What Others Say

Every time I read one of your columns, I am always touched and moved in some way. Your heart and spirit come through clearly in your words. It's an oasis of comfort and serenity in a time when everything is so chaotic and unsettling.
- M Gardner, Deputy Managing Editor, Galveston Daily News

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Comfort For Those Who Grieve

Most of us first experience grief as a child with the death of a pet who shared our childhood.  Many dogs, cats and birds have been buried beneath carefully turned soil moistened with childhood tears. 

 Grief eventually comes more forcefully with the death of a parent, a brother, sister, or friend. If we live long enough, it will come to each of us when we part with those we love most.

 David, who wrote the Psalms, was famous for his grief over the death of his son Absalom.   Even though Absalom led a rebellion against him seeking to unseat him from the throne of Israel, when David heard that Absalom was dead, he was inconsolable. He wept and cried, ““O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). On another occasion, when David grieved over the death of another child, he said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam. 12:23).

 Confidence in Heaven and the resurrection does not eliminate grief, but it takes away the sting.  That is why the Apostle Paul writes,  “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54).

 My father died when I was 29. My mother when I was 64. I preached my grandfather’s funeral, as well as numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends.  Last week my family buried my mother’s sister in Texas. Next week our daughter and grandchildren will bury our son-in-law’s mother in Georgia. We must all face the loss of loved ones.

 A few years ago, I visited a cemetery in old Boston where the tombstones date back to some of the earliest residents of the Colonies.  I discovered an interesting pattern. Those grave makers erected before 1730 bore skulls and cross bones.  They were the picture of death and despair. The markers erected after 1740 bore the images of angels and cherubim and were often inscribed with verses about heaven.  The only event that could have made such a difference in the Boston markers is the Great Awakening that swept the Colonies in the 1730s and 1740s.  Benjamin Franklin wrote of the Awakening that there was a “wonderful...change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. … so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."

 Grief as a believer in Jesus Christ is deep and real, but it is not a grief without hope. Even Jesus grieved when he stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Although he knew he would call Lazarus from the grave and raise him from the dead, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” When Jesus wept, he demonstrated to us that God not only knows our grief, he feels it. We do not grieve alone or in isolation nor do we grieve without hope.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Young Generation

 I came across comments from a prominent preacher regarding the deplorable condition of young people.  He complained that they were characterized by “inexperience, indiscretion, immature judgment, uncurbed curiosity, undisciplined appetites and misunderstood passion.”  He went on to say that they despised revered traditions and engaged in “vulgar dances, shameful parties, suggestive songs and obsession with sex.”  Their motto is “try anything once.” 

 I found these statements in a book of sermons my wife brought home from one of her excursions to garage sales. The book was published in 1923.  The youth about whom he spoke later survived the Great Depression and led our nation through World War II. The youth of his day are gone, buried in the graves that populate our cemeteries. A 16-year-old in 1923 would be 114 today. They lived out their life-span, as we all shall do, and generations of youth have come and gone since.

Sociologists have tried to categorize generations by their common historical context. Most start with the “Lost Generation,” those born between 1890 and 1915.  They were born as the industrial revolution revved up. They drove the first automobiles and flew the first airplanes. “The Greatest Generation” (1910 – 1925) stormed Normandy, launched the space race and landed a man on the moon.  “The Silent Generation” (1925-1945) left their mark with Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Robert Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood and Bernie Sanders.

“Baby Boomers” (1946-1964) got their name from the “boom” that followed WW II.  They were the Hippy generation who later developed PCs that connected the world.  Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump were all born in 1946.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are also members of this generation.

 “Generation X” (1965-1980), often dismissed in their youth, earned a reputation for entrepreneurship. In 2002 three out of four companies were started by Gen Xers.  Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and the founders of Google are Gen Xers.

 “Millennials” (1981-1996) are the first to grow up with computers and cell phones.  Mark Zuckerberg is a Millennial.  “Generation Z” (1997-2012) is the first generation to have no experience of life before the internet. They are the youngest, largest and most ethnically diverse population in history.  It is too early to characterize the “Alpha Generation, (2013-2021), the first to be born entirely in the 21st century.

 In the next few years, we will witness a generational transfer of power.  Joe Biden is 78. Mitch McConnel is 79. Nancy Pelosi is 80.  Every generation must pass the baton.  Every new generation must run their race.

 Years ago, I adopted a life goal: “to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever dreamed or imagined.” Many are already doing that.  One of the most important things we can do is encourage those who are younger. 

 When Moses knew he was dying and would never enter the promised land, the Lord said to him, “Charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people” (Deuteronomy 3:28).  The Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Vaccine For the Ages

 Now that a vaccine is available, it seems like the holy grail, the cure all that will make it possible to keep our grandchildren, host friends for dinner, visit restaurants, attend church, go to the movies and travel.  I have vague memories of those days and long for them once again.

 All over the world, nations and peoples are lining up to be vaccinated.  We are grateful to the medical and scientific community that has broken all records to develop an effective vaccine that will deliver us, and to the front line workers who have cared for Covid casualties.

