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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.