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

Monday, October 14, 2019

What's In It For Me?


October baseball is here.  Major League teams have played 162 games over six months for this moment.  Stadiums are packed with hopeful fans. As I write the Yankees and Astros are battling it out for the American League pennant and the right to meet either Washington or St. Louis in the World Series. There is nothing quite like baseball.

The 1989 movie, Field of Dreams is rated number five among the favorite baseball movies of all time. In the story, Ray Kinsella responds to a “voice” that urges him to build a baseball diamond, complete with lights, in the middle of his Iowa corn field.  After doing everything the “voice” commands him to do, Ray is stunned to see Shoeless Joe Jackson and some of the greats of the game emerge from his cornfield to play the game as they did in their youth.

The story climaxes with an invitation from Shoeless Joe to join them in the cornfield, a dimension beyond the edges of this world. But Ray, who has risked everything to build the field, is not invited. Instead, Jackson invites the cynical 1960s writer, Terrence Mann.  Ray explodes in a fit of frustration demanding, “What’s in it for me?”  To which Shoeless Joe asks, “Is that why you did this Ray, for what’s in it for you?”
                                                          
It is a good question.  According to experts in marketing, it is the question we all ask when we consider purchasing any product or joining any organization. In our age of seeker-sensitive churches, it seems to be the dominant question asked by anyone considering a church. “What’s in it for me?” But, is it the right question?

When Jesus invited Peter, James and John to leave their home, their families and their boats, I wonder how He would have responded if they had asked, “What’s in it for me?” Perhaps He would have responded as He did when the young man with great possessions refused to give up his wealth.  How much do we miss of what God has for us because we are so focused on “What’s in it for me?”
Jesus’ invitation to join Him on life’s eternal journey sounds strangely different than our twenty-first century marketing plans.  Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25). 

Perhaps what is “in it” for us is the same thing that was “in it” for Jesus: the pleasure that comes from obedience to the Father. “My food,” Jesus said, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John  4:34).  When the Apostle Paul reached the end of his journey, he measured it in this way, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” (2 Timothy 4:7). “I did not prove disobedient to the Heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19).

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

I Want the Best For You


A year ago Amber Guyger returned to her apartment after a long day as a Dallas police officer to find what she thought was a intruder in her home. She drew her gun and fired, killing a young black man, 26-year-old Botham Jean.  Only it wasn’t her home. The apartment she entered was one floor directly above her own and the man she killed was her neighbor, at home eating a bowl of ice cream.

Amber, who is white, was fired from the Dallas Police force.  It has taken a year for the trial to work its way through the courts.  Last Tuesday, October 1, the jury unanimously found Amber Guyger guilty of murder.  She was sentenced to 10 years in prison without possibility of parole.  Many celebrated the fact that a police officer was held accountable for killing an unarmed and innocent young black man.  Mr. Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, raised her hands and cried “God is good.”  Others were jubilant.

But the courtroom was stunned when the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, asked permission to speak.  Nervously tugging at his collar, Brandt looked at Ms. Guyger and said, “I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And, I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail.  I want the best for you. Because, that is exactly what Botham would want you to do.  And the best is to give your life to Christ.” He paused, wiped his eyes and spoke to the judge. “I don’t know if this is possible, but, can I give her a hug?” The judge consented.

Brandt Jean met his brother’s killer in front of the judge’s bench.  He said to her, “If you are truly sorry, I know … I speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, He will forgive you.”  They embraced one another as they wept.

The courtroom that a few minutes before was jubilant with vengeance fell silent except for the sound of people sobbing.  Even the judge wiped her eyes. And, once the court room was cleared, embraced Guyger and gave her a Bible. None of this, of course, changes anything in terms of the verdict and the sentence that Amber Guyger will serve. But it changes everything in the matters for the heart. 

The scene was replayed repeatedly on the national media.  It ignited conversations on network talk shows.  People began discussing the power of Divine forgiveness.  A glimmer of light flickered on the national stage that perhaps our conversation could change from prejudice, vengeance, resentment and rage to acceptance, forgiveness and love. 

Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14).  When Peter asked Him, “’Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other jus as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus gave us the supreme example when he hung upon the Cross, blood dripping from his wounds, surrounded by violent men who cursed Him and spat upon Him.  He lifted His eyes to heaven and prayed, "’Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).

