What Others Say

Thank you for writing the article in Saturday's edition of New Castle News. It was very good and very interesting. You bring it all to light, making everything very simple and easy to understand. - Kathy L. - New Castle, Pennsylvania

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What Does God Want?

 

When I listen to myself pray, and when I listen to others pray, it seems that most of what we say to God revolves around what we want.  Sometimes our lists are heart-rending.  We desire healing from a deadly disease, comfort from the loss of someone we love, a job and a paycheck. More often, our prayers are day-to-day: a passing grade on the exam, strength to get through another day at work, safe travel.  Sometimes they are trivial:  a victory on the football field, our favorite team in the playoffs.  Most of our prayers are filled with the things that we want God to do for us.

 But sometimes I wonder, what does God want?

 Maybe he wants a great cathedral constructed in His honor, a building that rises out of the concrete and towers over the city with majestic spires and stained glass windows. Perhaps he wants a more modern structure that resembles the headquarters of a major corporation or a shopping mall. Something designed to make a statement to the world that God is important.

 Maybe He wants music. Perhaps God wants classical music like Ode to Joy, or Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.  Or, maybe he prefers contemporary music: amplifiers, electric guitars, drums, drums and more drums.  Maybe God prefers Blue Grass or Country.  Who knows?  I sometimes wonder what we will sing in Heaven.

 Maybe God likes His own sounds: thunder in the heavens, the whisper of wind in the wings of a bird, echoes in a canyon, a babbling brook or the powerful rush of Niagara Falls.

 The Bible gives some pretty good clues about what God wants. 

 In Isaiah’s day, God made it clear that He was fed up with efforts to impress Him with religious behavior. He said, “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts?

Bring your worthless offerings no longer. … Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson,
they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:12-18).

 When I think about how I feel as a parent, this makes perfect sense.  I am happiest as a parent when my children are together, when I hear them laughing, when they enjoy one another and go out of their way to help each other.  Of course, I want them to love me.  But somehow I feel like they love me best when they are loving each other.

 Many people assume that God measures our love for Him by how religious we become.  But John set us straight when he wrote, “One who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  (1 John 4:20).

 The bottom line is this:  God wants us to get along with each other.  He wants people to be kind to each other, to do good things and help each other. Jesus said,  “If you love me you will keep my commandments.  … This is my commandment.  That you love one another, just as I have loved you.”  (John 14:15; 15:12).

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Jesus Communities During Covid

We have been dodging the Caronavirus for more than six months.  In the early days, when we first came to grips with the pandemic sweeping our world, we literally shut down our cities and our neighborhoods.  At first, we hunkered in our houses refusing to venture outside except for the bare necessities.  Some stood in line for toilet paper.  Our brave grocery store staff continued to work, stocking shelves, cheerfully shuttling grocery orders to the parking lots where they loaded food into the trunk of our car.  Drive-through and fast-food restaurants remained open with masks and gloves.  Other “essential services” kept us afloat. Churches closed their doors and learned to stream on Facebook and the Web.  We zoomed in until we were zoomed out.

 For the last month or more, we have been cautiously re-opening and re-connecting.  Restaurants have learned how to isolate and distance their tables.  Wait staff have learned how to “smile through a mask.”  Outside dining has been expanded into sidewalks and streets.  Shops are re-opening. Masked students are re-entering classrooms.  We are even starting to move about the country, albeit cautiously and slowly.

 Churches have started to re-convene, attempting to refrain from impulsive hugs and handshakes that are integral to Christian fellowship.  Some, who have the option, are choosing to meet inside, scattered six feet apart among empty chairs and open pews.  Others are meeting in the open air as long as weather permits.

 Since my wife and I are in the high-risk group, we have chosen the open-air option for worship, taking advantage of the opportunity to visit different churches that are meeting in open space.  We take our folding chairs, look for shade, or open an umbrella against the sun’s rays and find a space at least six feet apart from other families.  I have found my heart warmed by these “Jesus communities,” as I like to call them, gathering in parks, parking lots and open spaces for worship.  I love to see small children running barefoot through the grass; families gathered in the shade where children play on blankets while their parents sing songs of praise and the preacher preaches.

