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Monday, December 27, 2010

The New Year Looking Back

As the New Year dawns, we pause to remember the year that is rapidly slipping into the recesses of our memory. Looking back is important. Remembering helps us put in perspective the things that are to come.

We are slowly recovering from the latest economic collapse as we face the future. We saw improvement in 2010 and financial experts predict an improving economy in 2011. But millions are still struggling. Many recent college graduates have taken low paying jobs while they juggle student loans and search for employment in their career fields. The unemployment rate remains above 9% with more than 14 million people out of work. Retirees watched their annuity investments plunge in 2008 and face the future with increased insecurity.

Looking back long term helps us handle these immediate challenges. It helps us avoid arrogance and pride, despondency and despair. Some of us have a lot to remember. We lived through the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the cold war and the space race, the first oil embargo with gas lines that stretched around the block, Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, runaway inflation and the recession of the 80’s, the first PCs, cell phones, internet, Desert Storm, the dot com bust, 9-11, the Iraq war, Afghanistan and the Great Recession of 2008. We have learned that things will get better. We have learned that God is faithful in every crisis and every difficulty. We know from experience that his promise is sure: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

When times get tough, it is easy to forget. We need to be reminded about God’s faithfulness. This is why the Bible teaches us to remember. The Passover was established to help Israel remember how God delivered them from slavery. We celebrate Christmas to remember God’s gift of his only-begotten Son, a light shining in the darkness. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper to help us remember his death, burial and resurrection.

Just as important, the Bible tells us that God remembers us. When we feel forgotten and alone, thinking that no one cares, God remembers. Every rainbow reminds us that God remembered us when the greatest calamity in history struck the earth, a flood so great that it almost wiped all human life from the earth. (Genesis 8,9). God never forgets. “He remembers His covenant forever, the promise He made, for a thousand generations.” (1 Chron. 16:15). Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Finding Christmas 12-20-2010

The anticipation has been building for a month. Christmas is at the door. Twinkling lights illuminate windows, roof tops and lawns. I like the concerts, the majestic music celebrating Christ’s birth. I like the brightly wrapped gifts full of suspense and promise collecting under the tree.

Christmas is the time to communicate and gather with friends. Although email and Facebook may take a bite out of Christmas cards, I still like hearing from people whose lives have helped shape my own. I like reading their Christmas letters with updates on themselves and their kids. The gathering part can be a challenge. Office parties, church groups, close friends and family quickly fill the calendar. We travel great distances and juggle schedules to spend this special time with family members we have not seen in a year. It isn’t easy. All of this communicating and gathering challenges us for control of our time and our lives. When our continuing duties for work, school and family are overlaid with Christmas commitments we sometimes find ourselves weary and exhausted, feeling that our lives are spinning out of control.

We search for Christmas in the spectacular: the spectacular event, spectacular lights, the spectacular gift. We want to re-create the perfect Christmas card moment that we wish exemplified our lives.

The first Christmas had little resemblance to our contemporary traditions. The birth of Christ occurred in the chaos of the common and the ordinary: a common stable surrounded by common animals in a common village. Few took notice. There was no extravaganza staged in the cities. The angels’ announcement occurred in a remote region with only a few simple shepherds present. The Magi, who observed the star in the east, came and went almost unnoticed.

It was for the common and the ordinary that Christ came. He grew up in a carpenter’s shop in the remote village of Nazareth. He owned no house and had no possessions. He had no place to lay his head. And, after a brief public ministry in which he healed and taught thousands, he died upon a common cross outside Jerusalem and was buried in a borrowed tomb. In birth, life and death, Jesus redeemed the common and the ordinary and elevated each of us to an extraordinary relationship with God.

The first Christmas was an “out of control” event for Mary and Joseph. The tax summons that took them to Bethlehem could not have come at a worse time. The baby was due. She was in no condition for such a long and arduous journey. When they arrived, the town was a bedlam of people. No one wanted to be there. They had come because they were obligated under Roman law. Of course, it was not out of God’s control. What appeared to be an onerous obligation and an inconvenient time was actually a fulfillment of prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

Perhaps God planned it this way to teach us that His intervention must be experienced in the common and the ordinary chaos of life. When we look for Christmas in the spectacular, we can only experience it once a year. But when we discover Christmas in the common and the chaotic, it can change our life every day.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Soul Christmas

We don’t talk much about the soul. Other generations did, but not ours. We are far more focused on our bodies and our money. This is apparent in our approach to Christmas with our lists of what we want and our search for the perfect gift with the deepest discount. The soul is seldom even mentioned. It seems that we have abandoned discussions about the soul to practitioners of New Age and metaphysics.

What is the soul? It is not an organ that can be removed, placed on a laboratory table and analyzed. We cannot perform a “soul-ectomy.” The Bible is filled with references to the soul and clearly recognizes both the existence and the importance of the soul. We all sense that there is something within us that is more than the sum of our parts, the substance of our being where we make decisions that affect the health of our bodies, our mind and our emotions. This is our soul. It is the substance and the essence of who we are, especially in relationship to God and to each other. When the body withers and dies, the soul remains. Our soul is eternal.

Our decisions and our actions shape our soul. Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” With respect to money, Jesus said, “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?” He told the story of a rich man who was focused on his wealth and amassing greater fortunes. ' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'

David was intimately aware of his soul and referred to the soul often in the Psalms. He gave us clues as to how we can nurture and shape our soul. He said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” And “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in His salvation.” (Ps. 19:7; 35:9).

In some way, the Christmas season reveals the condition of our soul. If we are focused on temporary conditions, seeking to satisfy ourselves with possessions and self-centered gratification, Christmas can become a season of stress, leaving us disappointed, exhausted and empty. But, when we approach the Christmas season in faith, our soul is stirred. When we focus on the miraculous goodness of God who sent His Son and when we seek opportunities for generosity and comfort to others, we discover joy and gladness. Our soul resonates with Mary, the mother of Jesus who sang, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior. For he has had regard for the humble state of his bondslave; for behold from this time on, all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is His name. And his mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent the rich away empty handed.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Secrets 12-06-2010

The Wikileaks secrets are still leaking. Most of the documents appear to be trivial and petty. Some of them are serious. All of it stems from words written and spoken in secret places that the participants never dreamed would be read or heard by anyone else. But what was said in private is now public and the international diplomatic world is reeling.

You would think that we would have learned our lesson about secrets. President Nixon and “all the President’s men” thought that they could get away with it. But every word uttered in the oval office found its way into print and into the public. The Watergate tapes ripped the mask off the public image of politics and left an entire generation disillusioned.

Twenty years later, Bill Clinton assumed that what he did in secret would remain secret. But what happened with Lewinsky behind closed doors became public record resulting in the second Presidential impeachment in history. In his autobiography Clinton confessed, “The question of secrets is one I have thought a lot about over the years. … Secrets can be an awful burden to bear, especially if some sense of shame is attached to them . … Of course, I didn’t begin to understand all this back when I became a secret-keeper. …I was always reluctant to discuss with anyone the most difficult parts of my personal life.”

Jesus warned us long ago that our secrets would become public. He said, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” And again, He said, “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.”

What we do and say when we are alone, when we think no one else is looking, that is the part of our life that ultimately determines our success or failure. We are defined by our conduct and our conversation in secret. Jesus constantly encouraged his followers to focus on what they did in secret. “When you pray,” He said, “go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” And, “when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Jesus taught that those who say and do things privately that they do not want others to know about are like cups that are only washed on the outside. A slimy green scum continues to grow on the filth that is left on the inside. He compared people who keep up a public image that is not consistent with their secret conduct to marble tombs in graveyards. They appear whitewashed and clean on the outside, but inside they are filled with rotting and decaying bones.

