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Monday, July 29, 2013

The Birth

George Alexander Louis was born on Monday, July 22 at 4:24 PM. The future king of England weighed 8lbs and 6oz. The announcement was placed on an easel outside Buckingham Palace. The next day the Royal guard fired a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London and a 41 gun salute at Green Park in honor of the newborn prince.  The bells at Westminster Abbey rang for three hours and the world celebrated.

Two years ago I wrote about William and Kate when they beamed into each other’s eyes and repeated their vows.  Last week they were both beaming as they presented their baby boy to the world.   

Every mother who has given birth and every father who has held his infant son or daughter knows that every birth is a miracle. When I held each of my children in my arms I was overcome with the same thought: “This is my flesh breathing in another breast, my heart beating in another chest, my blood flowing in a child at rest.”

God created us male and female and blessed us with the miracle of procreation.  Every one of us is the result of this mysterious design since the beginning of creation, the union of a man and a woman producing a new and unique life.   

When David reflected on this profound mystery he wrote, “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.” (Psalm 139).

Just as the world celebrated the birth of England’s young prince, God celebrates the birth of every baby that is born.  They are precious in his sight. If every hair of our head is numbered, and if a single sparrow does not fall without His knowledge, how much more does God treasure the first cry of every infant born in the most obscure village or the poorest slum.

Of course there is one birth that defines all others.  Every event in history is dated in reference to it. By His birth our own life is elevated to eternal significance and we find our connection with the Creator.

The prophets predicted His birth saying,  “ For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” The angel announced it, “she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Prejudice and Protests

Thousands participated in more than 100 peaceful protests last Saturday to express their dismay over George Zimmerman’ s acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network called for protests across the nation calling it “Justice for Trayvon National Day of Action.”  Even President Obama spoke candidly to the nation about his experience growing up as a black youth in America.

The George Zimmerman trial has reminded us that prejudice and racial tension always lie just below the surface.  Like lava beneath the earth, racism and cultural prejudice seep through cracks in the seemingly peaceful landscapes and, on occasion erupt with devastating violence.

No such eruption was more devastating than the Civil War that swept our nation 150 years ago.  Hundreds of thousands died on battlefields testing, as Lincoln described it, whether any nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could long endure.

We witnessed a similar eruption 21 years ago when smoke curled above Los Angeles for sixty days following the acquittal of white police officers in the video-taped beating of Rodney King.  Rioting black mobs dragged white and Hispanic truck drivers from their cabs and began beating them in retaliation.  The police abandoned the scene. Four civilians ran to rescue Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was pulled from his cab and beaten with a brick. Minutes later, at the same intersection, the angry mob dragged Fidel Lopez from his truck, smashed his forehead and attempted to slice off his ear. A black minister nearby ran to the scene, threw himself over Lopez's bleeding body and screamed, “If you kill him you will have to kill me too!”

Reginald Denny’s four rescuers and the black minister who saved Fidel Lopez remind us of Jesus’ story told 2,000 years ago regarding race and prejudice.  If we would “love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” we must love those who are different than we are. Like the Samaritan who stopped to render aid to a dying victim beside the road, we must realize that every stranger is our neighbor, every man is our brother, every woman our sister.

Racial prejudice is a global problem. It exists in every generation, on every continent, in every nation. It exists between white, red, black, brown and yellow.  It exists between generations and cultures.  We are prone to fear and suspect those who look different, talk different and act differently than we do. Only faith that lifts us beyond our provincial prejudices can save us. The Apostle Paul, who grew up as an ambitious Pharisee and outgrew his prejudices through faith in Christ, wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Monday, July 15, 2013


According to our American Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness is one of  three inalienable rights bestowed upon us by our Creator. Time magazine devoted an entire issue to the subject this week.

 The article soon lost me in its scientific and medical explanations about happiness as a genetic trait and complex chemical functions of the brain.  I couldn’t make sense of the terms and I don’t fully understand or trust all the genetic arguments about our inheriting happiness genes from our ancestors who set out to conquer the New World. 

But, I think I know what happiness is.  I know when I am happy.  And I know when I am not. I am not always sure why I feel happy or why I don’t.

I clearly know when my wife is happy.  We have a saying around our house, that “when momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  I am not sure where we found that nugget of truth, but we immediately recognized its relevance. When my wife is happy, I tend to be happy. Maybe it works the other way.  We clearly affect each other. Sometimes I can bring her down. Sometimes she can bring me up. But the happiness of one clearly affects the happiness of the other. Fortunately I married someone who is almost always happy.

The article did have some interesting stats, like most news magazine articles do. In spite of our Declaration of Independence, and more than two centuries of pursuing happiness, Americans are apparently not all that happy compared to the rest of the world.  Here are some interesting global observations:

“When it comes to work-life balance and life satisfaction, Canadians score significantly higher than Americans while making considerably less.”  “Panama reports the highest levels of happiness, although almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line.” “China’s economic boom in recent decades has corresponded with a decline in its citizen’s life-satisfaction rate.” “Debt-laden Ireland faces a gloomy future, yet its population is among the cheeriest on the planet, reporting high levels of well-being and contentedness.” (Time magazine, July 15, 2013)

The Bible doesn’t speak much about happiness. It speaks much more about joy and contentment, which are closely related.  I expect they go together to some degree, but joy and contentment are deeper and more lasting than happiness. 

