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- Diana M., Ranger, Texas

Monday, July 15, 2019

Our Place Among the Stars: The Lunar Landing


This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, July 20, 1969.  Those of us old enough to remember watched on a grainy black-and-white TVs when Armstrong made his “giant leap” from the bottom rung of the ladder to the moon’s surface. 

It was a turbulent time on earth.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been gunned down the year before. Vietnam was at its height. 11,616 American GIs died in Vietnam in 1969. Protests were spreading across the country. Four unarmed students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State in 1970.  We were 4 years away from the oil embargo that quadrupled the price of gas and 5 year away from Nixon’s resignation over Watergate.

But, in the midst of the chaos, we left a human footprint on the moon.  For most of my life that moment has remained a symbol of the indomitable human spirit, our aspiration and determination to do the impossible, to literally reach for the stars. Most of us assumed that we would return. When the movie 2001 debuted, it seemed entirely plausible that we would have a base on the moon by the end of the century.  But, 50 years later, the Apollo footprints remain undisturbed.

There was another human element at play when we left earth’s orbit and pointed our rockets toward the moon.  Many of us felt humbled in the face of our fragile yet beautiful existence.  The astronauts not only taught us courage and discipline, they inspired us with awe and faith.   

John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. When asked about his experience, Glenn said, “To look at this kind of creation out here and not to believe in God to me is impossible.”

On Christmas Eve, 1968, with the desolate lunar landscape beneath and the earth rising like a marvelous marble of life on the lunar horizon, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders took turns reading the Genesis account of creation. (Genesis 1:1-10).  Prior to exiting the lunar lander 18 months later, Armstrong and Aldrin paused while Buzz Aldrin, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, took communion and prayed. 

Thomas Friedman includes an account about Neil Armstrong’s visit to Jerusalem years later.  According to Friedman, when Armstrong visited the Temple in Jerusalem in 2007 he asked his guide if these were the very steps where Jesus stepped.  When his guide confirmed they were, Armstrong reportedly said, “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these steps than I was stepping on the moon.”

Fifty years after the Apollo 11 landing, we can appreciate even more the words of David, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man, that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than God, and you crown him with glory and majesty!  You make him to rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:3-6). 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lessons From the Ant


The ants are back!  We have kept them at bay inside the house, but outside, that is a different matter.  A single dropped crumb on the patio and the next morning a stream of ants appear, hundreds of them in a neatly organized operation to dismantle the discarded food and store it in bits and bites for later use. 

How do they do this?  Do the wandering scout-ants have cell phones?  When they make a discovery do they place a call back to home base and say, “Send the troops.  We have food!”  Who organizes the operation?  Who tells these worker ants to answer the call, and who plots the shortest and least obstructed route to the treasure? 

If they were humans, the searchers who discovered the food supply would immediately stake a claim, lay title to it and horde it so that they could be wealthier than all the other ants.   They would let the weaker ants in the colony starve.  And, they would probably spend most of their time in “ant court” defending the right to their possessions.  “Ant lawyers” would probably claim the greatest portion of the wealth.

Why can’t we learn from these little creatures?  According to UNICEF 3.3 million children die from undernutrition every year. They often die in remote villages far from public view.  Over 10% of the world’s population live on less than $2 per day.

I have to admit this convicts and alarms me.  I need to be more like the little critters that invade my patio.  I need to sound the alarm, send out the signal, marshal others and join them in distributing food and resources to those who need it.  But how do we do this?  How do we know that our gifts get to the people and places where they are needed?  There is so much graft and corruption in the world that charitable gifts are often routed into the pockets of the greedy. 

I guess the best thing is to be alert to opportunities.  When one of our international students returned home to Zambia to start Christ Life Ministries, I sent a check.  When refugees lined up for shelter at our border I sent a gift to the Annunciation House in El Paso. It’s not much.  But, for me it is a start.  If all of us gave more generously we could make a difference, like the ant.

Proverbs says, “Go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8).  John the forerunner, described what we should do if we really want to respond in faith to the Messiah.  He said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11)

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Generation In Need of Spiritual Awakening


In the early 1740s a young printer in Philadelphia reached an agreement with an itinerant preacher from England to print his sermons and journals.  Historians say the agreement made Benjamin Franklin rich and George Whitefield famous.  With Franklin’s assistance in the printed word, Whitefield’s preaching sparked a spiritual flame that ignited Colonial America.  In his autobiography, Franklin noted he could not walk down the streets of Philadelphia in the evening without hearing families singing Christian hymns. Many credit the Great Awakening for creating the values that later produced American Independence.

