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Monday, December 28, 2015

Closing the book on the Past - Looking to the Future

For many years I have spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on the year past and New Year’s Day anticipating the year to come.  I have learned the importance of closing the book on the past and opening a new one for the future.

First, we need to close the book on the insults and injuries we may have suffered. Failure to close the book on these can cripple us in our efforts to embrace the future.  We can only overcome past insults and injuries by practicing forgiveness.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  And, after teaching us to pray, He drew the application: “For, if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” 

Second, we need to close the book on our own sins and transgressions.  We all regret things we did and things we left undone, words spoken and words we failed to speak. The guilt and regret of the past can become a heavy burden that weighs us down and prevents us from achieving our best.  God wants to take this weight from our shoulders.

In Psalms the Bible says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps 103:11-13).  And in Hebrews, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

We also need to open a new book on a future with endless possibilities. Americans have always been optimistic. Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to document American optimism nourished by widespread Christian faith in the 1830s. That faith and optimism carried us through two World Wars, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Kent State, Watergate, Vietnam and the Cold War.   But today, our optimism and our faith are being tested. 

It is always God’s desire that we look to the future with optimism and hope.  We can look forward to the future based on God’s promises.  “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Both Paul and Peter agreed that Jesus is the source of this confidence. “Just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’” (Ro. 9:33; 1 Pe. 2:6; Ps 118:22; Isa. 28:16).

May this be a year of forgiveness, optimism and faith! May it be your best year ever! 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Star Wars Christmas

This has been a “Star Wars Christmas.”  The promotion surrounding the release of the latest Star Wars movie dominated the Christmas season.  Entire aisles were dedicated to  Star Wars toys:  the Millenium Falcon, Battle Droids, Light Sabers, Chubacca, R2D2, C-3PO, and Yoda. Toys R Us offered Darth Vader and Storm Trooper cups for the older generation.  Star Wars smashed all box office records raking in $238 million on its opening weekend.

My oldest son was four when the first Star Wars movie premiered.  He is now 42. Across the years the characters have changed.  Droids come and go (except for R2D2 and C3PO who somehow survive).  One theme remains constant in every Star Wars movie:  the battle between evil and good, the Dark Side and the Force. The Force for good always triumphs. Good overcomes evil and hope remains. 

It is the timeless theme of human history.  The Dark Side represents tyranny, lust for power, absolute control, hate and revenge without regard for the individual.  The Force represents freedom, individuality, respect for persons, the value of life and love, sacrifice for the good of others and hope for the future. Perhaps this is one of the reason Star Wars has “stuck around.” 

Star Wars is fiction. But the battle between good and evil is real.  We see it all around us. With every news report: Paris, San Bernardino, the Boston bombing, 9/11, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, SC.  Graft, greed, corruption, drugs, murder, abuse.  The news media continually reports the darkness that seeks to overwhelm us.

This Christmas thousands of family members will mourn the loss of loved ones who have been stolen away by the evil among us.  More than 3,000 died in the Twin Towers, and thousands others have perished in senseless slayings, beheadings and massacres around the world. In all of these cases we are left confused and hopeless unless we have “The Story” to help us. 

“The Story” is the Christmas story.  It is the defining story of good and evil, the reason Jesus was born.  Jesus was sent as light to overcome the darkness. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).  Hundreds of years before He was born, Isaiah wrote, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that  my salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.: (Isaiah 49:6).  Jesus said, “This is the verdict, Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19).

Jesus was born into an evil and unjust world.  King Herod sought to wipe out any threat to his throne by slaughtering the children of Bethlehem.  Jesus was only spared by the wisdom of his step-father Joseph, who fled with him to the distant deserts of Egypt after  he was warned in a dream. 

Unlike Star Wars, Jesus’ triumph does not come by rallying others to rebellion and war.  His triumph comes by overcoming evil with good, by refusing to curse those who cursed him, by enduring the Cross and forgiving his tormentors.  His triumph came through the Resurrection and the transformation of human hearts through faith in Him. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Christmas Journey

Christmas is a family event.  Brothers, sisters, parents and children go to great expense to see each other.  They drive hundreds of miles, fly across the continent or around the world to celebrate the holidays together.  Paper stars colored by little hands that grew into manhood and womanhood adorn the Christmas trees.  Decorations, unboxed from Christmases past, remind us of those we loved who are no longer here.  Brightly wrapped packages wait beneath the tree, symbols of our desire to bless one another and look to the future.

That first Christmas was a family event.  When we rehearse the Christmas story, we conjure up images of Joseph trudging along the Jordan valley leading a donkey on which Mary was balanced. He must have glanced at her often, concerned for his young wife, full-term in her pregnancy.  A look of admiration and love played upon his face, mixed with worry.

Faith, above all, propelled them in their journey. But the circumstances were difficult and not of their choosing.  They were on the road, at this most inconvenient and vulnerable time, because Caesar required it. They were making the arduous journey to Bethlehem so Joseph could enroll for the Roman tax.  Even young couples about to deliver a baby were not excused from the census.

They did not know the future.  They believed God was in it, but had no way of knowing where they would sleep, or how they would make their way after the child was born.  Like all fathers, Joseph was concerned about how he would care for his wife and child.  Mary’s thoughts were about the baby that squirmed within her. 

