What Others Say

am writing you this on behalf of my Mother, She is 88 years old and almost completely home-bound now. She sits at home every day and watches a lot of news on TV and says she finds it very discouraging and depressing. She says that she really needed this devotion you wrote in the Sunday, Sept 7, column in the Lufkin Daily News and wanted you to know it was excellent, timely and relevant. She cut it out and reads it over and over.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Master Potter


A few miles north of Waco, Texas on the east banks of the Brazos River sits the Homestead Heritage, an agrarian Christian community committed to preserving nineteenth century craftsmanship.  The community offers shops where visitors can observe “artistry-in-action” complete with a pottery barn, blacksmith forge, grist mill and a carpentry shop.  George and Laura Bush commissioned the Homestead to construct and furnish their house at the Crawford Ranch.

When we visited the pottery shop, I marveled at the talent of those who worked there. The artists applied water and shaped the clay spinning on the potter’s wheel in front of them. With nimble fingers and just the right amount of pressure, they brought the clay to life and shaped it into the form they desired.

Pottery is an ancient art.  For thousands of years the trade was passed down from generation to generation in cultures around the world.  Communities developed around clay deposits in India, China and the Middle East.  Archeologists continue to excavate pottery from the earliest sites of civilization.

Jeremiah must have marveled, as I did, when he visited a potter’s house in ancient Jerusalem.  When he watched the clay spin upon the wheel, he saw the potter’s ability to change the shape of the clay in an instant.  He sensed God speaking to him, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6). 

Isaiah made a similar observation. “Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay?
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?” (Isaiah 29:16).

God has made each of us unique.  We are, each and every one of us, special in His sight.  He never abandons us or gives up on us.  Like the clay, we continue to be molded in His hands.   With every pressure, whether success or failure, joy or sorrow. God is fashioning us for His purposes so that we can reflect His glory, bless others and be filled with joy. He wants us to love ourselves and one another just the way He made us.

This is what Paul meant when he said, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love the Lord, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).  All things work together for good when we realize the Master Potter is shaping us for His purposes on the earth.

“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,  Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Monday, November 11, 2019

Little Acts of Kindness


Sully Sullenberger, the captain who skillfully landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, has become a household name.  After striking a flock of geese that disabled the engines, Sullenberger flew the plane like a giant glider and landed safely on the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 people on board.  For thirty years Sullenberger flew airplanes in an uneventful career.  This one act made him a national hero.

Most don’t remember the heroic act of a French tourist who plunged into the river to save a two-year-old child. When Julien Duret saw Bridget Sheridan slip through the guard rail and fall into the East River, he did not hesitate.  He immediately jumped into the river to save her. Later, amid all the commotion, he took a taxi and disappeared without waiting to be thanked. Like most heroes, he did not consider himself heroic.

 Few of us will be given such significant opportunities to perform heroic feats that make the news.  And even if the heroic opportunity were given to us, we might miss it. 

Celebrated heroic actions make a difference.  They burst upon us like a torrential downpour that sweeps us off our feet. But it is the little known acts of kindness that often make the greatest difference.  They are like the raindrops that pool into fresh water lakes and nourish the earth.  

Jesus recognized the importance of heroic and sacrificial actions.  He said, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend.”  Of course, this is what He did when He went to the cross and laid his life down for us. But He also taught the importance of little acts of kindness.  In fact, it might very well be that the little acts of kindness we choose to do every day have a far greater impact in transforming the world than a few famous acts of heroism.

All of us have opportunity every day to perform little acts of kindness.  We all have opportunity to let someone else in line before us, to hold a door open for a stranger, to speak a kind and encouraging word to the cashier who wearily scans countless items at the checkout counter.  We can all be kind to a waitress who works for a minimum wage to support her child, or a student working nights to pay for college. 

A friend recently recounted his visit to Arby’s.  Completing a cell phone call, he watched from his car as a large woman frantically searched the back seat of her car. He asked if there was a problem. She told him she had a roll of quarters she was going to use to buy lunch, but she could not find them.  He pulled out a $10 bill and asked, “Will this help?”  She refused.  He insisted.  Inside he stood behind the rattled woman as she thanked him profusely.  She said, “God sent you, you know.”   When the cashier delivered his order she said, “The manager was watching and he went ahead and gave you a free sandwich.” 

Little acts of kindness add up. All put together, they can change the world. Jesus said, “In that you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

Monday, November 4, 2019

When I'm 64


Paul McCartney wrote the song, “When I’m 64” at the age of 16 and later recorded it in 1966.  I have listened to it most of my life. I remember reciting the lyrics in my youth, thinking of the inconceivably ancient age of sixty-four. I assumed by then I would be in a nursing home or dead. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” Well, I blew past 64 years ago and, strangely, I don’t feel old or anywhere near incapacitated.