 Not everyone wants a vaccine. Not everyone trusts them. It seems like the best bet to me, but it is confusing.  I called my primary ca re physician’s office to see if they had access to the vaccine. They said I would have to call a specialist. I called a specialist who had treated me a year ago. They said I needed to call my primary care physician.  So far, I have signed up on two lists that promise to call when they have a vaccine available. But, for now, I will remain cautious, distanced from friends and family and wait.

,This is my first pandemic. This has never happened in my lifetime. But then, I am only 74.  My grandparents went through the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, but they never talked about it.  I guess the atrocities of World War I overshadowed it. But then, they never talked about that either.

 On the other hand, I have been living through a far more deadly pandemic all of my life, a pandemic that has afflicted every generation since the dawn of humanity.  It is far more insidious and deadly than Covid-19.  It is the pandemic that afflicts us all.

 Everyone recognizes the symptoms of this universal deadly disease: lying, theft, lust, selfishness, greed, anger, prejudice, deception, envy, jealousy, violence.  The Bible puts it this way, “Sin entered the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).   Here lies the root of our suffering in the world.  Just as James says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?  Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have so you commit murder.  You are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). 

 Fortunately God has provided a “vaccine,” a cure that not only deals with the consequences of sin, but destroys the power of sin.  “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures. … Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15). 

 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting [g]the members of your body to sin as [h]instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you”  (Romans 6:12-14).

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Raising Children

 

Nothing is as challenging as being a parent.  Children have no on-off button.  They cannot be put in the closet like clothes, turned off and parked like cars or placed in a kennel for the night like pets.  They are on a constant quest: poking, prodding, pushing, pulling and climbing. 

 When our children were little, we weren’t allowed to strap them down in the back seat. (It was a long time ago). As soon as they got in the car, they looked for buttons to push and knobs to twist.  When I turned on the key the blinkers blinked, windshield wipers wiped and the radio blared, vibrating the windows. The same was true for our bedroom and kitchen.

 They grew up to be responsible adults.  But the path wasn’t easy.  Every passage brought new challenges: the first day of school, a move from familiar neighborhoods to a new city, puberty, a driver’s license, dating, computer games, technology.  Parenting requires a constant learning curve that never stops, even after children are grown and on their own.  Relationships constantly change and adjust. As a parent, you are always entering new and unfamiliar territory.

 I found across the years that there is no “fix it” book for parenting, no “cure-all,” “read this,” or “do this” simple solution.  Every child is different, and every parenting situation has its unique challenges.  But there are some essential tools that make the difference: patience, consistency, authenticity, trust, love, faith, and a listening ear.  Most of us don’t come naturally equipped with these essential tools.  Most of us have to learn them and acquire them while we are on the job. And all of us have room for improvement.

 Years ago, I visited in the home of a young mother who was caring for several pre-school children. I was amazed at her patience and attention with the children and complimented her on it.  She responded by telling me that this had not always been the case.  Before she trusted Christ, she said, she had no patience with children, but after she gave her heart to Jesus, He gave her a gift of patience, not only for her own children, but for others.

 The Bible says that John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to righteousness. (Luke 1:16-17).  Every generation must struggle against the natural desires of the flesh: envy, jealousy, resentment, anger and self indulgence. These attitudes destroy the family.

 When we put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ, He gives us a new heart.  He produces in us the fruits of the Spirit that equip us to be parents:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.”  All of these, the Bible says, are the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23).

 When our hearts are right with God so that we are producing these fruits, we will be good parents.  Then we will be able to fulfill the Scripture’s instruction, “Do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the teaching and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A New Year - Finally!

 No year in my lifetime has been welcomed more than 2021.  Multiple vaccines have been approved with the promise that we will be able to put the Covid-19 threat behind us by mid-summer.  Businesses are making plans to gear up for the recovery.  Jobs are expected to return.  By fall we should be able to pack our stadiums and cheer on our favorite sports teams.  Once again, we can travel. Family vacations, reunions and gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas should return to normal by year’s end.

 A year ago, in this column, I wrote, “2020 rings with the hope of perfect vision and a perfect year.  But we already know it will have its challenges.  ....  2020 will not be easy. It certainly will not be perfect.”

 To say that “2020 would not be easy and that it certainly would not be perfect” proved to be a vast understatement. None of us could have predicted the pandemic that would shock and stun the world. This has been an unusually difficult year. While some have prospered, many have lost their jobs, struggled with isolation and separation from family and friends. Restaurants, the travel industry, and live entertainment have especially been hit hard.  More than 340,000 have died of Covid-19 related causes.

 We still have a long way to go. The earliest vaccines are just now being administered, but we are hopeful. We have not given up.  People remain resilient, perseverant, ready to pitch in and help those who need assistance the most. Restaurants, struggling under the restrictions of the pandemic have provided meals to front line workers.