Joseph’s fears would have been multiplied if he had known, while trudging along the stony path, that there would be no place for them to stay, that the child would be born in a common stable, a trough for the animals would have to serve for a crib. But his faith in God sustained him. His hope for the future lifted his face.

Christmas is like that for us today. We are all on a journey.  Some are more difficult and precarious than others.  Our minds are filled with hopes, dreams, anxiety, worry and faith.  Some have been laid off and are searching for a job. Some are starting their careers, uncertain about what the future might hold. Some have suffered tragedy, pain and loss.  Some are battling illness.  Some are celebrating a new birth.

When God sent His Son, He blessed our human experience.  He entered into our journey. When He sent Jesus, he identified with our weaknesses, our fears, our hopes, our dreams and our faith.  He blessed us as families: mothers and fathers loving one another, finding our way, caring for children in challenging circumstances and believing that, somehow, God is in it all.   He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will accomplish His purposes on the earth. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Dog Theology

Over the years, our family has included both cats and dogs that helped us raise our kids.   and became our companions. Our cats seemed willing to allow us the privilege of living with them.  Our dogs seemed grateful for the privilege of living with us. They taught us the difference between dog theology and cat theology.  

It might sound strange, even sacrilegious to a few, but Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison have developed whole seminars and books around “cat and dog theology.” (www.catndogtheology.com). Simply put, cats say, “You feed me, shelter me and care for me.  I must be god.”  Dogs say, “You feed me, shelter me and care for me.  You must be god.”  If you have ever had a cat and a dog you know what I mean.  Cat theology is me-centered.  “What can God do for me?” Dog theology is God centered. “What does God want me to do?” Here are a few things I am learning about “dog theology” from my dog, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Buddy.

Buddy trusts me.  Whenever I get in my truck he jumps in and takes his place, ready to go.  He doesn’t know where we are going or what we are going to do. But he believes that if I am driving it is okay.  I need to be more like that with God.  I always want to know where we are going, when we are going to get there and what we are going to do once we arrive.  I need to jump in the truck with God and give him control of my life.

Buddy wants to be with me.  He doesn’t care if he is at the lake running, splashing and rolling in the mud, sitting in a chair next to me on the patio or in my study lying at my feet while I write.  He just wants to be where I am.   I need to spend time with God.  What made the early disciples different was the fact they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Buddy follows me.  He even follows me from room to room in the house. Whenever we go for a walk in an open field, I let him off his leash and he runs free.  But he keeps an eye on me.  He has developed a radius of his own, about thirty yards from wherever I am.  Within that radius he feels comfortable exploring smells and marking trees.  Occasionally he gets out of eyesight. But, when I call his name he comes running. Not real fast, but as fast as he can. After all he is a Corgi.    It reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples, “Come, follow me!”  “My sheep know my voice.” 

Buddy waits for me. If I am writing, he lies down, rests his head on his paws, keeps one eye on me and waits.  If we are walking and I stop, he sits down with his tongue hanging out and waits.  If I go to the store, he waits in my truck until I return.  Buddy never complains about waiting on me.  He never gets in a hurry.  Maybe I should be more like that with respect to God and those I love. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Depression

For most of us, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration, stretching from Thanksgiving through Christmas and the New Year.  But for some, it can be the most difficult time of year.  We may feel the keen absence of a loved-one, the anxiety of measuring up, the pressure of trying to please those we love with gifts we cannot afford. We are constantly bombarded with images of perfect families and happy faces exchanging perfect gifts. All of this can lead to “holiday depression.”

Depression is widespread. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion. It affects the rich and poor, the unknown and the famous.  Abraham Lincoln was well known for his bouts with depression. His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.

Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself:

Refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” In his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.”  Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play.  Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us.

Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner. When I was a teenager I read a little known book by a Christian psychiatrist named Henry C. Link entitled Return to Religion. Basically the book said that church is good for the human psyche.  Going to church is good for us. 

Do something good for someone else. Guilt and depression are common companions.  The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression.  Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light.  Accept God’s forgiveness for your sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others.

If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance.  We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods.  Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor, can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”

Trust in God who cares for you. Look beyond and beneath all the holiday hype to remember the basic message of Christmas.  God has loved you so much that He has given His only begotten Son, just for you.  God loves you just as you are.  He is reaching out His hand to lift you up and save you!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Evil and Grace

We are witnessing an increase of evil in the world with senseless killings and brutal beheadings.  The persecution of Christians is at an all-time high.  But where evil increases, God’s grace increases all the more. In spite of the violence and persecution, more people are discovering faith in Christ from all over the world than ever before.

For the last two years we have hosted a Bible study in our home for international grad students at Baylor.  They have come from China, Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana Viet Nam and Poland.  Many of them have become like family to us.  We had a similar experience a few years ago when I served as pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany. Most of those attending the church were young adults from Germany, Ireland, England, Romania, Ukraine, China, Cameroon, India, Sweden, Austria, Japan and South Africa.

These young believers remind me that Jesus Christ was sent for all people of every nation in every age. When God called Abraham He promised to make him a blessing to all the nations. Isaiah said, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isa. 42:1) And again, “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 52:10) Those promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

The world is experiencing the greatest population migration in history.  The United Nations Refugee Service estimates more than 55 million people have been displaced.  Christian groups are responding to offer shelter, food and the good news of God’s grace. According to a recent study by Lousanne World Pulse, Christianity as a whole is growing faster than the global population with the fastest growth in Asia, Eastern Europe and the global south.

