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Saturday, December 28, 2013


If this New Year’s Celebration at Times Square follows the pattern set since 2005, just before the ball drops and we turn our calendars forward, someone will sing John Lennon’s classic song, Imagine. It is a good thing to close out the past and look to the future by imagining the world as it could be. 

 John Lennon sat down at his piano in Berkshire, England one morning in early 1971 and composed the song that became his most popular single.  The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation named it the greatest song of the last 100 years.  Australians chose “Imagine” as the greatest song of all time. But for many of us, there is a greater vision of how the world could be.

Every time we quote the Lord’s Prayer we are invited to imagine the world as it is meant to be.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven …” What would the world look like if that prayer were answered?  How would the world differ from the world we know? 

If God’s will were done on earth, there would be no more crime. Theft, violence and murder would end. Prisons would empty.  Neighbor would no longer sue neighbor.  Court dockets would be empty.

Employers would forego extravagant profits in order to pay higher wages to their workers.   No child would go to bed hungry or unsheltered.  Those who possess the food and resources of the world would share with those who have none.

Corruption, graft and greed would disappear. Wars would cease. Politicians would serve the best interest of others with honesty and integrity.  Fairness, kindness, forgiveness and generosity would prevail between neighbors. 

Husbands would love their wives seeking what is best for them and striving to please them.  Wives would love and respect their husbands, building them up and encouraging them. Children would honor their parents and obey them, trusting them in the knowledge that they want what is best for them.

Racial, cultural and sexual prejudices would vanish.  Discrimination would disappear. Every human being would treat every other human being with respect.  The strong would help the weak.

None of us are in the position to affect such a whole scale change for the world in which we live.  But we are each able to change our little corner of the world.  We can put into practice the answer to the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. His Kingdom can come and His will can be done in us and through us. 

In 2014 we can be a part of the answer to the prayer that has been prayed for more than 2,000 years.  His kingdom can come and His will can be done. Just imagine!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sunrise From On High

This last week my wife and I drove to the coast to celebrate our forty-fifth anniversary.  Something seemed to draw us to the beach, to the crashing waves that wash upon the shore, to the endless horizon of the sea.  Perhaps it was because we were married on the coast 45 years ago.

I think it was something more.  There is something mystical about the ocean. Across the years I have felt it on the beaches of Florida, California, Hawaii, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and North Africa. The ocean touches every continent of the globe, sleeping a deep sleep, slumbering an eternal slumber and waking with irresistible power. Its currents control the weather.  By all accounts it is the cradle of life.  It contains the mystery that makes the third planet from the Sun unique in the galaxies of space.

Last week I rose before daylight, loaded my backpack and walked to the beach, about a quarter of a mile from our condo.  As the dawn approached, the eastern sky was ablaze with splashes of crimson and gold. But thick clouds low on the horizon hid the sun as it crept above the earth’s rim.  The crimson and gold colors faded.  Suddenly the rising sun found an opening in the clouds and lit the sky and sea. It reflected off the cresting waves and streaked the sand with shadows.

I was reminded of what Zacharias said when his son, John was born.  Having been told by an angel that his child would be the forerunner for the Messiah, he had been stricken mute for the nine months of his wife’s pregnancy.  But when the baby was born, his tongue was loosed. The miracle and the wonder that he had harbored in silence burst from his breast, and he sang:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”(Luke 1:76-79).

Christmas is like that, like the sunrise. The Creator chose to enter into His creation in the form of a baby so that we might see His glory. He broke through the clouds of gloom and dispelled the darkness of despair.  He lights the world with His beauty and give us hope. The sunrise from on high has visited us!

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Soul Full Christmas

We don’t talk much about the soul.  Other generations did, but not ours.  We are far more focused on our bodies and our money.  This is apparent in our approach to Christmas with our lists of what we want and our search for the perfect gift at the deepest discount.  It seems that we have abandoned discussions about the soul to practitioners of New Age and metaphysics. 

We cannot perform a “soul-ectomy.”  The soul is not an organ that can be removed, placed on a laboratory table and analyzed.  We all sense that there is something within us that is more than the sum of our parts, the substance of our being where we make decisions that affect the health of our bodies, our mind and our emotions.  This is our soul. It is the substance and the essence of who we are, especially in relationship to God and to each other.  When the body withers and dies, the soul remains.

Jesus emphasized the importance of the soul.  Regarding the soul in comparison to the body, he said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”   He told a story of a rich man who was focused on his wealth and amassed greater fortunes. ' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'

David was intimately aware of his soul and referred to the soul often in the Psalms. He gave us clues as to how we can nurture and shape our soul. He said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.”  And “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in His salvation.” (Ps. 19:7; 35:9).

