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- Diana M., Ranger, Texas

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Memorial Day

Next Monday is Memorial Day , the official start of summer!  Families will load up and head parks, lakes and camp grounds.  Spring is here summer is near.  Kids will soon be out for summer and new graduates will launch out on new adventures in search of their destiny.   But the celebration, fresh air and freedom has a deeper meaning.   It is a time for remembering those who laid down their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. 

My grandfather fought in France during WWI.  My uncle entered Nuremberg in a tank at the end of WWII and remained there 2 months to recover from wounds.  Both of my brothers served in the Air Force during Viet Nam and my son served in the U.S. Marine Corps.  All of us have relatives who have served in the armed services.  Some have loved ones who left to defend our country and never returned.  On this Memorial Day, we pause to remember and honor those who gave the “ultimate sacrifice.”

What we know as Memorial Day originated at the end of the Civil War that claimed more lives than any other war in our history.  Officially, Memorial Day began May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, New York. In 1968 Congress designated the last Monday of May as a national Memorial Day to remember those who died in active service.  As time passed, the memorial aspects of the weekend have faded and for many it has become the first weekend for summer vacation.

The Bible recognizes the importance of memorials.  We need tangible dates and places to remember significant events and the values that give meaning to life.  The first memorial mentioned in the Bible is in reference to the living God.  When Moses met God in the wilderness and was commissioned to deliver Israel, he asked God to reveal His name.  God responded, “You shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me … the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial-name to all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15).

Our forefathers were not perfect.  They had many flaws and made many mistakes, but history is clear that most were people of faith in the living God.  A young publisher named Benjamin Franklin printed the sermons of George Whitfield that moved the colonies to Christ prior to the American Revolution. Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a Christian novel to which Lincoln attributed the Civil War.  And Julia Ward Howe gave us the Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1862, based on Isaiah 63 and Revelation 19.  Later, it was faith in God and His son Jesus Christ that sustained us through two world wars.

On this Memorial weekend, while we enjoy the laughter of our children and the love of our friends, let us remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, those who prayed and sacrificed and believed that we could “overcome.”  Let us trust the One who laid His life down that we might know God’s forgiveness and love for one another.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Graduation: Visions and Dreams


Young men and women will line up this month robed in caps and gowns grinning at their friends. Their eyes scan the audience, peering past dangling tassels in search of family members who search for them.   Cameras and cell phones light up stadiums and auditoriums with bursts of light as proud parents try to capture the magic of the moment. Our grandson graduates from high school May 19 in Sundance, Wyoming.  

Presidents, principals, guest speakers and valedictorians will speak of new horizons, a future yet to be written, a world to be changed. They will urge those who have reached this achievement to believe in themselves and to never stop learning. 

Every graduate that walks across the stage to shake hands with administrators and receive their diploma has a unique story.  Few are as unique as Helen Small. Helen dropped out of college as a freshman in 1938 to marry her sweetheart, help fight a war and raise a family.  Seventy years later, at eighty-eight she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2007. In 2010 when she was ninety years old, she graduated with a Masters of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 2011 she published a book, Why not? My Seventy Year Plan for a College Degree.  One of her teachers, Dr. John Santrock, a professor of psychology said, “What especially stands out about Helen as a student is how appreciative she is of the opportunity to learn.”  Commenting on her college experience as a ninety-year-old, Helen said, “It’s helped me start a whole new phase of life.”  Helen remained active, teaching, organizing and encouraging until her death two years ago at 97.

Graduation commencements inspire us because they not only recognize significant achievement, they celebrate new beginnings, new possibilities and opportunities, or, as Helen said, the start of a new phase of life.   Education offers to the young the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that equip them for the future.  For those who are older, it offers the opportunity to re-tool, to start over, to pursue new dreams. 

Nothing is as important for a new start on life as a spiritual transformation that connects us with God and places in our hearts the values that make life meaningful.  Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7).  In Ezekiel God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

God is always about new beginnings.  He offers to the young the opportunity to launch their lives on the path that leads to life and, to those who are older, the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over. Whether or not you hold a formal degree from an institution, whether you are nineteen or ninety, you can make a new start on life.  Paul wrote in Corinthians “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Monday, May 6, 2019

Rewriting the Rules


It is always important to know the rules.  We have rules at school, rules at work and rules at home. We establish laws to govern traffic: speed limits, stop signs, turn lanes and signals.  We pass laws for family, marriage, commerce and civil conduct.  We spend billions of dollars to employ law enforcement officials, judges and lawyers to make sure the rules are obeyed.