Wherever we are, every believer needs to reach out to internationals around them, to welcome them, to love them, and to share with them the life-changing difference found in Jesus Christ. God wants people from every nation to experience His salvation in Jesus Christ.

When John described his vision of Christ in Revelation, he declared, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9).

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Call for Renewal

For decades the horrors of the holocaust shocked us. We wondered how people could be so cruel to other humans. But today we witness genocide, murder and slaughter on an unprecedented global scale. The atrocities of ISIL threaten to spread like a cancer.  Over four million people have fled Syria, seeking safety in Turkey, Europe and the West.  Our hearts and our prayers go out to the people of France, the latest victims in what is becoming an increasingly violent century.

The violence is more widespread than ISIL.  In June a young white man gunned down the pastor and eight other members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC after being welcomed to their church for Bible study. In Oregon police called for as many ambulances as possible after a 26-year-old man opened fire at a community college killing nine.

In Houston a law officer was murdered in cold blood while filling his car with gas.  As of this writing, 109 law enforcement personnel have been killed in the line of duty in 2015. 

We are experiencing racial unrest in the U.S. not seen since the 1960s.  Charges of police brutality have resulted in race riots in Baltimore, MD and Ferguson, MO.  Protests broke out in Waller, TX following the jail-cell death of Sandra Bland.  University of Missouri students forced their President to resign charging him with racial insensitivity.

The Russian writer and Nobel prize winner, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote: "But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive.”

Twenty years ago David Aikman, former senior correspondent for Time magazine, said, “I don't think the country can be changed through politics ... it can be changed by the kind of awakening or revival that has such a dramatic effect that politics is merely an outflow, the kind of awakening spiritually that this country has seen on at least two previous occasions, and the place to start is among Christians. Their lives must reflect a serious cultural difference from the rest of a pagan society."  The spiritual awakening Aikman envisioned has not occurred.  Instead, our world seems to be sinking into the dark waters of fear, suspicion, prejudice, deceit, immorality and violence.

But the tide can be stemmed.  The world can be a place of goodness, grace, forgiveness, love and beauty.  We can refuse to give in to the cultural currents that seek to destroy us. We can rise above them.  The Bible promises, If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Biker Believers

This weekend almost half a million bikers will show up in Galveston for the Lone Star Rally. They come from all walks of life with a shared love for the road, the wind and the machine.  Many of them might be like the young man I met years ago in Kansas City, a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a biker. 

I have always liked bikes.  I got my first motor scooter when I was 13.  Two years later, my first motorcycle.  It wasn’t much.  I didn’t have much money, only a 175 cc engine.  It would only do 45 mph, that is until I took the engine apart and cleaned out the exhaust ports.  Then it would do 75.  Great fun! 

After I became a pastor, I found myself serving a church where many of the members had motorcycles.  I bought a Yamaha.  Again, not much of a bike because, again, I didn’t have much money.  But my wife rode with me and I was able to go on some bike rides with my deacons.  I took my son on a ride and toured the Pea Ridge Civil War battlefield in northwest Arkansas.

I never owned a Harley, but a few years ago I visited the Harley Davidson plant in Kansas City with a group of church leaders interested in Harley Davidson.  I listened as a young man introduced himself as a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley Davidson executive.

Later, I served as coach to a pastor who was starting Biker Church, a church for people who served their community and shared their faith as biker enthusiasts.  The church met on Thursday nights for worship and participated in biker rides and rallies on the weekend. They raised money for those in need and started a Bible-base ministry for substance abuse.

I bought a Kawasaki, again a used bike, but by far the best and fastest bike I ever owned.  I went down on it at 60 mph but my full-face helmet and the Lord saved my life.   I survived with only a couple of broken ribs and road rash.  I still love bikes.

If the Apostle Peter lived today, perhaps he would be a biker.  After all he was a rough fisherman when Jesus met him and he was prone to jump out of boats.  Jesus loved him and made him the leader of his followers.  When I think about Jesus, the places he went, the people he befriended, it makes sense that He would love bikers. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Nearing Home

Next Saturday is Billy Graham’s 97th birthday.  No individual has had a greater impact in shaping our spiritual landscape in the last century. In 2014, he was named to the Gallup Poll’s list of men Americans most admire for the 58th time.

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 faith in 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. Tom Landry, the legendary coach for the Cowboys, gave his testimony that night quoting Augustine, “Our hearts are restless indeed, O God, until they find their rest in thee.”

Billy Graham’s life has been more than remarkable. He served as a spiritual confidant for every president since Harry S. Truman. He took bold stands as a leader for integration during the civil rights movement and was close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Unlike many “televangelists,” he had himself placed on a salary early in his career to avoid any hint of scandal. He and his wife, Ruth, had an exemplary marriage for sixty-three years before her death in June, 2007.

In 2012 the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association met in Chicago and chose Billy Graham’s book Nearing Home as the “Best Christian Book of the Year.”  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?”

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.”

Writing recently in Decision magazine, Dr. Graham said, “The only way that we can have our lives changed and find peace, joy and the fulfillment of life; the only way to have sin forgiven; the only way to know that you are going to Heaven, is to receive Christ as your Lord, Savior and Master. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Essential Element for Successful Marriage and Family

The University of Georgia recently conducted a study to find the essential ingredients for successful marriage.  The study, published in the journal of Personal Relationships, discovered one primary factor in marriages that were healthy and happy.  In every case, those marriages included gratitude.  According to their findings, gratitude was the “most consistent significant predictor” of a happy marriage.