Jesus gave us hints about happiness that seem contradictory on the surface. When he gave us the Beatitudes, he used a word that is best translated “happy”  “Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Happy are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.  Happy are those who …”

Perhaps Jesus’ Beatitudes help us more than all the scientific, medical and genetic research.  Happiness is more than the euphoria of victory and success.  These fade quickly.  Real happiness is deeper and more lasting than we may have ever imagined.  It is available to all of us who mourn and are poor in spirit. We don’t have to be dominating conquerors to achieve happiness.  It is available to the meek, to the peace makers and to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Costly Grace

There are few men I admire as much as Billy Graham.  I first heard him preach in 1970 at Cowboys Stadium in Irving, Texas.  The legendary teams of Tom Landry had not yet played in the stadium which was in its last stages of construction.  I listened to Tom Landry share his own testimony of faith in Christ, then sat with more than 50,000 others in rapt silence as Dr. Graham preached. At the close of the service, thousands flooded the aisles and came forward in response to his invitation to trust Christ.  

On Sunday evenings, I listened to Dr. Graham’s radio broadcast, The Hour of Decision, and I read most, if not all, of his books. Throughout his ministry he avoided the excess of other evangelists, placing himself on a limited salary and avoiding scandal.  I watched him join hands with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in support of racial integration.
Every President since Harry Truman has sought him for counsel and prayer, both Democrat and Republican.  Some tried to use their friendship for political advantage, others credited him with strengthening their faith.  He is now 94 years old and lives at his home in Montreat, North Carolina where a few friends and nurses attend him since his wife's death six years ago.

Thirty years ago, when he was already in his sixties, Dr. Graham reflected on his evangelistic ministry and asked some sobering questions. “I look back on my many years as an evangelist, and I wonder, have I made the Christian faith look too easy?  … Of course our salvation is a result of what Christ has done for us in His life and death and resurrection, not what we can do for ourselves.  Of course we can trust Him to complete in us what He has begun.  But in my eagerness to give away God’s great gift, have I been honest about the price He paid in His war with evil?  And have I adequately explained the price we must pay in our own war against evil at work in and around our lives?”
Last year my wife and I spent the summer in Nuremberg, Germany working with a new church.  While I was there I read Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Before he was martyred by Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer raised similar questions in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. 

Bonhoffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. … Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought with a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”  Speaking of his generation, Bonhoeffer wrote, “We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”
Billy Graham’s probing reflections on his ministry and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prophetic book written during Hitler’s rise to power raise questions about our own faith.  Have we responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him?  Are we His disciples?  Are we seeking to keep His commandments in all our relationships at home, at school, at church and at work?  Are we opting for cheap grace that costs us nothing or are we embracing costly grace that cost God his Son?

Monday, July 1, 2013


Some have likened history to a train. We board the train when we are born and depart when we die. But the train has been in motion long before we board and will continue its journey long after we leave. 

 It seems to me that history is an expedition, like Lewis and Clark searching for the Northwest Passage. Each generation helps chart the journey with its twists and turns, and each picks up where the other left off.

Thomas Jefferson was thirty-three years old when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. When Jefferson and John Adams died on the fiftieth anniversary of the 4th, their deaths marked the end of the generation we know as the “founding fathers.”
I remember as a child when the last veteran of the Civil War died. Albert Woolson was a drummer boy in Company C of the First Minnesota.  He died in 1956. 

At present we are witnessing the departure of what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation,” those who lived through World War II.  Five years before I was born my mother was on a picnic with my father when President Roosevelt interrupted their 1940s music to report the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  She died two years ago.  My uncle commanded a tank in the battle of Nuremberg in April 1945.  He died in January of this year.
One generation passes while another joins the journey. Some of us can recall where we were when John F. Kennedy was shot on the streets of Dallas, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles.  Vietnam and Watergate evoke vivid memories. But the young only know these events as history. Those who are turning thirteen this year were infants on 9/11/2001.  They have grown up in a post 9/11 world learning about the twin towers attack through stories, video and books.
When God looks on humanity, he sees generations.  Following Noah’s flood, God had us in mind when he said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations.”  David sang, “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.”  Moses’ success depended on how well he encouraged Joshua, the leader of the next generation that would enter the Promised Land.

 Every generation is connected to the generations that went before. But, like an expedition, every generation must find its own way, and each generation must find its own faith. A few years ago I reflected on what I wanted to accomplish with my remaining years.  One of those things was to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever imagined.  I am pleased to see that happening in many places.  More people are coming to Christ every day than at any time in history. And I am finding many in their twenties and thirties who are passionate about going to the ends of the earth and living transformed lives for Christ.

The world has never been a safe place. Expeditions are dangerous. We face huge obstacles and challenges, but the potential is limitless. As our generations overlap, we have opportunity to build upon the foundations of faith that others have laid and to create a heritage of faith for our children, our grandchildren and those who will follow.