When we do what is right in private, what is seen in public will take care of itself. The most important part of our lives is the secret part.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Korea - Behind the News 11-30-2010

A few years ago my wife and I boarded a plane at DFW and landed sixteen hours later in Seoul, South Korea. We found a prosperous modern city in a growing economy. We rode efficient subways in complete safety. It is the fourth largest economy in Asia and is referred to s the "Mirale on the Han" because of its remarkable economic progress. North Korea, by contrast is poverty stricken under a strict Stalinist regime that uses nuclear intimidation to secure world aid in order to prop up its tottering economy.

North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong last week once again catapulted the Korean peninsula to center stage and sent ripples around the world. The political, economic and religious contrasts between North and South Korea are obvious. The personal stories beneath the surface are not.

I first met Ben in the 1980s when we were starting Korean churches in Texas. I later learned his story. As a teenager he watched North Koreans kill his father because he would not renounce his faith in Christ. For years he harbored anger and resentment. Then he was able to make a mission trip to North Korea. The people to whom he ministered asked why he had come to help them. He responded, "Because Jesus told us to love our enemies." Unable to re-enter Noth Korea, he continues to help plant churches in China.

I met Robert a few years ago. As a child he survived on the streets of Seoul with his mother during the Korean conflict. After the cease fire, he was one of the children rescued by Pearl S. Buck. Her efforts brought him to the United States and provided an education. He became a sucessful businessman well on his way to personal wealth, but his marriage was failing and his life was empty until he found Christ. He quit his profession, went to seminary and became pastor of a Korean church. He later went to Cuba and helped start dozens of churches. Regarding his work in Cuba, he said he felt that working in a Communist country would help him prepare for the day when he would be able to minister in North Korea. He now works among North Korean refugees in China waiting and praying for the opportunity to share the gospel in North Korea.

When we visited Seoul, my wife and I attended a 6 a.m prayer meeting in one of the churches. Every morning members gather at 4, 5, 6 and 7 a.m. to pray. More than a thousand people were present. They prayed quietly in small groups with family and friends as they do every day. Some read their Bibles. Some knelt. Some prayed quietly whispering reverent prayers. We were inspired and humbled. Today, South Korean churches send out more than 12,000 missionaries to 160 countries. They are intentionally going to the hardest to evangelize corners of the earth, seeking to witness "in a low voice and with wisdom." The Sarang Community Church in Seoul has grown to more than 45,000 members. They are training people as "lay professional missionaries" to take secular jobs in other nations so they can share Christ with their co-workers and neighbors.

During these tense days on the Korean peninsula, I hope all of us will join our Korean brothers and sisters in Christ, praying for peace and for freedom so that multitudes who have never heard will hear the message of hope in Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 22, 2010

William and Kate 11-22-2010

The prince has chosen a bride. A commoner will become a princess. The future king of England has chosen his future queen. Movie stars, athletes, musicians and would-be-celebrities shrink into the shadows compared to the blinding light focused on William and Kate.

All the world takes notice, including the descendents of the rebellious Colonials and the offspring of prisoners consigned to the Outback. We are dazzled by royalty and the age-old Cinderella story lived out in true life. (Well, maybe it isn’t exactly Cinderella. After all, her parents are self-made millionaires.)

Prince William and Kate Middleton were on a holiday with friends in Kenya when he proposed. Choosing “somewhere nice” according to William, a “very romantic” place according to Kate. William slipped the engagement ring on her finger, the same ring worn by his mother, Princess Diana, a large sapphire surrounded by diamonds. On Tuesday they announced the wedding would take place at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011.

The media is giddy with the story. So is my wife. She loves Cinderella stories of any kind, especially true ones. She has carted me off to “Princess Diaries,” “Runaway Bride,” “The Proposal,” “Pride and Prejudice” and others. I take her to these shows because she loves them and I love her. I have spent hours sitting in darkened theaters, the only male in a room full of women. I usually wear my cap and keep it low over my eyes so I won’t be recognized. I excuse myself in the middle of the movie to find refills of popcorn and Coke. I remain seated till all the rest of the moviegoers file out so I won’t be recognized then walk by the entrance to movies like “The Dark Knight” to hide my trail.

Why are we attracted to this English melodrama? Maybe it is the holdover from the age of Victorian Romance. Maybe it is in our blood somewhere, this obsession with royalty, the stuff that made Shakespeare famous. I suspect it has something to do with our own dreams to be lifted out of anonymous obscurity, to have our life suddenly elevated to international and historic importance, like Kate Middleton.

Of course, the Bible indicates that none of us is obscure or anonymous. We are all known. In fact, God has made a proposal to us, to elevate us to royalty and significance. The King of Heaven has offered to place His ring upon our finger if we will accept it. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16). Peter described followers of Jesus in this way: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9.) In some way, every one of us lives a “Cinderella” story.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Preparing for Thanksgiving 11-15-2010

The trees are turning. Invigorating cool air has spilled across Texas. Families are making plans for Thanksgiving. Some prepare for children to come home. Others make plans to travel. Thoughts turn to turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pumpkin and pecan pie. Football is in the air and the Cowboys have finally won again. I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it.

Thanksgiving is unique to the American experience. No other nation has a holiday quite like it. From the time we are children, we are taught to remember the Pilgrims who feasted in 1621 with their Indian friends giving thanks for their survival in the new world. Children in elementary schools still walk out on stages wearing flat brimmed pilgrim hats and painted faces to re-enact the first Thanksgiving in front of adoring parents.

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 peace, in times of war and want, throughout the Great Depression and our most recent Great Recession, 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 our 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 that we do not deserve. We will all suffer disappointment, injustice and pain. Illness will come. The loss of loved ones will come. The same circumstances sow the seeds of 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, 2010

Miracle of Life 11-8-2010

My daughter was born the year I turned forty. With two sons already thirteen and eight, we were not expecting another child. In fact, the doctors told my wife and I that having more children was an impossibility. But, the impossible happened. The doctor’s first question was, “Do you want to terminate this pregnancy.” We were stunned. Such a consideration never entered our minds. Nine months later we were given a beautiful little girl who has blessed our lives immeasurably. I often thought of the doctor’s question when I rocked her to sleep and felt the weight of her slumbering body slump against my shoulder.

Our daughter is now grown.. Two years ago I walked her down the aisle to give her away then performed the wedding ceremony, one of the highlights of my life. Three months ago, they came home and excitedly told us they were expecting a baby, our fourth grandchild. When they gave us the news of her pregnancy, her baby was no bigger than a small marble. Three months later, we already know that our daughter’s baby is a girl. We have listened to the baby’s heartbeat and watched her dancin in the womb. All her vital organs are developed. She even has tiny fingernails and toenails.

My wife works with pregnant and parenting students in the public schools. She constantly works with girls who are pregnant, helping them have a healthy pregnancy, healthy birth, learn how to become a good parent, stay in school and have a future. With three children and three grandchildren of our own and my wife’s occupation, you would think that the process of pregnancy and birth would have become commonplace. But it hasn’t. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The older I grow and the more I witness the miracle of life by which children are birthed into the world, the more I stand in awe.

David expressed it best in Psalm 139: “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, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” To the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Every birth, every child and every person is a miracle of God. We are all more than mere flesh and blood, brain, bone and sinew. We are made in His likeness, with the awesome freedom to choose good and evil, to bless others or to curse them. We have infinite possibilities and an immortal soul that will one day depart this mortal body. We are eternal beings living in a miraculous universe that astounds our senses.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Freedom for the Frenzied Life 11-1-2010

We live in a time-crunched world where life is lived on the run. Millions pull out of their drive-ways in the pre-dawn dark and navigate their way onto freeways while munching breakfast burritos and egg-mcmuffins. They listen to traffic reports and the morning news between cell phone calls. It is a frenzied start to a frenzied day. Weary from long hours at the work place, the same drivers re-enter the stream of traffic for a slow return to the suburbs on clogged freeways. They make their way home in the gathering darkness past memorized billboards that measure their movement and neon signs that light the way. Weekends are filled with a hundred errands, second jobs, T-ball, soccer, football, baseball and the race to cram in as much recreation as possible before starting the Monday through Friday routine all over again. Some squeeze church attendance into an already full schedule that has no margins.

