What Others Say

Exceptional column. I think...inspired. Thank you for writing it.
- Diana M., Ranger, Texas

Monday, July 15, 2019

Our Place Among the Stars: The Lunar Landing


This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, July 20, 1969.  Those of us old enough to remember watched on a grainy black-and-white TVs when Armstrong made his “giant leap” from the bottom rung of the ladder to the moon’s surface. 

It was a turbulent time on earth.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been gunned down the year before. Vietnam was at its height. 11,616 American GIs died in Vietnam in 1969. Protests were spreading across the country. Four unarmed students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State in 1970.  We were 4 years away from the oil embargo that quadrupled the price of gas and 5 year away from Nixon’s resignation over Watergate.

But, in the midst of the chaos, we left a human footprint on the moon.  For most of my life that moment has remained a symbol of the indomitable human spirit, our aspiration and determination to do the impossible, to literally reach for the stars. Most of us assumed that we would return. When the movie 2001 debuted, it seemed entirely plausible that we would have a base on the moon by the end of the century.  But, 50 years later, the Apollo footprints remain undisturbed.

There was another human element at play when we left earth’s orbit and pointed our rockets toward the moon.  Many of us felt humbled in the face of our fragile yet beautiful existence.  The astronauts not only taught us courage and discipline, they inspired us with awe and faith.   

John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. When asked about his experience, Glenn said, “To look at this kind of creation out here and not to believe in God to me is impossible.”

On Christmas Eve, 1968, with the desolate lunar landscape beneath and the earth rising like a marvelous marble of life on the lunar horizon, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders took turns reading the Genesis account of creation. (Genesis 1:1-10).  Prior to exiting the lunar lander 18 months later, Armstrong and Aldrin paused while Buzz Aldrin, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, took communion and prayed. 

Thomas Friedman includes an account about Neil Armstrong’s visit to Jerusalem years later.  According to Friedman, when Armstrong visited the Temple in Jerusalem in 2007 he asked his guide if these were the very steps where Jesus stepped.  When his guide confirmed they were, Armstrong reportedly said, “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these steps than I was stepping on the moon.”

Fifty years after the Apollo 11 landing, we can appreciate even more the words of David, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man, that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than God, and you crown him with glory and majesty!  You make him to rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:3-6). 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lessons From the Ant


The ants are back!  We have kept them at bay inside the house, but outside, that is a different matter.  A single dropped crumb on the patio and the next morning a stream of ants appear, hundreds of them in a neatly organized operation to dismantle the discarded food and store it in bits and bites for later use. 

How do they do this?  Do the wandering scout-ants have cell phones?  When they make a discovery do they place a call back to home base and say, “Send the troops.  We have food!”  Who organizes the operation?  Who tells these worker ants to answer the call, and who plots the shortest and least obstructed route to the treasure? 

If they were humans, the searchers who discovered the food supply would immediately stake a claim, lay title to it and horde it so that they could be wealthier than all the other ants.   They would let the weaker ants in the colony starve.  And, they would probably spend most of their time in “ant court” defending the right to their possessions.  “Ant lawyers” would probably claim the greatest portion of the wealth.

Why can’t we learn from these little creatures?  According to UNICEF 3.3 million children die from undernutrition every year. They often die in remote villages far from public view.  Over 10% of the world’s population live on less than $2 per day.

I have to admit this convicts and alarms me.  I need to be more like the little critters that invade my patio.  I need to sound the alarm, send out the signal, marshal others and join them in distributing food and resources to those who need it.  But how do we do this?  How do we know that our gifts get to the people and places where they are needed?  There is so much graft and corruption in the world that charitable gifts are often routed into the pockets of the greedy. 

I guess the best thing is to be alert to opportunities.  When one of our international students returned home to Zambia to start Christ Life Ministries, I sent a check.  When refugees lined up for shelter at our border I sent a gift to the Annunciation House in El Paso. It’s not much.  But, for me it is a start.  If all of us gave more generously we could make a difference, like the ant.

Proverbs says, “Go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8).  John the forerunner, described what we should do if we really want to respond in faith to the Messiah.  He said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11)

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Generation In Need of Spiritual Awakening


In the early 1740s a young printer in Philadelphia reached an agreement with an itinerant preacher from England to print his sermons and journals.  Historians say the agreement made Benjamin Franklin rich and George Whitefield famous.  With Franklin’s assistance in the printed word, Whitefield’s preaching sparked a spiritual flame that ignited Colonial America.  In his autobiography, Franklin noted he could not walk down the streets of Philadelphia in the evening without hearing families singing Christian hymns. Many credit the Great Awakening for creating the values that later produced American Independence.

At noon on September 23, 1857, a businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier waited for others to join him for prayer in a room on Fulton Street in New York.  Six people showed up. The next week, 20 came.  Then 40.  They started meeting daily. The crowd swelled to more than 3,000 following the financial panic of October 14.   In less than 6 months, 10,000 businessmen were attending daily prayer meetings in New York. More than 10,000 came to faith in Philadelphia, 5,000 in Boston. At its peak, 50,000 people a week were professing faith in Christ.  In Bethel, Conn. businesses closed for prayer.  Led by laity and crossing denominational lines, the movement swept more than one million people to faith in Christ leading up to the Civil War.

