What Others Say

"Thank you for the words of wisdom in today’s Abilene Reporter News. In the midst of wars violence and pandemics, you words were so soft spoken and calming."

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

 Its that time of year: crisp and cool mornings, children kicking through leaves scattered about the lawn, football stadiums packed with cheering fans, parades with marching bands and the smell of turkey baking in the oven. Once again, after the Covid interruption, laughter fills our homes where family and friends gather around the table.  I like Thanksgiving and everything that goes with it: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and pie (any kind of pie).  And I like dressing. Those with southern roots cook corn bread dressing.  Turkeys come and turkeys go, but my wife’s corn bread dressing is to die for.  She learned the recipe from her mother: corn bread, celery, onions, chopped boiled eggs, broth, butter and other ingredients I will never figure out.   With giblet gravy, it is a meal-in-itself.

 After missing the third quarter of the Thanksgiving ball game we regain consciousness enough to stumble into the kitchen for leftovers, load up again, and sleep the sound sleep of a thankful soul.  By Friday the tryptophan and carbohydrates have worn off. And now we are ready to get on with the real business of the American holiday season: shopping.

 Black Friday isn’t what it was. Online shopping and some stores opening their doors on Thursday have taken some of the zap out of it.  At its peak, lines would form in front of Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target on Friday long before the first gray light of day.   A few spent the night camped out in tents on concrete sidewalks.  Our pilgrim fathers knew nothing of this.  They hunted and harvested and cleaned and cooked, but they never stood in lines in front of glass doors waiting for the opening bell. They never rushed through aisles searching for treasures that were sure to disappear.  They never stood in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store.  They had it easy.

 Fifty years ago, we eased into Christmas.  No one had heard of Black Friday.  We used Friday to digest the Thanksgiving feast.  It was a quiet day, the day after we gathered at Grandma’s with cousins and kin.  Christmas decorations were not yet up.  We savored the season.  But today, we are jolted from Thanksgiving into Christmas.  

 Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line.  It seems to represent the commercialization of Christmas and threatens to turn Thanksgiving into a season of “thanks getting.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I like a good deal and deep discounts.  I want the American economy to thrive.  But, along the way, I hope we cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit that is not measured by the sum of what we can get at the cheapest price.

 May the words of the Apostle Paul echo in our heart throughout the holiday season, “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).

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Thanksgiving Together

 The trees have turned. Many have dropped their leaves.  Winter is at the door, and Covid has loosened its grip.  Thoughts turn a shared table overflowing with turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pumpkin pie and “home.” This year is especially meaningful after last year’s isolation and zoom.  It just wasn’t the same.  Many are making plans to travel. I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it.

 Thanksgiving is special to the American experience. George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789.  But the official annual holiday began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks.  When he issued his proclamation, our nation was embroiled in Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battlefields.  Families were gripped with grief.  But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.

 In times of prosperity and want, in times of war and peace, throughout the Great Depression, the Great Recession and last year’s pandemic we have paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to remember and to be thankful.  For this one day, at least, we make sure that the homeless and the hungry are fed. On this day, we lay down our tools and gather around tables with those whom we love the most.  We are not burdened with the buying and giving of gifts.  We simply pause to enjoy one another and the goodness with which God has blessed us. 

Nothing is more important than cultivating a grateful and thankful heart.  We all experience blessing and loss.  God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.  The faithful and the unfaithful must weather the same storms. We all experience life and love and loss that we do not deserve. We often cannot choose our circumstances but we can choose our response;  bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The former leads to death.  The latter leads to life. 

 The Bible is clear about the importance of thanksgiving.  The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving and praise.  Jeremiah envisioned desolate Jerusalem restored with gratitude saying: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’" (Jer. 33:11).  Paul wrote, “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). 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Believe It Or Not

 “Believe” is an interesting word.  Sometimes we use it to indicate doubt. If we are not entirely certain of something, we will say, “I believe so.”  For instance, if someone asks, “Are your friends joining us for dinner?”  We will say, “I believe so.” Meaning, I think they are, but I am not quite sure.

 Sometimes we use “believe” to indicate our agreement.  If you point to an airplane and ask, “Do you believe this is an airplane?” I might say, “Yes, I believe that is an airplane.” 

 At other times we use the word “believe” to indicate our confidence in someone. We could also use this term with respect to the pilot of the airplane. We could believe in him, meaning we have confidence he can fly the airplane.