Monday, September 30, 2019

Age of Outrage

Ours has been called the “age of outrage.”  Perhaps it began with news anchor Howard Beale throwing open his window in the1975 movie Network and screaming into the crowded streets, “I’m mad as h---and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  Whatever Beale was mad about seemed to simmer for decades until the 2016 election. Name calling, finger pointing, screaming and yelling soared to new heights and hasn’t seemed to diminish since.

Now that we are approaching 2020, the noise is escalating. With the advent of social media all accountability seems to be thrown to the wind. In this age of outrage, people say things they shouldn’t say including prejudicial bullying, ridicule and false accusations.

Even Christians seem to be outraged. It seems that Christians are primarily outraged because they sense they are losing control of their “Christian” culture.  Step by step over my lifetime the cultural advantages for Christians have been curtailed. There is a sense that Christians are losing the battle as America becomes increasingly secular.

Last year Ed Stetzer wrote a book entitled, Christians in the Age of Outrage.  In his introduction, he writes, “Terrorism, sex trafficking and exploitation, systemic racism, illegal immigration, child poverty, opioid addiction … the list goes on. These issues deserve a measure of outrage, don’t they? They certainly deserve our anger. And this is part of the problem. What do we do when the anger becomes too much? When our righteous indignation at injustice morphs into something completely different? How do we know when righteous anger has made the turn into unbridled outrage?”

In March of this year he wrote, “The comments sections on YouTube are a greater testament to human depravity than all the reformers’ doctrines combined. Arguments, bullying, conspiracy theories, vitriol and irrational cesspools of misinformation and misdirection abound in our digital communication and marketplace. There is outrage everywhere — sometimes targeting Christians, but unfortunately, often coming from Christians.”

Outrage has never been the means by which the Christian faith has flourished at any time.  In fact, the Bible outlines a very different path if we want to influence the culture in which we live.   

Jesus said, “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” (Luke 6:27-28). The Apostle Paul echoed these instructions, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).

The Psalmist writes, 34:13, “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 24:13).  “I said, ‘Lord I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle” (Psalm 39:1).


Does this mean Christians should never speak up? Of course not. Paul clearly spoke up and  defended himself when he was falsely accused at Philippi, Jerusalem, Ceasarea and Rome.  But, for the Christian, there is no place for name calling, ridicule, misinformation and outrage.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Replenishing the Earth


Shortly after creating man and woman in His image, God issued his first commandments. “And God blessed them and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth’” (Genesis 1:28 KJV).  We have done well regarding the first: by most estimates global population topped 7.7 billion this year. But we are failing miserably at the second. Smog often obscures the mountains near Denver. The air is frequently unbreathable in Beijing. Evidence for global warming continues to mount.

On Friday last week thousands of youth world-wide skipped school and went to the streets to protest climate change.  Australia led the way with protestors urging their country to take major steps to curtail greenhouse emissions.  Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas. Thousands of youth marched past number 10 Downing Street in London to draw attention to the issue.  More than 500 events were planned in Germany, including a mass demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.  Across the United States students skipped school to demonstrate in all 50 states.  The largest was held in New York, led by 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg who refused to fly from Sweden to New York, taking a zero-emissions yacht instead.

With the recent 50 year anniversary of the Moon landing we have been inspired again by the Apollo 8 photo of the earth rising above the stark landscape of the moon against the black backdrop of space.  That image captured the unique essence of our planet.  While there may be habitable zones around stars light years away, there is no observable planet in the universe like Earth.

The secret to our existence is the thin layer of atmosphere protecting the surface from the vacuum of space. It absorbs ultraviolet solar radiation, regulates temperature extremes between day and night and provides the means for water to be distributed across the dry land. Seventy-five percent of the atmosphere lies with 6.8 miles of the earth’s surface.  It is this layer that sustains our life. It can only absorb so much pollution before it malfunctions and Earth becomes uninhabitable for all animal and plant life, including man.

David wrote, “When I consider Your 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, all sheep and oxen, And also the ]beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:3-8).