Richard Foster analyzed it like this: "We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators." We are increasingly depressed and suicidal. We have turned to alcohol and drugs in a desperate effort to cope. We know deep down that something isn’t working. There must be a better way.

Most people recognize the ten commandments as foundational to human conduct and life. But somewhere along the way we reduced the ten commandments to nine. We eliminated the fourth commandment as irrelevant and archaic: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” A half-century ago, businesses were closed on Sunday and sporting events recognized Sunday as a day for worship. All that has changed. Today our calendars are filled up to a 24/7 frenzy.

When Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man, he did not erase the need for the Sabbath in our lives. Instead, he underscored the importance of the Sabbath to all of us for mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

In his book, Living the Sabbath, Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Norman Wirzba writes, “Put simply, Sabbath discipline introduces us to God’s own ways of joy and delight. … When our work and our play, our exertion and our rest flow seamlessly from this deep desire to give thanks to God, the totality of our living --- cooking, eating, cleaning, preaching, parenting, building, repairing, healing, creating --- becomes one sustained and ever expanding act of worship.”

Sabbath requires time for rest, silence, solitude and worship, but it is more than a day of rest. It is way of life that is filled with wonder, worship, awe and delight. When Jesus declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath, he offered to us a better way. He said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest to your souls.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Changing The Rules 10-26-2010

It is always important to know the rules in anything we do. 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 with courts and legal systems 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. In some cases we add 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. We will likely see grown men kicking dirt and yelling in each other’s faces during the World Series arguing about the rules and how they have been enforced.

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. Whoever hits first is in the wrong. If someone hits you, you can hit them back. Don’t break in line. Take your turn. Lend only to those who will pay you back with interest. Look out for “number one.” If someone wrongs you, get even. Sometimes we follow these rules even when they conflict with the law. 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).

When Jesus came, he changed all the rules.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Rangers and Josh Hamilton 10-19-2010

A year ago I wrote my first Reflections column about Josh Hamilton’s relapse and recovery as an alcoholic. In January of 2009 he had taken a drink, which led to another and another. The end result was an embarrassing bar scene caught on cell phone video. Hamilton immediately confessed his relapse to his wife and family and to the Rangers management. When it became public nine months later, he confessed to everyone. Ian Kinsler spoke for the team during that episode. He said, “We don’t need an apology. That’s his battle. We’re here to be his friend and love him as a teammate.”
A year later, Hamilton is being touted for the MVP in the American League with a season batting average of 359 and 32 home runs. When the Rangers clinched the playoffs against the Oakland A’s on September twenty-fifth, Hamilton excused himself from the traditional champagne celebration. Instead, he showered and headed back to the stadium to speak to fans regarding his faith as part of Faith Day Oakland. The next day he said, "I'm excited and what happened yesterday as far as the guys celebrating in here, that's part of it. It's not for me. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have liked to have been in here with them. I just felt like it was in my best interest if I didn't participate. But it's amazing that it just so happened to work out that we clinched the same day they are having Faith Day and I'm speaking out there."
Last week, the Rangers won their first division title against the Tampa Bay Rays. Having watched their teammate struggle with his addictions the Rangers team did something that has never been done before in major league baseball. Putting action to Ian Kinsler’s words of a year before, the team decided to put aside the champagne and beer. Instead, they celebrated their historic win with Ginger Ale so that Josh Hamilton could be included.

Writing about the event, sports columnist Matt Friedman wrote, “In today’s sports world, it’s rare to see athletes that go out of their way to make a classy gesture. But we have seen it … tonight, the Rangers sacrificed their booze for a teammate. It wasn’t going to be difficult to cheer for the Rangers to beat the Yankees in the ALCS, but now they have given me a true reason to pull for them.”

The Apostle Paul gave us a principle that is illustrated by the Rangers actions regarding Josh Hamilton. He taught that we should each consider the impact our actions and decisions make upon others. He wrote, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. … It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Wedding 10-11-2010

It is an American rite of passage, the ultimate moment when dreams come true. No expense or effort is spared to make the wedding the perfect moment. Family and friends travel hundreds of miles just to be there. Parents go into debt to provide the perfect cake, the sit down dinner, a gala reception, not to mention the bride’s dress and decorations.

We have added our twists to the wedding traditions. While many weddings are still held in cathedrals, churches and chapels, they have moved beyond church walls in search of exotic places to “tie the knot:” on mountain tops, at home plate, on beaches and boats.. Wedding music is no longer limited to the bridal march. We have opted for country western, hip-hop and pop. We have added unity candles and unity sand. But one element remains unchanged in every wedding ceremony: the high point of the event is the entrance of the bride! Everything leads up to the bride’s entrance beaming beneath a white veil, adorned in an elaborate dress that enhances her beauty.

I like weddings held outside. In the one I attended last weekend, the flower girl entered the gazebo under a bright blue sky scattering her petals on the bride’s path. She stopped at the entrance, tugged on a rope to ring an overhead bell then shouted with excitement, "She's coming! She's coming!” The crowd giggled and smiled as they always do when children perform, then they turned their heads searching for their first glimpse of the bride.

It reminded me of Jesus’ love for weddings. He performed his first miracle at Cana in Galilee, turning water into wine so that the wedding moment would not be spoiled. It also reminded me of the wedding scene predicted in the Bible. The Scripture is clear. One day Jesus will return like a bridegroom prepared to receive his bride. Jesus said, “I will come again.” (John 14:3). He urged us to be perseverant and patient, waiting for the bridegroom’s arrival. (Matthew 25:1-13).

If Jesus is the bridegroom, who is the bride? According to the Bible, we are. Scripture teaches that everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ and follows him helps form the bride of Christ. We are the bride of Christ as members of his church. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) We are the bride of Christ as citizens of the Holy City built by God in Heaven. (Revelation 21). Like a bride who prepares for her wedding, we need to prepare ourselves for his coming.

I can hear the flower girl’s voice ringing in my ear: “He’s coming! He’s coming!” “The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Class Reunion 10-4-2010

This weekend the Corsicana High School class of 65 gathers in Corsicana for their forty-fifth class reunion. I am a member of that class. I walked across the stage at CHS forty-five years ago to accept my diploma from our principal, Mr. Armistead. Like all other graduating classes we made speeches to one another about dreams and visions, about how we would change the world. In some ways, we did change the world. In other ways, the world changed us.

In our youth we watched John Glenn orbit the earth in Friendship 7, the Mercury space capsule no larger than a VW Bug. In 1963 we sat mesmerized beside the radio listening with our teachers to the breaking news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. When we walked across the stage two years later we scarcely understood the watershed moment of history in which we were living. Some of us shipped out to serve in the jungles of Vietnam, others headed off to college. We pursued our educations in a volatile world. In 1966 a sniper paralyzed the UT campus from his perch atop the UT Tower. For almost two hours he gunned down students, killing 16 and wounding 32. In 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. fell victim to a sniper bullet in Memphis. Two months later we watched Bobby Kennedy die in a pool of blood in Los Angeles. In 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on protesting students in what would become known as the “Kent State Massacre.”

