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Monday, February 24, 2014

Almost Spring!

It has been a long and difficult winter for most of our nation, and many of us are longing for spring.

There is nothing gradual about spring in Texas.  One week forecasters issue winter weather advisories for snow, freezing rain and ice. The next week pear, crabapple and dogwoods  explode with blossoms; daffodils bloom; bare limbs put forth buds and the air is filled with the fragrance of cut grass.  Spring comes early in Texas.  When I lived in Minnesota, March always threw me off balance.  Winter let go its grip by degrees, reluctantly withdrawing from the landscape with snowy skirmishes that lasted through April and into the first week of May.  But in Texas, it is winter one day.  Spring the next, with summer soon to follow.

I like Spring.  All that appears dead “springs” to life.  It is the harbinger of things to come: the growing season when empty fields sprout with corn, maise and cotton.  Gardens yield their miracles: seed and soil and water and sun produce ripe red tomatoes, yellow squash and fat round watermelons. 

When Jesus chose a metaphor to help us anticipate His return, He chose Spring.  He said, “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.”   As exciting as Spring is with its promise of summer, it cannot compare with what God has in store for us in the age that is to come, when He will establish a new heaven and a new earth. 

For many years, I have thought it significant that Jesus chose a “Spring” image to signify the end of the age.  Most futurists paint a dismal picture. Bookshelves and movie lists are full of doom and gloom prognostications.  Their predictions include alien invasions that wipe out the planet, a catastrophic meteor collision that makes earth unlivable, nuclear holocaust that destroys civilization as we know it, or a gradual erosion of earth’s resources. 

Jesus held no illusions about the reality of our human condition.  He plainly taught us that we would have wars and rumors of wars, that we would experience famines and earthquakes. (Mat. 24:6-7).   The prophet Isaiah said, “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not wane.” (Isa. 51:6).

Erosion and pollution will likely continue.  Men will continue to wage war.  Our strong and youthful bodies will yield to disease, crippling injuries and old age.  But in the midst of the woods the dogwood blooms. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God is preparing a new heaven and a new earth. (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1).  Everyone who believes in Him will be given new bodies that never grow old and never die. (1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15).  Spring has come!  Summer is near!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Olympics and Family

As the Winter Olympics complete their second week in Sochi, the games leave behind images that will remain for years to come. Some will be written in the record books for future reference. Others will remain in our mind’s eye.

More than anything else, the Olympics seem to highlight the importance of family. Grandparents, mothers and fathers gather at the ropes to cheer on their sons and daughters lifting banners of encouragement high above their heads. Brothers and sisters, husbands and wives embrace one another in tears, celebrating victory and comforting one another in defeat.

Who could not be moved by the images of Alpine Skier Bode Miller’s wife, Morgan, tenderly encouraging and comforting him as he sought to medal in his third Olympics?  Or the convulsion of tears that gripped him when he won the bronze and remembered his brother who died?

The Canadian Dufour-Lapointe sisters won gold and silver in the moguls on the second day,  and two days later the Dutch twins, Michel and Ronald Mulder, took home both the gold and the bronze medals in men’s  speed skating. And where would figure skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White be without their moms?

Noell Pikus-Pace competed in the Women’s Skeleton, an event in which athletes plummet head-first down the luge track reaching speeds up to 80 mph. I will remember her, not so much because she won the silver, but because of her joy as a mother for her children and her love for her husband, who encouraged her to return to Olympic competition after she miscarried a third child.

And, I will remember the Canadian free skier, Alex Bilodeau, who won gold in the moguls. As soon as Alex knew he had won the gold he looked for one person, his brother, Frederic who suffers from cerebral palsy. Finding his brother, he wrapped his arms around him and dragged him over the ropes to celebrate his victory. 

Asked about his action, Alex explained, “It's crazy the motivation that he takes and every step is very hard for him. In life, I have an easy path and I need to go out there and do the best I can just out of respect to him. … he’s my everyday inspiration.”

Most of us will live obscure lives of virtual anonymity, but in our families no one is obscure or anonymous. Each one is important.

The Bible says, ‘He places the solitary in families.” (Psalm 68:6). The Bible is a family book. It starts with Adam and Eve, continues with Noah, traces God’s redemption through Abraham and culminates in the child Jesus swaddled in the arms of Mary and Joseph.  Jesus expanded the importance of family when he said, “Everyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother, sister and mother.” 

