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Monday, May 25, 2015

Witness of the Word

I don’t go to garage sales very often, but once in a while my wife and I will get up early and search for treasures that have gathered dust in attics and closets.  We have even hosted a few garage sales ourselves, trying to pare down our collection of "stuff." 

I like to breeze in and breeze out.  A quick survey usually does it and I am ready to hop back in the car.  She likes to "finger the merchandise" and visit with the people.  On one of those recent excursions, I spied the usual stack of books.  A few of them frayed from use, some of them crisp as new, never opened.  I picked out a fifty cent paperback, found two quarters in my pocket, and I was done for the day.  

I felt compelled to read the book to get my money’s worth.  I guess I am too cheap to waste two quarters.  The book was more used than I realized.  For some reason it had been stabbed with a knife and had a hole punched through the first two chapters. But I ignored the paperback wound and started reading Daniel Defoe's classic, Robinson Crusoe.

About two-thirds of the way through the book, I came across this quote: “How infinite and inexpressible a blessing it is that the knowledge of God and of the doctrine of salvation by Christ Jesus is so plainly laid down in the Word of God, so easy to be received and understood … As to all disputes, wranglings, strife and contention which has happened in the world about religion, whether niceties in doctrines, or schemes of church government, they were all perfectly useless to us, as, for aught I can see, they have been to all the rest of the world.”

It sounded like a critique of contemporary Christianity.  But the book was first published in 1719, almost three hundred years ago. I had always dismissed it as juvenile literature without having read it.

Daniel Defoe’s story of Robinson Crusoe is considered by many to be the first novel written in the English language.  I was surprised by its powerful Christian content. Writing more than a decade before the Great Awakening, Defoe captured the essence of a journey to faith in Christ with no other aid than the Bible.

Unlike the modern “Castaway,” played by Tom Hanks, who spends years of isolation on an island talking to a volley ball, Defoe’s character finds a Bible in the ship’s wreckage and begins a conversation with God. Through Scripture alone, Robinson Crusoe is led to profound repentance and faith.

In Isaiah, God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) 

Monday, May 18, 2015

God Has No Grandchildren

Last week the Associated Press carried an article entitled, “Fewer in US identify with a religion.”  The article referenced a Pew Research Center study that noted the Christian faith had declined between 2007 and 2014 while those claiming no faith had grown.  Christians declined from 78% of the US population to less than 71%.  Those claiming no faith or “nones” increased 16% to 23%. 

On the same day, USA Today carried an article entitled, “Christianity isn’t dying.”  The USA Today article quoted the same Pew Research Center findings and stated that “Evangelical Christianity is growing in America. From 2007 to 2014 the number of Evangelicals in America rose from 59.8 million to 62.2 million according to Pew.”  The article concluded that “nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming “nones” — people who check "none of the above" box on a survey.” “The number of people who are practicing a vibrant faith is not fading away, quite the contrary. Christianity and the church are not dying, but they are being more clearly defined.” 

The Associated Press article and the USA Today article both reference the Pew Research Center data and come to different conclusions.  So which is it?

More than likely it is some of both.  But however we interpret the data, we should be reminded that the Christian faith is always only one generation away from extinction.  As someone once said, “God has no grandchildren.”  We do not inherit faith like we inherit eye color or ethnicity.  Faith comes through a personal decision, one-person-at-a time. 

This is abundantly clear in the Bible, especially the Old Testament.  For hundreds of years the Jewish people vacillated between obedient faith in God and disobedient rejection.  We are no different.  Every generation, and every person, must decide for themselves whether they will place their trust in God.

When crowds of Jews sought out John the baptizer, he said to them, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Indeed the axe is already laid to the root of the trees, so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9).

Years ago I went to the Metrodome in Minneapolis to hear Billy Graham preach.  The stadium was packed.  At the end of his message, he said to the crowd, “Many of you were baptized as infants by your mothers and fathers.  They did that for you because they loved you.  But you must come to faith in Jesus Christ yourself.” Hundreds of people filled the aisles and made their way to the stadium floor to make a faith commitment to Christ.   The faith of our mothers and fathers will not save us.  Each one of us must find our own faith in God through Jesus Christ. 