We watched the world go global and we went global with it. We bought the first PCs with “floppy discs”: the Commodore 64, the Tandy and the TRS-80. We played the first video games with “Pong” and “ Pac-Man.” We bought the first mobile phones and referred to them as “ bag phones” because they looked like luggage. We created a connected world with e-mail and the World Wide Web. We flew on the first jet airliners and visited places we never expected to see. We watched the world shrink until we could be anywhere on the globe in twenty-four hours.

We married, had children, raised families, and now many of us have grandchildren. We made mistakes, did some things we regret. At times we wish we had done better. But, forty-five years after graduation, we feel blessed. We have, most of us, discovered a deeper understanding of faith that only comes after decades of laughter and sorrow, success and failure. Many of us can now say, as King David said many centuries ago, “I once was young and now am old, but I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread.” We know the world is a dangerous place. It has been dangerous throughout our lifetime. But we have also discovered that God can be trusted and that His promise is true: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Securing The Future 9-27-2010

It has been nine years since the World Trade Towers collapsed in flames. The smoke still looms, casting its shadow in our memory and clouding our future. The constant threat of terrorism has not gone away. Nine years later, however, it is increasingly clear that terrorism is not the number one enemy to a future for our families. Afghanistan and Mexico bear witness to this fact.

In Afghanistan, our soldiers have performed admirably, meeting most of their military goals. The path to victory remains blocked not by terrorism but by corruption. A recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine stated, “…corruption and mismanagement at all levels of Afghanistan's government is the single largest obstacle to achieving an orderly transition to Afghan control and convincing local citizens to reject the Taliban.”

Mexico teaches the same lesson. In a region arguably as rich in natural resources as the United States, corruption keeps Mexico captive to poverty. An editorial in the Dallas Morning News recently stated, “The drug cartel battles that have turned the border area into a war zone are just one example of the power criminal enterprises can obtain when bribery and collusion are allowed to penetrate all levels of the police, government, business and state-owned enterprises.”

The history of the United States is unique because of the moral values that have protected her from crippling corruption. Few gave our fledgling nation any hope of survival when it was formed. Fifty years after the American Revolution our new nation was not only surviving but thriving. The Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in search of the secret to our democratic success. In 1831 he concluded, “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other. … Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

The secret to our future is the same. Each generation must embrace the kind of faith that establishes honesty and integrity in commerce at every level. We may feel there is little we can do individually to counteract terrorism. But we can secure our future and that of our children every day by the choices we make. Every time we choose truth, justice, fairness, and honesty, we choose our children’s future. Every act of kindness, generosity and charity prepares a people to experience God’s blessings. The path to the future is always the path of repentance and faith.

When John introduced Jesus he clarified what repentance meant: “And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." Luke 3:10-14).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Post-Christendom Jesus Followers 9-20-2010

Anne Rice, the popular author of the Vampire Chronicles that sold some 100 million copies, shocked the secular world when, in 2002, she announced she was done with vampires. After thirty-eight years as a professed atheist, she said she had found faith in Christ and returned to the Catholic Church. Two months ago, she rocked the Christian world by proclaiming she was renouncing Christianity. She stated, "For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” She went on to say, “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me."

Of course, I think Anne Rice is selling “Christianity” short. While churches are often quarrelsome, sometimes even hostile, I would hate to live in a world without churches. I visited Russia at the end of the Soviet Union and saw what that looked like. Churches do far more good and create much more charity than otherwise. But, she does have a point.

Interestingly, Anne Rice is not alone. George Barna, the leading researcher on faith in America reported in 2008 that “a majority of adults now believe that there are various biblically legitimate alternatives to participation in a conventional church.” It appears that there is a growing number of people who claim faith in Jesus but want little or nothing to do with the institutional church.

For some, this may sound alarming or confusing. The fact of the matter is, we are living in a post-Christendom world. Christendom was defined by the dominance of the institutional church, both Catholic and Protestant, that shaped and influenced the western world. At its height, Christendom dominated governments and communities. This is no longer the case.

For those of us who are serious followers of Jesus, we can take heart by reminding ourselves that the most fruitful period of faith occured in pre-Christendom, the first three centuries following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Here is the paradox. Worldwide, we are witnessing the largest growth in the number of Jesus followers in history. In China more than 30,000 new believers are baptized every day. The number of believers in Africa grew from 9 million to 360 million in the last century, most in the last decade. More Muslims have come to faith in Christ in the last two decades than at any other time in history. Interestingly, the rapidly reproducing churches in these nations look little like our western Christianity. They resemble the churches of the first century that met in homes as close-knit communities that produce transformed people who act like Jesus.

At their core, churches are communities of believers who exhort and encourage one another to become like Christ. Churches are the wine-skins provided to contain the new wine of faith in Christ. Over time, each generation’s “wine skins” grow brittle, inflexible and institutional so that succeeding generations must discover new “wine skins” that serve their new found faith in Christ.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Center of the Universe 9-13-2010

For thousands of years, men assumed that the Sun and stars rotated around the earth, that we were center stage, but, starting with Galileo in the sixteenth century, we found out that our earth is only one of nine planets that orbit the Sun. More recent investigations along with our first forays into the fringes of outer space have verified that we are, indeed, a very small speck of dust in the galaxies nowhere near the center of the cosmic creation.

This physical discovery gives rise to a more personal question that affects our daily existence. “Where is the center of my universe?” For most of us, the answer to that question is a very small two-letter word: “me. Everything revolves around us and our interests. This is the reason we are prone to become angry with God. Sooner or later the evidence begins to pile up that, like planet earth in the cosmos, we are not the center. Everything is not ordered for our personal gratification, pleasure and benefit. Maybe the Eagles expressed it, “This is not the center of the universe.”

Paul started his life like most of us, focused on his own ambitions. He went so far as to arrest Christians, both men and women, and throw them into prison to advance his own agenda. But, after he met Christ everything changed. He discovered that the Christ whom he persecuted was, in fact, the center of all creation. ”He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

Recently billboards have been springing up that proclaim, “I am second.” They are part of a movement to proclaim what Paul discovered. We are not number one. God is. And when we make Christ the center of our universe, everything else comes into focus. According to the web site, “I Am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others.” I Am Second testimonies include people like Jason Witten, Colt McCoy, Josh Hamilton, Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Anne Rice and many others whose names you may or may not recognize. They include the rich and famous as well as those who have been addicted, abused, molested and imprisoned. The number ultimately includes all of us. Check it out at www.iamsecond.com.

When Jesus Christ becomes the center of our universe everything changes. All the petty resentments and disappointments disappear. Scripture begins to make sense. For instance, in an effort to comfort others, many people quote the Bible when tragedy strikes saying “All things work together for good.” What the Bible actually says is, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, for those who are called according to His purpose.” This is entirely different. All things don’t work together for my good when I am the center of my own universe. They only work together for good when I recognize that God is the center of the universe and I am created for his glory.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Child Within 9-6-2010

Jesus changed all our presumptions about what it means to be “religious” when he took a little child, stood him in front of his disciples and said, “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” Many people conjure up images of old men with long gray beards, black capes and stooped shoulders when they think of people who are religious. Some think of ascetic monks living in desert regions, emaciated and starving, bleary eyed and anti-social. Others picture nuns robed in their habits whispering prayers as they finger their rosaries. When he wanted to forge an image in the mind of his followers Jesus chose a child. Why would he do this?

Jesus left the answer to that question up to us. We can all speculate about the lesson he wanted to teach by choosing a child. Here are a few characteristics that stand out to me when I think about children and the reason he chose a child to illustrate the nature God looks for in Kingdom people.

Children live in the moment. They are not worried about the future. They are not burdened with guilt about the past. Watch children playing on a playground. They have little awareness of time. They wear no watches.

Children become friends fast. Most children have not learned to be hesitant and shy. They greet one another as if they have already met. “Want to play?” And the game is on.

