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, October 27, 2020

Covid Fatigue

 They call it Covid Fatigue.  I think I have it. I am tired of wearing a mask to enter a store.  I like to see the smiles on people’s faces.  Or, are they smiling?  Maybe they are frowning, or smirking.  It’s hard to read what people might be thinking behind those masks.

 I am tired of distancing.  I want to host friends and family in our home. I want to have all our kids home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I want to attend church, to greet fellow believers with handshakes and hugs, to sing without restraint or restriction.  Gathering is one of the important elements of our Christian faith.                                                                                                                                                         

I started a Bible study this summer with several men in our neighborhood, meeting outside on our back deck. They are all much younger than me. One is 27 and another is 31. We greet one another with fist-bumps.  But, with snow this weekend and darkness settling in at 5 PM when we “fall back,” I proposed that we take a winter break.  As a diabetic in my 70s, I explained I was not comfortable meeting with a group of guys inside. They fully understood my concerns but suggested we continue meeting outside in the cold and dark.  “We can bundle up,” they said.  So, we plan to continue gathering around the fire pit on my back deck for Bible study.

 Our response to Covid has created some positives.  The American Family Survey recently discovered that most marriages have actually strengthened under the stresses of Covid.  58% of those 18-55 reported they have grown to appreciate their spouse more.  Men have become more involved with housework and childcare. Husbands and wives have spent more time together walking and talking. Those who reported their marriages were in trouble fell from 40% in 2019 to 29% in 2020.

 Covid has forced us to strengthen our online connections for extended learning, work and family.  Last Saturday my wife and I attended the wedding for my cousin’s daughter online in Shreveport, Louisiana while sitting in our home in Colorado.

 But we are far from out of the woods with Covid.  Last week the U.S. reported the highest single day of new cases since the pandemic started. More than 85,000.

 For now, we must remain perseverant and patient. For the sake of our friends, family and others we must continue to wear masks and practice social distancing. while encouraging and praying for one another. 

 As Paul stated, “We celebrate in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:2-4).

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Choosing a President

 

When I listen to the insults and accusations political candidates continue to level against their opponents, I want to throw up my hands.  I find myself wishing for an earlier era when politicians were more civil, when the world was stable and people were in agreement.   

 I thought, “If we could only return to the days of our founding fathers!”  I did a little research about those days and was surprised.  Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams and Aaron Burr to become our third President in 1800. But, he was not popular. And the campaign looked a lot like today.

 If Jefferson were elected, one newspaper warned, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes."  Aaron Burr leaked a private letter from Alexander Hamilton that accused Adams of having “great and intrinsic defects in his character.”  The Richmond Examiner referred to Adams as a “blind, bald, crippled toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

 When the votes were counted, Jefferson and Burr were tied in the Electoral College with 73 votes each.  Adams received 65. The tie between Jefferson and Burr threw the election to the U.S. House of Representatives.  After 35 ballots, Alexander Hamilton persuaded some of Burr’s backers to shift their votes and Jefferson was elected.  Aaron Burr then challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel and killed him, completing a story that would inspire Hamilton, the modern musical.  

 Jefferson, as President, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase that extended the U.S. territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Congress tried to block the purchase, but the vote failed 57-59. 

 In 1860 Lincoln was elected President with 40% of the popular vote. He was referred to as an “idiot, yahoo, the original gorilla.” Abolitionists abhorred him, calling him “timid, vacillating, and inefficient.”  One Ohio Republican claimed Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity.”  Southern states were so incensed by his election that they seceded from the Union. The nation was thrown into Civil War.

 The past often appears more peaceful and purposeful than the present. We know the outcome. It is “today” that confuses us.  We must exercise our best judgement without knowing what will happen.  On November 3 we must choose the next President.

But every day we must make choices that shape our lives and the lives of those around us. We are like those who stood before Joshua at Shechem.  After reminding them of God’s repeated providence for their fathers, Joshua challenged them: ‘Choose you this day whom you shall serve. ... As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Recognizing the Moment

 My neighbor was walking down the street and greeted me with a wide grin. He had just bought a new bicycle for his eleven-year-old daughter.  “Is it her birthday?” I asked. “No,” he replied, almost giggling. “I realized she had outgrown her bike and decided to buy her a new one.  She hasn’t stopped smiling all day.  I just recognized the moment.” He grinned again.