Monday, May 11, 2015


Young men and women will line up this month robed in caps and gowns grinning at their friends. Their eyes will scan the audience, peering past dangling tassels in search of family members who search for them.   Cameras and cell phones will light up stadiums and auditoriums with bursts of light as proud parents try to capture the magic of the moment. 

Presidents, principals, guest speakers and valedictorians will speak of new horizons, a future yet to be written, a world to be changed. They will urge those who have reached this achievement to believe in themselves and to never stop learning. 

Every graduate that walks across the stage to shake hands with administrators and receive their diploma represents a unique story.  Few are as unique as Helen Small. Helen dropped out of college as a freshman in 1938 to marry her sweetheart, help fight a war and raise a family.  Seventy years later, at eighty-eight she earned her Bachelor’s degree. In 2010 when she was ninety years old, she graduated with a Masters of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 2011 she published a book, Why not? My Seventy Year Plan for a College Degree.  One of her teachers, Dr. John Santrock, a professor of psychology said, “What especially stands out about Helen as a student is how appreciative she is of the opportunity to learn.”  Commenting on her college experience as a ninety-year-old, Helen said, “It’s helped me start a whole new phase of life.”  At last report, she was lecturing on the topic of life-long learning.

Graduation commencements inspire us because they not only recognize significant achievement, they celebrate new beginnings, new possibilities and opportunities, or, as Helen said, the start of a new phase of life.   Education offers to the young the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that equip them for the future.  For those who are older, it offers the opportunity to re-tool, to start over, to pursue new dreams. 

Nothing is as important for a new start on life as a spiritual transformation that connects us with God and places in our hearts the values that make life meaningful.  Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7).  In Ezekiel God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

God is always about new beginnings.  He offers to the young the opportunity to launch their lives on the path that leads to life and, to those who are older, the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over. Whether or not you hold a formal degree from an institution, whether you are nineteen or ninety, you can make a new start on life.  Paul wrote in Corinthians “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Princess Is Born

Kensington Palace made the announcement last Saturday: “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a daughter at 8:34 am.  The baby weighs 8 lbs 3 oz.” It was a typical British announcement with little more flair than the weigh-in of jockeys at the Kentucky Derby.  But Prince William and Kate beamed with joy when, seven hours later, they presented their newborn daughter to the world. 

When Prince William married Kate Middleton four years ago it was a storybook wedding.  Two billion people watched. Since that time, the Royal couple has charmed the nations with their world-wide tours.  Now they have enchanted us with their children, Prince George and his little sister, the Princess, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.  Keeping with British tradition, William and Kate did not announce her name until Monday afternoon.

Part of our attraction to William, Kate and their children is our fascination with celebrities. But, in this case, even celebrities stand in awe, overshadowed by the traditions of royalty.  We are moved by something deeper than celebrity worship.  The core attraction of the royal family is just that: family.

In our scientific and antiseptic world we are sometimes in danger of reducing human life to the mundane, the clinically predictable.  But the birth of a Princess somehow draws us back to celebrate the majesty and the mystery of birth and life: the natural result of a man and a woman committed to one another in matrimony.

We are each born of a mother and a father, which does not mean that we all know our fathers and mothers.  Parents are not always married, and in some cases, such as artificial insemination, they never even know one another.  But, the fact of the matter is, we are all conceived, fashioned and formed by the mystical union of male and female. 

It has been so since the beginning.  Genesis states, “ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” (Genesis 1:27,28)

Sooner or later most of us want to know our lineage.  Where did we come from?  Who were our parents, and who were their parents? What mysterious mix of ethnicities and nationalities went together to produce … well … us?   

None of us is elected or engineered to be who we are.  Britain’s new Princess is who she is by birth and by choice. She is born a Princess because Prince William chose Kate Middleton to be his bride. And she is born a Princess because she is the daughter of their union.

In a similar way, we are all born because God chose us and gave us birth.  In Isaiah, God says, “You who have been borne by Me from birth, and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I will be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you!  I have done it, and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.”  (Isaiah 46:3-4).

Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9).  Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”  (1 John 15:9).   

On this coming Sunday, as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, perhaps a newborn Princess will remind us who we are.