Children laugh. I love listening to children on the school playground and in the park. Anywhere children gather, the air is filled with laughter. It is their nature to laugh.

Children do not know prejudice. I’m not sure when we learn racial and cultural prejudice, but young children have not learned this lesson. They readily accept each other as equals regardless of skin color or clothing. If they notice a difference between them, they do not hesitate to ask about it. And, once the difference is recognized and addressed, they move on.

Children trust. With their father’s extended arms and a little encouragement they will fling their bodies into open space fully confident they will be caught.

Children are awed by God’s creation. They are mesmerized by grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and flowers. They stop and take time to watch an ant wrestle a crumb of bread across the ground. They notice the spots on a lady bug.

Children have great imaginations. Give a child a sandbox, a stick, or a can and they can construct unbelievable creations. I watched children recently playing in the sand. They were digging a hole. When I asked what it was, they looked at me with a puzzled look, as if I was the only one who did not recognize the obvious. They patiently explained that it was a grasshopper sanctuary.

This list isn’t complete. You can add others, I am sure. Somewhere within us all is buried the child we once were. Perhaps if we could re-connect with the child-like simplicity within us, we might take our first steps toward becoming Kingdom citizens as Jesus described it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Was Jesus Right? 8-31-2010

Jesus is universally respected. Even the followers of Islam claim him as a prophet. And millions who have no use for the church still like Jesus. But the question still remains, “Was Jesus right?” “Did he know what he was talking about?”

It is difficult to reconcile Islam’s claim that Jesus was a prophet with the clear statements that he made regarding himself: “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” “I and the Father are One.” “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on Earth.” “No one comes to the Father but by me.” Jesus clearly claimed to be more than a mere prophet or a great teacher.

It is also difficult to reconcile the attitude and actions of professing Christians with Jesus’ words and instructions. When I was eighteen, I worked in a warehouse that shipped products to stores where they would be sold. I worked with older workers who, like me, worked for minimum wage. Some of my co-workers, who were professing Christians, heard that I planned to become a “preacher.” They tried to be nice and encouraging. They told me it was a good thing for me to become a preacher, but reminded me that those things “don’t work here.”

I interpreted their comments to mean that they believed in Jesus but the teachings of Jesus were out of touch with the real world. They were like many Christians I have encountered over the years. Dallas Willard calls them “vampire Christians.” They want a little of Jesus’ blood, just enough to forgive their sins and assure they are going to heaven, but they don’t think Jesus knew what he was talking about when it comes to everyday life.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Clearly, He thought He knew what He was talking about, and he expected that anyone who placed their faith in Him would do everything they could to obey Him. It was apparently inconceivable to Jesus that someone could think they loved Him, and, at the same time, ignore or disobey His instructions.

Either Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived and knew better than anyone else how life should be lived on this earth, or he was a delusional pretender who has misguided millions for more than two thousand years. If Jesus’ instructions for living will not work in the courtroom, the schools, the factory and the family, neither will they work to get us to heaven. Our personal conclusion about whether we believe Jesus was right will not be reflected in what we profess about who He is, but in what we do when we are going about our day to day activities at work, at school and at home. Are we bringing our lives into alignment with his life and teaching? Do we act like Jesus acted? Do we forgive like Jesus forgave? Are we truthful and faithful like Jesus was truthful and faithful? Do we love like Jesus loved? Following Jesus’ instructions has nothing to do with earning our way to heaven. It has every thing to do with loving Jesus and living a meaningful life. If you want to know what Jesus expects, you can find his instructions in Matthew chapters 5-7.
Jesus told us how to know whether He was right or not. He said, “If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32. Amplified Bible).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Living Water 8-23-2010

For many years I have made it a practice of having a time of devotion early in the morning. I like to spend this time outside, preferably at sunrise. I have done this in the winter in Rochester, Minnesota where I bundled up in my winter coat, gloves and hood, scraped the ice off the chair and took my place to watch the rising Sun glint off the glass buildings of Mayo Clinic. There have been gaps when I missed. The demands of the day were pressing and I was unwilling to get up early enough for this discipline. But I have discovered that when I spend time for personal study of Scripture, prayer and reflection on what God wants to say to me, the day seems to go better. My life has a healthier center and, when the day is done, it seems to be more productive.

Lately I have been going out on my patio behind our house in Rockwall, Texas. The landscape seems braced for the scorching heat that will surge past 100 when the sun rises to its full height. After my devotion, I water the potted flowers on our patio: bachelor buttons, petunias, chrysanthemums and periwinkles. I keep a watering pot handy, and often leave it filled the day before so I will remember to do this. If I miss a few days, the plants show it. They become stressed, and, if neglected too long, they wither and die. Recently I missed a few days of having my devotion on the patio and, as a result, the flowers missed their watering. Their leaves shriveled and the flowers began to fall from the drooping stems. They have become a spiritual barometer. Perhaps they reflect the condition of my spirit and soul from these quiet times alone with God.

The flowers don’t respond well to alternate periods of draught and deluge. Drowning them in water once a week, simply doesn’t work. They need watering every day, not necessarily a lot, just enough to soak in the soil. Watered frequently in this fashion they thrive, even in record setting triple digit weather.

This may explain why American Christianity seems so insipid, (like salt that has lost its taste). Many Christians depend on a deluge of spiritual watering for one hour once a week during a worship service at church. And many more don’t even do this. The spiritual lives of many Christians may resemble the stressed out flowers sitting on my patio table in the heat of summer.

David expressed this truth in Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers”

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (John 4:14) And again, he said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” (Rev 21:6).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Inception 8-2-2010

My son-in-law, who is a psychology major, recently went to see the movie Inception … twice. Last weekend, my son, an architect, talked me into seeing the show starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It is still the number one box office attraction in the country. I was surprised to find the theater almost full at 2 PM on a Saturday afternoon more than two weeks after its initial opening. I was also surprised to find a reference to Inception popping up this morning in a newspaper report on the economy. “Inception” is quickly entering mainstream conversation.

“Inception” is a science fiction movie. Like all science fiction, there are holes and gaps in the science. And, like all good science fiction, the fiction feeds the imagination. The science does not have to be validated; it only has to be believable enough for the imagination to take over. And, for those of us willing to let our imaginations run wild, it creates some interesting scenarios.

The plot’s thesis is to plant an idea into someone’s mind so that they change their actions and thereby change the world. Along the way, it raises psychological questions about dreams and the subconscious. It also raises philosophical questions about reality and perceived reality. And, it leaves totally unanswered the questions about what happens to us when we die.

In the dream worlds of Inception, when we die, we just “wake up” at another level of consciousness. But what happens in the “real” world when we die?

This final question, the one about what happens to us when we die, is the critical question that Jesus addressed. He demonstrated that death is not final when he raised the dead to life. This he did with the widow’s son at Nain and with his good friend Lazarus at Bethany. He promised the penitent thief who was crucified with him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” But he answered the question most effectively by his own resurrection. Luke says, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3).

The Bible is very clear about the reality of Heaven. Contrary to the opinion of some that when our body ceases to breathe we cease to exist, the Bible promises a new body in a new reality that supersedes this temporary world. That is largely the reason that Jesus came. The Scripture states, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Of course, Heaven is not the only reality after death. I will write more about that next week.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reunion 7-26-2010

It is that time of year when families gather for the annual reunion: aunts, uncles and cousins, some twice removed, and, to complicate things, some twice or thrice married. Reunions are a mixed bag. Some experience the thrill of familiar faces that frame the memories of their youth, and plunge into the pleasure of telling stories passed down through the years, embellished with each cycle of telling. “Do you remember when …?” The stories don’t even require a complete telling. Laughter fills the circle before the story can be told because everyone who is listening has either heard it or told it countless times.