At noon on September 23, 1857, a businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier waited for others to join him for prayer in a room on Fulton Street in New York.  Six people showed up. The next week, 20 came.  Then 40.  They started meeting daily. The crowd swelled to more than 3,000 following the financial panic of October 14.   In less than 6 months, 10,000 businessmen were attending daily prayer meetings in New York. More than 10,000 came to faith in Philadelphia, 5,000 in Boston. At its peak, 50,000 people a week were professing faith in Christ.  In Bethel, Conn. businesses closed for prayer.  Led by laity and crossing denominational lines, the movement swept more than one million people to faith in Christ leading up to the Civil War.

During the Civil War a little-known shoe salesman from Chicago ministered among the Union troops.  Afterward, he gave up selling shoes to win souls.  In the last half of the 19th century, Dwight L. Moody preached to over 100 million people in the United States and the U.K.   On one occasion more than 130,000 people assembled to hear him preach.

Following the Civil War, baseball became America’s pass time. A war orphan became one of the most popular players for the Chicago White Sox, arguably the fastest runner in the sport. After his conversion to Christ, Billy Sunday hit the “sawdust trail” and moved America with his passionate preaching.  He is said to have drawn more press than WWI. And, like Moody before him, preached to more than 100 million people.

A tent was erected in Los Angeles in 1947 following WWII and an unknown evangelist named Billy Graham was invited to preach. The three week revival stretched into 8 and launched Graham’s career.  For the next 50 years Billy Graham preached to over 210 million people in more than 185 countries.  He became close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr in the 1950s and supported the Civil Rights movement.  Graham became a spiritual advisor and confidant to every President from Truman to Barak Obama.

But what about the 21st century? In an era dominated by violence, prejudice, corruption, rising rates of suicide and addiction, our generation seems to be adrift without a moral compass. Who will God raise up to help us discover the spiritual truths that guided the generations that went before us? 

God might choose, as in 1857, to spawn a spiritual movement without a central personality. More often than not, He chooses to work through uniquely gifted and anointed individuals as He did through John the forerunner who drew massive crowds to the Jordan.  Whoever and however God chooses, our world is desperate for men and women of personal and spiritual integrity who can lift our souls to heaven.

Each of us can make a difference.  When Jesus came, John preached, but Anna prayed (Luke 2:36-38). As did Simeon (Luke 2:25-35).  Every day, with every honest decision, with every generous action, with every kindness, every act of forgiveness, and every prayer, each of us can help save a lost and dying world.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Kingdom Trailer


Many years ago the movie industry discovered the power of trailers, short clips and promotional scenes that entice us to spend good money to watch their movie. For the last couple weeks we have been inundated with trailers and clips from Toy Story 4, the next adventure for Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lighyear (Tim Allen) and their cast of toy friends. We were so excited by the teasers that we spent over $118 million at the box office last weekend to see it.

Perhaps we can learn something from Disney and Hollywood.

The Australian writer, Michael Frost, argues that the Christians and churches are to be like movie trailers for the Kingdom. We are to live in such a way that when others see us they say, “I want to be a part of that,” or,”I wish the world was like that.” This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Whether we like it or not, our churches and our lives are being viewed like movie trailers by others. When non-believers look at our churches and our lives, they are whispering to themselves and to one another saying, “I’ll have to check that out,” or, “I wouldn’t want to be part of that.”

Jesus presented the clearest preview of the Kingdom. He invited others to look at his life to see what the Kingdom looks like. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-21).

The early followers of Jesus practiced Kingdom living in such a way that others were drawn to them and to their churches. This is why the Christian faith exploded in the first three centuries. People saw previews of the Kingdom practiced in the churches and the lives of believers, and they wanted to be part of it.

This is also the reason Christianity is stumbling in our day. Too often churches and Christians are selfish and self-centered, fighting among themselves and with others for dominance and control. When others see this, like patrons at a theater, they whisper to themselves, “That’s not for me.”

Every church and every believer must live in such a way that others see God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is what Paul meant when he said, “But thanks be to God, who … manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Art of Aging


I have discovered another principle of physics.  As the body grows older gravity increases exponentially. When the body is young, its parts stay in place, firm and fit. But as age sets in the parts start to slide -- downward. And the energy expended to lift the body from a sedentary position increases.

I love to watch children skipping and dancing down the sidewalk.  My grandchildren, 8, 6 and 2, run wherever they go, and climb anything they can find.  I enjoy the grace of teenagers gliding effortlessly on skateboards, sprinting after a fly ball, leaping to make the catch.  And I think to myself, once upon a time, that was me!

There are different perspectives about growing old.  “Grow old along with me” wrote Robert Browning, “ the best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made:  our times are in His hand.”

Thomas Jefferson was not so kind. “First one faculty withdrawn and then another, sight, hearing, memory, affection and friends, filched one by one, till we are left among strangers, the mere monuments of times, facts, and specimens of antiquity for the observation of the curious.”

I have heard others say, “There is nothing good about growing old.”  And, “growing old isn’t for wimps.”  The last of these saying is probably true, but not the first.

