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Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas Message: God Knows You and Loves You!

With all the gift giving of the past week, we have welcomed some new names into our homes: Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and Google. The computers want to talk to me.  They want to recognize my voice. They want to know where I am at all times, to track my browsing and shopping history on the web, maybe elsewhere. The computers even want my finger print and they are asking for my mug shot.

It reminds me of Hal in 2001. What are they up to? I remember when George Orwell’s 1984 was science fiction.  Now it is ancient history.  Big brother is here, and has been here for a while.
I am not sure I want to be known that well. Where does all this information go? 

But then, Jesus says the very hairs of my head are numbered.  This once seemed hard to believe. How could God possibly know such intimate information about every individual on the face of the earth? How many people are there?  8 billion?

Eight billion seemed like an astronomical number.  But then, our understanding of numbers changed.  The first time I heard of a “giga” anything was in Back To The Future, the 1985 movie in which Doc and Marty leaped through time with a few gigawatts supplied to their DeLorean. But, we blew right by gigabytes into terabytes and petabytes.  We aren’t familiar with exa, zetta and yotta yet.  But they are out there.

A few billion is nothing in our information age. If such information capacity is possible for men with the aid of PCs and laptops, how much more is it possible with God?

The Bible says I have always been known.  God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  God knew me before I was conceived. God knew you before you came into existence.

God always knows where I am, what I am doing, what I am thinking.  “You know [when I sit down and [when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:2-3).  

Here is a great mystery.  God doesn’t just know about me, like some cosmic computer, He knows me. The Apostle wrote, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

And here is a greater mystery:  not only does God know me better than I know myself.  He loves me.  This is a cosmic leap.  “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3).   “God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

Technology, economics and politics cannot deliver us.  God alone is our deliverance and our hope.

On this Christmas and New Year, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Christmas Tribute

A bright light went out in Waco, Texas this past Saturday, December 16, when Ann Roznovsky drew her last breath.  Waco set aside “Ann Roznovsky Day” in 1996 when she carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Waco.  A career journalist, she was the face of the Waco Tribune for over 50 years. Her achievements and accolades are too numerous to list in this brief column.

Three years ago Ann adopted my column. I guess she adopted me. When she learned I write my column for free, she signed on as my “proof reader” at the same pay grade.  I don’t think she missed a week sending me corrections, comments, affirmation and encouragement.  You will probably find a misplaced comma or two in this week’s column because the “Comma Queen” wasn’t there to catch them.

Over the years our correspondence became a conversation. During the last year she talked about her battle with cancer. In spite of her pain, she always encouraged my writing. As so many other friends, I grew to love her.

A constant encourager, she included this in her response when I wrote a column on “Encouragement.”

“I find in this finish-up stage of cancer that we DO indeed need encouragement DAILY!  And giving it to others is fun for us, too.  There is a checkout woman at Target that I make a point to use whenever she is at work.  She seems lonely and sad. I purposely start up a friendly conversation about good things, even if it is just sunshine or “an August day that is cooler than 100” or something.  It seems to brighten her day.  I began bringing her our coupons as often as I could find her working. It is such fun to see how such a small thing has her beaming by the time I check out.  It makes me happy, too!  I find myself smiling broadly as I walk to my car.”

Many of us will miss Ann’s encouragement. I am grieved to lose her.

News of Ann’s death reminds me that Jesus’ birth is more than a holiday.  His birth includes our grief.  Many families will gather this Christmas Day with an empty place at the table and an empty space in their hearts.   Such pain and loss can overwhelm us, especially when everyone else seems to be singing and laughing. While many celebrate Christmas lights some will struggle through days of darkness. To these God gave His promise: “The Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” (Luke 1:78-79).

The full story of Jesus’ birth embraces both the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow.  Whether we are filled with celebration and happiness or thrown into heartache and despair, God is sufficient.  He has been there. He knows our joy and our sorrow, and He has given His Son that we might know Him.  Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the prophet Simeon told Mary, “A sword shall pierce your own soul.” (Luke 2:35).  Thirty-three years later Mary watched Him die for our sins on the cross. Luke says she “pondered all these things in her heart.”

May we ponder these things, too, on this Christmas Day, on “the day after” and throughout the year, that we might know Him and embrace His love in every circumstance. That we might be a source of encouragement and hope to those around us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jesus Birth: The Mystery and the Majesty

Last week astronomers discovered a massive black hole with a total mass greater than 800 million suns.  Scientists estimate the black hole is over 13 billion light years away and formed just 690 million years after the origin of the universe.  Such dimensions of time, space and mass boggle the mind.

These dimensions give us a clue to the majesty of Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul tried to capture that majesty with these words: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

Our understanding of God and Jesus are too small, too limited. We think in simple terms of time and space, beginning and end.  But, like the universe, He is more.

That is why, when Moses met God in the desert and asked His name, God answered, “I Am That I Am.”
And that is the reason Jesus spoke of Himself in the same terms.  Jesus said,  “Before Abraham was, I Am.” These are perhaps the most profound words ever uttered.  They change everything.  All our concepts about existence and time. About who we are and who God is. About the meaning of life.

The religious leaders of the first century failed to recognize Jesus because they were conditioned to think in linear terms, past and present, a coming King. Like them we miss Him as well when we think in such terms.  He is more than we imagine. He is past, present and future.

John attempted to capture His mystery in more symbolic language: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. … The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.” (John 1:1-5,14).

We have limited our understanding of Jesus Christ to a mere mortal man who was born, who lived and died at a particular time in history. While He was born in Bethlehem, lived in Galilee and was crucified under Pontus Pilate outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, He was far more than anyone understood.  We have to chip away all the religious brick and mortar of 2,000 years, all the plaster and paint.  We must look beyond the musty pages of theology and church history to discover the miracle and the mystery of that moment in time when all that is eternal entered into our narrow frame of understanding, calling to us from beyond, calling us to be more than we ever imagined, to be better than we believed we could be, to link our lives with the eternal, to enter, literally, eis aionos, “into the age.”