We even have rules for play. Every sport has its rules with umpires and referees to insure that the rules are enforced.  We have added instant replay to make sure their rulings are fair and objective.  Still, arguments erupt and tempers flare when either side believes it has been unfairly judged.  People are still arguing the stewards’ ruling that disqualified Maximum Security at the Kentucky Derby.

Some rules are unwritten. We assume we know them from birth. They are common to every culture on earth.  They are simple rules:  love your family and your friends.  Do good things for them.  Love your country.  If someone hits you, hit them back.  First come, first serve. Lend to those who can repay with interest. Look out for “number one.”  Protect your property. Defend yourself. Get even. They are the stuff of most movies and novels.  They are the rules by which we live our lives.
Jesus’ words sound strange when compared to our natural assumptions about how life is supposed to work. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36).
Jesus rewrote the rules.

Monday, April 29, 2019

God Is For You


Two years ago my son-in-law participated in his first Iron Man race in Boulder, Colorado. It is a grueling event: a 3 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike route and finished off with a 13 mile half-marathon, 72 miles start to finish.  In his first Iron Man we were there, cheering him on.  It was important that he knew we were “for him!”  We were proud of him.

A few years ago he had let his weight get out of control and drifted well above 200 lbs.  But he was determined to get into shape.  Setting a goal was important and the Iron Man gave him incentive.  He lost 50 lb.  It wasn’t easy.  It might have been impossible if he had tried to do it alone, without the support of family and friends.

We see it everywhere, especially in sports, but it is also true in the classroom and on the job and in every family.  It matters when people are cheering us on, lifting us up, letting us know that they are for us!  My father did that for me when I was young.  I have sought to do the same for my children.  They have pursued different paths, chosen different careers, but always I have wanted them to know that I was in their corner, I was “for them.”

How much more is that true for our spiritual quest and journey.  We each need to know that God is on our side.  He is cheering for us.  A few days ago I came across a very simple statement in the Psalms, one I have somehow overlooked over the many years I have read the Bible.  Psalm 56:9b simply says, “This I know, that God is for me.” 

This was the secret of David’s success throughout his life, whether facing wild beasts as a young shepherd, Goliath on the battlefield, the death of his best friend, his own moral failure or the betrayal of his son, Absolam.  Down deep, beneath all the terror and anguish of the moment, he was confident of one thing: “This I know, that God is for me.” 

Wherever you are, God is for you.  He wants to redeem you, to save you from the abyss, to turn you from your own destructive impulses and set your feet on fruitful paths. He wants to rescue you from the depths of despair.  He will never leave you nor forsake you. “What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).   

You may sometimes feel that you are all alone when facing difficulties and trials. The mountains may seem insurmountable. But this is not so.  God knows everything about you. He knows your fears as well as your dreams.  He knows your doubts as well as your hopes.  And, He has declared Himself for you! 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Monday, April 22, 2019

How Is Your Soul?


References to the soul seem strangely absent in our churches. But if the churches have stopped talking about the soul, the technological gurus who design apps for our iPhones have not. 

A few years ago the Huffington Post launched an app called “GPS for the soul.”  The app is based on two truths that say, “that we all have within us a centered place of harmony and balance, and that we all veer from that place again and again. “ Arianna Huffington stated, “There’s a snake lurking in this cyber-Garden of Eden. Our 24/7 connection to the digital world often disconnects us from the real world around us -- from our physical surroundings, from our loved ones, and especially from ourselves. We see the effects of this in every aspect of our lives.”

The Bible speaks a great deal about the soul.  The soul can be deeply troubled.  David cried out, “My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3) and again, “I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (Ps. 31:7). 

Our soul can rejoice. “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.” (Ps. 35:9).  Our soul can be refreshed, “He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23:3) and our soul can be at peace. “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” (Ps. 62:1).

Jesus taught that there is nothing in this world more important than the condition of your soul.  “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mt. 16:26). And again, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29).

John Ortberg, in his book, Soul Keeping, writes, “We live in a world that teaches us to be more concerned with the condition of our cars, or our careers, or our portfolios than the condition of our souls. … What if I don’t get a promotion, or my boss doesn’t like me, or I have financial problems, or I have a bad hair day? Yes, these may cause disappointment, but do they have any power over my soul?  Can they nudge my soul from its center, which is the very heart of God?  When you think about it that way, you realize that external circumstances cannot keep you from being with God.”