Allen Barton, lead author of the study, said, “It goes to show the power of ‘thank you.’” Associate professor and study co-author Ted Futris stated, “Feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last.”

Each bride and groom stands at the marriage altar beaming with gratitude for the “love of their life.” And, it is easy to remain thankful for each other as long as things go well. 

But all married couples will face difficult demands. Hard times will come. Many will experience financial stress, competing demands from in-laws, professional pressure from their jobs, exhausting schedules that leave little time for rest. Most will experience the stress of parenting: sleepless nights with newborns, the constant attention required by preschoolers and the complicated schedules of school, sports and activities as children grow.

It is especially during these stressful periods of life that gratitude matters.  Many marriages crumble under the pressure, choosing to play the “blame-game”, creating a downward spiral that ends in disaster.  Others choose gratitude, building one another up with appreciation and thankfulness under trying circumstances.  These marriages prosper and survive.  According to Allen Barton, “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes."

What Barton and Futris found regarding marriage can also apply to the family.  Strong families are created when parents express gratitude to their children and children are grateful to their parents. Gratitude in the family starts with the marriage.  Children learn to be grateful by watching their parents. 

Nothing cultivates a heart of gratitude better than faith in Christ. When we experience God’s love in Christ, we become more thankful for others.  In Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15). 

And again, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7).  “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

We all enjoy being around people who are grateful and thankful. They cheer us up. They give us energy. They encourage us.  List the aspects of your spouse for which you are genuinely thankful and express your gratitude.  Cultivate a heart of faith that is genuinely grateful in all circumstances. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"When I'm 64" - Now What?

This weekend my high school class of 1965 will gather for its fiftieth class reunion.  How did this happen?  Half a century since we walked across the stage and tossed our tassels?  Can this be possible?  When I was growing up we thought sixty-four was ancient, and now we will soon be seventy.

Paul McCartney wrote the song, “When I’m 64” at the age of 16 and later recorded it in 1966.  I have listened to it most of my life. I remember reciting the lyrics in my youth, thinking of the inconceivably ancient age of sixty-four. I assumed by then I would be in a nursing home or dead. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” Well, I blew past 64 four years ago and, strangely, I don’t feel old or anywhere near incapacitated.

Every year I spend several days with some of my childhood friends. We are all past sixty-four. Several of us were in first grade together in1953. We have the photo to prove it. While we don’t feel old, and think of ourselves as we once were in our youth, others apparently think we are old. When we went out to a restaurant together for dinner, the owner took pity on us and gave us a free dessert.

But, I realize something when I am with my childhood friends. I realize we are all still on the journey. We started this journey together as children in post-World War II. We were the first baby boomers. We didn’t know what that meant. We just knew there were lots of us. We have journeyed through the Sixties, Viet Nam, Flower Power, the Moon landing, Watergate, Floppy Disks, the World Wide Web, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Desert Storm, the Dot Com Bust, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Great Recession.

Our individual journeys have taken different turns and twists. A couple entered the military graduating from West Point and the Air Force Academy, one became a physician, two entered business, one became an educator, one became an Episcopal priest, another a Baptist minister. We have different political, economic and religious opinions. But we are still together on the journey.

It reminds me of the words Jesus first spoke to his followers. “Come and follow me.” God always invites us to a journey. His invitation is to all of us and His invitation is life-long. The journey never stops. It has valleys and mountaintops. It leads through sorrow and celebration. It encompasses wonder, worship and war. It includes pain, poverty and prosperity.

Now that I am past 64, the age our generation has sung about since youth, I am grateful for the journey. I am grateful for the companions God has given me to travel with. And I am grateful for the One who invited me to follow Him when I was young and still leads me when I am old.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Character: The Most Important Trait For A Successful Leader

The political pot is already simmering, even though we won’t go to the polls to elect a new President for more than a year.   Presidential hopefuls continue to jockey for position as pollsters and pundits assess the field. 

Each candidate tries to persuade us they can guide our nation through the complex waters looming ahead.  Some cite their business success and financial achievement. Others tout their political experience.  But the most important element for effective leadership might be the most difficult to discern.   

In his recent book, Return on Character:  The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, Fred Kiel concluded that the most important trait for successful leadership is character.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Now, in this groundbreaking book, respected leadership researcher, adviser, and author Fred Kiel offers that evidence-solid data that demonstrates the connection between character, leadership excellence, and organizational results.”

Kiel identifies four basic traits that set effective leaders apart:  integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion.  Leaders with character tell the truth and own up to their mistakes.  Most importantly, they care about people.

By contrast, those with weak character demonstrate a negative view of human nature. Their behavior is fear based.  “They assume that they know better than anybody else what people should be doing.”  They are judgmental, quick to place blame on others.

The positive and negative traits identified by Fred Kiel are consistent with the Bible.  Among the negative “deeds of the flesh,” the Bible lists “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions.”  The positive fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23). Proverbs says, “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9).

In 1908, Leo Tolstoy identified Abraham Lincoln’s greatness when wrote, “Why was Lincoln so great that he over-shadows all other national heroes?  He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Wahington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”

King David had his flaws. His shortcomings are clearly laid out in Scripture. But He remains one of the great leaders of history. The Bible says of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:70-72).