 It reminds me of the first century when Jesus walked in Galilee and people sought him in the open fields, when churches sprang up without buildings and places to meet.  Surely God is up to something through all the global suffering, heartache and struggle in 2020.  Surely, He wants to draw us to Himself for comfort, encouragement, healing and a reminder that we are all his children.  We were all created in His image and His greatest desire is that we love one another regardless of our racial, cultural or national differences. 

 As the Scripture says, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward one another that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:5-7).

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Labor Day 2020


This weekend is Labor Day.  The scorching heat of summer has broken. The air is light with the first hint of fall.  The lakes are still warm enough to ski and the fishing is good. As usual, friends and family will gather in parks for volleyball, football and frisbees while hamburgers sizzle on the grill. 

But the pandemic has changed things.  School classrooms and hallways that normally burst with energy at this time of year host students nervously muted with masks. Some schools remain empty and closed.  Early mornings that normally echo with the thud and smack of football practice  and the distant rhythm of marching bands remain eerily silent.  In many places “Friday night lights” are dark.  Stadiums should be packed with fans cheering their teams on to the World Series and kick off for the NFL.  But this year they remain empty.   

All of this makes Labor Day even more significant.  The laborers and minimum wage workers are the heroes. They are the ones who are carrying us through this dark valley. On this weekend, we celebrate those who have kept our grocery stores open with shelves stocked, those who deliver our drive-through and carry-out orders along with restaurant staff who prepare and serve us at distanced tables.  We honor the postal workers who deliver our packages and mail, the first responders and hospital staff who care for the sick.  Most of the time we fawn over celebrities.  But on this day, the common worker takes the stage. And, in 2020 we recognize their essential importance.

On Labor Day I think of my father, a blue collar worker who started out trimming grass around telephone poles and worked thirty-five years for Bell Telephone before his death at age 53.  His example of honesty, generosity and hard work inspired me.  I think of Jesus, who chose to spend most of his adult life working in a simple carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.  Jesus elevated the role of laborers and craftsmen for eternity.

This year many are being forced to take jobs that are not their first choice.  Some who trained and studied for years to launch a professional career are accepting jobs that differ from their dreams.  It is important that whatever job we find that we give our best.  The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Many Americans are discovering, after decades dominated by greed and materialism, that the value of labor is never truly measured in monetary return.  The way we choose to invest the labor of our minds, our hands, our hearts and our energy will produce fulfillment when the object is not our own self gratification but the service of others. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Good Morning!


 In various languages and cultures all over the world, we greet each other every morning with a simple but profound greeting: Guten morgen. buenos dias, bon dia, buongiorno. selamat pagi. dobroe utro.“Good morning!” It is best spoken with eye contact and a smile.  This year it is often muffled behind a mask. But, in this of all years, it is even more important, a social “contract” we must not lose.

It is a way of acknowledging our common existence and bestowing upon others our best wishes for their welfare. We share the greeting on the beach, in the park, on busy city streets, in the workplace and the home. I have exchanged this familiar greeting with others in Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt and Brazil.

One morning I strolled along the seawall in Galveston at sunrise and was greeted by others who were walking, jogging or simply watching the sun rise. They were old and young, men and women, white, brown and black. Their simple “good morning” seemed to say, “I recognize your humanity, that you exist and you are here. Although I do not know you and will likely never see you again, we occupy together this passing moment in time when the sun is rising over the sea.”


We shared the sun’s red glow among the gray clouds and the rippled red reflection on the waves that lapped against the sand where sea gulls waddled on spindly stick legs. We filled our lungs with the cool morning air, awake and alive to a new day and greeted one another, “Good morning.”