 The word translated “believe” in the Bible actually means “faith.” We don’t have a verb form of “faith” in our language. We cannot say, “I faith you.”  We are left with our word “believe.”  In this case, if we believe in the airplane and the pilot, we must climb aboard the airplane, follow instructions and actually fly in it. We trust both the airplane and the pilot to take us aloft thousands of feet in the air.

 The “faith” meaning of the word changes how we understand key passages in the Bible.  For instance, when Jesus says,“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me shall never die,” he is actually saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who puts his trust and absolute faith in me shall never die.” 

 There are many who “believe” in Christ and “believe” they are Christians.  They use the term like the first example.  They are not quite sure, but they think it might be true, or hope it is.

 Then there are others who “believe” according to the second definition. They give mental assent believing that Jesus is the Son of God, but it doesn’t make much difference in their lives. 

 Still others fall into the third category.  They believe in Jesus in the sense that they have confidence in who he claims to be. They think he is a good person, that he spoke the truth, that he would get their vote among the other religious leaders in history.

 But moving into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ requires the New Testament kind of “believing.”  We must trust Him with our lives.  In this case we don’t have to understand or know everything, just like we don’t have to understand or know everything about flight and airplanes in order to fly. When the Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” it means more than wishful thinking, mental assent or even having confidence in Christ.  It means we must place our complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Like flying, we must follow His instructions and trust Him.  If we do this, He will save us.

 We demonstrate this “faith” kind of believing by doing what He says. (Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:15).  We live according to His Kingdom that is ruled by kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, humility, hope and love. (Colossians 3:5-17).

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Power of Encouragement

 The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high, and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard.  Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net. But when the game is played, all things are not equal.  One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t.  The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement.  It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” 

Unlike last year, when the World Series was played with eerie silence amid cardboard cutouts, this year’s classic was greeted with thunderous crowds that vibrated the stands and echoed in the rafters. In Houston Astros fans were quick to forgive any past sins and welcome their heroes with standing-ovations In Atlanta the Braves fans tomahawked their way through three games and went delirious with a first inning grand slam in game 5. In all of sports, it is a different game when fans are present cheering the home team.

 We also know the ravages of discouragement.  Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a downward spiral.  We feel it when the stands go silent. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game.

 We are all players on the field. We are all listening for the voices that will lift us up and cheer us on.  And we are all vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without.

 When a broken-hearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life.  (Mark 5:36).   The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt.  But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager.  He believes in us.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). 

 Every day we need encouragement.  And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school.  Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone.  It might be the most important thing you ever do.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Halloween 2021

 Next Sunday miniature ghosts, goblins and superheroes will emerge at dusk to comb the streets in search of candy. Even Fauci has encouraged kids to “go out there and enjoy” Halloween.   It is a long tradition in America, one I grew up with as a child and one I enjoyed as a parent. It is, perhaps, one of the few traditions we still celebrate outside with our neighbors. Manicured lawns are transformed into a mystical world of floating cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and tombstones.

 Watchful parents huddle at the curb and visit while their little ghouls cheerfully threaten their neighbors with tricks for treats. Expectant children hold open hopeful bags and peer into their dark recesses trying to determine what luck they might have had at the door. 

 I always enjoyed taking our kids trick-or-treating. We had fun dressing them up and entering their fantasy world.  I liked watching them celebrate their growing assortment of candy gathered from well-wishing neighbors (until a costumed spook jumped from the bushes and convinced our five-year-old he had enough candy for one night). 

 I still look forward to answering our doorbell on Halloween.  I enjoy trying to guess who is hiding behind the princess mask, what little boy is growling in the Ninja Turtle costume.  I like it when ET and Yoda drop by for a visit with their pet ghost-dog. They are polite ghosts, witches and extra-terrestrials. They almost always say, “Thank you.” 

 Halloween, of course, has its dark side. The nightly news reports of abducted children and maps dotted with sexual predators have erased the na├»ve world of Halloween past.  We are aware that we live in a dangerous world where evil is real and present.   

 Many churches are more than a little uncomfortable with Halloween.  On the one hand, it is enjoyable to celebrate community with imagination, fantasy and neighborly generosity.   On the other hand, there are demonic and destructive forces at work in the world that kill and destroy.  It is one thing to celebrate fall and indulge in imagination.  It is another to celebrate the occult, witchcraft, the devil and demons.

 Many people struggle with addictions and impulses they seem unable to control.  They find themselves on a collision course with destruction.  Our world needs the deliverance from evil.

