What Others Say

"Thank you for the words of wisdom in today’s Abilene Reporter News. In the midst of wars violence and pandemics, your words were so soft spoken and calming."

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger

Last Friday, with one stroke of his pen President Trump swept away more than two centuries of American history in which we prided ourselves on our generosity, our goodness and our commitment to embrace the oppressed.  He replaced it with fear and self-interest. With that same stroke of his pen, he struck through the famous words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Trump’s order prohibited travel from seven mostly-Muslim nations.  None of the terrorists who successfully carried out attacks on U.S. soil came from any of these countries.

But, we all came from somewhere.

Native Americans came first, beating all of us to this continent by a few thousand years.  My “multi-great” grandfather, Thomas Tinsley, landed in Jamestown in 1638 after a risky voyage across the Atlantic. My mother’s family, the Harpers, came later from Ireland. Along with them came others from Norway, Poland, Germany, Italy, and a host of captives from Africa. They were followed by still more from Asia, including refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. We have come from every corner of the earth. We are a nation of immigrants. 

We are one nation with many ethnicities embracing every skin color and many languages. More than 90 languages are spoken in Houston.  Polish is the third largest language group in Chicago with a Polish population equal to Warsaw. 

We like to keep the teachings of Jesus in the tepid category. We don’t like for Him to mess with our assumptions.  But this is what got Him into trouble.  His teachings are radical when it comes to loving people who are different than we are.

The Jews of Jesus’ day despised Samaritans.  But Jesus specifically went out of his way to enter Samaria and to visit with a Samaritan woman.  When she pointed out that the Samaritans worshipped at Mt. Gerazim while Jews worshipped in Jerusalem, Jesus replied, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.”

When Jesus wanted to illustrate what it means to love our neighbor, He told of a amaritan who risked his own safety to help a stranger who had been beaten and left for dead. 

When Jesus introduced himself to the synagogue in his hometown at Nazareth, he infuriated the crowd by stating that God loved the Syrians. He reminded them that Elisha healed a Syrian leper when there were many lepers in Israel. They were so enraged they tried to throw Jesus off a high cliff.  (Luke 4:16-30).

Today the oppression in Syria represents the world’s greatest refugee crisis.  Eleven million Syrians, more than half of them children, have fled the brutal attacks by ISIS. Most of them are Muslim. But many Christian organizations are reaching out to these refugees providing shelter, blankets, water, food and comfort. Virtually every denomination is represented as well as para-church groups like Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision.

We are always afraid and suspicious of people who are different than we are. But “perfect love casts out fear.”  Isaiah says, “Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.  Let the fugitives stay with you; be their shelter from the destroyer. The oppressor will come to an end, and destruction will cease; the aggressor will vanish from the land.”  (Isaiah 16:3-4).

Monday, January 23, 2017

What We Know

No one knows what you know.  And everyone else you meet knows things you don’t.  Even though my wife and I have been married 48 years, we each know things the other doesn’t.   

At birth we know nothing, but very early in life our knowledge base, which is built on observation and experience, begins to form.  Perhaps due to the fact that we shared a significant common base of knowledge in our formative years, most of us tend to remain close to those siblings and friends for a lifetime who shared our earliest years. 

But as we grow, our knowledge differs. We follow different paths, study different subjects, pursue different careers, live in different places and meet different people. Our individual knowledge becomes unique, like our fingerprints.   

The pursuit of knowledge is a good thing. And we should celebrate each achievement that increases our knowledge. But how much does any one of us really know?  And how much do we all know if the knowledge of every human being could be combined? 

Scientists are continually trying to piece together the puzzle of the past, to reconstruct our origins and the path we have taken to get to where we are. Since 2012 physicists have been celebrating what appears to be the discovery of the Higgs boson, what some refer to as the “God particle,” which could answer the origin of all mass and the fate of our universe.

Even with this discovery, the sum total of our scientific, philosophical and historic knowledge represents only a small fragment of the total knowledge in the universe. The more we discover, the more we realize what we don’t know.  The puzzle pieces of the past are often misleading, causing us to rearrange and reconfigure our preconceived ideas.

Solomon, who was famous for his wisdom, wrote, “I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun.  Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,’ he cannot discover.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17).

Perhaps the most important discovery is not what we know, but the fact that we are known.  David stated, “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.Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “ For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

As we expand our personal knowledge and strive to understand the universe, we can live with confidence that the One Who made it all knows us and loves us as He demonstrated in His Son, Jesus.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Teachable Moments

A few summers ago, my wife and I had the privilege of keeping our grandchildren for a few weeks in Montana.  They were 8, 10 and 11.  We normally saw them for a few days two or three times a year.  I felt like Santa Claus, showering them with presents every time we saw them, then disappearing. We weren’t part of their daily lives. So we were excited to have a few weeks with them and looking forward to meaningful conversations.

We enrolled them in Vacation Bible School in a church in Billings.  They weren’t excited about Vacation Bible School, but they agreed to give it a try.  They loved it.  On the second day, my wife was doling out one dollar bills to each of them and instructing them to place the dollar in the offering.  Our 11-year-old granddaughter refused to accept the dollar.  “I am going to give my own,” she said, a dollar she had earned the week before.  “Your offering will have a special blessing,” I told her, “because it is your own gift and it costs you something.”  I then told her about the poor widow who gave two small coins. “She has given more than all the rest of them,” Jesus said, “because she gave all that she had.”  When I let them out, she bounced into church clutching her dollar a little more tightly and beaming a little more brightly. 