During the Civil War a little-known shoe salesman from Chicago ministered among the Union troops.  Afterward, he gave up selling shoes to win souls.  In the last half of the 19th century, Dwight L. Moody preached to over 100 million people in the United States and the U.K.   On one occasion more than 130,000 people assembled to hear him preach.

Following the Civil War, baseball became America’s pass time. A war orphan became one of the most popular players for the Chicago White Sox, arguably the fastest runner in the sport. After his conversion to Christ, Billy Sunday hit the “sawdust trail” and moved America with his passionate preaching.  He is said to have drawn more press than WWI. And, like Moody before him, preached to more than 100 million people.

A tent was erected in Los Angeles in 1947 following WWII and an unknown evangelist named Billy Graham was invited to preach. The three week revival stretched into 8 and launched Graham’s career.  For the next 50 years Billy Graham preached to over 210 million people in more than 185 countries.  He became close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr in the 1950s and supported the Civil Rights movement.  Graham became a spiritual advisor and confidant to every President from Truman to Barak Obama.

But what about the 21st century? In an era dominated by violence, prejudice, corruption, rising rates of suicide and addiction, our generation seems to be adrift without a moral compass. Who will God raise up to help us discover the spiritual truths that guided the generations that went before us? 

God might choose, as in 1857, to spawn a spiritual movement without a central personality. More often than not, He chooses to work through uniquely gifted and anointed individuals as He did through John the forerunner who drew massive crowds to the Jordan.  Whoever and however God chooses, our world is desperate for men and women of personal and spiritual integrity who can lift our souls to heaven.

Each of us can make a difference.  When Jesus came, John preached, but Anna prayed (Luke 2:36-38). As did Simeon (Luke 2:25-35).  Every day, with every honest decision, with every generous action, with every kindness, every act of forgiveness, and every prayer, each of us can help save a lost and dying world.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Kingdom Trailer


Many years ago the movie industry discovered the power of trailers, short clips and promotional scenes that entice us to spend good money to watch their movie. For the last couple weeks we have been inundated with trailers and clips from Toy Story 4, the next adventure for Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lighyear (Tim Allen) and their cast of toy friends. We were so excited by the teasers that we spent over $118 million at the box office last weekend to see it.

Perhaps we can learn something from Disney and Hollywood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Art of Aging


I have discovered another principle of physics.  As the body grows older gravity increases exponentially. When the body is young, its parts stay in place, firm and fit. But as age sets in the parts start to slide -- downward. And the energy expended to lift the body from a sedentary position increases.

I love to watch children skipping and dancing down the sidewalk.  My grandchildren, 8, 6 and 2, run wherever they go, and climb anything they can find.  I enjoy the grace of teenagers gliding effortlessly on skateboards, sprinting after a fly ball, leaping to make the catch.  And I think to myself, once upon a time, that was me!

There are different perspectives about growing old.  “Grow old along with me” wrote Robert Browning, “ the best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made:  our times are in His hand.”

Thomas Jefferson was not so kind. “First one faculty withdrawn and then another, sight, hearing, memory, affection and friends, filched one by one, till we are left among strangers, the mere monuments of times, facts, and specimens of antiquity for the observation of the curious.”

I have heard others say, “There is nothing good about growing old.”  And, “growing old isn’t for wimps.”  The last of these saying is probably true, but not the first.

When Billy Graham was in his nineties he wrote, “I can’t truthfully say that I have liked growing older. At times I wish I could still do everything I once did – but I can’t. I wish I didn’t have to face the infirmities and uncertainties that seem to be part of this stage of life – but I do.” He asks the important question, “Is old age only a cruel burden that grows heavier and heavier as the years go by, with nothing to look forward to but death? Or can it be something more?”

In his book, Nearing Home, Graham wrote, “Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. … When granted many years of life, growing old in age is natural, but growing old in grace is a choice. Growing older with grace is possible to all who set their hearts and minds on the Giver of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

My wife and I celebrated our fiftieth anniversary last year.  I wrote a book about our journey and published it on Amazon, Our Story.  It highlights our life together for more than half a century with joy, laughter, celebration, sorrow, loss and disappointment.  The longer we live, the deeper we discover life’s textures. The colors become more vibrant, and the blessings and goodness of God, more clear.

I can say as David said, “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).  Along with David, I can say, “I will utter dark sayings of old which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.  We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works which He has done!” (Psalm 78:2-4).

Monday, June 10, 2019

When The Storm Comes


We were at our beach house on Galveston Island when a tornado passed over Jamaica Beach.  Our house shook; the windows rattled; hail battered the walls like bullets.  We kept reminding ourselves that the house survived Ike.  It would surely survive this.

Galveston is familiar with storms.  The historic Hurricane of 1900 virtually destroyed the city and killed 6,000 people.   Hurricane Ike raked the island in 2008.  The F-1 tornado that passed over Jamaica Beach won’t even appear as a blip on the screen.

Beach houses on the Island are built for storms.  We know that years may pass, maybe decades, perhaps a century, but the wind, rain, hail and floods will come.  We must build for it and we must expect it. In Jamaica Beach every house is at least ten feet off the ground built on pilings driven as many feet, or more, beneath the surface to anchor the house on solid soil.

In the same way, we must prepare ourselves for the storms that can devastate our personal lives.  Loved ones will die.  We will grow old, battle illness, suffer a tragic accident or fall victim to violence.  We are all mortal.