When Jesus was born, God touched the earth. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Our Continuing Sexual Crisis

Today Show co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kolb fought back tears last week when they announced their colleague, Matt Lauer had been fired by NBC following sexual harassment charges.   Lauer, one of the most beloved and trusted journalists on television for the past 20 years, joined a long list of celebrities, politicians and CEOs brought down by sexual misconduct charges.  Garrison Keillor joined him on that list later the same day when Minnesota Public Radio terminated his contract.

We are left reeling.  Who can we trust?

The seemingly endless stream of trusted celebrities who have confessed sorrow and shame over their sexual misconduct reminds us that sin is pervasive throughout the human race. When we add to these charges daily news reports of corruption, lying, deceit, greed, hatred, prejudice, bigotry, sex trafficking, terrorism, violence, theft, and an out-of-control opioid epidemic, we are confronted with the undeniable fact that we live in an “evil and adulterous generation,” the words Jesus used to describe the world in which He was born.

I suppose that some past generations were better than our own, and others worse.  I hope and pray that the generations to come will be better.  But we cannot fool ourselves any longer.  We are a sinful people.

We have tried to ignore the fact.  We have tried to convince ourselves that we are good.  That crime, corruption and sexual misconduct is an aberration, something that can be cured with medication and counseling.  But the Bible has always recognized the truth of our human condition.

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

All of this can lead us to a better understanding of the season we celebrate.  It was because of our sinful condition that God sent His Son into the world.  Only when we know our exceeding sinfulness can we comprehend the mystery of Christmas.  

When the Angels announced His birth they said, “Today in the City of David there has been born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  When John introduced Him to his followers, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The Apostle Paul confessed, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15).

For this reason God sent His Son into the world, so that “He who knew no sin might become sin for us.” This Christmas, confronted with our sins, perhaps we can hear the angel’s announcement in a more profound way, “She shall bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Navigating the Holidays - Keeping Our Focus

The turkey has been carved and every morsel of meat stripped from its carcass. We have dined on left over dressing, turkey sandwiches, and I guess we are destined for turkey soup.  The Black Friday lines are gone leaving behind happy shoppers who braved the wee hour crowds and got the good deals.  Bleary-eyed workers at Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are trying to catch up on their sleep. Across America, shoppers turned to the blue glow of computer screens searching for the best deals on Cyber-Monday.

This weekend, a blast of fall blew copper colored leaves across the yard. Families scrambled outside their houses with giggling children. Mothers gave advice and helped as fathers struggled to untangle strings of lights to adorn the roof and, in some cases, stretch across the yard. Rooftops began to glow with red, green, yellow and blue lights. This week we will set up the Christmas tree in our window.  I will have to tinker with the lights to get them all lit, but it is a start. In a matter of hours, the season shifted from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

In some ways, Christmas is a unique American cultural holiday.  Over the last two centuries our forefathers developed traditions that define the season: the Christmas tree, Christmas cards, eggnog, fruitcake, and, again, turkey and dressing. We have added electric lights that twinkle in the night; fairy tales, Santa and Rudolph; A Christmas Story with Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB gun and his dad’s leg lamp; Miracle on Thirty-fourth Street and It’s A Wonderful Life.  We adopted A Christmas Carol from England and The Nutcracker from Russia.

Next Sunday many churches will light their first candle for Advent. The Advent, of course, refers to birth of Jesus Christ. He came in much different circumstances, with none of the traditions we have added.  And He came for all nations.  As Zechariah predicted, ““Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.” (Zech. 2:11).

Today, there are more Christians in South America, Africa and Asia than there are in the United States and Europe. Many of the traditions we enjoy at this season are unknown to them.  But we share one thing in common, the “Advent” of God’s only begotten Son who has saved us from our sins. 

I think I enjoy the American Christmas traditions as much as anyone.  But, as the seasons turn, I hope I will not be distracted from concentrating on the single most important event in human history, God’s unspeakable gift in Jesus of Nazareth. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

I like Thanksgiving, partly because it resists being hijacked by commercialism. I like the sounds of family and friends laughing around the table. I like the fall leaves scattered about the lawn, the crisp mornings and the smell of turkey baking in the oven. I like what goes with it: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and pie (any kind of pie).  And, most of all, I like dressing, the one thing that still divides the north from the south. Those from the north prepare bread dressing.  Those with southern roots cook corn bread dressing.  Turkeys come and turkeys go, but my wife’s corn bread dressing is to die for.  She learned the recipe from her mother: corn bread, celery, onions, chopped boiled eggs, broth, butter and other ingredients I will never figure out.   With giblet gravy, it is a meal in itself.

By Friday the tryptophan and carbohydrates have worn off. After missing the third quarter of the Thanksgiving ball game we regained consciousness enough to stumble into the kitchen for leftovers.  Loaded up again, and slept the sound sleep of a thankful soul.  And now we are ready to get on with the real business of the American holiday season: shopping.

Of course Black Friday isn’t what it was. Online shopping, Amazon and some stores opening their doors late on Thursday have taken some of the zap out of it.  At its peak,
lines would form in front of Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target long before the first gray light of day.   A few spent the night camped out in tents on concrete sidewalks.  Our pilgrim fathers knew nothing of this.  They hunted and harvested and cleaned and cooked, but they never stood in lines in front of glass doors waiting for the opening bell. They never rushed through aisles searching for treasures that were sure to disappear.  They never stood in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store.  They had it easy.

Fifty years ago we eased into Christmas.  No one had heard of Black Friday.  We used Friday to digest the Thanksgiving feast.  It was a quiet day, the day after we gathered at grandma’s with cousins and kin.  Christmas decorations were not yet up.  We savored the season.  But today, we are jolted from Thanksgiving into Christmas.  

Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line.  It seems to represent the commercialization of Christmas and threatens to turn Thanksgiving into a season of “thanks getting.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I like a good deal and deep discounts.  I want the American economy to thrive.  But, along the way, I hope we cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit that is not measured by the sum of what we can get at the cheapest price. “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).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Our Sexual Crisis

Every day we are bombarded with new allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by celebrities, corporate executives and politicians. The list is long.  Perhaps it started with Bill Cosby, then Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and others.  The list is growing by the day.

How did we get into the mess?  How did we sink so low? 

It seems to be a “frog in the kettle thing.”  You know, if you place a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out and save itself.  But if you place a frog in room-temperature water, it will rest there as you gradually raise the heat until the frog eventually cooks and dies.  It is unaware of the danger and does not jump out.

Maybe it was the mid-1950s that our sexual mores began to gradually change. Our commitment to marriage started to slip. Divorce and remarriage, multiple times, became acceptable.  Consensual sex began to replace the covenant monogamous relationship that had guided sexual standards. 

I don’t think there is any single source to blame.  TV sitcoms gradually adopted the consensual sex standard and portrayed it easily and somewhat attractively.  We went from Father Knows Best, The Nelson’s, I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver to Friends (with benefits) Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory and a whole slew of day-time soap operas. Movies portraying casual sex are too numerous to list.   “Sleeping around” became entertaining and acceptable.   

Fifty Shades of Grey was originally self-published as an e-book in 2011. The book includes erotic scenes of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism. It became a best-seller around the world with 125 million copies sold by 2015,  the fastest selling paperback of all time in the U.K.

Pornography, once only available in seedy newsstands, became a click away on laptops, PCs, iPads and tablets.  Email inboxes were bombarded by invitations to smut. 

Repeated moral failure on the part of national leaders undermined our moral standards further. Bill Clinton’s sexual tryst in the oval office, chief among them. Of course, President Trump’s recorded “locker room language” didn’t help. The world and our culture will likely continue down this path.  But God calls followers of Christ to a different path, a different standard, a healthier way of life. 

The standard set by Jesus has always been the same. David P. Gushee, noted Christian ethicist stated it best: “What is the sexual ethics standard that applies to followers of Christ? Celibacy outside of life-time covenantal marriage, monogamous fidelity within life-time covenantal marriage. That norm applies to all Christians.  It is demanding, countercultural, and essential to the well-being of adults and children.”

Jesus was clear in setting the bar high when it came to sexual standards.  “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you, he who looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:27-28).

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Special Edition - Sutherand Springs - When Violence Strikes

I was preaching in a little Baptist church in Estes Park, CO when Devin Kelly blasted his way into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.  We all know the statistics.  We have all heard the stories. The pastor’s 14 year old daughter dying on the floor, the Associate Pastor, Brian Holcombe, struck down as he stood up to preach, a 1 year old baby, 14 children, a 77 year old and others, massacred in a matter of minutes.

It left me deeply disturbed.

I have been disturbed before and grieved these last few weeks by the senseless slaughter of innocents on a bike path in New York, dozens gunned down in Las Vegas, a random shooting at a local Walmart on the outskirts of Denver. 

I have been disturbed and grieved over a life-time of senseless violence. The first I remember was a sniper atop the University of Texas tower in 1966, killing 13.  Others stand out: the gunman that opened fire at First Baptist Daingerfield in 1980 with and left 5 dead, including a 7 year old girl; The Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 including 19 children; West Paducah KY High School where a 14 year-old opened fire on a group of praying students; Columbine High School; The Twin Towers on 9/11 in 2001; the Amish school in Pennsylvania where a deranged gunman opened fire on innocent girls;” the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO; the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut where 20 children ages 6 and 7 were murdered;   the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead. These are just the horrific events that I remember. There are others along with senseless killings every day reported in local news across the country.

Perhaps I am especially disturbed and grieved by what happened in Sunderland Springs because I have spent a lifetime preaching in little Baptist churches across the country.  I know the smell of church, the feel of the “sanctuary” where people meet to worship, pray and encourage one other.  I know the fellowship of those who love God, love each other, and want to bless the world.

Like everyone else, it leaves me reeling with questions.  Why does God allow innocent people to die?  Why does evil and violence strike at such random and senseless moments?  How can people be so deranged and cruel? 

To remove all violence from our world, God would have to remove our human capacity for good and evil.  Instead, God chose the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate expression of innocent suffering and torture. When Jesus endured the Cross, He took our violence upon Himself. He embraced our broken and lost world with His love. 

The Cross is not an afterthought.  It is not a footnote.  The Cross on which Jesus died is the focal point of history. It is the place where God’s love meets our agony, our grief and confusion in a violent world.  He took our violence upon Himself and conquered it in the resurrection.  

According to the theologian N.T Wright, the day Jesus was crucified is “the day the revolution began.”  This is the reason crosses are raised above the rooftops, erected on hillsides, planted as grave markers and worn around our necks.  Violence will not prevail. Evil has been conquered. The revolution has begun. Another Kingdom is coming. (Romans 8:31-39).

Monday, November 6, 2017

When We Die

This week millions of customers are waiting for their iPhone X, the latest product from Apple, the company Steve Jobs launched forty years ago in 1977. His user-friendly computing innovations including the iPod, iPhone and iPad transformed the way we live.

Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. He had resigned just six weeks earlier as CEO of Apple. 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).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Halloween That Changed the World

It was Halloween, October 31, 500 years ago.  A little known monk left the monastery where he lived and walked, almost unnoticed, the few blocks to a church at the other end of the street.  There he nailed a hand-written document to the wooden door for all to see.  Like a single flaming match dropped into the dry straw of a forest, Martin Luther’s 95 theses ignited a conflagration that engulfed all of Europe and continues to this day.

This week over 2 million people will descend on Wittenburg, Germany, current population 2,135. Many believe that this was the door by which Europe exited the Dark Ages and entered the Age of Enlightenment. Historians point to tiny Wittenberg as the cradle where the modern Western world was born.