The third day I picked them up from VBS and my 10-year-old grandson asked, “Granddaddy, what is a prostitute?”  I hesitated a moment, a little stunned by the question.  Then I told him, “A prostitute is a woman who has sex with men for money. Why do you ask?”

He replied, “I saw a billboard that said, ‘Before meth I had a daughter.  Now I have a prostitute.’  What does that mean?”  (He was one of those kids that reads everything.)  I told him, “That means that someone had a daughter they loved very much who became addicted to drugs and started having sex with men for money so she could buy more drugs.  It is a very bad thing.” 

My 8-year old, wanting to be part of the conversation asked, “What does all THAT mean, granddaddy?”  I was saved by his older brother who turned to him and said, “Don’t ask.  It’s inappropriate information for us children.”

Teachable moments come when they will.  We cannot predict them. It is kind of like playing baseball.  You never know when the ball might be hit your way.  You just have to always be ready to respond in the best way you know how.

Jesus was the master of using the teachable moment with His followers.  Once a group of men brought a woman to Him who had been caught in the act of adultery.  They stood ready to stone her according to the Law of Moses, but Jesus wrote something in the dirt beside her and challenged them.  “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  One by one they dropped their stones and left.  When all were gone Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

Life is filled with teachable moments when God wants to teach us a better way and help us teach our children and grandchildren.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Freedom to Believe

I have not seen Martin Scorcese’s new movie, Silence.   It has not yet come to a theater in our area. According to the synopsis, “A 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priest receives word that his mentor has renounced his faith while on a mission in Japan. Concerned, he travels to the island nation with another clergyman to investigate, only to find that the country's Christian population are being systematically exterminated. Witnessing the inglorious reality of torture and martyrdom committed against Japanese Christians rocks his faith to the core.

The story is based on historic events. Christianity had been introduced to Japan in the 1540s and quickly took root with more than 100,000 converts.  But the government quickly saw the Christian faith as a threat and launched bitter persecution against Christian believers. Many were tortured and killed. The Christian faith went underground for centuries.

In the majority of the world today, faith in Jesus Christ comes at a high price. According to the Pew Research Center over 75% of the world’s population live in areas of severe religious restrictions.  Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey had the highest levels of religious restrictions.  The Pew report stated that “When we analyzed religious restrictions imposed by government, China, the world’s largest country by population, had the highest level.”

The U.S. Department of State’s annual International Religious Freedom report noted that “in Russia the government passed a new law limiting activity in houses of worship.  The law imposes strict new reporting requirements for religious groups seeking to organize events and ceremonies in public spaces.”

I sometimes wonder what my prayers sound like in God’s ear compared to the prayers of those who suffer imprisonment, torture and discrimination for their faith in Christ. I am afraid that many of my prayers center upon my own convenience and comfort, and that of my family and friends.

Jesus was clear regarding persecution for His followers.  “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20). 

The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes also chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. ... Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” (Hebrews 11:35-12:4).

Across the centuries, persecution has been the norm for followers of Christ. Our protections for religious freedom in America are unique. We must preserve, protect and extend these freedoms to all faiths and all forms of worship.  How then should we pray?  And how then should we live? 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Time and Immortality

 More than any other occasion, the New Year marks the passage of time.  We celebrate it with the dropping ball in Times Square, fireworks that ignite the night sky, fresh cut flowers in the Rose Parade, stadiums that vibrate with energy as the best college teams face off against each other.  2016 is history and 2017 has come.

On New Year’s Eve, as I do every year, I took time to write down my reflections on the year past: the goals I achieved, and the ones I failed to meet, the major events that surprised me along the way.  On New Year’s Day, I wrote down my expectations for the year to come: what I hope to accomplish, my goals and dreams. The process reminds me how swiftly the time has flown.  
Time waits for no one.  We live it, and we measure it. We try to capture the moments with videos and photos, but the time continues to fly.  By the time I write this sentence, and by the time you read it, the moment of the writing, and the moment of the reading is gone, never to return. Every moment of every day, week, month and year, time marches on.

We can remember what was and we suspect that somewhere in the universe the past still exists, just as we experienced it. We can imagine the future, but have no way of knowing what it holds. Only the present is ours, and it slips quickly through our grasp to join the memories of our past. It is the mark of our mortality. We are prisoners and servants of time.  No measure of wealth can restrain it.  No power on earth can contain it.

Our mad dash to get ahead, to climb the ladder of success, to add to our possessions, to get to our destination faster are symptoms of our mortality.  We know that our time is limited.  There are only so many hours in the day, and so many days in a lifetime.

The Bible agrees with this sense of mortality.  Ecclesiastes says, “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.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).  And again, “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Only God is beyond time.  He is the great “I AM.”  He has no beginning and no end.  Past, present and future are alike to Him.  John wrote of Jesus, saying, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1-3). Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58).

God invites us to transcend time and enter into His immortality. Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish.” (John 10:28).  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).