When Billy Graham was in his nineties he wrote, “I can’t truthfully say that I have liked growing older. At times I wish I could still do everything I once did – but I can’t. I wish I didn’t have to face the infirmities and uncertainties that seem to be part of this stage of life – but I do.” He asks the important question, “Is old age only a cruel burden that grows heavier and heavier as the years go by, with nothing to look forward to but death? Or can it be something more?”

In his book, Nearing Home, Graham wrote, “Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. … When granted many years of life, growing old in age is natural, but growing old in grace is a choice. Growing older with grace is possible to all who set their hearts and minds on the Giver of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

My wife and I celebrated our fiftieth anniversary last year.  I wrote a book about our journey and published it on Amazon, Our Story.  It highlights our life together for more than half a century with joy, laughter, celebration, sorrow, loss and disappointment.  The longer we live, the deeper we discover life’s textures. The colors become more vibrant, and the blessings and goodness of God, more clear.

I can say as David said, “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).  Along with David, I can say, “I will utter dark sayings of old which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.  We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works which He has done!” (Psalm 78:2-4).

Monday, June 10, 2019

When The Storm Comes


We were at our beach house on Galveston Island when a tornado passed over Jamaica Beach.  Our house shook; the windows rattled; hail battered the walls like bullets.  We kept reminding ourselves that the house survived Ike.  It would surely survive this.

Galveston is familiar with storms.  The historic Hurricane of 1900 virtually destroyed the city and killed 6,000 people.   Hurricane Ike raked the island in 2008.  The F-1 tornado that passed over Jamaica Beach won’t even appear as a blip on the screen.

Beach houses on the Island are built for storms.  We know that years may pass, maybe decades, perhaps a century, but the wind, rain, hail and floods will come.  We must build for it and we must expect it. In Jamaica Beach every house is at least ten feet off the ground built on pilings driven as many feet, or more, beneath the surface to anchor the house on solid soil.

In the same way, we must prepare ourselves for the storms that can devastate our personal lives.  Loved ones will die.  We will grow old, battle illness, suffer a tragic accident or fall victim to violence.  We are all mortal.

Jesus ended his Sermon on the Mount with a parable about houses built upon sand and rock.  (He didn’t include anything about houses built upon pilings.  But I guess poles sunk ten to twenty feet into the ground are as strong as foundations built on rock. Our house is still standing and we are still dry.)

Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27).

 Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. … Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter, 1:6-7, 4:12). 

We cannot prepare for the storms after they hit.  It is too late.  Preparations must be made months and years ahead.  The storm only reveals the foundation that has already been built.  In the same way, the faith that will carry us throughout life and beyond death is a faith that must be nurtured and established before the trial comes.  This is why Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship are so important day-by-day and week-by-week. The foundation we build today will sustain us tomorrow.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Fred and Ethel - Miracles and Mystery


A robin built a nest on a low limb of the tree tree outside our front window.  She built her nest alone. Her mate tried to help, but most of what he built she had to redo.  Males just get in the way.  Only a female can make a nest a home.  She built it with sturdy twigs twisted together to form a cup in the fork of a limb, then lined with soft grass and moss, comfortable and warm for the chicks soon to come.

She sat for two weeks, never seeming to move. Always vigilant.  Always alert.  Smothering the eggs in her warmth, waiting patiently until her babies crack open the thin blue shells that surround their embryonic beginnings.

I named her Ethel and her absent mate, Fred.  Fred has been off singing somewhere, but, when the eggs hatched and the babies raised their beaks and their voices in hunger, he showed up with food for Ethel and the babies!  He did so Saturday June 1.  It was an exciting day, I can tell you! When their feathers grow, he will teach them to forage for food and fly to the trees while she builds another nest for another brood.

Fred and Ethel have mated for life.  Each spring they return to where we live and look for one another so she can build another nest and raise some more robins. Who taught them to do this?  How do they know to look for each other each year, and how does she know how to build a nest, lay her eggs and nurture them? 

I know that some say it is an accident, the result of random chance. That somehow an amoeba evolved into a robin, built a nest and laid some eggs that hatched into little robins and that this has been going on for thousands of years. How did the first robin that laid the first egg know what to do with it?

It makes more sense to me to marvel that I am surrounded by miracles and mystery.  Life is too complex and too beautiful to exist without a Master Designer who fashioned the first feathers and taught the first robin to fly.  

In His famous conversation with Job, God asks, ““Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, stretching his wings toward the south? “Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?  “On the cliff he dwells and lodges, upon the rocky crag, an inaccessible place. (Job 39:26-28).

Jesus said, “Consider the birds, they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!” (Luke 12:24). And, we might add, how much more miraculous you are? God has designed you, made you and declared His love for you. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  “I have loved you with an everlasting love”  (Jeremiah 31:3).