I visited Wittenberg  a few years ago.  The ancient village is surrounded by modern development.  But the old streets have been preserved, much as they were 500 years ago.   I sat in the courtyard outside the monastery where Martin Luther worked through the book of Romans and wrestled with the words, “The just shall live by faith.”  (Romans 1:17).  I walked from the monastery to the church, the same path Luther took 500 years ago.

Luther was a young priest, only 34 years old, assigned to an obscure village.  He was devoted to the Roman Catholic Church.  But when Johann Tetzel came to his town promising his parishioners that their deceased family members could be released from Purgatory and enter Heaven if they would only make a contribution to the church, he could not contain himself. Tetzel’s efforts had been wildly successful in raising money. But, to Luther, it was wildly heretical.

It was a paradigm shift, 14 centuries after Jesus was born. Somehow the manuscripts recorded in the first century by those who saw Jesus, who listened to his words, who watched Him crucified and witnesses His resurrection had been buried beneath religious tradition and ritual.

His discovery changed everything.  Heaven, the one thing he desired most, could not be earned by good works and penance, nor by contributions to the church.  It could not be bestowed by the words of any man, priest or pope.  Heaven was a free gift to anyone willing to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ.

Heaven could not be earned by our efforts or bought with our money.  The Bible was clear. Peter had stated it to Simon, a Samaritan magician who wanted to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit, “May your silver perish with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money.” (Acts 8:20).

From the first century until now it has always been the same, for rich or poor, for people of every nationality, language or ethnicity, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;  for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13).

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Next week miniature ghosts, goblins and super heroes will emerge at dusk to comb the streets in search of candy.  It is a long tradition in America, one I grew up with as a child and one I enjoyed as a parent. It is, perhaps, one of the few traditions we still celebrate outside with our neighbors. Manicured lawns are transformed into a mystical world of floating cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and tombstones.

Watchful parents huddle at the curb and visit while their little ghouls cheerfully threaten their neighbors with tricks for treats. Expectant children hold open hopeful bags and peer into their dark recesses trying to determine what luck they might have had at the door. 

I always enjoyed taking our kids trick-or-treating. We had fun dressing them up and entering, at least for a night, into their fantasy world.  I liked watching them celebrate their growing assortment of candy gathered from well-wishing neighbors, until a costumed spook jumped from the bushes and convinced our five year old he had enough candy for one night. 

I still look forward to answering our door bell on Halloween.  I enjoy trying to guess who is hiding behind the princess mask, what little boy is growling in the Ninja Turtle costume.  I like it when ET and Yoda drop by for a visit with their pet ghost-dog. They are polite ghosts and witches and extra-terrestrials. They almost always say, “Thank you.” 

Halloween, of course, has its dark side. Our nightly news reports of abducted children and maps dotted with sexual predators have erased the na├»ve world of Halloween past.  We are more aware that we live in a dangerous world where evil is real and present.   

Many churches are more than a little uncomfortable with Halloween.  On the one hand, it is enjoyable to celebrate community with imagination, fantasy and neighborly generosity.   On the other hand, there are demonic and destructive forces at work in the world that kill and destroy.  It is one thing to celebrate fall and indulge in imagination.  It is another to celebrate the occult, witchcraft, the devil and demons.

Many struggle with addictions and impulses they seem unable to control.  They find themselves on a collision course with destruction.  Our world needs the deliverance from evil.

Jesus once met a man filled with destructive demons.  He lived among the tombs of the dead, often cutting himself with sharp stones.  Local citizens tried to control him by putting him in chains, but he broke the chains and escaped back to his home among the graves.  When Jesus ordered the demons that were destroying the man to leave him the demons entered a nearby herd of swine that immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned.  The man was healed.  When his neighbors found him, he was in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, no longer a threat to himself or to them. But it scared them. They asked Jesus to leave their country and not to come back.  (Mark 5:1-20). Forces that we cannot understand or control always scare us.

This Halloween we will celebrate an occasion to enjoy our children and their imagination. We will celebrate the turning leaves, dry corn, pumpkins and harvest.  Halloween can also serve as a reminder that in our struggles with the unseen forces of  good and evil, both in our hearts and in the world, we have a Deliverer

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Same Kind of Different As Me

Same Kind of Different As Me opens in movie theaters this week on October 20.  I first stumbled across the story in 2010 when my son-in-law suggested it to me.  The book had been out since 2005, a true story that bridges the social and racial divisions of our day.

Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron Hall spent his childhood summers on a farm near my boyhood home of Corsicana Texas. His descriptions of Corsicana resonated with my memories growing up on Collin Street, one of the signature brick streets that reflect the glory days when the city boasted more millionaires per capita than any other town in Texas. Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron and Denver intersect in the slums of Fort Worth east of downtown where my wife started her teaching career forty years ago.

Same Kind of Different As Me is actually two stories. One, the story of an illiterate black man named Denver who was raised in the cotton fields of Louisiana and ended up homeless on the streets of Fort Worth. The other, an upwardly mobile white man named Ron Hall who graduated from TCU and made a fortune in the art world. They each tell their story, and the remarkable intersection of their journeys.

But the true stories of Ron Hall and Denver Moore are not the main stories in the book. They represent other stories: the story of our country and its culture. Ron represents those who rise from middle class with professional opportunities that can lead to great wealth. He also represents the dangers of that path that include temptations for greed, materialism, shallow and broken relationships. Denver represents the alarmingly huge segment of our population that falls between the cracks, victims of prejudice, oppression, injustice and neglect. He also represents the dangers of that downward spiral that includes temptations of bitterness, anger, isolation and despair.

The greatest story underlying and connecting all of these is God’s story. Ron’s wife, Deborah is the entry point for His work, one person who was open, willing and obedient. She became the catalyst for connecting these two broken men from different ends of the social spectrum.

In a day when many look to government to heal our wounds and solve our social problems, Same Kind of Different As Me serves as a reminder that the real solution to our personal and social problems lies within us. It is often buried beneath our own prejudices and fears, but it can be unlocked and released with the keys of acceptance, trust, faith and love, all the things Jesus demonstrated and talked about.

