What Others Say

"Thank you for the words of wisdom in today’s Abilene Reporter News. In the midst of wars violence and pandemics, your words were so soft spoken and calming."

Monday, October 31, 2011

When Things Go Clump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 24, 2011


Okay, I am a baseball fan. I guess it started in Little League when I was ten years old. During the summer, I spent long hot afternoons shagging worn out baseballs wrapped with black electric tape and slugging with cracked bats that were held together by wood screws. On Saturdays, I tuned in to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese for the game of the week.

A few weeks ago I returned to my hometown to play in a softball game with my classmates from ’65. We are all in our mid-sixties, some are already on Medicare. I played first base and the old adrenaline showed up. We even turned a double play, which is not as difficult as it used to be since it takes so long for the runner to reach first. You can drop the ball, kick it and even roll it to first base and have a chance of getting the batter out.

When Josh Hamilton hit thirty-five home-runs in the home-run derby a couple years ago, my mother claimed him as family: “Maybe a long lost cousin,” she said, since her mother’s maiden name was Hamilton. My mother was a baseball fan. She almost never missed a televised Rangers game, even when they were on the west coast and played until 2 AM. When her vision started to fail, she chose to have cataract surgery so she could watch the game. Last year, before she died at 89, she cheered them through their first World Series.

So, I’ve been glued to the World Series this week pulling for the Rangers. I like watching them, not just for the baseball, but for the personal stories. Everyone, I guess, knows Josh Hamilton’s story, a top drafted player who hit the skids due to drugs and alcohol, then, through a faith experience with Christ and his grandmother’s love, made a comeback to major league stardom. In a way, Hamilton represents everyone who struggles with addictions and weaknesses. He says his last relapse started with the thought, “Maybe I can just drink one.” Of course, that is the way our sins always start. He learned something along the way as a follower of Jesus that has made the difference. He immediately confessed it where it needed to be confessed, to his family and to his employers

I like the way Hamilton’s teammates responded. Ian Kinsler said, “We don’t need an apology. That’s his battle. We’re here to be his friend and love him as a teammate.” It sounds a lot like the way Jesus wants His churches to work. I suppose it was the way Peter’ s friends responded when he told them about denying Jesus at the trial.

Not long ago, I picked up Mickey Mantle’s autobiography at a used books store in Terrell. According to Mantle, he always struggled with excessive drinking. Mantle did not grow up in church. He attended prayer meetings convened by his teammate Bobby Richardson for a while, but never learned “church speak.” He concludes his story by saying, “I guess we are all on the same team now … it’s even like Casey [Stengel] is running it. I might not know what he is saying all the time, but if he tells me to bunt, I’m going to bunt. If he tells me to swing away, I’m going for the fences.” The Christian life is a lot like that. We just need to listen to God like The Mick listened to Casey.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Poverty and Wealth

Last weekend, demonstrators gathered in the public squares of New York, Chicago, London, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, among others. The demonstrations spread across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their protests were varied, sometimes promoting views in opposition to one another. But, according to the New York Times, “the protests were united in frustration around one issue: the widening gap between the rich and the poor.” The phenomenon is global.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. poverty rate grew to 15.1% in 2010, the third year in a row the poverty population has risen while median household income has declined. At the same time, the wealthy are becoming wealthier. According to Terry Clower, Economist at the University of North Texas, “Over the past 30 years, the share of household income going to the well-to-do has risen dramatically.” Edward Wolff, economist at NYU, stated, “The Great Recession has exacerbated wealth divisions in this country, with the wealthy share of the top 1 percent rising from an already huge 34.6 percent in 2007 to 37.1 percent in 2009.” When the rich get richer while more people drop beneath the poverty line and the middle class continues to shrink, something is askew.

Compounding the unrest are the frustrations created by the Great Recession. Thousands of young people signed up for student loans to pursue educations that would open doors for well-paying careers. When they graduated from colleges and universities in 2008, the jobs weren’t there. They still aren’t. For more than two years many have worked in menial and minimum wage jobs that they could have had in high school. Older adults who intended to work into their sixties and seventies have been forced into early retirement with limited income.

The Bible is clear that God is concerned about the issue of poverty and wealth. David wrote, “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor.” (Ps. 140:12). Solomon said, “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself … will only come to poverty.” (Prov.22:16). “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern.” (Prov. 29:7). Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18).

There is wide disagreement regarding the complexities of economics and economies, the balance between equity and efficiency. But the bedrock principles that will ultimately see us through never change: integrity, honesty, generosity and justice. Even Gordon Gekko had to learn that greed is not God.

Monday, October 10, 2011

When We Die

When Steve Jobs died October 5 at the age of 56, we all paused to reflect. He had resigned just six weeks earlier as CEO of Apple. Few people changed the landscape of our lives as much as Steve Jobs. His user-friendly computing innovations including the iPod, iPhone and iPad transformed the way we live. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer eight years ago, he addressed his own mortality in a commencement speech at Stanford:

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

Death is inevitable. But what happens after we die? The book of Job asked the question we all ask sooner or later: “If a man die, shall he live again?” After years of suffering and serious arguments with his friends and with God, Job emerged with a powerful conclusion. “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! “ (Job 19:25-27).

The issue of life after death is central to the Christian faith. While most people believe that some kind of life exists after we die, Jesus provides the only verifiable evidence of life beyond the grave. Each of the Gospels gives an eyewitness account of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Luke says, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them 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 Apostle Paul wrote, “The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 The Message).

Jesus promised something far better for us when we are “cleared away” by death’s inevitability. He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Monday, October 3, 2011

When I'm Sixty-Four

Paul McCartney wrote the song, “When I’m 64” at the age of 16 and later recorded it in 1966. I have grown up with the song. I was twelve when he wrote it, twenty when he recorded it. I have listened to it most of my life. I remember reciting the lyrics in my youth, thinking of the inconceivably ancient age of sixty-four. I assumed by then I would be in a nursing home or dead. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”

Well, I am now sixty-four, and, strangely, I don’t feel old or anywhere near incapacitated. Last week I spent several days with some of my childhood friends. We are all sixty-four. Several of us were in Mrs. Pritchet’s first grade class at Robert E. Lee Elementary in Corsicana, Texas in 1953. We have the photo to prove it. Some of us now have little or no hair. Others of us have hair, but it is gray, unless we have found a good bottle of dye.

While we don’t feel old, and somehow envision ourselves as we once were in our youth, others apparently think we are old. When we went out to a restaurant together for dinner, the owner took pity on us and gave us a free dessert.

But, I realized something when I was with my sixty-four year old childhood friends. I realized we are all still on the journey. We started this journey together as children in post-World War II. We were the first baby boomers. We didn’t know what that meant. We just knew there were lots of us. We have journeyed through the Sixties, Viet Nam, Flower Power, the Moon landing, Watergate, Floppy Disks, the World Wide Web, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Desert Storm, the Dot Com Bust, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Great Recession (which is still with us). Our individual journeys have taken different turns and twists. Some have been military; some have been medical, some in business, some in education, and some in the Christian ministry. We have different political, economic and religious opinions. But we are all on the journey we first started, and we are all on the journey together.

It reminds me of the words Jesus first spoke to his followers. “Come and follow me.” God always invites us to a journey. His invitation is to all of us and His invitation is life-long. The journey never stops. It has valleys and mountaintops. It leads through sorrow and celebration. It encompasses wonder, worship and war. It includes pain, poverty and prosperity.

Now that I am 64, the age our generation has sung about since childhood, I am grateful for the journey. I am grateful for the companions God has given me to travel with. And I am grateful for the One who invited me to follow Him when I was young and still leads me when I am old.