God has placed in our hands all the beauty of creation that reflects His glory.  He has ordained that humankind should have the awesome authority and responsibility of safeguarding, protecting and nourishing all that He has made on the earth.  We must not fail in this divine charge God has given us.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Escape From the Frenzy


We live in a time-crunched world where life is lived on the run. Millions pull out of their driveways in the pre-dawn dark, grab a last-minute breakfast burrito and merge onto freeways while listening to the morning news and traffic reports between cell phone calls. It is a frenzied start to a frenzied day.

Weary from long hours at work, the same drivers re-enter the stream of traffic making their way home past memorized billboards. Weekends are filled with errands, second jobs, T-ball, soccer, football. Church is squeezed into an already full schedule that has no margins.

Richard Foster analyzed it like this: "We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators." We are increasingly depressed and suicidal. We have turned to alcohol and drugs in a desperate effort to cope. We know deep down that something isn’t working. There must be a better way.

Most people recognize the Ten Commandments as foundational to human conduct and life. But somewhere along the way we reduced the Ten Commandments to nine. We eliminated the fourth commandment as irrelevant and archaic: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” A half-century ago, businesses were closed on Sunday and sporting events recognized Sunday as a day for worship. All that has changed. Today our calendars are filled up to a 24/7 frenzy.

When Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man, he affirmed the need for the Sabbath in our lives. He underscored the importance of the Sabbath to all of us for mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

In his book, Living the Sabbath, Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Norman Wirzba writes, “Put simply, Sabbath discipline introduces us to God’s own ways of joy and delight. … When our work and our play, our exertion and our rest flow seamlessly from this deep desire to give thanks to God, the totality of our living --- cooking, eating, cleaning, preaching, parenting, building, repairing, healing, creating --- becomes one sustained and ever expanding act of worship.”

Sabbath requires time for rest, silence, solitude and worship, but it is more than a day of rest. It is a way of life that is filled with wonder, worship, awe and delight. When Jesus declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath, he offered to us a better way. He said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest to your souls.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Changing the Rules


It is always important to know the rules in anything we do.  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.

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.  Don’t break in line. Lend only to those who will pay you back with interest. Look out for “number one.”  Protect your property. Defend yourself. If someone wrongs you, get even.  Sometimes we follow these rules even when they conflict with the law.  They are the stuff of most movies and novels.  They are the rules by which we live our lives.

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. New Orleans fans are still miffed about the pass interference no-call last January.  And, the NFL has changed the rules.  For the first time, following the Saints play-off fiasco, coaches can challenge a pass interference play.  

When Jesus came, he changed all the rules.  His 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).

He even changed the rules about heaven.  Most assume they will earn their way to heaven by their good efforts , hoping in the end that their good will outweigh the bad.  But Jesus canned all that. Instead “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “Whoever lives and believes in me,” Jesus said, “will never die.” (John 11:26). 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Power of an Optimistic Outlook


Since this column reflects on current events and life experience, I am constantly searching the news for information.  It is a daunting task.  The headlines alone are depressing, let alone the blow-by-blow accounts of murder, theft, graft, rape, sexual abuse, prejudice, hatred, scams, suicide, mass shootings, political corruption and a looming recession.  Sometimes the news seems like a black hole that drags every ray of light into its dark abyss.  I spent some time this morning reading about the victims in last weekend’s senseless shooting in Midland-Odessa, Texas.

It is difficult not to become a pessimist from this constant onslaught. But we must not give in.  We must resist the darkness and cling to the light.  We must not surrender to the pessimism that surrounds us.

A new study released August 26 by the Boston University School of Medicine concludes that people who are more optimistic live 11 to 15 percent longer and are 50 to 70 percent more likely to reach age 85. But how do we remain optimistic in a world filled with pessimism? 

It seems to me that we do so by looking for the moments that renew our faith in each other.  Like the tender moment when Naomi Osaka embraced 15-year-old Coco Gauf after soundly defeating her in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open and persuading her to share the post-game interview with her.

We can remain optimistic by focusing on obscure moments like the first day of second grade reported by WIVB News in Wichita, Kansas. Eight year old Christian, who is African American, saw eight year old Conner, who is white, standing alone crying while they waited for the school to open.  Quietly, Christian reached out and took Conner’s hand. Conner stopped crying and the two of them walked into their classroom together, hand-in-hand.  Conner is autistic.  