For each of us, and especially for our leaders, the path to a prosperous future is always the path of integrity, honesty, compassion and forgiveness. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

What's In It For Me?

October baseball is here.  Major League teams have played 162 games over six months for this moment.  Stadiums are packed with hopeful fans. Those who love baseball feel the fever.

The 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, is rated number five among the favorite baseball movies of all time. In the story, Ray Kinsella responds to a “voice” that urges him to build a baseball diamond, complete with lights, in the middle of his Iowa corn field.  After doing everything the “voice” commands him to do, Ray is stunned to see Shoeless Joe Jackson and some of the greats of the game emerge from his mysterious cornfield to play the game as they did in their youth.

The story climaxes with an invitation from Shoeless Joe to join them in the cornfield a dimension beyond the edges of this world. But Ray, who has risked everything to build the field, is not invited. Instead, Jackson invites the cynical 1960s writer, Terrence Mann.  Ray explodes in a fit of frustration demanding, “What’s in it for me?”  To which Shoeless Joe asks, “Is that why you did this Ray, for what’s in it for you?”
It is a good question.  According to experts in marketing, it is the question we all ask when we consider purchasing any product or joining any organization. In our age of seeker-sensitive churches, it seems to be the dominant question asked by anyone considering a church. “What’s in it for me?” But, is it the right question?

When Jesus invited Peter, James and John to leave their home, their families and their boats, I wonder how He would have responded if they had asked, “What’s in it for me?” Perhaps He would have responded as He did when the young man with great possessions refused to give up his wealth.

How much do we miss of what God has for us because we are so focused on “What’s in it for me?”

Jesus’ invitation to join Him on life’s eternal journey sounds strangely different than our twenty-first century marketing plans.  Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25).  “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (Luke 6:34-35).

Perhaps what is “in it” for us is the same thing that was “in it” for Jesus: the pleasure that comes from obedience to the Father. Simply doing what He says and knowing we have been obedient to His voice may be the ultimate reward.  When the Apostle Paul reached the end of his journey, he measured it in this way, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” (2 Timothy 4:7), and again, “I did not prove disobedient to the Heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19). 

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Place to Rest

We live in a time-crunched world where life is lived on the run. Millions pull out of their driveways in the pre-dawn dark, grab a last-minute breakfast burrito and merge onto freeways while listening to the morning news and traffic reports between cell phone calls. It is a frenzied start to a frenzied day.

Weary from long hours at work, the same drivers re-enter the stream of traffic making their way home past memorized billboards that serve as markers for their movement. Weekends are filled with a hundred errands, second jobs, T-ball, soccer, football. Church is squeezed into an already full schedule that has no margins.

Richard Foster analyzed it like this: "We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators." We are increasingly depressed and suicidal. We have turned to alcohol and drugs in a desperate effort to cope. We know deep down that something isn’t working. There must be a better way.

Most people recognize the Ten Commandments as foundational to human conduct and life. But somewhere along the way we reduced the Ten Commandments to nine. We eliminated the fourth commandment as irrelevant and archaic: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” A half-century ago, businesses were closed on Sunday and sporting events recognized Sunday as a day for worship. All that has changed. Today our calendars are filled up to a 24/7 frenzy.

When Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man, he affirmed the need for the Sabbath in our lives. He underscored the importance of the Sabbath to all of us for mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

In his book, Living the Sabbath, Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Norman Wirzba writes, “Put simply, Sabbath discipline introduces us to God’s own ways of joy and delight. … When our work and our play, our exertion and our rest flow seamlessly from this deep desire to give thanks to God, the totality of our living --- cooking, eating, cleaning, preaching, parenting, building, repairing, healing, creating --- becomes one sustained and ever expanding act of worship.”

Sabbath requires time for rest, silence, solitude and worship, but it is more than a day of rest. It is a way of life that is filled with wonder, worship, awe and delight. When Jesus declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath, he offered to us a better way. He said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest to your souls.”

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Three years ago I served as the pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany.  It was a fascinating experience.  The church was small, only 30 or so, and composed mostly of young adults starting their careers in Nuremberg. They came from Cameroon, South Africa, India, Japan, Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, UK and, of course Germany. There were even a couple from the United States.  Nuremberg, once shrouded under the dark cloud of Nazi history, has emerged in the twenty-first century as a cosmopolitan city welcoming people from around the globe.   We returned to Nuremberg last year to encourage the young believers we came to love on our first visit.

As a result of that experience, I have followed the recent refugee reports in Europe with special interest.  I have been impressed with the way Germany and other European nations immediately opened their resources, their communities, their arms and their homes.   According to ABC News, “Dozens of volunteers have been driving to Hungary and to the Serbian border, picking up refugees walking along the highway in the aim of helping them travel to Western Europe.” Universities are offering free classes to refugees. In Berlin more than 780 people have opened their homes for temporary shelter. The continued flow has become overwhelming.

I am always encouraged to see people reaching out to those who are different and desperate. There are, of course, dangers and risks, just as there were dangers and risks in Jesus’ Good Samaritan story.  But the rewards far outweigh the costs.