Others hang back along the fringe, looking puzzled, trying to figure out who these people are and how they might be remotely related to them. The young and the newly added “in-laws” are usually in this number. Sometimes they seek each other and have their own make-shift reunion, sharing the common bond of amnesia regarding the inside jokes and familiar references to names not present, faceless people everyone else seems to know whose absence makes their presence even more pronounced.

The reunion has a strange mix of sorrow and laughter. Significant people are absent. Voices that once echoed at the tables of past reunions now lie silent beneath the earth. The same people who gather for the reunion gathered and wept at the funerals for those who no longer come. Their memories are like the deep colors that form the background for vivid paintings or the rich bass tones of the cello and the French horn that enrich the orchestra. At the same time, these sorrows are offset by giggling children who appear like bright colors that dance on the canvass and whose laughter picks up future melodies like the flute.

We somehow have confidence that Heaven is about reunions. We all look forward to seeing people who loved us, those we loved, when we get to Heaven. And, somehow, this earthly reunion helps us look forward to that day. We don’t know exactly how it will happen or how God could manage all the intertwined family relationships when we get to Heaven, but, somehow, family reunions portend the Heavenly event. When I was a child we sang, “Will the circle be unbroken?” It was a way to ask the question together and look forward to something more perfect that God has planned for us.

Jesus did not shy away from using this image to help us look forward to a more perfect day. He said, “In my Father’s House are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also.” The book of Hebrews uses this metaphor to spur us on to better living: “Seeing that we are surrounded by so great a host of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the originator and the finisher of the race.” It seems to me that God takes pleasure in our reunions, just as He takes pleasure in reuniting Himself with us through His Son.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Paying Tribute 7-18-2010

On Friday afternoon, July 16, we stood at the corner of Goliad and Washington in Rockwall and held our flags to honor the funeral procession for Spc. Jerod Osborne, a 2008 graduate of Rockwall Heath High School. He was serving as a combat medic when a roadside bomb claimed his life in Yakuta, Afghanistan. In May of this year he received a bronze star for single handedly saving the lives of civilians at the site of another roadside bomb. He was killed July 5 when his body shielded a lieutenant riding in the front of the vehicle.

Some saluted. Others held their flags high. We all stood silent and still: young men with spiked hair, older men grown gray, little girls, the hot wind whipping their dresses as they shaded their eyes and squinted into the sun. We watched the long motorcade descend the distant hill and slowly climb to the city square led by police cars and motorcycles with blue and red flashing lights and a long double line of Patriot Guard Riders mounted on their bikes. As I held my flag above my head I felt the wind tugging at the folds like the emotions that tugged at our hearts. As I watched the faceless line of cars carrying the family and friends who feel Jerod’s loss the greatest, I was reminded of scenes long ago when I stood before the flag draped coffins of friends brought home from Vietnam, or assembled with others at the National Cemetery to pay respects to a Marine veteran of Okinawa.

Sometimes the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seem far removed. Sometimes we feel unsure about why we are fighting there and what we hope to accomplish. The war on terrorism is much more complicated than the wars of the past. At our best, we always hope that the sacrifices made by our men and women will result in a better world, not only for us, but for those who live in the distant places where they lay down their lives.

Wars, it seems, are incessant. Jesus said it would be so. The struggle for justice and freedom never ends. The issues that create wars and call young men into combat may be debated, but the courage and sacrifice of young men like Jerod Osborne, who give themselves to save lives, both military and civilian, is without debate.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Consider The Birds 7-12-2010

When I step outside in summer’s scorching heat, I hear birds. They never complain. They always have a song. I have listened in the predawn dark for the first twitter from the trees. Like sentinels they watch for the first faint glow in the east, and, long before the sun rises, they start their sunrise celebration. Sometimes I think they are surprised when a new day dawns. Their excitement seems to echo Zecharias’ emotions when he announced the birth of Jesus saying, “The sunrise from on high will visit us!” (Luke 1:78).

I especially like the cardinal. I have watched these brilliant red birds perched high on bare limbs in the Minnesota winter, their ricochet notes shattering the snow covered stillness on a subzero morning. I have listened to the same unmistakable notes and spotted their bright red coat amid thick green oaks in the sweltering heat of a Texas summer. The mockingbird is always dressed in his gray tuxedo for some special occasion, white tipped wings flashing when he flies like formal cuffs in full dress. Unlike the cardinal, the mockingbird never ventures into northern winters. He much prefers Texas winters where he can perch on his stage in the live oaks and sing his stolen songs. I remember waking, when I was a boy, to the rasp of blue jays at play in the pecan trees outside my window. They rasp now as they did then, and every time I hear them I am carried back across the decades to my youth. When we lived in Minnesota, I watched chickadees on winter afternoons fluttering in the windowsill snow searching for seed. I sat on our deck in Minnesota and listened to squadrons of Canadian geese flying low overhead, so low that I could hear the wind in their wings.

Jesus apparently watched the birds and took pleasure in them. He referred to them to help us understand God’s love and care for us. He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Again, He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Sometimes we find ourselves thrown into difficult circumstances. Like the scorching Texas heat or the frigid Minnesota winter, every element seems to be set against us and we have difficulty seeing our way forward. At such times we are prone to wonder if God has forgotten us. We are prone to discouragement, doubt and worry about our future. Failing health, unemployment, broken promises and broken relationships conspire to steal away our confidence, our hope and our faith. At such times we need to consider the birds. We are not forgotten. He who cares for the birds of the air will doubtless care for us. We are of great worth to God. Listen to the birds and take heed to their song.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Raising Children 7-5-2010

No occupation is as challenging as parenting. Children have no on-off button. They cannot be put in the closet like clothes, turned off and parked like cars or placed in a kennel for the night like pets. They are on a constant quest, poking, prodding, pushing, pulling and climbing. When our children were little, as soon as they got in the car they looked for buttons to push and knobs to twist. When I turned on the key the blinkers blinked, windshield wipers wiped and the radio blared, vibrating the windows and rendering me momentarily deaf. The same was true for our bedroom and kitchen.

They grew up to be responsible adults. But the path wasn’t easy. Every passage brought new challenges: the first day of school, a move from familiar neighborhoods to a new city, puberty, a drivers license, dating, computer games and technology. Parenting requires a constant learning curve that never stops, even after children are grown and on their own. Relationships constantly change and adjust. As a parent, you are always entering new and unfamiliar territory.

I found across the years that there is no “fix it” book for parenting, no “cure-all,” “read this,” or “do this” simple solution. Every child is different and every parenting situation has its unique challenges. But there are some essential tools that make the difference: patience, consistency, authenticity, trust, love, faith and a listening ear. Most of us don’t come naturally equipped with these essential tools to be successful parents. Most of us have to learn them and acquire them while we are on the job. And all of us have room for improvement.

Years ago I visited a young mother in her home who was caring for several pre-school children. I was amazed at her patience and attention with the children and commented on it. She responded by telling me that this had not always been the case. Before she trusted Christ, she said, she had no patience with children, but after she gave her heart to Christ, He gave her a gift of patience, not only for her own children, but for others.

The Bible says that John came to introduce Jesus to the world by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to righteousness. Every generation has to struggle against the natural desires of the flesh that result in envy, jealousy, resentment, anger and self indulgence. These attitudes destroy the family. When we put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ He gives us a new heart. He produces in us the fruits of the spirit that equip us to be the parents and people that we long to be: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.” All of these, the Bible says, are the fruit of the Spirit. When our hearts are right with God so that we are producing these fruits, we will be good parents. Then we will be able to fulfill the Scripture’s instruction, “Do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the teaching and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Fourth - 7-4-2010

The fourth. It is our most important and most widely celebrated patriotic holiday of the year. When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence two hundred and thirty-four years ago, John Adams envisioned celebrations in every city with parades, fireworks and political speeches “from one end of this continent to the other.” More than two centuries later, Adam’s dream has become reality. This weekend bursting sky-rockets and exploding bombs will illuminate the night skies over cities, parks and lakes. Parading bands will march in the streets followed by decorated floats and mounted horses. Politicians will address crowds from platforms hung with red, white and blue bunting.

