What Others Say

I am on a team that reviews all the deaths in our county, ages birth to 19 years. We have reviewed far too many teen suicides. You are spot on in your description of the hopelessness that leads to this impulsive act, the anguish follows and the hope in Christ that is the answer.

-Larry C. Appleton, WI

Monday, February 18, 2019

Spice of Life

My wife loves cooking.  When we take road trips she passes the time by reading cookbooks. When browsing the TV, she usually settles on a cooking show.  Any cooking show, it seems to me.  When we watch jeopardy and they introduce a food category, she usually knows the answer.  When I get stumped on a crossword clue that includes spices or food, she helps me fill it in.  I am pretty well limited to breakfast:  bacon, eggs and biscuits, or grilling steak, hamburger or salmon on the gill out back.

It all seems to come down to the spices.  How you use them: which spices you put in, at what time, in what amount.  She has a pantry full of spices.  When it gets beyond salt, pepper, and a little garlic, I am pretty well lost. 

Last year we visited the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, Texas.  In 1885, at a corner drug store in Waco, Texas, a young pharmacist named Charles Alderton was experimenting with various flavors for a new soda he could serve.  He came up with a blend of 23 flavors people loved.  Customers called it the “Waco” until the owner of the drug store came up with the name Dr Pepper, after his good friend. They had trouble making enough to meet demand. Today Dr Pepper is distributed in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Europe, Mexico, South America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They still use the same 23 flavors that remain a secret.
 
 Harland Sanders learned to cook from his mother when he was 7.  In 1934 he started selling fried chicken from his roadside filling station in Corbin, Kentucky.  It took a few years to perfect his secret 11 herbs and spices. But when he did, people liked it. They liked it so much that the governor made him an honorary colonel. Today KFC is served in 119 countries and territories worldwide.  When we were in Prague and I got hungry for a taste of home I walked to a nearby KFC.  They seem to be everywhere. 

It is amazing what the right blend of flavors and spices can accomplish. What is true for food is also true for the way we live and the way we speak.  Life is more fun, satisfying and meaningful when we find the right “spices.” 

Jesus recognized this when he told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt has lost its taste, it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”   (Matthew 5:13). 
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6).


Unlike Dr Pepper and KFC, the ingredients are no secret.  The spices and flavors that make every Christian life desirable are listed in Galatians. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23).  When these “spices” are cooked into our souls, it changes our families, friendships, communities and the world.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

God's Metrics


We live in a world of metrics that is obsessed with measuring progress in almost every area of life. The business world has created an entire glossary of terms for measuring CPM (Corporate Performance Management). Every business needs to know its ROI (Return on Investment), Churn Rate (the measure of customer or employee attrition over a specified time) EBITDA. (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), to name a few.

Education has long used measurements to determine a student’s future.  Any student with ambitions beyond secondary education is familiar with the stress and importance of the SAT, ACT or, in to enter graduate school, the GMAT, GRE, LSAT and MCAT.

Sports is filled with metrics. Hundredths of a second separate sprinters, downhill skiers, bobsledders and speed skaters from the podium and also rans.  PGA golfers are rated by average score, percentage of fairways hit, greens in regulation, putts per round and many others. When Phil Mickelson won Pebble Beach last week he was compared to all those who won on that course in the last 100 years.  Baseball is synonymous with statistics: RBI, OPS, BA, BB/K, ERA, etc. The list is long.

If measurements are so important in other areas of life, it might be good to know God’s metrics. How does God measure success or failure?

Most of us assume that God’s measurements are limited to religion: church attendance, offerings, budgets, building, religious ceremonies and service. Surprisingly, according to the Bible these things are not God’s primary concern.

The prophets taught that God could care less about religious ceremonies. In Amos, God says, “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; …Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In Isaiah, God says, “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; … So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; … Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

When Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day, he reproved them for focusing on religious disciplines.  “You have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.  These are the things you should have done.” (Matthew 23:23). 

So, how well are we measuring up by God’s standard of measurement? Not well, I am afraid.
Everywhere and on ever side we are surrounded by infidelity, deceit, prejudice, resentment and anger.  Just read the news. We need to stop fooling ourselves. His measurements are true.

Every generation must come to grips with its sin. If we acknowledge our sins and turn to Him in faith He has promised, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them. Then they will be my people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20), (Romans 6:4), (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Least of These - When Love Costs


Twenty years ago, January 23, 1999, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary to India, was burned to death along with his two sons, Philip, age 10, and Timothy, age 6.  Staines was 57.  For 35 years Graham had ministered to lepers in a remote tribal village in India where he established the Mayurbanj Leprosy Home in 1982.  In 1983 he married his wife, Gladys, who joined him in the work.

The mob that killed Graham Staines and his sons was apparently a  hard-line Hindu organization intent on retribution for the missionary’s effectiveness in converting members of the lower cast to faith in Jesus Christ.  After the attack, Gladys Staines forgave those who murdered her husband and sons.  She remained in India with their daughter, Esther, and continued their ministry among the lepers.  She stated, “I cannot just leave those people who love and trust us. I have high regard for the people of India and their tolerance.”