God wants to use each of us, whatever our race, whatever our circumstance, whatever our background to make a difference in the world. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Life's Seasons

Two weeks ago we visited Rocky Mountain National Park.  The elk were everywhere. Their bugle echoed through the hills.  Peaceful cows grazed in the meadows under the watchful eye of the antlered-bull that gathered them for mating season.  Through winter and summer they disappear into the vast forests, but, in the fall, when the Aspen tinge the mountain slopes with yellow, they appear, bold and fearless. They have been doing this for thousands of years, long before humans wandered these valleys.

All of nature is synchronized with the seasons.  The geese fill the skies with wind singing in their wings.  Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexico. The maple, oak and sumac fire the hills with crimson and gold preparing the way for vast white blankets of snow.  

Our concrete, plastic and glass world attempts to insulate us from nature’s rhythms.  So do our drugs. They deaden our souls and our senses.  We are more alive when we connect with the rhythms God has built into his creation. The changing seasons seek to awaken us, to remind us that the same creative power that painted the mountains and designed the migrations of the birds also created us.   

All of life is lived in seasons, from birth to death. Each is made for celebration, for life and learning and loving: playful childhood, visionary youth, responsible adulthood, reflective old age.  The seasons of life fill our souls with songs of faith, love, hope, joy and sorrow. We all experience seasons of health and seasons of illness, seasons of plenty and seasons of lack, seasons of pain and seasons of joy. 

Ecclesiasts puts it best:  “There is a time for everything,  and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes  3:1-8).

In all of our seasons we can celebrate God’s presence as our Creator and sustainer, the savior of our soul. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Forever Friends

We spent last week near Vail, Colorado with another couple. The mountains were ablaze with golden Aspen, a great place for reflection in our “golden” years.  We were young when we first met.  My wife and the other two were fresh from high school graduations in Texas and Kentucky.  I was older and wiser by two years. 

After we married, we gathered in each other’s apartments as penniless newly-weds and played games, affordable and unforgettable entertainment. Our paths parted when we started our families. Identical twin girls for them, three children stretched over 13 years for us.  We stayed in touch at a distance.

Fifty years later, our children are grown.  They are advancing in their careers and raising our grandchildren.  We have completed most of our journey, in good health and full of memories, hoping to remain useful and finish well.

We are thrilled to make new friends for whom we are grateful, but we shared our youth with these friends when we were trying to figure out our own identity and had little idea of the direction our paths would take. We have other friends from our childhoods and our careers whom we love.  Some drifted away.  Some died. But this couple stuck.  Nothing can reproduce the treasure we have found. 
And now that we have re-converged in the late years of our journey we are overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s goodness and grace.  We are more content than we were in our youth. We are still ambitious to do good and to bless others, but we know we are blessed beyond measure in ways we could have never imagined. Only God could do such a thing.

Friendship gives us a glimpse of the relationship God desires for each of us.  As Proverbs says, “There is a friend that stays closer than a brother.”  (Proverbs 18:24).

After three years walking the hills of Galilee and Judea, Jesus explained his relationship with the twelve in these terms:   “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15).

No matter who we are or where we came from; no matter our race, gender or age, God desires to be our friend. He desires to lead us on our journey, from beginning to end.  An old hymn perhaps expresses it best, “I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!   He loved me ere I knew Him; He drew me with the cords of love,   and thus He bound me to Him. And round my heart still closely twine, those ties which naught can sever. For I am His, and He is mine, forever and forever.”

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Faith In A Violent World

Why is there so much violence in the world?   Why does North Korea continue to fire missiles and threaten the world with nuclear war?  Why do terrorists continue to kill innocent men, women and children?  Why does war continue in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq?  Why do earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis strike?

My grandfather fought in the “War to End All Wars” from 1914 to 1918.  But twenty years later the world was engulfed in another global conflict and the “War to End All Wars” became known, and largely forgotten, as World War I.  Since WWII America has been at war in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and several others lesser known places.

James explained violence this way: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1-2).

Jesus was under no illusion regarding our circumstances. He said, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. (Matthew 24:6-7).  “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

It is difficult to imagine the violence and cruelty of the first century.  Crucifixion was common under Roman rule. More than 2,000 Jews were crucified and displayed on Galilean roads about the time Jesus was born following a revolt led by Judas ben Hezekiah. As far as we know every one of the Apostles, except John, was martyred.  In spite of this, they lived their lives with hope, joy and peace.

Often persecuted and suffering for his faith in Christ, the Apostle Paul gave us this instruction: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

It is easy to give in to the relentless stream of negative news: wars, violence, abuse and natural disasters.  Many see dark clouds gathering on the horizon with little hope for the future. But faith can withstand the most dismal circumstances.

For every act of violence we can find a thousand acts of kindness. The overwhelming floods in Texas,  Florida and Puerto Rico unleashed a greater flood of human kindness, courage and sacrifice.  The same can be said for every terrorist attack and every war. God is present.  Goodness will triumph. He will not leave us nor abandon us.  The righteous will not be forsaken.  Nothing can destroy the life of the spirit in Christ Jesus. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

What Is Prayer?

Prayer is often our last resort, the final step in a hopeless situation.  We refer to it with such phrases as “he doesn’t have a prayer,” or “there is nothing left to do but pray.”  But it is perhaps the most important aspect of our human condition.

We share many attributes with the animal kingdom including instincts for hunger, reproduction and survival. Other animals provide care and nurture for their young. Some construct elaborate shelters whether nests, caves, holes or houses. Many have complex social systems.  But no other creature has the capacity to communicate with the Creator and to pray. Only man is endowed with that gift.

I have never met anyone who complained that they prayed too much. But I have known many who wish they had prayed more.  In our most desperate circumstances and in our finest moments, we cry out to God in prayer.  The greatest gift we can bestow upon another human being is to pray earnestly for them.

Some understand prayer as a psychological exercise merely benefiting the one who prays. But Scripture affirms that there is more at work when we pray than we imagine.