In some way, the Christmas season reveals the condition of our soul.  If we focus on satisfying ourselves and others with possessions and self-gratification, Christmas becomes a season of stress, leaving us disappointed, exhausted and empty.  But, when we approach Christmas in faith, our soul is stirred.  When we focus on the goodness of God who sent His Son and when we seek opportunities for generosity and comfort to others, we discover joy and gladness.  Our soul resonates with Mary, the mother of Jesus who sang, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior. For he has had regard for the humble state of his bondslave; for behold from this time on, all generations will count me blessed.  For the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is His name. And his mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with  his arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent the rich away empty handed.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lessons from Mandela

This week President Obama and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter made their way to South Africa to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela.  The entire world paused to pay homage to this remarkable individual who led his nation out of apartheid.

As a young black lawyer in South Africa, Mandela became the leader in the movement to eliminate apartheid, the South African set of laws that discriminated against Blacks and Asians.  When his influence became a threat to those in power, he was imprisoned for 27 years. Mandela emerged from prison unbroken, taking up his earlier mantra to live for freedom or to die for it.  He was swept to power as President of South Africa four years after his release.

Mandela’s story would be remarkable simply because he was able to rise from rural obscurity to national and international prominence.  It is more remarkable given his election as President of South Africa after spending 27 years in prison as an enemy of the government.  But it is most remarkable because when he was bestowed with power as President, he chose forgiveness and reconciliation instead of retaliation.

How did he come to this position?  How did he rise above the natural passions of vengeance, hatred and corruption that control most men, especially those who come to power?

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela states that he early became a member of the Methodist church, like his mother, and started his education in a Methodist school run by missionaries.  Later, when he was a young man he “became a member of the Students Christian Association and taught Bible classes on Sundays in neighboring villages.”  Perhaps in those early beginnings the seeds of his ultimate success were sown. In his autobiography, Mandela wrote, “ I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church."

But the record of Christian influence in South Africa, as elsewhere, has its issues. In South Africa as in the American pre-Civil War South, the systems of racial subjugation and prejudice found support in the churches.  Speaking of Apartheid, Mandela wrote, “The policy was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings … In the Afrikaner’s worldview, apartheid and the church went hand in hand.” 

Many who profess faith in Christ are prone to adopt the world’s systems with its prejudices and presumptions rather than follow the teachings of Christ. It is, in the end, the degree that we implement the teachings of Jesus, regardless of denomination or affiliation, that makes the greatest difference. Jesus set the example by which we are to forgive as we have been forgiven, to love our enemies and do good for them.

In 1994, Mandela addressed an Easter conference and spoke of "… the Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind!”

Nelson Mandela is a reminder that when one man is willing to put into practice the radical teaching of Jesus, he can change the world.  In our families, our jobs, our schools and our communities, we can, every one of us, practice forgiveness, acceptance, respect and faith that transforms the world.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Every year I write at least one column about my dog, Buddy, a tri-color Pembroke Corgi that found his way into our home four years ago.   Animal Control picked him up off the streets of Fort Worth, skinny and sick.  They called Corgi Rescue and they called us.   When we met him it was love at first sight. We adopted him, kennel cough and all.  He was more of a puppy then, less than two years old, I think.  Now he is approaching middle age in dog years. He is not as fast as he once was, though our daughter’s poodle could always run rings around him, and he carries a little more weight in his mid-section.

Buddy has a way of teaching me things about God if I take the time to listen and watch and reflect on our relationship.  Shortly after we adopted him, he told me his story: how he got lost on the streets of Fort Worth, was befriended by Barney the Bloodhound and ended up in “dog jail” when the “dog police” caught up with them.  I wrote it down for my grandchildren and published it as an e-book on Amazon, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi.  Our next door neighbor read it to his ten-year-old daughter who took it to school where the teacher read it to her class.  “One boy cried,” she said.  In his story, Buddy encourages animal rescue and teaches us to accept ourselves and others just the way God made us.

Recently Buddy and I went fishing in my flat bottom fishing boat.  The front of the boat is his.  He stands in the front and sniffs the wind to locate the fish.  He is good at it.  Bored with my inability to catch the fish that he knew were there, he decided to jump to a nearby log and fell in.  Corgis aren’t built for water. Their stubby legs don’t give much traction for swimming. He coughed, sputtered, went under and splashed for all he was worth until I grabbed him by the collar and hauled him back into the boat, soaked and shivering.

It reminded me of Peter’s experience when he leapt from the fishing boat to meet Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.  I expect Peter was a better swimmer than Buddy, but there he was splashing and floundering around in the sea, helpless, until Jesus reached out, lifted him up and hauled him back into the boat.

God is always doing that for me, many times and many ways. Across the years I have fallen out of the boat financially, unable to sleep at night worrying about how to make ends meet.  I have fallen over my head in work, overwhelmed by responsibilities and challenges I felt I could not meet.  I have found myself drowning in grief with the loss of someone I love. It is comforting to know that whenever I fall out of the boat, God is there. 

Every time I have fallen into waters over my head, He has pulled me up and hauled me back into the boat. He is strong enough to save me and He will not let me drown in the circumstances that threaten to overwhelm me. 

Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.”  Jesus’ followers said, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”