The government of India awarded Gladys Staines the fourth highest civilian award in 2005,  Padma Sri in recognition for her outstanding contribution to India.  She has been called the best known Christian in India after Mother Theresa.  In 2015 she was awarded the Mother Theresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.

Their story was recently made into a movie entitle The Least of These and released into theaters on February 1.  It appears the movie will be shown in a limited number of theaters for a limited time. The Executive Producer for the film, Victor Abraham, said the movie “beautifully illustrates the power of love, hope and forgiveness to overcome hate.” It is a gripping reminder of the cost paid by followers of Christ in every generation and the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ.   According to Christianity Today “215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme levels of persecution.”

Most of us suffer little for our faith. Few of us will ever be required to shed our blood or give our lives.  But such global persecution of Christians is widespread.  Everyone who follows Christ in every time and in every place is called to follow the instructions of Scripture: “ Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him to drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Suicide Epidemic


According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention suicide rates increased in all but one state between 1999 and 2016.  In 2016 there were twice as many suicides and homicides in the United States. Last week a group of high school students took to the streets of Denver to launch a campaign to cut suicide rates in half. They gave away “Its ok to be not ok” bracelets and sought to engage anyone and everyone in conversation.

In 2010 Anna, Texas, with a population just over 8,000, was rocked by a series of suicides and suicide attempts.  Three times in a sixteen-day stretch the police responded to calls involving apparent suicides or suicide attempts. Churches in the city urged residents to gather at Slayter Creek Park in Anna to pray for the city, its residents and for its leaders.
 
Sooner or later suicide becomes personal for each of us.  Someone we know, or someone close to us takes their life.  A number of years ago, my cousin’s husband, a psychologist with a doctorate from SMU, wandered out into the woods behind their home, sat down at the base of a tree and shot himself.
 
Suicide, whenever and wherever it occurs always leaves a wide swath of emotional destruction among family members and friends leaving in its wake feelings of confusion, anger, guilt and grief.  Like all wounds, time helps, but the shadows of suicide never completely disappear in the lives of those closest to the victim.
 
The primary symptoms leading to suicide appear to be depression and hopelessness.  Almost everyone gets depressed at one time or another.  Some of the greatest personalities in history have battled depression, including Abraham Lincoln.  But when depression slips into despondency and hopelessness, an irrational moment can result in the shocking headlines we read in the newspapers. 
 
As human beings, each of us faces a difficult moment at some point over the span of our lifetime. In today’s connected world we can scan the globe on our keyboard and, at the same time, not know the name of our neighbor next door or across the street. Individuals come and go in such a hurry that the support network of family and friends has shrunk in today's society and some feel they have no place to turn.   
 
None of us can read the minds of those around us, but each of us can resolve to be a better friend, a better listener and simply be there for others. Suicide is never God’s plan for anyone’s life.  God always offers a future and a hope. He can remove the guilt that often leads to despair.  “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:18) Even when circumstances are darkest and the future seems impossible, God has a way forward that we cannot see. “For 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). 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Intelligent Design


In 2014  Eric Hedin, an Assistant Professor of Physics at Ball State, promoted the idea to his students that the complex and intricate balance in nature reflects an intelligent design as opposed to a random series of accidental events.  The president of the University ruled that such teaching was not a scientific discipline and had no place in academia, an opinion widely shared in the academic community. Dr. Hedin once taught a course entitled The Boundaries of Science that was later cancelled.

Baylor University was embroiled in the controversy when Robert Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering set up a website and lab on the Baylor server to investigate intelligent design in 2007. Marks used the term “Evolutionary Informatics Lab.” Both the website and the lab were shut down within months and removed from the Baylor server. The lab continues on a third party server at evoinfo.org.

Regardless of academic positions on the subject, reflections on creation, purpose and intelligence beyond our own are important to all of us. We must ask the questions, “Are we alone?”  “Is there anyone else out there?” “Is the human race simply the result of eons of random chance on this third planet from the sun?”  “Have millions of years of random chance and survival of the fittest resulted in, well, ‘us?’” Or are we created in the divine image of the Creator? 

We consider ourselves intelligent.  We can solve problems. We can manipulate the natural laws of physics to make them work for us resulting in mechanical and electronic machines that magnify our strength and accelerate our speed.  We can ponder ourselves and our own existence. We can imagine things as they could be.

We are quickly making strides in our own creation of artificial intelligence, the design of robotic machinery that perform complex tasks. We already have cars that can drive themselves.  Information technology is taking us into realms reserved for the writers of science fiction. “Data,” the popular android on Star Trek, may not be so far-fetched after all.

So, whenever we finally create “Data” and others like him, what will the androids think?  Will they sit around and discuss whether they were the result of random coincidence, concluding that they have no accountability or connection to the humans that created them?  (Seeds for another science fiction epic?).

