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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Stories That Save US

I love stories. The best are those told outside on summer evenings while fireflies flicker in the gathering dusk.  Children listen to adults who reminisce with laughter and tears. When my wife and her sister get together, they stay up through most of the night retelling stories of their youth. Sometimes we find them there in the morning, asleep where they left off.

When our children were growing up, we read to them.  All children, it seems, love books. Of course they love video games, iPhones and iPads, but there is something about turning pages and touching pictures in a book. How else can you “pat the bunny?”  Our children memorized many of the stories long before they could read: Goodnight Moon, Little Engine That Could, Snowy Day, Corduroy, Bible Stories for Little Eyes. If I went “off story” and made up my own lines, they knew it and corrected me.

We inherited storytelling from our ancestors. Settlers gathered around camp fires. Old men sat in rocking chairs whittling shapeless sticks. And whole families gathered in the summer shade to shell peas. They were storytelling moments that shaped life.

For many, Hollywood has become the primary source for stories. While there are some wonderful movies that portray courage, hope and faith, the ones that often prove to be blockbusters are based on comic book heroes. They portray super powers in a world of violence, vengeance and retaliation. The stories and their special effects often have little to do with the real world. Sometimes they twist history.

A few years ago we visited Philadelphia and encountered a group of high school students overlooking Independence Hall.  One of them pointed to the clock tower and exclaimed to another, “Look!  That’s where they hid the map!” 

A young college student, who did not grow up attending church, once asked to meet with me for lunch.  He was pursuing a degree in English literature and now, he lamented, he had discovered that the great English classics were filled with references to the Bible, stories he had never learned.  

How will the next generation learn the stories that inform human behavior, faith and character? Most children do not attend church and parents themselves often lack knowledge of the Bible. They neither read the stories nor do they tell them to their children.  Public schools are not allowed to teach them.

Who will tell the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah and the flood, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Exodus, Ruth and Boaz, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?

Much of the uncertainty about our nation and the world may be due to the fact that we are losing the stories of our heritage that give direction for the future. 

The Bible says, “I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. ... so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:2-7).

Monday, July 18, 2016

Faith and Hope in a Hurting World

A significant event of faith and hope was little noticed last weekend.  While we grieved over the horrific event in France, the attempted coup in Turkey, the ambush of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, thousands of people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, gathered Saturday in Washington D.C.  They did not gather to protest anything or to promote a political candidate.  They gathered to pray.

Braving sweltering heat, young adults came from all over the nation to pray for reconciliation, healing and redemption in the name of Jesus Christ.  Both those who attended and those who led the program were Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, and White, male and female. Pope Francis welcomed the crowd via video. They represented Christian young people who are seeking to proclaim God’s forgiveness and compassion across all racial and cultural barriers.

Every generation must choose their faith. Some are choosing radical Islam. But many youth and young adults are choosing Christ.  The question is whether they can stem the tide of violence, hatred and suspicion with a message of repentance, love, forgiveness and faith.

When I was mid-fifties, I wrote down my goal for the remainder of my life: to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever dreamed or imagined.

Three years ago we began hosting a Bible study in our home for international grad students. We welcomed students from China, Indonesia, Zambia, South Africa, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, and Ghana. The students led the study.  Some were already passionate followers of Christ. Some came to faith. A few are still seeking. Most will soon complete their degrees and return home.

One has already returned to Zambia to start a church and a school.  Another has returned to Indonesia and is teaching in a Christian College.  Another Indonesian student hopes to serve Christ in orphanages in West Africa. A 25-year-old will complete her PhD in Statistics and plans to return to South Africa where she will serve Christ and help find solutions to deadly diseases.  A student from China married an American and they are expecting their first child. Her husband is learning Chinese. When he completes his PhD in Computer Science, they will move to China to continue her work strengthening and multiplying house churches.

Five years ago I started coaching young church planters.  One started a Biker church made up of Biker enthusiasts.  Another started a Cowboy church and another, who is African American, is starting a multi-ethnic church.  Our oldest son and daughter-in-law started a Bible study for high school students in Sundance, WY.  Sixty percent of the local high school students attend.  Our daughter and son-in-law are helping start a new church in Fort Collins, CO.

These are but a few and their stories are anecdotal.  But there are thousands of young believers who are committed to following Christ and changing the world with the gospel.