Jesus prayed.  In fact, He rose early in the morning before sunrise and sought solitary places where He could spend time alone in prayer. Occasionally he prayed all night.  He taught us to pray, not as a public display to impress others, but in secret where “your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6).  He taught us to pray constantly with discipline and determination. His prayer life was so powerful that his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. 

Prayer is not a matter of reciting particular words or repeating religious rituals. God looks on the heart.  He hears the person who is convicted of guilt and feels unworthy to lift his eyes to heaven. And God hears those who humbly seek to do His will, “The effective prayer of a righteous man,” the Bible says, “can accomplish much.”  (James 5:16)

The mystery and the miracle of prayer resides not in us, but in the One who created us and founded the vast universe that we have only begun to explore.  We are not cogs in an accidental machine that grinds its way toward extinction. We are created in the image of God and our very nature hungers for His presence.  He has endowed us with personality, intelligence and freedom.  He desires our company. He listens and He invites us to pray.

“Ask,” Jesus said, “and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you [who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”  (Matthew 7:7-11). 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Power of Encouragement

The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard.  Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net. But when the game is played, all things are not equal.  One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t.  The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement.  It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” 

We also know the ravages of discouragement.  Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a deadly downward spiral.  We see it in athletes on the golf course, tennis court. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game. Great athletes have the ability to resist discouragement and retain their focus.  But all of us are vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without. 

The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt.  But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager.  He believes in us.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5).  When a broken hearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life.  (Mark 5:36).  

Heather Herschap was born with cerebral palsy.  She is confined to a wheel chair with limited use of one arm.  I first met her in 2004 after she had completed a college degree in psychology and was working on a Masters in Divinity. 

She says the turning point in her life came when she arrived on campus as a freshman and was alone in the dorm for the first time. Her body became hopelessly stuck between the bed and the wall, and, with her paralysis, she could not work herself free. After hours of crying out for help to no avail she heard a voice, clear and audible, “Don’t give up.”  That experience led her to faith in Christ.

A few year later, aware that her prayers were focused on her own problems, she began to pray for others and God whispered in her ear, “India.”  India became her passion.  Her eyes sparkle, her face lights up and her body stiffens in excitement when she speaks of India. She has been to India three times counseling outcasts like herself who are handicapped, encouraging them and giving them hope.

Every day we need encouragement.  And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school.  Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone.  It might be the most important thing you ever do.

Monday, September 4, 2017


History is like an expedition, like Lewis and Clark searching for the Northwest Passage.  Each generation helps chart the journey with its twists and turns, and each picks up where the other left off.

Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he drafted the Declaration of Independence with the help of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. 50 years later he and John Adams died on the anniversary of the Fourth.  Their death marked the end of the generation we know as the “founding fathers.” 

I remember as a child when the last veteran of the Civil War died. Albert Woolson was a drummer boy in Company C of the First Minnesota.  He died in 1956.  At present we are witnessing the departure of what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation,” those who lived through World War II.  Five years before I was born my mother was on a picnic with my father when President Roosevelt interrupted their 1940s music to report the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  She died six years ago.  My uncle commanded a tank in the battle of Nuremberg in April 1945.  He died four years ago.

Some of us can recall where we were when John F. Kennedy was shot on the streets of Dallas, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles.  Vietnam and Watergate evoke vivid memories. But the young only know these events as history. Those who are seniors in high school were infants on 9/11/2001.  They have grown up in a post 9-11 world learning about the Twin Towers attack through stories, video and books. One generation passes while another joins the journey.

Every generation is connected to the generations that went before. But, like an expedition, every generation must find its own way, and each generation must find its own faith. A few years ago I reflected on what I wanted to accomplish with my remaining years.  One of those things was to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever imagined.  I am pleased to see that happening in many places.  More people are coming to Christ every day than at any time in history, especially in South America, Africa and Asia.  I am finding many in their twenties and thirties who are passionate about going to the ends of the earth and living transformed lives for Christ.

When God looks on humanity, he sees generations.  Following Noah’s flood, God had us in mind when he said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations.”  Moses’ success depended on how well he encouraged Joshua, the leader of the next generation that would enter the Promised Land. David sang, “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.”  

The world has never been a safe place. Expeditions are dangerous. We face huge obstacles and challenges, but the potential is limitless. As our generations overlap, we have opportunity to build upon the foundations of faith that others have laid and to create a better world for our children, our grandchildren and those who will follow. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Reveals Our Better Angels

The entire nation has been galvanized by the reports of Hurricane Harvey, an unexpected disaster of unprecedented proportions.  The fourth largest city in the United States drowning under an endless deluge of rain that buried neighborhoods, streets and thoroughfares under water. 

But greater than the torrential downpour that drove families to their attics and rooftops was the outpouring of sacrifice by thousands seeking to help.  An entire “navy” of volunteer boats immediately came to the aid of those in greatest danger.  The Galveston Daily News posted phone numbers for owners of flat-bottomed boats to call in order to volunteer.  Boats normally outfitted for fishing in the marshes that surround the island wandered the flooded streets of the greater Houston area searching for stranded neighbors.

Police, Firefighters and others worked around the clock, many of them hampered by the flood waters that threatened their headquarters.  They were not enough.  The greatest aid in the immediate threat were volunteers, often uncoordinated and spontaneous.  Neighbors helping neighbors without regard to race, ethnicity or faith.

On Sunday, the Houston news station KHOU was evacuated due to flooding, but their reporter, Brandi Smith, continued her reporting on site at Beltway 8 and the Hardy toll road.  She saw an 18 wheeler trapped in flood waters on the service road, flagged down a sheriff’s truck and helped rescue the driver.

Raul Njobi, begging for help, shouted to a group of volunteers launching their flat-bottom boat into the flood waters.  His sister was trapped in a Ford Fiesta not far away.  Just before her cell phone died she reported water was seeping into the car. Without hesitation they headed in the direction Mr. Njobi indicated searching for his sister.