 Jesus once met a man filled with destructive demons.  He lived among the tombs of the dead, often cutting himself with sharp stones.  Local citizens tried to control him by putting him in chains, but he broke the chains and escaped back to his home among the graves.  When Jesus ordered the demons that were destroying the man to leave him the demons entered a nearby herd of swine that immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned.  The man was healed.  When his neighbors found him, he was in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, no longer a threat to himself or to them. But it scared them. They asked Jesus to leave their country and not to come back.  (Mark 5:1-20). Forces that we cannot understand or control always scare us.

 This Halloween we can celebrate an occasion to enjoy our children and their imagination. We can celebrate the turning leaves, dry corn, pumpkins and harvest.  And we can be reminded that in our struggles with the unseen forces of  good and evil, both in our hearts and in the world, we have a Deliverer.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Costly Grace

 I first heard Billy Graham preach in 1970 at Cowboys Stadium in Irving, Texas. The legendary teams of Tom Landry had yet to play in the stadium which was in its last stages of construction.  I sat in rapt silence with more than 50,000 others as Dr. Graham preached.  At the close of the service, thousands flooded the aisles in response to his invitation to trust Christ.  I later witnessed the same in Houston and Minneapolis. For more than 50 years he preached with the same results in more than 185 countries and territories.

 Throughout his ministry he avoided the excess of other evangelists, placing himself on a limited salary and avoiding scandal. I watched him join hands with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in support of racial integration refusing to preach to segregated crowds.

 Every president since Harry Truman sought him for counsel and prayer, both Democrat and Republican.  Some tried to use their friendship for political advantage, others credited him with strengthening their faith.  Dr. Graham died in 2018 at the age of 99.  He was the fourth private Citizen in U.S. history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.   

 More than thirty years ago, when he was still in his 60’s, Dr. Graham reflected on his evangelistic ministry and asked some sobering questions.  “I look back on my many years as an evangelist, and I wonder, have I made the Christian faith look too easy? … Of course, our salvation is a result of what Christ has done for us in His life and death and resurrection, not what we can do for ourselves.  Of course, we can trust Him to complete in us what He has begun.  But in my eagerness to give away God’s great gift, have I been honest about the price He paid in His war with evil?  And have I adequately explained the price we must pay in our own war against evil at work in and around our lives?”

 A few years ago my wife and I spent the summer in Nuremburg, Germany working with a new church. While there I read Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and visited his home in Berlin.  Before he was martyred by Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer raised similar questions in his book, The Cost of Discipleship.

 Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.  We are fighting today for costly grace.  … Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: ‘ye were bought with a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”  Speaking of his generation, Bonhoeffer wrote, “We poured forth unending streams of grace.  But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”

 Billy Graham’s probing reflection on his ministry and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prophetic book written during Hitler’s rise to power raise questions about our own faith.  Have we responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him?  Are we His disciples?  Are we seeking to keep His commandments in all our relationships at home, at school, at church and at work? Are we embracing cheap grace that costs nothing or are we embracing costly grace that cost God His own Son?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Blind Spots

 All of us have have blind spots. Our brain fills in the picture so we don’t realize it. But the blind spots in our field of vision are very real. In medical terms, “it is the place in the visual field that corresponds to the lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina where the optic nerve passes through the optic disc.”

 Here is a simple way to “see” your blind spot.  Put your thumbs together, the tips touching, with your index fingers pointed upward. This will separate your index fingers by approximately six inches. Extend your arms with your hands directly in front of you. Close your left eye. Focus with your right eye on your left finger and move your hands closer or further away.  The right finger will disappear in your blind spot. You can do the same for your left eye. If this doesn’t work, go to google or you tube and you will find plenty of help to find your blind spot.

 Several years ago I was diagnosed with glaucoma in my left eye, something very similar to the blind spot, but bigger. About ¼ of the vision in my left eye is missing, and I didn’t know it.  With both eyes open, my right eye compensates for it.  With just my left eye open, my brain tries to fill in the gaps. But when I move my finger into the blind spot, it disappears.

 We also have a blind spot when we are driving.  It is the place just behind us on the left side, just off the left rear bumper. We can check our rear view mirror and our side view mirror, and it appears no one is around us, but when we try to change lanes horns blare and people swerve. We can easily miss our blind spot.

 Jesus spoke about our spiritual blind spot.  We think that we can see all things clearly.  We believe that we have a full field of vision, but the truth is that we are unable to see some of the most important elements of life and reality. We are blinded by our prejudice and presumptions. We assume we have no prejudice.  Other people may be prejudiced, but not us.  We assume we see all things objectively.  But do we?  

 Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

 Jesus often told simple stories so that we might see our spiritual blind spot and understand the important lessons of life.  Jesus said, “This is why I speak in parables: though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  (Matthew 13:13).