But the Fourth is more than a holiday dream. It provides the focus for our American ideals in the words penned by Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” With those words, Jefferson laid a theological and philosophical foundation that would inspire and guide our nation.

Throughout our history, sociologists have sought the secret of America’s success. After touring the United States in 1830, Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that democracy and freedom worked in America because of America’s faith. He wrote, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith … despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.” Robert Kaplan’s Empire Wilderness sought a similar re-examination of America in 1998. He reached more pessimistic conclusions than de Tocqueville but expressed the same longing for faith. Visiting a Mexican church in Tucson, Kaplan wrote, “The church conjured up tradition, sensuality, nostalgia. If only this church were more relevant to the social forces roiling the southern half of Tucson.” In The Next One Hundred Million, Joel Kotkin paints an optimistic future for America in 2050 based largely on our unique faith. He writes, “a ‘spiritual’ tradition that extends beyond regular church attendance … persists as a vital force.”

We strive toward equality because that is the way God made us. We are each made in His image and every person is born with infinite worth. We are taught, through faith, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, that we are greatest when we are servant to others and that service to God is measured by our actions toward the “least of these.”

The pursuit of happiness can end in disaster when it is misguided. The pursuit of happiness only leads to life when it is linked to the liberty that comes through faith in Christ. Without faith in Christ we are prone to become captive to addictions and sins that easily beset us. Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin … if the Son makes you free you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36).

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Journey 6-21-2010

Jackie and I set out on another journey this month. This time we are cruising the open prairies and mountain vistas of Montana. There is something about the open road, something about new territory, new sights, new sounds and new people. I guess that is why Willie’s song, “On the Road Again” stays at the top of the charts. Yesterday we visited Pompy’s Tower and viewed William Clark’s inscription, the only remaining physical evidence of his epic journey with Meriweather Lewis to discover the northwest passage. He scratched his name on the sandstone cliff overlooking the Yellowstone River during their return trip, July 25, 1806.

Something about the human spirit has always been drawn to the journey. 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 to find Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek’s quest to go where no man has gone before. Journeys, both real and imagined, change the world and they change us.

God chooses to reveal himself to those who are on the journey. In fact, redemption starts with God’s call to Abraham to leave the country of his fathers and launch out on a journey to places he had never seen. Moses’ famous journey out of Egypt resulted in the Ten Commandments which provide the basis for all moral understanding. No journey was ever more life changing for human history than the journey Jesus set out upon when he left Nazareth and gathered his motley band of twelve 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 our selves.

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. We like to think we are all going to the same place, that 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 this just isn’t true. 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.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fathers Day 6-14-2010

Sunday, June 20, smoke will rise like incense from America’s backyards filling neighborhoods with the scent of sizzling steak, the unmistakable sign of Fathers Day. Fathers Day had its start in the United States 100 years ago in Spokane, Washington. Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd got the idea while sitting in church observing Mothers Day. Her father raised her after her mother’s early death, and she wanted some way to honor him. The city and its churches adopted the proposal with enthusiasm. Since that time our nation has paused on the third Sunday of June to recognize the role of fathers in our families.

As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus rewrote everything we ever thought about fathers and everything we think about God. He had returned to Jerusalem with his parents to observe the Passover as was their custom. The Passover was a family event. Relatives and friends traveled in caravans from Nazareth to Jerusalem once a year to visit with distant relatives and observe this significant historic Jewish custom. When the group started their journey home they were struck with the horror of a missing child. The twelve-year-old Jesus had been left behind, lost on the streets of the capital city.

Mary and Joseph left the returning caravan and traveled a full day’s journey back to Jerusalem to find him. After threee days of anguish, they found him in the Temple engaged in discussion with the religious leaders. Hardly able to control her emotions, Mary asked him, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Don’t you know your father and I have been anxiously looking for you?” His response shocked her. He said. “Did you not know I must be about the things of my Father?” Mary and Joseph did not understand what he was talking about. (Luke 2: 41-52) The reason for Mary and Joseph’s confusion is rather simple. They had never thought of God as Father. Like all faithful Jews, they considered God too holy for his name to be pronounced. Only the priest could approach God in the holy of holies and that only once a year. No one thought of God in personal terms as “Father.”

This became a dominant theme in Jesus’ ministry. He revolutionized prayer by teaching us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven” and encouraged us to bring all our requests to God saying, “Which one of you if your son asks for an egg will give him a stone, or for a fish will give him a snake? If you being evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father which is in Heaven give what is good to you.” "Take no thought saying what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things ..." "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." With his final breath upon the cross, Jesus said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” From his first recorded words to his last, Jesus redefined God as our Father.

At the same time, Jesus elevated the role of fatherhood by making this comparison to God. Few relationships have a greater impact upon our lives than the relationship with our father. And few relationships offer greater opportunity for shaping the next generation than a father’s love for his sons and daughters.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Finishing Well 6-8-2010

One of the great lessons taught in every sport is the importance of finishing well. An athlete or a team can stumble at the start, but it is how they finish that makes the difference.

On November 26, 1994, 30,000 fans filled Texas Stadium to watch John Tyler play Plano East in a high school football play off game. With three minutes and three seconds left, John Tyler led the game 41 to 17. On the next play, Plano East scored a touch down, then proceeded to recover three on-side kicks to score three more. With 24 seconds remaining, Plano East took the lead 44-41. They kicked off to John Tyler whose returner took the ball on his three yard line and returned it 97 yards. Final score: John Tyler 48, Plano East 44.

Everyone who follows golf immediately recognizes the name, Jean Van de Velde. Leading the British Open at Caroustie in 1999 by three shots, the Frenchman only needed a double bogey 6 on the final hole to claim the coveted Claret Jug. After a series of reckless shots that ended up in the creek protecting the 18th green, he removed his socks and shoes and waded in debating whether to hit from the water He took a drop, triple bogeyed the hole and lost in a play off.

In 2006 the famous marathoner, Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya was striding triumphantly toward the finish line in the Chicago Marathon. As he approached the line, he threw his hands over his head in celebration, stepped on a logo marking the end of the race, and fell backward striking his head on the pavement. He lay on the road semi-conscious as runner after runner passed him.

Most of us can make a good start at whatever we choose. Everyone can sprint at the beginning of a race, but, what matters most is how we finish.

Looking back over his life the Apostle Paul stated, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul didn’t make a very good start. Known in his youth as Saul, he pursued blind ambition for advancement proudly searching out Christians and throwing them in jail, both men and women. He assisted in the cruel execution of Stephen, an innocent man, stoned to death as the first martyr following Jesus’ resurrection. But, following his conversion to Christ, he lived a consistent life of faith and finished well. In another letter, Paul wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

When Jesus prepared for the cross, he said to the Father, “I have finished the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4). The last word he spoke before he died was, tetelestai, “it is finished.” He had demonstrated God’s glory on earth in a perfect, sinless life and “paid in full” the penalty for our sins so that we might have eternal life with Him in Heaven.
May each of us run the race God has given us today, looking to Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” so that we finish well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Graduation 5-31-2010

On high school and college campuses all across the United States young men and women lined up last month robed in graduation caps and gowns grinning at their friends. Their eyes scanned the audience, peering past dangling tassels in search of family members who searched for them. Cameras and cell phones lit up stadiums and auditoriums with bursts of light seeking to capture the magic of the moment.