What is truly important is not our possessions. Neither is it our physical strength or beauty. Nor is it positions of influence, power or fame.  What is truly important is our soul, the essence of who we are. Although our bodies may wither with old age and disease, our souls can continue to grow in grace as we experience God’s love while loving others.

This is why Jesus said that the first commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the second is like it, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” If we receive His gift of grace and do this, we will find food and rest for our souls.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Resurrection Faith


Several years ago I preached the funeral of a woman I had known for forty-five years. By the time she ended her long battle with breast cancer she was in her mid-fifties.

When I first met her, she was a little girl.  I still remember her innocent blue eyes as a child.  I watched her grow through childhood and into her teen years.  When she was a young adult, she was lured down painful and destructive paths refusing to heed the warnings of those who loved her. I prayed for her, along with others and she fell deeper into addiction to drugs and alcohol. She gave her first born up for adoption and eventually served a sentence in prison.

But somewhere along the way, whether in prison or afterward, she came to faith in Jesus Christ. Like the woman who pressed through the crowd, she touched the hem of His garment. As Jesus said to another woman so many years ago, He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.” 

In the last decade I saw her reunited with her first-born whom she gave up in her youth. She was reconciled with her family who surrounded her in love.  God brought a good man into her life who, like her, was a recovering alcoholic.

She often shared with me her testimony of faith and what God had done in her life.  She still wasn’t perfect. She still had issues. But she was different. God was healing her on the inside.

The week before she died, we visited.  Family and friends gathered around her, comforting her, praying for her and loving her.  On Wednesday of that week, she drew her last breath.

Once again, I thought of her as that innocent blue-eyed girl I first knew. It reminded me of Jesus’ visit to the home of a mother and father whose twelve-year-old daughter had died.  The house was surrounded by people who were weeping. But Jesus entered the child’s bedroom with her parents and spoke these gentle words to her.  “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”   She immediately breathed, opened her eyes and got up.   

This is the faith we believe as followers of Christ. Because He was raised from the dead, we can be raised also.  We make mistakes.  We may wander far from God.  We may cause pain to ourselves and others.  But He seeks us out.  He never lets us go.  He reconciles, redeems and, in the day of our death, He raises us up!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

When Life Overwhelms


My cousin calls it “clumping:” those times when demands upon our life converge in a perfect storm. We face demands from employees, employers, clients and supervisors. We face demands from our family: marriages that need nurture; children who struggle with growth issues from the cradle to college; aging parents with failing health. Unexpected illness strikes us when we least expect it. “Clumping” times steal away our breath and rob us of our energy. Sleep is elusive, and, when it comes is often filled with restless nightmares of unfulfilled obligations.

Even Jesus experienced “clumping." As his fame spread, the demands made upon him multiplied. The Gospels say that he did not even have time to eat. At one point he was so exhausted that a life-threatening storm could not wake him. Thousands pressed in upon him from dawn to dusk seeking help. His own family rejected him. His closest followers disagreed with him. His enemies hounded him.

But in the midst of these demands Jesus always demonstrated a calm confidence and a quiet center. He refused to be hurried or harried. He never snapped back, never became irritable. And, in the end, he changed the world. No life has impacted the world more profoundly than Jesus.

What are the clues from Jesus that can help us when “clumping” strikes?

“Clumping” is temporary. The time when demands and crises seem overwhelming will ultimately pass. Jesus could face the overwhelming demands that fell upon him because he knew it was temporary. Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” Having learned this truth from Jesus, Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”(1 Peter 1:6-7)

Sooner or later life will “clump.” Prepare for the “clumping” stages of life before they come. Jesus told the story of two men who built their houses, one upon sand and the other upon rock. When the storm came, which is inevitable, the house built on sand collapsed. If we continually practice honesty, goodness, generosity, forgiveness and faith when times are easy, we will be able to overcome when times get tough.

Build quiet space for prayer in the midst of life’s demands. Even though the demands upon Jesus were intense and unrelenting, he always found time to get alone with God. Mark writes, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” (Mark 1:35-36).

Constantly look to God. Perhaps this more than anything else was the secret of Jesus’ success. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).