Jesus ended his Sermon on the Mount with a parable about houses built upon sand and rock.  (He didn’t include anything about houses built upon pilings.  But I guess poles sunk ten to twenty feet into the ground are as strong as foundations built on rock. Our house is still standing and we are still dry.)

Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27).

 Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. … Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter, 1:6-7, 4:12). 

We cannot prepare for the storms after they hit.  It is too late.  Preparations must be made months and years ahead.  The storm only reveals the foundation that has already been built.  In the same way, the faith that will carry us throughout life and beyond death is a faith that must be nurtured and established before the trial comes.  This is why Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship are so important day-by-day and week-by-week. The foundation we build today will sustain us tomorrow.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Fred and Ethel - Miracles and Mystery


A robin built a nest on a low limb of the tree tree outside our front window.  She built her nest alone. Her mate tried to help, but most of what he built she had to redo.  Males just get in the way.  Only a female can make a nest a home.  She built it with sturdy twigs twisted together to form a cup in the fork of a limb, then lined with soft grass and moss, comfortable and warm for the chicks soon to come.

She sat for two weeks, never seeming to move. Always vigilant.  Always alert.  Smothering the eggs in her warmth, waiting patiently until her babies crack open the thin blue shells that surround their embryonic beginnings.

I named her Ethel and her absent mate, Fred.  Fred has been off singing somewhere, but, when the eggs hatched and the babies raised their beaks and their voices in hunger, he showed up with food for Ethel and the babies!  He did so Saturday June 1.  It was an exciting day, I can tell you! When their feathers grow, he will teach them to forage for food and fly to the trees while she builds another nest for another brood.

Fred and Ethel have mated for life.  Each spring they return to where we live and look for one another so she can build another nest and raise some more robins. Who taught them to do this?  How do they know to look for each other each year, and how does she know how to build a nest, lay her eggs and nurture them? 

I know that some say it is an accident, the result of random chance. That somehow an amoeba evolved into a robin, built a nest and laid some eggs that hatched into little robins and that this has been going on for thousands of years. How did the first robin that laid the first egg know what to do with it?

It makes more sense to me to marvel that I am surrounded by miracles and mystery.  Life is too complex and too beautiful to exist without a Master Designer who fashioned the first feathers and taught the first robin to fly.  

In His famous conversation with Job, God asks, ““Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, stretching his wings toward the south? “Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?  “On the cliff he dwells and lodges, upon the rocky crag, an inaccessible place. (Job 39:26-28).

Jesus said, “Consider the birds, they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!” (Luke 12:24). And, we might add, how much more miraculous you are? God has designed you, made you and declared His love for you. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  “I have loved you with an everlasting love”  (Jeremiah 31:3). 








Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Words and Their Consequences


When we were children we had a saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  We usually quoted this little jingle when words had hurt us, and it was usually followed by sticking out our tongue for emphasis.  Somehow this ditty has been passed down through the generations, even though it is not true. Words can destroy us.

It is not the well thought out words that give us trouble, words that we wrestle with before writing them down, words that we edit a dozen times before finally putting them in print.  The words that trouble us and cause our difficulty are the careless words, the thoughtless words, the words that escape our lips without thinking.  These words cannot be called back.  Unlike animals escaped from the cage, words cannot be hunted down and returned to captivity.

Sometimes the careless words run rampant causing unknown damage without our knowledge.  We don’t even remember what we said, or when we said it. But the damage is done nonetheless. 

We try to bury our careless words beneath repeated apologies.  “I’m sorry.”  Or “I didn’t mean it.”  Sometimes we are forgiven.  Sometimes others claim to overlook them. But words are rarely forgotten.  They lodge in the memory and cast a shadow on everything else. 

Jesus said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matt. 12:36) Jesus was referring to our final judgment before God.  Ultimately, when we stand before Him we will be required to give account for every careless word.  But, perhaps he had something else in mind.  Perhaps He was drawing our attention to the reality of human relations.  Careless words destroy relationships. 
We have seen prominent careers come to an abrupt end due to careless words spoken in the public arena.  Like the classic movie, A Face In the Crowd, few are able to overcome racial slurs and arrogant expletives caught on an open microphone.  But more damaging to us all are the careless words spoken in the privacy of our homes each and every day. Careless words chip away at relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children.  They leave families fractured and psyches shattered.

On the other hand, an encouraging word, the right word spoken at the right time, can make an enormous difference.  The opposite of careless words is not careful words, words that are guarded and self-serving, but caring words, words that are spoken in the interest of others.

Nothing is more important than learning the discipline of our speech.  James compared the tongue to the small rudder that turns a huge ship, or the bit placed in the mouth of a horse, able to harness the animal's great strength.  Careless words, he said, are like sparks that ignite an uncontrollable fire that consumes everything in its path.  “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2).

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Memorial Day

Next Monday is Memorial Day , the official start of summer!  Families will load up and head parks, lakes and camp grounds.  Spring is here summer is near.  Kids will soon be out for summer and new graduates will launch out on new adventures in search of their destiny.   But the celebration, fresh air and freedom has a deeper meaning.   It is a time for remembering those who laid down their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. 

