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."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Recognizing The Moment

 Last week my neighbor was walking down the alley behind our house and greeted me with a wide grin. He had just bought a new bicycle for his eleven-year-old daughter. “Is it her birthday?” I asked. “No,” he replied, almost giggling. “I realized she had outgrown her bike and decided to buy her a new one. She hasn’t stopped smiling all day. I just recognized the moment.” He grinned again.

Every day we are presented with moments that make a difference with our families, our friends and with strangers. Recognizing these moments ultimately determines how we impact our world.

Jesus was the master of recognizing the moment. When He entered the city of Jericho, no one noticed a tax collector who had climbed a nearby tree to get a glimpse of him. But Jesus stopped, called him by name and spent the afternoon in Zacchaeus’ home. That moment changed Zacchaeus’ life. Later, when He was leaving the city, a blind man named Bartimaeus cried for His attention. Many rebuked the blind beggar and told him to be quiet. But Jesus stopped, called for him and restored his sight.

Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable is a lesson about recognizing the moment. Twice passersby missed the moment of opportunity. Both the priest and the Levite continued on their journey without stopping. Perhaps, like so many of us, they were too busy to take the time. For whatever reason, only the Samaritan saw the moment of opportunity and stopped to help. I sometimes wonder how many such moments I have missed.

God presents all of us with moments that can make a difference. Last March I met Giuseppe who was working in his family’s pizza restaurant. We struck up a conversation and he spoke of his spiritual hunger. We prayed together and I returned to give him a copy of my Sermon On the Mount book as an encouragement. Last week he wrote, “Now I read the bible before I go to bed. God’s been working in my life so much. I (have) been preaching the word of God to people that don't know him. … My heart hungers for the Lord.” He went on to tell me how God used him to help a friend find a job.

A couple of years ago I met a young mother who was struggling with her decision about baptism and her husband’s alcoholism. A few days ago she wrote, “God is Healer and Awesome in power! My husband will celebrate one year of sobriety next month and his health hasn't been better in years. He is completely off his meds and living a Christ-filled life. He was baptized and is growing spiritually every day.” Her entire family is now active in a local church.

To each of us God presents life-changing “moments” of opportunity. How we recognize those moments and what we do with them may be the true measure of our faith.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Moving On

We are moving. After forty-three years of marriage and eleven years in the same house, we are selling, moving everything into storage and going to Germany for the summer to work with an English speaking church. It is an exciting journey, and we are energized by it. But going through our “stuff” and trying to sort out the junk has been a challenge. 

We have found unopened boxes that followed us from Texas to Minnesota and back, still sealed after twenty years. We have thrown away dozens of trash cans full of junk, we have given car loads to Goodwill and hauled boxes to our kids for a garage sale. Still, we have stuff.

Some things have attached themselves and will not let go. We still have boxes labeled “keepsakes and junk” that hold tangible memories: the roller skates I had when I was a kid (the four-wheel kind with a skate key to clamp them to the soles of my shoes); a baseball I wrapped with electric tape when I couldn’t afford a new ball, my daughter’s hand-scribbled cards signed with x’s and o’s, the shoeshine kit my son made for me; my wife’s wedding dress in a box that has remained sealed for 43 years. Multiply these a hundred-fold and you get the idea. What do you do? You rent a storage room, I guess.

The Bible recognizes the importance of tangible memory markers for God’s faithfulness. After the flood, God gave Noah the rainbow as a reminder of His promise. “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.” When Jacob was on his journey to find his wife he erected a stone at Bethel to remind him of the dream God gave him. “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.” After the Exodus, God instructed Moses to observe the Passover so that each generation would remember God’s deliverance. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus established the Lord’s Supper so that we would not forget his broken body and shed blood.

Memories are good. They give us identity, and I feel pleasure when I handle these tokens of by-gone days. The reminders of my childhood and youth make me thankful. They give me courage and hope for more to come. Some day, I will take them out again and add to them memories from the future that is yet to be.

But, it is important to “move on.” We must always be ready to read the next chapter yet to be written. I expect this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Monday, May 14, 2012


When I was young, I didn’t use the word, “blessed.” I thought it seemed shallow and artificially religious, something you say to sound religious when you don’t know what else to say. I wasn’t even sure what it meant. But, as I have grown older, I have changed my mind.

