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Sunday, March 27, 2011


Today I held Grace for the first time. Grace is my granddaughter, born March 27 to my daughter, Allison and our son-in-law, Noah. Like all grandparents, I am amazed at this miracle.

Holding her, I thought about my mother who died eight weeks ago today at the age of 89. The night before she died we gathered around her bed, my wife and I and our children. We told her we loved her and she told us that she loved us. We reminisced about a few memories. Then, my son-in-law held his iPhone up to her ear and played a recording of Grace’s heart beat. It was strong and rapid, dancing with new life. My mother’s heart was failing and would beat its last beat by morning. Grace’s heartbeat was just beginning, pounding in my daughter’s womb, waiting to be born.

I also thought about my daughter. She was born the year I turned 40. Jackie, my wife, was 37. We had two sons ages thirteen and eight. We had not expected any more children. When we discovered Jackie was pregnant, we met with the doctor. He asked if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy, apparently due to our age, the increased risk of defects and the fact that this pregnancy was not planned. We sat dumbfounded by his question. We looked at each other for a moment and responded, “No.” This was not a pregnancy, this was our child. We wanted this child. We would do nothing to risk her full and complete health. We changed doctors. Eight months later, Allison was born, as perfect a daughter as a father could ever wish to hold. I rocked her to sleep every night and sang songs to her about Jesus until she finally told me she thought she was too old to be rocked any more. Those were treasured moments, moments when I celebrated God’s gift of our daughter. Moments when I oftened reflected on the doctor’s question.

Years later I started writing poetry and wrote a poem about the daughter God gave us. Here it is:

You came into my life unexpected,
unrequested, unplanned and unknown,
bursting the bands of my being,
redefining and rewriting
the schemata of my soul.

I thought my world was whole,
believed I knew my substance
needing none other than I knew,
contemplating and comprehending completeness.

You appeared to me,
a formless faded phantom on a screen,
echoes of flesh, a beating heart,
tiny fetal foot reflected in the womb
of your mother.

We wanted you, longed for you,
waited for you, prayed for you,
prepared for you:
a room, built with my own hands,
a yellow crib and mobile,
fluffy toys and dolls,
to greet you when you came ...

And you came,
revealing my arrogant ignorance,
that I could think my world complete,
that I could live if you were not,
that life could be without you,
that life could be again in your going.

You pose the question in my mind,
with your smile, your girlish giggle,
the stroking of your cat,
the tears upon your cheek,
the weight of your slumbering body
at rest in mine, curled up in the arms
of a big blue chair:
“What is there I know not that I have not
and could not live without?”

So, today, I held Grace, my daughter’s daughter, and reflected on the grace of God!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Preserving a People

Every time we voice our pledge to the flag, we are reminded of our American commitment: “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Justice is important. We cannot have liberty without justice. Cornelius Dupree Jr.’s recent exoneration and release after serving 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit along with the growing number of exonerations based on DNA testing raises huge questions.

John Grisham’s latest novel, “The Confession,” underscores the difficulties. Although a work of fiction, his story of a young black man wrongly convicted in Texas and executed in Huntsville is chilling. It is reminiscent of scenes from Steven King’s novel, The Green Mile. I once stood beside the execution table in the death chamber at Huntsville. The sense of the place was haunting. Many have gone to their deaths in that room guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. Others, it appears, were innocent.

Ed Gray, former prosecutor in the Dallas County district attorney’s office recently wrote a memoir of his career entitled, Henry Wade’s Tough Justice. Wade was the Dallas County DA for 36 years. He is best known for prosecuting Jack Ruby for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Gray states that the standing joke in the Wade administration was “Anybody can convict a guilty person. Convicting the innocent is the trick.”

The best known person ever condemned and executed for crimes he did not commit was Jesus. He was wrongly accused before the courts of his day and appeared before the Roman governor, Pilate, who, after yielding to social and political pressure, sentenced him to die. He was then tortured and crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem according to Roman law.

Like most Americans I still believe we have the best judicial system on earth. But no system can rise above the people involved in it, including lawyers, judges, juries, officers and those called upon for testimony. As believers who worship the One who suffered the world’s greatest injustice we need constantly to commit ourselves to truth, honesty, integrity and ethics that preserve the freedoms we hold so precious.

Justice, of course, extends beyond the courtroom. We create or erode a just society every day by the way we live, by being truthful and honest in all our dealings. My middle son once stood in line for more than half an hour to return a few dollars to a department store that the clerk had mistakenly given him in change. When he finally reached the counter, the workers in the service department were dumbfounded. No one had ever stood in line to return money. Their system wasn’t set up to handle it. An older man standing in line behind him and watching stopped him. “Young man. If you ever need a job, you call me.”

Every lie, every slander, every dishonest deed destroys a nation. Every truth, every encouragement, every honest action, builds up a people. Deuteronomy 16: 20 says, “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Micah 6:8 states, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Monday, March 14, 2011

When Disaster Strikes

Our hearts go out to the Japanese people. The reports of devastation continue to escalate and the depth of loss continues to deepen. Thousands of bodies wash up daily on Japanese shores. Plumes of smoke rise from exploding nuclear plants. Last week’s disaster seems overwhelming.