My grandfather fought in France during WWI.  My uncle entered Nuremberg in a tank at the end of WWII and remained there 2 months to recover from wounds.  Both of my brothers served in the Air Force during Viet Nam and my son served in the U.S. Marine Corps.  All of us have relatives who have served in the armed services.  Some have loved ones who left to defend our country and never returned.  On this Memorial Day, we pause to remember and honor those who gave the “ultimate sacrifice.”

What we know as Memorial Day originated at the end of the Civil War that claimed more lives than any other war in our history.  Officially, Memorial Day began May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, New York. In 1968 Congress designated the last Monday of May as a national Memorial Day to remember those who died in active service.  As time passed, the memorial aspects of the weekend have faded and for many it has become the first weekend for summer vacation.

The Bible recognizes the importance of memorials.  We need tangible dates and places to remember significant events and the values that give meaning to life.  The first memorial mentioned in the Bible is in reference to the living God.  When Moses met God in the wilderness and was commissioned to deliver Israel, he asked God to reveal His name.  God responded, “You shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me … the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial-name to all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15).

Our forefathers were not perfect.  They had many flaws and made many mistakes, but history is clear that most were people of faith in the living God.  A young publisher named Benjamin Franklin printed the sermons of George Whitfield that moved the colonies to Christ prior to the American Revolution. Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a Christian novel to which Lincoln attributed the Civil War.  And Julia Ward Howe gave us the Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1862, based on Isaiah 63 and Revelation 19.  Later, it was faith in God and His son Jesus Christ that sustained us through two world wars.

On this Memorial weekend, while we enjoy the laughter of our children and the love of our friends, let us remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, those who prayed and sacrificed and believed that we could “overcome.”  Let us trust the One who laid His life down that we might know God’s forgiveness and love for one another.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Graduation: Visions and Dreams


Young men and women will line up this month robed in caps and gowns grinning at their friends. Their eyes scan the audience, peering past dangling tassels in search of family members who search for them.   Cameras and cell phones light up stadiums and auditoriums with bursts of light as proud parents try to capture the magic of the moment. Our grandson graduates from high school May 19 in Sundance, Wyoming.  

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

Every graduate that walks across the stage to shake hands with administrators and receive their diploma has a unique story.  Few are as unique as Helen Small. Helen dropped out of college as a freshman in 1938 to marry her sweetheart, help fight a war and raise a family.  Seventy years later, at eighty-eight she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2007. In 2010 when she was ninety years old, she graduated with a Masters of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 2011 she published a book, Why not? My Seventy Year Plan for a College Degree.  One of her teachers, Dr. John Santrock, a professor of psychology said, “What especially stands out about Helen as a student is how appreciative she is of the opportunity to learn.”  Commenting on her college experience as a ninety-year-old, Helen said, “It’s helped me start a whole new phase of life.”  Helen remained active, teaching, organizing and encouraging until her death two years ago at 97.

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

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

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

Monday, May 6, 2019

Rewriting the Rules


It is always important to know the rules.  We have rules at school, rules at work and rules at home. We establish laws to govern traffic: speed limits, stop signs, turn lanes and signals.  We pass laws for family, marriage, commerce and civil conduct.  We spend billions of dollars to employ law enforcement officials, judges and lawyers to make sure the rules are obeyed.

We even have rules for play. Every sport has its rules with umpires and referees to insure that the rules are enforced.  We have added instant replay to make sure their rulings are fair and objective.  Still, arguments erupt and tempers flare when either side believes it has been unfairly judged.  People are still arguing the stewards’ ruling that disqualified Maximum Security at the Kentucky Derby.

Some rules are unwritten. We assume we know them from birth. They are common to every culture on earth.  They are simple rules:  love your family and your friends.  Do good things for them.  Love your country.  If someone hits you, hit them back.  First come, first serve. Lend to those who can repay with interest. Look out for “number one.”  Protect your property. Defend yourself. Get even. They are the stuff of most movies and novels.  They are the rules by which we live our lives.
Jesus’ words sound strange when compared to our natural assumptions about how life is supposed to work. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36).
Jesus rewrote the rules.

Monday, April 29, 2019

God Is For You


Two years ago my son-in-law participated in his first Iron Man race in Boulder, Colorado. It is a grueling event: a 3 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike route and finished off with a 13 mile half-marathon, 72 miles start to finish.  In his first Iron Man we were there, cheering him on.  It was important that he knew we were “for him!”  We were proud of him.

A few years ago he had let his weight get out of control and drifted well above 200 lbs.  But he was determined to get into shape.  Setting a goal was important and the Iron Man gave him incentive.  He lost 50 lb.  It wasn’t easy.  It might have been impossible if he had tried to do it alone, without the support of family and friends.

We see it everywhere, especially in sports, but it is also true in the classroom and on the job and in every family.  It matters when people are cheering us on, lifting us up, letting us know that they are for us!  My father did that for me when I was young.  I have sought to do the same for my children.  They have pursued different paths, chosen different careers, but always I have wanted them to know that I was in their corner, I was “for them.”

How much more is that true for our spiritual quest and journey.  We each need to know that God is on our side.  He is cheering for us.  A few days ago I came across a very simple statement in the Psalms, one I have somehow overlooked over the many years I have read the Bible.  Psalm 56:9b simply says, “This I know, that God is for me.” 