Growing up in Texas, I learned that when someone asked, “How are you?” they rarely wanted an honest answer. Anything other than “Fine,” or “Great,” tended to throw the conversation off course. When I lived in Minnesota, an understated culture, I learned that the appropriate response to “How are you?” was “Not too bad.” When I tried to use that response in Texas, it raised all kinds of complications. But, whether in Minnesota or Texas, I discovered that African Americans had developed an entirely different response. When I asked my African American friends who are Christians, “How are you?” they almost always responded, “I’m blessed.” I like the African American response.

Jesus used this term when he introduced the Sermon On the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who mourn … blessed are the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness … blessed are the merciful … blessed are the pure in heart … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” (Matthew 5:3-10). He used the work makarios which some have translated “happy.” But, I think blessed is the right word.

Being blessed has nothing to do with prosperity, health, comfort or security. It is all about a relationship with God that blesses us whatever our circumstances happen to be. In fact, those who suffer poverty, illness and difficulty are more likely to experience God’s blessing than those who are wealthy and well off.

I grew up listening to Billy Graham each week and looked forward to listening to the Hour of Decision. Dr. Graham’s messages, books and, most of all, his conduct always inspired me. He ended every broadcast by saying, “God bless you real good.” It wasn’t proper grammar, but we all understood what he meant and, when we listened to him we always felt blessed.

Liturgical churches still conclude their worship services with the “benediction,” a blessing of the worshippers as they leave the worship experience. In African American churches the benediction is the high point of the service. Some churches end with a rush toward the doors to get a jump on parking lot traffic and early seating at nearby restaurants. It feels good to take time to be blessed.

When God called Abraham to follow Him, he promised that He would bless him and make him a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2). Perhaps the secret to following Jesus is living every day knowing that we are blessed and seeking ways to bless others. When we are blessed, we can sing with the Psalmist, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to thy name, O Most High; to declare thy loving kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.” (Ps 92:1-2)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nearing Home

Last week the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association met in Chicago and chose Billy Graham’s new book Nearing Home as the “2012 Best Christian Book of the Year.” Dr. Graham turned 93 in November of last year. In his book, he says, “Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. … When granted many years of life, growing old in age is natural, but growing old in grace is a choice. Growing older with grace is possible to all who set their hearts and minds on the Giver of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

No individual has had a greater impact in shaping our spiritual landscape in the last century than Billy Graham. He first rose to prominence in 1949 when he preached an evangelistic crusade in Los Angeles, California that was extended for eight weeks. That event launched a career that spanned more than half a century with crusades in more than 150 countries. More than three million professed Christ in Graham crusades, but they are only a fraction of the number impacted by his messages via radio, television, books and movies.

I first heard Billy Graham preach in 1971 at Texas Stadium in Irving, the Dallas Cowboys’ famous open roofed structure, before the first game was ever played in the stadium. Tom Landry gave his testimony quoting Augustine, “Our hearts are restless indeed, O God, until they find their rest in thee.” I have followed Dr. Graham since that time and have found him a constant reference point for Christian faith and witness. I am glad that he has chosen to write once more from his unique perspective at ninety-three.

While he would be the first to admit that he has made mistakes, his life has been remarkable. Graham has served as a spiritual confidant for every president since Harry S. Truman and took bold stands as a leader for integration during the civil rights movement. Unlike many “televangelists,” he had himself placed on a salary early in his career and avoided any hint of scandal. He and his wife, Ruth, had an exemplary marriage for sixty-three years before her death in June, 2007.

Dr. Graham’s book is filled with hope and inspiration while taking an honest look at the challenges of old age. He writes, “I can’t truthfully say that I have liked growing older. At times I wish I could still do everything I once did – but I can’t. I wish I didn’t have to face the infirmities and uncertainties that seem to be part of this stage of life – but I do.” He asks the important question, “Is old age only a cruel burden that grows heavier and heavier as the years go by, with nothing to look forward to but death? Or can it be something more?”

The remainder of his book contains his reflections on these important questions and reveals how life can be full and meaningful at every age.