The Bible is quite clear regarding our own origin.  The Psalmist says, “For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret.” (Psalm 139:13-15).


Something beyond science resonates within us when we stand in awe on the rim of the Grand Canyon; when we behold the beauty of a sunset splashing the sky with crimson, purple and gold; when we walk by the sea listening to the waves crashing on the shore. Only worship will satisfy the emptiness within. The realization that we are part of a grand design in the mind of God calls us to accountability and fills us with meaning, purpose and peace.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

When My Body Wears Out


I took off my gloves the other day and laid them on the kitchen cabinet.  I had been outside watching the sun rise, as is my habit, even though the temperature was in the teens.  I have had these gloves a long time, several years.

When I went back to put them on again, I saw them lying there, limp and useless.  They still held the form of my hands, the fingers slightly curved. The thumb in place to grasp something, but they were empty, wrinkled and worn with use.

 My gloves reminded me of my body.  The day will come when I will put off this body that has served me for seven decades.  Like my gloves, my body was once young and new, without wrinkle, elastic, unscarred.  But over the years it has grown old.  My body groans when it moves, becomes stiff when I sit in one position too long.  It aches. Putting on my socks has become an exercise in calisthenics.

When I die I will put off this body like I pull off my gloves when I come in from the cold.  It will still hold something of my shape.  But it will no longer be me, any more than my gloves are me.  When my hand occupies my glove it can move and grasp things. The glove is filled with my life.  Likewise my body is filled with me while I still live.  But, someday, I will lay it down. 

According to Scripture, I will eventually put on a new body, just as I can place my hands in a new pair of gloves.  The Bible has a lot to say about this, especially in 1 Corinthians 15. “It is sown [a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” 

When my mother was dying we talked about heaven.  She was 89 years old.  Her body had withered away.  Her back was bowed with osteoporosis.  Her vision was failing.  She had suffered a series of mini-strokes.  She had difficulty walking.  When she was a young girl she was athletic, a beautiful fast runner. She won ribbons in track.  We talked about how she would run again, the wind in her hair, flying through the meadow as she did when she was growing up on the farm.

There’s a lot I don’t know about Heaven.  What kind of bodies will we have when we get there?  Will our heavenly bodies resemble our earthly bodies?  Will we have different ethnicities, different skin color and racial features?  Will we all look the same?   Maybe we will know other in a different way, more spiritual and intuitive than visual.  From what I know of God in this world, I would have to assume there will be variety … lots of variety … even more than we see on earth. But all prejudice and pride will vanish. 

1 John 1:3-2 states, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Investments


Everyone, it seems, is thinking about investments, especially since the stock market started December with its worst performance since the Great Depression.  When I was young, I didn’t think much about the stock market.  It seemed far removed from my day-to-day concerns.  After all, I had nothing to invest. 

When I asked my wife to marry me I was making $40 per month.  Surprisingly, she said yes.  Of course a gallon of gas cost 32 cents, 28 if you found it on sale.  Our biggest financial concern when we married was how many ways we could eat a chicken.  First she fried it, then we ate chicken salad, and finally she cooked chicken and dumplings.  It is surprising how many ways and how many times you can eat a chicken when you are broke.

But across the years we invested in annuities for our retirement.  I am glad we did.  And now a portion of those savings are invested in stocks.  So, I pay attention when the stock market goes into a swoon like it has the last three months. I try to remind myself I need to think in the long term, which is harder to do the older I get. The years are running out.

Benjamin Franklin understood the power of investments.  When he died in 1790 he left $5,000 to each of his favorite cities, Boston and Philadelphia with the stipulation that the money be invested and the interest compounded for 200 years. By 1990 the initial investment had grown to $20 million. As Franklin said, “Money makes money, and the money that money makes, makes money.”

Jesus used this metaphor to remind us of the importance of investing our lives in the right things. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the story of a wealthy man who asks three servants to manage portions of his money. To one he gives $5,000, to another $2,000 and to the third $1,000.  After a time he asks each to account for their management.  The first doubled the $5,000 and returned $10,000.  The second doubled the $2,000 and returned $4,000.  But the third buried his $1,000 because he was afraid he might lose it.  He returned the $1,000 he had been given.  The master was furious because the third servant did not invest anything. 

Of course Jesus was never concerned about money.  But he was deeply concerned about the way we invest our lives. 

Clint Eastwood’s new movie, The Mule, was released into theaters December 14.  Eastwood plays the part of Earl Stone who, late in life, is estranged from his family because he chose to invest his time in his career and hobbies rather than his relationships.  The movie is based on the life of Leo Sharp, a WW II veteran who became a renowned horticulturalist in day lilies before becoming a drug courier in his 80s.

We all have choices. Whether we have financial investments or not, we are responsible for our time and resources.  As we look forward to 2019 we need to ask ourselves the question, “What investments will I make in the lives of those I love and the world around me?”