This was the secret of David’s success throughout his life, whether facing wild beasts as a young shepherd, Goliath on the battlefield, the death of his best friend, his own moral failure or the betrayal of his son, Absolam.  Down deep, beneath all the terror and anguish of the moment, he was confident of one thing: “This I know, that God is for me.” 

Wherever you are, God is for you.  He wants to redeem you, to save you from the abyss, to turn you from your own destructive impulses and set your feet on fruitful paths. He wants to rescue you from the depths of despair.  He will never leave you nor forsake you. “What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).   

You may sometimes feel that you are all alone when facing difficulties and trials. The mountains may seem insurmountable. But this is not so.  God knows everything about you. He knows your fears as well as your dreams.  He knows your doubts as well as your hopes.  And, He has declared Himself for you! 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Monday, April 22, 2019

How Is Your Soul?


References to the soul seem strangely absent in our churches. But if the churches have stopped talking about the soul, the technological gurus who design apps for our iPhones have not. 

A few years ago the Huffington Post launched an app called “GPS for the soul.”  The app is based on two truths that say, “that we all have within us a centered place of harmony and balance, and that we all veer from that place again and again. “ Arianna Huffington stated, “There’s a snake lurking in this cyber-Garden of Eden. Our 24/7 connection to the digital world often disconnects us from the real world around us -- from our physical surroundings, from our loved ones, and especially from ourselves. We see the effects of this in every aspect of our lives.”

The Bible speaks a great deal about the soul.  The soul can be deeply troubled.  David cried out, “My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3) and again, “I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (Ps. 31:7). 

Our soul can rejoice. “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.” (Ps. 35:9).  Our soul can be refreshed, “He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23:3) and our soul can be at peace. “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” (Ps. 62:1).

Jesus taught that there is nothing in this world more important than the condition of your soul.  “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mt. 16:26). And again, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29).

John Ortberg, in his book, Soul Keeping, writes, “We live in a world that teaches us to be more concerned with the condition of our cars, or our careers, or our portfolios than the condition of our souls. … What if I don’t get a promotion, or my boss doesn’t like me, or I have financial problems, or I have a bad hair day? Yes, these may cause disappointment, but do they have any power over my soul?  Can they nudge my soul from its center, which is the very heart of God?  When you think about it that way, you realize that external circumstances cannot keep you from being with God.”

What is truly important is not our possessions. Neither is it our physical strength or beauty. Nor is it positions of influence, power or fame.  What is truly important is our soul, the essence of who we are. Although our bodies may wither with old age and disease, our souls can continue to grow in grace as we experience God’s love while loving others.

This is why Jesus said that the first commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the second is like it, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” If we receive His gift of grace and do this, we will find food and rest for our souls.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Resurrection Faith


Several years ago I preached the funeral of a woman I had known for forty-five years. By the time she ended her long battle with breast cancer she was in her mid-fifties.

When I first met her, she was a little girl.  I still remember her innocent blue eyes as a child.  I watched her grow through childhood and into her teen years.  When she was a young adult, she was lured down painful and destructive paths refusing to heed the warnings of those who loved her. I prayed for her, along with others and she fell deeper into addiction to drugs and alcohol. She gave her first born up for adoption and eventually served a sentence in prison.

But somewhere along the way, whether in prison or afterward, she came to faith in Jesus Christ. Like the woman who pressed through the crowd, she touched the hem of His garment. As Jesus said to another woman so many years ago, He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.” 

In the last decade I saw her reunited with her first-born whom she gave up in her youth. She was reconciled with her family who surrounded her in love.  God brought a good man into her life who, like her, was a recovering alcoholic.

She often shared with me her testimony of faith and what God had done in her life.  She still wasn’t perfect. She still had issues. But she was different. God was healing her on the inside.

The week before she died, we visited.  Family and friends gathered around her, comforting her, praying for her and loving her.  On Wednesday of that week, she drew her last breath.

Once again, I thought of her as that innocent blue-eyed girl I first knew. It reminded me of Jesus’ visit to the home of a mother and father whose twelve-year-old daughter had died.  The house was surrounded by people who were weeping. But Jesus entered the child’s bedroom with her parents and spoke these gentle words to her.  “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”   She immediately breathed, opened her eyes and got up.   

This is the faith we believe as followers of Christ. Because He was raised from the dead, we can be raised also.  We make mistakes.  We may wander far from God.  We may cause pain to ourselves and others.  But He seeks us out.  He never lets us go.  He reconciles, redeems and, in the day of our death, He raises us up!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

When Life Overwhelms


My cousin calls it “clumping:” those times when demands upon our life converge in a perfect storm. We face demands from employees, employers, clients and supervisors. We face demands from our family: marriages that need nurture; children who struggle with growth issues from the cradle to college; aging parents with failing health. Unexpected illness strikes us when we least expect it. “Clumping” times steal away our breath and rob us of our energy. Sleep is elusive, and, when it comes is often filled with restless nightmares of unfulfilled obligations.

Even Jesus experienced “clumping." As his fame spread, the demands made upon him multiplied. The Gospels say that he did not even have time to eat. At one point he was so exhausted that a life-threatening storm could not wake him. Thousands pressed in upon him from dawn to dusk seeking help. His own family rejected him. His closest followers disagreed with him. His enemies hounded him.