 Every day we are presented with moments that make a difference with our families, our friends and with strangers. Recognizing these moments ultimately determines how we impact our world.

 Jesus was the master of recognizing the moment.  When He entered the city of Jericho, no one noticed a tax collector who had climbed a nearby tree to get a glimpse of him. But Jesus stopped, called him by name and spent the afternoon in Zacchaeus’ home. That moment changed Zacchaeus’ life. Later, when Jesus was leaving the city, a blind man named Bartimaeus cried for His attention. Many rebuked the blind beggar and told him to be quiet. But Jesus stopped, called for him and restored his sight.

 Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable is a lesson about recognizing the moment.  Twice passers by missed the moment of opportunity. Both the priest and the Levite continued on their journey without stopping.  Perhaps, like so many of us, they were too busy to take the time. For whatever reason, only the Samaritan saw the moment of opportunity and stopped to help. I sometimes wonder how many such moments I have missed.

 God presents all of us with moments that can make a difference. A few years ago I met Giuseppe who was working in his family’s pizza restaurant. We struck up a conversation and he spoke of his spiritual hunger. We prayed together and I returned to give him one of my devotional books.  Some time later he sent an email, “Now I read the bible before I go to bed. God’s been working in my life so much. I have been preaching the word of God to people that don't know him. … My heart hungers for the Lord.” He went on to tell how God used him to help a friend find a job.

A few years ago I met a young mother who was struggling with a decision about her husband’s alcoholism. Later she wrote, “God is healer and awesome in power! My husband will celebrate one year of sobriety next month and his health hasn't been better in years. He is completely off his meds and living a Christ-filled life. He was baptized and is growing spiritually every day.”  Her entire family is now active in a local church.

To each of us God presents life-changing “moments” of opportunity. How we recognize those moments and what we do with them may be the true measure of our faith. When Jesus described the final judgement He said, “The king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom that is prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me. … In that you have done it to the least of these, you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25:34-40).

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Journey

 

I grew up in a small town in north-central Texas.  Our family never traveled far.  I sometimes tell people that my first visit to a foreign country was across the Red River into Oklahoma. But when I was 18, I started a journey that has taken me to places I never imagined: the Opera House in Sydney Harbor, the coast of New Zealand, fishing for piranha on the Amazon, volcanoes in Guatemala, a lighthouse at Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the pyramids of Egypt, Mozart’s home in Salzburg, the Docu Zentrum in Nuremberg, the Pantheon in Rome, Lennin’s Tomb and the Kremlin in Moscow. If someone told me in my youth that I would visit these places, I would have thought they were crazy.

 Something about the human spirit is drawn to the journey.  Maybe that is why On the Road Again remains one of Willie Nelson’s most popular songs. We are mesmerized by the expeditions of Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. We are drawn to the imaginary journeys of Hobbits seeking Mount Doom and Star Trek’s quest to go where no man has gone before. Covid has caused many of us to cancel or suspend our trips.  But we still hunger to travel.  Journeys, both real and imagined, change the world and they change us.

 God chooses to reveal himself through our journeys.  Redemption starts with God’s call to Abraham to leave his father’s country and go to places he had never seen.  Moses’ journey out of Egypt produced the Ten Commandments which provide the basis for all moral understanding.  No journey was ever more life changing than the journey Jesus started when he left Nazareth and gathered 12 men to follow him.  Their travels on foot through the regions of Galilee, Judea and Samaria changed the world.  The stories of their encounters with the lame, the blind, the rich, the poor, prostitutes and priests provide us the framework for understanding God and ourselves.

 We are all on a journey.  The journeys we choose, where we go, how we get there and who goes with us will shape us and change us for the better or the worse.  Sometimes our journeys lead us to distant places, sometimes close to home. The most important decisions about any journey is how we trust in God and how we treat others along the way.