In the United States, we are a nation of immigrants, refugees and their descendants. We all came from somewhere else, often from places suffering famine, disease and oppression.  In the 1960s and 70s we welcomed refugees from Viet Nam.  Forty years later they have built businesses and sent their children to college where some became doctors, lawyers and engineers. When we lived in Minnesota, we came to know and love the Hmong who fled slaughter in Laos following the fall of Vietnam.  They came to the U.S. as animists.  Today many are devoted followers of Christ. St. Paul has the largest Hmong church in the nation. 

While some traditional churches in the U.S. are in decline, many immigrant churches are growing.  Liberian Christians are breaking ground for a new building north of Minneapolis and in St, Paul a church composed of immigrants from Myanmar (formerly Burma) is growing so fast they are out of space.

The United States has agreed to receive 70,000 refugees in 2015. Some will respond to these new residents with fear and suspicion. But love, acceptance and generosity can overcome fear. 

In every century and every generation there are refugees, the innocent who flee their homes for safety.  Centuries ago, Isaiah wrote: “Cast your shadow like night at high noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive.  Let the outcasts of Moab stay with you. Be a hiding place for them from the destroyer.”  (Isaiah 16:3-4)

Monday, September 14, 2015

War Room

When I first saw the advertisement for the movie, War Room, I thought, okay, here we go again, another blood and guts movie: special effects, bombs, explosions, guns; angry men killing each other and trying to survive.  It is the typical stuff for most war movies. 

My son-in-law slipped off with some of his buddies to see it.  This further confirmed my assumptions.  The movie was number one at the box office on Labor Day.  I decided to check it out.  So, I took my wife, we bought a ticket, and wandered into the theater to sit back and see for ourselves.

There are no bombs or explosions.  No one gets killed. There is no blood.  War Room is all about the battle taking place every day in homes around the world. Husbands and wives whose marriages are falling apart.  Parents absorbed in their own problems, trying to make ends meet, stressed out and blaming each other.  Children falling through the cracks.

The “War Room” is a closet, a place to pray. 

It could be a break-through movie.  It could save marriages.  It could lead husbands and wives to discover what we discovered years ago, that there is nothing more powerful than prayer.  Across the years my wife has prayed for me, and I am convinced it has made all the difference. 

We have always prayed.  But years ago I realized that I forget what I pray for.  And, when God answers prayer, I seldom give thanks or recognize His answer.  I started writing down prayer requests as I prayed.  Later, when I reviewed my prayer requests, I was astounded at how faithful God was to answer my prayers.  Of course, sometimes His answer was, “No.”  Sometimes He taught me that I was asking for the wrong thing. That in itself was helpful. And sometimes He granted what I requested. 

I learned that prayer is a conversation with God.  He speaks to us as much as we speak to Him.  Not in an audible voice, but with an inner voice.  Often the best part of prayer is listening to God. I discovered that when I pray in the early morning, the conversation with God lingers and continues through the rest of the day.

 I have never met anyone who felt they prayed too much.  I have met many, including myself, who wished they had prayed more.  When Billy Graham was 92, a reporter asked him if he had it to do over, would he would do anything differently.  He said, “Yes.  I would spend more time in meditation and prayer.”

James wrote, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3). 

Jesus said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).  “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6).

Monday, September 7, 2015

Listen Up!

I am not a great listener.  I lose focus.  One word can trigger any number of divergent thoughts causing my mind to race off in pursuit like a dog chasing cats.  At other times I leap ahead, thinking about what I want to say rather than listening to what is being said.  I have to discipline myself to re-focus on what is being said, sometimes scrambling to piece together the gaps that I missed during my mental lapse.

My wife knows this. She can see it in my eyes.  Sometimes she will stop talking and the silence will awaken me from my temporary daydream.  “You’re not listening,” she says.  Of course she is right.  But occasionally I am lucky enough to be able to repeat the last sentence that she spoke, retrieving it from some kind of digital recording in my head, even though it’s meaning was not being registered in my brain.

My wife, on the other hand, is a great listener.  That is one of the reasons I married her.  She listens intently, not just to me, but also to anyone speaking to her. I once watched a total stranger stop her on the street in New York and spill out his life story.  I have witnessed the same thing on subways, in train stations and shopping centers in the U.S. and Europe.  You can see it in her eyes.  She focuses.  She doesn’t glance around the room wondering if there is someone else she should speak to. She doesn’t look beyond you.  Her eyes don’t glaze over in a fixed stare pretending to listen while she thinks about something else. 

Listening is a powerful gift. It is transformational. When someone listens to us without judgment or accusation, we hear and see ourselves differently. Somehow the act of having someone truly listen enables us to sort through our emotions and confusions to reach better conclusions.  Feelings of isolation and loneliness dissolve and melt away when someone listens to us. The listener, by listening, has the ability to heal.

Most of us are far more intent on being heard than hearing. When we pretend to listen, we are, more often simply waiting for a gap, a chance in the conversation to insert our already preconceived conclusions. We interrupt one another with conversations that often are running on different tracks.

How many times have we injured someone, or simply failed to help someone, because we were too quick to speak?  How different our world would be if parents listened to their children; if bosses listened to their employees; if businesses listened to their customers; if politicians listened to the people; if persons in power listened to each other?  Maybe if we were better at listening to one another, we might be better at listening to God.

The Bible says, “Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  (James 1:19).  God says, “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:2-3).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kingdom Preview

When my wife and I go to the movies, we try to get there early and grab seats in the first row of the second section, you know, the one where you can prop your feet up on the rail. We settle in with our diet coke and popcorn, sit back and watch the previews of shows soon to be released. Like everyone else, we lean over and whisper to each other as we watch each trailer. “That one’s not for us,” or, “we’ll have to see that one.”