But in the midst of these demands Jesus always demonstrated a calm confidence and a quiet center. He refused to be hurried or harried. He never snapped back, never became irritable. And, in the end, he changed the world. No life has impacted the world more profoundly than Jesus.

What are the clues from Jesus that can help us when “clumping” strikes?

“Clumping” is temporary. The time when demands and crises seem overwhelming will ultimately pass. Jesus could face the overwhelming demands that fell upon him because he knew it was temporary. Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” Having learned this truth from Jesus, Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”(1 Peter 1:6-7)

Sooner or later life will “clump.” Prepare for the “clumping” stages of life before they come. Jesus told the story of two men who built their houses, one upon sand and the other upon rock. When the storm came, which is inevitable, the house built on sand collapsed. If we continually practice honesty, goodness, generosity, forgiveness and faith when times are easy, we will be able to overcome when times get tough.

Build quiet space for prayer in the midst of life’s demands. Even though the demands upon Jesus were intense and unrelenting, he always found time to get alone with God. Mark writes, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” (Mark 1:35-36).

Constantly look to God. Perhaps this more than anything else was the secret of Jesus’ success. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).

Monday, April 1, 2019

Heaven - What Is It Like?


I  assisted in the funeral for a close friend.  He was older by almost twenty years, and became my mentor more than thirty years ago.  He was a take-charge kind of guy and I always imagined him going out like John Wayne in The Shootist.  Consistent with his personality, he left specific instructions for his funeral, including the passage he wanted the pastor to preach and the three points he wanted him to make.  To his friends he wrote, “I want there to be more laughter than tears.  After all, I will be in Heaven.”

I watched him age like I have watched others, the same process I am beginning to see in myself.  As he entered his eighties his strength and vigor began to slip.  The last time we went out to eat he needed a walker to make his way to the table.  Aging is an inescapable experience for all of us who live long enough.  But in the end, in the “twinkling of an eye … we shall all be changed.”  (1 Corinthians 15:52).

When my mother was young she was a beauty and a fast runner who won several ribbons in track meets.  But in her last years she was feeble and almost blind.  When she was 89 years old and dying, we talked about what it would be like when she woke up in Heaven, able once again to run through the meadow as she did in her youth.  Her body once again characterized by energy, strength, beauty and grace. 

I have often thought about Heaven and what it might be like.  Someone once said that we might think of everything that is beautiful and good on this earth and multiply it by two.  That of course is a small number, but anything more defies imagination.  I like to think about the sun rising in the east, its light filtering through the leaves warming my shoulders on a cool morning; the birds calling to one another as the day dawns; the scent of freshly cut grass and new turned earth; the fragrance of lilacs in spring and roses in summer; the laughter of children on the playground; the crack of a baseball bat and the smack of a ball in the glove; the weight of a sleeping baby in my arms.  On this earth and in this world, they are enough.  But multiplied by two, or a thousand?  Incomprehensible!

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  (John 14:3). “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).

The Bible says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2). “If we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.”  (Romans 6:5).

Monday, March 25, 2019

How Happy Are You?


It is perhaps the best known quote in American history, Jefferson's three inalienable rights:  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness. After 243 years, the American “pursuit” of happiness seems to be in question.  Are we happy?  Are we pursuing the right things that can make us happy?

The 2018 World Happiness Report, released last week by the United Nations, ranked the United States at number 18 concluding that Americans have become less happy even while American wealth has expanded.  According to U.S. News and World Report, the study stated, “The U.S.  is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global standards.” 

Commercials, sit-coms and stand-up comedy routines give us clues to what has gone wrong in our “pursuit.”   According to many of these sources, happiness seems to be bound up with possessions: to have and to own something better than somebody else; our bodies: to be more beautiful, stronger, more attractive; sex: whether casual and illicit or friends with benefits; drugs (including alcohol):  whatever promises release from our inhibitions and escape from our problems; social media and technology: virtual reality, virtual friends and a virtual life.  With all their promises for happiness, they lead to disappointment and, too often, disaster.

There is another way.  The Bible says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.  How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. … Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that He may see good?  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.  Depart from evil and do good; desire peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:8-14)  “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3).

No one is happy all the time. Jesus was characterized as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  But there is a joy that goes deeper than happiness; a joy that sustains us even in our difficulties.  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3).

Churches are the happiest places on earth.  I have visited hundreds of them in most states and many countries.  Wherever I go, the gatherings of believers is characterized by joy, acceptance, encouragement, heartfelt hugs, laughter, smiles and love.  The people of God have within them this unquenchable joy that sustains them, even when times are tough.

This joy is the result of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.  Our sins have been forgiven. Jesus has been raised from the dead.  As Isaiah predicted, “And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads.  They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  (Isaiah 35:10).

Monday, March 18, 2019

Digital Faith


I am a digital immigrant. I was born into a world of rotary dial telephones and slide rules, cash registers that resembled slot machines, schools without air conditioning, encyclopedias that occupied an entire shelf in the book case and paper maps that unfolded to fill the front seat of the car.  

I started my immigration to the digital world about 37 years ago when I walked into Toys R Us with sweaty palms and bought my first computer, a Commodore 64.  It had 64k of memory and a floppy disk.  You can still find Commodore 64s in a few attics, basements and museums.

My oldest son is also a digital immigrant, though he was only eight years old when he started his digital journey.  After he grew up he started his own computer company and now works in Information Technology for an energy company. 