Every year I spend several days with some of my childhood friends. Several of us were in first grade together in1953 and graduated high school together in 1965, one year before McCartney recorded his song.  We have the photos to prove it. While we don’t feel old, and still think of ourselves as we once were in our youth, others apparently think we are old. When we went out to a restaurant together for dinner, the owner took pity on us and gave us a free dessert.

But, I realize something when I am with my childhood friends. I realize we are all still on the journey. We started this journey together as children in post-World War II. We were the first baby boomers. We didn’t know what that meant. We just knew there were lots of us. We have journeyed through the Sixties, Viet Nam, Flower Power, the Moon landing, Watergate, Floppy Disks, the World Wide Web, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Desert Storm, the Dot Com Bust, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Great Recession.

Our individual journeys have taken different turns and twists. A couple entered the military graduating from West Point and the Air Force Academy, one became a physician, two entered business, one became an educator, one became an Episcopal priest, another a Baptist minister.  We have different political, economic and religious opinions. But we are still together on the journey.

It reminds me of the words Jesus first spoke to his followers. “Come and follow me.” God always invites us to a journey. His invitation is to all of us and His invitation is life-long. The journey never stops. It has valleys and mountaintops. It leads through sorrow and celebration. It encompasses wonder, worship and war. It includes pain, poverty and prosperity.

Now that I am past 64, the age our generation has sung about since we were young, I am grateful for the journey. I am grateful for the companions God has given me to travel with.  And I am grateful for Jesus who invited me to follow Him when I was young and still leads me when I am old.

“You have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb.  Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it and I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:3-4).

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Secret of a Successful Marriage


The University of Georgia conducted a study some time ago to discover the secret to a successful marriage.  The study discovered one primary factor in marriages that were health and happy.  In every case, those marriages included gratitude.  According to their findings, gratitude was the “most consistent significant predictor” of a happy marriage.

Allen Barton, lead author of the study, said, “It goes to show the power of ‘thank you.’” Associate professor and study co-author Ted Futris stated, “Feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last.”

Each bride and groom stands at the marriage altar beaming with gratitude for the “love of their life.” And, it is easy to remain thankful for each other as long as things go well. 

But all married couples will face difficult demands. Hard times will come. Many will experience financial stress, competing demands from in-laws, professional pressure from their jobs, exhausting schedules that leave little time for rest. Most will experience the stress of parenting: sleepless nights with newborns, the constant attention required by preschoolers and the complicated schedules of school, sports and activities as children grow.

It is especially during these stressful periods of life that gratitude matters.  Many marriages crumble under the pressure, choosing to play the “blame-game”, creating a downward spiral that ends in disaster.  Others choose gratitude, building one another up with appreciation and thankfulness under trying circumstances.  These marriages prosper and survive.  According to Allen Barton, “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes."

What Barton and Futris found regarding marriage can also apply to the family.  Strong families are created when parents express gratitude to their children and children are grateful to their parents. Gratitude in the family starts with the marriage.  Children learn to be grateful by watching their parents. 

Nothing cultivates a heart of gratitude better than faith in Christ. When we experience God’s love in Christ, we become more thankful for others.  In Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15). 

And again, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7).  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

We all enjoy being around people who are grateful and thankful. They cheer us up. They give us energy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Space 2.0


I have been fascinated with space exploration ever since my middle school science class watched John Glenn launch into orbit on a black and white TV in 1962.  In high school I corresponded with our congressman Olin Teague, who became chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. He sent me a 1,000+ page tome of the NASA space program in 1964.  Apollo 8 launched on our wedding day, December 21, 1968.  Three days later we listened to the crew read the Genesis account as they orbited the moon.

I have long wondered what went wrong, why we have not returned to the moon in the last half-century.  I expected by this time we would be living in a world best described by Arthur C. Clarke in 2001 A Space Odyssey or 2010 The Year We make Contact.  Space 2.0 helps put all that in perspective.

A few weeks ago, Stan Rosen, one of my high school classmates, gave me a copy of Space 2.0. The book summarizes the history of space exploration, its current status and projections for future development. Written by Rod Pyle with a Foreword by Buzz Aldrin, the book is dedicated to Stan.

We are apparently on the cusp of an explosion in space exploration, including a burgeoning space economy with private enterprise as a major player in developing infrastructure and innovation.  Unlike Space 1.0 (the moon landing Space Shuttle and the International Space Station), the next chapter of space exploration will be driven by entrepreneurs and investors like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Space Angels. Some are well on their way.

So, as a people of faith, how do we respond to this unprecedented moment in time?

Pyle writes, “It is instructive to listen to what some of the people who have traveled to space have to say.  Their viewpoints are unique– and are often formed by seeing Earth from space, a vantage point referred to as the ‘overview effect.’  This phenomenon was identified by Stan Rosen in 1976 …  The resulting impulse prompts the astronauts to share their feelings about the fragility of the earth, the pettiness of human conflict, and the need to work cooperatively for the betterment of all humanity.” 