Like Jesus, we too can expand our families to include others. We can embrace the young as our sons and daughters, the old as our mothers and fathers. We can embrace the stranger as our brother and sister.  What an amazing world it would be if each of us saw one another as family. 


Most of us will never be Olympians, but each of us can celebrate what is better than gold or silver.  We can celebrate the relationships God gives us.  We can be there for each other, encouraging, cheering each other on and comforting one another whenever tragedy strikes.  We can bind up each other’s wounds and exhort each other to a higher plane.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Was Jesus Right?

Jesus is universally respected.  Even the followers of Islam claim him as a prophet.  And millions who have no use for the church still like Jesus.  But the question remains, “Was Jesus right?”  “Did he know what he was talking about?”

It is difficult to reconcile Islam’s claim that Jesus was a prophet with the clear statements that he made regarding himself: “He that has seen me has seen the Father.”  “I and the Father are One.”  “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on Earth.”  “No one comes to the Father but by me.”  Jesus clearly claimed to be more than a mere prophet or a great teacher.

It is also difficult to reconcile the attitude and actions of professing Christians with Jesus’ words and instructions.  When I was eighteen, I worked in a warehouse that shipped products to stores where they would be sold.  I worked with older workers who, like me, worked for minimum wage.  Some of my co-workers, who were professing Christians, heard that I planned to become a “preacher.”  They tried to be nice and encouraging. They told me it was a good thing for me to become a preacher, but reminded me that those things “don’t work here.” 

I interpreted their comments to mean that they believed in Jesus but the teachings of Jesus were out of touch with the real world.  They were like many Christians I have encountered over the years.  Dallas Willard calls them “vampire Christians.”  They want a little of Jesus’ blood, just enough to forgive their sins and assure they are going to heaven, but they don’t think Jesus knew what he was talking about when it comes to everyday life. 

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Clearly, he thought he knew what he was talking about, and he expected that anyone who placed their faith in him would do everything they could to obey him.  It was apparently inconceivable to Jesus that someone could think they loved him, and, at the same time, ignore or disobey his instructions. 

Either Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived and knew better than anyone else how life should be lived on this earth, or he was a delusional pretender who has misguided millions for more than two thousand years.  If Jesus’ instructions for living will not work in the courtroom, the schools, the factory and the family, neither will they work to get us to heaven. 

Our personal conclusion about whether we believe Jesus was right will not be reflected in what we profess about who He is, but in what we do when we are going about our day to day activities at work, at school and at home.  Are we bringing our lives into alignment with his life and teaching?  Do we act like Jesus acted?  Do we forgive like Jesus forgave?  Are we truthful and faithful like Jesus was truthful and faithful? Do we love like Jesus loved? 

Following Jesus’ instructions has nothing to do with earning our way to heaven.  It has every thing to do with loving Jesus and living a meaningful life. If you want to know what Jesus expects, you can find his instructions in Matthew chapters 5-7. 

Jesus told us how to know whether He was right or not.  He said, “If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32. Amplified Bible). 

Monday, February 3, 2014


Skiers fly through the wind like birds landing lightly on the snow, lugers plunge down the chute at 90 mph in a death defying dive, skaters slice through the ice and downhill skiers carve moguls on the mountain. The Sochi Olympics stir memories: the magnificence of the mountains, the silence of the snow, the rush of the wind. I started snow skiing in 1978, broke my leg in March of 1992 while skiing with my son and skied again before the year was out. I love the winter Olympics.

It is not just the physical event, however, that mesmerizes my mind. I am captivated by the personal stories.  In the classic words from Wide World of Sports, it is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”  In the Vancouver Olympics four years ago it was the tragic story of Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal crash on the luge the day before opening ceremonies or Lindsey Vonn’s struggle to overcome a bruised leg and win gold in the downhill.

The Winter Olympics remind us of Dan Jansen skating for gold moments after his sister died only to crash into the wall on the final turn.  Who can forget the image of Jansen sitting forlorn on the ice? Four years later he returned to capture the top medal and carried his two-year-old son on a victory lap in memory of his sister.

Two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul used Olympic metaphors to help us understand  faith.   He wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The race is different for each of us.  Our challenges are unique.  But we all have a race to run, a challenge to face.  No one has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines as a spectator. Faith requires discipline, determination, perseverance and sacrifice.  The good news is that we don’t have to face our challenges alone.  We are surrounded by those who have gone before who cheer us on through our discouragements and defeats. We have One who has run the race and shown us the way.  We have One who enters the race alongside us, pacing us and spurring us on to the finish. 

The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:1-3).