the religious leaders of Jerusalem who incited the crowds and demanded Jesus be crucified.

Mankind is incurably religious.  Every culture on every continent has spawned religion.  And, more often than not, the results have not been good. 9-11 and the Twin Towers serve as a monuments to the deadly effects of Islamic Jihad.  ISIS has terrorized the world. The Hindu caste system of India consigns millions to poverty without hope.

The Christian religion can also become corrupt, self-serving and self-absorbed.  Perhaps Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, found credibility with so many because they suspect that religion can become vicious if its survival is threatened.  The mentally unstable often use religion to justify atrocities against the innocent.  We cannot forget the 909 people, including women and children, who voluntarily drank cyanide out of religious devotion to Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978.

Sometimes religion is not just an opiate, it is a poison. 

Jesus, on the other hand, makes people less selfish, more generous, fills them with hope and leads them to sacrificial efforts to help others.  Jesus transformed a little Albanian girl named Agnes into Mother Teresa who spent her life caring for the poor of Calcutta.  Faith in Jesus made William Wilberforce the leader of reform in England to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Faith in Jesus inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the book that Lincoln credited with igniting the Civil War to abolish slavery. Faith in Jesus Christ changed a backwoods playboy from North Carolina into Billy Graham who preached grace and forgiveness to millions.  Faith in Jesus catapulted Martin Luther King Jr from the backstreets of Atlanta into the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. 

The list goes on.  Jesus Christ goes beyond religion.  He transforms us into better people and the world into a better place. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Birds


I grew up in Texas, often wakened by the rasp of blue jays outside my window, frequently entertained by mockingbirds with their collection of stolen songs.  Buzzards circled in the sky.  On the ground, close up, they are hideous creatures, but high overhead, riding the wind, barely moving their wings, they looked majestic.

When we moved to Rochester, Minnesota we lived on Assissi Heights, next to the Convent that housed the nursing staff for St. Mary’s and Mayo Clinic.  I watched the Canadian geese migrating to and from the fields in their Vee formation. Sometimes they passed so low overhead I could hear the wind in their wings, not to mention their constant honking.  I later learned they can fly 70% further in formation than they can fly alone.

I camped with my sons in the Boundary Waters, a wilderness region of rivers and lakes on the Canadian border.  A bald eagle built her nest in the top of a lone tree on a rocky island less than 50 yards from our camp.  When she circled overhead the sun glistened off her white head.

We owned a beach house for a few years on Galveston Island.  I never tired watching the sea gulls balance on the wind, descending delicately to the shallow surf where they laughed and danced on stick legs. They seemed to think it was hilarious. I watched the pelicans swoop in squadrons over the breaking waves. One or more would suddenly drop in a vertical dive, splash in the surf and return to the sky with an unsuspecting fish.

In Colorado our house looks out on an open marsh.  Every spring the red-wing black birds return to build their nests in the tall grass.  And, as in Minnesota, the Canadian geese occasionally fill the sky from one horizon to the other.

In every region and every climate birds survive and thrive.  They are masters of the air, the forests, the land and the sea. No wonder Jesus encouraged us to “consider the birds.”

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26).

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in [x]hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-29).

He who cares for the birds of the air will doubtless care for you.  You are of great worth to God.   Look to the birds and listen to their song. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Viral Gospel


The world is once again is on the verge of panic over a new viral strain that threatens a global epidemic. In spite of efforts to contain it, the 2019-nCoV caronovirus continues to leap national boundaries.  In the first three weeks the infection soared from 50 in China to 17,000 in 23 countries with 425 deaths.  We must pray for those who have been affected, especially for those in China and for the families who have lost loved ones.

The power and potential of anything “going viral” is mind boggling. “Going viral” was once limited to communicable diseases, the kinds that are so easily transmitted that they can rapidly escalate into an epidemic.  In our day the term means something quite different.  With the aid of the Internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, text messaging and You Tube, what was obscure can “go viral” and become suddenly famous.

Facebook went viral in 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg and a few friends launched it from their dorm rooms at Harvard.  Today, more than one billion people use Facebook.  It boasted a market cap in 2019 of over $500 billion and has become one of the most powerful tools on the Internet to catapult others into the “viral” stratosphere.

The Swedish teenage climate activist, Greta Thornberg, was catapulted to fame after she posted her first protest as a 15-year-old on Instagram and twitter. Within a week she gained international attention.  Her actions went viral on Facebook and other media and in December 2019 Time named her the youngest ever “Person of the Year.”

“Going viral” appears to be a twenty-first century phenomenon. But is it? 