We are surrounded by little acts of kindness, some demonstrated on the grand stage like Osaka and Gauf, others in obscure corners like Christian and Conner.   And we are sustained by a faith that overcomes darkness and despair.  Love overcomes hate. Forgiveness wipes away resentment and guilt. Resurrection conquers death.  Our God who is the Father of Lights is the source of all good things.

The Bible is the most realistic and most optimistic book ever written. It clearly exposes man’s sin and consistently demonstrates God’s righteous redemption. It embraces the Cross with all of its pain and despair and proclaims the resurrection in all of its glory.

The Bible always offsets our struggle with discouragement and despair with the hope of faith and the unchangeable goodness of God.  Three times the Scripture asks, “Why are you in despair O my soul? And why have you become disturbed in me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Monday, August 26, 2019

Back To School


Children and youth have returned to school.  Summer vacations are over. Silent buildings and empty playgrounds echo with classroom lectures and children’s laughter. It is a time to put away the lazy days of sleeping late, TV, video games and camp, to wake before sunrise and wait for the bus. The rumble of yellow buses mark an annual rite of passage along with the smells of erasers, crayons, markers and freshly painted classrooms.  It forms the rhythm of our lives, as surely as the first crisp scent of fall and the turning of green leaves to gold.  We wake up to the echo of school bands, coaches’ whistles and the smack of shoulder pads getting ready for the big game soon to come.  

It is a time filled with conflicting currents of freedom and fear, opportunity and obstacles.  Younger children are finally old enough to follow older brothers and sisters off to school with their own backpack of books.  College freshmen are finally off on their own, away from home, their heads spinning with dreams and doubt.  

Houses that vibrated with teen-age noise surrender to the silence of an empty nest.  And college freshmen are shocked with stabs of homesickness.  It is, of course, the stuff of life: joy and sorrow, celebration and challenge, learning and growing.

I am a fan of public schools.  I like the fact that, in our imperfect system, every child has a chance to learn. I love movies about public school teachers and the difference they make in students’ lives, like Freedom Writers or Mr. Holland’s Opus.  My wife is a career public school teacher.  Across the years she taught high school, third grade and kindergarten. 

Even though schools take summer breaks, school is never out.  Children and youth are always learning, and sometimes the most important lessons they learn are the moments when parents and adults are least aware.  They learn honesty, generosity, courtesy and faith by watching us in check-out lines, by observing how we react in rush hour traffic and by listening to our conversations at home.  They are always watching and always learning, even when we think they are tuned out.

Churches and schools, public or private, cannot replace the important role parents play in teaching their children. That is why the Bible says, “Tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.  For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God” (Psalm 78:4-6).
 
To the children, the Bible says, “My son, observe the commandment of your father And do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you” (Proverbs 6:20-22)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Are You Listening?


My wife is a great listener.  That is one of the reasons I married her.  She listens intently, not just to me, but also to anyone speaking to her. I once watched a total stranger stop her on the street in New York and spill out their life story.  I have witnessed the same thing on subways, in train stations and shopping centers in the U.S. and Europe.  You can see it in her eyes.  She focuses.  She doesn’t glance around the room wondering if there is someone else she should speak to. She doesn’t look beyond you.  Her eyes don’t glaze over in a fixed stare that pretends to listen while she thinks about something else. 

I lose focus.  One word can trigger any number of divergent thoughts causing my mind to race off in pursuit like a dog chasing cats.  At other times I leap ahead, thinking about what I want to say rather than listening to what is being said.  I have to discipline myself to re-focus on what is being said, sometimes scrambling to piece together the gaps that I missed during my mental lapses. 

My wife knows this. She can see it in my eyes.  Sometimes she will stop talking and the silence will awaken me from my temporary daydream.  “You’re not listening,” she says.  Of course she is right.  But occasionally I am lucky enough to be able to repeat the last sentence that she spoke, retrieving it from some kind of digital recording in my head, even though its meaning was not being registered in my brain.

Listening is a powerful gift. It is transformational. When someone listens to us without judgment or accusation, we hear and see ourselves differently. Somehow the act of having someone truly listen enables us to sort through our emotions and confusions to reach better conclusions.  Feelings of isolation and loneliness dissolve and melt away when someone listens to us. The listener, by listening, has the ability to heal.