My grandchildren are digital natives.  They were born into the digital world and have never known anything else.  My five year old granddaughter was scanning photos on an iPhone when she was one and has already mastered video games. She reads and watches children stories on her iPad.  

I like the digital world.  I would not want to go back.  I live with my iPhone and PC. I can browse the web and check email anywhere in the world.  I have conducted business and managed my bank accounts from Nuremburg and Tel Aviv. I stay in touch with friends in South Africa, Indonesia and South Korea. I can go anywhere with my GPS.  I felt a little sacrilegious when I started reading my Bible on my iPhone and my Kindle.  It seemed like it wasn’t really a Bible if I couldn’t flip the pages and smell the ink. I had to remind myself that the first Scriptures were hand written on scrolls and that books came centuries later. 

But there are dangers in the digital world that did not exist before.
 
The world of virtual reality can undermine relationships in the real world robbing us of time, energy and emotional maturity. The new world of social networking can foster affairs with remote “lovers” who carry none of the day-to-day difficulties that come with marriage. More than one career has been destroyed by inappropriate posts on Facebook and Twitter. Pornography is at your fingertips.

The book, Digital Invasion quotes one youth pastor: “I see young people losing the interpersonal skills it takes to function in relationships, in a family and in the church.”  It is not unusual to see several people sitting at a table, each focused on their smart phone, none of them speaking to one another.

Craig Detweiler writes in his book, iGods, “The iMac begat the IPhone and the iPad, and each one starts with me – or rather “i.” They enhance our ability to connect and to serve, but they can also create an inflated sense of self, believing the entire world revolves around “me.” … In an age of status updates, personalized shopping, and lists of followers, we are experiencing the rush of becoming iGods of our own making.”  All this sounds strangely like the first temptation, “When you eat of it you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5).

The digital world brings digital pitfalls and temptations as well as opportunities.  Our challenge is to incorporate the timeless and eternal truths that never change into our digital world, a digital faith that connects us with God and with one another.  The greatest commandment remains:  “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

Male and Female: Does Gender Matter?


An interesting thing happened at the state competition recently in the Colorado state wrestling tournament.   Brendon Johnson, an 18 year old senior at the Classical Academy in Colorado forfeited in the first round rather than wrestle a girl.  He later forfeited again in the third round of the consolation bracket rather than wrestle another girl.

Johnson, who started wrestling in the 7th grade and identifies himself as a Christian said, “There is something that I really do find problematic about the idea of wrestling with a girl, and a part of that does come from my faith and my belief. … I really don’t want to disrespect the hard work these ladies have put in. They’ve done a lot of that too. Some people think by forfeiting I’m disrespecting them. That’s not my intention at all.”  He went on to say that he didn’t feel comfortable with the physical aggression required in wrestling with a girl, something he considers inappropriate on or off the mat.

According to USA Wrestling the number of high school participants grew to 245,564 in 2017-2018, making it the 7th overall participant sport at the high school level.  While it is growing in popularity among boys, it is growing even faster among girls.  16,562 girls competed in wrestling last year, an increase of 1,975.

Most sports recognize the physical differences between men and women in strength and stamina. That is true in non-contact sports like tennis and golf and in more physical sports like basketball and football.  But, apparently in wrestling in Colorado, gender makes no difference. 

I have to confess that this leaves me confused.  In a world in which the news is dominated with #metoo reports, where journalists, politicians, athletes, actors and other celebrities have ended their careers with shame and regret over sexual abuse allegations, why would we try to teach our young people that gender makes no difference?  Why don’t we recognize the unique differences between male and female while encouraging respect and consideration?

We can celebrate the revolution in gender roll diversity over the last decades. The talents, interests, and abilities of both men and women span a wide spectrum in the home, technology, politics, science and the arts.  We can be glad that we live in a day when men and women can explore wide ranging experiences with respect for one another.

At the same time we can celebrate the beauty of God’s design in creating us male and female.  There are intrinsic physical, biological and spiritual differences between the sexes that allow us to experience the depths of mystery, courage, devotion, sacrifice and love. History, art, literature and the Bible are filled with the relationships of men and women, some who rose to great heights of love and devotion and others who fell into depths of disappointment with its subsequent pain and sorrow.   The earliest chapters of Genesis start with the declaration, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He crated them.  And God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth …” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Monday, March 4, 2019

Less Judgment More Jesus


I came to know Sharon a long time ago.  She worked for a printing company in Illinois that helped publish some of my books.  She was great to work with, helping finalize the lay out and look for my books.  She did such a good job that she was promoted to a higher position in the company. We have never met in person.

After several years she contacted me, knowing that I wrote Christian books.  She was going through a difficult divorce, a painful end to a difficult marriage.  She was filled with shame and guilt, and moving to the small town in Illinois where she worked.  She wanted to find a church that might help her, but she was terrified of the condemnation and rejection she might find. I tried to encourage her and prayed for her.

She wandered by a local church, liked the looks of it from the outside, and sought a personal visit with the pastor to explain what she was going through.  It took courage for her to do that.  She was afraid, but she found acceptance and support, and started to attend.  