History documents that the Gospel went viral following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  There was no media campaign.  There were no reporters, no cameras, no photo ops, no internet, no Facebook.  But somehow, Jesus impacted and changed the world.  Growing up in the obscure and infamous village of Nazareth, Jesus’ public ministry lasted only three years.  He walked wherever he went and never traveled more than one hundred miles from his birth place. When He was crucified, there were no papers to report it, no news teams to film it. But the news spread around the world and is continuing to spread today.  It did so by “going viral.” 
Paul spoke of.”the gospel which has come to you, just as  in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.”  (Colossians1:6). And again, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” 2 Cor 4:15, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8).
When the Gospel goes viral, it requires more than posting a few sentences or a video clip on the intenet, more than “clicking” and forwarding information.  The Kingdom of God goes viral when lives are transformed by faith in Jesus Christ so that society is saturated with honesty, integrity, justice and generosity.  Changed lives change the lives of those around them. The Gospel has gone viral in previous generations.  It could “go viral” in ours.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Doomsday


Last week the Doomsday Clock was moved to 100 seconds to midnight.  Created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 1947 following WW II and the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. the hypothetical clock measures how close the scientists estimate the human race is to global catastrophe and potential annihilation.  Across the years the “clock” has varied from 17 minutes to midnight to 2.  Its original setting was 7 minutes to midnight and has been adjusted backward and forward 23 times.  This is the first time it has been moved closer than 2 minutes to midnight.

The scientists cited three primary reasons for moving the clock to 1 minute and 40 seconds to midnight: (1)the rising threat of a nuclear blunder (collapse of the Iran nuclear agreement, reemergence of North Korean threats and buildup of nuclear weapons in Russia, China and the U.S.), (2) climate change; and (3) disinformation.  No one knows what to believe anymore. According to Robert Latiff, retired Air Force major general and fellow at the University of Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, “We have a witch’s brew of ingredients for global conflict.” 

Like generations of old, we are prone to turn a deaf ear to doomsday prophecies.  It was so in the days of Jeremiah and Amos, who warned of impending disaster.  We don’t like bad news. We prefer to live our lives undisturbed and dismiss dire warnings.

As in the days of Jeremiah and Amos, the solutions are ethical.  Amos proclaimed, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  Jeremiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

The more we embrace prejudice, tolerate injustice, practice deception and turn a blind eye to corruption, the closer the clock ticks toward “midnight” and humanity’s final hour.  When we promote understanding, conduct ourselves with compassion, practice honesty, generosity and truthfulness, the world becomes a safer place.

So, what should we do?  We must hold our leaders accountable and we must pray for them to establish peace in a world of unimaginable weapons of destruction.  We are all stewards of the earth and our environment. Space exploration has made us more aware of how remarkable and fragile our planet really is.  We must all be committed to the truth, to tell the truth and to discern the truth. 

While the Bible is clear that the earth will eventually pass away to be succeeded by a new heaven and a new earth, we are admonished by Jesus  to pray that “His Kingdom would come and His will be done on earth (today) as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Secrets


You would think that we would have learned our lesson about secrets.  President Nixon and “all the President’s men” thought that they could get away with it.  But every word uttered in the oval office found its way into print and into the public.  The Watergate tapes ripped the mask off the public image of politics and left an entire generation disillusioned.

Twenty years later, Bill Clinton assumed that what he did in private would remain secret. But what happened with Monica Lewinsky behind closed doors became public record resulting in the second Presidential impeachment in history.  In his autobiography Clinton confessed, “The question of secrets is one I have thought a lot about over the years.  … Secrets can be an awful burden to bear, especially if some sense of shame is attached to them … Of course, I didn’t begin to understand all this back when I became a secret-keeper.  …I was always reluctant to discuss with anyone the most difficult parts of my personal life.”

The Wikileaks secrets were first released in 2010. Most of the documents appeared to be trivial and petty.  Some of them serious.  All of it stemmed from words written and spoken in secret places that the participants never dreamed would be read or heard by anyone else.  But what was said in private is now public.

Edward Snowden released classified National Security Documents to the mainstream media in 2013. Facing possible prosecution in the United States, he continues to live in Russia.

Jesus warned us that our secrets would become public.  He said, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” And again, He said, “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.”

Our conduct in secret is the most important part of our life.  Jesus constantly encouraged his followers to focus on what they did in secret.  “When you pray,” He said, “go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” And, “when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Jesus taught that those who say and do things privately that they do not want others to know about are like cups that are only washed on the outside.  A slimy green scum continues to grow on the inside.  He compared people who keep up a public image that is not consistent with their secret conduct to marble tombs in graveyards. They appear whitewashed and clean on the outside, but inside they are filled with rotting flesh and decayed bones. . (Matthew 23:26-28).