Most of us are far more intent on being heard than hearing. When we pretend to listen, we are, more often simply waiting for a gap, a chance in the conversation to insert our already preconceived conclusions. We interrupt one another with conversations that often are running on different tracks.

How many times have we injured someone, or simply failed to help someone, because we were too quick to speak?  How different our world would be if parents listened to their children; if bosses listened to their employees; if businesses listened to their customers; if politicians listened to the people; if persons in power listened to each other?  Maybe if we were better at listening to one another, we might be better at listening to God.

The Bible says, “Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  (James 1:19).  God says, “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:2-3).

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Miracle of Life


My daughter was born the year I turned forty.  With two sons already thirteen and eight, we were not expecting another child.  In fact, the doctors told us that having more children was impossible.  But, the impossible happened.  The doctor’s first question was, “Do you want to terminate this pregnancy?”  We were stunned.  Such a consideration never entered our minds.  Nine months later my wife gave birth to a beautiful little girl who has blessed our lives immeasurably. I often thought of the doctor’s question when I rocked her to sleep and felt the weight of her slumbering body against my shoulder. 

Our daughter is now grown. Ten years ago I walked her down the aisle.  I then performed their wedding ceremony and danced with her at the reception, one of the highlights of my life. Three years later, they came home and excitedly told us they were expecting a baby.  When they gave us the news of her pregnancy, her baby was no bigger than a small marble. We listened to the baby’s heartbeat and watched her dancing in the womb.  She now dances around the room with her little sister and brother.

Before retirement, my wife worked with pregnant and parenting teens in the public schools.  She constantly sought to help them have a healthy pregnancy, healthy birth, learn how to become a good parent, and stay in school in order to have a future.  Her girls achieved a 96% graduation rate.

With children and grandchildren of our own and my wife’s occupation, you would think that the process of pregnancy and birth would have become commonplace. But it hasn’t.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The more I witness the miracle by which children are birthed into the world, the more I stand in awe. 

When my daughter was eight we took her to see the original Lion King movie.  Last week we took her daughter, our granddaughter, who is now eight, to see the new Lion King.  The advance in digital animation is astounding.  But the story about the miracle of life is the same.

David expressed it best in Psalm 139:  “For you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” To the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  (Jeremiah 1:5).

Every birth, every child and every person is a miracle of God.  We are all more than mere flesh and blood, brain, bone and sinew.  We are made in His likeness, with the awesome freedom to choose good and evil, to bless others or to curse them. We have infinite possibilities and an immortal soul that will one day depart this mortal body. We are eternal beings living in a miraculous universe that astounds our senses. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Violence


Who among us is not appalled at the insane violence that stalks our land?  Even a casual shopping day for school supplies at a local Walmart can turn deadly.  Twenty people killed Saturday in El Paso. Nine more gunned down on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio.

There is no pattern.  Each horrific scene seems random, illogical and insane, whether it is a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, a concert in Las Vegas, a movie theater in Colorado, a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas or 22 school shootings this year.  The only things they seem to have in common are guns and grief. Agonizing grief that lasts a lifetime.  According to CBS, there have been 251 mass shootings in the U.S. in only 216 days this year.   As Lester Holt stated in the aftermath of this weekend’s killings, “This is not normal.”

The news soon moves on to the next topic, briefly, until returning to report another crime scene where innocent children, mothers, fathers and grandparents lay in blood stained aisles, hallways and classrooms. When will it stop?  Why does it happen?

It only takes a generation to lose our moral moorings. As faith diminishes in the marketplace, as children grow to adulthood without the values taught in our churches, we are all likely to become victims.  We have drifted away from the teachings of the Bible and lost our value for human life. Increasingly we judge one another by the color of our skin, our language, accent, dress and culture.

Jesus turned the tide in a violent generation 2,000 years ago.  He did so by turning conventional wisdom on its head:  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).  He did so by teaching us to value every human life: “You have heard that that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder.’ And ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother ‘You good-for-nothing,’  shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt. 5:21-22).  He did so by embracing the outcast, loving the unlovely and accepting the unacceptable.  He turned the tide of violence by entrusting himself into the violent hands of his accusers and suffering innocent death on the Cross.   