The Australian writer, Michael Frost, argues that Christians and churches are to be like movie trailers for the Kingdom. We are to live in such a way that when others see us they say, “I want to be a part of that,” or ”I wish the world was like that.” This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Whether we like it or not, our churches and our lives are being viewed like movie trailers by others. When non-believers look at our churches and our lives, they are whispering to themselves and to one another saying, “I’ll have to check that out,” or, “I wouldn’t want to be part of that.”

Jesus presented the clearest preview of the Kingdom. He invited others to look at his life to see what the Kingdom looks like. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-21).

The early followers of Jesus practiced Kingdom living in such a way that others were drawn to them and to their churches. This is why the Christian faith exploded in the first three centuries. People saw previews of the Kingdom practiced in the churches and the lives of believers, and they wanted to be part of it.

This is also the reason Christianity is stumbling in our day. Too often churches and Christians are selfish and self-centered, fighting among themselves and with others for dominance and control. When others see this, like patrons at a theater, they whisper to themselves, “That’s not for me.”

Every church and every believer must live in such a way that others see God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is what Paul meant when he said, “But thanks be to God, who … manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

Monday, August 24, 2015


Everyone wants to be happy.  At least you would think so.  But few, it seems, truly find it. Even our American founding fathers stopped short of making any guarantees where happiness is concerned.  They merely included, as one of our inalienable rights, the “pursuit” of happiness.  Everyone has a right to pursue happiness, but there are no guarantees that anyone will find it.

In 2000 Kalle Lasn and Bruce Grierson, writing for Utne Reader, asked the question: “The economy is out of sight. Unimaginable luxury is all around. America rules the world. So why are Americans so unhappy?”  They went on to conclude, “Something is missing. Something essential and meaningful has been displaced by something . . . hollow.”

A study released last week might give us a clue about that “something” that is missing.  Sarah Pulliam Bailey, writing for the Washington Post, reported, “A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology by researchers at the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that the secret to sustained happiness lies in participation in religion.”  The researchers discovered that participation in religious organization was the only activity associated with sustained happiness.

Why would this be?  It seems the clues are rather obvious.  Faith in Christ leads to the character traits and practices that promote happiness and fulfillment: honesty, truthfulness, loyalty, humility, generosity and love for God and others.  Living life in this way creates more fulfilling relationships in the family, business and the community.

When these traits are combined with a confidence that we are loved by God, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that we can be forgiven for our sins as we also forgive others, they add up to a powerful recipe for happiness.

I have been blessed with a long life, almost seven decades. This has  given time for perspective.  I have watched those who lived lives of faith who, as they grow older, increase in happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction.  And, I have watched others who chose a path pursuing pleasure, taking dishonest shortcuts they thought would lead to success and wealth, who have grown cynical, bitter and disillusioned.

 In the end, the latter wither away, isolated and alone, like Michael Corleone, in the final scene of The Godfather Part III.  The former, those who choose faith and involvement in Christian community, grow old with a twinkle in their eye and a smile upon their lips, grateful for God’s blessings in this life and expectant of the life to come.

Jesus told the truth when He said, “I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”  (John 10:10).  “In this world you will have difficulty.  Be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33).

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Universe Is Dying

Well ,it is settled.  They have suspected it for a long time. Last week scientists officially announced that the universe is dying.  Researchers from the International Center of Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) just completed their study of 200,000 galaxies.  They concluded that the energy created in those galaxies is one-half what it was two billion years ago.  Bottom line: the universe is winding down and, in 100 billion years, will be no more.

Professor Simon Driver, who heads the Galaxy and Mass Assembly project (GAMA) said, "The universe will decline from here on in, sliding gently into old age. The universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze."

That the universe will fade away is no surprise.  The Bible predicted this would happen.  The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away.” (Isaiah 24:3-5).  And again, “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.” (Isaiah 51:6).

But what happens after the universe disappears?  For some, the end of the universe robs life of any meaning.  Nick Stockton, writing for WIRED magazine, put it this way, “To the extent that anything was ever important, it won’t be. Time, space, energy, matter—all gone. ... Just the fact that you are alive now is a novelty, a signal that vanishes against the vast noise of cosmic space.”

The Bible has another story.  For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.” (Isaiah 65:17-18).   “The heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. ... But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”  (1 Peter 3:10-13). John the Apostle wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth passed away.” (Revelation 21:1).

All that exists today had to come from somewhere.  Scientists call it the Big Bang. And all that exists today will vanish away.  In this the Bible agrees with the scientists. Our universe had a beginning and it will come to an end.  But there is more. The One who created our known universe is also the author of a new creation that will replace the one we know now. 

Jesus 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, August 10, 2015


I stepped up to the counter and handed the cashier my twenty-dollar bill.  She glanced at me, lifted the bill up to the light, squinted and examined it, then laid it on the counter. She whipped out what looked like a felt tip marker and marked it. After a long second, she placed it in the cash register and gave me my change.  It seemed simple enough. But it made me wonder. 