All creation celebrates the dawning of a new day. The birds, it seems, do it best. I have often watched their mystic ritual at the dawn of day. They seem to be surprised every morning, as if they wondered if the sun would rise again. When it does, they are delirious with joy. In the forests, a single bird chirps the first signal of the graying dawn, awakening another, and another, until by the time the flaming ball of fire rises in the east they have joined their songs in a chorus of celebration.

It is much the same way with God who greets us at sunrise, a moment when God seems to make eye contact with us and smile, affirming His pleasure in having created us and having given us life. That is why David says, “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Ps 5:3). “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.(Ps. 90:14). And again, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Ps 143:8).

Good Morning!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Stories That Save Us


When our children were growing up, we read to them.  All children, it seems, love books. Of course they love video games, iPhones and iPads, but there is something about turning pages and touching pictures in a book. How else can you “pat the bunny?”  Our children memorized many of the stories long before they could read: Goodnight Moon, Little Engine That Could, Snowy Day, Corduroy, Bible Stories for Little Eyes. If I went “off story” and made up my own lines, they knew it. And corrected me.



When we put our granddaughters to bed, who are 9 and 7, they always want us to tell them a story of when we were growing up.  Stories are the stuff of life.  The best stories are told outside on summer evenings while fireflies flicker in the gathering dusk.  Children listen to adults who reminisce with laughter and tears. When my wife and her sister get together, they stay up through most of the night retelling stories of their youth. Sometimes we find them there in the morning where they fell asleep.

                                                                                            

We inherited storytelling from our ancestors. Pioneers forging their way west told stories when they gathered around campfires. Old men related stories on the porch where they swayed in rocking chairs and whittled shapeless sticks. Whole families told stories when they gathered in the summer shade to shell peas. These story telling moments shaped their lives and future generations.  



In the last century Hollywood became our primary source for stories. But sometimes Hollywood and history got things mixed up. A few years ago we visited Philadelphia and encountered a group of high school students who were gazing at Independence Hall.  One of them pointed to the clock tower and exclaimed to another, “Look!  That’s where they hid the map!” 



Even Hollywood has been shut down by the pandemic.  Movie sets and movie crews are idle.  The re-runs on Netflix are getting a bit boring and some families are rediscovering the magic of telling stories.   



With many churches forced to rely on streaming and almost all having suspended children’s classes, parents have an opportunity to step into the gap, to read books and tell stories to their children. Imagine the power of reciting and reading once again the stories about Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah and the flood, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Exodus, Ruth and Boaz, David, Elijah, Jonah and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?



Much of the anxiety and despair that has afflicted our nation may be due to our neglect of the stories of our heritage that give us value and meaning.  The Bible says, “I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. ... so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:2-7).

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Growing Old With Buddy


I recently stumbled across an old prayer:  “Lord, help me to be the man my dog thinks I am.” Anyone who has a dog will understand that prayer.  It took almost a year for me to convince my wife I should have a dog.  We had dogs when we were raising the kids, but they weren’t my dog.  They belonged to the kids and the family.  After the kids grew up, I decided I wanted my own dog, and she finally gave in, as long as I promised to take care of him. She grew to love him as much as I do and makes sure he is cared for.

 My dog’s name is Buddy, a tri-color corgi who has been with me most of his life.  We adopted him twelve years ago from Corgi rescue.  He had been picked up off the streets, skinny, sick and lost.  We bonded.  He wants to be wherever I am and go wherever I go.  I usually get up about 5:30 in the morning, brew a cup of coffee and go outside on our deck to watch the sunrise, meditate and pray.  Buddy goes with me. He sits nearby, sniffs the air and thinks his “dog” thoughts.

 After breakfast Buddy goes to my office, finds his spot under my desk, and starts the day’s work, napping while I write.  If I go downstairs to watch a ball game (now that they are playing baseball again), Buddy stands at the top of the stairs and waits to be invited.  If I don’t invite him, he eventually comes anyway.