Every generation must turn the tide of violence.  Every generation must relearn the lessons Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  We are in desperate need of something we have lost from generations who have gone before.  We must rediscover a faith that transcends prejudice, fear, hatred and violence.  In every home, every school, every market place, we must practice and teach the truth of Christ.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Water of Life


For many years I have made it a practice of having a time of devotion early in the morning.  I like to spend this time outside, preferably at sunrise. There have been gaps when I missed.  The demands of the day were pressing and I was unwilling to get up early enough for this discipline.   I have discovered that when I spend time for personal study of Scripture, prayer and reflection on what God wants to say to me, the day seems to go better.  My life has a healthier center and, when the day is done, it seems to be more productive. 

When I lived in Texas I would go out on the patio behind our house.  The landscape seemed braced for the scorching heat that would surge past 100 when the sun reached its full height.  After my devotion, I watered the potted flowers on our patio:  bachelor buttons, petunias, chrysanthemums and periwinkles.   I kept a watering pot handy, and often left it filled the day before so I would remember to do this.  If I missed a few days, the plants showed it.  They become stressed, and, if neglected too long, they withered and died. When I missed a few days of having my devotion on the patio the flowers missed their watering. Their leaves shriveled and the flowers began to fall from the drooping stems.  They became a spiritual barometer reflecting the condition of my soul from these times neglected with God.

The flowers don’t respond well to alternate periods of draught and deluge.  Drowning them in water once a week, simply doesn’t work.  They need watering every day, not necessarily a lot, just enough to soak in the soil.  Watered frequently in this fashion they thrive, even in record setting triple digit weather.

This may explain why American Christianity seems so insipid, (like salt that has lost its taste).  Many Christians depend on a deluge of spiritual watering for one hour once a week during a worship service at church.  And many more don’t even do this. The spiritual lives of many Christians may resemble the stressed out flowers sitting on my patio table in the heat of summer.

David expressed this truth in Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers”

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14) And again, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost” (Rev 21:6).

Monday, July 22, 2019

Accepting One Another


Ten years ago I adopted a dog. Those who are familiar with this column are familiar with Buddy, our tri-color Pembroke Corgi.  He was at least one when I adopted him, so he is at least 11 now. We are both aging.  He is getting gray around the muzzle and limps if we walk more than a mile.  He still likes to give chase to rabbits and squirrels, short bursts of energy that remind him of his youth.

When we found Buddy at Corgi rescue, he had been picked up off the streets of Fort Worth, Texas.  He was skinny and sick. They called him, “Tex.”  But he quickly informed us that his real name was “Buddy.”  In fact he has a children’s book, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi that tells his whole story, not just about his name, but how he was lost, picked up by the “dog police” and rescued.  I wrote it “just the way he told it to me.”  It has been translated into French and Romanian.

We had a number of dogs and cats that helped us raise our kids. But once they left home, I discovered I wanted my own dog.  Buddy showed up, and, for the last decade he has continued to teach me lessons.  Those lessons include trust, patience and perseverance.

Lately he has been teaching me lessons about acceptance.  In an era when humans are increasingly aware of their differences in race, language, culture and national origin, Buddy ignores all of those differences.  He just sees people.

I took him for a walk through the park.  An entire group of teenagers interrupted their volley ball game and rushed over to greet Buddy.  They surrounded him, laughing and smiling as they stroked his Corgi coat.  We went to Estes Park.  Four times in the space of two blocks, teens, children and adults asked to pet him.  We passed a homeless person. Buddy stopped and waited until a smile spread across the person’s face as they patted his head.

It doesn’t matter to Buddy.  He just grins his Corgi grin, and accepts them all.  Young, old, white, brown, black, homeless, handicapped, straight or gay.  He doesn’t care. It is a lesson humans have to work at.  We tend to look for people like ourselves and suspect those who differ.

Like the rest of us, the disciple Peter grew up with his own prejudices.  He was a fisherman and a Jew from Capernaum.  After he left his nets to follow Jesus he was constantly having his prejudices challenged.  He followed Jesus through Samaria, a region he had been taught to avoid as a devout Jew.   He watched Him visit with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well near Sychar.   He saw him touch and heal the lepers, the blind, the lame and beggars.  He watched as He raised the daughter of a Roman Centurion to life. 

It took a miraculous vision and a visit to a Roman’s home in Ceasarea for Peter to finally understand the lessons Jesus sought to teach him along the way.  Peter concluded, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

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.