We will continue to hear reports of terrorist attacks and global unrest. But there is a world-wide movement among young adults to live devoted lives to Jesus Christ and proclaim God’s good news of compassion and grace. They are the “yeast” of the Kingdom that Jesus talked about in Matthew 13:33.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Protests and Prejudice

This past week we have been shaken by the sniper killing of five uniformed officers at the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas.  The killings were apparently the work of a lone gunman who was not affiliated with Black Lives Matter.  The tragedy followed national outrage after police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castille in Minneapolis.

In Dallas, Shetamia Taylor, a black woman, participated in the peaceful protest with her four boys. When the gunshots rang out she saw an officer hit near her. The office warned her to run for safety. She did.  But she was immediately hit in the leg. She fell to the ground. When the officers saw she was hit, they gathered around her to protect her. “”I saw another officer get shot ... Right there in front of me.” She said.  The police loaded Taylor into their bullet riddled police car and took her to Baylor Hospital where she is expected to make a full recovery.  The officer that was hit died. Taylor wept as she thanked the police department, “They were really heroes for us.”

The tragic deaths in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas reminded us that prejudice and racial tension always lie just below the surface.  Like lava beneath the earth, racism and cultural prejudice seep through cracks in the seemingly peaceful landscapes and, on occasion, erupt with devastating violence.

We witnessed a similar eruption 24 years ago when smoke curled above Los Angeles for 60 days following the acquittal of white police officers in the video-taped beating of Rodney King.  Rioting black mobs dragged white and Hispanic truck drivers from their cabs and began beating them in retaliation.  The police abandoned the scene. Four civilians ran to rescue Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was pulled from his cab and beaten with a brick. Minutes later, at the same intersection, the angry mob dragged Fidel Lopez from his truck, smashed his forehead and attempted to slice off his ear. A black minister nearby ran to the scene, threw himself over Lopez' bleeding body and screamed, “If you kill him you will have to kill me too!”

Reginald Denny’s four rescuers and the black minister who saved Fidel Lopez and the officers who protected Shetamia Taylor remind us of Jesus’ story regarding race and prejudice.  If we would “love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” we must love those who are different than we are. Like the Samaritan who stopped to render aid to a dying victim beside the road, we must realize that every stranger is our neighbor, every man is our brother, every woman our sister.

Racial prejudice is a global problem. It exists in every generation, on every continent, in every nation. It exists between white, red, black, brown and yellow.  It exists between generations and cultures.  We are prone to fear and suspect those who look different, talk different and act differently than we do. Only faith that lifts us beyond our provincial prejudices can save us. The Apostle Paul, who grew up as an ambitious Pharisee and outgrew his prejudices through faith in Christ, wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Blind Spots

All of us have have blind spots. Our brain fills in the picture so we don’t realize it. But the blind spots in our field of vision are very real. In medical terms, “it is the place in the visual field that corresponds to the lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina where the optic nerve passes through the optic disc.”

Here is a simple way to “see” your blind spot.  Put your thumbs together, the tips touching, with your index fingers pointed upward. This will separate your index fingers by approximately six inches. Extend your arms with your hands directly in front of you. Close your left eye. Focus with your right eye on your left finger and move your hands closer or further away.  The right finger will disappear in your blind spot. You can do the same for your left eye. If this doesn’t work, go to google or youtube and you will find plenty of help to find your blind spot.

Several years ago I was diagnosed with glaucoma in my left eye, something very similar to the blind spot, but bigger. About ¼ of the vision in my left eye is missing, and I didn’t know it.  With both eyes open, my right eye compensates for it.  With just my left eye open, my brain tries to fill in the gaps. But when I move my finger into the blind spot, it disappears.

We also have a blind spot when we are driving.  It is the place just behind us on the left side, just off the left rear bumper. We can check our rear view mirror and our side view mirror, and it appears no one is around us, but when we try to change lanes horns blare and people swerve. We can easily miss our blind spot.

Jesus spoke about our spiritual blind spot.  We think that we can see all things clearly.  We believe that we have a full field of vision, but the truth is that we are unable to see some of the most important elements of life and reality. We are blinded by our prejudice and presumptions.

Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

Jesus often told simple stories so that we might see our spiritual blind spot and understand the important lessons of life.  Jesus said, “This is why I speak in parables: though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  (Matthew 13:13).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” (Ephesians 1:18).