Apollo 8’s reading from Genesis on our first foray beyond earth’s gravity is symbolic, if not prophetic.  We carry our faith with us into the heavens.  Since God is the creator of it all He knows the farthest star and all the planets, asteroids and comets in between.  The further we probe, the greater the mysteries we find and the more we stand in awe. It seems to me God would want us to explore the heavens with vision, creativity and humility. He designed us for this. 


“He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” (Psalms 147:4-5).

Monday, October 14, 2019

What's In It For Me?


October baseball is here.  Major League teams have played 162 games over six months for this moment.  Stadiums are packed with hopeful fans. As I write the Yankees and Astros are battling it out for the American League pennant and the right to meet either Washington or St. Louis in the World Series. There is nothing quite like baseball.

The 1989 movie, Field of Dreams is rated number five among the favorite baseball movies of all time. In the story, Ray Kinsella responds to a “voice” that urges him to build a baseball diamond, complete with lights, in the middle of his Iowa corn field.  After doing everything the “voice” commands him to do, Ray is stunned to see Shoeless Joe Jackson and some of the greats of the game emerge from his cornfield to play the game as they did in their youth.

The story climaxes with an invitation from Shoeless Joe to join them in the cornfield, a dimension beyond the edges of this world. But Ray, who has risked everything to build the field, is not invited. Instead, Jackson invites the cynical 1960s writer, Terrence Mann.  Ray explodes in a fit of frustration demanding, “What’s in it for me?”  To which Shoeless Joe asks, “Is that why you did this Ray, for what’s in it for you?”
                                                          
It is a good question.  According to experts in marketing, it is the question we all ask when we consider purchasing any product or joining any organization. In our age of seeker-sensitive churches, it seems to be the dominant question asked by anyone considering a church. “What’s in it for me?” But, is it the right question?

When Jesus invited Peter, James and John to leave their home, their families and their boats, I wonder how He would have responded if they had asked, “What’s in it for me?” Perhaps He would have responded as He did when the young man with great possessions refused to give up his wealth.  How much do we miss of what God has for us because we are so focused on “What’s in it for me?”
Jesus’ invitation to join Him on life’s eternal journey sounds strangely different than our twenty-first century marketing plans.  Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25). 

Perhaps what is “in it” for us is the same thing that was “in it” for Jesus: the pleasure that comes from obedience to the Father. “My food,” Jesus said, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John  4:34).  When the Apostle Paul reached the end of his journey, he measured it in this way, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” (2 Timothy 4:7). “I did not prove disobedient to the Heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19).

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

I Want the Best For You


A year ago Amber Guyger returned to her apartment after a long day as a Dallas police officer to find what she thought was a intruder in her home. She drew her gun and fired, killing a young black man, 26-year-old Botham Jean.  Only it wasn’t her home. The apartment she entered was one floor directly above her own and the man she killed was her neighbor, at home eating a bowl of ice cream.

Amber, who is white, was fired from the Dallas Police force.  It has taken a year for the trial to work its way through the courts.  Last Tuesday, October 1, the jury unanimously found Amber Guyger guilty of murder.  She was sentenced to 10 years in prison without possibility of parole.  Many celebrated the fact that a police officer was held accountable for killing an unarmed and innocent young black man.  Mr. Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, raised her hands and cried “God is good.”  Others were jubilant.

But the courtroom was stunned when the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, asked permission to speak.  Nervously tugging at his collar, Brandt looked at Ms. Guyger and said, “I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And, I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail.  I want the best for you. Because, that is exactly what Botham would want you to do.  And the best is to give your life to Christ.” He paused, wiped his eyes and spoke to the judge. “I don’t know if this is possible, but, can I give her a hug?” The judge consented.

Brandt Jean met his brother’s killer in front of the judge’s bench.  He said to her, “If you are truly sorry, I know … I speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, He will forgive you.”  They embraced one another as they wept.

The courtroom that a few minutes before was jubilant with vengeance fell silent except for the sound of people sobbing.  Even the judge wiped her eyes. And, once the court room was cleared, embraced Guyger and gave her a Bible. None of this, of course, changes anything in terms of the verdict and the sentence that Amber Guyger will serve. But it changes everything in the matters for the heart. 

The scene was replayed repeatedly on the national media.  It ignited conversations on network talk shows.  People began discussing the power of Divine forgiveness.  A glimmer of light flickered on the national stage that perhaps our conversation could change from prejudice, vengeance, resentment and rage to acceptance, forgiveness and love. 

Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14).  When Peter asked Him, “’Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other jus as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus gave us the supreme example when he hung upon the Cross, blood dripping from his wounds, surrounded by violent men who cursed Him and spat upon Him.  He lifted His eyes to heaven and prayed, "’Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).