With much weeping, she shared what she was going through with her new found friends in a Bible study class, then, during worship, presented herself for membership in the church.  She was surrounded by believers who hugged her and welcomed her.  The pastor asked her to say a few words.  She told the congregation she was going through a difficult trial.  She said, “Worldwide the church is so good about making sure everyone knows John 3:16, That is a good thing, but we need to keep going because John 3:17 says "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. The world has enough condemnation -- it needs more Jesus.”

Jesus maintained a high bar for marriage.  “What God has joined together,” He said, “ let not man put asunder.”  But whenever he encountered people who were broken and wounded he always responded with compassion and redemption.  When a woman was caught in adultery and thrown at his feet, he challenged her accusers.  “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Convicted by their guilt, the crowd melted away.  Turning to the woman, Jesus asked, “ Does no one condemn you?”  She replied, “No one, Lord.”  “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:3-11).

We need to do all we can to help every marriage survive and thrive.  But divorce is a reality in our world.  Most, if not all, of our families have been affected by it.  We need to embrace and help those whose dreams have been shattered.  Like Sharon said, the world needs less judgment and more Jesus.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Waking Up Well


Last week I was sick.  Nothing serious. One of those things we all have to deal with from time to time, a sore throat and headache with a sinus infection that in a few days threatened to move into my chest.  After hacking and coughing my way through a few fitful nights, I found myself wishing I could just lie down, get a good night’s sleep and wake up well. My temporary illness soon passed, but it made me reflect on those who face far more serious conditions, whose illnesses are terminal.

It made me think of my friend, Mike Toby who served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Woodway for thirty-five years.  In 2012 Mike woke up on a Sunday morning to discover his left hand numb.  He preached anyway.  The next week the doctors determined that he was suffering from a cancer in the brain and gave him three to six months to live.  Mike made a video for his congregation in which he candidly spoke about his illness and his faith. Here’s what he said:

“I didn’t want to spend one day trying to fight off the inevitable. When I was seven years old I gave my heart to Jesus and became a citizen of the Kingdom of God. That’s where I know that I will spend eternity. My faith is rock solid in Jesus Christ.  I know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I have been the recipient of unbelievable grace and blessing. Every day has been full. …
      It was in the spring that the Lord took me to the Psalms and the verse jumped out to me, “Lord teach me to number my days that I may present to you a heart of wisdom.”  I don’t think I had a clue how much that would come to mean to me. Clearly to number your days has taken on a real depth of meaning to me. The other verse that has meant a lot to me is “We must work while it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.”  For my entire life, as my family will attest, I have woken up about 3:30 in the morning and I have woken up with joy.  I have woken up ready to go to work. And I have enjoyed working all day long.  And when the sun came down I was ready to put my head on the pillow and said, ‘Lord, thank you for a great day!’ So, I feel like I am able to say ‘I have fought the good fight.  I have finished the course and I am absolutely confident that you have a crown awaiting for me, and not for me only, but everyone else who has shared that journey in life.’ I look forward to seeing my Savior and to share that homecoming. The healing comes when I am released into the arms of my Savior.”

That day for Mike came on December 29, 2012.

Many are facing difficult illnesses like Mike Toby faced.  It is important for all of us that we number our days, that we live with confidence in the eternal life that God has offered in His Son, Jesus Christ knowing that one day we will wake up well and whole with all those who love His appearing.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Spice of Life

My wife loves cooking.  When we take road trips she passes the time by reading cookbooks. When browsing the TV, she usually settles on a cooking show.  Any cooking show, it seems to me.  When we watch jeopardy and they introduce a food category, she usually knows the answer.  When I get stumped on a crossword clue that includes spices or food, she helps me fill it in.  I am pretty well limited to breakfast:  bacon, eggs and biscuits, or grilling steak, hamburger or salmon on the gill out back.

It all seems to come down to the spices.  How you use them: which spices you put in, at what time, in what amount.  She has a pantry full of spices.  When it gets beyond salt, pepper, and a little garlic, I am pretty well lost. 

Last year we visited the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, Texas.  In 1885, at a corner drug store in Waco, Texas, a young pharmacist named Charles Alderton was experimenting with various flavors for a new soda he could serve.  He came up with a blend of 23 flavors people loved.  Customers called it the “Waco” until the owner of the drug store came up with the name Dr Pepper, after his good friend. They had trouble making enough to meet demand. Today Dr Pepper is distributed in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Europe, Mexico, South America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They still use the same 23 flavors that remain a secret.
 
 Harland Sanders learned to cook from his mother when he was 7.  In 1934 he started selling fried chicken from his roadside filling station in Corbin, Kentucky.  It took a few years to perfect his secret 11 herbs and spices. But when he did, people liked it. They liked it so much that the governor made him an honorary colonel. Today KFC is served in 119 countries and territories worldwide.  When we were in Prague and I got hungry for a taste of home I walked to a nearby KFC.  They seem to be everywhere. 

It is amazing what the right blend of flavors and spices can accomplish. What is true for food is also true for the way we live and the way we speak.  Life is more fun, satisfying and meaningful when we find the right “spices.” 

Jesus recognized this when he told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt has lost its taste, it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”   (Matthew 5:13). 
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6).


Unlike Dr Pepper and KFC, the ingredients are no secret.  The spices and flavors that make every Christian life desirable are listed in Galatians. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23).  When these “spices” are cooked into our souls, it changes our families, friendships, communities and the world.