 We used to go on long walks every day, usually two miles.  We have had several routes which he marked on trees, fire hydrants and bushes. He always checked for “pee-mail” left by other dogs.  About a year ago, Buddy developed arthritis in his right front leg.  Walks of a half-mile or more leave him limping.  Sometimes he cannot put weight on the leg for a day or more. So, we don’t take walks any more.  Still, the vet says he is a “healthy geriatric.”  My grandchildren who are 9,7and 3 calculated his age in “dog years” and informed me that he is now 90 years old.  By that measure, I told them, I must be 490.

 Buddy apparently thinks a lot of me, even when I don’t think much of myself. When I return from a trip, he is beside himself. He whimpers, dances and barks like a puppy, overjoyed to see me.  When I am in a foul mood, he isn’t.  He just waits for me to feel better.  Once, when I was overcome with grief, he jumped into my lap to comfort me.

 Across the years Buddy has taught me many lessons.  Patience, forgiveness, trust, acceptance.  Now he is teaching me how to grow old. Buddy never complains, has no regrets, wakes up happy to greet the morning.

I am reminded of God’s promise.  “Listen to me …  you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.  Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I  have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:3-5).   “Bless the Lord O my soul … who satisfies your years with good things so that your youth is renewed as the eagle”  (Psalm 103:1-5).

Bill Tinsley's children's book about Buddy is available on Amazon.  Click the image to the right. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Risk Tolerance


Investors talk about “risk” and “risk tolerance.”  A few years ago, even the most conservative of investors could expect to receive a return of 5% percent, or more, by simply placing their money in CDs or savings accounts.  But times have changed.  Those kinds of risk free investments have disappeared. Savings Accounts usually earn fractions of a percent.  Certificates of Deposit do little better.      

Those who want to invest for the future, including retirement funds, are left with higher risk options.  But for many of us, risk leaves our stomachs queasy.  Our introduction to 2020 has been gut wrenching.  The Dow Jones industrial average recorded its worst ever loss in March, with many economists predicting the “greatest depression” in history.  But a massive $3 trillion infusion of money by the government created an immediate rebound.  The stock market, since that time, seems disconnected from the economic indicators.

Stocks, investments and economics have always confused me. I have never been able to figure it out.  I guess that is why I find Jesus’ story in Luke 19 confusing.  He told of a wealthy owner who left his servants in charge of his money while he was gone.  To each he gave the same amount.  Let’s say he gave each $1,000.  When he returned one servant had invested and multiplied the $1,000 into $10,000.  Another had invested and multiplied it into $5,000.  But the third was afraid of losing the $1,000.  Maybe he wrapped it in some newspaper and hid it under his mattress. 

The wealthy owner commended the first two, but he was furious with the third.  “You should have at least put it in the bank so it could earn interest,” he said.  He then took the $1,000 from the last one and gave it to the one who had $10,000.  He said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” (Luke 19:11-27).

As with all of Jesus’ stories, there are many applications to be made and much to learn. Of course, I don’t think Jesus was all that concerned about money. After all, when he died all he had were the clothes on his back. But he clearly understood how the world works. And he clearly understood how life works.

So, what was his point?  It seems to me that Jesus wants his followers to learn to take risk for the Kingdom’s sake. Whenever we grow fearful and withdraw into ourselves, we shrivel up. What little we have is taken away from us. I have watched people do this.  I have even seen churches do this, pinching pennies and worried that they will not make budget.  But when we lay it all on the line, when we give our lives away for others, we experience pleasure and joy unspeakable.  This is why he said, “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, shaken together and running over.”  And, again, “He that will save his life shall lose it, but he who will lose his life for my sake and the gospel shall find it.” 

Jesus’ early followers clearly understood this.  There is no evidence that any of them became wealthy. But there is abundant evidence that they were willing to risk everything to serve God and help others.

During this coronavirus year we should all wear masks, wash our hands,  practice social distancing and continue to live our lives with courage and joyful service to others.