Presidents, principals, guest speakers and valedictorians spoke of new horizons, a future yet to be written, a world to be changed. They urged 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 represents a unique story. Few are as unique as Helen Small who graduated with a Masters of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. Helen is ninety years old. 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.”

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.” 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.”

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.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Memorial Day 5-24-2010

Next week, like millions of other Americans, we will fly our flag outside our house to honor Memorial Day. It is a tradition my wife brought into our marriage from her father who served in the Pacific during World War II. All across our country the stars and stripes will unfurl in the breeze, lifting and dropping, whipping, snapping, shuffling and slouching above the roof tops of schools, factories and government buildings; above parks, parades and cemeteries. In stadiums across America millions will stand to their feet, hands over hearts, and sing of the broad stripes and bright stars reflected by bombs bursting through the night.

Forty eight years after Fort McHenry, this flag hung in ominous stillness above Fort Sumter. Bearing the stars of the states that rose against it, it led the way into the man-made storms of grape-shot and cannon fire to the sound of screaming men and thundering horses, flying to the flank and rising to the center. Almost a century later it was raised above the black sands of Iwo Jima where young Marines gave their lives to lift its blood stained cloth above their heads and let it fly on the enemy hill. The same flag still stands on Tranquility Base where the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind. We have all stood at the graveside of flag draped coffins and many have held the crisply folded flag to their breast, solemnly handed to them by white gloved soldiers.

This Memorial Day the flag reminds us that we are still an experiment. Two and a quarter centuries is a very short time and our nation is still relatively young. Lincoln’s prophetic words at Gettysburg still ring true. We are a new nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Our generation, like every other generation must rise to the test to prove whether “that nation, or any other nation so dedicated and so conceived can long endure.” Every Memorial Day we are called to a new resolve that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Across the years our nation has fought and won battles and wars on virtually every continent. Memorial Day helps us remember young men and women who gave their lives in obedience on those battle fields. But the most important battles to be fought for the future of our nation will not be with missiles and guns. The most important battles to be fought will be found in the hearts of men and women. The preservation of our nation, its hopes, dreams and ideals, depends on the character of its people and their leaders. Honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity and goodness are the elements that will determine the ultimate outcome of the battles and wars that have been fought in our nation’s past.

In Proverbs, the Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Prov. 14:34) Isaiah says, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He shall bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa. 42:1). Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations. Every person will ultimately be accountable to Him and our greatest challenge is to reflect His character and His glory.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Suicidal 5-17-2010

Anna, Texas, with a population less than two thousand, has been 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 on May 19 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.

Suicide is a global problem. According to the World Health Organization, the United States is 40th in the world with 11 suicides per 100,000 persons per year. In every country, the rate of suicide is far higher among men than among women.

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 span 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).

If you are despondent and have had suicidal thoughts or if you know someone who is in need of help, call the suicide and crisis center for help at 214-828-1000. You can visit their site online at www.sccenter.org. Talk to your local minister or your physician. Never give in to hopelessness. There is always hope in God. (Romans 5:1-5).

Monday, May 10, 2010

20/20 Faith

Myopia. I learned the word when I was ten years old. I learned it from the optometrist who checked my eyes and told my parents that I was nearsighted. I didn’t know I was nearsighted. I thought everyone saw everything the way I saw it. Trees were green blobs. The landscape blurred into blotches of pink, green, brown and blue, like an Impressionist painting. (Maybe Claude Monet created Impressionism by painting what he saw). I have to admit I wondered how other kids could catch and hit a baseball. I never saw the ball until it was on top of me. I could see some vague arm motion in the distance and then, wham! The ball was in my face.

My first pair of glasses changed my world. I discovered leaves on trees. I could see people’s faces inside their cars. I could read the blackboard from the back of the room. As a teenager I became the clean up hitter on the all stars, and could catch a fly ball over my shoulder while galloping toward the centerfield fence like Joe DiMaggio. When I returned to the dugout, I heard the coach say, “I always knew if he could see it he could catch it.”

Myopia is not only physical. It is spiritual. We are all born spiritually nearsighted. Like my childhood years, we think we see things clearly, but we don’t. We are unaware of what we don’t see. The only person who ever had perfect vision was Jesus. That is why He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness … if anyone walks in the night he stumbles because the light is not in him.” (John 8:12; 11:10)

When the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by an enemy army at Dothan, the servant was gripped with fear. But Elisha told him, “Do not fear. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” When God opened the servant’s eyes, he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6) When we are gripped with fear and despair we need God to open our eyes so we can see clearly. “If God be for us,” Paul said, “who can be against us?” (Ro. 8:31)

Jesus once met a blind man in the village of Bethsaida. Jesus laid his hands upon him and asked him, “Do you see anything?” The man responded, “I see people; they look like trees walking around. Once more,” the Bible says, “Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened … and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-25). Many of us are like that blind man. We may be religious. We may attend church. But we need a “second touch” from God so that we can see clearly.

We are born with spiritual near sightedness so that we only see things close up, our own self interests. As a result we are often filled with fear, doubt, anger, resentment and despair. When we turn from our sins and place our faith in Christ, He is able to touch us so that we see clearly and walk in the light. Only Christ can cure the spiritual myopia that afflicts us from birth and enable us to see the world as God sees it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Fragile Planet 5-3-2010

The first sheen of oil from the BP oil spill reached the wetlands of Louisiana on Saturday, May 1. Many predict it will soon coat the Louisiana coast replacing the scent of surf with the stench of crude. Sunday, May 2, President Obama curtailed all commercial and recreational fishing between New Orleans and Pensacola. Millions of fish and birds could die. Driven by the shifting winds and prevailing currents, the oil slick threatens to stretch to the coasts of Florida and enter the Atlantic. The potential devastation is unimaginable.

My first reaction was grief like I would have felt had someone spilled an oily stain on my daughter’s wedding dress. But the analogy falls far short. This catastrophe is far more serious and devastating. The repercussions could last for decades. We are reminded that we live on a fragile planet.

I grew up in Corsicana, Texas where the first oil was discovered west of the Mississippi in 1894. The city fathers hired a company out of Kansas to drill for water. Instead, they struck oil. The city was incensed. Oil was worthless and messy, far less valuable than water. The internal combustion engine was in early development and automobiles were virtually unknown. The twentieth century changed all that.

My perception of earth changed dramatically on Christmas Eve, 1968. That was the day Apollo 8 reached the moon as the first manned mission. We watched as the space capsule sent back a moon’s eye view of the earth, a brilliant blue-green ball of life set against the background of space like a priceless jewel delicately placed on black velvet. Just before the lunar expedition lost radio contact and disappeared behind the moon, astronauts, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, took turns reading from Genesis 1:1-11. “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth …”

The Scripture writers somehow sensed thousands of years ago that the earth was fragile. Without the tools we have for understanding the cosmic universe with its vast dimensions, they nonetheless knew that this place was special and that its beauty could be spoiled. David wrote, “You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment.” (Psalm 101:25-26). Isaiah wrote, “And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine.” (Isaiah 34:4).

We now know, after centuries of scientific exploration and development, that our planet is indeed unique: a tiny speck in the galaxy unlike any other, teeming with life. While physicists like Stephen Hawking remain convinced by sheer logic that other intelligent life must exist somewhere in the vast cosmic universe, there is, so far, no evidence.

Our best source of knowledge for our uniqueness remains the source to which the astronauts turned as they disappeared behind the moon. We are reflections of the living God who gives us life and entrusts to us the care of His creation. His first instruction was “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” (Ge. 1:27-28). We have done pretty well on the multiplication part. How well we will do in the “replenishing” remains to be seen.