 We like to think we will all arrive at the same destination no matter what we believe, what we do or how we live.  But the fact of the matter is that different roads lead to different places.  Jesus said “broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)   He alone knows the way that leads to life and He continually invites us to join the journey that leads us there saying, “Come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Courage and Confidence During Covid

 

Last week the number of deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 200,000.  Experts predict that this number could double by the end of the year. Had we known these numbers in the spring we would have been staggered.  But now, more than six months into the Caronivirus pandemic, we have become numb.  Most of us read the reports as statistics, a way of keeping score.  Some have even concluded that the number of deaths is “acceptable,” a relatively small percentage of our population, even though it is equivalent to 1,000 airline crashes with 200 fatalities each in the span of 7 months.  But for those 200,000 families and their friends, it is personal.  Each has a story.  Each feels the loss.

 Last week a young couple from Minnesota with their three small children spent four days in our home in Colorado so they could visit his mother who lives nearby and is dying of cancer.  Knowing her cancer is terminal, she has chosen not to pursue additional treatment.  Instead, she has been assigned to hospice care in her home. They stayed with us so they could give her space while spending the best parts of the day loving and caring for her.  They comforted one another while facing death with courage and confidence, the children and grandchildren gathering around her in her final days.

 Whether it is Covid, cancer, or some other means, death will come to us all.  We try to avoid it, try to not think about it. But it comes to everyone, to the obscure and the famous, the rich and the poor, all nations, all races and all cultures. Every generation must learn how to deal with death.

 Psalm 90 recorded this prayer from Moses: “You turn men back into dust and say, ‘Return O children of men.’ For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.  You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; in the morning they are like grass that sprouts anew. ... toward evening it fades and withers away. … We have finished our years like a sigh. … So teach us to number our days that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. … O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:3-14).

 The song, Ten Thousand Reasons, has become one of my favorites.  It contains these stanzas:

 “The sun comes up there’s a new day dawning,

It’s time to sing your song again.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,

May I be singing when the evening comes.

 

And on that day, when my strength is failing,

The end draws near and my time has come,

Still my soul will sing your praise unending,

Ten thousand years and then forever more.”

 During this pandemic year may we discover the lovingkindness and comfort that comes from the One who holds eternity in His hands.  “Everyone who lives and believes in Me,” Jesus said, “shall never die”  (John 11:26).

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Character and Leadership

 

The political cauldron is beginning to boil.  Presidential and congressional candidates are in full campaign mode.

 Each candidate tries to persuade us they can guide us through the multiple storms of the pandemic, social unrest, climate crises and economic recovery.  Some cite their business success and financial achievements. Others tout their political experience.  But the most important element for effective leadership might be the most difficult to discern.  In his book, Return on Character:  The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, Fred Kiel concluded that the most important trait for successful leadership is character.

 According to the Harvard Business Review, “In this groundbreaking book, respected leadership researcher, adviser, and author Fred Kiel offers that evidence-solid data that demonstrates the connection between character, leadership excellence, and organizational results.”

 Kiel identifies four basic traits that set effective leaders apart:  integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion.  Leaders with character tell the truth and own up to their mistakes.  Most importantly, they care about people.

 By contrast, those with weak character demonstrate a negative view of human nature. Their behavior is fear based.  “They assume that they know better than anybody else what people should be doing.”  They are judgmental, quick to place blame on others.

 3The positive and negative traits identified by Fred Kiel are consistent with the Bible.  Among the negative “deeds of the flesh,” the Bible lists “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions.”  The positive fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23).   

 In 1908, Leo Tolstoy identified Abraham Lincoln’s greatness when he wrote, “Why was Lincoln so great that he over-shadows all other national heroes?  He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Wahington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”

 King David had his flaws. His shortcomings are clearly laid out in Scripture. But He remains one of the great leaders of history. The Bible says of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:70-72).

 The way forward through this painful and challenging year will ultimately be determined by the character of our leaders, our nation and ourselves.  As the Scripture says, “We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5).

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).