 Across the nation Disaster Relief units scrambled to send volunteers to the coastal regions of Texas knowing the recovery will be long term.

In spite of the devastation to the Texas coast, especially the Coastal Bend where Harvey made landfall, there was something hopeful.  In the end it is not the depth of the floodwaters that will define us, but the depth of human kindness.

For months we have been bombarded by reports of terrorism, racism, hatred, anger and violence, (usually perpetrated by a few individuals).  The hurricane that hovered over Houston and sent the swollen creeks, rivers and bayous into record flood levels, brought to the surface the sacrifice that best characterizes our human spirit.

Down deep we remember the lessons Jesus taught about the Good Samaritan: to put ourselves at risk to care for strangers in need, to carry them to safety, to provide food and shelter, to bind up their wounds and to care for their recovery. (Luke 10:30-37).  Perhaps it has taken Hurricane Harvey to remind us what truly makes a nation great:  “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbors as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Monday, August 21, 2017

Lessons from Buddy: God is no respecter of persons

At least once a year I write a column about my dog, Buddy, a tri-color Corgi.  Buddy found me eight years ago.  He had to spend some time wandering the streets as a stray and endure the indignities of animal control and Corgi rescue to do it. But he succeeded.  They called him “Tex.”  But he soon made it clear that his name was “Buddy.” 

When I go for a walk without Buddy, I am invisible. Few people notice me or speak.  But when Buddy takes me for a walk, we are celebrities.  Children stop what they are doing and run to us, asking if they can pet him.  Some adults do the same.

Buddy never seems to meet a stranger.  He doesn’t care what people look like, what color their skin, what kind of tattoos they might have. They can be gay, straight, male, female, old or young, rich or poor, educated or disabled.  He loves them all and they all seem to love him. And they all seem to feel better after they pet him.

It’s a lesson I am still working on, a lesson Buddy is still trying to teach me.  It is a lesson Jesus taught and one that Peter struggled to learn.  Jesus intentionally led his followers through Samaria, a region Jews refused to visit, and introduced them to a woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. He incensed his hometown authorities when he pointed out that God used Elisha to heal a Syrian rather than a Jew.  He embraced lepers who were outcast from their families. He healed the sick, the blind and the lame.  He dined with despised tax collectors. This was not the journey Peter and his companions expected. 

It was only later when the Holy Spirit led him to enter the home of a Roman Centurion that Peter seemed to understand.  Upon entering the home, Peter said, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10).

Last week I stopped to get a haircut. A young woman in her 30s cut my hair. She had piercings in her nose, tongue and chin and tattoos covering her arms. We struck up a conversation. She has three little girls, 11, 7 and 5 who live with her ex-mother-in-law. She miscarried a baby boy. A few years ago, she “came out of the closet.”  I asked her what this meant and she told me she is gay. She said people thought she wanted to abandon her children, but this was not the case. She was simply tired of being depressed and suicidal. She is committed to caring for her children as much as the courts will allow her.  I told her I hoped she found a church that loved her. She said she always loved going to church but she was afraid of being judged.

I think Buddy would love this young mother and she would love him.  I am sure God loves her.  I wonder, after Charlottesville, when we will ever learn the lesson God built into Buddy, the lessons Jesus taught when He was here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Water of Life

Perhaps somewhere out there some extraterrestrials are listening to Jimmy Carter’s greetings and Chuck Berry singing, Johnny Be Good on the recordings launched into space aboard Voyager in 1977. Voyager has left the solar system and is in interstellar space.  Or, maybe someday we will pick up alien radio messages like Jodie Foster in Contact. But, so far, the evidence indicates that life in the universe is precious.  Quite possibly, we are it. Although I have to agree that it makes sense there should be life somewhere out there.  Surely in God’s economy He would not create this vast expanse of universe and only create life on our small pebble.

Scientists are searching for water again.  Not on earth, but in far-flung places in our solar system and the universe.  In their search for life on other planets they know that water is the key.  Where there is water, there could be life. They have ruled out Mars. No water there.  Perhaps once upon a time, but the water is gone, and with it, the prospects of life.  But they have found water on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.  Even though the average temperature, on a good day is 270 degrees below zero. They think there is an entire ocean of water beneath the surface.  How the space probe Cassini can determine this, I have no idea. 

Whenever scientists search for life in the universe they search first for water.  Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA said, “NASA science activities have provided a wave of amazing findings related to water in recent years that inspire us to continue investigating our origins and the fascinating possibilities of other worlds, and life, in the universe.” Water is the essence of life as we know it. Without it, life cannot exist.

Most of us think little about water. We are more focused on beverages that tease our taste and promise a lift.  We take water for granted.  But water is the essential element for life. Most scientists agree that humans can live up to eight weeks without food as long as they have water.  But living without water is another story. Some people could live for a week without water.  In some cases only two or three days.

Jesus knew this when He spoke about water.  He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

As important as water is to the existence of life and to our own physical well-being, there is another element even more important to the life of our soul.  Millions who have access to food, shelter, water and wealth are dying every day for lack of the spiritual water of faith that can nourish their soul. 

“Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you,
…  ‘For I will pour out water on]the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring  and My blessing on your descendants;
  and they will spring up ]among the grass like poplars by streams of water.’

Sunday, August 6, 2017


We have all seen the evidence: shattered glass on the pavement, cars with smashed fenders and bent bumpers pulled over to the side of the road, passengers standing around wringing their hands, sometimes in tears, red and blue lights flashing in the night.

State Farm recently released its list of the top 10 most dangerous intersections in the United States.  The most dangerous is in Florida, just north of Miami. Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa, OK each had two intersections on the list.  Frisco, TX, Metairie, LA and Sacramento, CA each had one.  Each year the Federal Highway Administration reports approximately 2.5 million accidents at intersections. 40% of all traffic accidents occur at intersections and almost 1,000 people a year die in these accidents. Intersections are dangerous.