 Doctors, nurses and medical staff have served sacrificially putting themselves at risk to care for Covid-19 patients. Like so many others, our daughter-in-law is a nurse and a breast cancer survivor.  She suffered severe symptoms after contracting COVID-19 from her patients.  Once recovered, she has returned to continue her care. Our son-in-law has volunteered as a bone-marrow donor for someone struggling with leukemia.  We are proud of our kids and the millions of others who continue to put the interest of others before their own during these trying times.

 Jesus was clear that every generation would have such trials.  He warned of wars and rumors of wars, plagues, famines and natural disasters.  Jesus said, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).

 God has promised, “I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope;” (Jeremiah 29:11). 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Covid Christmas

 Last week my wife baked cookies, brownies and snacks for our neighbors. We both donned our masks and walked down the street distributing bags of Christmas goodies to our friends, a token of our love and appreciation for them during this Covid year of 2020. 

 One of our neighbor families is Vietnamese. They have a bright and cheerful nine-year-old daughter, Anna who loves to play with our grandchildren. When we took our Christmas goodies to her house, Anna greeted us at the door. Her mother doesn’t speak English.  The following day, Anna rang our doorbell with a gift bag of her own.  Inside she placed a Hershey’s bar, two fun-size Snickers and M&Ms.  We suspect it was her leftover Halloween candy. She was thrilled to give it, and we were touched beyond measure.

 Little acts of kindness help us all get through.  For many this Christmas is especially painful. While we feel some relief with the first vaccines, we recognize that more than 300,000 families lost loved ones to Covid-19 this year.

 Many years ago, I officiated a funeral on Christmas Eve for one of our best friends who was barely twenty-nine. The Holidays are not always joyous.  But the meaning of the day when God sent His Son to save us from our sins is all the more meaningful.

 We all know the stories that led up to the birth: Joseph and Mary on their long journey to Bethlehem, turned away from every inn until they found a stall where the child was born;  the hovering star that led the Magi from the east bearing their prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The shepherds shocked from their sleep on the hillside by the angels of heaven proclaiming a Savior.  But we pay little attention to what happened “the day after.”

 Like most of us, Mary and Joseph had little time to enjoy the Christmas events that surrounded them.  They were immediately faced with Herod’s efforts to hunt down their Son.  The soldiers fell upon Bethlehem with a vengeance, slaughtering every male child two years old and younger. (Matthew 2:16).  Warned in a dream, Joseph fled with his little family to Egypt where they spent eight years hiding as refugees from Herod’s wrath. 

 Thousands today are living in exile, refugees from war.  In some places believers are spending these days in prison for their faith. Some are facing death because they have embraced Jesus as Son of God and Savior.  Many others have heavy hearts from the loss of loved ones. 

 The full story of Jesus’ birth embraces both the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow.  Whether we are filled with celebration and happiness or thrown into heartache and despair, God is sufficient.  He has been there. He knows our joy and our sorrow, and He has given His Son that we might know Him. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Christmas Journey

 Normally, Christmas is a family event.  Brothers, sisters, parents and children go to great expense to see each other.  They drive hundreds of miles, fly across the continent or around the world to celebrate the holidays together. But, for many families, like ours, not this year. We have postponed our family gathering until later, when the vaccine has taken effect and it is safer.

 Nevertheless, our tree is decorated with ornaments created by little hands that grew into manhood and womanhood.  Decorations, unboxed from Christmases past, remind us of those we love as we look to a brighter future.

 That first Christmas was a family event with its own difficulties.   When we rehearse the Christmas story, we conjure up images of Joseph trudging along the Jordan valley leading a donkey with Mary balanced on its back, almost full-term in her pregnancy.  A look of admiration and love must have played upon Joseph’s face, mixed with worry.

 Faith, above all, propelled them in their journey in circumstances not of their choosing.  They were on the road at this most inconvenient and vulnerable time because Caesar required it. They were making the arduous journey to Bethlehem so Joseph could enroll for the Roman tax.  Even young couples about to deliver a baby were not excused.

 They did not know the future.  They believed God was in it, but they had no way of knowing where they would sleep, or how they would make their way after the child was born.  Like all fathers, Joseph was concerned about how he would care for his wife and child.  Mary’s thoughts were about the baby that kicked within her. 

 Joseph’s fears would have been multiplied if he had known, while trudging along the stony path, that there would be no place for them to stay, that the child would be born in a common stable. A trough for the animas would serve for a crib. As far as we know, they were alone. But his faith in God sustained him. His hope for the future lifted his face.

 Christmas is like that for us today. We are all on a journey.  Some are more difficult and precarious than others.  Our minds are filled with hopes, dreams, anxiety, worry and faith.  Some have been laid off and are searching for a job. Some are starting their careers, uncertain about what the future might hold. Some have suffered tragedy, pain and loss.  Some are battling illness.  Some are celebrating a new birth. 

 When God sent His Son, He blessed our human experience.  He entered into our journey. When He sent Jesus, he identified with our weaknesses, our fears, our hopes, our dreams and our faith.  He blessed us as families: mothers and fathers loving one another, finding our way, caring for children in challenging circumstances and believing that, somehow, God is in it all.   He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will accomplish His purposes on the earth.