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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Fourth

When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, John Adams envisioned celebrations in every city with parades, fireworks and political speeches “from one end of this continent to the other.”  More than two centuries later, Adam’s dream has become reality.  This weekend bursting sky-rockets and exploding bombs will illuminate the night skies over cities, parks and lakes.  Parading bands will march in the streets followed by decorated floats and mounted horses.  Politicians will address crowds from platforms hung with red, white and blue bunting.

The Fourth provides the focus for our American ideals in the words penned by Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Those words provide the theological and philosophical foundation that inspires and guides our nation. 

Throughout our history, sociologists have sought the secret of America’s success.  After touring the United States in 1830, Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that democracy and freedom worked in America because of America’s faith.  He wrote, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith … despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.” Robert Kaplan’s Empire Wilderness sought a similar re-examination of America in 1998.  He reached more pessimistic conclusions than de Tocqueville but expressed the same longing for faith.  Visiting a Mexican church in Tucson, Kaplan wrote, “The church conjured up tradition, sensuality, nostalgia.  If only this church were more relevant to the social forces roiling the southern half of Tucson.”  In The Next One Hundred Million, Joel Kotkin paints an optimistic future for America in 2050 based largely on our unique faith. He writes, “a ‘spiritual’ tradition that extends beyond regular church attendance … persists as a vital force.” 

We strive toward equality because that is the way God made us.  We are each made in His image and every person is born with infinite worth.  We are taught, through faith, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, that we are greatest when we are servant to others and that service to God is measured by our actions toward the “least of these.” 

But the pursuit of happiness can degenerate into the self-absorbed and destructive pursuit of pleasure.  Without faith in Christ we are prone to become captive to addictions and sins that easily beset us.  Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin … if the Son makes you free you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36). 

For every individual and nation, real freedom comes when we are set free from greed, corruption, lust and addiction. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Digital Faith

I am a digital immigrant. I was born into a world of rotary dial telephones and slide rules, cash registers that resembled slot machines, schools without air conditioning, encyclopedias that occupied an entire shelf in the book case and paper maps that unfolded to fill the entire front seat of the car.  

I started my immigration to the digital world about thirty years ago when I walked into Toys R Us with sweaty palms and bought my first computer, a Commodore 64.  It had 64k of memory and a floppy disk.  You can still find Commodore 64s in abandoned attics, basements and museums.

My oldest son is also a digital immigrant, though he was only eight years old when he started his digital journey.  After he grew up he started his own computer company and now works in Information Technology for an energy company. 

My grandchildren are digital natives.  They were born into the digital world and have never known anything else.  My three year old granddaughter was scanning photos on an iPhone when she was two and has already mastered video games. She reads and watches children stories on her iPad.  

I like the digital world.  I would not want to go back.  I live with my iPhone and PC. I can browse the web and check email anywhere in the world, conduct my business and manage my bank account on the go. I can text friends and family to stay connected and can go anywhere with my GPS.  I felt a little sacrilegious when I started reading my Bible on my iPhone and my Kindle.  It seemed like it wasn’t really a Bible if I couldn’t flip the pages and smell the ink. I had to remind myself that the first Scriptures were hand written on scrolls and that books came centuries later. 

But there are dangers in the digital world that did not exist before.

The world of virtual reality can undermine relationships in the real world robbing us of time, energy and emotional maturity. The new world of social networking can foster affairs with remote “lovers” who carry none of the day-to-day difficulties that come with marriage. More than one career has been destroyed by inappropriate posts on Facebook and Twitter. Pornography is at your fingertips.
The book, Digital Invasion quotes one youth pastor: “I see young people losing the interpersonal skills it takes to function in relationships, in a family and in the church.”

Craig Detweiler writes in his book, iGods, “The iMac begat the IPhone and the iPad, and each one starts with me – or rather “i.” They enhance our ability to connect and to serve, but they can also create an inflated sense of self, believing the entire world revolves around “me.” … In an age of status updates, personalized shopping, and lists of followers, we are experiencing the rush of becoming iGods of our own making.”  All this sounds strangely like the first temptation, “When you eat of it you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5).

The digital world brings digital pitfalls and temptations as well as opportunities.  Our challenge is to incorporate the timeless and eternal truths that never change into our digital world, a digital faith that connects us with God and with one another.  The greatest commandment remains:  “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Monday, June 16, 2014

When We Die

When Steve Jobs died at the age of 56, we all paused to reflect. He had resigned just six weeks earlier as CEO of Apple.. His user-friendly computing innovations including the iPod, iPhone and iPad transformed the way we live. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer eight years earlier, 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, June 9, 2014


This Sunday the scent of sizzling steak will drift across the back yards of America.  I guess it is a guy thing, and I guess that is why we celebrate Father’s Day around the grill. There is something about standing around a fire, even if it is propane, and cooking meat.

My own father died 38 years ago. But I still remember the steaks he cooked on picnics at the lake.  I remember his hand upon my shoulder encouraging me when times seemed tough.  And I will never forget the grin on his face when I hit a home run.

I became a father 40 years ago and it seems like yesterday that I stood with my face pressed against the nursery window watching the newborn that wriggled in a bassinet on the other side.  I wore a tie, hoping those who saw me would think he had a respectable dad.

Father’s Day started in the United States in 1910 in Spokane, Washington. Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd got the idea while sitting in church observing Mothers Day. Her father raised her after her mother’s early death, and she wanted some way to honor him. The city and its churches adopted the proposal with enthusiasm. Since that time our nation has paused on the third Sunday of June to celebrate the role of fathers in our families.

The role of fathers is unmistakable in the Bible starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Honoring our fathers and mothers is the “first commandment with a promise” among the Ten Commandments. (Ephesians 6:3; Exodus 20:12).

The U.S, Department of Health and Human Services recognizes the importance of fathers.  Their web site quotes Dr. David Popenoe who makes the observation that "Fathers are far more than just 'second adults' in the home.  Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring."

If fathers want to have the healthiest influence on their children, it starts with marriage.  The DHHS manual for CPS workers states, “A father who has a good relationship with the mother of their children is more likely to be involved and to spend time with their children and to have children who are psychologically and emotionally healthier. Similarly, a mother who feels affirmed by her children's father and who enjoys the benefits of a happy relationship is more likely to be a better mother.”

It isn’t rocket science.  Good fathers create healthy homes and healthy children.  Statistics overwhelmingly indicate that children who grow up in homes without fathers face significantly greater obstacles and have a higher rate of suicide, drug abuse and socio-psychological problems.

According to US Census data, currently one in three children live in a home without their father.  This is especially significant when we consider that in 1960 only 11 percent of children lived in a fatherless home. 

The Bible indicates that the father-child relationship was important to the coming of Christ.  The book of Malachi predicted a prophet that God would send to introduce the Messiah: “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”  (Malachi 4:6).  When the angel told Zecharias that he would have a son in his old age who would be the forerunner to Jesus, the angel said, “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children.”

This Father’s Day reminds us that few things are as important to our nation and its future as the role of fathers in the lives of their children.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When Life Overwhelms

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)

Sooner or later life will “clump.” Prepare for the “clumping” stages of life before they come. 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).