As in driving so in life.  We all must go through intersections that raise the level of risk. They are moments built into life that challenge our best judgement and call on our best resources.  Many families will encounter one of those intersections in the next few weeks:  College.  For the freshman leaving home it can be a dramatic confluence of emotion: excitement, freedom and fear.  You can find them walking among the imposing buildings on campus, sometimes accompanied with anxious parents, sometimes alone, gazing at the pillared buildings wondering how they will find their way.

Parents will return home to suddenly silent houses. Stereos no longer echo from the upstairs bedroom. Meals are no longer gulped down in a rush to get the kids off to school and make the next practice session or performance. Schedules are disturbingly simple.

We encounter other intersections when we choose a career, find a partner for life and give birth to our children.  We encounter them when our preschoolers start first grade, when they reach puberty and struggle to grow up.  Promotions, layoffs, career changes, moves to a new house in a new city, aging and old age.  Life is filled with intersections.

We do best at these moments when we trust in God.  He knows the “traffic patterns.”  He has been there.  He knows the outcome.  He is willing to take us by the hand or “take the wheel” and guide us through to the other side.

He led Abraham to a foreign land he had never seen and multiplied his descendants like the sands of the sea.  He guided Isaac in search of a wife and blessed Jacob in a similar quest. He led Moses through the wilderness. He guided Mary and Joseph to Egypt and back after the birth of Jesus.  In every generation, God has been a comfort and a guide to those who trust Him.

“In your loving kindness you have led the people whom you have redeemed; in your strength you have guided them to your Holy habitation.” (Exodus 15:13).  “For you are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead me and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3).  “And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11). 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Kingdom Citizens - The Child Within

When we think of people who are religious, many conjure up images of old men with long gray beards, black capes and stooped shoulders. Some think of ascetic monks living in the desert.  Others picture nuns robed in their habits whispering prayers as they finger their rosaries. 

Jesus changed all our presumptions about what it means to be “religious” when he took a little child, stood him in front of his disciples and said, “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-2). When he wanted to forge an image in the mind of his followers Jesus chose a child. Why would he do this?

Jesus left the answer to that question up to us.  We can all speculate about the lesson he wanted to teach by choosing a child.  Here are a few characteristics that stand out to me when I think about children and the reason he chose a child to illustrate the nature God looks for in Kingdom people. 

Children live in the moment.  They are not worried about the future.  They are not burdened with guilt about the past. Watch children playing on a playground.  They have little awareness of time. They wear no watches.

Children become friends fast. Most children have not learned to be hesitant and shy.    They greet one another as if they have already met.  “Want to play?”  And the game is on.

Children laugh. I love listening to children on the school playground and in the park. Anywhere children gather, the air is filled with laughter.  It is their nature to laugh.

Children do not know prejudice.  I’m not sure when we learn racial and cultural prejudice, but young children have not learned this lesson.  They readily accept each other as equals regardless of skin color or clothing.  If they notice a difference between them, they ask about it.  And, once the difference is recognized they shrug their shoulders and move on.

Children trust.  When their father extends his arms and encourages them to jump they fling their bodies into open space fully confident they will be caught. 

Children are awed by God’s creation.   They are mesmerized by grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and flowers. They stop and take time to watch an ant wrestle a crumb of bread across the ground.  They notice the spots on a lady bug.

Children have great imaginations. Give a child a sandbox, a stick, or a can and they can construct unbelievable creations. I watched children recently playing in the sand.  They were digging a hole.  When I asked what it was, they looked at me with a puzzled look, as if I was the only one who did not recognize the obvious.  They patiently explained that it was a grasshopper sanctuary.

This list isn’t complete.  You can add others, I am sure.  Somewhere within us all is buried the child we once were.  Perhaps if we could re-connect with the child-like simplicity within us, we might take our first steps toward becoming Kingdom citizens as Jesus described it.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Senior Citizen

Someone, somewhere said, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!”

At age 79, Thomas Jefferson lamented to his friend John Adams, “It is at most but the life of a cabbage, surely not worth a wish. when all our faculties have left, or are leaving us, one by one, sight, hearing, memory, every avenue of pleasing sensation is closed, and debility and mal-aise left in their places, when the friends of our youth are all gone, and a generation is risen around us whom we know not,” (Monticello, June 1, 1822). 

I am now a “senior citizen.” How did this happen?  I never intended to become one. I spent my life busy about making a living, raising kids, pursuing career goals, trying to serve God and others and, suddenly, I wake up and I am a “senior citizen.”

This was never my goal.  I never looked down the corridors of time and wished that someday I could become a senior citizen. It happened without my knowing.  I was assigned the title without my consent.

Part of it is my own fault.  I have sold out my pride for a few cents and asked for a “senior coffee,” a “senior menu,” or a “senior discount.”  Do I have no shame?

The first indicator was a card in the mail from AARP.  I did not ask for this.  It just came, about the time I turned 50.  And now I receive advertisements from the Neptune Society encouraging me to think about cremation. I don’t want to think about having my body burned, stuffed in a jar or  thrown to the wind.  I want to think about living.

 Little things remind me I am aging.  When I enter my birth year for a plane ticket on the computer, I have to page down four times to find the year.  When I check out at Walmart, the cashier calls me “Sweetie.”  When I go to the barber the floor is littered with white hair clippings.

We discipline ourselves in our youth in order to live a longer life. But, when we live long, we discover that it leads to “old age.”  What is this?  I want my youth back.  I want to run and feel the exhilaration of running; to get out of bed without aching, to fly up the stairs two at a time, and to run down them without a thought and without a limp.  I want to eat whatever I want without gaining weight.

But, if we are successful and live long lives, old age will come.

The Bible affirms God’s love for us as we age.

“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 will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

In every stage of life we pass through troubled times, challenges, setbacks, fears and anxieties. Pursuing an education, finding a job, getting married, having children, making ends meet, disappointments, layoffs, injury and disease. Memory tends to erase the difficulties of the past, but the journey has never been easy. 

In every stage of life, including the last one, God is sufficient and His love never ends.