Whenever disasters like this strike we are prone to ask spiritual and theological questions that usually revolve around “Why?” Jesus addressed this question on more than one occasion and gave us some insight into the answers. When he addressed a crowd regarding a recent building collapse he posed a rhetorical question: “Do you think that those who died when the tower at Siloam fell were more sinful than others?” And answered his own question clearly, “I tell you, no.”

When his disciples discovered a man blind from his birth they asked a similar question. “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his sins or the sins of his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus answered them, “It was neither that this man sinned nor his parents. He was born blind that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” He then proceeded to heal the man so that he could see.

Jesus predicted that earthquakes would continue and would occur in various places on the earth. We have learned that our planet is in constant movement. The earth’s crust continues to shift. Most often its movement is imperceptible, but occasionally it shifts with dramatic and devastating results. We have witnessed the destruction that can be leveled on human civilization when this happens.

I stood on the shore at Banda Aceh, Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami and witnessed the devastation that laid waste that capital city and claimed the lives of a quarter million people. My daughter and son-in-law volunteered in the recovery efforts after Haiti was decimated with similar loss of life. Last year alone, there were twenty-two quakes measuring 7 or greater on the Richter magnitude scale. Earthquakes struck Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Japan, Mexico, the Solomon Islands, Ecuador and New Zealand.

Natural disasters will occur. They are as inevitable as the rising and setting sun though not as predictable or as regular. Where and when they will strike and with what force, we don’t know, though geologists continue to search for clues by studying movement in the earth’s crust.

Jesus was clear that earthquakes would come and disasters would occur. He was also clear about how we should respond. We must manifest the works of God. We must pray for the people of Japan. When one people suffer, we all suffer. And we must give. My favorite organization for responding to disasters worldwide is the Texas Baptist Men. They have a long history of working effectively with local and global organizations to bring meaningful help where disasters strike. They are especially adept at providing clean water and clean up volunteers when needed. I know their leadership personally and have great confidence in them. Donations can be given for disaster relief to Texas Baptist Men at www.texasbaptistmen.org.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Finding God's Vision

For several years I led an organization that asked two questions: “What is God’s vision for your life?” and, “How can we help you fulfill God’s vision?” Some churches are beginning to ask these questions regarding those who attend. They are, I believe, the right questions. Unlike the institutional and program oriented question, “How can you help our church?” these questions help people discover the transforming dynamic of God that changes their lives and the world. Most people have an innate sense that God has a vision and purpose for their life. At the same time, most people have difficulty finding God’s vision and living it.

Two weeks ago I spent the weekend with a relatively new church in Wisconsin that is learning to ask these questions. The church started ten years ago with two hundred people present. Ten years later more than 1,400 gather each weekend at Jacobs Well in Eau Claire. During lunch I sat beside a woman who was obviously very involved and comfortable at the church. I asked if she was a staff member. She laughed and said, “No, I am a volunteer.” I later learned that two years ago she was addicted to drugs and battling depression.

A few years ago I visited the Harley Davidson factory in Kansas City. We wanted to learn what made Harley Davidson tick (or rumble) and why this company had made such a dramatic turn around. We visited the teams assembling the bikes and met with their managers. We listened to one of their young executives who introduced himself as “a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley Davidson executive.”

In 2004 I answered my cell phone and listened as a young woman with a speech impediment introduced herself. “I’m Heather. I have cerebral palsy. God has called me to India. How can you help me?” That brief conversation started a long friendship. I drove to Waco to visit Heather and found her confined to a wheel chair with limited use of one arm. In spite of her disabilities, she radiated the presence of Christ. She said God whispered in her ear, “India.” She has been to Bangalore twice to work with others who have similar handicaps to her own and plans to return. She wrote her first children’s book this year entitled “My Friends and I.”

God has a vision for every life. It is just a matter of finding God’s vision and living it out. Here are some clues I have discovered that help people get started on that journey: 1. Trust Jesus Christ and welcome Him into your life, 2. Study the Bible. God speaks to us through His Word, 3. Pray. Start praying for others, not just yourself and your own family, and 4. Listen to other believers who seek to encourage you. Get involved in a healthy church and a small group of authentic followers of Jesus Christ.

When Paul neared the end of his life, he said, “I have not been disobedient to the vision.” (Acts 26:19). He followed the principles in the previous paragraph. His journey started with his trust in Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus. He studied the Scriptures and discovered its mysteries. He prayed constantly for others. Barnabas encouraged him and introduced him to other believers. He became involved in the church at Antioch that “set him apart” for “the work to which God had called him.” When he got stumped, he looked for God’s vision for the next step on his journey. (Acts 16:6-10).

(Heather Herschap's new children's book, "My Friends and I," is available on Amazon)