When you do what is right in private, what is seen in public will take care of itself. The most important part of your life is the secret part.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Who Is Jesus?


He is the most controversial person who ever lived.  His own family thought him mad.  The people loved him. One of his closest friends betrayed him.  The Jewish court convicted him of heresy.  The Romans killed him. He never earned a degree and had no formal schooling.  He was never elected to office.  He never wrote a book. When he died he owned nothing beyond the clothes on his back. But, within three centuries of his death, the entire Roman Empire worshipped him.

More books have been written about him than any other individual who has ever lived.  Entire libraries have been devoted to understanding his life and his teaching.  He changed the course of western civilization and, today, two thousand years since he was born, millions are turning to him in Africa and Asia and South America. Who is Jesus?
 Leo Tolstoy, arguably the greatest Russian novelist spent much of his life wrestling with the teachings of Jesus.  In his later years he wrote The Kingdom of God is Within You, an attempt to implement the teachings of Jesus.

  When Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home was bombed in 1956, he stepped out on the front porch to quiet an angry crowd that threatened to do battle with the police.  He said, “
"We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: 'Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.' This is what we must live by.

Jesus remains popular in the United States.  A Barna Group survey concluded that two out of three Americans claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus "that is currently active and influences their life."  But who is the Jesus whom two thirds of Americans claim to know?

In his book, Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos creates a fictional story in which Jesus is seen according to the image of the beholder.  In so doing, he introduces “King James Jesus,” “Magic 8-ball Jesus,” “Testosterone Jesus,” “Free Will Jesus,”  “New Age Jesus,” and “Meticulous Jesus.”  Which leaves us asking again, “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus was the first person to pose this question.  When His popularity was growing so that thousands thronged to see and hear him, He took his twelve disciples aside and asked them the question, “Whom do men say that I am?”  The disciples looked at one another and began repeating what they had heard others say. “Some say you are John the Baptist,” they said.  “Others say you are Elijah. And still others say you are one of the prophets.”  After hearing their response Jesus put the question to them more personally.  “Who do you say I am?”  In both accounts, Peter was the one who spoke first.  “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”  Peter’s confession was confirmed when Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to His followers for more than forty days with many convincing proofs. (Acts 1:3).

When Jesus asked the question, He was looking for more than a confession, a creed or mental assent from his followers.  If they believed in Him, Jesus expected them to put their faith into action.  Elsewhere he said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I say.”  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Perhaps the most important questions any of us will face in this life are, “Who is Jesus?” and, “Am I doing what He said?”

Monday, January 6, 2020

A Healthy Heart


We have adopted our New Year’s resolutions, and many of us are focused on a “healthy heart.”  It apparently is making a difference.  According to the American Heart Association, “The epidemic increase in heart disease mortality ended in the 1960s or 1970s.” Deaths from heart disease have fallen dramatically over the last 50 years. Heart-healthy alternatives are produced in almost every food category. Restaurants include heart-healthy menus. Smoking has been banned in most public places. Physicians and non-profits promote diet-and-exercise.

I first read Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book, Aerobics, in 1982. It was a groundbreaking book that opened the eyes of millions to the benefits of aerobic exercise and healthy diet for a healthy heart. When I visited Brazil I was fascinated to find hundreds of Brazilians walking and jogging every morning to get in their “Cooper.” The doctor’s name had found its way into Portuguese as a synonym for heart-healthy aerobic exercise.

As important as it is to maintain a healthy heart physically, it is even more important for us to develop a healthy heart spiritually. The Bible clearly sets forth the disciplines and characteristics of a healthy spiritual heart. They include gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. If we discipline ourselves to be grateful every day for what God has done, if we hope when things look hopeless, if we forgive those who injure us, if we love our enemies instead of just loving those who love us, we will have a healthy heart.

But, like our physical heart, having a spiritually healthy heart requires more than knowledge. We may know that we need to be grateful, hopeful, forgiving and loving. But how do you create heartfelt gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love?

In the spiritual realm, this requires a spiritual heart transplant. God has to create a new heart within us, something that He is more than willing to do. We are all born with spiritual heart disease. Jeremiah says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). But later he writes, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God.” (Jer. 24:7). And in Ezekiel He says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh.” (Ez. 36:26).

God sent His son Jesus so that He might create in us a healthy heart that is full of gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. He changes the heart that has grown callous, bitter and resentful into one that overflows in gratitude. Someday our physical heart will beat its last beat and our bodies will die. But the spiritually healthy heart that God creates will live forever.