What made her think my twenty might be fake?  Did I look dishonest? I reminded myself that it was standard procedure.  She had been taught to check every twenty because you never know who might pass a counterfeit.  You can’t recognize honesty or dishonesty by a person’s looks.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as easy to discern fake people as it is to recognize a fake twenty?  What if we could hold people up to a light, squint and examine them for watermarks, or just swipe them with a pen and watch for discoloration?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Sometimes the people we trust the most disappoint us. That was the case with Richard Nixon. After winning the presidency by a landslide vote, the Watergate investigations revealed a man far different than the public image. One of our great difficulties today is the widespread doubt that no politician can be trusted. They seem more intent on vilifying their opponents and promoting their own agenda than engaging in sincere dialogue.

We all know that no one is perfect.  We are all human.  We are all sinners and we all make mistakes. We are not looking for perfection.  But we are desperate for authenticity. We are desperate for authenticity in parents, teachers, employers, employees, preachers and politicians.

Jesus ranked authenticity among the highest of virtues. His harshest words were leveled at those who pretended to be what they were not. Speaking to people of his day, Jesus said, “You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.” (Mt. 23:27-28, The Message).  He warned his disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1).

What really gets scary and complicated is to examine ourselves. Am I authentic?  Is there any hypocrisy in me?  Are we being open, honest and authentic with one another? Someday, of course, there will be a test. God will hold each of us up to the light. He will examine us for authenticity. Are we people of authentic faith living authentic lives?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Moral Drift and the Way Forward

It has been three weeks, and I cannot get Sandra Bland out of my mind.  The video of her arrest after changing lanes without giving a signal is haunting.  Sandra was understandably upset.  How many times have we all changed lanes without giving a signal? She was simply moving over to let the policeman by.  It seemed like such a trivial stop.

She showed her irritation.  The officer was insulted and grew angry, demanding she put out her cigarette. She refused.  He threatened to “light her up” with his Taser, forced her from her car, manhandled her off to the side of the road, wrestled her to the ground, handcuffed her and carted her off to jail. Three days later, unable to post bond. Sandra Bland took her own life.

The video is disturbing because of the injustice of it all.  It is even more disturbing because it represents our cultural drift from the values that make life work.  Our politicians hurl insults at one another, calling names, seldom restrained by the truth.  People scream at one another in movies and dramas, releasing unrestrained anger.  We laugh at the snide remarks of comedians. The principles of courtesy, respect, patience, honesty and forgiveness seem to be slipping away.

Have we slipped our Christian moorings?  Are we adrift in a sea of uncertainty that has no true North, no compass? Is the contemporary GPS leading us off a cliff?

We turned to science and technology believing they would pave the way to a brighter future.  And, while science and technology have given us a healthier and higher standard of living with conveniences our forefathers never dreamed, they cannot provide the values necessary for living with each other.

The stones that pave the path for our future are the same stones that paved the pathway for our forefathers.  They are found in the Commandments: “Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother.” (Mark 10:19) 

They are found in the words of Jesus:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Be merciful as your father is merciful.”  “Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down and running over.”  They are found in the Lord’s Prayer.

The stones for our pathway forward are found in the fruits of the Spirit that overcome the flesh: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, ...  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23).

Faith that fosters forgiveness and respect is essential to our survival. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

How Big Is God

Two weeks ago, the New Horizons space probe sped past Pluto, sending back images of the distant dwarf planet.  New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006 at Cape Canaveral setting a new launch speed for any space craft at approximately 36,000 mph.   It flew past Jupiter in 2007 receiving a gravity assist that accelerated its speed to more than 45,000 mph.  Even at this mind-boggling speed, almost 100 times faster than the cruising speed of a jet liner, it took nine and one-half years to reach Pluto. Scientists are continuing to exult as they examine the images sent back from the edge of our solar system.

Last week the Kepler telescope, launched in 2009, uncovered our closest “Earth-like” planet. Orbiting a sun similar to our own, the planet known as “Kepler-452b” is 1,400 light years away.  That means that a craft traveling at the speed of New Horizons could reach our closest “cousin” in a little more than 20 million years.  Quite a leap, considering that the earliest civilizations on earth appeared a mere 6,000 years ago.

This gives us a small sense of how infinitely big our universe is.  We have difficulty getting our minds around it, especially when we consider that our sun is only one of billions of stars in our galaxy and there are billions of galaxies.  When I stood under the night sky in Wyoming I was struck by the almost infinite number of stars that filled the night sky. But, according to astronomers, these stars represent a tiny fragment of the total stars in the universe.

God is creator of all this.  To use an anthropomorphic metaphor, He holds the entire universe in the palm of His hand.

In the Psalms, the Bible says, “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” (Psalm 147:4-5).  And again, O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! ... When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” (Psalm 8:1,3). 

Indeed, when we consider the vast expanses of space and time, we are overwhelmed, not only with how immense the universe is, but how insignificant we seem to be. We live on a tiny planet in a remote corner of the vast cosmos, and the appearance of humans is relatively recent in the economy of time. Just yesterday, it seems.  Or, perhaps more accurately, just a moment ago.

God is infinite and eternal.  We are finite and mortal.

Here is the greater mystery and miracle.  The Master Designer of the universe is intimately aware of each human being.  He knows you!  He knows me! We are important to God.  Jesus taught that God notes the fall of the tiniest sparrow in the most remote forest and He counts the very hairs of your head. (Matthew 10:29-31).

He who created the vast universe in all its complexity created us and has declared His love for us.  How can this be?  Jesus said, “With man it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”